SEARCH

Sunday
Sep162018

Woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of assault says she feared he ‘might inadvertently kill me’: Report

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A California psychology professor who claims Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when they were in high school identified herself in a story published Sunday in the Washington Post, saying, "I thought he might inadvertently kill me." Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in consortium with Stanford University, said she was also spurred to speak out due to inaccuracies about her story that she has heard repeated, according to the report.

"These are all the ills that I was trying to avoid," she told the Washington Post. "Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation."

Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told the newspaper she decided to speak out after the contents of a letter she sent to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was leaked, prompting Kavanaugh to issue a blanket denial of the allegations.

Ford's letter to Feinstein was first reported on Friday by the New Yorker magazine, but the article did not reveal her identity.

Ford said the incident occurred in the 1980s when the 53-year-old Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, and she was a 15-year-old sophomore at Holton-Arms School, an all-girls school in Bethesda, Maryland.

She told the Post she believes the incident occurred in 1982 when Kavanaugh would have been a 17-year-old junior at Georgetown Prep.

Ford said she was at a teen house party in Montgomery County, Maryland, when Kavanaugh and one of his male classmates -- both "stumbling drunk" -- cornered her in a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her on her back on a bed, the paper reported.

She said Kavanaugh's friend watched as Kavanaugh groped her over her clothes and attempted to remove her clothes and the one-piece bathing suit she was wearing underneath, according to the story.

Ford told the Post that when she tried to scream, Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.

"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," Ford said in the story. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."

She said she managed to escape when Kavanaugh's friend, whom she identified as conservative writer Mark Judge, jumped on top of them on the bed and sent all three of them tumbling, according to the Post. She told the paper she ran to a bathroom and locked herself inside before fleeing the house.

When the allegations first surfaced last week, Kavanaugh issued a statement, saying, "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

In a statement to ABC News on Sunday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said, "As the story notes, we are standing with Judge Kavanaugh's denial."

The White House referred ABC News to Kavanaugh's earlier statement on the allegations.

Judge also denied the incident ever occurred.

"It's just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way," Judge said in an interview with The Weekly Standard.

ABC News could not immediately reach Ford to comment on the allegations.

President Donald Trump announced on July 9 that he was nominating Kavanaugh to fill the seat on the high court vacated by retiring justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh's Senate Confirmation hearing began on Sept. 4 over objections from many Democrats and protesters in the hearing room.

A vote by the Senate on whether to confirm Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court has yet to be scheduled.

A simple majority of 51 votes is all that is needed to confirm Kavanaugh. Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote.

Ford said she never told anyone about being allegedly attacked by Kavanaugh until 2012 when she and her husband, Russell Ford, sought couples therapy, the Post reported.

"I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years," Ford told the Post.

She said in the story that she struggled, both academically and socially, and for a long time failed to have healthy relationships with men.

"I was very ill-equipped to forge those kinds of relationships," she said in the story.

"My biggest fear was, do I look like someone just attacked me?" Ford told the paper.

She said that at the time, she recalled thinking, "I'm not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn't happen, and he didn't rape me."

She said on the advice of her attorney she took a polygraph test, administered by a retired FBI agent. The results came back that she was truthful, according to the Post story.

Ford said she told her husband after they were married in 2002 that she had been the victim of physical abuse. But Russell Ford didn't learn details of the incident.

Russell Ford told the Washington Post that he disagrees with people who say the more than 30-year-old allegations made by his wife have no bearing on Kavanaugh's fitness for the Supreme Court.

"I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong," Russell Ford said. "If they don't have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that's a problem. So I think it's relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard."

Feinstein released a statement saying she has forwarded Ford's letter to "federal investigative authorities.”

In a statement on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an Iowa Republican, should postpone the vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation until Ford's allegations can be thoroughly investigated.

"For too long, when woman have made serious allegations of abuse, they have been ignored. That cannot happen in this case," Schumer said. "To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court.”

A spokesperson for Grassley said in a statement that the senator was working to set up follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford.

"The Chairman and Ranking Member routinely hold bipartisan staff calls with nominees when updates are made to nominees’ background files," the statement read. "Given the late addendum to the background file and revelations of Dr. Ford’s identity, Chairman Grassley is actively working to set up such follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement he would "gladly listen" to Ford if she wanted to tell her story to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I agree with the concerns expressed in the Judiciary Committee’s statement about the substance and process regarding the allegations in this latest claim against Judge Kavanaugh," he said. "However, if Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh."

He added that if Ford is to speak to the committee, "it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Sep162018

FEMA administrator defends President Trump's comments about Puerto Rico death toll

Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- FEMA Administrator Brock Long defended President Trump’s controversial claims which doubt new estimates on the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico and said that the new numbers included "indirect" deaths due to stress, accidents due to failed infrastructure, and spousal abuse.

Long argued on Sunday morning that a study by George Washington University, which estimated the death toll in Puerto Rico at 2,975 people, considered additional causes of death that did not result from the hurricane itself.

"You might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people might have heart attacks due to stress, they fall off their house trying to fix their roof, they die in car crashes because they went through an intersection where the stoplights aren't working," Long said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Long said there is a difference between "indirect and direct" deaths, and death toll numbers from recent studies are "all over the place."

"Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can't blame spousal abuse after a disaster on anybody," Long added.

"I think what we're trying to do, in my opinion, is just figure out why people died from direct deaths, which is the wind, the water, and the waves, buildings collapsing," Long said.

The George Washington University study looked at "excess" deaths in the six months following Hurricane Maria, taking into account the expected number of deaths in Puerto Rico each month based on historic data, and noting how many additional people actually died. That number – 2,975 – was accepted by the Puerto Rican government as the official death toll for Hurricane Maria on the island.

In a pair of late night tweets on Friday night, Trump said George Washington University's conclusion there were almost 3,000 deaths was “like magic.”

“‘When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria.’ The Washington Post. This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, ‘3000 PEOPLE KILLED.’” Trump tweeted on Friday.

“They hired … GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?) This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER - NO WAY!” Trump continued.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted that the high death toll in Puerto Rico was part of an effort by Democrats to make him look “as bad as possible.” He went on to question how researchers conducted the study.

“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list,” Trump said.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello defended the George Washington University study in his own series of tweets.

“I’d very much be willing to walk you through the scientific process of the study and how @Gwtweets arrived at the excess mortality number estimate. There is no reason to underscore the tragedy

“In the meantime, I hope you consider sending a message of support to show you stand with all of the US Citizens in Puerto Rico that lost loved ones. It would certainly be an act of respect and empathy.”

Admiral Karl Schultz, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, did not dispute the official death toll.

“I’m not calling any numbers into doubt,” Schultz said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We were very much supported and powered to get down there and try to be helpful.” we have suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Rossello wrote on Friday.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Sep162018

Ken Starr: Manafort deal with Mueller 'really good for the country' 

David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former independent counsel Ken Starr, who led federal investigations of President Clinton, said special counsel Robert Mueller's striking a deal to win the cooperation of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is a "very significant breakthrough" and “really good for the country."

Starr told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on This Week Sunday, “It is very likely that Paul Manafort has indicated through his counsel and directly that he can provide very helpful information -- useful information -- to get to the bottom of what Bob Mueller and his team have been charged to do. So it is a very significant breakthrough.”

"And so it’s all the more helpful that Paul Manafort has said, 'You have me and I’m going to give you the truth and nothing but the truth,'" Starr said. "So I think this is this is really good for the country."

On Manafort agreeing to the deal, Starr said, “Given the seriousness of the charges that were awaiting him, he did the right thing. He did the smart thing.”

Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of conspiracy, and agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any possible collusion by Trump associates.

The former Trump campaign chairman and foreign lobbyist, who had already been found guilty of eight counts of tax fraud by a federal jury in Virginia, was supposed to begin a second trial in a Washington, D.C., federal court on Monday. In his deal with the special counsel, he agreed to "broad" cooperation and to participate in “interviews, briefings, producing documents, testifying in other matters.”

Appearing with Starr on This Week was Norman Eisen, who served as President Obama’s chief ethics lawyer for the first two years of his administration.

Eisen said he doesn't think Mueller would have offered the plea deal unless there was "very powerful evidence" that Manafort could contribute information important to the investigation.

“I would say there is no prosecutor alive who's more rigorous than Bob,” Eisen said, referring to Mueller. “I don't think -- given the nature of the fight that Manafort put up, the seriousness of the crimes, and the power of the evidence of those crimes, Jon -- that this deal would have been offered absent some very powerful evidence.”

“We don’t know for sure,” he said, “but I think there's a substantial possibility that this evidence that Manafort is offering will implicate somebody up the chain.”

“Who is up the chain from Paul Manafort?” Eisen added. “Don Jr. … Potentially the president himself.”

Manafort was present at a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign members and a Russian lawyer. The meeting was arranged by Donald Trump Jr. after he was told the Russian had damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Eisen said Sunday of Manafort, "For the first time, we have somebody who was at the infamous Trump Tower meeting. We have his notes. He can explain his notes. He can talk about the run-up to the meeting, the afterwards.”

“He’s not going to survive Manafort’s testimony,” Eisen added of President Trump. “That’s my prediction.”

On whether Trump could still pardon Manafort, Starr said, “He has the power to do that. And then I think it really becomes an issue of, is that an abuse of power on the part of the president in light of an ongoing investigation?”

“The pardon will only -- in my view, will only hurt Trump. It will only dig the hole deeper,” Eisen said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Sep152018

White House leaves questions about Hurricane Florence preparations to FEMA

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump has repeatedly sought to amplify his administration's preparedness for Hurricane Florence, using social media to stress the dangers of remaining in evacuation zones and urge residents of North and South Carolina to heed warnings from FEMA and state-level authorities.

While a president can benefit from appearing to be in charge, they have also learned the hard way how politically risky it can be facing questions on disaster response. Just ask George W. Bush about Katrina.

But in a departure from the administration's approach during the 2017 hurricane season, the White House has largely avoided traditional on-camera briefings to communicate with the broader public and take questions from journalists. Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders held just one public briefing in the lead-up to Florence -- on Monday, Sept. 10.

Ahead of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in 2017, Sanders invited Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert to brief reporters both before and after the storm's landfall in what became routine appearances through the rest of hurricane season, particularly during hurricanes Irma and Maria. Bossert briefed a total of five times, in addition to several briefings where Sanders took questions on ongoing relief efforts. Bossert departed the White House in April and is now a contributor for ABC News. His replacement, Doug Fears, has not appeared publicly or taken questions.

The lack of press briefings has limited journalists' ability to publicly hold the administration accountable for its preparations for the storm, inquire about the president's involvement and leadership in response efforts, and address the extraordinary Trump assertion Thursday accusing Democrats of inflating the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

The near abandonment of the use of on-camera briefings also marks a continuation of a trend in the West Wing's apparent communications strategy. During the summer months of June, July and August, Sanders held just 13 press briefings, according to ABC's analysis -- the fewest during a summer in recent memory.

Asked by ABC News about the absence of traditional White House press briefings around the storm, administration officials said they wanted FEMA and Administrator Brock Long to take the lead on informing reporters and the public on Hurricane Florence. The officials would not explain the change in approach from last year or why they declined to answer questions about the president's statements publicly.

Sanders' briefing on Sept. 10 marked the end of a 19-day streak without a single on-camera briefing, though the majority of time was devoted to a presentation by Council of Economic Advisers chairman Kevin Hassett that sought to dispute arguments that President Trump wasn't largely responsible for the strength in the U.S. economy. Sanders only fielded reporters' questions for a total of 18 minutes, with topics ranging from North Korea, journalist Bob Woodward's new book on the administration and the anonymous administration official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times.

The president has also spoken several times regarding the storm, including after he received an Oval Office briefing on the storm on Tuesday from Long and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

On Wednesday, the president posted a video message from the Rose Garden warning residents to not "play games" and heed evacuation orders from local officials.

"We’re fully prepared, food, medical -- everything you can imagine, we are ready," Trump said. "But despite that, bad things can happen when you’re talking about a storm of this size. It’s called Mother Nature. You never know, but we know."

The White House press office has also sent periodic updates through the week via its email list, including calls the president has held with state and local officials, and pictures of the president and Vice President Pence receiving a briefing in the Oval Office and with the National Security Council Resilience Directorate -- though neither of those meetings was originally listed on the president's public schedule.

On Friday, as Hurricane Florence made its way inland in North and South Carolina, President Trump again had no events open to the press on his public schedule and instead used his Twitter to retweet more than 20 different tweets from federal and state accounts providing constant updates on the storm's developments.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Sep152018

John Kerry slams Trump, Pompeo for criticizing his meetings with Iran

Aurelien Morissard/IP3/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Secretary of State John Kerry fired back against attacks by President Donald Trump and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, saying the president "should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran's PM."

Trump originally attacked Kerry on Thursday evening, saying on Twitter that Kerry had "illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime." The tweet was an apparent reference to Kerry admitting on Hugh Hewitt's radio show on Wednesday to meeting with Iranian officials, specifically Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, "three or four times" at gatherings of world leaders such as the World Economic Forum.

Kerry said he did not try to "coach" Iran through the Trump administration's rejection of the JCPOA, a nuclear deal with Iran implemented under Kerry's watch. The meetings came while Rex Tillerson was secretary of state and before Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA in May.

"No, that’s not my job, and my coaching him would not, you know -- that’s not how it works," Kerry told Hewitt. "What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better."

Kerry took delight in ripping the president on Friday afternoon. He chided him over former campaign chairman Paul Manafort's guilty plea and even former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman's leaked recordings.

"Mr. President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran's FM," he tweeted. "But if you want to learn something about the nuclear agreement that made the world safer, buy my new book, Every Day Is Extra."

He followed that tweet with the line, "PS - I recorded the audio version, not Omarosa."

But the attacks from the Trump administration continued on Friday afternoon.

Pompeo, the current secretary of state, followed up on Trump's criticism at a briefing, calling the meetings "unseemly," "unprecedented" and "beyond inappropriate."

"What Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented," Pompeo said passionately at the top of a press briefing Friday afternoon. "You can't find precedent for this in U.S. history. And Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior. It's inconsistent with what the foreign policy of the United States is, as directed by this president. And it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged."

A spokesperson for Kerry responded Friday evening, "Let's cut through the distractions and talk about real facts, not alternative facts. Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous secretary of state, and in a long phone conversation with Secretary Pompeo earlier this year, he went into great detail about what he had learned about the Iranians' view. No secrets were kept from this administration."

The spokesperson cited Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as having met "for decades with Russia and China."

"There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts," Kerry's spokesperson said.

Former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who was also singled out by Pompeo, tweeted that the current secretary of state "tried to distract from Manafort and gain points with president by attacking me today."

Ned Price, former CIA analyst and adviser to Barack Obama on his National Security Council, was even more direct.

"Pompeo was speaking to an audience of one," Price said in a statement, referring to the president. "This was nothing more than an attempt to parrot and please his boss. We know that because Pompeo’s State Department was briefed on these discussions, which are commonplace among former diplomats, both before and after the fact."

Kerry is in the midst of a promotional tour for his new book, Every Day is Extra, including stops in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, over the weekend.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Sep142018

Congress subpoenas 'uncooperative' DHS official amid accusations of punishing whistleblowers

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After allegedly refusing to cooperate with investigators, Congressional leaders are ordering a senior Department of Homeland Security official to answer questions regarding reported retaliation against whistleblowers within the department, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The subpoena, issued Friday by the House Oversight Committee, directs DHS's Principal Deputy General Counsel Joseph Maher to appear for an interview after allegedly denying their request to comply with the committee's orders to turn over documents and answer questions for nearly two years.

"With most government officials, subpoenas do not even have to be threatened, much less executed," Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) wrote in a letter to Maher, which was obtained by ABC News. "Therefore, your uncooperative posture is a telling and unacceptable outlier."

The committee accuses the Transportation Security Administration, an agency under the DHS umbrella, of withholding and redacting documents in an effort to hide senior-level misconduct from investigators. Investigators believe the agency did so at the direction of Maher's office, according to the subpoena.

But in a statement, DHS Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton, told ABC News that DHS "has cooperated and worked in good faith with the committee throughout its oversight of TSA."

"The Department has provided the committee access to all documents requested; has had senior officials testify at hearings on the subject; has had multiple officials sit for separate interviews; has provided detailed, written explanations of its document production policies; and has repeatedly offered to meet with and brief the committee and its staff. The Department is also fully complying with legal requirements to provide documents to the Office of Special Counsel. Any assertion that our principal deputy general counsel has not cooperated with the committee is untrue.”

In December 2017, TSA Chief Counsel Francine Kerner testified on Capitol Hill that it was Maher who ordered staff to invoke attorney-client privilege, preventing committee investigators from obtaining full documents.

The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, the independent agency tasked with protecting whistleblowers, found three cases in 2014 where TSA supervisors were reassigned after disclosing airport operations and safety lapses to leadership.

"TSA faulted the complainants for poor leadership and abruptly reassigned them from their airports," according to a release from the OSC.

The OSC said in May 2018 that TSA had stopped "its discretionary practice of widespread geographic reassignments," and created a program to stop whistleblower retaliation.

The committee's deposition of Maher is planned for Sept. 25, the day before TSA Administrator David Pekoske is scheduled to testify in front of the committee.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Sep142018

Kavanaugh denies high school assault allegation

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Friday strongly denied newly-surfaced allegations from a woman who, according to the New Yorker, is claiming he “attempted to force himself on her” during a party when they were both in high school in the early 1980s.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation," Kavanaugh said in a statement released by the White House Friday. "I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

The New Yorker on Friday reported details of what it said the woman, who has declined to reveal her identity, has alleged in a letter that the magazine said was given to the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

According to the New Yorker, the woman claims that “during the party, Kavanaugh held her down and that attempted to force himself on her.”

The magazine reported she claimed in the letter “that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand.”

The account said, “she was able to free herself.”

The existence of the letter was first reported by the online news outlet, The Intercept, on Wednesday. The New York Times reported Thursday that the letter was regarding “possible sexual misconduct” from when Kavanaugh was in high school.

ABC News has not confirmed details of the letter’s contents or seen the letter.

On Thursday, Feinstein said she had received "information" regarding Kavanaugh and has passed it on to the FBI.

"I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities," Feinstein said in a statement Thursday.

According to a source cited by the New Yorker, Feinstein learned of the alleged incident in July and while her staff mentioned it to other Democratic lawmakers, they did not share the letter with them. The allegation was not raised at any time during the judge's confirmation hearings.

The FBI confirmed it had received the letter but indicated it was not immediately pursuing the allegations.

ABC News has reached out to Debra Katz, a lawyer identified by Buzzfeed as counsel to the woman who has come forward with the allegation but received no response.

Senate Republicans on Friday released a letter from 65 women who knew Kavanaugh during his high school years vouching for his character.

"We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect," the women said in the letter sent Friday to Senate Judiciary leaders.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is pushing ahead with plans for a committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination next Thursday. "Anonymous allegations are not going to change the chairman’s plans for a vote on Thursday," a top committee Republican aide tells Cindy Smith.

As to whether Republicans knew about the allegation in advance and had the letter from the 65 Kavanaugh high school contemporaries "in the can," Grassley's office said no. One of Kavanaugh's law clerks spearheaded the effort Thursday and sent the letter to Grassley's office Friday, the aide said.

In its initial story, The Intercept reported the letter was said to have been written by someone affiliated with Stanford University. It was originally sent to Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents California's 14th district, according to several media reports. Eshoo then referred the letter to Feinstein.

Eshoo's staff declined to comment on the letter, saying they do not discuss constituent casework.

Feinstein has not shared details about the letter beyond her statement Thursday, and no other senators on the Judiciary Committee have been permitted to see it, according to reports.

ABC News has not confirmed the Intercept's reporting.

The person who reportedly is the subject of the letter is said to be represented by Debra Katz, according to The Intercept. Katz is a Washington attorney whose firm’s website says she specializes in employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and whistleblower-related cases.

Katz has not responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

The FBI confirmed it had received the information "on the night of September 12." A spokesperson added, "we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh's background file, as per the standard process."

On Thursday, Grassley told reporters he had not seen the letter.

“All I know is what I read in some two or three sentences in some report that came out overnight, and since I don't know anything more about it then what I read, that's all I can say at this point,” Grassley said.

He went on: “All I know is what I read and I wouldn't make any judgment of it until I had more information.”

Separately, Grassley’s spokesperson George Hartmann told ABC News that Grassley is “respecting the request for confidentiality.”

“There’s no plan to change the committee’s consideration of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Hartmann said in a statement.

The White House also weighed in with a statement on Thursday.

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators—including with Senator Feinstein—sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him," White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

"Throughout 25 years of public service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has thoroughly and repeatedly vetted Judge Kavanaugh, dating back to 1993, for some of the most highly sensitive roles. He has served in the Office of Independent Counsel, the White House, and on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, all before his nomination earlier this year to serve as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court," she said.

"Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th-hour attempt to delay his confirmation,” Kupec said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Sep142018

Paul Manafort plea deal includes 'broad' cooperation with special counsel

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Paul Manafort, the onetime campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a formal deal to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy in a federal courthouse on Friday and will forfeit a number of his bank accounts and properties.

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Manafort’s legal team had reached a tentative deal with Mueller’s team after an hourslong meeting at the special counsel’s downtown Washington, D.C., offices.

Prosecutors, who made a point of noting the activity occurred “at least through 2016,” used bank records and other documents to show what they say Manafort did to hide evidence of his work for Ukrainian politicians; hide millions in proceeds in offshore accounts; and then spend the money lavishly on clothing, luxury items, homes and cars.

The new court filing indicates that prosecutors have taken a number of the earlier charges against Manafort -- including a money laundering charge that could, on its own, bring a 20-year sentence -- and folded them into two charges that would each yield five-year sentences.

Unclear from the new criminal filing is what concession, if any, Manafort made to yield this accommodation. Either he has offered some form of cooperation, one source familiar with the case explained, or the government has concluded that it has hit him with a sufficient number of charges -- and following through with a second trial is not worth the time and expense.

Just under a year ago, the 69-year-old veteran GOP operative was charged in Washington, D.C., with several counts of fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent by the special counsel.

A second case was opened in Virginia earlier this year on related charges that ended with a jury finding Manafort guilty on eight counts out of an 18-count indictment, facing a maximum of 80 years behind the bars -- though, under sentencing guidelines, the term is likely to be closer to seven years. He has not been sentenced in that case.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Sep132018

Storm and devastation 'no one's fault': Ryan on Trump and Puerto Rico death toll

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican to comment on President Donald Trump’s tweets questioning the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico, created a social media controversy himself Thursday when he suggested the storm and its aftermath was "no one's fault."

In a news conference Thursday, Ryan said he had “no reason to dispute” a study from George Washington University, commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, that concluded 2,975 people perished as a result of the hurricane, more than 4,500 percent higher than the original estimate of 64 people.

“Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” Ryan said. “I have no reason to dispute these numbers. I was in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. It was devastated. This was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It’s an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and its power for a long time.”

He added, “This was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island, and that's really no one's fault. That is just what happened.”

Although it appeared that he was talking about the unstoppable nature of the weather event itself, the latter comment elicited a strong response on Twitter, where multiple users accused Ryan of failing to stand up to Trump’s false and incendiary rhetoric.

Other Republican members of Congress also reaffirmed, as Ryan did, their belief in the government-sanctioned study that showed a much higher number than originally reported.

“The official count, as I understand it, is 3,000 people died as a result of that hurricane. So that’s the number we should accept but we also should not play politics on either side of this,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said.

Some Senate Republicans, though, appeared to back the president up somewhat, by raising questions about how the official estimate was determined.

“I really don’t know the number of deaths but it is certainly more than 16 whatever the initial reports were. It’d be interesting to find out exactly what happened. Were the deaths the result of the hurricane itself or inability to get food or water afterward? I don’t know. It’s something I’d be interested in finding out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

“I don’t buy the idea that the President is indifferent to our friends in PR. I don’t buy that but I do believe we can learn from the mistakes that were made in Puerto Rico,” he added.

“There is a big difference between what was originally reported and what ended up being the final figure, and I think that I'd like to know why that is. I think the president is in a position to find out why that is and I hope he can report the reason,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

But Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello, a Republican, reaffirmed in a statement Thursday that the revised study was sanctioned by his administration and should be considered the “official number.”

“The victims in Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico, do not deserve that their pain is questioned. Today I’ve seen that the number and process to find excess deaths has been questioned and it is something that we have to leave behind,” he said, in Spanish.

Estimates of direct deaths in a hurricane typically include those caused by drowning in a storm surge or another event that occurs while the storm is taking place. Indirect deaths comprise those from events that arise as a consequence of a disaster, like heart attacks, house fires and car accidents.

Instances of people unable to obtain critical food, water and medicine were widely reported as well.

The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, also reaffirmed its conclusions Thursday. “We are confident that the number — 2,975 — is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date,” a Milken statement said.

At least one other Republican said he agreed with Trump that Democrats were taking advantage of natural disasters for political gain.

“There's no doubt that there are a number of Democrats that are trying to play politics on hurricanes and in particular using Puerto Rico as an excuse to attack the president,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said.

Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was one of the lone Republicans to lash out at President Trump's tweet Thursday, calling it "dehumanizing" and suggesting that Trump doesn't consider Puerto Ricans American citizens but "brown stepchildren."

“If this were North Carolina I don't think he would be tweeting these heartless words,” she said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Sep132018

Batch of new Strzok-Page texts shows FBI efforts to shape news reports

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More than 100 pages of newly-recovered text messages show that former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page used authorized channels within the FBI to help shape what they viewed as misguided media reports, and they expressed deep concern about politically-motivated leaks they suspected came from outside the FBI and Justice Department.

ABC News was able to review the full batch of text messages on Thursday, just days after at least one Republican lawmaker released only two of the hundreds of text messages to allege "a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration."

The text messages do show the FBI was in regular contact with certain reporters, but it was the head of the FBI's National Press Office -- the agency's representative to the press -- who was engaging with reporters, according to the documents. And those contacts were often intended to shape stories already in the works by reporters or to seek changes to stories that had already been published, the text messages suggest.

For example, on Dec. 16, 2016, the Washington Post published a story under the headline: “FBI in agreement with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump win White House.”

In text messages that day, Strzok told Page that the article’s “angle” – “the notion that somehow we’ve come around to the agency’s position” – “really infuriates me.”

Strzok wrote to Page that the FBI has always believed “there were a variety of motives,” and it’s the CIA that later changed its position. So, the text messages show the head of the FBI’s National Press Office tried to get the story updated.

At least the headline was revised, but Strzok privately still took issue with it.

The “agency plays the game better than we do,” Strzok lamented in a text message, insisting the CIA’s public relations efforts were more effective than the FBI’s.

Before being relegated to the FBI's human resources division last year and then fired from the FBI last month, Strzok helped lead the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible contacts between Trump associates and Russian operatives. Page was an attorney for the FBI.

The text messages reviewed by ABC News on Thursday also show that in February 2016, as the New York Times was preparing to report that Trump associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election,” the top FBI spokesman talked repeatedly with the newspaper's reporters.

"[He] ran through boss’ thinking/timeline/narrative on this," Strzok wrote to Page on Feb. 14, 2017. But months later, then-FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that "in the main" the story as published "was not true."

Still, in a letter to the Justice Department on Monday, one of Trump's staunchest allies, Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, called the newly-recovered text messages "troubling."

He specifically pointed to a text message sent by Strzok on April 10, 2017, in which Strzok told Page he wanted “to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ.”

Strzok’s attorney then released his own statement, insisting the text messages reflect a renewed Justice Department and FBI effort to stop media leaks – not promote them. And a review of public announcements at the time supports the attorney’s claims, including a subsequent announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions during that period that the Justice Department and FBI had been working on ways to deter media leaks.

Meanwhile, in the newly-recovered text messages, Strzok and Page repeatedly speculated over who might be leaking information to reporters.

“Would make sense for the Hill to start strategically leaking to prep the scene for Monday,” Strzok wrote on March 17, 2017, after the Washington Post obtained certain information ahead of Comey’s much-anticipated testimony to lawmakers three days later.

Then a week later, when discussing internal investigators looking into the source of leaks, Strzok wrote Page: “I hope they understand the primary likelies are the [political appointees] at WH and DoJ, not the poor” agents and analysts at the FBI.

Months earlier, when the New York Times began working on a story about previous cyber attacks targeting Republicans, Strzok seemed to speculate that other U.S. agencies were behind the story.

“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad,” he wrote Page in December 2016. “Scorned and worried and political, they’re into overdrive.”

On Thursday morning, Trump launched another Twitter attack on the FBI and Justice Department, saying “more text messages between former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page are a disaster and embarrassment.”

"'Others were leaking like mad’ in order to get to the President!" he tweeted.

Strzok was fired from the FBI last month for sending a series of anti-Trump text messages to Page in the run-up to the 2016 election and in the months afterward. Page has also left the FBI.

In January, the Justice Department handed lawmakers more than 1,300 messages sent between Strzok and Page.

The messages caused a political firestorm, but at the time the Justice Department said five months’ worth of messages had gone missing from the FBI and would have to be recovered. Many of those messages have now been recovered and are the ones that ABC News reviewed on Thursday.

They were sent to members of Congress and include more anti-Trump sentiments.

It's unclear whether all the messages have been recovered.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.







ABC News Radio