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Friday
Jun232017

Rep. Steve Scalise out of ICU, listed in 'fair condition'

Allison Shelley/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., is out of the intensive care unit, a source familiar with his recovery said, nine days after the House majority whip and three others were shot at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia.

Scalise has not been released from the MedStar Washington Hospital Center and is still listed in "fair condition."

Hospital officials said earlier this week that "Scalise continues to make good progress" and "is beginning an extended period of healing and rehabilitation."

Dr. Jack Sava, the director of trauma at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said last week that Scalise had "sustained a single rifle wound that entered in the area of the left hip. It traveled directly across toward the other hip in what we call a trans pelvic gunshot wound. The round fragmented and did substantial damage to bones, internal organs and blood vessels.

"I understand he was awake on scene but by the time he was transported by helicopter to the MedStar trauma center, he was in shock," Sava said. "When he arrived, he was in critical condition with an imminent risk of death." His condition later improved.

The alleged shooter, identified by police as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, was killed in a shootout with police after shooting Scalise, a Capitol Police officer and two others at a practice for the annual charity congressional baseball game. Hodgkinson's wife emotionally told reporters, "I can’t believe he did this," saying there were no signs.

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Friday
Jun232017

Trump supporter who called for Clinton to be 'shot' attends bill signing

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A controversial New Hampshire state representative who once said that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "should be shot for treason" was among the attendees at a White House bill signing Friday morning.

Al Baldasaro, who served as a delegate for then-candidate Donald Trump at last year's Republican National Convention, was present as the president signed a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Baldasaro's presence drew particular notice given recent calls by the administration, and across Washington, for dialing back partisan rhetoric in the aftermath of last week's shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Virginia that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., in critical condition. (He has since been upgraded to fair condition.)

Asked about Baldasaro's presence at Friday's press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer condemned all comments suggesting violence against another person.

“I don’t believe, and the president has said this as well, that anybody that goes out and tries to highlight those kinds of actions, should not be welcome,” said Spicer. “I’m not aware of the comments [Baldasaro] made, but again, I’ll say it right now, I don’t think we should be resorting that kind of language with anyone in our country."

Baldasaro's attendance also comes at a time when the White House has condemned a series of incidents in popular culture in which violence against Trump has been made light of or otherwise depicted.

Earlier during the briefing, Spicer said he found it troubling that more outrage hasn't been raised over the incidents, which most recently include a comment by actor Johnny Depp, who asked, "When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?" A representative for Depp later said Depp's remark was a "bad joke."

“It is, frankly, in my belief, a little troubling, the lack of outrage in some of these instances where people have said what they’ve said with respect to the president and the actions that should be taken," said Spicer. "The president has made it clear that we should denounce violence in all of its forms."

Last July, Baldasaro was investigated by the Secret Service after his comments about Clinton, which came in a radio interview in which he criticized the former secretary of state for her response to the 2012 attack on a United States compound in Benghazi, Libya and her use of a private email server.

"Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason," said Baldasaro.

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Friday
Jun232017

'Pizzagate' gunman recorded 'goodbye' video message to his family

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Edgar Maddison Welch, who was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday, recorded a "goodbye" video on his way from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., where he entered Comet Ping Pong restaurant last December with a firearm and opened fire into a closet while investigating a discredited conspiracy theory.

The U.S. attorney played the video, which was recorded in his car during the six-or-so-hour trip north, in the courtroom during Welch's sentencing hearing. Although the ambient noise drowns out a lot of his voice, he can be heard saying, "Girls, I love you all more than anything in this world."

Welch is father to two daughters. His defense attorney said that he is an "extremely devoted father" during the sentencing hearing.

"I can't let you grow up in a world that's so corrupted by evil. I have to at least stand up for you and for other children just like you," Welch says in the recording. "Like I always told you we have a duty to protect people who can't protect themselves ... I hope you understand that one day."

The lead prosecuting attorney, Demian Ahn, described the video that Welch recorded as a "goodbye" message.

"He’s calm, he’s deliberate ... in a calculated manner, he says goodbye to his family," said Ahn.

According to prosecutors, Welch drove to D.C. to investigate a conspiracy theory that had been peddled on numerous websites and shared on social media accounts. No legitimate law enforcement agency ever took the claims seriously, but at the time, Welch described it as a "sick" conspiracy involving the restaurant, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and a child-trafficking operation, which became known as "Pizzagate."

While the conspiracy was fake, his actions had real-world consequences. He terrified customers and staff when he entered the restaurant with an AR-15 rifle to look for so-called evidence. Patrons were rushed outside as he roamed around the restaurant looking for proof.

He then tried to open a locked closet door with a butter knife and when he couldn't do that, he fired shots at the lock, causing physical damage to the interior of the pizza joint. At one point, he encountered a shocked employee who was returning from outside. Eventually he put his weapons down, was arrested and charged under federal and local statutes.

The persecutor said that Welch was inspired by an "internet conspiracy theory" and "traumatized" everyone in the pizza place that afternoon.

He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced 48 months for the D.C. crime and 24 months for the federal crime to run concurrently for a total of four years, as well as 36 months of supervised release. In addition, he was ordered to pay $5,744.33 in restitution to Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis' company for damages.

Alefantis told the court that "so many" people had suffered because of Welch's actions.

"I will now try to rebuild my life and my name and my business and I think that there are many other people who have pushed this conspiracy theory who have created an enormous amount of harm to all of our community," said Alefantis after the sentencing hearing.

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Friday
Jun232017

Trump: 'I did not make, and do not have' Comey tapes

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Despite his tweet in the aftermath of James Comey's dismissal in May, President Donald Trump did not make and does not have tapes of his conversations with the former FBI director, he tweeted Thursday.

"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings," wrote Trump in a pair of tweets.

Trump appeared to leave open the possibility that recordings of their conversations exist, saying only that he did not create and is not in possession of any such tapes. At a press briefing Thursday, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of other recordings.

In May, three days after Comey's firing, Trump wrote: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl why Trump played "the game" of raising the matter and waiting over a month to reveal that he did not have tapes, Huckabee Sanders said, "I don't know that it was a game."

Trump previously declined to confirm or deny the existence of tapes, even as Comey shared details of his interactions with the president with associates and testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I'll tell you about it over a short period of time. I'm not hinting at anything," said Trump at a joint press conference with the president of Romania on June 9, a day after Comey met with the panel. "You're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer," Trump added.

The same day, a bipartisan group of leaders from the House Intelligence Committee submitted a request to White House counsel Don McGahn to inform the committee — which is conducting its own investigation of Russian election interference -- by June 23 whether recordings exist.

The potential existence of recordings of Trump and Comey's conversations took on increasing importance as the pair offered contradicting claims about the nature of their discussions.

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey described Trump allegedly asking for the director's loyalty during a private dinner on Jan. 27.

"The president said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed," said Comey in a written statement submitted to the committee.

Two days later, Trump denied such an exchange.

"I hardly know the man. I'm not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance," said Trump at the June 9 press conference. "What would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath" Think of that. I hardly know the man."

Comey additionally detailed, in the written statement, a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting in which Trump allegedly discussed former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," said Trump, according to Comey.

Asked by a reporter at a May 18 press conference whether he urged Comey "in any way, shape, or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn," the president offered a curt response.

"No. No. Next question," said Trump.

The possibility that tapes existed eventually led Comey to direct a friend to release information about his interactions with Trump to The New York Times. Comey explained the process during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

"The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there's not tapes," said Comey. "I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night because it didn't dawn on me originally there might be corroboration, a tape. And my judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square."

Earlier in his testimony, he said he wished such recordings exist, saying he was "stunned by the conversation" about Flynn and was attempting to "remember every word he said."

"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," said Comey.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, still wants a formal response in writing from the White House regarding the committee's request for Trump's "tapes," despite the president's tweets this afternoon.

"We're going to need to go back to the White House to find out whether his tweets constitute an official response to the House Intelligence Committee," he told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Minutes later, in an official release from his office, Schiff said the White House "must respond in writing" to the committee "as to whether any tapes or recordings exist."

In a letter Friday, Marc T. Short, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, responded to the House Intelligence Committee's request, citing the president's tweets as a formal presidential statement.

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Friday
Jun232017

White House responds to Johnny Depp's assassination remarks

ABC/Randy Holmes(WASHINGTON) -- Hours after actor Johnny Depp made controversial comments about President Donald Trump, the White House issued a statement condemning anyone who makes threatening remarks about the commander-in-chief.

While introducing his new film, The Libertine, at England's Glastonbury Festival Thursday night, Depp brought up Trump.

"I think he needs help," Depp told the crowd. "When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify: I'm not an actor. I lie for a living, however, it's been a while. Maybe it's about time."

Depp did not say whether he was referring to the assassination of President Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

The White House criticized Depp's comments in a statement to ABC News on Friday.

"President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it's sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official," the statement read.

In addition to the White House, the Secret Service issued its own statement.

"We actively monitor open source reporting, including social media networks, and we evaluate potential threats. For security reasons, we cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means and methods of how we perform our protective responsibilities," the Secret Service told ABC News.

Depp's publicist issued a statement from the actor:

"I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump.  It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice.  I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone."

Depp isn't the first public figure to come under fire for making questionable statements about Trump. Last month, comedian Kathy Griffin was featured in a video holding a decapitated likeness of Donald Trump's head. Griffin later apologized but said she remains under investigation from the Secret Service.

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Friday
Jun232017

Senate probes Loretta Lynch's alleged interference in Clinton email investigation

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee leaders is examining former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s alleged interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

The group is seeking details about Lynch's communication with a Clinton campaign aide, Amanda Renteria, as well as copies of documents and information about whether the FBI investigated the alleged communication.

The letters, sent Thursday, are signed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon White House, the chair and ranker on the subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

The senators question Open Society Foundations' Leonard Benardo and its General Counsel Gail Scovell, as well as Renteria and Lynch, about a May 24 story from the Washington Post that reported Lynch assured Renteria that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far.

An email reportedly recounting that alleged conversation and authored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who served at the time as DNC chair, was allegedly hacked by Russia, though the FBI later discounted its reliability.

The inquiry comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee examines the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who President Trump says he dismissed due in part to his handling of the Clinton email probe.

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Friday
Jun232017

Trump says his 'tapes' tweet may have prodded Comey to tell the truth

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Defending his May tweet that suggested he may have “tapes" of his conversations with James Comey, President Trump said his comment may have persuaded the fired FBI director to tell the truth about their interactions.

“When he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed,” Trump said in an interview taped Thursday and aired Friday morning on Fox and Friends.

“I mean, you will have to take a look at that because, then, he has to tell what actually took place at the events," the president added.

It's unclear what the president is referring to in arguing that Comey's story may have changed after the May 12 tweet. Comey was fired by Trump three days before the tweet and had not yet gone public with any account of his firing.

But Comey said during his June 8 testimony before Congress that Trump's tweet did influence him, though not the way Trump suggests. Comey credited the tweet with his decision to leak his detailed memos of his interactions with the president to a friend, who then gave the information to the New York Times for publication.

His motivation, Comey acknowledged, was that leaking the memos "might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."

Trump and the White House went six weeks neither confirming nor denying the existence of any tapes. But the tweet alone set off a series of events resulting in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s announcing his decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Russia investigation, and the House Intelligence Committee’s issuing a bipartisan request demanding the White House hand over any recordings that could be pertinent to its own investigation.

Mueller is now said to be investigating whether the president has attempted to obstruct justice in the investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia.

Still, the president believes his initial May 12 tweet was not ill-advised.

"Well, it wasn't very stupid. I can tell you that he did admit that what I said was right,” Trump said, referring to Comey's initial refusal during his tenure to say the president himself wasn't under investigation in the FBI's probe. “And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn't admitting that so, you'll have to do a little investigative reporting to determine that. But, I don't think it will be that hard.”

But the president's suggestion that his tweet influenced Comey to be truthful in recounting his conversations contradicts Trump's own assertion that Comey misled Congress.

Trump disputed Comey's testimony that he felt pressured by the president to drop the FBI's investigation of fired national security adviser Mike Flynn, as well as Comey's account that the president asked for loyalty from him.

"My story didn't change," the president said in his Thursday interview. "My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth.”

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Friday
Jun232017

Trump: 'Bothersome' that Mueller is 'very, very good friends with Comey'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump said it's "bothersome" that special counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI director James Comey are "very, very good friends."

Trump, in a Fox News interview that aired Friday, was asked whether he thinks Mueller should recuse himself from the Russia probe he is leading.

"Well, he is very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome," Trump said. "We're going to have to see."

Trump fired Comey in May, shortly after which Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lead the FBI investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible ties to Trump associates.

Trump asserted in the interview, "There's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that."

The president also claimed that Mueller's team of lawyers are "all Hillary Clinton supporters."

Mueller, who was FBI director from 2001 to 2013 under both Republican and Democratic presidents, is a registered Republican.

The attorneys hired onto his special counsel team were brought on using the same standards that the Department of Justice uses to hire career attorneys.

Under those standards, as described in a 2008 Justice Department Inspector General report, federal law and department policy prohibit assessing potential employees based on their political or ideological affiliations.

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Thursday
Jun222017

What's next for the Senate health care bill? 

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- The unveiling of Senate Republicans’ “discussion draft” bill to replace Obamacare sets off a series of procedural events that will culminate in a vote, according to Senate Republican staffers.

First, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office will analyze the bill’s budgetary impact and release a report on its real-world effects.

According to the CBO, the House health bill would leave 23 million more uninsured than current law. The CBO announced Thursday that it would release its “score” for the Senate measure early next week.

As senators await the score, they will continue to discuss the draft, with many of them wanting to make tweaks to it.

Once the score is released, the Senate parliamentarian will begin working with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, to determine whether the legislation complies with the rules of reconciliation, which would allow it to pass with a simple majority and avoid the filibuster.

At some point, McConnell will bring the bill to the floor.

The bill’s arrival on the floor sets off a 20-hour window for debate, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. This can be used however members want, including offering amendments and making motions related to the bill.

When that time is expired, the Senate goes into a “vote-a-rama” in which members can offer amendments with short or no debate. That can continue, according to one official, "until a state of exhaustion sets in."

The next step is for the Senate to decide to move to final passage and vote. By this time, McConnell will have needed to round up at least 50 of his 52 Republicans to pass the bill.

Traditionally, when one chamber passes a different version of the bill, the two are reconciled in a conference committee. But in this case, the fate of the Senate bill past its own chamber is unknown.

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Thursday
Jun222017

Solar border wall was 'my idea,' Trump says

The White House(CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa) -- When President Donald Trump pitched his idea for an energy-producing border wall covered in solar panels Wednesday night to that spirited campaign crowd in Iowa, he called the proposal “my idea.”

“And we're thinking of something that's unique. We're talking about the southern border, lots of sun, lots of heat. We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall so it creates energy and pays for itself,” Trump said to the cheering audience.

He said they were the first group with whom he'd shared the idea.

“Pretty good imagination, right?" he said "Good? My idea.”

However, back in April when Department of Homeland Security was reviewing bids for the wall project, at least one contractor, Gleason Partners LLC of Las Vegas, submitted a plan to use solar panels to cover sections of the wall.

Gleason Partners was responding to a request for proposal from the DHS that specifically asked “for offers to be submitted for a Solid Concrete Border Wall.”

Months later, in early June, ABC News reported that during a meeting with Republican congressional leaders, Trump pitched the idea for a 40- to 50-foot-high wall covered with solar panels.

Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the idea with others, but on one condition: They had to say it was his idea.

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