Bernie Sanders swings through Iowa in final midterm sprint

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As part of an aggressive campaign swing in the final weeks of the 2018 midterms, Sen. Bernie Sanders will return to the state of Iowa this weekend, looking to boost a Democratic congressional hopeful that is trying to flip the state's most conservative district to blue.

Sanders will campaign on Saturday and Sunday with J.D. Scholten, the Democratic candidate in Iowa's 4th Congressional District against GOP Rep. Steve King, a conservative provocateur and fervent supporter of President Trump known for his hard-line rhetoric and positions on immigration.

The district is the most Republican in the state, according to statistics from the Iowa secretary of state. And despite his penchant for generating controversy, King has only failed to win 60 percent or more of the vote in his district during his nearly 16-year congressional career.

Then-candidate Donald Trump won the district by more than 27 points in the 2016 election, but Scholten, a first-time candidate and former professional baseball player, has significantly out-fundraised King in the final stretch of the campaign, hauling in more than four times the $151,673 King raised in the third quarter of 2018, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

FiveThirtyEight rates the race as "Likely Republican," giving King a seven-in-eight chance to win re-election.

The swing begins in the far western part of the state with a rally in Sioux City, with additional events planned in Fort Dodge and Ames, including a Social Security town hall and an appearance at the Iowa State University homecoming parade, according to Scholten's campaign.

King once again sparked outrage this week by praising a candidate for Toronto mayor, Faith Goldy, who appeared on a podcast produced by a Neo-Nazi website during last year's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Scholten condemned King's support for Goldy, writing on Twitter, "Once again, Steve King spends more time supporting far-right leaders in other countries than he does focusing on the needs of the people of our district."

The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper, endorsed Scholten in his challenge to King last week, sharply criticizing the Republican incumbent.

"This one’s a no-brainer for any Iowan who has cringed at eight-term incumbent King’s increasing obsession with being a cultural provocateur," the Register's editorial board wrote, "In his almost 16 years in Congress, King has passed exactly one bill as primary sponsor, redesignating a post office. He won’t debate his opponent and rarely holds public town halls. Instead, he spends his time meeting with fascist leaders in Europe and retweeting neo-Nazis."

GovTrack, a site that tracks the activities of the U.S. Congress, confirms that King has indeed only been the primary sponsor of exactly one piece of legislation: H.R. 2758, which redesignated a post office in Glenwood, Iowa, as the "William J. Scherle Post Office Building."

Sanders' swing sparks 2020 speculation

The trip for Sanders is part of an aggressive, nine-state campaign blitz that the Vermont senator's team announced last week and began on Friday with a campaign rally in Bloomington, Indiana, for congressional candidate Liz Watson.

"It is a diversity of Democrats on the list from some people who are unabashedly progressive to some who are progressive but not totally aligned with Bernie on every issue," Jeff Weaver, Sanders' former presidential campaign manager and current adviser, told ABC News in a phone interview last week.

Sanders is also campaigning in South Carolina on Saturday, and has stops planned in Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and California in the coming weeks, as speculation that he could be mounting another presidential bid in 2020 continues.

But Sanders is not the only 2020 Democratic contender visiting Iowa in the coming days.

California Sen. Kamala Harris is making her first trip to the Hawkeye State early next week, where she will rally with congressional candidate Cindy Axne in the state's 3rd Congressional District and other Democratic hopefuls during her two-day swing.

Harris is set to campaign in the central and eastern parts of the state, including stops in Des Moines, Cedar Falls, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

“There is so much on the line this year,” Harris said in a statement released by the Iowa Democratic Party this week. "We have seen how Republicans sow the seeds of hate and division throughout our country over the last two years."

"Now it’s time to hold them accountable, at every level of government -- and Iowans know that better than anyone. I’m excited to be coming to Iowa to make sure everyone uses the most powerful tool we can as Americans -- our votes -- to make real change in Iowa and in our country."

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President Trump blames Democrats for migrant group heading north

Ralph Freso/Getty Images(MESA, Ariz.) -- As a caravan of about 3,000 migrants from Central America heads toward the U.S. border, President Donald Trump blamed the Democrats on Friday for the surge in illegal border crossings at a rally in Mesa, Arizona.

“Democrats believe that illegal border crossers should be set free,” Trump said, though he did not identify any Democrats who have said this by name. “Democrats believe our country should be a giant sanctuary city for criminal aliens.”

Trump was stumping for Republican candidates in the state where security along the U.S.-Mexican border is a critical issue for voters.

“Democrats want to throw your borders wide open to criminals; I wanna build a wall,” Trump said. “The Democrats don’t care that a flood of illegal immigration is going to bankrupt our country.”

Arizona is the second stop on the president’s western swing. On Thursday, Trump stumped for Republicans in Montana. On Saturday, he heads to Elko, Nevada, for another rally.

Trump won Arizona by a little over 3 percentage points in the 2016 general election. Republican Senate candidate Rep. Martha McSally is neck to neck in the polls with her Democratic challenger, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, to fill the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

The outcome of the hotly contested race could determine which party controls the Senate. The Republicans currently control the Senate by a two-seat majority.

Even though Sinema has positioned herself as a moderate, Trump called her a “far-left extremist” who would vote along party lines on Friday. He claimed that Sinema is against the border wall and supports sanctuary cities, even though Sinema has called for increased border security, including a physical barrier, but has called the wall “an 18th-century solution.”

“A vote for Kyrsten Sinema is a wasted vote, but more importantly, it's a dangerous vote,” Trump said to the raucous crowd.

Trump did not mention the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

He did return to attacking Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her Native American ancestry. For the second straight rally -- in a state with the country's second-largest Native American population -- he attacked the Massachusetts senator for taking a DNA test that strongly supported she had an "unadmixed Native American ancestor" in her pedigree from six to 10 generations ago.

“We're gonna have to come up with another name; I can't use the word Pocahontas anymore,” he said. “I have more Indian blood than she has, and I have none.”

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Trump wades into California water wars, calls for diverting water to farmers in central valley

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is wading into California's water wars, demanding speedy action by the federal government to divert much-needed water resources to Republican-leaning farmers in California's central valley — a move sure to infuriate left-leaning environmentalists on the west coast.

Signing a presidential memorandum in Arizona Friday afternoon, the president set into motion a plan that's expected to benefit farmers who have complained about water restrictions intended to protect endangered fish and other species.

“This is a vital action ... to improve access to water in the American West,” President Trump said, signing the memorandum. “They've taken it away, they have so much water and they don't know what to do with it and they send it out to sea.”

Republicans quickly responded, calling the decision a clear win for communities in the West.

Environmentalists argue that diverting water to farmers will decimate endangered Delta smelt and Chinook Salmon. The president’s action Friday will speed up the environmental review and approval process needed to create the infrastructure needed to divert the water.

Earlier this year, as 17 fires ravaged California, Trump falsely claimed that the state government was mismanaging water supplies that should be available to fight the infernos, even though firefighters there said access to water was not a problem.

Environmentalists feared at the time that the president was using the wildfires as a smokescreen for wading into a deeply controversial fight between farmers and conservationists.

The memo Trump signed Friday calls on the Interior Department and Commerce Department to speed up infrastructure projects, including water desalination and recycling, and clarify how to manage water while continuing to follow environmental laws and the Endangered Species Act.

“The big problem was the federal approvals that were un-gettable and now they are very gettable and we're going to have them in a very short period of time,” Trump said.

“This will move things along at a record clip, and you have a lot of water, I hope you enjoy the water that you're going to have ... great for the farmers, great for the people, great for recreation,” Trump said.

The president’s action is sure to anger the local authorities in California, who will see this as federal overreach, but it's also sure to please his political allies in the state with midterms just two-and-a-half weeks away.

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Support for the military critical issue on both sides of the Arizona Senate race 

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(PHOENIX) -- Arizona was represented by an American war hero for decades, and now the military is playing a role in Arizonans’ search for their next senator as well.

The Senate seat that will be filled by the state’s first female senator come November is not the one left open by the passing of Sen. John McCain, but his military legacy, and the pride that Arizonans put in military service, is clear.

Bumper stickers denoting military branches are a regular sight in Phoenix. Earlier this month, a stall selling flags at the state fair prominently displayed the iconic black-and-white flag dedicated to prisoners of war and those missing in action. Arizona prides itself as the state with the sixth-highest number of active duty Air Force personnel, according to June 2018 figures from the Department of Defense.

Military pride has permeated the Senate campaign between Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, and their ties to the military has become an issue for supporters.

McSally was the nation’s first female fighter pilot to serve in combat, and hints of her 26 years of service have trickled in throughout her campaign.

She uses militaristic language in her speeches, likening parts of the campaign to air wars and ground wars, and talking about her current "deployment" in Washington. She wore a silver pendant of an A-10 Warthog plane for the debate on Monday. And most recently, President Donald Trump noted her service in an email that he sent to her supporters ahead of their rally together in Mesa on Friday night.

The military theme extends into the crowd as well, as supporters at a recent rally wore t-shirts with the phrases “fly, fight, win” and “Martha’s wingman.”

At that rally, where she stood alongside former Gov. Mitt Romney on Oct. 12, she said that “part of our culture as veterans” means that “we just run into gunfire, not away from it. We’re the ones that run into the toughest battles.”

She’s now battling Sinema, regularly drawing a contrast between their levels of service by calling it a contest between “a patriot and a protester.”

In that, McSally is referencing Sinema’s time protesting the Iraq War in 2003, before she started her political career. Sinema’s protesting past was the subject of one of the most damning ads of the Arizona election, wherein Sinema is shown protesting in a pink tutu while McSally is pictured in her Air Force uniform.

To leave the comparison at that, however, would be misleading.

Sinema has personal ties to the military as well, as one of her brothers is a Marine and another is a sailor. She also has made veteran’s affairs issues a focus of her work in Congress, and was one of the leaders calling for reform at the VA in the spring of 2014 after news broke of misconduct at the Phoenix VA — it had happened before McSally was in Congress.

Where voters stand will be determined on election day, when exit polls will show which voters listed the military as their top priority and which candidate gets their vote.

For Chris Brant, a McSally supporter, he has a personal connection to the A-10 Warthog, a plane that McSally flew while in uniform and allocated appropriations funds for while in Congress.

Brant is originally British, a veteran of the Royal Marines, and became a U.S. citizen in 1983.

“The A-10 came in and rescued wounded Royal Marines in Afghanistan,” Brant said, while wearing a green Royal Marines beret and a red McSally t-shirt at the rally with Romney.

Brant’s niece, Adrenne Kelley, 37, accompanied him to the event and also cited McSally’s “honorable service” as a selling point. Kelley’s spouse is a U.S. Marine.

Vermelle Bibler, a 76-year-old McSally supporter, identified herself as a Gold Star widow who appreciates McSally’s service.

"I always lean toward somebody in the military plus I like her better than Kyrsten Sinema," Bibler said.

That said, the appreciation of McSally’s service extends across party lines.

"I support the fact she was a military person, and the fact that I'm proud of her that she's a woman. However, that's where my support ends," Bernie Williams, a Democrat protesting the McSally-Romney rally, told ABC News. "However, that’s where my support ends.”

Gregg Gordon, 71, is a disabled veteran who was injured while fighting in the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Linda, opened the doors to their home to volunteers who used their home as a base of operations for a door-knocking event for Arizona Democrats on Sunday, Oct. 14.

He said that his support for Sinema stems from his respect for her work in addressing the crisis at the Phoenix Veteran’s Affairs Office in 2014. He worked there at the time and remembers seeing Sinema and McCain visit the VA to make sure the issue was addressed.

“They cared about veterans and what happened,” Gordon said.

Caleb Hayter, 28, is a member of a group called Veterans for Sinema. An Afghanistan veteran and a current Congressional constituent of McSally’s, he said that he respects McSally but is going to be voting for her opponent.

“I’m not begrudging Congresswoman McSally’s service and I think she has every right to talk about her service. I appreciate her service," Hayter said. "However, what I’m looking at this November is two different ideas of what service should be as a U.S. senator. I think that if a person is going to serve in politics as an elected official, then they have to put the interests of their constituents first.”

He added, “Because of her record and her ideology I wouldn’t trust her to put the interests of veterans ahead of the interests of her fellow ideologues and her campaign donors."

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Russian woman charged with alleged 'information warfare' against US midterms

Roman Babakin/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Federal authorities have charged a Russian woman for allegedly taking part in a Russian plot to influence public opinion over the upcoming 2018 midterms elections and other politically-charged events inside the United States, the Justice Department announced Friday.

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” the U.S. attorney overseeing the case, Zach Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.

According to prosecutors, 44-year-old Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of a $35 million effort to conduct “information warfare” against the United States and elsewhere using social media and other online sites.

Operating under an umbrella organization called “Project Lakhta,” Khusyaynova and her alleged conspirators used fake identities online to pretend to be “ordinary American political activists,” prosecutors said.

Their postings did not exclusively reflect one ideological viewpoint, and the operatives were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population,” the Justice Department said.

They allegedly focused on such topics as immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate.

And, according to the Justice Department, they “took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes,” including the racially-motivated shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church three years ago that left nine people dead, and the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally last year that left one woman dead.

Project Lakhta is allegedly funded by Russian oligarch and associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, and two companies he controls. Those companies have been indicted in a separate case by special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly taking part in the massive Russian campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. They have pleaded not guilty to the charge against them and are fighting the case in court.

In his own statement, FBI Director Chris Wray said the case “serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy … [and] we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”

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North Dakota Native Americans fight to protect their right to vote after court ruling

ChrisBoswell/iStock/Thinkstock(BISMARCK, N.D.) -- Courtney Yellow Fat, a tribal council member for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has lived on a reservation for most of his life – a community which historically hasn't used street names or addresses and instead relies on post office boxes.

So, a few years back when he made the 90-minute trek to the state capital of Bismarck to the department of motor vehicles for an updated license, he felt he had no choice but to make up one on the spot.

"Sitting Bull Street, I think," he said of the street address he gave for his state-issued driver's license.

His tribal issued ID is correct because he has since gotten an actual street address listed for 911 purposes and he plans to add that address to his driver's license.

Still, it's a complicated matter for thousands of Native American voters in North Dakota who, because the Supreme Court last week allowed the state to implement its strict voter ID law, now find themselves scurrying to make sure they have identification with street address so their votes will count. According to studies commissioned by Native American rights groups who sued North Dakota over the new law, roughly 35 percent of that population doesn't have an acceptable ID with a residential address.

Nevertheless, Yellow Fat and other tribal leaders are optimistic that the ruling will galvanize Native American voter turnout.

"I believe and I hope it's going to have the opposite effect of suppression because the people here are so used to fighting uphill battles against the U.S. government," he said.

The question of whether Native American votes will be counted is an especially relevant one in the upcoming midterms because, in less than three weeks, Yellow Fat and Native Americans across North Dakota will be among the nation’s most important groups in an election likely to help determine Senate control.

North Dakota’s voters are the most powerful in the country, according to FiveThirtyEight’s voter power index. A vote in North Dakota has more influence on which party will control the Senate majority than a vote in any other state, a point not lost on Yellow Fat.

“After the election of Sen. Heitkamp is when a lot of this came up through the legislature. And to us it’s clearly suppression of our votes,” Yellow Fat said.

The ability to have those Native American voters' ballots count is especially important for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's re-election bid.

She won her first election in 2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes thanks in part to Native American voters who cast their ballots under less restrictive voting laws. The court decision makes her already tough reelection bid against popular Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer even harder than it already has been.

Native Americans comprise two percent of the national population, but make up a larger share of North Dakota’s population at just over five percent. The state is also home to five reservations, which often vote in large numbers for Democrats and serve as a chunk of the state Democratic Party’s base.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger, the defendant in the voter ID lawsuit, told ABC News voter suppression is not the intent of his office or the voter ID law.

“I can look you straight in the eye and I will tell you that nothing has ever happened in this office to target anybody. That's not what I was elected to do,” Jaeger said. “I took an oath of office to follow the laws of the state of North Dakota and I try my best every day to do that.”

Jaeger said his office is entirely focused on making voting accessible to anyone who wants to do so.

“I don't have time to try to figure out how to disenfranchise anybody in the state of North Dakota because all of our efforts to make sure that anyone who wants to vote will be able to vote.”

Heitkamp countered Jaeger’s view in an interview with ABC News after Thursday night’s Senate debate. She said the law by its nature blatantly disenfranchises Native Americans by requiring a residential street address.

“Why would we ever disenfranchise a Native American veteran who only has a P.O. box that everybody knows when they walk into the polling booth, they know exactly who that person is, they know that they're a North Dakota resident. That's why we don't have registration in North Dakota because we don't have this problem and anyone who says this isn't about disenfranchising Native Americans is not being honest,” the senator said.

Jaeger said that the P.O. box requirement was meant for the state to verify that voters who live in a given precinct get a ballot specific to where they live and that votes are not supposed to be cast by people who do not actually live in the precinct.

“It becomes very difficult if somebody just comes in with a P.O. box because we have no way of knowing which ballot that they should receive,” Jaeger said, giving examples of how election issues vary in different towns across the state. “Voting is tied to a residential address, and so there's a lot of different ballots.”

Although a lower court sided with the Native Americans before the state’s June primary, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have both ruled in recent weeks that the state can move ahead with its law for its stated purpose, namely combatting voter fraud.

Voter fraud, however, has been virtually nonexistent in North Dakota, with the Secretary of State’s office saying that the number of fraudulent voter cases found have been in the single digits in both the 2012 and 2016 elections.

Jaeger, however, said that the numbers do not mean they can rule out the existence of voter fraud, citing voters in 2016 who voted without IDs and were unable to be matched by his office, in the weeks after the election, back to a home address they’d written down when they voted.

“Their ballot was counted and we can't find them anymore. From my position that's a concern. Because that means the integrity of the election may have been compromised,” Jaeger said.

The first effort at a voter ID law in North Dakota passed in 2013, within a few months of Heitkamp’s victory. A court win by tribal members prevented the law from taking effect for the 2016 election.

Last year, the Republican legislature worked with the secretary of state’s office on a new bill. The bill allowed voters without an ID showing a residential address to vote, but would only count their vote if they could prove their address to election officials within six days of the election.

Tribal activists submitted to the state legislature statistics detailing Native Americans’ difficulty in getting an acceptable ID.

The bill passed with overwhelming support from the Republican majority.

Court documents indicate the state did not consult with tribal governments about the impact of the bill on Native Americans, even after tribal members won their 2016 case.

Activists have accused Republican legislators and state election officials of erecting barriers to voting for the state’s mostly Democratic Native American population. North Dakota’s two majority-Native American counties both supported Heidi Heitkamp with nearly 80 percent of the vote when she first ran in 2012.

In a statement this week, the leaders of the four largest tribes in North Dakota opposed the law, calling it “suppressive” and accused the state of attempting to disenfranchise Native American voters.

“We believe the requirement of a physical, residential property with a street address was intended to disenfranchise Native American voters. To combat the disenfranchisement of our members, we intend to ensure that our members that lack residential street addresses can obtain them so that they may exercise their right to vote,” the statement read.

“We encourage all tribal people to come out to vote on November 6th even if you do not have a qualifying ID,” the statement added. “We will not be silenced by the blatant attempts to rob our people of our voice.”

Heitkamp and Cramer both addressed the voter ID ruling in their debate Thursday night.

Heitkamp accused the state legislature of deciding that “there are certain people in North Dakota that they don’t want to vote,” and that the law countered the state’s values, expressing hope that votes from Native Americans will count.

Cramer said North Dakota, as the only state without voter registration, needs to make sure voters demonstrate they live where they say they do and noted that “the integrity of the ballot box is very precious.”

Jaeger said it should be up to the tribes to provide proper qualifying identification to citizens on the reservation who have not sought them.

“I certainly hope that the appropriate authorities will see that their people have that since it’s so essential for everything that’s done.”

In an interview with ABC News, Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said he expected people to see the court ruling as a challenge that will drive people to come to the polls.

“With this ruling, I think it actually energized more people to go out. They want to be challenged for not voting, I think they’re going to go meet that challenge and I think they’re going to get out to the polls. That is our outlook,” Faith said.

But others on the reservation are wary.

Bill Left Hand, who has lived on the reservation most of his life with his five children — and now their children, said he is concerned people may not be able to vote because of the address requirement.

But he expressed approval for the tribe’s efforts to increase awareness about the new law.

“Standing Rock tribe is making every effort they can to inform the people of that and I’m also encouraging a lot of people to get out and get their address updated and to come and vote because that’s what we need, our voices to be heard most of all,” he said.

Faith and other tribal leaders in North Dakota are coordinating ahead of election day to ensure that Native Americans on the state’s five reservations will be able to vote. Four Directions, a Native American voting rights advocacy group, has put forward a proposal agreed to by tribal leaders to help residents secure acceptable forms of ID to present at the polls.

“As long as you provide a name and you’ll be at a physical residence, [the state] will honor a tribal letterhead as an ID for that person to vote,” said OJ Semans, Four Directions’ executive director. “We’re working with the tribes getting tribal officials to be at polling places or setting up an office near the polling places so people can get a tribal letterhead, get their IDs and go vote.”

Semans says his message for the state and people outside North Dakota is that the tribes will vote.

“It’s real simple. At the end, you tell them — Standing Rock will vote. Spirit Lake will vote. Turtle Mountain will vote. Sisseton-Wahpeton will vote. All of the tribes are united in ensuring that our tribal members are able to participate in this democratic process.”

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Feds charge NY man with threatening two US senators for supporting Kavanaugh

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(SMITHTOWN, N.Y.) -- Federal authorities have arrested a New York man for allegedly threatening to attack two U.S. senators over their support for Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was almost derailed by an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman three decades ago while they were in high school.

74-year-old Ronald Derisi of Smithtown, Long Island, was arrested Friday morning on charges of threatening a federal official, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege that on the same day Kavanaugh and his accuser testified in separate sessions to a Senate panel, Derisi left two threatening voicemails at offices associated with a lawmaker only identified in charging documents as "Senator 1."

In one of the messages, he allegedly expressed his opposition to Kavanaugh and said he had a "present" for the senator: "It's a nine millimeter."

Then, after the U.S. Senate voted along largely along partisan lines to confirm Kavanaugh, Derisi left 10 voicemails for a second unidentified senator.

"Maybe you should go back to [your home state],” he allegedly said in a message on Oct. 7. “We'll be in touch soon, see ya soon, see ya soon."

The investigation was led by the U.S. Capitol Police.

“Representative democracy cannot work if elected officials are threatened with death for simply doing their job,” the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard Donoghue, said in a statement. “The First Amendment - the pinnacle of American achievement - protects debate, disagreement and dissent, not death threats.”

According to U.S. Capitol Police, Derisi was previously arrested for leaving threatening voicemails at an unidentified victim’s home and office three years ago. He pleaded guilty to local charges in the case.

Friday's development comes after a threatening letter that the writer claimed was contaminated with ricin was sent to the Bangor, Maine, residence of GOP Sen. Susan Collins early Monday afternoon, the senator's communications director, Annie Clark said. Collins' husband reportedly later said the letter mentioned her vote in favor of Kavanaugh.

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Paul Manafort arrives at court hearing about sentencing date in a wheelchair

3drenderings/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Paul Manafort, the onetime Trump campaign chairman, arrived in court on Friday for a hearing about his sentencing date in a wheelchair.

Manafort is currently in detention in an Alexandria, Virginia jail awaiting sentencing on a host of charges brought by Mueller’s prosecutors in two separate jurisdictions as part of his investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Manafort’s defense attorney, Kevin Downing, told the judge that Manafort’s health has suffered as a result of his incarceration.

“We do think there are significant concerns with Mr. Manafort’s health and much of that has to do with the terms of Mr. Manafort’s confinement,” Downing said. It was not immediately clear what ailment Manafort has suffered.

He will be sentenced for on February 8, 2019 for various financial crimes after a jury found him guilty in August. He is still awaiting sentencing on the two separate counts of conspiracy to which he plead guilty in September.

After a grueling two-week trial in Virginia this August in which Manafort was found guilty on eight felony counts for financial crimes related to his unregistered lobbying work in Ukraine, Judge Ellis declared a mistrial on the remaining ten counts when the jury determined it was hopelessly deadlocked.

With another trial on separate charges against Manafort looming in Washington, D.C., the judge granted a request from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team for more time to decide whether to retry or dismiss the remaining charges in Virginia. But then the case took a twist.

Legal teams for Mueller and Manafort announced that they had negotiated a plea agreement in which Manafort would plead guilty to two of the charges against him in Washington, D.C. as well as the remaining ten charges from the first trial in Virginia. Prosecutors, the agreement notes, could eventually argue for the dismissal of the Virginia charges depending on the level of his cooperation in ongoing investigations.

A joint status report with regard to sentencing in the D.C. case is due November 16.

Judge Ellis was not inclined to give prosecutors an additional extension to decide whether to refile the ten counts that jury deadlocked on in his courtroom. He wrote in a filing earlier this month that both the prosecution and defense appeared to anticipate that Manafort's sentencing would "be deferred until cooperation was complete." Ellis took exception to the sentencing timeline, calling that part of the agreement “highly unusual” in a recent court filing.

“In this District, the government’s decision to retry a defendant on deadlocked counts is always made in a timely manner and sentencing occurs within two to no more than four months from entry of a guilty plea or receipt of a jury verdict,” the judge wrote. “This case appears to be no different from any other case in which the defendant is cooperating and that cooperation is expected to extend beyond a scheduled sentencing date.”

It wasn’t the first time he had locked horns with Mueller’s team. From the time he took on the special counsel's financial crimes case against Manafort, Ellis has repeatedly jousted with prosecutors and questioned their motives for bringing the case against President Trump's former campaign manager. At one pre-trial hearing, the 78-year old jurist said the real reason for the dogged pursuit of crimes dating back more than a decade was to get Manafort "to sing,” divulging anything he might know about the President.

During the trial, Ellis regularly pushed prosecutors to "expedite" their case, to drop items he thought irrelevant, and to dramatically curtail the use of pictures and exhibits illustrating Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, telling jurors, "We don't prosecute people because they have a lot of money and throw it around." The judge in Manafort's D.C. case had also said she planned to limit this type of evidence in the D.C. trial.

Ellis launched barbs at the prosecution, and at one point — in a rare admission — instructed jurors during the trial to put aside his own remarks from the day before saying that he was “probably wrong."

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US and South Korea suspend more military exercises

ByoungJoo/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States and South Korea said Friday they have decided to suspend another joint military exercise to give more breathing room for ongoing denuclearization talks with North Korea.

The Pentagon announced Defense Secretary James Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo had agreed to put off this year's version of Vigilant Ace, a large-scale air exercise slated for December.

"Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to suspend Exercise VIGILANT ACE to give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue," said Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokesperson.

"Both ministers are committed to modifying training exercises to ensure the readiness of our forces," she added.

Both Mattis and Jeong had met earlier Friday in Singapore on the sidelines of the ASEAN security meeting.

Last year's version of the annual Vigilant Air exercise included the participation of 230 aircraft and more than 12,000 personnel. Some of the United States Air Force's most sophisticated aircraft participated in the exercise, including the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters.

Occurring just days after North Korea's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the east coast of the United States, North Korea blasted the exercise as being a provocation.

The suspension of this year's Vigilant Air exercise marks the second time that the U.S. and South Korea have agreed to put off an annual large-scale military exercise in the wake of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore this past June.

Trump's pledge to stop 'war games' with South Korea throws critical exercises into question

A month after that summit, the United States and South Korea announced they would suspend the large Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise scheduled for August.

Mattis has said the "good faith effort" of suspending that exercise was not open-ended and that he wanted to wait and see how future negotiations with North Korea progress before making a decision about future large-scale exercises, particularly the Foal Eagle exercise scheduled for the spring.

In September, Mattis said there had suspension of previous exercises had had a "negligible" effect on the readiness of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

White said on Friday that Mattis and Jeong "pledged to maintain close coordination and evaluate future exercises."

Mattis consulted Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya ahead of the joint U.S. and South Korean announcement. White said "they reaffirmed their commitment to regional security."

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Heidi Heitkamp fends off attacks from Kevin Cramer over voting record in first North Dakota Senate debate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(BISMARK, N.D.) -- The first debate in a Senate race that could shape up to be one of the most critical in the country was largely an argument over which candidate would be less beholden to politics and stand up more for the people of North Dakota.

“I ran six years ago and I said, ‘I’m not joining any team.’ I’m not 100 percent with anyone other than North Dakota,” said Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in the debate against her Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer.

But Cramer sought to paint a different picture, calling Heitkamp’s bipartisanship an “illusion.”

“Donald Trump stands with North Dakota more often than Heidi Keitkamp stands with North Dakota,” he said during the debate, which aired across the state Thursday night.

Heitkamp is a Democrat running for re-election in a state President Donald Trump won handily in 2016. It is forcing the senator to maintain a tough balance, and recent public polling shows Heitkamp behind Cramer by double digits -- a fact she likes to say was also reported when she won in 2012 by only about 3,000 votes.

Because Democrats need to not only defend 10 seats in states Trump won in 2016, but also pick up two seats in reliably Republican states in order to take control of the chamber, Heitkamp’s seat is key.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s voter power index, North Dakota’s voters are the most powerful in the country.

And in order to come out victorious, Heitkamp will have to win over voters on both sides of the aisle and go up against the Trump-endorsed Cramer, who benefits from the president’s popularity in the state.

“When one team is so much better for North Dakota than the other team, you don’t abandon the good team half the time just to say you’re only with ‘em half the time,” Cramer said, knocking Heitkamp’s work across the aisle.

“[Trump’s] on the right side of North Dakota, that’s what matters,” he said.

Speaking after the debate, Heitkamp called the strategy “ridiculous.”

“When you look at my history and my record with the president, I’ve attended many signing ceremonies, worked with the administration. He knows that,” said Heitkamp, who votes in line with Trump around 54 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker.

“And so, you know, I think people see through that,” she added.

Heitkamp hammered her moderate voting record in the debate, shedding light on her bipartisan accomplishments and diverting Cramer’s attempts to pair a vote for him with support for the president.

“I think it’s interesting that Congressman Cramer talks about President Trump. Why not talk about what you’ve done, why not talk about your accomplishments, why not about your bipartisan credibility?” asked Heitkamp.

“Because when you look at rankings, no matter what he says, I’m 50th-most conservative and 49th-most liberal,” Heitkamp said.

She compared moderates in the Senate to “connective tissue in between that stops gridlock” and said they are the ones “trying to get things done and do get things done.”

But Cramer called it a “tricky game.”

“This is the thing, she's with them when we don't need her. She's never been with them when we needed the vote. And that's the problem,” he said in an interview after the debate.

The #MeToo movement has also played a role in each of the two candidates’ campaigns, and Cramer was quick to hit Heitkamp for voting "no" on Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“You vote against Brett Kavanaugh when 64 percent of your constituents want you to vote for Brett Kavanaugh?” he asked rhetorically in an interview after the debate.

He also called out Heitkamp for running an advertisement that inadvertently outed women who were victims of sexual assault, which she opened the debate by apologizing for.

“I just thought it was really important to begin, to just say, ‘I'm sorry,’” Heitkamp said of the decision to use her opening statement to apologize.

Asked if the mistake might lose her votes with Independent women, a key bloc of support in the state, Heitkamp said it wasn’t about votes.

“This really for me isn't about the election. This is about, ‘I made a bad mistake, my campaign made a bad mistake, and I need to own it, and I need to do everything possible to fix it,” she said.

“So that's not about getting votes or losing votes. That's about making amends,” she added.

But while Cramer criticized the intent of the ad as a play toward “identity politics,” he also addressed his own comments over the #MeToo movement that landed him in hot water recently. In comments to The New York Times, he said the women in his family “cannot understand this movement toward victimization” because they are “tough.”

Heitkamp responded tearfully, when first asked about Cramer’s comments in early October, and said her own mother, a victim of sexual assault, was no less tough because of it.

“We say all politics is local, I think all politics is personal,” Heitkamp said after the debate Thursday. “In North Dakota, what they want is they want someone who has integrity, they want someone who knows how to talk to people and knows the opportunities that we should be pursuing for the state.”

Cramer, speaking separately, pointed to a different quality he thinks voters appreciate -- and defended his comments to The New York Times.

“What I think North Dakotans like is they like common sense,” he said.

“And when a movement becomes so extreme that it's now hurting the very cause and the people that it states that it's helping, North Dakotans see through that quickly. And when you call it out, in Washington they think it's a gaffe. Here they think it's somebody talking to them,” Cramer said.

Both Heitkamp and Cramer also described health care and tariffs as key issues for voters in the state. Heitkamp is aiming to preserve the Affordable Care Act while Cramer wants to replace it, and Heitkamp is against Trump’s tariffs while Cramer supports the president’s efforts.

“Tariffs are a key issue in the media, and they are a key issue certainly to the people directly affected, but even most of them, soybean farmers, as an example, strongly support Donald Trump,” Cramer said.

“I used to say I’m the chief bitcher about these tariffs because they are so wrong for North Dakota,” Heitkamp said in contrast. “These tariffs are going to decimate a very critical and important market for one of our most important cash crops: soybeans.”

Over the summer, the Trump administration announced tariffs of 10 percent on more than $200 billion of imported Chinese goods. The response from China hit Trump country specifically, with tariffs on billions of dollars of American products, including soybeans.

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