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Thursday
Mar232017

US-Mexico border wall needed only in 'strategic locations,' says border patrol union head

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The head of the union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents said Wednesday that a wall along the southern border was only necessary in "strategic locations."

During a Senate hearing on staffing needs for Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd said, "We don't need a great wall of the United States. We do not need 2,000 miles of border wall. I will tell you, however, that a wall in strategic locations is absolutely necessary."

Judd said the current fencing "can be defeated," explaining to the senators that he has spent time finding holes in the fence.

"If we do a wall and we do it properly on the border, we can in fact effectuate a better arrest rate and we can in fact secure the border,” he said. "Before we do that we have to address the current issues that we have."

President Trump made immigration enforcement and securing the southwest border a priority in his campaign and has followed up with executive action since he took office, directing CBP to hire 5,000 additional agents and ICE to hire 10,000 additional agents.

This will be a major undertaking for the agencies.

Newly sworn-in Border Patrol chief Ron Vitiello told ABC News in an exclusive interview last week that the agents on the ground are the most important part of the equation when it comes to border security.

"Somebody has to arrest the people who are going to continue to attempt to enter even if there is a border wall," he said.

Judd told senators that Border Patrol loses over 1,000 agents per year. He said the biggest issue facing Border Patrol hiring is pay parity with other agencies, adding that the agency has to bring back parity, otherwise there will be a "mass exodus to ICE when ICE starts hiring."

However, he called on the Congress not to restrict Border Patrol agents from getting hired by ICE, saying that preventing mobility would cause an even greater drop in morale.

Amid concerns that people are increasingly making illegal crossings into Canada, Judd said he doesn't want to create a situation where the only focus in on the southern border.

"What I am scared of is we are going to throw all of our resources to the southern border and leave the northern border wide open," said Judd.

The union president called on Border Patrol to station "at least" 1,500 of the yet-to-be hired 5,000 agents on the northern border.

Both ICE and Border Patrol unions endorsed Trump during the presidential campaign. Both said that morale has been up among the rank-and-file since the election.

Only union representatives spoke at the hearing. There were no government witnesses to discuss hiring and morale issues.

Aside from increased pay for Border Patrol agents, Judd said that boosting morale and changing the way the polygraph is administered are his top priorities to help fix the hiring needs of the agency.

National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, Anthony Reardon, who was representing CBP field operation employees said that the CBP officer shortage is "staggering."

"There is no greater roadblock to legitimate trade and travel efficiency and stopping illicit trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons and money than the lack of sufficient staff at the ports," he said.

There is an existing vacancy rate of nearly 1,400 already-budgeted CBP officers at ports and, an additional 2,100 CBP officers need to be funded and hired in order to meet 2017 staffing needs — a total staffing shortage of 3,500 today, according to Reardon.

Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, said ICE is suffering from a "toxic and failed management culture."

"Screw up and move up" is a term used by ICE employees to describe supervision all the way from low-level managers to the director of the agency, he said.

He said that ICE is made up of a "good ole' boy" network, in which supervisors cover for supervisors, and only rank and file employees are held accountable.

Employees refuse to report misconduct committed by supervisors because employees don't trust the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency or internal affairs offices to effectively carry out investigations against supervisors, according to Crane.

In terms of fixing staffing issues, he told the Senate committee that ICE needs to find ways to innovate, specifically in the best ways to allow agents to spend more time in the field and less time in the office doing paperwork.

He also said that hiring standards must be maintained and in some cases elevated.

"We need the "time to do this right," he said regarding the additional agents that ICE is planning to hire.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

House conservatives threaten GOP health care bill

DenKuvaiev/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Members of the House Freedom Caucus, after years of frustrating GOP leaders' plans with a Democrat in the White House, are prepared to do the same under President Donald Trump.

Meeting twice on Wednesday after a trip to the White House, some conservatives declared they remained opposed to the GOP health care plan heading to the House floor on Thursday, threatening to hand Trump a stinging defeat on his first major legislative push.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who joined the afternoon huddle over pizza and Coca-Cola, called on leadership to delay the vote.

"They don't have the votes," he said as he left the meeting.

At least 25 members of the caucus, which doesn't publicize its membership, are prepared to vote against the American Health Care Act, according to a spokeswoman.

Republicans can only afford to lose 21 Republicans and still pass the bill. In addition to members of the Freedom Caucus, a number of moderates have announced opposition to the proposal.

The White House has made a number of tweaks to the original legislation in an effort to corral votes, including changes to Medicaid funding, an optional work requirement for Medicaid and instructions for the Senate to construct a $75 billion fund that would provide additional tax credits to help people buy insurance.

But the moves aren't enough for some conservatives, who are pushing for additional repeal items, such as the elimination of essential health benefits, they believe would help lower premiums.

"We think there are ways to improve it that would get enough votes, but so far we don't have any language," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.

The White House and Republican leaders are wary of violating Senate budgetary procedures, which could hold up the legislation in the upper chamber after a vote in the House.

On Tuesday, President Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to sell Republicans on the deal in person, telling the conference they'd be "fools" to oppose the legislation and that doing so could cost Republicans their House majority in 2018.

But some conservatives dismissed the warning from Trump, who is known to keep track of his detractors and opponents.

"The only people I answer to are the people back in my district," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who says he plans to vote against the bill.

Trump -- dubbed "The Closer" by House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., at the White House Wednesday — has successfully pushed some Republicans to support the bill.

Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, both came out for the bill after meeting with the president at the White House today, according to a House GOP leadership aide. Others, such as Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., have also backed the bill after individual meetings with Trump in the Oval Office.

"I knew if I held out long enough ... they'd send in the big guy to close the deal," Barletta told ABC News' Mary Bruce in an interview today.

But others haven't been as easily persuaded, including Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a member of the House Freedom Caucus who recently traveled on Air Force One with Trump.

"We still haven’t seen the movement we want to make the premiums affordable for everyone," he said Wednesday. "We’re still negotiating."

Republican leaders are still planning to bring the bill to the floor Thursday, according to House GOP leadership aides.

"I don't think they'll pull the bill. I think we have a vote tomorrow, and it will either be voted up or down," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the Freedom Caucus chair following the afternoon session.

Meadows, who stepped out of the caucus's second meeting Wednesday evening to take a call from Trump, argued that the group is focused on keeping Trump's campaign promises.

"He's got a board in the White House that talks about every single one of his campaign promises, and he's going down and checking those off," he said. "And it's incumbent upon us to work in a real good faith manner to make sure he gets this one checked off."

As of late Wednesday night, a spokesperson tweeted that the "Freedom Caucus continues to have serious concerns with current AHCA text," while noting that the process was ongoing.

Earlier in the day, as Meadows spoke to reporters, he was interrupted by McHenry and Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who joked with him about announcing his support for the bill.

"We're still negotiating, we're all trying to get to 'Yes,'" said Meadows.
 
Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

New poll finds dipping approval, honesty ratings for Trump

SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A public opinion poll released by Quinnipiac University Wednesday reported decreasing levels of approval for President Donald Trump in the midst of his battle over the new health
care bill, continued insistence he was surveilled and a probe into Russian interference during the presidential election.

Trump's approval rating fell slightly to 37 percent in the poll, compared to 41 percent just over two weeks ago when Quinnipiac released its March 7 results. Respondents disapprove of the president
at a 56 percent rate in the Quinnipiac numbers, up slightly from 52 percent on March 7. The poll's margin of error is +/- 3 percent among registered voters.

Members of Trump's own political party voiced increasing levels of displeasure with his performance. Among Republicans, Trump's approval rating dropped 10 points from 91 to 81 percent and levels of
disapproval almost tripled from 5 percent to 14 percent. Democratic disapproval of Trump's performance sits at 90 percent, with just 6 percent of party members reporting approval.

Perception of Trump's honesty and leadership skills were among the personal qualities gauged by the poll. Of those answering, 35 percent said Trump was honest, down slightly from 39 percent earlier
in the month and a high of 42 percent on February 7.

Those who responded that the president is a good leader is down to 40 percent -- the same amount who said he "cares about average Americans -- from 47 percent two weeks ago and a high of 56 percent
just after the election on November 22.

One of Trump's lowest numbers came in the number of poll respondents who said he was "level-headed:" 30 percent.

The president performed better with questions about strength (66 percent of those polled said he was a strong person) and intelligence (59 percent said that he possessed the quality.)

As for one of the White House's most controversial stances, 19 percent of those polled believe that "President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election," compared to 70
percent who do not believe the claim. Republicans are virtually even by a 41-39 margin.

Congress' approval rating sits lower than Trump's with House Republicans at 29 percent and House Democrats at 30 percent.

Respondents were split on Trump's battle with the media -- each received support at a 34 percent level when those polled were asked, separately, if each can be trusted "to do what is right almost
all of the time or most of the time.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Top Dem says evidence 'more' than circumstantial in Russia probe

Win McNamee/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats struck back at the revelation Wednesday that information about Trump campaign officials was "incidentally collected" during surveillance, with the party's top intelligence
committee member alluding to growing evidence of a connection between the president's associates and Russia.

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif. was direct in telling MSNBC's "MTP Daily" that the evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia was "more" than
circumstantial.

“I don't to want go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial, and it is very much worthy of investigation," said Schiff. "So, that is what we ought to do.”

The comments came shortly after Schiff reprimanded his Republican counterpart at a Capitol Hill press conference, saying that Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. needs to separate
his duties with the committee from any allegiance to President Trump.

"[Chairman Nunes] will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the
Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House because he cannot do both," said Schiff.

Earlier in the day, Nunes told reporters that details about Americans involved in the presidential transition were among the cache collected by the intelligence community, and said that the
information had "little or no apparent foreign intelligence value." He later traveled to the White House to brief Trump on the situation.

Nunes himself was a member of the Trump transition executive committee.

President Trump -- who first tweeted that he was "wiretapped" by order of former President Barack Obama over two weeks ago -- said he felt "somewhat" vindicated by the revelation and that he "very
much appreciated the fact that they found what they found."

Schiff pushed back on Trump's comments and categorized the day's news as an "effort by the president and the White House to ... create some uncertainty." He told CNN's "The Situation Room" that
Nunes should be prepared to "produce" the information he alluded to and that the intelligence previously presented refuted the president's accusations.

"I don't think anything is vindicated here except the president's commitment to now quadruple down on a baseless accusation against his predecessor," said Schiff.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. joined Schiff in the criticism of Nunes' actions Wednesday, calling his statements "unprecedented" and "an act of diversion and desperation," and
questioning his neutrality. She additionally called for the creation of a select committee to look the collusion allegations.

"The Chairman’s highly irregular conduct with the White House raises serious questions about his impartiality, especially given his history as part of the Trump transition team," said Pelosi in a
statement. "Congress must create a comprehensive, independent, bipartisan commission to expose the full truth of the Trump-Russia connection.”

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Wednesday
Mar222017

Congressional Black Caucus says meeting with Trump was a 'positive first start'

Jim Watson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to the White House on Wednesday for their first official meeting with President Donald Trump.

The meeting, which comes five weeks after Trump asked a reporter at a press conference to help set up a discussion with the group, was organized primarily to discuss Trump’s new budget proposal,
which Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, said at a press conference this afternoon would be “devastating” for the African-American community.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said that the group raised “several areas of concern” but added that it was a “positive first start.”

According to Bass, among the concerns raised were Trump’s campaign rhetoric depicting African-American communities as “completely lawless,” his proposed budget cuts, mass incarceration and the
"rolling back" of the Voting Rights Act.

Richmond said Trump seemed “willing to have further engagement on a consistent basis,” and that when the group and the president discussed their goals, there were more similarities than
differences.

Richmond added that the caucus members aligned with Trump on the need for infrastructure improvements and for inner-city neighborhoods to be “as safe as possible,” as well as that Historically
Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are an important priority for funding.

However, Richmond also said they differed on their opinions of how to achieve their shared goals.

“His path as described was more on the lines of law and order; we offered one more of opportunity and summer jobs,” Richmond said.

Richmond noted that the president was receptive to their suggestions, “many of which I think he had not heard before.”

“I don’t think it was terse at any time,” Richmond said. “I think that both sides are very passionate about how to get to the goals but we were very firm in terms of our experiences and how we see
the result.”

Richmond said that two points of disagreement raised by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, were the importance of community policing and of Muslim Americans who “serve as our eyes and our ears and speak up.”

“That was not an area of agreement coming in but it was something that had to be said from our standpoint because those are the things that we believe in,” Richmond said.

Trump has, at times, been criticized for his attitude toward the African-American community, including for his long-running claim that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya as well as for
his more recent clash with civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

When asked about allegations that Trump has expressed racist viewpoints, Richmond said, “You’ll have to ask the people that made those allegations” but added that the caucus discussed with the
president his “divisive rhetoric” and how it might be harmful to African-American communities.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, said they made a point to tell the president that “a lot of the policies he’s proposing will not only have an impact on African-Americans but a greater impact for
those that voted for him,” particularly those that are suffering from economic insecurity.

Richmond emphasized that they’ll keep the lines of communication open: “We’re not called 'the conscience of the Congress' for nothing. ... It’s because we have the will to fight and follow our
conscience.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

House intel chair says Trump transition team 'incidentally' surveilled, president feels 'somewhat' vindicated

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump  said he felt "somewhat" vindicated on Wednesday after being briefed by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif. -- who said he had been
given credible intelligence suggesting that the personal communications of members of Trump's transition team and possibly even the president himself had been caught up in foreign intelligence
surveillance after the election.

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons
associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting," Nunes, who worked on
Trump's transition team executive committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill today.

"Third I have confirmed additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked."

Nunes, who briefed the president after talking to the press, stressed that the communications picked up had "nothing to do with Russia" and were shared with him "legally." He also said that he
believed that the surveillance was conducted legally using a FISA warrant and that the information gathered had foreign intelligence value, meaning that the agencies would have been justified in
collecting it.

"Bluntly put, everything I was able to view did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russia," Nunes said. He would not say which country or countries were involved and has asked the National
Security Agency for more information.

Nunes' announcement was blasted by the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who said he was not made aware of the information.

"If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House rather than his own committee, there's no way we can conduct this investigation," Schiff said. "All of us are in the dark and that
makes what the chairman did today all the more extraordinary."

Congressman Schiff also said that Trump should not feel vindicated and that Trump’s claim in those tweets that he was being wiretapped by his predecessor remain false. “There is still no evidence
that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor,” Schiff said.

President Trump's claims that he was remain as baseless today as they were yesterday and the day before when the directors of the FBI and NSA testified that they were made without any basis in
fact.”

Asked if he felt "vindicated by Chairman Nunes" Trump said: “I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. But I somewhat do.”

FBI Director James Comey said Monday that no individual could order direct surveillance and that his agency had no information that supported Trump's allegations against Obama. It was not clear
exactly what Trump was referring to.

The announcement came amid swirling questions about Russia meddling in the 2016 election and in the wake of the FBI announcing it was investigating potential links between Trump associates and
Russian officials, allegations the president has called "fake news."

Republican lawmakers, as well as the administration, have placed a premium on finding out whether U.S. nationals were "unmasked," or had their identities revealed to officials during the
intelligence gathering process. They also have been pushing to find out who was responsible for leaking classified information to the press.

Democrats have focused on whether there was potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russians.

Nunes also said the intelligence came specifically from November, December and January during the transition phrase, but that it was possible communications were gathered before the election or
after.

Asked point-blank if he thought the president-elect had been "spied on," he would not directly answer.

“I guess it all depends on one’s definitions of spying, Nunes said. “I mean clearly it bothers me enough, I'm not comfortable with it, and i want to make sure the White House understands it.”

In the wake of a firestorm generated by the president tweeting that former President Barack Obama had his "wires tapped" at Trump Tower, Nunes maintained that while a physical tap of the building
had been ruled out, Trump's team may have been surveilled in other ways, a position also proffered by the White House.

"The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate surveillance, and its subsequent dissemination to determine a few things here: who was aware of it; why it was not disclosed to
Congress; who requested and authorized the additional unmasking; whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focused on Trump associates and whether any laws, regulations or procedures
were violated," he said.

Nunes said the intelligence he was looking at was so "alarming" to him that he wanted to let the press know.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked numerous questions about the information Nunes shared.

"I literally heard the statement, came out and briefed," Spicer explained.

Despite saying he didn't want to get ahead of Nunes' briefing, Spicer called the findings "a startling revelation" and "raises serious questions."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

ANALYSIS: Trump's deal-making reputation at stake in health care push

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump has put it all on the line for Thursday’s health care vote.

His position has gone beyond offering support for legislation offered by GOP House leaders. The measure has his stamp of approval, and the full force of his deal-making energy, given the public and
private pressure he appears to be exerting.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward venture for the author of “The Art of the Deal.” The president even turned to threats -- even if in jest -- to get his caucus on board, telling House Republicans not
to be “fools” and suggesting their seats could be at risk in 2018.

At a 40-minute meeting with all House GOP members, he even joked about whether he would have to “come after” Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., if he continues to oppose the
legislation.

President Trump sees the vote tomorrow as a defining moment for the party and his still-young presidency, but its fate is far from certain. Currently, ABC News counts at least 25 House members that
are no votes, more than enough to sink the bill.

At least officially, there is no backup plan.

“There is no Plan B,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. “There is Plan A and Plan A.”

If the president is successful, he will have done something House Republicans looked like they could not do on their own. They will have a united conference delivering on the biggest promise not
only of the last campaign, but that the GOP has offered over the last seven years.

If he fails, the consequences could be devastating to the Trump agenda. There would be the unfulfilled promise of “repeal and replace” for Obamacare, and diminished chances of legislative
achievements on tax reform and infrastructure investments, just for starters.

A win in the House won’t guarantee anything, either. Next will come Senate Republicans, where a handful of conservatives and moderates seem even more dug in against Trumpcare, or Ryancare, or
whatever name this legislation will be remembered as.

So how does the president get both chambers on board? It will take more than typical political deal-making. Some conservative senators have even been studying up on how to negotiate with the
businessman-turned-president, reading his books so they know exactly how he negotiates.

As with anything surrounding this White House, there are distractions. Recent days have brought FBI Director James Comey’s bombshells, potential Russia connections to his onetime campaign
associates, a Supreme Court confirmation process in the Senate, and now a terror incident in London.

It’s a difficult, if not impossible, position for the White House as the minutes count down until that critical vote. In other words, Trump has Washington right where he wants it – unless it all
falls apart.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Everything you need to know about Trump’s labor secretary nominee

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Century Bank chairman Alexander Acosta, President Trump's nominee for labor secretary, will face the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for his
confirmation hearing today.

President Donald Trump tapped Acosta to be his pick for labor secretary back in February.

Acosta replaced Trump's first pick for labor secretary, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, who withdrew himself from consideration.

Aside from his work at Century Bank, Acosta has experience serving on the National Labor Relations Board and has an extensive background in law, including teaching employment law.

But he has courted controversy as well, overseeing a plea deal with financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while he served as a U.S. attorney in Florida that was kept secret from Epstein's
alleged victims. Trump, as well as former President Bill Clinton, spoke highly of Epstein before allegations surfaced in 2005.

“I've known Jeff for fifteen years," Trump said in a 2002 New York Magazine story. "Terrific guy.”

Here is everything you need to know about Acosta, Trump’s choice to lead the labor department:

Name: R. Alexander Acosta

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Education: Acosta has his bachelor’s degree and his law degree from Harvard.

What he does: Acosta currently serves as chairman of the board of U.S. Century Bank, the largest domestically owned Hispanic community bank in Florida, a post he took up in 2013. He is also the
dean of the Florida International University (FIU) law school, a post he’s held since 2009.

What he used to do:
Acosta formerly was a member of the National Labor Relations Board.

In 2003, President George W. Bush selected Acosta to serve as assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division. Acosta made history as the first Hispanic man to hold the rank of
assistant attorney general. The Miami native went on to serve as the U.S. attorney for Florida’s southern district.

Acosta started off his law career as a clerk for Justice Samuel Alito, when Alito was an appeals judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He then went on to practice law in
Washington D.C. at the Kirkland & Ellis, specializing in employment and labor issues.

He also taught classes at George Mason University on employment law, disability-based discrimination law and civil rights law.

What you might not know about him: If confirmed, Acosta would be the first Hispanic member to serve in Trump's Cabinet.

About his Senate testimony for American Muslim civil rights

As dean of FIU Law, Acosta testified in front of a Senate judiciary subcommittee on March 29, 2011, arguing for the protection of the American Muslims’ civil rights in a post-9/11 America.

Acosta read to the Senate subcommittee members two accounts of American Muslims - the first of his FIU law student that enlisted in the U.S. military after the 9/11 attacks.

The second account was of a young girl who after 9/11 was suspended from school because she would not remove her hijab.

“[School officials] could have taken this opportunity to say that fear is wrong, that respect and tolerance for another’s faith is right, and that these are founding principles of our nation,”
Acosta said at the time. “Instead, the school officials fed the fear, signaling to Nashala’s fellow sixth-graders that the headscarf, and by extension that her faith, should be suppressed.”

Acosta went on to praise the actions of the Justice Department in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and President George W. Bush’s visit to the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. on Sept. 17, 2001.

“These efforts following 9/11 were important. They set a tone. They reminded those who might be tempted to take out their anger on an entire community that such actions were wrong,” Acosta said.

His controversial deal with Jeffrey Epstein

While serving as the U.S. Attorney for Florida’s southern district, Acosta’s office cut a deal with Epstein, a wealthy financier who was being investigated by the FBI for allegations that he had
engaged in sexual misconduct with up to dozens of underage girls.

The 2008 agreement -- called a secretive “sweetheart deal” by the lawyers for two of the alleged underage victims -- effectively immunized Epstein from federal prosecution in exchange for his
guilty plea in state court and a light jail sentence.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of solicitation of a prostitute and one count of solicitation of a prostitute who is a minor. He spent 13 months in a private wing of the Palm Beach
county jail and was released in 2009. Epstein is registered as a level three sex offender.

The Epstein deal, which Acosta oversaw and approved, remains the subject of an ongoing victims-rights lawsuit in federal court filed in 2008 against the federal government. Acosta is not named as a
defendant in the lawsuit.

The judge overseeing the case ruled that Acosta’s office had the legal obligation to inform the victims of the agreement with Epstein, but there has been no resolution on the question of whether
the deal should be invalidated, as the victims seek.

In a 2011 letter, Acosta defended the deal and accused Epstein’s defense lawyers of a “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta argued that while critics think the prosecution should have been tougher, and "evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view," if more evidence was available to them at
the time perhaps "the outcome may have been different.”

“Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitution than
risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” Acosta wrote.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Neil Gorsuch emotional about right-to-die questions in Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The right-to-die argument took center stage on the third day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, prompting an emotional response from nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

In 2006, Gorsuch wrote a book titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia about the ethical and legal debate surrounding the issues. In the book, Gorsuch said he opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia, including death with dignity laws, which make the practices legal in five states.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, broached the topic during her line of questioning.

Feinstein endorsed the California assisted suicide bill, which would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medication from their doctors, in 2015. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the landmark legislation later that year that would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medication from their doctors.

"I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths — family, of cancer — when there was no hope. And my father begging me, 'stop this, Dianne, I’m dying,'" Feinstein said. "My father was a professor of surgery."

"Trying to save him — there are times you can't," she went on. "And the suffering becomes so pronounced, I just went through this with a close friend. This is real and it's very hard. So tell us what your position is in the situation with California's end of life option act, as well as what you have said on assisted suicide."

Gorsuch grew somewhat emotional in his response, describing his position and his own experiences.

"We've all been through it with family. My heart goes out to you, it does, and I've been there with my dad, okay? And others," he said.

"And at some point you want to be left alone — enough with the poking and the prodding. I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family," he went on.

In his answer to the question of extreme pain at the end of life for the terminally ill, he said he advocated for medical solutions, even if they came with risks.

"The position I took in the book on that was anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death, not intentionally, but knowingly," he said. "I drew a line between intent and knowingly."

"I have been there," he said, pointedly. "I have been there."
 
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Wednesday
Mar222017

Trump warns Republicans: Don't be 'fools' on health care vote

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump delivered a warning to House Republicans Tuesday: don't be "fools" and kill the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

For roughly 40 minutes, the president huddled with the Republican conference behind closed doors, delivering what his aides described as a final sales pitch ahead of Thursday's expected House floor vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

Multiple members in the room told ABC News the president said they will lose seats in the 2018 midterm elections if they don't follow through and pass the AHCA, a sentiment repeated later Tuesday by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

"I think there's going to be a price to be paid," Spicer said. “It will be with their own voters. They'll have to go back and explain why they made a commitment to them and then didn't follow through."

One source added that the president said if Republicans don't stick together they're "fools." The message, seen by some participants as meant in jest rather than as a threat, did signal that the president supports Speaker Paul Ryan's view that the Thursday vote is a defining moment for the party.

"We had a great meeting and I think we’re going to get a winner vote," Trump told reporters as he left the meeting. "It was a great meeting, we have terrific people and they want a tremendous healthcare plan -- and that’s what we have. And there are going to be adjustments, but I think we’ll get the vote on Thursday."

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the president was there "to do what he does best and that is to close the deal."

"He is all-in and we are all-in to end this Obamacare nightmare," said Ryan.

Many Republicans emerged from the session and described to ABC News that Trump's visit was pulling at their heartstrings.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said that it is powerful when the president visits Capitol Hill and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the meeting may not have changed minds but it did change hearts.

Members said that one target of Trump's attention was Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows has been among those in most ardent opposition to the Trump and Ryan-backed bill. The president reportedly asked Meadows to stand and joked about whether or not he'd have to "come after him," one member said, if Meadows did not back the bill.

The president reportedly asked other individuals members who had recently been swayed to back the bill to stand and be recognized. Lawmakers leaving the room said the president made wink-and-nod comments about how, where and for whom he may choose to campaign down the road depending on their votes.

The president's confidence in his ability to get the bill passed was in full view even before the meeting, as he arrived on Capitol Hill. Asked by ABC News if he can get the votes, the president paused and said "I think so" and gave a thumbs up when pressed again on the bill's passage.

Later this afternoon, Trump will meet with the "Tuesday Group" of moderate Republicans at the White House.


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