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Saturday
Nov182017

How a Senate ethics investigation works

US Senate Photographic Studio(WASHINGTON) -- Top leaders in the Senate are calling for a Senate Ethics Committee review of Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., who was recently accused of forcibly kissing a woman and appearing to grope her while she slept.

The committee has not announced whether it will pursue a preliminary inquiry into the alleged incidents, which took place before he joined the Senate when he was on an overseas USO tour, but Franken has welcomed an investigation, saying he’d “gladly cooperate.” Franken has also apologized to his accuser, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is "ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you."

On Thursday, the committee announced it would resume its preliminary inquiry into misconduct by Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose federal bribery trial ended in a mistrial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also said if Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is elected in December to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' empty seat, he would likely face an ethics review given the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Moore has denied all the allegations.

Here’s a look at how a Senate Ethics Committee review would unfold, if and when one occurs:

Who serves on the committee?

There are six members on the committee -- Chair Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Vice Chair Chris Coons, D-Del.; Sen. Jim Risch, R-Ind.; Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Launching a preliminary inquiry

Upon the receipt of a complaint or allegation of misconduct, the committee would first decide whether to conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a violation occurred.

A preliminary inquiry is similar to grand jury proceedings and could include interviews, subpoenas and depositions. It could last as long or short as the committee needs to conduct its fact-finding.

After receiving a final confidential report with the findings and recommendations, the committee would then vote to either dismiss the matter, issue a public or private letter of admonition, or to begin an adjudicatory review.

Conducting an adjudicatory review

According to the committee's Rules of Procedure, an adjudicatory review is conducted after finding “there is substantial cause for the committee to conclude that a violation within the jurisdiction of the committee has occurred.”

An adjudicatory review can be performed by outside counsel or by the committee staff. It would consist of interviews and sworn statements and could include a public hearing.

Upon completion of the review and following a final report, the committee would prepare a report for the Senate, which would include a recommendation if disciplinary action should be pursued. The final report and recommendation of the committee would then be made public, unless the committee votes to keep it confidential.

Potential disciplinary action

Potential disciplinary action recommendations could include expulsion, censure and/or payment of restitution. Expulsion would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

Does the committee have jurisdiction to look into pre-Senate allegations?

The allegations against Franken occurred prior to his becoming a U.S. senator. Would the committee still have jurisdiction in a case predating someone's time in the Senate?

The answer is yes - but it hasn’t happened in modern times, according to Robert Walker, who previously served as chief counsel and staff director on the Senate Ethics Committee from 2003 to 2008.

Walker said he’s unaware of any modern ethics inquiry that stemmed from allegations predating a senator’s time in office but says the committee has left open its ability to consider cases prior to one’s service.

“The committee has specifically left this an open issue such that in any given case it's up to the committee whether they want to look into pre-Senate conduct,” he said.

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Saturday
Nov182017

Republican senator: GOP is 'toast' with Trump in control

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent sparring partner of President Donald Trump, continues to make enemies in his own party after calling the GOP "toast" while unaware he was still on a live mic.

Flake, R-Ariz., was at a tax reform event in Mesa, Arizona on Friday night when he was caught bashing the president in a conversation with friend, Mesa Mayor John Giles.

"If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast," Flake was caught saying by ABC affiliate KNXV-TV.

Moore is running for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama left by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has come under fire for a number of allegations of sexual harassment and assault, but has refused to leave the race.

Trump is a frequent opponent for Flake, who announced last month he would not seek re-election in 2018 in a fiery speech condemning the president from the floor of the Senate.

Flake indirectly called out Trump in his Senate speech, saying, "We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalies never becomes the normal, with respect and humility."

He told ABC News' Mary Bruce of Moore in a Nov. 9 interview on Capitol Hill, "If there is any shred of truth to these stories, he ought to step aside. And now."

Flake's criticism of Trump and the GOP weren't the only interesting comments to be caught on the live mic Friday night.

Giles was caught appearing to encourage Flake to run for president in 2020.

"I am not throwing smoke at you, but you are the guy -- just for fun, think about how much fun it would be -- just to be the foil, you know, and point out what an idiot this guy is," Giles said, apparently referring to Trump. "Anyway, I hope you do it."

Giles, who is a moderate Republican like Flake, has been mayor of Mesa since 2014.

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Friday
Nov172017

Trump to be presented with $47M deal to arm Ukraine against Russia

petervician/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump will be presented with the recommendation to finance and sell anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian government — a move aimed at deterring aggression from pro-Russian separatists, a State Department official told ABC News.

The National Security Council decided during a meeting on Tuesday to greenlight the presentation of a $47 million grant package to the Ukrainian government to purchase American defense arms, including the powerful Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The president and Congress must approve the sale of anti-tank missiles. The Javelin, a portable missile with a steep price-tag, has been described as "The American Military's Anti-Tank Killer."

If Trump approves the arms deal, it would be a major shift from the party platform on sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, which was amended when Trump was the party's nominee for president, from supporting "lethal defensive arms" to Ukraine to the more vague "appropriate assistance” -- language that ran counter to the perspective of many of the organization’s Republicans.

"They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved," Trump said of his campaign in an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos at the time, before adding, "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."

Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had worked for years for the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was expelled in a popular uprising in 2014.

Russia invaded Crimea and sent troops and arms into eastern Ukraine shortly after his ouster, leading to a conflict that rages on to this day. The Obama administration never provided arms assistance to Ukraine in response.

A former Trump White House official and adviser to the president expressed concern to ABC News that arming Ukraine would inflame tensions in the region and aggravate America’s fragile relationship with Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis have been in discussions since June about how to best make the sale. They strongly recommended the decision to finance and sell anti-tank missiles to Ukraine above two other options that would aid in the arming of Ukraine.

The State Department official added that, in the upcoming weeks, there will be a meeting to discuss the public messaging on the sale — feedback that will be included in the eventual decision.

But a White House official cautioned that they are not ready to make their decision public.

"We have no announcement at this time," National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton told ABC News in an email.

The State Department was equally non-committal. "The United States has neither provided defensive weapons nor ruled out the option of doing so," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News.

Ukrainian officials have been publicly optimistic about relations with the United States.

"We are really satisfied with the acceleration of U.S.-Ukraine relations at the moment," Artur Gerasymov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and chairman of a military subcommittee, told the publication Foreign Policy in late October.

Mattis stressed the administration's desire to strengthen ties with Ukraine in an August press conference in Kiev with President Petro Poroshenko.

"This permits me, better informed, to go back and advocate for what I believe you need, as brought to me by your minister of defense and, certainly, your president," Mattis said. "For example, we've just approved -- just very recently, last couple of weeks -- another $175 million worth of equipment, including some specialized equipment that can be used to help defend the country, bringing to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years."

He added, at the time, that U.S. military leadership has been reviewing the American position on providing defensive lethal weapons.

"I would also point out that, on the defensive lethal weapons ... we are actively reviewing it," Mattis said. "I will go back, now, having seen the current situation, and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead."

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Friday
Nov172017

Trump says big game trophy ban reversal is on hold to review 'conservation facts'

MD WAZID HOSSAIN/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has announced that his administration's plan to reverse a ban on big game trophies has been put on hold so he can "review all conservation facts."

On Wednesday, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News that the Trump administration had planned to allow hunters to bring trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and
Zambia back to the United States.

However, Trump wrote on Twitter Friday evening that the decision had been placed on hold.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke followed Trump's tweet with a statement echoing that the administration believes conservation is "critical" and issuing permits would be delayed.

"President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical," Zinke said in a statement Friday night. "As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed."

The proposed reversal was met with widespread backlash, with celebrities and public figures taking to social media to criticize the president.

The ban on big game trophies had been put in place by the Obama administration in 2014.

Elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import such trophies if there is evidence that the hunting
benefits conversation of the species.

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Friday
Nov172017

How Congress pays for workplace settlements

flySnow/iStock/thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are taxpayers footing the bill for workplace settlements on Capitol Hill?

Earlier this week, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told MSNBC that Congress has paid out more than $15 million to settle harassment claims over the last 10 to 15 years.

An aide to Speier -- who is leading the charge on Capitol Hill to reform anti-harassment training and the complaint process -- later clarified that the figure included all workplace complaint
settlements. But the congresswoman’s comments raised questions about settlement payments in Congress.

How much money has been paid out?

Congress has paid $17.24 million for 264 settlements between 1997 and 2017, according to the congressional Office of Compliance, the legislative branch’s workplace administration office.

An OOC official told ABC News that most of the complaints are not related to sexual harassment, but also include other workplace issues regarding racial discrimination, overtime, and family and
medical leave, among others.

In a fact sheet explaining the claims process released Thursday, the OOC said a “large portion” of the cases come from “employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of
Representatives or the Senate.”

“The statistics on payments are not further broken down because settlements may involve cases that allege violations of more than one of the 13 statutes incorporated by the [Congressional
Accountability Act],” the OCC wrote in the fact sheet.

In short, it’s not clear how much of that $17 million has been used to settle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.

Where does the money come from?

The settlement payments come from the U.S. Treasury, according to the terms of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the marque congressional labor and accountability legislation governing
work in the legislative branch.

The CAA appropriates “such sums as may be necessary to pay such awards and settlements,” which are all approved by the executive director of the OCC.

Speier, who has introduced the Me Too Congress Act with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would require lawmakers repay the U.S. Treasury for any sexual harassment settlements and make their names
public.

"I think it's going to clean up a lot of people's acts," she told ABC News' Mary Bruce in an interview.

Who approves the payment?

Any payments regarding House employees must be approved by leaders of the House Administration Committee, according to a committee aide.

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Friday
Nov172017

Roy Moore's wife: President Trump 'owes us a thank you' for diverting attention from Russia probe

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- The wife of embattled Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore continued a fierce pushback against allegations of sexual misconduct and impropriety against her husband, holding
a press conference on Friday with other conservative Alabama women at the state capitol in Montgomery.

"The people of Alabama understand what's going on here. My husband, Judge Roy Moore is fighting for the people of Alabama and has been fighting for over 30 years. The people of Alabama know him,
they have seen what he has done," Kayla Moore said.

Kayla Moore also said, apparently ironically, that she believes President Donald Trump owes her and her husband a thank you for diverting public attention from the federal investigation into
Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible collusion with Trump associates.

"So the liberal press, Washington Post, who endorsed Hillary Clinton, who also endorsed our opponent gets involved in this race, along with the Human Rights Campaign, the DNC and the Washington
establishment, all of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us," Kayla Moore said, "I personally think he owes us a thank you. Have you noticed you're not
hearing too much about Russia?"

Beginning with allegations against Roy Moore that were first reported by the Washington Post late last week and continued this week with other women coming forward, a total of eight women have
accused Roy Moore of sexual misconduct or impropriety.

He has strongly denied the allegations, most recently saying at a press conference Thursday, "They're not only untrue, but they have no evidence to support them."

With the Dec. 12 special election for the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions drawing closer, Kayla Moore and the other women who spoke at today's press conference also took the chance
to blast the Democrat in the race, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. They said Jones is an "ultra-liberal" whose positions on abortion rights and transgender rights are, they said, not
representative of Alabamians.

"If a far-left liberal Democratic Doug Jones is elected, America is the victim," said one of the speakers, Ann Eubank, legislative chair for Alabama Legislative Watchdogs.

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Friday
Nov172017

Battle between House Republicans and firm that produced infamous 'dossier' wages on

f11photo/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, appeared in federal court on Wednesday to fight ongoing efforts to pry more information from his company.

The firm, which produced the so-called “dossier” of unconfirmed and salacious allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump, including purported collusion between the Trump campaign officials and
agents of the Russian government, is seeking to thwart efforts by House Republicans to compel the firm's bank to turn over the company's entire financial portfolio -- a move that could reveal its
roster of confidential clients.

The funders of the dossier have already been identified – a Republican-backed publication, The Washington Free Beacon, and a law firm for the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton
campaign both acknowledged hiring Fusion GPS to conduct research on Trump – but House Republicans nevertheless renewed subpoenas aimed at opening the firm’s financial records.

Lawyers for the firm have argued that the move is “a poorly disguised effort to harm persons and a business” and filed a temporary restraining order against its bank to prevent them to turning over
the records to the committee, while lawyers for the House Republicans argued that the committee’s interest “is not limited to the dossier.”

The court order in the case filed in conjunction with Wednesday's appearance is not publicly available, but a source with direct knowledge of the proceedings told ABC News that the judge is still deciding whether to block the bank from handing over the records to the congressional committee. A hearing on the matter is set for November 30th, the source said.

Simpson’s appearance on Wednesday comes just one day after a marathon session on The Hill on Tuesday, when he testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee for nearly seven hours.

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Friday
Nov172017

Sessions jokes of Russian ambassador from site of scrutinized 2016 speech

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As several investigations into Russian interference into last year's presidential election remain ongoing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joked about his encounters with the former
Russian ambassador to the U.S. Friday, at the same location in which their paths crossed over a year ago.

Sessions was beginning a speech to the Federalist Society 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., when he deviated from his prepared remarks to ask his audience
a question.

"I just was thinking, I should want to ask you: Is Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak in the room?" he said, to laughter. "Before I get started here. Any Russians? Anybody been to Russia? Got a cousin in
Russia or something?"

The quip would seem to stem from the fact that the Mayflower Hotel was the site of a speech by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in April 2016 that was attended by both Sessions and Kislyak.
The event faced scrutiny after Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his January 2017 confirmation hearing that he was unaware of any communication between Trump campaign officials and
Russia. Sessions served as chairman of the campaign's national security advisory committee.

The White House has said that the attorney general and Kislyak simply happened to attend the same speech and did not meet during the event.

"To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd," said a senior White House official in March.

In the ensuing months since Sessions' confirmation and Trump's inauguration, inquiries into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians were launched by the FBI -- and later taken over by
special counsel Robert Mueller -- and committees in both chambers of Congress.

Sessions has further revealed that he took meetings with Kislyak on at least two occasions in 2016 as part of his duties as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His office has said the
meetings were unrelated to the presidential campaign.

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Friday
Nov172017

Al Franken accuser Leeann Tweeden says she 'stayed quiet, but I was angry'

U.S. Senate Photographic Studio(NEW YORK) -- Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden shared a letter Minnesota Sen. Al Franken sent her today after she accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006.

Tweeden read the letter on ABC’s “The View,” where she was a guest:

“It says, ‘Dear Leeann, I want to apologize to you personally. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently. But what's important is the impact on you and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry. Sincerely Al Franken.'”

According to Tweeden, Franken also asked to meet with her personally.

Tweeden claimed in a blog post Thursday that Franken, then a comedian, “forcibly kissed me without my consent” while rehearsing for a skit on a 2006 USO tour to entertain U.S. troops in Afghanistan. She also posted a photo in which she claims it shows Franken groping her while she was asleep on a military plane.

Tweeden said earlier on “Good Morning America” that she came forward with her allegations about Sen. Franken so other victims would be empowered to share their stories.

“Maybe I have a platform to speak out, because if he did this to somebody else or if anybody else has stayed silent or anybody else has been the victim of any kind of abuse, maybe they can speak out and feel like they can come forward in real time and not wait a decade or longer,” Tweeden said in the interview.

Tweeden said she had immediately wanted to go public with her account but she stayed quiet because it was a “different time” and her now-husband had warned that she would be “victimized” and her career would be ruined.

“So I stayed quiet, but I was angry,” Tweeden told “GMA.”

Tweeden said she was inspired by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sharing her account of sexual assault as a young congressional aide.

“That happened to me...that was my sign. I think if I don't speak up now, I'm going to forever hold that and keep it with me forever. That was my moment to speak up,” Tweeden said.

She went on, “I didn't do this to have him step down. I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate. You know, I think that's for the people of Minnesota to decide. I’m not calling for him to step down. That was never my intention.”

She added that using comedy as a guise for sexual harassment is “never funny” and hopes her experience will help change the national discourse on the issue.

Franken apologized Thursday to Tweeden, writing in a statement, “While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”

Franken said that he doesn’t know “what was in my head when I took that picture,” but said that “it doesn't matter.”

"There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself,” Franken said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an ethics investigation to look into the allegations. Franken welcomed the ethics investigation and said he will cooperate.

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Friday
Nov172017

Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for the same crime: Study

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- African-American men serve longer sentences than white men for the same crime, a new study by the U.S Sentencing Commission shows.

The commission's analysis of demographic prison data from 2012 to 2016 found that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.

The racial disparity in sentencing can't be accounted for by whether an offender has a history of violence, according to the study by the commission, an independent bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary branch.

"Violence in an offender’s criminal history does not appear to contribute to the sentence imposed" except as it may factor into a score under sentencing guidelines, the study said.

When accounting for violence in an offender's past, black men received sentences that were on average 20.4 percent longer than that of white men, according to the commission's analysis of fiscal year 2016 data, the only year for which such data is available.

The new study updates an earlier commission report in 2012, known as the Booker report, that came after a Supreme Court decision in 2005, United States vs. Booker, which permitted judges to enhance an offender’s sentence based on “facts” determined by their own judgment. Before then, federal judges were only allowed to sentence an offender based on guidelines provided by the sentencing commission

According to the non-profit organization, The Sentencing Project, the U.S. is the world's leader in incarceration, with 2.2 million people in prison as of 2015, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.

The Sentencing Project also found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day, according to 2015 data cited by the organization.
 
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