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Saturday
Nov172018

President Trump receives CIA briefing on Jamal Khashoggi murder, as reports link Saudi prince to killing

Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump was briefed Saturday on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a day after multiple reports linked the murder to Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The president was given an update by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary oF State Mike Pompeo on the killing of the Washington Post columnist as he was headed to California to assess the deadly and destructive wildfires.

"The President spoke with Secretary Pompeo and Director Haspel on the plane. The State Department will put out a statement later today," said Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

The briefing comes as several media outlets reported Friday that CIA officials said they were highly confident that 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul in government aircraft at the orders of Salman to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate.

The Washington Post was the first news company to report on the alleged ties to the prince.

Trump spoke to reporters early Saturday about the Khashoggi murder before heading to California.

“As of this moment, we were told he had not played a role," the president added, referring to the Saudi prince. "We’re going to see what they have to say.”

On Saturday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the State Department said the Trump administration is determined to hold Khashoggi's killers accountable, but had not made a "final conclusion" on his death.

"Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi," said Heather Nauert, the department spokeswoman. "The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts."

She added that the U.S. will continue to investigate the murder while "maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 in the Saudia consulate in Istanbul, where he went to pick up documents that he needed to marry his fiancee, who lives in the Turkish city.

An intercepted phone call between Khashoggi and the Saudi prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, was among the evidence that helped the CIA arrive at its conclusion, the Post reported.

In the call, Khalid bin Salman, who is the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi that he should go to Istanbul for the documents and assured him that it would be safe to do so, the paper reported.

Though it’s unclear if Khalid bin Salman was involved in the plan, it was Mohammed bin Salman who told him to make the call, The Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter who could only speak on the condition of anonymity.

Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., denied the allegations that Khalid bin Salman spoke about going to Turkey and called the CIA assessment “false,” according to the Post.

The Post article was published the same day as a funeral service for the slain journalist at Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque, more than a month after he was killed on Oct. 2.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged involvement in the killing of Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist.

Vice President Mike Pence declined to comment on “classified information” early Saturday morning during a trip to Papua New Guinea, but also did not seek to refute the reporting of the CIA’s conclusions.

The vice president did, however, condemn the murder and said: “We are going to follow the facts.”

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder,” Pence said.

He also noted that the U.S. wants to find a way to preserve a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov172018

Controversies hamper candidates in Mississippi Senate race 

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the past week, a special election contest in Mississippi that seemed to be flying under the radar was in disarray as the two candidates jockeying for the state's open Senate seat sought to cast each other as morally unfit for the job.

Two days after the special election went to a runoff on Nov. 6 -- when neither GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith nor Democrat Mike Espy clinched 50 percent of the vote to win outright -- the Trump-endorsed frontrunner told Fox News in an interview, "We're really proud of the campaign we've ran so far. We've run a clean campaign, we've stayed away from being negative and we're going to continue to do that."

But then, Hyde-Smith’s quest to hold onto the seat she was appointed to earlier this year after former Sen. Thad Cochran resigned due to health concerns was suddenly on shaky ground. She drew fierce blowback when a video surfaced showing Hyde-Smith, who is white, embracing a supporter after he praised her and saying before a cheering crowd, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

In the wake of the video's release, Hyde-Smith didn't apologize but rather defended herself in a statement.

"In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement," she said. "In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."

But Espy, her African-American challenger, pounced, condemning her for evoking language reminiscent of lynchings that scar Mississippi's history.

"Cindy Hyde-Smith's comments are reprehensible," Espy said in a statement. "They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state."

Four days later, another video of Hyde-Smith, from Nov. 3, was posted on Twitter. This time, she was seen telling a group of supporters in Starkville, Mississippi, that she thinks it’s a "great idea" to make it harder for "liberal folks" to vote.

"Then they remind me, that there's a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don't want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that's a great idea,” she appears to be saying in the video posted by the same publisher who posted the first video.

Hyde-Smith once again refused to apologize for her comments. Instead, her campaign spokesperson released a statement Thursday that said, "Obviously Sen. Hyde-Smith was making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited."

Since her comments emerged and put her candidacy on edge, Hyde-Smith reversed course from the immediate days after Nov. 6, and is now ratcheting up her rhetoric and turning negative in this tight contest.

In that same statement from Thursday, the Hyde-Smith campaign deflected from her own controversy by calling out Espy for allegedly lying about a lobbying contract with the Ivory Coast government during a period of violent upheaval.

"Now the liberal media wants to talk about anything other than Mike Espy's record of corruption and taking $750,000 -- and lying about it -- from an African dictator now charged with war crimes, including murder, rape and torture,” Melissa Scallan, spokeswoman for the Hyde-Smith campaign, said.

A new digital ad from Hyde-Smith's campaign, released Friday, touts the alleged connection between Espy and the African despot who refused to give up power in the Ivory Coast and is now on trial for crimes against humanity.

The statement and the ad are based on a Fox News report, released Thursday, that published a U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act document that shows that Espy continued to receive payments as part of a lobbying contract with the Ivory Coast's former president.

Espy’s agricultural consulting firm, AE Agritrade Inc., signed a three-month contract with the Cocoa and the Coffee Board of the Ivory Coast for $750,000, according to the document. Espy was an agricultural consulting agent after he served as agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton.

But the former congressman told the Hill in 2011 that he halted the contract during the violent conflict that erupted after then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to relinquish power after losing in an election to Alassane Ouattara.

Espy said he "only worked on the contract for a little more than a month before suspending it in early February."

"I have voluntarily suspended it," he told the Hill in 2011. "Events are spiraling rapidly. It is very difficult to work in that context."

The FARA document published by Fox News shows that Espy's Jackson-based consulting firm was paid the full $750,000, and the payments continued through March 1, 2011. His consulting firm received a payment of $400,000 from the Ivory Coast's Cocoa and Coffee Board in January 2011, and then $350,000 on March 1, 2011.

"Secretary Espy worked on agricultural issues for international clients. Over the course of that work, he realized one of those clients didn't pass the smell test, so he terminated the contract, and then reported what he knew to the U.S. government," Danny Blanton, communications director for Espy's campaign, said in a statement first to Fox News and confirmed by ABC News.

Espy has run into ethical scandals in the past, during his tenure as a member of Clinton's cabinet, his rising political stardom in the 1990s was halted by a corruption scandal involving personal gifts from food companies he regulated in the Clinton administration. He was acquitted of all those charges.

But the underdog’s campaign is also not shying away from the bitter rivalry, after a spokesperson Espy fired back in two statements, first addressing the most recent Hyde-Smith video about voter suppression.

"For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter," Blanton said. "Mississippians deserve a senator who represents our best qualities, not a walking stereotype who embarrasses our state."

In another statement, Blanton chastised Hyde-Smith for the "smear campaign" against the former agriculture secretary.

"Cindy Hyde-Smith had a chance to admit she was wrong, and instead of apologizing, she doubled down. Since that hasn't worked, she's trying to change the subject with a smear campaign against Mike," he said.

But in a state that President Donald Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points, support for Hyde-Smith among her Republican base is unsurprisingly unwavering. The president is heading to the state for two rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi later this month on Nov. 26. She's even scoring steady fundraising numbers after making the "public hanging" remark.

Hyde-Smith reported 17 new contributions totaling $65,700, including $5,000 from Google's PAC, on Tuesday, shortly after the controversy erupted, according to Open Secrets.

Google's contribution is the PAC's first to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, but the company told Open Secrets it was made before her controversial remark.

"This contribution was made on November 2nd before Senator Hyde-Smith’s remarks became public on November 11th," a Google spokesperson told Open Secrets. "While we support candidates who promote pro-growth policies for business and technology, we do not condone these remarks and would not have made such a contribution had we known about them."

For his part, Espy has raised over $163,000 in new contributions as of Nov. 13, according to his latest FEC filing. He is also counting on support from national Democrats including potential 2020 contenders, African-American Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, who have planned visits on Saturday and Monday, according to the campaign, to shore up support and vault him to the U.S. Senate.

Controversies may abound in this runoff election, but with less than two weeks until voters head back to the polls, it appears that for whoever emerges victorious, the battle to get there is already turning ugly.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov172018

President Trump tours CA damage, meets with firefighters and local leaders

Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- President Trump surveyed the devastation from the California wildfires on Saturday, touring a neighborhood in badly-ravaged Paradise and another in Malibu, where the homes were reduced entirely to rubble.

“This is very sad to see,” Trump said as he stood with the governor, the mayor of Paradise and other local officials on a destroyed street in Paradise. "As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet."

“As big as they look on the tube you don’t see what’s going on until you come here,” Trump said of the scale of the destruction and the impact of seeing the damage in first person.

“Nobody would have ever thought this could have happened,” Trump said, as he pledged the full support of the federal government in the recovery efforts.

Asked if seeing the destruction has changed his perspective on climate change, the president said it had not, and instead repeatedly pointed to forest management as a key factor in fire prevention moving forward.

“No, I have a strong opinion. I want a great climate and we’re going to have that,” Trump said. "And we’re going to have forests that are very safe. Because we can’t go through this every year.”

During a meeting with fire and local officials at an incident command center in Chico, the president referred to the fire as a "monster" and applauded firefighters who are “fighting like hell” to put out the remaining parts of the fires still burning.

The raging wildfires have already claimed at least 74 lives and up to 1,000 people are still missing. The Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed at least 71 people, is considered the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state's history.

When the president arrived in California beneath hazy, smoke-filled skies Saturday, he was greeted by FEMA Director Brock Long, Gov. Jerry Brown and the governor-elect, Gavin Newsom.

In a tweet, Brown, who has feuded with Trump on several issues, welcomed the president to his state.

"Tomorrow @GavinNewsom and I will join @POTUS during his visit to the state," he tweeted Friday. "Now is a time to pull together for the people of California."

Trump said he’ll be stopping at two of the most devastated areas, and applauded the firefighters for being “unbelievably brave” as they’ve battled the fires.

The president also reiterated his criticism — which first appeared as a tweet — that poor fire management is to blame for the severity of the fires, and pointed to Finland as an example of how to better maintain forests.

“We do have to do management maintenance and we’ll be working also with environmental groups, I think everyone’s seen the light,” Trump said. “The floors of the forest are very important. You look at other countries where they do it differently and it's a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland, and he said we have a much different — we're a forest nation. He called it a forest nation. And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don't have any problem.”

Trump added that it could have been "a lot different situation" if we had been talking about forest management earlier. "It should have been done many years ago but I think everybody is on the right side. It’s a big issue,” he said.

Though the president asserted that there is agreement on the issue of forest management, California officials, including a top-ranked fire official, have slammed his criticism. California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice called Trump’s assertion of forest management "ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov172018

Diverse group of newly elected women in Congress bond over common status, goals

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez/Instagram(WASHINGTON) -- The group of newly elected, female, progressive Democrats who represent historical firsts in Congress has been frequently seen together on the Hill and in pictures posted to social media, including in a photo that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted on Instagram, captioned “Squad."

The post has received more than 170,000 likes and has circulated widely on other social media.

They bonded after months on the campaign trail, a quartet that includes Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, another Muslim woman elected to Congress and former refugee who is also the first Somali-American elected to that post; and Ayanna Pressley, who will soon be Massachusetts' first black congresswoman.

The newly elected members of Congress journeyed to Washington to begin orientation this week and will join the 116th Congress -- the most diverse to date and with campaign promises to match.

Among progressive issues discussed at orientation such as Medicare-for-all and justice reform, there is one upcoming legislature battle that resonates with many in that group: the Green New Deal.

Ocasio-Cortez trekked to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's Capitol Hill office on Tuesday alongside a group of young protesters staging a sit-in over climate change. There, she championed the need for a resolution that would establish a select House committee to develop legislation on the Green New Deal -- a list of ambitious principles that progressives see as a developing Democratic Party platform on climate change.

Up until now, Ocasio-Cortez made herself known as the leader of this cause, but now other newly elected women who have become beacons of congressional firsts are readily emerging as allies ready to back the measure -- and each other -- up.

New Mexico Rep.-elect Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress this year, has announced her support for the deal.

"With California wildfires out of control, many of us want to tackle climate change and implement a Green New Deal to move America toward 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible," Haaland told ABC News.

"There is a beautiful sisterhood this week in D.C.," Haaland said. "Many of us have been in touch for months before we got here, so being together is really special."

"I'm thrilled to be part of this dynamic, trailblazing group of women, and I'm also excited about the opportunity to lead on issues important to our communities," Pressley told ABC News.

A source close to Pressley added that she and her female freshman peers have hit the ground running. They "have already been working proactively within the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the broader Democratic Caucus to prompt important conversations about the values that define the party."

During their respective campaigns in the Midwest, Omar and Tlaib often shared their camaraderie on social media, with Tlaib referring to their bond as a "sisterhood."

Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, said she has worked extensively with these incoming congresswomen during their campaigns and has had the "privilege" of watching their relationships develop.

The head of the progressive PAC was a guest at new-member orientation and tweeted her own photo on Tuesday, captioned, “I remain excited about our future as the most diverse, female, progressive freshman class prepares to take their seats in Capitol Hill!”

"We were stoked to be together," Simpson told ABC News.

She added that she believes their bond is strengthened by their experiences of being "taken for granted" and "underestimated."

"They're going to get a lot, and I hope they stay close," Simpson said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov162018

Papadopoulos launches late bid to delay looming prison term 

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- He’s pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison, but former Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos is not quite ready to give up the fight.

With a new team of lawyers, the man once derided as a campaign “coffee boy” filed a last-ditch appeal with a Washington, D.C., federal court Friday to try to forestall his looming trip to a Midwestern medium-security penitentiary, where he is scheduled to surrender in 10 days.

In his court filing, Papadopoulos argues that the court should wait until an appeals court hears arguments in a separate case challenging the validity of the special counsel. Attorneys in that case, which was brought by a man fighting a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller, are scheduled to have briefs filed to the court by Monday.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision in the pending appeal … may directly impact the validity of Mr. Papadopoulos’s prosecution and conviction,” his lawyers argue. “If the appeal is successful, then the Special Counsel lacked constitutional authority to prosecute Mr. Papadopoulos in the first instance.”

Given that the appeals case has already been argued and is awaiting a ruling, the Papadopoulos filing argues, “a modest stay of his incarceration pending the outcome of that appeal should be granted.”

The 31-year-old energy scholar, who in 2016 attempted his foray into electoral politics with the Trump campaign, was one of the first to be swept into Mueller’s Russia probe. In 2017, he admitted to lying to federal investigators and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. In September, Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison – with the government arguing that he had not delivered the level of cooperation they had anticipated.

Papadopoulos was contrite at sentencing, telling a judge he felt remorse for lying to federal agents. In recent weeks, though, he has been making increasingly strident public comments in social media and in television appearances challenging the case against him. In late October, he appeared on “Fox and Friends” and said he was “actually even considering withdrawing my agreement I have come to with the government.”

The case Papadopoulos is now looking to was brought by Andrew Miller, a former associate of Trump confidant and political provocateur Roger Stone, who has refused a demand from prosecutors to appear before a grand jury. Miller is objecting, his lawyers said, in order to mount a broad legal challenge to the legitimacy of the special counsel probe.

Miller’s attorney, Paul Kamenar, told ABC News in August that he believes Miller’s constitutional battle could head all the way to the Supreme Court. He has argued that Mueller was not a constitutionally valid special counsel because he should be considered a “principal officer of the United States,” and therefore should have been appointed by the president. The Department of Justice has taken the position that he is an “inferior” officer who could be appointed by a deputy, in this case, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

To date, Miller’s argument has not carried the day. Attorneys for Miller tried unsuccessfully two times in July to quash a subpoena requiring Miller to testify before the special counsel's grand jury, arguing that Mueller lacked the constitutional authority to issue it.

On Friday, Miller’s lawyer expressed surprise that Papadopoulos had sought to tie his fate to the Miller appeal.

"The motion makes a compelling case relying on the arguments of our briefing that a short stay of sentence is warranted. However, the judge has broad discretion in sentencing matters," Kamenar said.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

A judge has asked the special counsel to file its response to the Papadopoulos request by Wednesday.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov162018

Nancy Pelosi huddles with potential rival in House speaker race

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met Friday with a prominent House Democrat considering challenging her for the speaker’s gavel, as she continued to confer with incoming Democrats and court votes for speaker.

Pelosi huddled Friday with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who has been encouraged by Pelosi's critics to mount a campaign against her. Pelosi, through a spokesman, said the two had a "candid and respectful conversation."

Fudge, 66, whose meeting with Pelosi was brokered by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told reporters Friday that she would make a decision on whether to run against Pelosi after Thanksgiving.

"The meeting went very well," she said. "We had a very open and candid discussion."

"What she asked me was, basically, ‘How could we get to a point where I could be supportive?’” Fudge added.

"We talked about some succession planning. We talked about some other things. I think that the biggest issue that we discussed was the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind."

While she’s favored to become House speaker next Congress, and win the closed-door vote for speaker in the Democratic caucus on Nov. 28, Pelosi has faced determined opposition from a band of current and incoming House Democrats who want new leadership.

Seventeen of those Democrats have signed on to a letter pledging to vote for new leadership on the House floor in January, enough to block Pelosi from winning the 218 votes needed to clinch the gavel.

With three House races yet to be called by ABC News, Democrats are projected to hold 231 seats in the House next year, which would allow Pelosi to lose as many as 13 votes and still become speaker.

Her critics argue that Pelosi, 78, who served as speaker from 2007-2011, has crowded out the party’s rising stars and given few opportunities for Democrats to advance in the House.

 “I was there when she grabbed the gavel with all the children around her [in 2007], it's one of the great moments of my career that I’ll always remember,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a Pelosi critic who unsuccessfully ran against her for Democratic leader in 2016, told reporters Friday. “But we also have a responsibility to Democrats across the country who asked for change.”

“This is an election of the establishment Democrats circling the wagons, versus the change that the Democratic people voted for across the country,” he said.

For her part, Pelosi and her aides say that she has fostered and encouraged younger members, by creating additional leadership positions in the caucus and committees, and provided some member with issue portfolios to manage.

“My experience with Nancy Pelosi, is part of her mission actually is to lift younger members,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a Pelosi ally, told ABC News. “It’s amazing to me how many hours she spends, in the course of her regular business as leader, check in with the caucuses.”

Schakowsky and other Pelosi supporters have accused her critics of sexism by working to sideline Pelosi without explicitly saying the same about her top lieutenants: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who is 79, and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is 78. Both men are running to keep the second and third-ranked posts in the majority.

“They say about men when they age, they become more experienced, and women, expired,” Schakowsky said. “There’s definitely an element of sexism, an ageism that’s applied to women and not to men.”

Pelosi stopped short of calling her critics sexist Thursday in her weekly news conference but defiantly proclaimed that she had enough support to become speaker.

“I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be Speaker of the House, and certainly we have many, many people in our caucus who could serve in this capacity. I happen to think that, at this point, I'm the best person for that,” she said, while inviting others to challenge her.

Fudge, a former CBC chair and mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, who has served in Congress since 2008, said in an interview with HuffPost that Pelosi “has been a very good leader” but believes “it’s time for a new one.”

She also told the website that she believes Pelosi hasn’t been as strong enough of an advocate for African-Americans in Congress.

Fudge’s potential bid has split members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom had privately encouraged Clyburn and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a rising star who is running for a lower level leadership position, to move up the ranks of Democratic leadership.

But many prominent members of the group, including Jeffries, Rep. Elijah Cummings from Maryland, the future chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, and Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the future chair of the House Financial Services Committee, have backed the California Democrat, who continues to meet with freshmen and undecided Democrats ahead of the caucus vote.

Pelosi’s office has also promoted a raft of endorsements from major labor unions, pro-choice groups, and other outside organizations active in Democratic politics.

She’s also met with key constituencies in the House Democratic caucus, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus who told reporters she plans to support Pelosi, and a group of Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus who have pledged to withhold their support in exchange for procedural rule changes to reform the way the House is run.

On Friday, Pelosi continued to meet with incoming House Democrats, and plans to meet with the entire new class of freshmen Democrats.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov162018

Stacey Abrams calls Brian Kemp the 'victor' in Georgia's governor's race

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Stacey Abrams, a leader in the Georgia Democratic party locked in a tumultuous election stained by lawsuits and allegations of voter suppression, said Friday she is acknowledging Republican Brian Kemp as the "victor" in the race to be Georgia's next governor, effectively ending the contest.

"But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state baldly pin his hopes for election on suppression of the people's democratic right to vote has been truly appalling," Abrams said at a press conference at her headquarters in Atlanta.

"This is not a speech of concession. Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that," she added.

Kemp resigned as the state's secretary of state last week and started the process of transitioning into his new office, declaring himself the winner.

Legal victories since Election Day 11 days ago buoyed hope in the Abrams' camp trying to earn enough votes to force a runoff or a recount. But come Friday, there did not appear to be enough outstanding ballots to overcome Kemp's lead.

The state is able to certify election results Friday night, according to a ruling by a federal judge earlier this week.

Judge Amy Totenberg of the U.S. District Court in Atlanta wrote in her ruling Monday that the intention by the secretary of state's office to declare Kemp as the governor-elect as soon as Wednesday “appears to suggest the secretary’s foregoing of its responsibility to confirm the accuracy of the results prior to final certification, including the assessment of whether serious provisional balloting count issues have been consistently and properly handled.”

In her speech Friday, Abrams said as a private citizen she will launch a new group called "Fair Fight Georgia" which will bring a federal lawsuit against the state over its handling of ballots.

Abrams, who got a last-minute personal show of support from Ophrah Winfrey, would have made history as the state's first African-American chief executive and the nation's first black female governor.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov162018

There are dozens of sealed criminal indictments on the DC docket. Are they from Mueller?

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More than three dozen sealed criminal indictments have been added to the federal court docket in Washington, D.C. since the start of 2018.

Sealed criminal court files are assigned a case number, but do not indicate the identity of the parties or the nature of the charges, so it is impossible for the public to discern what those sealed cases contain.

But several legal experts told ABC News the number of sealed cases awaiting action right now is unusual. Fourteen were added to the docket since late August alone, a review by ABC News has found, just as the midterm elections were drawing near and longstanding Justice Department policy precluded prosecutors from taking any public action that could appear to be aimed at influencing political outcomes.

And the inadvertent discovery on Thursday night of what appear to be secret charges pending against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has drawn fresh attention to the mystery. Legal experts told ABC News that the sealed cases could be tied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possibly part of a quiet effort to protect his investigation from any premature effort to shut it down.

“I assume that Mueller knew that once the election was over, there could be an existential threat to his investigation,” said Matthew Miller, a former senior Justice official under former Attorney General Eric Holder. “He knew the best thing to do was act before that.”

A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on the investigation or the uptick in sealed indictments.

Sealed indictments are often used in cases where a defendant is overseas and U.S. prosecutors don’t want to tip off their target before they have a chance to make an arrest. But they can also be used to pressure someone to flip on a more important target, according to Kendall Coffey, who served as U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida in the mid-1990s, “especially if there was someone who presented the hope of providing proactive assistance – undertaking conversations, especially recorded conversations with other suspects in the investigation.”

Mueller has used a sealed indictment before. The case against unpaid Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos remained a secret for three months before charges of lying to investigators were eventually made public in October 2017. Only then, after Mueller's team secured a cooperation agreement, did the public learn the one-time foreign policy advisor would be the first from Trump’s campaign to plead guilty in the probe.

Brett Kappel, a veteran political law expert said he calculated that 16 percent of all the criminal cases filed thus far in 2018 remained under seal, a number he considered “unusually high.” And those were kept under seal much longer than usual, he said.

“They normally only remain sealed until the person who has been indicted has been apprehended,” he said. “The other major reason why a case is initially sealed is that publicly revealing the name of the accused would impede an ongoing investigation.”

Coffey said he did not know if the stack of secret charging papers had any ties to Mueller. But if they did, he said, they would have enabled the special counsel’s team to keep cases moving ahead of the midterms.

“If indeed Mueller had prepared cases for prosecution but did not want the announcement to impact on pending elections then a sealed indictment might have been the preferred method,” Coffey said.

And there was good reason, Miller said, for Mueller to lock in charges before the midterms.

Mueller can only indict someone with the approval of the Attorney General, and once the indictments have been approved and filed, any effort to withdraw charges would involve a judge.

At the time, those approvals fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia matter. But President Trump had sent strong signals he planned to replace Sessions after the elections with someone who might be more willing to curtail the probe into Russian election interference and possible collusion.

The day after the elections, Trump appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has previously denounced the Mueller probe. A Justice Department spokeswoman said this week that Whitaker “is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.”

“You can’t prevent a new AG from blocking new indictments,” Miller said. “But if you were ready to move on cases, you could return a bunch of indictments under seal. If the stumbling block is approval from Mueller’s supervisors, you get that approval while you still have a supervisor who approves of your work.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov162018

Trump awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley 

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation's' highest civilian honor – to seven Americans Friday, including the “King” and the “Sultan of Swat,” in a ceremony at the White House.

The president’s choices for this year’s recipients included some of his personal friends and iconic sports and music figures like rock n' roll legend Elvis Presley, record-breaking baseball player Babe Ruth, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, former Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears football star turned state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, hall-of-fame quarterback Roger Staubach, and philanthropist and major Republican fundraiser Miriam Adelson.

“This year it is my true privilege to award this honor to seven extraordinary Americans,” Trump said.

Before introducing Presley’s award, “How Great Thou Art,” as sung by Presley, played throughout the East Room. Elvis left the building a little too soon, according to the president.

“That was my idea, I said give me a little song,” Trump said. “I will tell you he was something special. I wanted to hear the rest of the song, I don’t know why the cut it so short.”

The decision to grant Adelson the award was met by some criticism because Adelson, a physician and philanthropist, is also well known for being a political power player with her billionaire husband Sheldon Adelson. The couple has been champions for the Jewish community but were also two of the biggest financial supporters of the Trump presidential campaign. Still, Adelson is not the first political supporter to be granted the award by a U.S. president.

“Here to celebrate Miriam's award is Sheldon -- where is Sheldon?” Trump said, with his eyes searching the room for one of his political confidants. “There he is. You didn't make the front row, he's probably angry.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, and in the past it has gone to icons of American culture and history such as Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra.

Supreme Court justices, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently hospitalized for fractured ribs after a fall, sat in the front row to see the president honor their late colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia, with the award. Scalia and Ginsburg were close personal friends.

“Glad to see you’re feeling well,” the president said to Ginsburg.

Scalia’s widow, Maureen, accepted the award on behalf of her husband.

In an eyebrow-raising moment, the president listed off the names of the couple's nine children and then, looking at her, paused to quip, “You were very busy, wow.”

“Wow, I always knew I liked him,” Trump said with a smirk.

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Friday
Nov162018

Ohio becomes latest state to try to pass 'heartbeat' abortion ban

Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A bill that bans abortions relatively early in a pregnancy is making its way through the legislative process in Ohio after being passed in the state’s House of Representatives.

So-called "heartbeat bills" ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which generally occurs about six weeks into a pregnancy. Opponents take issue with that time frame because in some cases, women may not even know they are pregnant yet. Ohio's latest bill would need to be approved by the state senate before being sent to the governor for approval, but the passage by the House of Representatives is a key step in the process.

Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a similar bill in 2016, and a spokesperson for the governor told ABC News that his position “hasn’t changed” on the issue since he vetoed the similar bill in 2016.

Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said that there is still a chance that the bill is enacted into law in spite of the governor’s potential veto.

He said that the Ohio Senate is “likely to pass it. Now, whether they will pass it by a veto proof margin, I just don’t know.”

Elizabeth Nash is a senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group that was initially formed under Planned Parenthood but has been operating separately for years.

Nash said there are several other states that have enacted similar laws, but all have either been struck down in the courts or are currently making their way through the legal system, meaning that none of them are currently in effect.

"This could be part of the political strategy to pass multiple abortion bans that would ultimately give the U.S. Supreme Court many opportunities to overturn Roe," Nash said, referencing the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

Opponents of the ban say it contradicts a woman's federal right to safe and legal abortion under the Roe v. Wade decision. Proponents say it protects life at the moment a heartbeat can be detected.

The first state to enact a heartbeat bill was North Dakota in 2013. Arkansas passed a similar law in 2013 banning abortions at 12 weeks gestation where a heartbeat was detected.

Both of those bills were passed by state legislators and signed into law by governors, but were then challenged in court. The states then appealed those decisions to the Supreme Court, which declined to take them up. Neither state's law is currently in effect.

Iowa passed a “heartbeat bill” focused on the six-week mark earlier this year, and it is in the throes of its own legal battle.

As everything stands now, all four states –- North Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa and Ohio –- ban abortions at 20 weeks gestation and later.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill Thursday in a 58-35 vote, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

State Rep. Christina Hagan, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, brought her newborn twin boys to the House floor during the debate over the bill Thursday, the Plain Dealer reported.

"We know when a heartbeat stops that we have lost a human life," Hagan said, according to the newspaper.

Both the state's House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate have Republican majorities, and incoming Gov. Mike DeWine previously said that he would approve a heartbeat bill similar to the one Kasich vetoed in 2016, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Beck said that even though past laws have been held up in the courts, the Ohio legislature is probably putting it forward in a “symbolic“ measure.

“There is a constituency out there for this kind of bill, a constituency that is very important for the Republicans in both the [Ohio] House and the [Ohio] Senate,” he said.

Nash said that the Ohio bill may move forward rather than wait for DeWine to be sworn in, however, because its supporters may already assume it will be challenged in court. Proponents may want to see this bill get further along in the legislative process before it can be challenged, Nash explained.

“Each one of these cases are slightly different. There are different facts in the case ... that could make some cases more interesting to the [Supreme] Court to take up,” she said.

The movement on Ohio's latest heartbeat bill comes after the midterm elections brought other changes to reproductive rights access across the country.

Alabama and West Virginia voters approved ballot measures that amended their respective state constitutions in ways that don’t presently change abortion rights in their states but could play a role if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

In Alabama, the ballot measure gave fetuses legal rights, and in West Virginia, the state constitution was amended to state that "nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion."

If federal abortion rights under Roe v. Wade were to go away, these states would presumably not allow abortion at all, abortion rights advocates say. Before Roe v. Wade, each state was allowed to have its own abortion laws, resulting in unequal access to the procedure.

Even after Roe v. Wade, the disparity between abortion access between states exists. On the other end of the political spectrum, in Oregon, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have banned the use of public funds for certain abortions.

Planned Parenthood leaders touted the election of governors that they said would fight back against restrictive abortion measures as wins for reproductive rights protections.

"This November, voters elected a record number of governors who will champion reproductive health care," said Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. "People in states like Ohio that do not have this critical backstop face a heightened threat to abortion access. We must fight harder than ever to protect every woman’s right to control her own body, life, and future."

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