GOP Sen. Sasse: 'A lot that's troubling' in events around Comey's firing

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said there's "a lot that's troubling" in the events surrounding President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The senator was asked by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday about recent reports that Trump had asked Comey for his loyalty, told the FBI chief to let go of a probe of his former national security adviser and, according to The New York Times, told Russian officials after firing Comey that the pressure was now "off."

"There's obviously a lot that's troubling about that," Sasse responded. "There's also a lot that we don't know yet and I want to underscore how good it is for America that Bob Mueller has this position," he said, referring to former FBI director Robert Mueller's appointment as Justice Department special counsel over the probe of Russia's election meddling and possible ties to Trump associates.

"This is a decorated Marine through to U.S. attorney to head of the criminal division to bipartisan applauded head of the FBI for 12 years," Sasse said of Mueller. "Lots of good stuff for the American people to put hope in about the fact that Bob Mueller is going to conduct that investigation."

On Trump's request for Comey's loyalty, he said: "The FBI is a special institution that is supposed to be defending the American Constitution by letting investigative paths go where they lead. And, obviously, when you're an agent at the Bureau, all the way up to the director of the bureau, you don't take a loyalty pledge.”

With Mueller’s appointment, he said, “We all need to be looking forward to the task of trying to rebuild trust in a lot of these institutions” of government, including the FBI.

Sasse was a well-known member of the ‘Never Trump’ movement during the 2016 campaign who questioned then-candidate Trump's understanding of the Constitution and the U.S. government's system of checks and balances.

Asked by Stephanopoulos if the concerns he expressed during the campaign are proving true, Sasse said that the erosion of a shared understanding of U.S. civic values was happening before Trump was elected.

"We've had an erosion of an understanding of basic American civics for decades,” he said. “But, yes, I am concerned that at this particular moment, there's not enough long-term thinking about how we restore an understanding of the American structure of government."

"I wish that everybody in government, including in particular the president, would spend a lot more time and energy saying [in] five and 10 years from now, am I going to have contributed to a world where American kids understand why the First Amendment is so glorious?” Sasse said.

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McMaster won't say if President Trump confronted Russian officials about election interference

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's national security adviser declined to say whether the president confronted Russian officials about the country's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during a meeting at the White House earlier this month, telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that there "already was too much that's been leaked from those meetings."

"One of the things that I'm most concerned about is the confidence, the confidentiality of those kind of meetings, as you know, are extremely important," National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said in an exclusive interview that aired on This Week on Sunday. "I'm really concerned about these kind of leaks because it undermines everybody’s trust in that kind of an environment where you can have frank, candid and oftentimes unconventional conversations to try to protect American interests and secure the American people.”

"The initial leak that came out was a leak about concerns about revealing intelligence sources and methods," McMaster said, referring to a report from The Washington Post on Monday.

The report stated the president revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that "jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State."

"Information that's not even part of the president's briefing. And so in a concern about divulging intelligence, they leaked actually not just the information from the meeting, but also indicated the sources and methods to a newspaper," McMaster said on This Week.

"I take your point on that, although there is also the question of whether or not it was right for the president to give that information to the Russians," Stephanopoulos responded. "But I just asked the direct question: Did the president confront the Russians on their interference in our election?"

McMaster still did not answer.

"I'm not going to divulge more of that meeting," McMaster said. "Those meetings, as you know, are supposed to be privileged. They're supposed to be confidential."

The New York Times reported Friday that President Trump told Russian officials during their May 10 meeting that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey eased "great pressure" on him, while calling Comey "crazy, a real nut job."

When asked by Stephanopoulos about the report, McMaster -- who was in the Oval Office meeting with Trump and the Russian officials – would not deny the comments.

"I don't remember exactly what the president said," Trump's national security adviser said, adding, "But the gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news. And that was the intention of that portion of that conversation."

Stephanopoulos pressed, “You have the president of the United States telling the Russian foreign minister in their first meeting that the pressure is off because he's fired the FBI director investigating Russian interference in the campaign. Does that seem appropriate to you?”

“As you know, it’s very difficult to take a few lines, to take a paragraph out of what appear to be notes of that meeting and to be able to see the full context of the conversation,” McMaster responded. “The real purpose of the conversation was to confront Russia on areas, as I mentioned, like Ukraine and Syria, their support for Assad and their support for the Iranians, while trying to find areas of cooperation as in the area of counterterrorism and the campaign against ISIS."

In a statement Friday to ABC News, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute The New York Times account, saying, “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

Asked if Comey’s “grandstanding” hurts our ability to deal with Russia, McMaster said on This Week, “I think what's been hurting our ability to deal with Russia more than any other factor has been Russia's behavior.”

“Since President Trump has taken action in Syria, we think that there may be opportunities to find areas of cooperation in places like Ukraine, in places like Syria in particular,” McMaster added.

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Texas congressman receives threats over call for impeachment

Saul Loeb/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- An African-American congressman was threatened with lynching and subjected to racially charged name-calling after he called for President Trump's impeachment last week.

At a town hall in Houston on Saturday, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) played voicemails that his office received and recorded, which included vulgar threats and racial slurs directed at the congressman, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"You ain't going to impeach nobody. Try it and we will lynch all of you," one caller warned. Another said, "You'll be hanging from a tree."

On Tuesday, Green laid out his case to ABC News' Ben Siegel: "I think the president has committed an impeachable act, and having done so, he should be impeached."

Green reiterated his call to impeach the president Wednesday on the House floor and encouraged those who agree to sign a petition. He believes Trump should be impeached because of "the obstruction of a lawful investigation of the President’s campaign ties to Russian influence in his 2016 Presidential Election," according to Green's website.

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Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson reprise Trump roles on 'Saturday Night Live' season finale

Twitter/@nbcsnl(NEW YORK) -- Saturday Night Live reprised most of its Team Trump impersonations for the show's season finale this weekend, kicking off the show with a cold open featuring guest stars and cast members belting out a rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

 Alec Baldwin returned yet again to play to President Trump, as did actress Scarlett Johansson to play first daughter Ivanka Trump.

"SNL" cast member Kate McKinnon played counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Beck Bennett played Vice President Mike Pence, Aidy Bryant plated deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Cecily Strong played first lady Melania Trump, and Mikey Day and Alex Moffatt played Trump offspring Donald Jr. and Eric, respectively. And senior counselor to the president Steve Bannon was represented by a cast member in a Grim Reaper costume.

In the cold open, Baldwin's Trump plays the piano, while everyone sings "Hallelujah." Kate McKinnon performed the song in November on the show, to acknowledge Hillary Clinton's defeat in the presidential election.

After Baldwin's Trump is finished singing, in a nod to the president's week, he says, "I'm not giving up because I didn't do anything wrong, but I can't speak for this people."

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McMaster hints at break from Trump campaign rhetoric on ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ 

Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As part of his first foreign trip as president, Donald Trump will deliver a major speech on Sunday to leaders of more than 50 Middle Eastern countries, which his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, hinted could break from his past rhetoric on Islam and terrorism.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump was tough on what he called "radical Islamic terrorism" and bashed his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for not using the phrase.

Trump used the phrase in a commencement speech to Coast Guard cadets this week, previewing his Sunday address in Saudi Arabia by saying, "I'll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism and embrace a peaceful future for their faith. … We have to stop radical Islamic terrorism."

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed McMaster during an exclusive interview on whether the president plans on using the phrase during his first speech overseas in the Muslim world.

"I think what the president does is he listens to people. He listens to people in the region and a big part of this, this isn't America just on transmit here in the Middle East. This is the president asking questions, listening, learning. And, of course, the president will call it whatever he wants to call it," McMaster said in an interview that will air Sunday on This Week.

"I think it’s important that whatever we call it, we recognize that these are not religious people. And, in fact, these enemies of all civilization, what they want to do is to cloak their criminal behavior under this false idea of kind of a religious war," McMaster added.

Earlier this week, McMaster said the speech is "intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America's commitment to our Muslim partners."

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First lady Melania Trump forgoes head scarf in Saudi Arabia 

Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Royal Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- First lady Melania Trump stepped off Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport Saturday morning without a head scarf -- following the example of her predecessor, Michelle Obama -- and potentially creating a stir in this conservative Islamic country.

Women here, including visitors and foreign dignitaries, are expected to be fully covered in public, including their head and hair, per religious and legal code.

Senior adviser Ivanka Trump, traveling as part of the presidential entourage, was also seen not wearing an abaya.

 When Mrs. Obama visited with her husband in January 2015, her flouting of the custom was seen by some as a sign of disrespect to her hosts. The White House at the time said she intended to make a statement in a country where women have few rights.

One of those critical of her move: Donald Trump.

During the Obamas' visit, Trump tweeted, "Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refusing to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies."

The Trumps did seem to get a little political cover ahead of their visit from Saudi minister of foreign affairs Adel bin Ahmen Al-Jubier, who told local media last week, "We welcome any style of clothing."

Al-Jubier said the government "usually doesn't demand," but makes "suggestions" to visiting female dignitaries.

One notable difference in the official agendas of the Obamas and Trumps: Human rights and women's rights. The White House says President Trump will not make those issues a focus of his visit.

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Comey to testify in public before Senate Intelligence Committee

Eric Thayer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ousted FBI Director James Comey will testify in a public hearing before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee after Memorial Day, the panel announced Friday.

Comey has not spoken publicly since President Donald Trump abruptly fired him less than two weeks ago amid his agency's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump camapaign and Russian officials.

"I am hopeful that he will clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media," said Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the committee.

The White House originally pointed to a recommendation from acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein criticizing Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server as the impetus for his departure. But Trump said later that he had already decided to fire Comey.

The New York Times reported today that Trump told Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that Comey's firing had relieved pressure on the White House amid the ongoing Russia investigation. Trump also called Comey a "nut job." The investigation is now in the hands of a special counsel, as well as multiple Congressional committees.

"Director Comey ... deserves an opportunity to tell his story," said Sen. Mark Warner, the panel's top Democrat. "Moreover, the American people deserve an opportunity to hear it."

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White House doesn't dispute Trump called Comey a 'nut job' to Russians -- The White House is not denying a report Friday afternoon that President Donald Trump called former FBI Director James Comey a "nut job" in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister the day after firing Comey.

The remarks, reported in the New York Times, came amid an investigation into potential collusion between the president's campaign and Russian government officials, allegations Trump has repeatedly dismissed as "fake news."

"The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people," said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in a statement.

"By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia. The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations."

The Times reported on Friday that Trump told the Russians he "faced great pressure" because of the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump told the Russians in the Oval Office on May 10, according to a document read to the The New York Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

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Current White House staffer caught up in Russia probe, source says -- The federal investigation of alleged collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials is looking not only into Trump campaign advisers previously cited in public accounts, but it is also scrutinizing at least one current White House staffer, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The Washington Post was the first to report on this detail of the investigation, saying a "senior White House adviser" has become "a significant person of interest" in the probe.

Officials speaking to ABC News would not identify the staffer, and it is unclear exactly why authorities are interested in this individual.

The Department of Justice appointed a special counsel to spearhead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election -- as well as possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Russia storyline as "fake news."

Multiple Congressional committees are also investigating potential ties between the President’s campaign and the Russians.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer provided a statement responding to The Washington Post denying collusion.

"As the President has stated before - a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity," said Spicer.

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Speaker Ryan: President Trump 'obviously' had a 'bad 2 weeks' -- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan offered a blunt assessment of President Donald Trump's recent setbacks, saying in a radio interview Friday that he's had "a bad two weeks."

Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's show, Ryan brushed off the "white noise" of the controversies engulfing the administration, saying that he and his colleagues are remaining focused.

"Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah is what I say about that stuff," said Ryan. "This is what I call the white noise of Washington-Beltway media. We're busy doing our work."

He later added: "If we keep our promises and do our work, I think people will reward us."

Asked about Trump's performance, Ryan said, "Obviously he clearly did have a bad two weeks."

"It's clearly my hope that he does ... right the ship, that he improves so that we can just get going," said the speaker.

Ryan said that he hopes the Senate passes health care by the August recess and added that he is concerned by the leak of a GOP leadership recording to The Washington Post in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, joked about Russian President Vladimir Putin paying Trump.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "That's a pretty bizarre thing to happen, so obviously that's a cause of concern of ours."

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