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Friday
Dec152017

Trump lawyers expected to meet with Mueller and team next week 

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's legal team is expected to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team next week, sources with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to ABC News.

The meeting, first reported by CNN, was described as a chance for Trump's attorneys to receive an update from Mueller and his team on the status of the investigation into Russian election interference and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

The sources with knowledge of the summit indicated that it would come as the special counsel's office has completed its interviews with members of the White House with whom it has previously requested meetings.

All documents requested by Mueller and his team have further been turned over by the White House, according to sources.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

GOP unveils sweeping tax plan

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House and Senate negotiators released their thousand-page tax bill Friday evening, getting one step closer to passing sweeping legislation that would provide deep tax cuts for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy, while offering what most economists say are more limited benefits for middle-class Americans.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 would lower the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax which ensures corporations pay at least some tax on their income, lower the top individual income tax rate and raise the threshold for inheritances to be subject to the estate tax.

It lowers tax rates overall within seven brackets, and keeps popular deductions including on student loans, medical expenses and charitable giving, and curtails the mortgage interest deduction and deductions people take on state and local taxes if they choose not to take the standard tax deduction.

Individuals may see some relief in the form of a doubled standard deduction, but at least two independent analyses have found that people making less than $75,000 would actually pay more in taxes in the next ten years.

Congress is expected to begin voting on the bill early next week.

Two key Republican holdouts did a 180-degree turn on Friday and now support the GOP tax bill: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

While several Republicans say they are still waiting to see the final bill, right now, it does not appear a single Republican is on the record as a "no" vote.

Rubio, who on Thursday was a "no' vote, now appears on board after Republicans expanded the child tax credit.

Corker, who was the sole Republican to oppose the original Senate bill over concerns about the deficit, is also now a yes.

“After great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss," Corker said in a statement.

“In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the question becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation. I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make." he concludes.

Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, also shared the same concerns with Rubio about the child tax credit. On Friday, Lee signaled he might be coming around in support of the bill in a statement to ABC News.

“Sens. Rubio, Heller, and Scott have done a tremendous job fighting for working families this week and they have secured a big win,” Sen. Lee said. “I look forward to reading the full text of the bill and, hopefully, supporting it.”

On Thursday, there were concerns the potential absence of Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., could complicate the bill's chances.

McCain, who is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, was not at work Thursday in the U.S. Senate. His office reported that he is "receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center for normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that considerations of absences in the Senate could impact which chamber takes the first votes.

“There is discussion about this," Ryan said. "It's all about timing and managing absences in the Senate.”

GOP leaders are optimistic that they will get this done.

Asked if he’s confident this will pass, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, responded with just one word: “yes.”

Here is what ABC News has learned will be included in that bill:

FOR BUSINESS

-- Corporate rate to 21%, down from 35% under current law. Takes effect in 2018.

--- Eliminates Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax - Had been “rolled back” but not repealed in previous versions, according to Sen. John Cornyn.

--- Pass-through deduction rate set at 20% for first $315,000 of joint income

FOR THE WEALTHY

-- Top individual rate to 37%, down from 39.6% under current law.

-- Individual Alternative Minimum Tax exemption increased to $500k for individuals, $1 million for couples filing jointly.

FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS

-- Standard deduction increased from $12,700 to $24,000 (had been previously reported as $24,400) for joint returns and from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals. According to the Tax Policy Center, more than two-thirds of Americans take the standard deduction when filing taxes.

-- Tax brackets: 7 brackets + a 0% rate 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, 37%

-- Doubles the amount of the current exemption from the Estate Tax (currently $5.5 million)

For those who ITEMIZE instead of take the standard deduction

-- State and local tax deduction capped at $10,000 combined from any/all categories (property/income/sales taxes). Current law caps property tax deduction at $1 million. There are no current caps on state/local income tax deduction.

-- Mortgage interest deduction capped at $750k, down from $1 million under current law.

-- Graduate school stipend deduction (tax-free tuition waivers) preserved.

-- Student loan interest deduction preserved.

--- Medical expense deduction is preserved. It allows Americans to deduct medical expenses not covered by insurance that exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income.

-- Child Tax Credit preserved. Expanded from $1,000 to $2,000 and refundable up to $1,400 – had previously been refundable up to $1,100 but Rubio got it raised

--- Adoption tax credit is preserved

--- Charitable giving tax deduction is preserved

--- Repeal of individual mandate requiring health insurance. According to CBO, repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate insurance could lead to 13 million more Americans without health insurance, while saving the government $338 billion in federal health insurance subsidy payments over the next decade.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Rep. Ruben Kihuen facing new ethics investigation

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- The House Ethics committee is opening an investigation into embattled Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Kihuen, 37, denies the allegations and pledges to cooperate with the committee’s probe.

“As I’ve said previously, I intend to fully cooperate, and I welcome an opportunity to clear my name,” Kihuen said.

The freshman lawmaker is accused of making repeated unwanted sexual advances towards a campaign aide. Earlier this week, a second woman said Kihuen sexually harassed her during his time in the Nevada State Senate.

Kihuen has told ABC News he will not resign, despite calls from Democratic leaders that he step aside.

Instead, Kihuen has taken aim at the leaders of his own party, who he contends knew last year about a former campaign staffer’s allegations of misconduct and continued to stand by his campaign. Kihuen has questioned why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan are calling for his resignation now - more than a year later.

“I do find it interesting that the DCCC, Leader Pelosi and Chairman Ben Ray Lujan - they knew about these allegations last year,” Kihuen, D-Nevada, said in an interview with ABC News earlier this month. “They looked into them. They didn't find anything, and they continued investing millions of dollars in my campaign. They went out and campaigned for me.”

Pelosi and Lujan, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have both demanded Kihuen step down and have adamantly denied knowing about the allegations before BuzzFeed published an investigation early this month.

A former Kihuen campaign aide, known only as “Samantha,” told a mid-level aide at the DCCC she had quit her job because then-candidate Kihuen made her “uncomfortable,” BuzzFeed reported.

While the DCCC brought the matter to Kihuen’s campaign manager, it did not launch an investigation at the time, sources indicate, because the victim initially did not provide the level of detail exposed in the BuzzFeed investigation.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

GOP congressman demands Mueller firing: It's time 'to put up or shut up'

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, a House conservative who has led the charge against the Russia investigation and calls for a second special counsel, said Friday morning he wants Robert Mueller fired — and wants more Republicans to join in his cause.

“Congress has an obligation to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation and I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in firing Bob Mueller,” Gaetz, R-Fla. said in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo this morning. “It’s time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there’s evidence of collusion with Russia, let’s see it.”

Gaetz is among of a handful of congressional Republicans who have called for ending the Mueller probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.

President Donald Trump has not publicly indicated he's considering firing Mueller.

However, the White House has indicated it has not ruled it out as a possible move the president could make.

“There is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in October.

A dismissal of Mueller would technically have to be made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who serves as acting attorney general in all matters related to the 2016 election. President Trump could direct Rosenstein to fire the special counsel.

Rosenstein, who appointed Muller to handle the investigation, offered a strong defense of the special counsel during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

“I think it would be very difficult... for anybody to find somebody better qualified for this job,” Rosenstein said. “Director Mueller has throughout his lifetime been a dedicated and respected and heroic public servant.”

Gaetz has had the president's ear — traveling aboard Air Force One last Friday on his way to a Pensacola, Fla., campaign rally. Gaetz, who was joined on board by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., has spent weeks — including prior to that trip — pushing efforts to fire Mueller.

Gaetz has argued that the special counsel's team has been "infected" with "intractable bias" against Trump.

In a phone interview with ABC News earlier this week, Gaetz said during that flight, Trump encouraged his oversight of the Department of Justice.

"I did let him know that we had Mr. Rosenstein come before the Judiciary Committee this week," he recalled to ABC News on Tuesday, ahead of Rosenstein’s Wednesday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. "He simply encouraged Mr. DeSantis and I in very broad terms to continue exercise our oversight functions."

When asked about Robert Mueller being a Republican, Gaetz said Trump's "movement is a very unique coalition, and there are a lot of Republicans that aren’t a member of it."

Gaetz has also led the charge in Congress pushing Attorney General Sessions to appoint another special counsel to probe Uranium One and the Obama Justice Department.

Democrats and a number of prominent Republicans in Congress have publicly advised the against firing Mueller — some even supporting proposed legislation to protect the special counsel and ensure the investigation is completed.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Trump slams FBI moments before praising law enforcement as ‘great’ at Quantico

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump on Friday morning said people are "very, very angry" with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice about what he sees as revelations of political bias in its ranks, just before he boarded a helicopter headed for Quantico.

"It's very sad when you look at the documents, and how they have done that is really disgraceful," the president said, apparently referring to a batch of text messages critical of Trump between a former agent and FBI lawyer involved with the Mueller investigation released this week.

"You have a lot of angry people seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that. I am going today on behalf of the FBI, their new building, and when everybody — not me, everybody, the level of anger, and what they have been witnessing with respect to the FBI, it's certainly very sad," Trump said.

"I can say this, when you look at what has gone on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry," Trump told reporters.

Trump's visit to the academy comes amid heightened tensions with the bureau, whose reputation he recently described as "in tatters," and its standing as the "worst in history."

"It's a shame what happened with the FBI, but we are going to rebuild the FBI and it will be bigger and better than ever," Trump said.

But the president took on a more supportive tone when delivering remarks to law enforcement officers from other agencies in Quantico. He pledged: "The president of the United States has your back 100 percent."

"I will fight for you and I will never let you down, ever," he said.

The academy, according to the FBI's website, is a "professional course of study" open to U.S. and international law enforcement managers of all stripes.

In May, Trump was expected to visit the FBI headquarters in Quantico but the trip was notably scrapped following mounting backlash over his controversial firing of then-FBI Director Jim Comey.

Since then, the president has taken to publicly deriding the FBI's reputation amid its investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and its interference in the 2016 election.

He has vented on Twitter about whether its investigation is politically motivated, and whether his former opponent Hillary Clinton escaped conviction in the investigation of her use of a private email server because of agency's political bias.

Just last week, Trump said the FBI's reputation was "in Tatters - worst in History!"

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Tillerson walks back comments on preconditions for North Korea talks

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHIGNTON) -- Days after creating confusion over the Trump administration's North Korea policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked back his comments that the U.S. was ready to meet Kim Jong Un's regime for talks "without precondition," telling the United Nations Security Council Friday that there must first be "a sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior... before talks can begin."

"North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson said. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open."

Questions about just where the U.S. stands on talks highlight what have been sharp differences voiced by Tillerson and President Trump on North Korea --and come amid reports the White House wants him out. Tillerson's comments today come after the White House and State Department had been vociferously denying any change in policy.

Tillerson was addressing a special Security Council meeting on the North Korean threat called by the chair country Japan after the North Korea fired its third intercontinental ballistic missile on November 28 -- a missile capable of reaching the entire continental United States, it said.

The North Korean ambassador to the U.N. sat mere feet away while Tillerson spoke.

The latest questions on what the administration's policy is began when Tillerson told a Washington audience Tuesday that demanding North Korea give up its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities before engaging in talks was "not realistic... They have too much invested in it."

"The President is very realistic about that as well," he added.

That's at odds with previously-stated Trump administration policy that had demanded that North Korea agree to give up its nuclear and ballistic weapons before the U.S. would agree to talks.

As Tillerson himself told reporters on August 1, "A condition of those talks is there is no future where North Korea holds nuclear weapons or the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons to anyone in the region much less to the homeland."

President Trump has been even more vocal, railing against negotiations with North Korea for months.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," he tweeted on Oct. 7. "[It] hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

Trump even tweeted at Tillerson that he was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," a derogatory nickname the president uses for the North Korean leader. "Save your energy Rex," he added.

It is unclear if Tillerson has been trying to signal a shift this week -- or perhaps misspoke or went too far on Tuesday.

The White House has denied any change, with spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying in a statement Tuesday, "The president's views on North Korea have not changed."

Nauert said repeatedly Wednesday that the policy has not changed -- and even contradicted what Tillerson said Tuesday about denuclearization. When asked whether it was no longer a precondition, she said, "If they’re not willing to denuclearize? No. That remains our goal. Our overall goal is denuclearization."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Trump doesn't rule out Flynn pardon

Win McNamee / Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Trump is not ruling out a pardon for his disgraced former National Security Adviser and retired general Michael Flynn.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked the president on Friday morning if he'd consider a pardon for Flynn. Trump left the door open, and said "we'll see what happens."

“I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. Let's see. I can say this, when you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”

When asked whether he knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he fired him, Trump said: “You know the answer.”

Earlier this month, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his back-channel negotiations with the Russian ambassador – talks that occurred before Trump took office.

Trump made the comments just before boarding Marine One headed for Quantico, where he is expected to deliver remarks at the FBI National Academy — a training program for law enforcement officers from other agencies.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Trumps, Pences release their official Christmas portraits

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With ten days left until Christmas, the Trumps and Pences released on Thursday their official Christmas portraits -- their first such photos since taking office.

First lady Melania Trump tweeted the photo, in which she and President Donald Trump are standing in the Cross Hall of the White House, surrounded by Christmas trees covered in fake snow.

"Merry Christmas from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump," reads Mrs. Trump's tweet.

And less than two hours later, second lady Karen Pence tweeted the Pences' portrait, photographed at the Vice President's Residence at the Naval Observatory, in which they're surrounded by an ornament-laden Christmas tree with wrapped gifts at its base, and a mantle decorated with a garland.

"Our official Christmas portrait has been released!" Mrs. Pence tweeted.

Mrs. Trump has been actively spreading holiday cheer in recent weeks, particularly with children.

On Wednesday she visited a holiday toy drive sponsored by the military.

"On a personal note, as my first year as first lady comes to an end, I have had the privilege to witness the spirit and resilience of so many people in our country," she said at the drive for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. "After this year's devastating hurricane season, I hope everyone watching at home will consider giving back through programs like Toys for Tots."

She continued, "It is my hope that during this holiday season people will remember it is not about gifts. It is about family service and gratitude. We must continue to look out for and help each other."

At the toy drive, she invited children from military families to help her sort toys.

She also sat with kids and made construction-paper cards to go with the gifts that will be distributed throughout the nation's capital.

Last week Mrs. Trump visited with patients and staff at Children's National hospital Washington, D.C., continuing a tradition begun by first lady Bess Truman.

At the hospital, she met privately with some patients, and was escorted by Santa Claus to the facility's atrium where she answered questions from children.

When asked what she wants for Christmas, she said, "I asked Santa for Christmas, peace on the world, health love and kindness."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

President Trump to visit FBI National Academy following comments that bureau is in 'tatters'

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump will visit the FBI National Academy on Friday amid heightened tensions with the bureau whose reputation he recently described as "in tatters," and its standing as the "worst in history."

According to the White House, Trump will deliver remarks to graduates of the 10-week national academy program. The academy, according to the FBI's website, is a "professional course of study" open to U.S. and international law enforcement managers of all stripes.

In May, President Trump was expected to visit the FBI headquarters, but the trip was notably scrapped following mounting backlash over his controversial firing of then-FBI Director Jim Comey.

Since then, the president has publicly derided the FBI's reputation amid its investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the 2016 election.

He has vented on Twitter about whether the FBI's investigation is politically motivated, and whether his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, escaped conviction in the investigation of her use of a private email server because of agency's political bias.

Just last week Trump said the FBI's reputation was "in Tatters - worst in History!"

Asked a week ago about the president's tweets in front of the House Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the reputation of the bureau was "quite good."

"The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women working as hard as they can to keep people they will never know safe from harm," Wray said.

But Wray was also grilled about reports of political bias influencing the investigations into Clinton and Russian election interference.

Specifically, lawmakers pressed Wray over anti-Trump texts sent by a senior agent on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, who was removed over the summer. The texts, recently revealed, repeatedly called President Donald Trump "an idiot," and said the Republican Party "needs to pull their head out of their" rear-ends.

The revelations led members of Trump's legal team this week to call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel charged with investigating allegations of political bias and conflicts of interest in the Department of Justice.

Trump's war of words with the FBI dates back well before his election win, when he publicly scolded Comey's announcement that Clinton would not face criminal charges in her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

But the feud reached its pinnacle following Trump's sudden firing of Comey in May, and subsequent comments from his administration denouncing Comey's leadership of the bureau.

Several weeks later in his testimony to Congress, Comey emotionally rebuked those comments as "lies, plain and simple."

"The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader," Comey said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

Trump cuts red tape (literally), vows to roll back onerous highway regulations

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- If there's one thing President Donald Trump loves, it's a visual aid. (And, reportedly, Diet Coke.)

At a press event in the White House's Roosevelt Room, he flashed a chart outlining a maze of highway permitting regulations.

"Chris is not tall enough for this chart," the commander-in-chief quipped, as aides, including Assistant to the President Chris Liddell struggled to display the complex, color-coded poster. "Neither is anybody else."

According to Trump, an onerous regulatory environment requires would-be builders "go through nine different agencies, make 16 different decisions, under 29 different laws" to get permits for a highway.

"This chart -- I really love this chart," he added. "It really explains what a disaster it is."

His administration, Trump says, is "cutting years of wasted time and money out of the permitting process for vital infrastructure projects."

Since Trump took office, the Department of Transportation says, it has begun rolling back 82 regulations, with an additional 31 deregulatory actions planned next year. (DOT also initiated 76 regulatory actions, fulfilling Trump's two-for-one regulation elimination goal.)

"The never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden, screeching and beautiful halt," Trump said today.

"Unnecessary, duplicative or overly burdensome regulations are being eliminated and the permitting process is being streamlined to expedite much-needed infrastructure projects for the benefit of communities across the country," Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, who joined the president at the White House event, echoed in a statement this afternoon.

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