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Tuesday
Feb192019

Who is Jeffrey Rosen, the new pick for deputy attorney general?

robertcicchetti/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- After a turbulent two years for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, caught in the middle of President Donald Trump’s ire over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation, who is the man Trump is nominating to replace Rosenstein?

His name is Jeffrey Rosen, and he’s already the number-two at another federal agency, the Transportation Department. He and newly-installed Attorney General William Barr worked together years ago at the powerhouse law firm Kirkland & Ellis.

According to Rosen’s official biography, he worked at the firm for nearly 30 years, before and after two stints in government.

Under the George W. Bush administration, Rosen first served as a top lawyer in the Transportation Department, and then as general counsel and senior policy adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Afterward, he returned to private practice.

He rejoined the federal government shortly after Trump took office, and as deputy secretary at the Transportation Department “he acts as the Department’s Chief Operating Officer and advises and assists the Secretary in leading the Department's Operating Administrations and more than 50,000 employees,” his official biography states.

The deputy attorney general is also “similar to a chief operating officer,” Rosenstein said after assuming the position in 2017.

Both roles also focus on one basic mission: public safety.

During his Senate confirmation hearing to join the Transportation Department in 2017, Rosen said government agencies should “implement the law” as Congress has written it.

“I have a somewhat simple view, that if Congress has written the law then the [government] agencies should implement the law,” Rosen said.

Rosen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1982, and he earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwest University three years earlier.

He now lives in Virginia with his wife. They have three adult children.

As ABC News reported Monday, Rosenstein has begun telling colleagues he plans to leave the Justice Department by the middle of March. Rosen is Barr's top pick to replace Rosenstein, according to a Justice Department official familiar with the matter.

The White House announced Trump's intent to nominate Rosen in a news release late Tuesday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

Ex-FBI official who targeted Trump: I will trust Mueller's findings

Pete Marovich/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, said Tuesday that he “absolutely” will trust the conclusions ultimately reached by special counsel Robert Mueller, even if that means Mueller determines President Donald Trump hasn’t coordinated his actions with the Russian government.

“I have total confidence in Director Mueller, and the team he’s put together,” McCabe said on ABC’s The View Tuesday. “I will have complete faith in the conclusions that they draw.”

Nevertheless, McCabe told the show’s hosts he had serious concerns that Trump “may be a threat to national security.”

Asked specifically by host Joy Behar whether he believed Trump had been acting as an agent of the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign or shortly after taking office, McCabe said, “We believed that could be possible, and that’s why we opened those cases.”

McCabe was referring to two cases he opened in the days after James Comey was fired as FBI director in May 2017: an investigation into whether Trump was coordinating with Russian operatives, and an investigation into whether Trump was trying to obstruct the FBI’s larger probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

On “The View,” McCabe reiterated previous concerns about Comey’s firing, Trump’s public attacks on the investigation, and Trump’s alleged request of Comey that the FBI back off of its scrutiny of national security adviser Mike Flynn, who lied about his contacts with the Russian government.

The president “fired the director when [Comey] didn’t do the things that the president asked,” and that became “an important part” of the subsequent investigation launched by McCabe, the former deputy director said.

Just minutes before McCabe appeared on the show Tuesday, Trump took to Twitter to attack McCabe as a liar motivated by politics. Trump echoed sentiments from the day before, when the president similarly dismissed McCabe's allegations as a bunch of "lies" coming from a "disgraced" official who was fired from the FBI last year for allegedly misleading internal investigators about a leak to the media.

Asked Tuesday whether he has ever “leaked” to the media, McCabe insisted he has not, but he did not say whether he’s ever shared investigative information with the media.

He said that, as deputy director, he was “one of two people at the FBI who had the authority to disclose information to the media,” and that authority is “baked in” to FBI guidelines.

Nevertheless, federal prosecutors are currently weighing whether to bring charges against McCabe for his alleged falsehoods to investigators looking into how information related to a probe of the Clinton Foundation was shared with a reporter.

As for the investigations he opened against Trump, McCabe on Tuesday said he talked with Rosenstein and senior FBI officials about it at the time, and key lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were also informed about the new probes.

McCabe recounted how, during separate meetings in the days after Comey was fired, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised the possibility of wearing a wire into the White House to secretly record the president, and questioned whether the 25th Amendment might be used to oust Trump from office.

“We did not follow up on” either matter, McCabe said. “It never went beyond the realm of a brief off-handed comment.”

As the public waits for Mueller to wrap up his investigation, McCabe said he believes Mueller’s findings should be shared publicly “in the broadest way possible.”

McCabe’s interview with The View was part of a weeks-long media tour for him as he promotes his new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

Does a little-known DOJ official have the 'worst job in Washington'?

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Last week, on a rainy and bitterly cold night in Washington, D.C., a senior Trump administration official at the Justice Department, Stephen Boyd, trudged to a Capitol Hill bar to meet with a powerful Democrat’s top investigator.

The meeting, described to ABC News by a Justice Department official, came after a dramatic showdown days earlier between the Justice Department and House Democrats – a dispute allegedly supercharged by a leak from inside the attorney general's office.

"He has the worst job in Washington," another Trump appointee recently said of Boyd, who as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legislative Affairs acts as the Justice Department's go-between to Congress.

Less than 24 hours before then-acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was set to testify to the House Judiciary Committee, Democrats prepared a subpoena that could be delivered on live TV if he didn't offer details about private conversations with the president.

In a rapid exchange of letters, Boyd accused Democrats of trying to create "a spectacle" and insisted Whitaker wouldn't show up unless they ruled out, in writing, a subpoena the next day. But the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., only offered a vague response.

They were at an impasse – until Boyd picked up the phone and made a promise to Nadler's aide: If Nadler penned a letter vowing no imminent subpoena, then the letter would not be made public.
In essence, Boyd's promise meant Nadler could avoid even undeserved criticism that he caved to Whitaker's demands, and the much-anticipated hearing could go on as planned, according to the Justice Department official, who does not work in Boyd’s office but was told of the internal discussion.

Based on Boyd's assurance, Nadler privately sent a new letter to Whitaker, clearly stating, "[T]here is no need to issue a subpoena tomorrow."

The letter, however, was soon posted online by Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, the committee’s top Republican. Collins later mocked the committee chairman's "full-blown cave.”

Nadler's office was blindsided.

And after Whitaker dodged several questions at the hearing the next day, Boyd asked the Democratic investigator to meet face-to-face, hoping to salvage their working relationship. At the Capitol Hill bar, Boyd relayed a surprising discovery: One of Whitaker's own senior aides forwarded Nadler's private letter to Collins' office, behind Boyd’s back.

That's how the letter became public, the Justice Department official told ABC News.

In some ways, Boyd's meeting at the bar reflects a time when Republicans and Democrats regularly mingled – and found compromise – away from the office. But the circumstances behind the meeting also underscore how distant those days have become.

Nearly two years ago, as Boyd was preparing to take over the Office of Legislative Affairs, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, warned him how treacherous his job would be.

"Mr. Boyd, you're about to run into a buzz saw. You do know this, don't you?" Graham asked during Boyd's Senate confirmation hearing in May 2017.

"That's what I'm told," Boyd responded.

Since being confirmed, Boyd has been at the center of some of the Trump era's most contentious political battles, under pressure not only from Democrats but also fellow Republicans and – as recently illustrated – some of his own Justice Department colleagues.

"Every day is a four-alarm fire," according to Ron Weich, who held Boyd's post at the Justice Department under the Obama administration.

Boyd is on "the front line of the struggle" between two branches of government, and he "needs to protect the [Justice] Department from legislative interference, but also needs to smooth the way for legitimate congressional oversight," Weich said.

Graham – the one who warned Boyd about running into a buzz saw – is now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of his self-professed priorities is to "hold accountable" anyone who exhibited "blatant political bias" during the FBI's investigation of possible ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russian operatives.

That federal probe has dogged Boyd for the past two years, with Republican House members threatening to hold Boyd's bosses in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over classified documents or secret information about human sources used during the FBI's investigation.

In letters to those lawmakers, Boyd insisted they were seeking information so sensitive that it was stored only at the FBI, not even in secure rooms at the Justice Department designed to protect classified information.

Conservatives jumped on Boyd – a solid conservative himself – claiming Boyd's response wreaked of "arrogance," as then-congressman Dave Brat, R-Va., put it.

"Stephen Boyd is ... as much responsible for the slow-walking as anybody else," bemoaned Fox News Channel's senior judicial analyst, Andrew Napolitano.

Meanwhile, Boyd has also frustrated some Democrats for what they see as his lack of responsiveness.

But people on both sides of the aisle still describe Boyd as a positive, smart force inside the Justice Department who acts in good faith. One Democratic staffer even called him "very nice," and Weich praised what he sees as Boyd's "calm, sensible approach."

That approach could be tested now that Democrats control the House and wield subpoena power again.

"It's a whole new level of tension when the opposing party takes over," and Boyd should prepare for "one hostile hearing after another," Weich insisted.

Nadler and his fellow Democrats are already pressing the Justice Department on an array of issues. Among the questions they have: Are investigative decisions being improperly influenced by the White House? Why has the Justice Department curtailed certain protections against discrimination? What is the Justice Department doing to stop gun violence across the country or fix the nation's broken immigration system?

Boyd, now 40, has been navigating –- and at times taking part in -- thorny issues for nearly 15 years.

Years before he joined the Justice Department under attorney general Jeff Sessions, Boyd worked as a spokesman for then-senator Sessions. And during that time, at the start of Barack Obama's presidency, Boyd helped promote Sessions' opposition to immigration reform efforts and his rejection of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as nominees to the Supreme Court.

Boyd also helped Sessions push for terrorism suspects to be prosecuted at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the alleged masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are still waiting for their trial to begin.

Like Sessions, Boyd is an Alabama native. Boyd attended the University of Alabama and then graduated from law school there. After his time with Sessions in the Senate, he spent several years as chief of staff to Rep. Martha Roby, another conservative Republican from Alabama.

That type of Capitol Hill experience is key to Boyd's job now.

"Federal prosecutors and members of Congress speak two different languages, and [he] needs to speak both," Weich said.

Through a spokeswoman, Boyd declined to comment for this story.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

Will Joe Biden run in 2020? Sources close to the former vice president say yes

Alexandra Beier/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Though former Vice President Joe Biden has said publicly he hasn’t made up his mind on pursuing a presidential run in 2020, sources close to the politician, who have spoken with him in private, say they believe he will mount a bid.

Robert Wolf, a top Democratic donor and former economic adviser to former President Barack Obama who has known Biden for over a decade, spoke with him last week and believes Biden is "90 percent there" on a run.

"It was clear that this was different than 2015," Wolf told ABC News. "This was someone who seemed ready to run and trying to figure out when best to announce.

"He feels he’s coming off an incredible midterm and he’s sitting in the best position to take on [President Donald] Trump across the country."

Biden also met with Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., last week. Her office confirmed to ABC News that Feinstein left the meeting with the sense that Biden would pursue a run.

However, when asked about his 2020 plans on Saturday during a discussion on election security at the Munich Security Conference, Biden demurred.

“I haven’t reached a decision. I am in that process of doing that, and I will in the near term let everyone know what that decision is,” Biden said.

As Biden contemplates his next steps, he has said he’s not in a rush to get in the race -- despite nearly a dozen Democrats having already announced their candidacy.

“I think there is a sufficient amount of time to [decide], and I think that we have a tendency, particularly in the States, to start the whole election process much too early,” Biden said in Munich.

A spokesperson for the former vice president said Biden's comments on Sunday speak for themselves.

While Biden is taking his time to make the decision, some allies are waiting in the wings to join any potential campaign.

James Smith, who ran for governor of South Carolina in 2018, said he has been in touch with Biden's current staff and has discussed who might be valuable to a Biden run in South Carolina.

"We are all anticipating it is not 'if' but 'when' he announces," Smith told ABC News.

Biden supported Smith's 2018 run and in a video message during the South Carolina Democratic Convention weekend said Smith reminds him of his late son, Beau. While Smith is not working at the direction of Biden, he believes that the former vice president will run and is preparing for that.

"He hasn’t told me he plans to run, but we are preparing for what we believe to be a 'Joe Biden for President' campaign that will be robust here in South Carolina," Smith said.

After a quieter public schedule throughout December and early January, Biden’s appearances have begun to pick up.

Aside from his trip to the Munich Security Conference -- of which he is a frequent attendee -- Biden has three other public events on his schedule for February.

Biden will appear at the University of Pennsylvania Tuesday for a discussion of “global affairs and other topical subjects.” He will also hold a discussion with author Jon Meacham at the University of Delaware on Feb. 26, a rescheduled event from early December.

Biden is also scheduled to give remarks at the inaugural Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Feb. 28. The theme of the event: “The Role of U.S. Leadership in a Changing World."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

Trump attacks California's 'fast train' after state leads lawsuit challenging national emergency

Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump attacked California and its plans for a high-speed train on Twitter Tuesday as he responded to a 16-state coalition's lawsuit challenging his national emergency declaration.

"As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!" Trump tweeted.

Trump zeroed in on California, which is leading the group alleging that Trump's emergency declaration is unconstitutional.

"The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!" Trump tweeted.

The "Fast Train" Trump mentions is referring to California's attempts to construct a high-speed rail project that would have ferried commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to the Associated Press, costs for the project have doubled to $77 billion and the anticipated date for the rail to be completed has been pushed back 13 years to 2033.

California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has sparred with Trump over federal funding for the project, and has said efforts will be focused on finishing construction in the Central Valley, rather than the original plan that "would cost too much and take too long," Newsom said in his State of the State address.

"President Trump, keep talking... we continue to gather evidence to support our lawsuit against you," California's Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted Tuesday in response to Trump.

Trump foresaw the challenge, noting what was to come in his speech Friday announcing the emergency declaration.

"We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there," Trump said, "and we will possibly get a bad ruling and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban …"

The lawsuit cites Trump's own words as the "best evidence" his declaration of an emergency was invalid. On Friday, Trump said, "I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster," referring to getting money for his proposed wall on the southern border.

Asked on Fox News Sunday what Trump meant, White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller said, "What the president was saying is that like past presidents, he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as others have. But that's not what he's going to do."

The group that filed the complaint Monday includes attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.

The lawsuit alleges that the states filing the suit "collectively stand to lose millions in federal funding that their National Guard units receive for domestic drug interdiction and counter-drug activities, and millions of dollars received on an annual basis for law enforcement programs," if Trump bypasses Congress to secure about $8 billion for the border wall through a mix of spending from congressional appropriations, executive action and an emergency declaration.

A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed last week; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget.

While it's unclear what specific projects may be affected by Trump's declaration, military projects and drug interdiction programs could be targeted as funds are reallocated.

The lawsuit claims public safety will be at risk and states economies' will be damaged, in addition to "irreparable environmental damage" to California and New Mexico's southern border.

"This 'emergency' is a national disgrace. Rather than focusing on fighting the real vulnerabilities facing Americans, the President is using the powers of America’s highest office to fan the flames of nativism and xenophobia. Our message to the White House is clear: California will not be part of this political theater. We will see you in court," Newsom said in a statement Monday.

Becerra said in a statement Monday, Trump "knows there is no border crisis, he knows his emergency declaration is unwarranted."

According to Customs and Border Protection data, apprehensions at the border are lower than they were over two decades ago. In 2001 there were 1,643,679 apprehensions at the border, compared with 396,579 in 2018 -- a more than 75 percent drop.

The 16-state coalition's lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is the third in a blitz of legal challenges that were filed shortly after Trump's declaration.

"We're suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states," Becerra said in Monday’s statement. "For most of us, the Office of the Presidency is not a place for theatre."

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Tuesday
Feb192019

Whistleblowers sounded alarm about nuclear deal pushed by Trump advisers: Report

narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Multiple whistleblowers sounded alarms about a plan backed by close advisers to President Donald Trump to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a new report released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings on Tuesday.

House Democrats, who have been examining the issue for months, said they plan to investigate whether people close to Trump sought to profit by using White House connections to gain federal approvals.

“Based on this snapshot of events, the Committee is now launching an investigation to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interests of the United States, or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change in U.S. foreign policy,” wrote Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

The proposal, which began as a bid to sell nuclear reactors to the Saudis under the direction of Trump adviser and fundraiser Tom Barrack, the report said, was initially pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Cummings’ office has previously raised concerns that a consulting business Flynn once ran appeared to have a financial interest in the idea.

New testimony and documents collected by House investigators, summarized in Tuesday’s report, suggest the plan still had support within the White House after Flynn was fired in February of 2017, ahead of his conviction for lying to federal agents about his talks with Russians. And internal emails show that proponents of the plan continued to push for it even as career national security officials worried it violated administration protocol and ethics rules.

“The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia,” Cummings wrote. “And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisers at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.”

As part of his new investigation, Cummings plans to send document requests to the White House, a half-dozen federal departments and agencies, and the private companies involved in promoting the nuclear proposal. He also hopes to interview the individuals who worked to advance the plan inside the White House.

Those who supported the plan to recruit U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East called it a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East,” and said it would help American allies develop nuclear programs to check Iran’s power in the region.

But one major proponent of the idea was no stranger to scandal. Robert “Bud” McFarlane, 81, who resigned as President Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor during the Iran-Contra scandal and later pleaded guilty in 1988 to charges involving the withholding of information from Congress, has been a global consultant in the security and energy sectors in recent years.

McFarlane is the co-founder of IP3, a company for which Flynn reportedly consulted during his time on the Trump campaign and transition.

One week after Trump’s inauguration, McFarlane sent Flynn a pair of memos to initiate action on the plan and recommended Trump appoint Barrack, who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee and has longstanding financial ties to the Middle East, as a special envoy responsible for leading the project and coordinating among different agencies.

“Tom Barrack has been thoroughly briefed on this strategy and wants to run it for you,” reads one memo McFarlane drafted for Flynn to present to Trump. According to Cummings’ report, Flynn forwarded the memos to White House staff and told them to “prep a staff packet to go to the POTUS.”

Around the same time, the House report says, Flynn aide Derek Harvey, the National Security Council’s senior director for Middle East and North African affairs, told NSC aides he had prepared at Flynn’s direction a “new strategy” for the Middle East featuring a “regional and economic energy plan” and attempted to include language about plans to build “40 nuclear power plants” in the Middle East to a briefing package for Trump ahead of a planned called with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

But the idea raised red flags, the House report says, with some security council officials and White House legal advisers believing the plan could violate laws governing nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries, such as a provision of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that requires Congress review any proposal to transfer nuclear technology.

Those White House officials tried to persuade more senior advisers to abandon the idea, alleging the proposal from Flynn and his associates was a “scheme for these generals to make some money,” the House report says, and days later, the National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg instructed staff to stop working on the plan.

Flynn’s White House tenure proved to be brief. He was fired in February of 2017, having served in the administration for less than a month, after it was revealed that he misled then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition.

But efforts to further the plan in the White House continued even after Flynn’s departure, the report says. In March of 2017, Harvey helped draft a public statement about Trump’s meeting with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, that mentioned a new U.S.-Saudi energy and technology investment program – a reference that caught some officials off guard.

“What the hell is going on?” one senior Trump official asked National Security Council staff, according to Cummings’s report.

In a meeting the next day, the report says, KT McFarland, then the National Security Council deputy director, again raised the “Middle East Marshall Plan,” and said that Trump told Barrack he could lead the effort as long as he wasn’t paid for the role.

Harvey persisted as well, the report says, directing National Security Council staff to add language referencing the plan into talking points for Trump ahead of a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to the report, H.R. McMaster, who had replaced Flynn as national security advisor, objected.

“Nobody should work on this anymore,” he told his staff in late March.

Harvey, who left the White House in July of 2017 and now works for Rep. Devin Nunes, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication. But outreach to the White House about the plan continued after Harvey’s departure as well.

Fran Townsend, a homeland security advisor for President George W. Bush – who also served on IP3’s board – emailed then-White House homeland security advisor Thomas Bossert about the Middle East nuclear plan, including a white paper authored by Barrack, and a letter to the Saudi Arabian crown prince signed by advocates for the program along with leaders of six energy companies, according to documents attached to the report.

And someone else from IP3 – an individual who is not identified in the House report – reached out in April of 2017 to Vice President Mike Pence’s national security team, a contact that was reported to the National Security Council legal adviser’s office.

ABC News has contacted the White House, Harvey and Barrack for comment. ABC News has also reached out to spokespeople for former White House officials Flynn and McFarland and sought comment from several people with past or current association to the company IP3, including McFarlane, Towensend and attorneys Alan Dunn and Michael Summersgill. ABC News has also sought comment from the energy firms Westinghouse and Exelon.

None of them have agreed to speak or provided a response at the time this report was published.

Cummings staff believes the idea is still circulating within Trump administration. Just last week, President Trump met with American nuclear energy CEOs about exporting their technology to other parts of the world, though it remains unclear if a Saudi sale was discussed.

Chris Crane, the president and CEO of Exelon Corporation, the country’s largest nuclear operator, said the meeting was a conversation about the U.S. nuclear industry and the need to “maintain a leadership position” in exporting their technology.

“He was very supportive,” Crane said of Trump last week. “We're going to continue dialogue with the administration.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

For defendants in special counsel's probe, path to justice starts in Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s courtroom

Michał Chodyra/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- When political showman Roger Stone flew from Florida to the nation's capital last month to stand trial on charges of lying to federal investigators, he was directed to an increasingly familiar destination in the massive federal judicial complex in Washington: Courtroom 3, where Judge Amy Berman Jackson presides.

Jackson has become a low-key but recurring fixture of the special counsel investigation -- six of the 12 cases brought by Robert Mueller's team have had matters brought before her. And Courtroom 3 has been home to some of the most headline-grabbing moments in the special counsel's two-year investigation, with Jackson, a 2011 Obama appointee, serving as an imposing presence.

She has been tough on defendants. When she imposed a 30-day jail sentence on Alexander van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying to special counsel, she said she considered letting him off with a fine, but decided against it.

"We're not talking about a traffic ticket," she said. "This is lying in a federal criminal investigation."

Earlier this month, in a closed-door hearing in the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jackson dressed down defense attorney Kevin Downing for asking her to consider a comment a juror had made in a newspaper interview after his trial.

"It would be entirely inappropriate for me to rely on my understanding through the media of what took place in that trial," she said.

After a recess, it became clear the issue was not yet put to rest. Jackson had gone back to read the newspaper report anyway and wanted to let the lawyer know that he had interpreted incorrectly.

"Not that I would have relied on the newspaper anyway," she added.

The incident did not surprise defense attorneys who have come before her.

The Harvard Law graduate is, as attorney Shan Wu put it, "meticulous." Wu, who represented former Trump campaign adviser Richard Gates before he forged a cooperation deal with the special counsel, said lawyers are always at risk of running "running afoul in her meticulousness."

"If you're a defense attorney and your defenses are bull [explitive] you don't want to bring them in her courtroom," said Reid Weingarten, a defense attorney who represented Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., whom Judge Jackson sentenced for a felony fraud count in connection to misuse of campaign funds in 2013.

But, Weingarten noted, that does not mean Jackson is "reflexively pro-government."

In the same closed-door proceeding where Downing faced scrutiny from the judge, prosecutors were repeatedly grilled by Jackson and asked to identify specific quotes from Manafort's testimony that could amount to a lie.

At one point, after prosecutor Andrew Weissmann tried to avoid providing specific examples to Jackson, she replied, "So you just don't want me to think about it, that's OK." Weissmann appeared to jump to the defensive by replying, "No. No. No. I'm going to answer your question."

The task of assigning Jackson to so many special counsel cases belongs to Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, and it is routine procedure for chief judges to route related cases to a single courtroom, especially in instances where there might be overlapping evidence.

It is unclear how exactly Howell selected Jackson, but attorneys said she is not viewed as particularly political. She was appointed by a Democrat but was formerly married to a George W. Bush administration official. And she has seen criminal law practiced from both sides of the courtroom. She served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia before transitioning to almost 20 years of private practice as a white collar defense attorney.

Both Wu and Weingarten said Jackson is very concerned about fairness in her courtroom. Wu said this may have served as a motivating factor in her decision last year to place gag orders on Manafort and Gates.

When placing the order on Manafort and Gates, Jackson said she wanted to ensure that arguments happened in her courtroom and "not on the courthouse steps." She's presently considering a similar order for Stone, whose attorneys argued against such a move in a filing last week.

At Stone's status conference in early February, Jackson said she would weigh Stone's First Amendment rights against concerns she had about the ability to seat an impartial jury for Stone. She cautioned him against treating his pre-trial process "like a book tour."

Jackson has yet to rule on this point, but she said that, should she issue a gag order, it would be limited in scope, and that both parties could still publicly discuss "foreign relations, immigration or Tom Brady."

No trial date has yet been set for Stone, and a jury was never seated for Manafort's DC case because he pleaded guilty to the charges he faced there. But from the onset, Jackson made it clear that should there have been a trial, she wanted a tight lid on the conduct in her courtroom.

"Mr. Downing, I just want to let you know that you are an expressive human being and how you feel about what is being said in the courtroom is a big part of your demeanor and your physical demeanor," Jackson said at a closed-door hearing related to Manafort's case early last year. "That doesn't upset me particularly, but it will upset me enormously if there's a jury in the box. So just keep that in mind."

Since taking the bench, Jackson has been no stranger to high profile cases. Last year, she struck down a wrongful death suit brought against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton related to the Benghazi attacks. She's ruled on milestone cases related to the EPA and the Affordable Care Act. In addition to Stone, Manafort, Gates and Van der Zwaan, Jackson is also overseeing matters in the special counsel's case against Manafort's business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, and against Russian hackers allegedly involved in the DNC breach.

During the Jesse Jackson Jr. sentencing, Weingarten said the judge seemed unaffected by the high profile nature of the proceedings.

"The courtroom was packed. The reverend was there. The Jesse Jackson family in the black community is royalty. It was a huge matter," Weingarten said. "She handled with discretion and intimacy and I was grateful for it."

That is a quality that will come in handy, he said, as more high profile cases in the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election head to Courtroom 3.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb192019

After missing arguments for first time in 25 years, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg checked off another box in her recovery Tuesday, returning to the bench for oral arguments for the first time since her surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her lung.

Ginsburg missed oral arguments for the first time in 25 years when she underwent a pulmonary lobectomy in December. She returned to the court last week for the first time for the court's first February conference -- a time when justices discuss whether to take up cases.

Tuesday's appearance offered supporters further assurance that Ginsburg, 85, isn't going anywhere, a fear for liberals who feared her retirement or death would give President Donald Trump a third opportunity to add a justice to the bench.

The court said last month that Ginsburg's doctors confirmed in an exam following the surgery that she had "no evidence of any remaining disease" and that no further treatments were planned.

On Tuesday, Ginsburg's first day back for oral arguments, the court will hear a case about the U.S. Postal Service, which is caught up in a drafting problem from Congress' 2011 patent=reform bill, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.

Ginsburg has developed a reputation for her toughness and strength, both because of her rigorous personal training sessions in the Supreme Court exercise room, and because of the strides she's made for gender equality in the workplace.

The star of two recent major films, Ginsburg was one of nine women in her class at Harvard Law School and the co-founder of the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, a group she started in order to fight for equal treatment for both genders.

After she was nominated by former President Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court in 1993, she became the second woman to ever serve on the highest court in the land.

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Tuesday
Feb192019

Roger Stone summoned to explain Instagram post about judge

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Tuesday ordered political operative and former adviser to Donald Trump, Roger Stone, to explain his since-deleted Instagram post on Monday in which he slammed the judge and later issued an apology to her.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order for Stone to return to U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday for a show cause hearing to explain why the conditions of his release and limited gag order "should not be modified or revoked in light of the posts on his Instagram account."

"Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime," Stone wrote in a caption to the post, which featured a picture of Judge Jackson with a what appeared to be a crosshairs in the upper corner.

Stone completed the caption the request, "Help me fight for my life" and a link to his legal defense fund.

In a statement to ABC News on Monday before Jackson's order, Stone wrote, "A photo of Judge Jackson posted on my Instagram has been misinterpreted. This was a random photo taken from the Internet. Any inference that this was meant to somehow disrespect the Court is categorically false. What some say are crosshairs are in fact the logo of the organization that originally posted it something called corruption central. They use the logo in many photos."

Reached by ABC News Tuesday following Judge Jackson's order, Stone said, "I will be present for the hearing as ordered."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Tuesday
Feb192019

President Trump to sign directive approving scaled-back Space Force

Zach Gibson-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is set to sign a new directive Tuesday aimed at formally establishing a new space-focused military branch that will begin as an extension of the U.S. Air Force, yet another step toward making the “Space Force” a reality.

Trump, on the campaign trail and elsewhere, had originally touted that the Space Force would work as its own branch on par with the status of the Air Force, Army and Navy, promising "American dominance in space."

But the ‘Space Policy Directive 4’ has been scaled back from that and puts it more in line with the status of the Marine Corps under the Navy – a route seen as more palatable to skeptics in Congress.

“We haven’t abandoned that goal, and I think we’re achieving what is the president’s number one objective which is a separate armed service,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call outlining the legislative proposal Tuesday.

It’s a “step toward a future military department for space,” the official added.

As ABC News has previously reported, the official confirmed to reporters that the Space Force will be headed up by a 4-star general who will serve as chief of staff and will join the ranks of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The president would also nominate a civilian under secretary beneath the Air Force to be approved by Congress.

Late last year, Trump signed a memorandum establishing the Space Command, the military’s 11th unified combatant command -- which centralizes DoD’s warfighting operations in space. In contrast, the Space Force will likely focus on the recruiting, training and equipping of service members for the space mission, along with acquisition.

Tuesday’s directive tasks the Secretary of Defense with drawing up the official budget request for the president’s FY2020 budget, and the official said that they expect the start-up cost won’t exceed $100 million.

Last year then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan, who now serves as acting Defense Secretary, put the total cost at less than $5 billion.

An official said Tuesday the figures are still tracking to the “low billions.” ‘Space Policy Directive 4’ will also ask the Defense Secretary and Director of National Intelligence to compile a joint report for President Trump within the next 180 days that outlines progress towards creating the Space Force as well as “a path forward.”

The defense secretary will additionally be responsible with determining the “appropriate time” for recommending that the president propose legislation advancing the Space Force into a separate military department.

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