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Tuesday
Oct152019

Democrats set for fourth debate after impeachment inquiry upends race

Heidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television, FILE(WESTERVILLE, Ohio) -- The Democratic presidential contenders head to Westerville, Ohio on Tuesday for the fourth primary matchup of the season as an ongoing impeachment inquiry battle continues to pull the contest into Washington’s orbit despite efforts to keep kitchen table issues at the forefront on the trail.

The pivotal debate, which will be hosted by CNN and the New York Times on the campus of Otterbein University, comes as the Democratic field is readying to spar over health care, immigration, climate change, criminal justice reform, among other topics, but is being consumed by external forces.

Here is how the night is unfolding:

7:13 p.m: Ahead of debate, Pelosi, Schiff defend impeachment probe, lack of formal floor vote

Ahead of the debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Tuesday expressed confidence in Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry and efforts to obtain records and testimony from the Trump administration in court -- while defending their inquiry from Republican criticism.

Pelosi defended their timeline without providing any new updates and dismissed questions about Republican calls for a formal floor vote.

“I’m not concerned about anything,” she said. Republicans “can’t defend the president so they’re going to process.”

6:30 p.m.: O’Rourke wants to flex some policy muscles beyond guns at Tuesday's debate


Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's aides walked away from the last debate feeling like he had a breakout moment with his "hell yes we're gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47" line, but didn't get the momentum they were looking for in the wake, multiple sources inside the campaign have told ABC News since that night.

On Tuesday, one source told ABC News that the campaign understands one breakout moment, or one jab, is evidently not enough to move the polls for O'Rourke.

But that doesn't mean the strategy -- for the candidate struggling to score more than 2% in polls -- is shifting, that source, briefed on Tuesday night's strategy, told ABC News.

O'Rourke's goal for this debate is "substance over flash." The campaign wants viewers to see O'Rourke as a leader on policies beyond guns, acknowledging that some may view him as a single-issue candidate.

One thing we can count on is that O'Rourke will sell his history of being a political underdog. "Not paying attention to the polls and conventional political wisdom has paid off for him in the past," the source said, pointing to his first congressional race against an incumbent Democratic and, of course, his tight contest for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz in 2018 while supporting impeachment, universal healthcare, and an assault weapons ban.

6:15 p.m.: Warren's campaign details her debate day prep


After flying into Ohio Monday, Warren's campaign says the polling frontrunner did some debate prep with her team.

Earlier on Tuesday, after going on a walk as part of her debate day routine, Warren met with the winner of a contest her campaign held for a supporter to fly out to the debate and attend as one of her guests.

Warren is expected to be one of her rivals top targets during the debate, given her rise in recent polling and a strong showing in fundraising over the last three months.
 
6:14 p.m.: Bloomberg pens op-ed calling out current Dem field, sparks 2020 speculation

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg penned an op-ed in The Washington Post ahead of Tuesday night's Dem Debate -- sparking further speculation regarding a possible 2020 presidential run, despite ruling one out earlier in the year.

Bloomberg, once a Republican, Independent and now a Democrat, criticizes the current 2020 Democratic field in the op-ed, writing: "The country elects a commander in chief, and yet based on the campaign so far, one might think we are electing a legislator in chief — or a prime minister whose party controls a parliament."

6:09 p.m.: Biden campaign responds to Hunter Biden's ABC interview

Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield was just on MSNBC and was asked why they feel it was the right strategy for Hunter Biden to be answering questions about allegations that they have maintained are false and have no credibility.

"This is Donald Trump's game. Look, Hunter Biden has been attacked viciously and personally by Donald Trump for the past three weeks. He sat down this morning and answered every question that was thrown at him, which frankly is a lot more than you can say for Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani and their ilk who are stonewalling and refusing to answer questions in their own impeachment inquiry, by the way. But, you know, you had Hunter sit down, he answered questions. He's shown he's not going to be bullied by the President of the United States and neither is our campaign," Bedingfield told MSNBC's Chuck Todd.

5:15 p.m.: Here's who is on the debate stage

The debate features a dozen candidates packed on the stage, the largest roster yet to appear in a single primary debate ever.

While the same 10 candidates who participated in the third presidential debate a month ago in Houston, hosted by ABC News and Univision, will appear on stage, both Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who reclaimed a podium after missing the cut last month, and Tom Steyer, a billionaire activist who entered the race in July and will be a newcomer to the stage this time around, will join their Democratic rivals.

The 12 candidates who officially qualified for the debate, in podium order as announced by CNN, include:

  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Businessman Tom Steyer
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

The debate is slated to air at 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 15. The moderators will be CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, and New York Times national editor Marc Lacey.

2:13 p.m.: FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos try to answer "Who Will Win The Fourth Democratic Debate?"

If something is going to shake up the race before the Iowa caucuses, it’s likely to be a debate. So ABC News partner FiveThirtyEight teamed up with Ipsos to once again track how Tuesday’s debate affects likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, will interview the same group of voters twice, on either side of the debate, to capture both the “before” and “after” picture.

1:47 p.m.: Ahead of the debate, Buttigieg comes out swinging

It's clear Mayor Pete Buttigieg is looking to enter the ring swinging. He's now going after 2020 competitors Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke -- calling Warren out, specifically, for hedging on Medicare for All taxes and dissing small-dollar donations as "pocket change" apropos her recent expansion of her no-big-fundraiser pledge to the general election (despite the DNC's debt.)

12:09 p.m.: Here's how the candidates are faring on raising money

Candidates have been sending out dire pleas heading into the final days, pushing out a cascade of fundraising emails and running ad blitzes on social media. Despite recent polling that showed his campaign trailing behind some of his 2020 Democratic rivals, Sanders set the tone for third-quarter fundraising Tuesday morning, announcing a whopping $25.3 million haul. The number eclipses Warren's combined total raised in the first two quarters and leaves Sanders with over $61.5 million in receipts this year.

5 a.m.: Here's what to watch for in Tuesday night's debate

For the second consecutive matchup, Biden will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Warren, pitting the elder statesman up against the rising liberal stalwart, who is steadily climbing in recent national polling and now shares the top spot with the former vice president.

Biden is walking into the debate hall on less steady ground: from fending off President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims about the former vice president's inappropriate behavior surrounding his son Hunter’s Ukrainian business dealings to lackluster fundraising numbers in the third quarter of 2019, and his lead in national polls slipping.

Many of the candidates vying for a spot on the 2020 ticket now have launched thinly veiled jabs against the veteran lawmaker -- maintaining full-throated support, while in the same breath saying they themselves would never allow their cabinet members’ families to sit on a foreign board, as Hunter Biden did during the Obama administration.

Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to oust a prosecutor who ostensibly had been leading an investigation into Burisma, an oil company, and was unpopular in his home country due to a lack of action. However, no evidence has emerged to support Trump’s main allegation that Biden did so to benefit his son, Hunter, who was later added to the company's board of directors. Several international leaders, including senior officials at International Monetary Fund, have criticized the prosecutor and said Biden’s recommendation was justified.

As House Democrats move full-steam ahead with an impeachment inquiry, this will be the first debate in which questions about the matter may be broached.

Meanwhile, Warren -- who has sought to avoid clashing with her Democratic rivals before a national audience so far, instead focusing on her pitch for big, structural change -- might become a key target for the lower-polling candidates who are struggling to make their mark on the electorate.

Flanking Biden on the other side will be Sanders, 78, who after suffering a heart attack, vowed to make it to the debate stage amid questions about his health and ability to keep up with the rigorous pace of the campaign trail.

Despite those concerns, he has already previewed the differences he seeks to make between him and his progressive colleague, Warren.

"There are differences between Elizabeth and myself," Sanders said in an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, two days before his first official emergence back on the campaign trail since his heart attack. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."

But beyond the three top-tier candidates, the others senators vying for the White House, including Booker, Harris and Klobuchar, are likely to take the stage with renewed urgency to turn a breakout moment into a tangible spike, as the crowded field enters the critical four months before first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses in early February.

On Monday, Booker started to draw dividing lines with his opponents, criticizing the South Bend mayor for equating gun buybacks to a "confiscation" of firearms.

"Calling buyback programs 'confiscation' is doing the NRA's work for them … they don't need our help," Booker tweeted.

During an interview with the Snapchat show "Good Luck America,” Buttigieg said, "I just don't think we should wait to have a fight over confiscation when we can win on background checks and assault weapons ban and red flag laws right now."

Despite avoiding conflicts with other candidates so far in the previous three debates, Buttigieg is coming to the stage with a more aggressive approach.

In the same Snapchat interview, he also hit back at O’Rourke, who has recently took aim at Buttigieg for being a "poll-driven" candidate, telling the platform, "This is a policy disagreement, and it’s about governing. I get it, he needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant.”

But aggressively targeting another candidate has so far backfired for those who’ve tried, such as Castro, who leaned into his aggressive style at the third Democratic debate, when he questioned Biden’s memory. But even some of his competitors criticized his decision to make an apparent swipe at Biden’s age.

Regardless, the debate will provide another night of contrast that will further crystalize the differences among the Democratic field, that still counts 19, on policy, philosophy and governing -- before November's upcoming debate could shrink the stage under more stringent qualifying rules.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Pence, Giuliani defy demands by Congress for documents

Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  Declaring the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry illegitimate, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday refused to hand over documents on Ukraine.

The Defense Department and White House's Office of Management and Budget also declined to comply with the investigation, defying congressional subpoenas, officials said.

The move dramatically escalates the standoff between the Democratic-led House and the White House, which also has told administration officials not to testify and has otherwise stonewalled Congress.

"If they enforce it, then we will see what happens," Giuliani said of his congressional subpoena.

 Trump and his supporters say the inquiry isn't legitimate because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment without a formal vote. They note that in the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the House held initial votes on whether to proceed.

Democrats have insisted that a vote isn't necessary for an inquiry ahead of more formal impeachment proceedings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday stood by that decision, at least for now, telling reporters that Republicans couldn't defend Trump so they were attacking the process.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the House would stay focused on gathering information.

"The evidence of obstruction of Congress continues to mount," he told reporters. "We are nonetheless continuing to get good and important information from witnesses."

 While Giuliani was given a wide-ranging subpoena by Democrats, Pence's office was asked to provide Congress with certain documents.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Pence's office said it would only cooperate if Congress returned to the "regular order of legitimate legislative oversight requests."

 "Until that time, the Office of the Vice President will continue to reserve all rights and privileges that may apply, including those protecting executive privileges, national security, attorney-client communications, deliberations, and communications among the President, the Vice President, and their advisors," Pence's office stated.

The House is investigating a whistleblower complaint that Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and Biden's son. Giuliani has emerged as a central figure in the inquiry, pressing repeatedly a discredited theory that corrupt Ukrainian politicians meddled in the 2016 elections and were trying to help Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. intelligence officials say it was Russia, not Ukraine, that orchestrated election interference and in favor of Trump, not Clinton.

Pence and Giuliani also have defended the push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. In an interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden denied any wrongdoing by engaging in foreign work but acknowledged "poor judgement" by failing to take into account his father's position as vice president.

Tuesday was the deadline for Giuliani to comply with a wide-ranging subpoena from three of the House committees working on the impeachment inquiry.

"A growing public record indicates that the President, his agent Rudy Giuliani, and others appear to have pressed the Ukrainian government to pursue two politically-motivated investigations," the Democratic chairmen wrote. "The Committees have reason to believe that you have information and documents relevant to these matters."

Giuliani had previously told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that he would "consider" cooperating with the congressional request but only if his client -- the president -- signed off.

"I'm a lawyer. It's his privilege, not mine," Giuliani told ABC News last month. "If he decides that he wants me to testify, of course I'll testify, even though I think Adam Schiff is an illegitimate chairman. He has already prejudged the case."

Separately, Giuliani said Tuesday that he is no longer retaining the services of Jon Sale, who was acting as his attorney for this matter. Giuliani said that if Congress seeks to enforce a subpoena, then he will retain counsel.

As part of his final acts as his attorney, Sale sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday replying to the subpoena Giuliani was sent.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Giuliani digs into debunked Ukraine conspiracy theory after report Bolton called him a 'hand grenade'

sborisov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pushed back Tuesday against reports that Trump’s then-national security adviser John Bolton once referred to him as a “hand grenade,” insisting that others at the White House didn’t have the “evidence” he did of “Ukrainian collusion.”

Giuliani’s statement provided to reporters suggests the former mayor of New York and longtime Trump supporter isn’t backing down on his discredited claims that Ukrainian politicians tried to interfere in the 2016 election in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton. U.S. intelligence agencies and officials have repeatedly said the concerted effort to meddle in the election came from Russia, not Ukraine, and favored Trump, not Clinton.

Citing recent testimony by witnesses, Democrats accuse Giuliani of running a shadow foreign policy operation to benefit the Trump campaign. Two Ukrainian-American businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani to investigate Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter, were indicted last week on campaign finance charges.

In testimony Monday on Capitol Hill, Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill quoted Bolton as saying that “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” according to The New York Times.

In a statement provided to ABC News on Tuesday, Giuliani said he was “disappointed” in Bolton for reportedly casting doubt on his claims.

“I’m not sure he realizes I received all this evidence as part of my representation of the President,” he said. “It was all part of the evidence, and suppression of evidence, involving Ukrainian collusion and the origin of some of the false information against the President.”

Last month, Trump’s former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert lashed out at Giuliani for promoting what he said was a “completely false” theory regarding Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

“At this point I am deeply frustrated with what [Giuliani] and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president,” Bossert, now an ABC contributor, said.

Giuliani has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry on whether Trump pushed Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rivals.

House lawmakers were hearing from a top State Department official on Tuesday, with other key witnesses – including Trump mega donor and hotelier-turned-diplomat Gordon Sondland -- scheduled to testify under subpoena on Thursday.

Guiliani’s business relationships remain the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities in New York.

Giuliani has acknowledged earning $500,000 for work he did with Lev Parnas, one of the two Ukrainian American businessman who were arrested last week and charged with campaign finance charges.

Giuliani told ABC News that he was retained by Parnas’ business “Fraud Guarantee” to do consulting work and insisted that any money he took came from domestic, not foreign sources.

Reached by ABC News, a spokesperson for Bolton, who left his post in September, declined to comment.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Exclusive: 'I'm here': Hunter Biden hits back at Trump taunt in exclusive ABC News interview

ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- As President Donald Trump continues to fill his Twitter feed and campaign speeches with attacks on Hunter Biden over his foreign business deals, the former vice president’s son defended the ethical implications of his private ventures in an interview with ABC News, but conceded taking a misstep in failing to foresee the political implications on his father’s career.

“In retrospect, look, I think that it was poor judgment on my part. Is that I think that it was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it -- I know that there was -- did nothing wrong at all," said Biden. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is...a swamp in—in—in many ways? Yeah.”

"I gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to my father. That's where I made the mistake," Hunter Biden told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "So I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever."

No topic was off-limits when Biden sat down with ABC News’ Amy Robach over the weekend, including how the spotlight on his personal and professional life has threatened his ongoing struggle with addiction. It’s his first broadcast interview since attracting the attention of Trump, who posed this question to his 66 million Twitter followers last week: "WHERE’S HUNTER?"

"I'm here. I'm here and I'm working and I'm living my life," Hunter Biden retorted from his Los Angeles home. "Hiding in plain sight, I guess."

"Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah," he said, again referring to fallout from his overseas business. "But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not."

Biden said, "I take -- full responsibility for that. Do I -- did I do anything improper? No, and not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever. I joined a board, I served honorably. I did -- I focused on corporate governance. I didn't have any discussions with my father before or after I joined the board as it related to it, other than that brief exchange that we had."

Even so, the 49-year-old has maintained a low profile in recent months as the president and his allies have targeted Hunter Biden for his professional endeavors in Ukraine and China.

Hunter Biden told ABC News he does not specifically regret those business ventures, but wishes he had anticipated future attacks from his father’s political rivals. “What I regret is not taking into account that there would be a Rudy Giuliani and a president of the United States that would be listening to this -- this ridiculous conspiracy idea."

Trump’s overtures to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden has led to a burgeoning impeachment inquiry in Congress. When a transcript of the call revealed the president’s repeated references to the Bidens, Hunter described his reaction as being "like every other American -- I was shocked."

Soon after reading the transcript released by the White House, Hunter picked up the phone and called his father. Hunter said his father asked him about his daughter, Maisy, before getting into the big news.

"For real. And that's not a joke. I mean, and then discussion was literally like, ‘Oh my gosh,’" the younger Biden told ABC News, describing their mutual surprise at the nature of the transcript. "But other than that, really, I want to make it clear, it's not like anybody has to have any discussion beyond that."

Hunter Biden reiterated that he never discussed his foreign business dealings with his father, and made it clear he has no interest in becoming a political football as congressional Democrats haul witnesses in for depositions as part of their impeachment proceedings.

"I'll let Congress handle that," he said. "And I'll let you guys in the media handle that. And I'll let my dad's campaign handle that. And the only thing that I'm looking to handle is to make certain that I get up every day and do the next right thing. And that really is the way that I've been trying to live my life."

Despite his desire to stay out of the spotlight, ethics experts told ABC News that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas company called Burisma, while his father fronted U.S. foreign policy toward Kyiv, could present an ethical conundrum -- an allegation Hunter fervently disputed.

Biden spoke with conviction when asked about how much information he shared with his father and even whether he was qualified.

“[My father] read the press reports that I'd joined the board of Burisma which was a Ukrainian natural gas company. And there's been a lot of misinformation about me, not about my dad. Nobody buys Dad. But -- by this idea that I was unqualified to be on the board,” said Biden.

“I was vice chairman of the board of Amtrak for five years,” he continued. “I was the chairman of the board of the U.N. World Food Program. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the most prestigious law firms in -- in the world.”

“I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board -- if not more.”

Even so, on Sunday the Biden campaign released details of a proposed government ethics plan, which included a stipulation designed to "rein in executive branch financial conflicts of interest" -- an apparent response to allegations lodged against the Biden family. And while he cited being a lawyer at a prominent firm and his record serving on several boards as qualifications for the job, in his interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden acknowledged that his last name likely played a role in his Burisma board appointment.

"If your last name wasn't Biden," Robach asked, "do you think you would've been asked to be on the board of Burisma?"

"I don't know. I don't know. Probably not, in retrospect," he said. "But that's -- you know -- I don't think that there's a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn't Biden."

“Because my dad was Vice President of the United States. There's literally nothing, as a young man or as a full grown adult that -- my father in some way hasn't had influence over. It does not serve either one of us,” Biden continued.

On the same day the Biden campaign rolled out their government ethics plan, a lawyer for Hunter Biden announced that his client would step down from the board of directors of a Chinese-backed private equity company by the end of this month -- and commit to halting all work with foreign entities if his father wins the White House in 2020.

"I'm taking it off the table, Amy," Hunter Biden said of his decision to step away from any foreign businesses. "I'm making that commitment. Let’s see if anybody else makes that commitment. But that's the commitment that I'm making."

“Look, I'm a private citizen,” he said. "One thing that I don't have to do is sit here and open my kimono as it relates to how much money I make or make or did or didn't. But it's all been reported.”

In a press conference over the weekend, Joe Biden said the decision "represents the kind of man of integrity [Hunter] is." The president took the opportunity to recast the decision as Hunter "being forced to leave a Chinese Company."

While the congressional impeachment inquiry focuses, for the time being, squarely on the president’s interactions with Ukrainian officials, Trump’s more recent line of attack against the Bidens has targeted Hunter’s Chinese business venture. Earlier this month, Trump called on Beijing to launch an investigation into the matter.

"The Biden family was PAID OFF, pure and simple!" Trump tweeted earlier this month, echoing an accusation raised by his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The president and his allies have accused Hunter Biden of banking $1.5 billion from the joint investment firm, a figure Hunter Biden called "crazy" and "has no basis in fact in any way."

Reports at the time indicated Hunter Biden's firm sought to raise $1.5 billion from the deal -- not that either he or his firm pocketed $1.5 billion from the deal.

"They feel like they have the license to go out and say whatever they want," Hunter Biden said. "It's insane to even -- it feels to me like living in some kind of, you know, "Alice in Wonderland," where you're up on the real world and then you fall down the rabbit hole, and, you know, the president's the Cheshire Cat asking you questions about crazy things that don't bear any resemblance to the reality of anything that has to do with me."

Despite Hunter Biden’s dismissal of the $1.5 billion figure attached to his investment in the firm, ethics experts have said his connection with the Chinese-based corporation again raises the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest, particularly in light of the fact that Hunter Biden flew with his father to Beijing aboard Air Force Two in 2013 -- around the time the deal was negotiated.

"I've traveled everywhere with my dad," Hunter said. "And I went [to China in 2013] because my daughter was on the trip too."

Hunter Biden’s lawyer said he has yet to receive a financial return on investment, adding that he only became a minority stakeholder in the company in October 2017 – after Joe Biden was no longer vice president. Prior to then, he served as an unpaid director.

Again, Hunter Biden insists he never spoke of his professional dealings with his father on the 13-hour flight. And while he insists he did not engage in any business during the visit, he told The New Yorker in July that he did meet with a business partner, Jonathan Li, and even organized Li to shake hands with his father.

Asked about that interaction, Hunter Biden said he could not remember it specifically, but said he "probably" introduced them, and in fact "hoped" he had – adding that he had been friends with Li for 13 years.

"Whether I'm in New York, or whether I'm in Washington, D.C., or whether I'm on the campaign trail in Nevada, or whether I am in Iowa with him -- [and] a friend and a business associate is in the hotel, and my dad's staying there -- is it inappropriate for me to have coffee with him?" Biden asked rhetorically.

Robach pressed the matter, though, asking Hunter what he would say to those "who believe this is exactly why people hate Washington."

"I don't know what to tell you. I made a mistake in retrospect as it related to creating any perception that that was wrong," Hunter Biden said. "My dad has never made a decision about anything, I'm absolutely certain, taking into account anything other than what is best for the American people and what the people that elected him to do. I am 100 percent certain of that."

Despite the controversy, Hunter Biden maintains that the attention on his foreign business deals won’t harm his father’s campaign in the long run.

"I think that they know who my dad is, and I think that they know that my dad is not Donald Trump," he said. "I certainly hope that there is no negative political ramifications of this. I think that the truth always wins."

Still, Hunter says, the toll of being in the president’s line of fire has placed a strain on his personal life -- even though he insists his relationship with his father is as strong as ever.

"My dad doesn't have to defend me. My dad only has to love me. And my dad loves me unequivocally," he said. "And so [that is] one thing that he doesn't have to get involved in because he knows that I am my own man and that I'm strong enough."

In fact, he used the president’s attacks to draw a contrast between his father and Trump.

"As it relates to whether he can take on Donald Trump, absolutely," he said. "But my dad doesn't go after other people's kids. He just doesn't. Never has."

But as far as being a target for President Trump, Biden insists he doesn’t care.

“Being the subject of Donald Trump's ire is a feather in my cap. It's not something that I go to bed nervous about at night at all. The reason I'm able to do that is because I am absolutely enveloped in love of my family,” said Biden.

The president is not the only Trump family member to target the Bidens. At a campaign rally, Eric Trump, the president’s son, led a chant of "lock him up," referring to Hunter Biden. In response, Hunter called the Trumps "irrelevant," adding that he does not spend time thinking about them.

“Unlike them, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them. I really don't. It's all noise. And what they do is they create just an enormous amount of noise. I have to then answer questions -- about accusations made by probably the most unethical group of people that we've ever seen in this republic," Biden said.

"They'll never understand the level for how much I love my dad and how much he loves me," he said, adding later, "They're out of a B movie. I mean, they really are."

“I've been through some sh-- stuff in my life. I've been through some real, real stuff. This isn't real stuff. It isn't. It truly isn't. That part of it, that Barnum and Bailey -- you know, say anything, do anything you want, you know, I mean, like, you know, Donald Prince Humperdinck-- Trump Jr. is not somebody that I really care about,” said Biden.

Hunter Biden likened the president to a bully, and said, "I don't feed bullies." In another jab at Trump, Hunter Biden told Robach he takes "no pleasure in this as watching this death spiral of this administration -- this president and the people that surround him."

“It's really hard for me to say anything -- snarky right now or combative because I was raised to respect that office. it's making me emotional. I don't -- I don't know. I hope that -- that the history isn't fully written yet. I hope that-- that a lot of people that -- that have a chance at redemption here stand up for what is right,” Biden continued.

And even as he tries to remain positive, Hunter Biden worries that the undue attention on his personal life could undermine his sobriety -- an issue he has long struggled with. He was discharged from the Navy Reserve in February 2014 after a positive test for cocaine.

“Like every single person that I've ever known, I have fallen and I've gotten up. I've done esteemable things and things that are -- have been in my life that I -- that -- that I regret. every single one of those things has brought me exactly to where I am right now, which is probably the best place I've ever been in my life. I've gone through my own struggles, said Biden.

"You’ve got to live in the connections that you have to healthy things. And I have so many of them," he said. "And I’ve got to live there instead of living I fear, like, 'Oh my God, the stress is going to make me drink, or the stress is going to make me use.'"

Still, as the son of the former vice president, he recognizes the reality of his position – and that if his father succeeds in winning the White House, there will be much more of the criticism.

"It comes with the territory," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Oct142019

Democrats seek to question Trump budget chief in Ukraine impeachment probe

uschools/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  House Democrats are seeking to interview White House budget director Russell Vought on Oct. 25, according to a copy of the letter to the Office of Management and Budget​ obtained by ABC News, the latest sign that they are increasingly focused on the withholding of nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as part of their impeachment investigation.

Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, would be among the most senior administration officials called to appear before Congress in the Ukraine probe, though multiple sources told ABC News that the White House is likely to block their appearances before the committee, as they have vowed not to cooperate with the Democrats' investigation.

The White House and OMB did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The committees investigating the matter have also sought interviews with several Pentagon officials, along with Michael Duffey, an associate director of national security programs at OMB, according to requests obtained by ABC News.

The issue of military aid is at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which is focused on whether President Donald Trump withheld aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s family and a conspiracy theory related to the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats subpoenaed OMB and the Pentagon last week for documents related to the aid, along with the events surrounding Trump’s request to acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to freeze that aid in early July, before his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The deadline for those requests for documents is Tuesday, according to the subpoenas.

The two leaders discussed U.S. military aid to Ukraine on the call, according to a rough transcript released by the White House. Trump also appeared to pressure Zelenskiy to work with the Justice Department and his personal lawyer to conduct investigations linked to the 2016 election and Biden, a potential 2020 rival.

At a news conference at the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump said he decided to withhold the aid because of concerns about corruption, later adding that he wanted other European allies to pay for military aid to Ukraine as well.

The Pentagon announced plans in June to provide Ukraine with $250 million in security cooperation funds, after the administration had told Congress it was releasing the aid February and May. The money was unfrozen on Sept. 11, after lawmakers in the House and Senate raised questions about the delay.

“We approved the money. The president signed it and we just assumed it was going out,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith told NPR earlier this month. “Then we started to hear from a variety of people that it was not going out.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said the Pentagon would “do everything we can to comply” with the Democrats’ subpoena.

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Monday
Oct142019

Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over its actions in northeastern Syria

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump issued an executive order authorizing, "the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the Government of Turkey and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria."

 "The president has been very clear, these sanctions are very, very strong," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Monday afternoon.

The U.S. has sanctioned three ministers and two government agencies in Turkey, according to the Treasury Department, which also said that there will be additional sanctions "as necessary" condemning Turkey for "endangering innocent civilians, and destabilizing the region, including undermining the campaigns to defeat ISIS."

Vice President Mike Pence also told reporters that he has been directed to begin to negotiations "to bring an end to the violence."

"The president’s objective here is very clear. That the sanctions that were announced today will continue, and will worsen -- unless and until -- Turkey embraces an immediate cease fire, stops the violence and agrees to negotiate a long-term settlement of the issues along the border between Turkey and Syria," Pence said.

Trump also said in his earlier statement that steel tariffs would be increased back up to 50% -- the level prior to a reduction in May.

"The United States will also immediately stop negotiations, being led by the Department of Commerce, with respect to a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey," the statement said.

"I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path," he added.

The statement goes on to say, "this Order will enable the United States to impose powerful additional sanctions on those who may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriating refugees, or threatening the peace, security, or stability in Syria."

The president had no public events on Monday and has remained holed up in the White House, taking to Twitter to defend his decision of pulling U.S. troops from Syria.

In a controversial statement, he announced he would rather use the money to defend the southern border of the United States, tweeting, "Some people want the United States to protect the 7,000 mile away Border of Syria, presided over by Bashar al-Assad, our enemy. At the same time, Syria and whoever they chose to help, wants naturally to protect the Kurds.......I would much rather focus on our Southern Border which abuts and is part of the United States of America. And by the way, numbers are way down and the WALL is being built!"


And as many people are witnessing disturbing scenes of mass atrocities and executions, Trump also tweeted that Islamic State prisoners could be "easily recaptured by Turkey and European nations."

"Despite the opposition and repeated warnings from the United States and the international community, Turkish President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan ordered a unilateral invasion of northern Syria that has resulted in widespread casualties, refugees, destruction, insecurity, and a growing threat to U.S. military forces," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement. "This unacceptable incursion has also undermined the successful multinational "Defeat ISIS" mission in Syria, and resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees. Due to Turkey's irresponsible actions, the risk to U.S. forces in northeast Syria has reached an unacceptable level. We are also at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict. Therefore, at the President's direction, the Department of Defense is executing a deliberate withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from northeast Syria."

In his statement, Trump also confirmed ABC News reporting that "a small footprint" of U.S. force would remain to the south, along the border with Jordan and Iraq.

"Turkey's unilateral action was unnecessary and impulsive. President Erdogan bears full responsibility for its consequences, to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes, and a growing humanitarian crisis. The bilateral relationship between our two countries has also been damaged," Esper said in his statement. "I will be visiting NATO next week in Brussels, where I plan to press our other NATO allies to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to these egregious Turkish actions."

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Monday
Oct142019

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she’ll join Democratic debate after threatening to boycott

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- After Rep. Tulsi Gabbard threatening to boycott Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Ohio, she now says she will be on the stage with her fellow competitors.

"Thank you so much for your support. I just want to let you know that I will be attending the debate. Aloha,” Gabbard said in an email to supporters Monday morning.

Gabbard criticized the Democratic National Committee and corporate media for “rigging” the 2020 election against “the American people” in early voting states in a video she posted on social media last week.

“I am giving serious consideration to boycotting the next debate on October 15th. I will announce my decision within the next few days,” Gabbard said in a video posted on social media Thursday.

Gabbard cited meeting voters in Iowa and New Hampshire who have “expressed to me how frustrated you are that the DNC and corporate media are essentially trying to usurp your role as voters in choosing who our Democratic nominee will be.”

Gabbard claimed the DNC and corporate media are trying to replace the roles of voters in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and replace them with polling and “other arbitrary methods which are not transparent or democratic.”

“They're holding so-called debates, which really are not debates at all, but rather commercialized reality television meant to entertain, rather than to inform or enlighten.”

The DNC declined to comment on the matter to ABC News.

This isn’t the first time Gabbard had been critical of the DNC’s debate rules. After failing to make the debate stage in September, her campaign at the time cited what they describe as several irregularities in the selection and timing of the DNC sponsored polls.

According to the criteria that the DNC set forth, 2020 presidential candidates must meet the donor threshold of 130,000 unique donors and 2% in four DNC qualified polls for Tuesday's debate. Gabbard had exceeded the donor threshold for the September debate but needed two polls to meet the debate criteria.

Gabbard’s campaign had exceeded 2% support in over two dozen polls, but only two of the polls she had at the time were among those included on the DNC’s “certified” list. She has been polling among the bottom tier in such certified polls.

In a press release, the campaign said many of the uncertified polls, including those conducted by highly reputable organizations such as The Economist and the Boston Globe, are ranked by Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight as more accurate than some DNC “certified” polls.”

The Hawaii congresswoman, who stepped down as a DNC vice chairwoman to support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid in 2016, railed against her party saying, “the 2016 Democratic Primary election was rigged by the DNC and their partners in the corporate media against Bernie Sanders.”

Fellow 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson, who is also polling among the bottom tier of contenders in certified polls, came to Gabbard’s defense saying on Twitter “I have great respect for Tulsi for saying such inconvenient truth. She is absolutely correct.”


Gabbard has been a vocal critic of the DNC’s rules surrounding the debates, calling them out for banning candidates from participating in issue-based debates. Last week in New Hampshire, she said, "If I as a candidate go and participate in one of these debates or forums, that is not sanctioned by the DNC, the DNC says they will ban me from participating in any future DNC debate. That doesn't sound very democratic to me. This was a rule that was implemented in 2016. And it was a major issue that I raised when I was vice chair of the DNC at that time for this very reason."

But Gabbard also claimed that she was “looking forward” to using the upcoming debate platform and speak to millions of people and deliver her message.

“It's a challenging setup and dynamic that are on these debates where, you know, you never know exactly how much talk time you'll actually have, and being able to speak out on different issues of importance.”

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Monday
Oct142019

Trump administration warns of tariff hike if US, China trade deal is not finalized

Oleksii Liskonih/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned of a coming tariff hike if China does not finalize the specifics of a newly negotiated partial trade deal announced by President Donald Trump last week.

The tariffs on 15% of $160 billion worth of Chinese goods impacting consumer electronics-- cellphones, laptops, toys--would go into effect by Dec. 15. It was previously unclear whether the December tariffs would go into effect, given that both the U.S. and China are actively engaged in trade talks.

“I have every expectation that if there’s not a deal, those tariffs would go in place,” said Sec. Mnuchin on CNBC. “But I expect we’ll have a deal.”

The tariffs scheduled for this month on $250 billion worth of Chinese products, however, will no longer go into effect as Mnuchin described both sides as “having reached a fundamental understanding of key issues.”

Should the December tariffs go into effect, China would likely respond by imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods at what would be the peak of the holiday shopping season.

“We have a fundamental agreement,” Mnuchin said on CNBC. “It is subject to documentation and there’s a lot of work to be done on that front.”

The trade talks are expected to continue when President Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at an Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit next month in Chile.

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Monday
Oct142019

Former US national security expert on Russia sits for deposition in impeachment inquiry

drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  Congress continues closed-door depositions this week regarding the growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, and now Fiona Hill, a former top national security adviser on Russia who left the administration just before the president's July phone call with the president of Ukraine, is meeting with lawmakers Monday.

Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his office and potentially violating campaign finance laws. Despite admitting he wanted Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter, investigated by Ukraine for alleged corruption, Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong.

Hill’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky, tweeted Monday morning that his client was subpoenaed by Democrats ahead of her testimony. Sources tell ABC News Hill was appearing as a voluntary witness and that the White House did not attempt to block her testimony.

An official working on the impeachment inquiry told ABC News that the committee subpoenaed Hill "in light of attempts by the White House and the Administration to direct witnesses not to cooperate with the House's impeachment inquiry and efforts by the White House to limit any testimony that does occur."

"As is required of her, Dr. Hill is now complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both Democratic and Republican Members and staff," the official said.

A copy of the request for documents and testimony lawmakers issued to Hill last week, obtained by ABC News, revealed a broad spectrum of issues the Democrat-led committees hope she can shed light on. The request included information about the efforts by any current or former Trump administration officials -- as well as the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and newly indicted Soviet-born Florida-based businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Furman -- to investigate matters related to Burisma Holdings, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Hunter and Joe Biden, the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch.

Before her most recent work in the White House, Hill served under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama as a career national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia on the National Intelligence Council.

An accomplished scholar and author on modern Russia, and a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin, Hill initially was recruited to the post by Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his then-deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, according to a source. Hill officially joined the national security team under the leadership of Flynn's successor, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in April 2017.

Hill, who holds a master's in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University, is described by former colleagues as the ultimate expert on all things related to Russian foreign policy, with a great wealth of institutional knowledge of Putin's domestic and international strategic goals. She is widely praised for her work on the NSC, and multiple individuals close to her have said they're amazed she lasted so long in the Trump administration.

"Hill would be able to describe to the committees discrepancies, observations and recommendations emanated by inter-agency discussions organized by the NSC, and if and how those recommendations were acted upon by the president," said ABC News Contributor John Cohen, a former DHS acting undersecretary who's worked as both a congressional and federal investigator.

"She would have access -- and would have been involved in -- senior discussions on Russia and other issues, with visibility in internal discussions within the White House on Russia and Ukraine," Cohen added.

Hill is presently on leave from The Brookings Institute in Washington, where she directed the Center on the United States and Europe from 2009 to 2017.

Reached by ABC News, Wolosky declined to comment ahead of Hill's testimony. The Brookings Institute also declined to comment.

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Monday
Oct142019

'I am very concerned': FEC chairwoman on 2020 election interference

3dfoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Election Commission chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, told ABC News she is concerned that foreign entities could interfere in the 2020 election.

"I think we should be very concerned. I am very concerned. We saw foreign entities trying to take a role in the 2016 election," Weintraub said.

While Weintraub did not go into any specifics or comment on recent cases, her comments come as two men with ties to Rudy Giuliani were arrested on campaign finance violations.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born businessmen based in Florida, have been charged with four counts, including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and falsification of records. Both Parnas and Fruman have been tied to the work done by the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in Ukraine, where Giuliani has had significant business interests.

"I can only tell you that from the FEC perspective as I understand the law, if a foreign government is investing resources in producing something that will be a value to a campaign here in the United States, that's a problem," she stressed.

Weintraub said it is "illegal" for anyone to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. Election.

She would not discuss the president calling for China to investigate Joe Biden, but said that any foreign interference is unwelcomed, and on the issue of Trump's alleged involvement in asking Ukraine to investigate Biden, Weintraub wouldn't comment but defined what the law said.

"I'm not going to comment on what any individual may have done but I can just tell you that it is illegal for anyone to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election," she said.

"Well without commenting on the decision that the Justice Department made in any particular instance just talking about the law in general, I can tell you that the FEC has looked at things of value in a variety of context and sometimes they're not even ascertainable when you're talking about money that could be coming from foreign sources. The bar is pretty low on what you would want to investigate. I think because any interference at all is going to be illegal," she said.

"So we have looked at in the domestic context ... things like mailing lists, contact lists, opposition research things that people sometimes pay for. I mean that is one issue that is a thing of value that something that people normally pay for. We would also look at whether somebody spent money in order to acquire the information in order to produce the information that would also be a relevant factor for us," Weintraub added.

Her analysis directly contradicts the decision the Justice Department rendered about Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine because it didn't amount to a thing of value.

"Well I think it's really important for candidates to know where the money is coming from that's coming into their campaigns and where any resources are coming from that is coming into their campaigns. One of my longstanding concerns about our current system is that there's too much dark money, there's too much obfuscation of where the money's really coming from. This applies to all resources," Weintraub said.

"Every candidate should be 100% clear with everyone they're dealing with that they are fully on board with complying with every law including and especially the law against accepting foreign money and foreign assistance," she said.

Weintraub's 18 years on the FEC has not been without controversy -- especially as of late.

In June, Weintraub seemingly subtweeted the president, by releasing a statement saying that it's illegal to get help from a foreign government during an election.

The tweet came after Trump told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in the Oval Office in June, "I think maybe you do both," in reference to whether his campaign would accept such information from foreigners -- such as China or Russia -- or hand it over the FBI.

"I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," Trump continued. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent' -- oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

Weintraub resurfaced the statement when the president seemingly asked China to investigate Joe Biden earlier this month.

The FEC chairwoman has also been under scrutiny from Congressional Republicans and Republicans on her own commission.

Just this week, ranking member of the House Administration Committee sent a letter to the FEC inspector general alleging that "since at least February 2017 Chair Weintraub has used FEC resources to publish her personal opinion on political matters."

In response, Weintraub tweeted that she "will not be silenced."

Weintraub, who was nominated by George W. Bush, also took aim at her Republican colleague Caroline Hunter on Twitter over the blocking of an unpublished rule.

"GOP FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter took the altogether unprecedented step of objecting to its being added to the Digest and blocked publication of the whole Digest as a result," Weintraub tweeted in a series of posts.

"I always thought these anti-regulatory people liked the First Amendment well enough. I guess they think it's just for corporations," she continued. "I'm not fond of anyone trying to suppress my speech."

"And I think the public should absolutely not miss out on this week's Digest. So! Because Commissioner Hunter has blocked the Commission from publishing the FEC's Weekly Digest, I have decided to publish the information myself here on Twitter," Weintraub explained.

The memo she tweeted summarized the FEC's interpretation of foreign national contributions.

Hunter has not responded to ABC News' request for comment.

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