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Tuesday
Jan152019

Native American leaders ask Trump to apologize for 'shameful' Wounded Knee remarks

Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks(WASHINGTON) -- Native American leaders are calling on President Donald Trump to apologize for comments he made on Twitter invoking the Wounded Knee Massacre and the Battle of Little Bighorn that he made while attacking Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Sunday.

Trump made fun of an Instagram video Warren released on New Year's Eve in which she drank a beer on camera. He tweeted, “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!”

The National Congress of American Indians condemned the remarks, saying the memory of the two events, in which hundreds of Native Americans were killed by U.S. Army soldiers, should not be used as a “rhetorical punch line.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the casual and callous use of these events as part of a political attack. Hundreds of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho people lost their lives at the hands of the invading U.S. Army during these events, and their memories should not be desecrated as a rhetorical punch line,” Jefferson Keel, the NCAI’s president, said in a statement released Monday.

Rodney Bordeaux, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, criticized the president for what he called a “racist and disrespectful tweet about this brutal incident.”

“President Trump should remember that the United States has broken and continues to dishonor the treaties of peace made with our nation and other tribal nations of this country, and he should apologize immediately to the people of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and other Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations for his shameful and ignorant misstatement,” Bordeaux added.

Warren has come under fire for her handling of the question of whether she could claim Native American ancestry, even taking a DNA test last year in an effort to prove her ties to the Cherokee Nation.

Trump has insulted Warren on several occasions by deriding her as “Pocahontas” and making fun of her DNA test results, which indicated she had between 1/32nd and 1/1024th Native American ancestry.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

Rep. Steve King removed from committee assignments after backlash to 'white supremacy' comments

lucky-photographer/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an eight-term congressman, has been stripped of new committee assignments amid backlash to comments he recently made in a New York Times interview about white supremacy.

Members of the House Republican Steering Committee met Monday evening to consider whether King should be denied committee assignments in the new Congress. King previously served on three committees, and recently served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?” King asked in an interview with the New York Times.

The comments have drawn condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike.

In a statement, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called King's remarks "beneath the dignity of the Party of Lincoln and the United States of America."

"His comments call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity ... let us hope and pray earnestly that this action will lead to greater reflection and ultimately change on his part," the statement says.

In his own statement, King insists the decision was a "political" one and that the quotes in the New York Times story were "completely mischaracterized." King said the comments were made during a discussion about "the changing use of language in political discourse."

But the remarks were enough to stoke backlash from many of King's fellow Republicans, including the only African-American Republican senator, Tim Scott, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday.

"I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term 'Western civilization' on its own, but anyone who needs 'white nationalist' or 'white supremacist' defined, described and defended does lack some pretty common knowledge," Scott wrote.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Monday called for King's resignation.

"What he said was reprehensible and ought to lead to his resignation from Congress," Romney told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also issued a stunning rebuke Monday when he said, "If [King] doesn't understand why 'white supremacy' is offensive, he should find another line of work."

Democrats have scheduled a House vote Tuesday on a resolution, introduced by by House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, disapproving of his remarks. Two other Democrats - Rep. Bobby Rush and Rep. Tim Ryan -- have also introduced censure resolutions, a more forceful reprimand.

Ryan could force a vote on his censure resolution later this week.

King, in a statement on the Steering Committee's decision, appeared determined to stay in Congress and not resign following the intense backlash from party leaders.

"Ultimately, I told him ‘You have to do what you have to do and I will do what I have to do,'" he said of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. "I will continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”

King has always presented himself as an immigration hawk and has been a staunch ally for President Donald Trump. King advocated for building a wall on the southern U.S. border before Trump ran for office and made the wall a signature campaign promise. But King barely won re-election in 2018 and, already, a state senator has announced intentions to run against King in 2020.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

As Trump touts achievements, farmers call for an end to the government shutdown

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- South Georgia farmer Bill Brim has been in business more than 20 years.

He told ABC News that farmers in his area were hit hard by Hurricane Michael in October and are now facing even more challenges because of the partial government shutdown.

Brim said his 6,500-acre vegetable farm is not hurting too much because of the shutdown, but the entire area around Tifton, Georgia has had a hard year between the hurricane and an especially rainy season. He said many farmers in the area are still waiting on disaster relief money from the government, which at this point in the shutdown is no longer being processed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It certainly hurts you. You want to go in, you’ve got to pay rent for your farm if you’re going to farm next year, or if you’re able to farm next year, I should say, then you got to pay your rent to your tenants, you’ve got to be able to buy fertilizer, you got to be able to get all your crops prepared, do everything that you need to do to get ready for growing the crop, just like we’re laying plastic in another field over there, we’re getting ready right now to grow another crop," he told ABC News.

"And fortunately, we have enough of our purveyors out there that are providing us stuff that we have a credit line that we have with them and we take it and try to use it to our benefit right now. Because we're waiting on the funds to come back in."

President Donald Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau's centennial convention on Monday afternoon and mentioned policy changes in the farm bill, regulatory rollbacks like the Waters of the United States rule and renegotiated trade deals that he says will be better for farmers.

But he spent little time discussing the impact on farmers while the USDA is largely closed during the historic government shutdown.

"The USDA is doing everything in its power to help farmers during the shutdown. We thank you for your support and patriotism and we fight to defend our nation," Trump said in New Orleans on Monday.

But the USDA is limited in how much it can do since many of its offices were shuttered when the shutdown began on Dec. 21. Since then farmers have not been able to access resources used to plan the next planting season or apply for loans and aid meant to mitigate the impacts of Trump's trade war with China.

Trump acknowledged that many farmers rely on migrant workers, alluding to his call for border security and saying "we don't want the wrong ones coming in."

Brim said he supports Trump and understands the argument for a border wall to prevent criminals from entering the U.S. But he also worries the wall will make it harder for him to recruit temporary agricultural workers through legal visa programs.

"I use a lot of migrant labor here in my farm. I’m up to 750 at certain times of year and mine are H-2A, I bring them in legally. So I hope that the border wall doesn’t cause us to have to close down the borders so we can’t get our people in here to work," he told ABC News.

"I would just like to say that we need something done now. We need the Democrats and the Republicans to get together and do what's right. Give him the wall if that’s what it takes to get this thing closed down so we can go back to normal -- and work for your people."

John Boyd, a soybean farmer from Baskerville, Virginia, told the Washington Post that he was hurt by declining prices as a result of the trade war with China and has been waiting for a check as part of the aid the administration announced to help farmers who lose money because of the tariffs.

"This shutdown is affecting small people like myself, but if it continues, America is going to feel the impact everywhere — grocery stores, small businesses," he told the paper last week. “Right now, I need seed and diesel fuel; I do not need a damn wall. That does not help me in my farming operation."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the second round of payments to help farmers with the money that was lost as a result of Trump's trade war with China will be delayed.

The nonprofit organization Farm Aid, which advocates for family farmers, said the group's hotline has received twice as many calls as usual from farmers who can't apply for loans or work with banks to try and save their farm from foreclosure.

"Winter is not time off for farmers; winter is business time. For the USDA to be shut down during this critical time is incredibly stressful for the farmers we hear from every day," the group said in a blog post last week.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has also raised concerns that USDA can't implement programs authorized in the recently passed Farm Bill until the government reopens.

"Local Farm Service offices all across Michigan are closed and farmers can’t apply for loans they need as they look to next year. We have dairy farmers in very desperate situations. We dramatically increased support for them in the farm bill and they need it now," she said on the Senate floor last week.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

Los Angeles strike poses potential political minefield for California's 2020 hopefuls

KABC-TV(LOS ANGELES) -- Thousands of teachers in the nation's second-largest school district walked off the job Monday, launching a strike that left hundreds of thousands of students without instructors and several local and state leaders, some potentially eyeing 2020 presidential campaigns, navigating politically treacherous terrain as they balance the dueling interests of educators and district officials.

Schools remain open across the Los Angeles Unified School District, but some 30,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles are largely marching outside their buildings, demanding increased pay and smaller class sizes. The impasse – Los Angeles' first teacher strike since 1989 – comes following widespread demonstrations by instructors in multiple states last year that are strongly believed to have had an impact on elections in impacted areas.

In California, where Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Sen. Kamala Harris are among those considering 2020 presidential runs, there have already been a variety of responses to the situation, ranging from neutrality to support for the teachers.

In a statement Friday and in a video posted to his Twitter account Sunday evening, Garcetti, who has faced questions about the potential challenge of running the city remotely should he launch a presidential campaign, maintained a neutral position, conceding that teachers were justified in asking for "smaller classes, more support staff, and community schools," while also acknowledge the district must look out for its "fiscal health.

"I remain steadfast in my belief that there is common ground between both sides and that this common ground will be critical to a final agreement," Garcetti said in the statement, additionally urging in his video message that "all of our ideas and resources" be brought to the negotiating table.

 Harris, D-Calif., who also continues to consider a presidential campaign, was direct in her support of the teachers Monday, offering specific endorsement of the demands for "improved student conditions, such as smaller class sizes and more counselors and librarians."

"Los Angeles teachers work day in and day out to inspire and educate the next generation of leaders. I'm standing in solidarity with them as they strike for improved student conditions, such as smaller class sizes and more counselors and librarians," Harris tweeted in part Monday, minutes after ABC News requested comment from the senator on the strike.

 Large-scale teacher strikes occurred in numerous states in 2018, most notably in Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia where statewide demonstrations descended upon capitol buildings and lasted a week or longer. In the aftermath, record numbers of teachers ran for political office, seeking to influence future debate over their demands firsthand.

"Win or lose, we are creating a pipeline of educators to be part of the decision-making in places where people have been deciding on budgets, class size, and textbooks for years," Carrie Pugh, the National Education Association's political director told ABC News in April.

During his own campaign in 2018, newly inaugurated California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined an education platform that included several areas of focus in common with United Teachers Los Angeles, such as expanding "full-service community schools" and taking steps to "attract and retain quality teachers."

Newsom, who was also believed to harbor presidential ambitions in the past, but said he would not run in 2020 during his gubernatorial campaign, specifically called for "supported and respected" during his inaugural address last week. The governor's press office did not immediately respond to ABC News's request for comment on the Los Angeles strike.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

Trump kicks off Day 24 of longest-ever shutdown by blaming Democrats

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- As the government shutdown entered day 24, political fault lines continue to deepen.

Meanwhile, the 800,000 federal workers are caught in the crossfire and have felt the reverberations of the lingering fight over reopening the government. Many of them missed their first paychecks since the shutdown started on Friday, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, and another one-third missed a paycheck Monday.

About half of those federal workers, 420,000 people, are still required to work despite receiving no pay.

Here's how the day is playing out.

Farmers sound off

Farmers and agricultural producers have felt the impact of the shutdown largely through the shuttering of the USDA, with agriculture interest groups warning the shutdown will hurt farmers during an important season for their business.

USDA's closure means that the loans, reports and other aid the agency provides to farmers in advance of planting and growing season are largely stopped until a deal is made to provide funding.

The organization Farm Aid said calls to their hotline have doubled and that farmers calling in have not been able to apply for loans they often use to avoid foreclosure.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that the shutdown would also delay the next round of payments meant to help offset the impacts of Chinese tariffs and President Trump's trade war.

In addition, the shutdown could potentially halt the USDA's ability to implement programs authorized in the Farm Bill passed last month, according to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Stabenow warned that delaying the bill's implementation could put farmers at risk heading into the new year.

"Careful and quick implementation of the Farm Bill is critical to the well-being of American farmers and families," Stabenow said. "This shutdown will greatly slow implementation of this important bill, making it even more difficult for farmers to make planting decisions for this new crop year."

President Donald Trump spoke at the 100th Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation Monday but largely focused his remarks on the border wall. Trump did not address the impact of the delay of federal subsidies to farmers but applauded the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to limit the shutdown’s negative effects on farmers. He also pledged to make the legal immigration process easier for those coming to the United States to work on farms.

“It’s going to be easier for them to get in,” Trump said, without going into detail.

Trump blames Democrats

As he left the White House for a trip to New Orleans Monday morning, Trump told reporters he is "not looking to call a national emergency" because solving the problem should be "simple."

"I've been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!" the president tweeted. Washington is feeling the effects of the extended shutdown, which has closed or partially-closed scores of government agencies and national tourist destinations. The city is also digging out of a snowstorm that dumped 6-10 inches of snow over the weekend, closing the federal government and D.C. public schools Monday.

In a second tweet Monday, Trump also used his often-used name for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who he calls "Cryin' Chuck," and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who he called only "Nancy," claiming that Democrats could end the shutdown in "15 minutes."

"At this point it has become their, and the Democrats, fault!" Trump tweeted.

Democrats have called for the president to end the shutdown by abandoning the wall, one of his foremost campaign promises, and instead listen to bipartisan ideas on border security like sensors, radar or drones with cameras. Pelosi has called a wall an "immorality," arguing it won't effectively secure the border.

Last week, Trump walked out of a meeting with congressional Democrats and called it a "total waste of time."

In his speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Trump accused Democrats of trying to block construction of a border wall for their own political gain.

"When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never ever back down. I didn't need this fight. This is a rough fight," Trump said. "We're dealing with people that think they can stop me from building the wall, but they think it's a good thing for 2020. They're not going to win."

Poll shows voters blame Trump


A new poll showed President Donald Trump increasingly getting blamed for the longest-ever U.S. government shutdown, he kicked off day 24 of the shutdown by again trying to blame Democrats for not agreeing to fund his proposed border wall. The president said he's "been waiting all weekend" for them to "get to work."

According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority of Americans holds Donald Trump and congressional Republicans mainly responsible for the partial federal government shutdown.

Only 24 percent of those polled agree with Trump’s claim that there’s a crisis at the southern border while 66 percent oppose his declaring a national emergency to fund a wall there, according to the poll.

Fifty-three percent in the national survey said that Trump and the GOP are mainly responsible for the shutdown, while 29 percent blamed congressional Democrats, nearly a 2-1 margin against the president and his party.

No deal on the horizon

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, often Trump's ally in the Senate, proposed that Trump briefly re-open the government in an interview on Sunday.

“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the president's threats to get a wall by declaring a national emergency. “See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers.”

But on Monday, as he was leaving the White House for a trip to New Orleans, Trump said he "rejected" Graham's proposal.

"I want to get it solved. I don't want to just delay it," Trump said.

Others, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, argue that it's time for Pelosi and Schumer to come to the table.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talk to the media following a meeting with President Donald Trump about the partial government shutdown at the White House, Jan. 9, 2019.

Democrats continue to point to Trump's initial willingness to accept the shutdown, which he said he was "proud" to own during an Oval Office meeting with Schumer and Pelosi in mid-December.

“If we don’t get what we want … I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump said at the time.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

Trump says he 'never worked for Russia' in response to NYT report

TylerFairbank/iStock (WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump flatly denied Monday that he's ever "worked for Russia" in response to a news report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was an agent working on behalf of Russia against American interests.

The report said law enforcement officials were concerned about his behavior after he fired FBI director James Comey.

"I never worked for Russia and you know that answer better than anybody," Trump told reporters as he was leaving the White House for a trip to New Orleans. "Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question because it's a whole big fat hoax," Trump said.

The New York Times first reported the story, including details about how officials were concerned about the president's behavior before and after he fired Comey. The purpose of the FBI's counterintelligence program, as defined by the agency itself, is to neutralize national security threats from foreign intelligence services and in the past, countering Russian efforts has been its primary mission.

Trump has long battled allegations of ties to Russia, the focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

About the same time as Trump was talking Monday morning, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton re-tweeted a video of herself from her final presidential debates with Trump, in which she calls Trump a "puppet" for Russian President Vladimir Putin and he interrupts, "No puppet, no puppet -- you're the puppet."

"Like I said: A puppet," Clinton said Monday.

(WASHINGTON) -- Trump went after the FBI Monday, attempting to cast the bureau and the alleged counterintelligence investigation as "dirty" and his move to fire Comey as "a great thing [he] did for [the] country."

"The people doing that investigation were people that have been caught, that are known scoundrels there, I guess you could say are dirty cops," Trump said, mentioning fired deputy director Andrew McCabe and former FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.

"Let me tell you something, when people see that, you have an angry country. Because the whole thing is a hoax. It is a big hoax and it is very bad for our country," Trump said.

John Cohen, former acting undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security and an ABC News contributor, said there would be multiple levels of review to ensure an investigation like this was warranted before it would've been opened.

"While the president seeks to paint this as a politically motivated action by a few rogue agents, that's just not how it works," Cohen said.

Opening a counterintelligence investigation specifically looking at the president would be an "extraordinarily serious undertaking," Cohen said, and wouldn't have been done without senior career officials' approval.

"There are too many safeguards within the Justice Department to allow it to be done for political purposes," Cohen said. "The only way it would be opened on the President of the United States is if it was reviewed at the highest levels."

While it remains to be seen what the results of the reported investigation would be, or whether it's still ongoing, the former DHS official said counterintelligence investigations are not meant to be concluded quickly, but meant to provide the U.S. intelligence community with the maximum amount of information on how the foreign actor is operating and use that information for the agency's own goals. They often go on for years without any type of action, Cohen said.

"It remains to be seen what the results of the investigation are, but with that said -- this is highly unusual and we are in uncharted and very dangerous waters," Cohen said.

The first time Trump was publicly asked about the report -- and whether he currently or ever had worked for Russia -- on Saturday night by Fox News by host Jeanine Pirro, Trump denounced the story as "the most insulting" ever written about him but didn't directly answer the question.

Adding to questions about his relationship with Russia, the president was also asked on the White House South Lawn about Washington Post reporting over the weekend that said the president went to great lengths to conceal the details of several of his meetings with Putin, including on one occasion taking possession of the notes made by an American interpreter, the sole attendee other than Trump and the Russian president.

Trump wouldn't say whether he intended to hand over the notes, which House Democrats are considering subpoenaing.

"It is a lot of fake news. It was a very good meeting. It was a very successful meeting. I have those meetings with everybody. I just know nothing about it. It was a very, very successful meeting," Trump said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan142019

Interpreter from Trump-Putin summit may be forced into congressional spotlight

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Only one American was a firsthand witness to President Donald Trump's summit last summer with Russian President Vladimir Putin: veteran State Department translator Marina Gross.

Gross' job is to blend into the background and seamlessly help two leaders communicate. But now there is mounting interest in seeing Gross step into the spotlight, as Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees seek an explanation for what exactly transpired behind closed doors in Helsinki.

"It may be unprecedented to subpoena a translator to reveal the details of a private meeting between the president and another world leader," wrote Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., in a letter last summer, when the idea of debriefing her was first raised. "But Trump's actions are unprecedented in a way that harms our national security."

Lawyers for the two committees are planning to meet Monday to evaluate their legal options for subpoenaing both Gross and another interpreter, who was present during a meeting in Hamburg, Germany, between Trump and Putin that occurred without aides present.

When Democrats took control of the House earlier this month, some members voiced concerns that interviewing interpreters would be a significant break in protocol. They argued the precedent could be problematic for future administrations by making it more difficult to conduct face-to-face diplomacy. They also raised concerns they could face objections from White House lawyers, who could mount a legal argument that the president's executive privilege extends to the interpreter.

But a senior Democratic aide on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said a new report in The Washington Post has "changed the calculus." It describes the president going to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, including moves Trump allegedly took to seize notes from the interpreter at a meeting he held with Putin in Hamburg.

"This raises a new host of questions," the aide said. "We're looking into the legal implications of that and we'll discuss our options. Our lawyers are sitting down with intel committee lawyers to hash it out."

Trump denied Saturday that he was trying to conceal details from the meeting.

"I'm not keeping anything under wraps," Trump told Fox News. "Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs."

Brett Bruen, who served as the White House director of global engagement from 2013 to 2015, said the move to interview Gross would be unusual but is within the scope of Congress' oversight authority.

"I don't ever recall an interpreter being subpoenaed -- I don't see how they wouldn't be subjected like anyone else who is a government employee or contractor," said Bruen, who served on President Barack Obama's National Security Council staff.

"You can't make the argument that it's part of internal deliberations that's part of the executive privilege. It's a meeting with a foreign leader that has broad implications for America's national security, so Congress has the right to oversee that," he said.

House Democrats are not drafting subpoenas, another committee aide cautioned, but instead are reviewing the best way forward and which committee would submit the request should they decide to make it. The source said a committee vote is weeks away.

In the days following the Helsinki summit in July, Democrats on the House Intel Committee filed an initial motion seeking a subpoena to interview Gross but it was quickly shot down by Republicans.

House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted his interest on Sunday in reopening those efforts.

"Last year, we sought to obtain the interpreter's notes or testimony, from the private meeting between Trump and Putin," Schiff said in a tweet. "The Republicans on our committee voted us down. Will they join us now? Shouldn't we find out whether our president is really putting 'America first?'"

His spokesperson declined to comment.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York recently announced that he's forming a separate investigative subcommittee to investigate Trump's interactions with Putin.

"Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing," Engel said in a statement. "We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump's bizarre relationship with Putin and his cronies and how those dark dealings affect our national security."

The foreign affairs committee aide said subpoenaing the interpreter was previously seen as a nuclear option but Democratic members have warmed to the idea because of the new argument that documents may have been removed from the public domain.

Even though Congress will issue the subpoena to the State Department, the White House can step in to slow or block the request.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Sunday it's "premature" to be subpoenaing interpreters.

"I've seen the allegations," Cruz said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I want to find out a little bit more about what happened there. I want to learn more than just the allegations in the press."

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jan132019

On latest day of government shutdown, TSA absences more than double last year's rate

martince2/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Amid a government shutdown and major winter storms hitting large swaths of the U.S., the number of TSA officers who didn’t come to work on Sunday more than doubled compared to that number a year ago.

On Sunday, TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello said 7.7 percent of the agency’s employees had an unscheduled absence today, compared with 5.6 percent on Saturday and 3.2 percent a year ago.

A stalemate between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for Trump’s campaign promise of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has created the longest federal government shutdown in history, and forced over 800,000 government employees to go without paychecks.

According to Bilello, 99.9 percent of airline passengers across the U.S. waited less than 30 minutes at their checkpoints.

Official wait time data for Sunday wasn't immediately available.

More than 51,000 airport security screeners are required to work through the government shutdown --despite the agency's inability to provide them their regular pay -- until it secures congressional funding from lawmakers in Washington.

In addition to missing a regular payday, thousands of TSA employees are dealing with winter weather stretching from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois received more than a foot of snow by Sunday morning. With at least 10 inches of snow in St. Louis so far, this is the biggest snow storm the city has seen in 5 years.

Five inches of snow in New Jersey and ice-covered roads as far south as North Carolina made for dangerous driving conditions in other parts of the country.

In an apparent effort to raise the spirits of those tasked with keep the country's airports safe, TSA Administrator David Pekoske announced on Friday that his uniformed screening officers would soon receive a one-time bonus of $500 "in recognition of their hard work during yet another busy holiday travel season, maintaining the highest of security standards during an extraordinary period."

That extraordinary period has seen an increasing number of airport screeners calling out of work, even before the government shutdown postponed paychecks for the first time on Friday, sparking fears of long lines and staffing shortages as the shutdown continues.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is currently suing the Trump administration on behalf of the thousands of controllers that have not been paid during the record-breaking shutdown.

The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., claims the administration has violated the Fifth Amendment by depriving workers of wages without due process and violated fair labor regulations by not at least paying minimum wage to air traffic controllers and others who are required to work during the government shutdown. The suit also claims the FAA didn't promptly pay overtime to union members, an oversight the union said is also in violation of regulations.

While the shutdown drags on, maintenance, inspection, training and modernization programs have also been deferred.

"While we are doing the day-to-day tasks there's a lot of things that are falling through the cracks," Portland International Airport tower controller Richard Kennington told ABC News. "There's a lot of insidious stuff that the flying public doesn't see that's not happening."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jan132019

Democrats warn Trump not to 'discourage, intimidate’ Michael Cohen

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic chairmen of three House panels called on President Donald Trump to cease what they said are “efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure” his former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, “not to provide testimony to Congress.”

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairmen of the House Oversight, Judiciary, and Intelligence Committees, respectively, issued the statement Sunday morning in response to comments the president made Saturday night in an interview on Fox News.

In the interview, Trump accused Cohen of agreeing to testify in front of Congress as part of an effort “to get his sentence reduced,” and suggested without evidence that Cohen’s father-in-law might face legal exposure because “that’s the money in the family.”

The president’s comments were in response to news that Cohen, who was sentenced in December to three years in prison for financial crimes, lying to Congress, and for two violations of campaign finance law, agreed to testify in front the House Oversight and Reform Committee next month.

“The president should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress," the statement from Cummings, Nadler and Schiff said.

Trump’s comments mark the latest in a bitter exchange between the two since Cohen flipped on his former boss, a man for whom Cohen once said he “would take a bullet,” and began cooperating with state and federal prosecutors in a handful of investigations against Trump.

After his sentencing last month, Trump lashed out at Cohen, tweeting that his former close confidant only agreed to plead guilty “in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did.”

In the interview with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, however, Cohen rejected Trump’s claims as “absolutely not true. I did not do it to embarrass the president,” adding that the president “knows the truth… and it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”

Cohen’s hearing before the Oversight Committee, set for Feb. 7, was announced Thursday afternoon by Rep. Cummings. In a statement issued Thursday, Rep. Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said he hopes to schedule his own session with Cohen behind closed doors.

Cohen is due to report to federal prison on March 6.

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Sunday
Jan132019

Durbin to Trump: 'Put an end to this shutdown and put everything on the table'

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the partial government shutdown enters its fourth week, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that he believes President Donald Trump needs to "put an end to this shutdown and put everything on the table."

"We're not going to stand here and be blamed for this. We believe the government should be opened," Durbin said on "This Week."

"There should be timely negotiations on border security after the government is open."

Durbin, the minority whip, has been involved in the numerous meetings between Trump and congressional leaders. Last week, he visited Transportation Security Administration workers who are on the job without pay at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. He told reporters that there is a “breaking point” for federal workers who aren’t receiving pay.

The partial government shutdown entered its 23rd day Sunday with no signs of a potential deal.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll published on Sunday showed 53 percent of those polled blamed congressional Republicans and Trump for the ongoing shutdown, while only 29 percent place the blame on congressional Democrats.

The poll also showed increased support for a border wall with 42 percent for it, though a majority of 54 percent still oppose it.

In a series of tweets on Saturday and Sunday, Trump continued to blame Democrats for the shutdown. In one, he claimed that "Democrats could solve the Shutdown in 15 minutes!"

Durbin said that the president could "open the government tomorrow," and that "one phone call from Mitch McConnell can get it started."

Over 800,000 federal workers missed their first paychecks on Friday. Last week, Trump said that he could relate with the unpaid workers, but claimed many of them support his wall proposal.

In the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that he wouldn't sign bills to pay federal workers because that strategy would "would never get anything done."

Trump has continued to float the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to redirect Pentagon funds to build a border wall, a maneuver that would circumvent Congress. ABC News reported that there is not a legal consensus on whether the president would ultimately succeed in declaring a national emergency in this case.

When asked whether a national emergency is a "likely" way out of the shutdown, Durbin said while he "doesn't know" if such a declaration by the president is the way out of the current situation, he’s concerned about precedent.

"If this president is going to turn to national emergencies every time he disagrees with Congress, I'm against it,” he said. “Make sure the branches of government are bound by the same Constitution."

One potential legal argument against the declaration could come from landowners along the border, according to Brookings Institution Senior Fellow William Galston. Galston told ABC News on Thursday that "the landowners whose property was seized to build a wall would have suffered a concrete injury that would entitle them to go to court."

Durbin also addressed new reporting regarding investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that days after the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey, the FBI initiated a counterintelligence inquiry to investigate whether Trump "had been working on behalf of Russia."

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Trump had gone to "extraordinary lengths to conceal details" of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even from members of his administration.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that "The Washington Post story is so outrageously inaccurate it doesn't even warrant a response."

Stephanopoulos asked Durbin what the Senate will do about the revelations.

Durbin said the Republican majority holds the power to investigate on behalf of Senate.

"The Senate is controlled by Republicans," Durbin said. "We found in the last two years they were unwilling to hold investigative hearings."

He said that he doesn't understand why Trump is "so chummy" with Vladimir Putin, and that the Washington Post report about the president’s confiscation of his interpreter's notes "raises questions about the relationship between this president and Putin."

Meanwhile, Durbin spoke about the "delicate political situation" surrounding oversight of the Mueller investigation, which has been in question since Jeff Sessions was forced out as attorney general.

"Bill Barr had better give us iron-clad, rock bottom assurances in his independence and his willingness to step back and let Mueller finish his job."

The confirmation process for Barr, who is nominated to be the next attorney general, is underway. Hearings are expected this week.

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