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Monday
Jul162018

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears in court, but still awaits sentencing 

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appeared in court on Tuesday. But the hearing didn’t provide a resolution to the military man’s legal battles, or additional information about his cooperation in the ongoing Russia probe.

Instead, today’s roughly 20-minute proceeding was more of a meet and greet between U.S. Federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan, Flynn, his defense attorneys, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. This was the first hearing Judge Sullivan presided over in the case since accepting the assignment, and Flynn’s first court appearance since last December when he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Judge Sullivan said he called in lawyers for both sides as well as the defendant because he felt “a level of discomfort” preparing sentencing for someone he did not know.

A few demonstrators chanting “lock him up” greeted Flynn outside of the courthouse.

The defendant appeared to be at ease. The retired three-star general did not speak during the entire proceeding but nodded to acknowledge some of the people in attendance. He was accompanied by his wife, Trish, and his attorney Robert Kelner who informed Judge Sullivan that Flynn is eager to “proceed with sentencing whenever possible.” He also added that the elements of the case were “not likely to change in any material way.”

But there has been no apparent rush by either legal team to reach a sentencing hearing. In the seven months since Flynn agreed to be a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, his sentencing has been delayed three times.

Last month, Mueller’s team and Flynn’s attorneys submitted a joint status asking the court for the latest delay. The filling states that because of the ongoing investigation, both parties “do not believe this matter is ready to be scheduled for a hearing at this time,” and that they would provide another joint status report on August 24th. However, this time they also requested that a probation office prepare a presentence investigation report for Flynn—a necessary step for federal sentencing, but one that’s typically completed after the date for a sentencing hearing is set.

Today, Judge Sullivan agreed to give the special counsel more time, but said he would not request the presentencing report until Mueller’s team indicated that they were prepared to proceed with sentencing. The judge also added that he would set sentencing for 60 days after Mueller’s team indicates they’re prepared to move forward, but so far investigators have provided no projected timeline.

While the delay in sentencing indicates that Flynn is still playing an active role in the special counsel’s investigation, today’s hearing did not provide insight about the nature of his role. Judge Sullivan gave all parties the opportunity to ask questions, but none did.

According to federal guidelines, Flynn could face up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI regarding back-channel conversations with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Trump administration’s transition. However, in light of his cooperation with investigators, he is unlikely to receive a sentence on the severe end of the scale and could avoid jail time altogether.

While Flynn awaits a final answer, he has a picked up a new job. ABC News confirmed reports on Tuesday that a new consulting firm, Stonington Global LLC, hired him as their Director of Global Strategy.

"The world is changing rapidly, and now is America’s moment to lead,” Flynn said in a statement. “I will work every day to put my over 33 years of experience in the defense, intelligence, and national security communities as well as serving Presidents of both parties in the White House to good use in helping companies and governments enhance the goals of freedom and liberty."

Prior to his return to the working world, sources close to Flynn say he had been spending time with his family in Rhode Island this summer.

“He's a beach nut. And he's playing a lot of golf with friends or occasionally surfing," one close Flynn confidant told ABC News on Monday.

In the months since he pleaded guilty, Flynn has largely remained outside of the spotlight—avoiding the media and even shutting down a conservative lobbyist’s unauthorized attempt to fundraise for his legal defense fund.

“He felt he needed to act as a soldier and has kept his mouth shut,” a source close to Flynn told ABC News. “He doesn’t want to be viewed as a whiner.”

However, Flynn did publically break his silence while campaigning for California congressional candidate Omar Navarro, a Republican vying for Maxine Waters’ seat.

“What I’m not here to do, is I’m not here to complain about who has done me wrong, or how unfair I’ve been treated or how unfair the entire process has been,” Flynn said while introducing Navarro. “You know what it is.”

Through the year and a half of political turmoil sparked by his 24-day term as national security adviser, Flynn has amassed a base of supporters who don’t believe he lied to FBI. Some friends and family members have used the hashtag #ClearFlynnNow as a way to build public support on social media.

But barring the submission of any new evidence, the closest Flynn may come to clearing his name is a presidential pardon. It is unclear whether Flynn or his legal team has asked for one, and unclear if President Donald Trump would grant one.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jul162018

Sen. Ben Sasse calls Putin 'murderer,' says Trump shouldn't meet with Russian president

Alex Edelman/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Hours before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin one American senator made his displeasure known in a string of tweets calling Putin a "murderer," "crook" and "liar."

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., one the more frequent opponents of the president within the GOP, took to Twitter to send out nine tweets on the upcoming meeting, including eight points about the Russian president.

Sasse posed the question "Who is Vladimir Putin?" and "What does he want?" to start off the tweet storm.

Sasse's second tweet called Putin a "murderer" for political assassinations and shooting down Malaysia flight 17.

"Putin is a murderer. He has ordered the assassinations of political adversaries and used outlawed chemical weapons to do it," Sasse tweeted. "He oversees Russian military units that shot down Malaysian flight 17 and murdered almost 300 civilians."

Sasse's comments on political assassinations likely refers to people such as Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who defected and spoke out against Putin. He was murdered by poisoning in 2006 -- an assassination that an inquiry by the British government said was "probably approved" by Putin.

Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine while flying from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people on board were killed when the plane was struck by a missile, which an international study released in May concluded was fired by the Russian military.

Sasse went on to say Putin is a "crook and a liar," based on the fact that "he has broken almost every agreement he has signed with the United States, including on Syria and Ukraine. He has become one of the world's richest men through embezzlement and stealing from his own people."

The senator called Putin "an enemy of America" and said, "It’s not just that he messed with our election in 2016; he attacks us regularly, and will again in 2018."

Sasse also said, just a few hours before the Putin-Trump summit, "I don't think President Trump should be dignifying Putin with this meeting. When Reagan met with Gorbachev, he did so from a position of strength & moral clarity about the evil empire that the Soviet Union was, and w/ a clear purpose to end the Soviet Union's threat to the US."

President Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík, Iceland, in October 1986 to discuss, among other topics, the countries' nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The tweets were a much stronger message than the senator released last week when he wouldn't outright say the meeting should be called off -- despite criticzing Putin and Russia -- following the indictment of 12 Russians as part of Robert Mueller's probe into meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"The U.S. intelligence community knows that the Russian government attacked the U.S. This is not a Republican or a Democrat view -- it is simply the reality. All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America's friend, and he is not the President's buddy. We should stand united against Putin's past and planned future attacks against us," Sasse said in a statement Friday.




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Sunday
Jul152018

Trump, Putin mocked by Finnish newspaper billboards over freedom of the press

hs.fi(HELSINKI) -- Finland's largest newspaper is welcoming President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin with a series of billboards ahead of their long-awaited summit -- mocking their notoriously bad relationships with the media with pointed messages of freedom of the press.

Nearly 300 billboards -- which preview some of both presidents' most "turbulent relations" with the media from 2000 to 2018 -- are posted along the routes from the airport to the site of the summit, according to a press release about the campaign from Helsingin Sandomat.

They are written in Russian as well as English.

hs.fiOne poster, with a headline from 2004, reads in Russian: "Russian reporter who criticized Putin gains asylum in Britain."

Another billboard reads in part: "Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press."

hs.fiAccording to Kaius Nieme, senior editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, the campaign's goal is to "raise the topic of the freedom of the press around the world."

"This is a statement on behalf of critical and high quality journalism," Nieme wrote in the press release. "As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Finland, we want to remind them of the importance of free press. The media shouldn't be the lap dog of any president or regime."

"We want to show our support to those colleagues who have to fight in ever toughening circumstances on a daily basis, both in the U.S. and Russia," Nieme continued.

hs.fiRelations between the press and government officials in both the U.S. and Russia have been problematic throughout the years. In Russia, freedom of the press has become "almost non-existent" during the reign of Putin, according to the press release from the paper.

Trump, meanwhile, has called the news "enemy of the people" and referred to their reporting as "fake news." On his way to Helsinki on Sunday, he took to Twitter to repeat the verbal attacks.

Both presidents are scheduled to meet during the Russia-U.S. summit in Helsinki on Monday.

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Sunday
Jul152018

Ahead of Trump-Putin meeting, lack of preparation leads to low expectations: Source

Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images(HELSINKI, Finland) -- Publicly, President Trump has said that he's been preparing for this summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin his whole life, while admitting at NATO that he expects "just a loose meeting."

But privately, a State Department official and a source familiar with preparations says summit planning was so rushed that the No. 2s at the major departments -- like State, Defense and Treasury -- did not convene specifically on this summit through the National Security Council.

By comparison, there were multiple deputy NSC meetings to prepare for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.

The State Department official compared the lack of preparation to the G-7 summit last month, when the U.S. was unable to agree on a communique with allies.

Unlike Singapore, where Trump met Kim, there is no expectation that a document will be produced from this summit.

Russian Ambassador Jon Huntsman said recently that the meeting itself is a deliverable.

This meeting is so informal that it's being described as a "getting to know you."

The White House is telling reporters to stop calling it a summit. Instead, officials describe it as a meeting, even though the White House originally used the term summit.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin in Helsinki Monday in the long-anticipated summit. The meeting comes against the backdrop of Trump feuding with European allies, 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted stemming from the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election, and Democrats back home calling for Trump to cancel the meeting.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the news media and Democrats won't be satisfied with any outcome of the summit.

"Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all the sins and evils committed by Russia...over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough - that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!" the president tweeted. "Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems...know how to do is resist and obstruct."

Meanwhile, administration officials have told European allies not to expect any "major surprises."

Still, with the unpredictability of both leaders, unexpected developments are still possible.

A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment.

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Sunday
Jul152018

It 'belies common sense' Trump would 'press' Putin about election interference: Democratic Senator

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that since President Donald Trump has "believed" President Vladimir Putin's denials that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, it "belies common sense" that Trump "is going to sit down across from Putin and press him hard on the issue of Russian meddling."

"He has already said that he has asked Putin about meddling," Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said of Trump on Sunday in an interview on This Week. "Putin told him he didn't do it, and he believed him. And so it just belies common sense that the president of the United States, this president, is going to sit down across from Putin and press him hard on the issue of Russian meddling."

Murphy was responding to an earlier interview with John Bolton, in which the national security adviser told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that the latest special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for meddling in the 2016 election actually "strengthens" the president's hand ahead of his Monday summit with Putin in Helsinki.

"I'd like to know the name of the president that John Bolton thinks he works for, because he's not describing President Trump -- President Trump went on TV after the indictment was issued and called the investigation once again a hoax," Murphy said. "He knows that he benefited from it, he asked them to do it, and he knows that he still stands to benefit."

Murphy added that U.S. intelligence services have said that Russia is still trying to interfere in U.S. elections.

"What I believe is that President Trump knows ultimately knows that could accrue to his benefit and to his party's benefit. He is simply not going to raise this issue as strongly as he should, if at all, with Putin, which is why many of us think that this summit should stand down," he told Karl on This Week.

The summit comes just days after special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment alleges that named defendants worked in the GRU, Russia's intelligence body, and specifically took part in a sustained effort to hack into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Murphy said that Trump needs to approach Congress and "ask for more funds to stand up electoral defenses."

"He's done none of that," Murphy told Karl. "We have had to essentially bludgeon the president into issuing sanctions, and the Congress has had to appropriate money to try to shore up our electoral defenses."

Murphy also was critical of Trump's recent NATO visit. The president has been critical of the amount members of the alliance are have been spending. An agreement in 2014 stated that the member nations would move toward each committing 2 percent GDP to defense spending by 2024.

"It is an important issue, but let's remember the percentage of your budget dedicated defense is not the sum total of your participation in the alliance," Murphy said.

"But our allies can pull more of their weight here, can’t they?" asked Karl.

"They certainly can, but so can we," responded Murphy, adding that the U.S. is "not picking up our share of the burden" with the refugee crisis in the Middle East.

"But let's be clear, NATO today is arguably functionally obsolete," Murphy said. "Do you really believe that if the Europeans were attacked in the Baltic States, for instance by Russia, that President Trump would leap to their defense?"

Under Article 5, the NATO treaty states that if one member nation is attacked, it's an attack on all member nations, and that nations will defend each other. It's a commitment to solidarity within the alliance. Article 5 was invoked after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"It's always going to be a political decision as to whether you actually enforce Article 5, and I think that there is a very important question today as to whether President Trump would actually stand up for Article 5," Murphy said. "I think NATO is just trying to survive the next two-and-a-half years by saying these nice things about the state of the alliance so that it's still there when Trump's gone."

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Sunday
Jul152018

Former DNC chair to Trump ahead of Helsinki summit: 'Confront Mr. Putin' on election interference

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The former chair of the Democratic National Committee responded to the latest special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking into the DNC's server during the 2016 presidential campaign by calling on President Donald Trump to "confront" Vladimir Putin about the allegations at their summit Monday.

"First of all, it is finally acknowledged that the hacking was a crime," Donna Brazile said of the indictment on the This Week roundtable. "At the time of the hacking, no one believed us. We didn't have anyone to come to our defense."

"When the country was under attack, the DNC was under attack, the DCCC and the Clinton campaign," said Brazile, who took over as interim chair of the DNC in the summer of 2016 after the first hacking and leak of DNC emails forced the resignation of former DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "So here's what I'd like to say to the president: Confront Mr. Putin. Give him this document. Let him know that the United States will not tolerate another hacking of our elections."

"The most important thing now is that we know there are several witches, not some 400-pound guy sitting on the bed," Brazile added. "The president needs to acknowledge this and realize that he needs to protect and defend our democracy. The Russians took our emails, took our data and they could still use that information to try to sow discord and to try to damage our democratic institutions."

The special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment Friday charging 12 Russian intelligence officers with conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment alleges that the dozen Russians worked in the GRU, Russia's intelligence body. The named defendants are specifically alleged to have taken part in a sustained effort to hack into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

In an excerpt from an interview with Trump with CBS News' Jeff Glor, the president said the DNC was to blame for the hacking.

"I heard that they were trying or people were trying to hack into the RNC too, the Republican National Committee, but we had much better defenses. I've been told that by a number of people. We had much better defenses so they couldn't," said Trump, who later conceded he "may be wrong" about Republican servers having better defense mechanisms in place.

"I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked," Trump added. "They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked."

"President Trump this morning said that the Democratic party should be ashamed of itself," Brazile responded on "This Week." "Well, my response to the president is that there was no way we could go to Staples or Best Buy or Office Depot or OfficeMax to buy anti-GRU military intelligence software to protect and defend ourselves."

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Sunday
Jul152018

Summit with Trump a win-win proposition for Putin: Experts

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As Vladimir Putin prepares to meet President Donald Trump Monday in Finland, in Moscow the first summit between the two men is widely seen as tilted in the Russian president's favor -- an opportunity for him to rebalance relations with the U.S. and break out somewhat from the isolation imposed on his nation since invading Ukraine in 2014.

The summit has sparked unusual predictions, in part because of an agenda that in some ways focuses on everything and nothing. No major, concrete outcomes are expected, but many in the U.S. and Europe have been nonetheless attributing epochal significance to the meeting, arguing it could mark the beginning of the end of the Western security order and the eventual unraveling of NATO.

Now added to that, the 12 new indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller against Russian intelligence agents for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have ignited a political storm at home as Trump meets with the man accused of ordering the operation.

The result is that the summit itself has been described as a win for Putin, with the risks disproportionately on the American side. In Moscow, many experts agree that the summit is a win-win for Putin, with things to gain and very little to lose, but they also said warnings and predictions emanating from Europe and the U.S. are overblown.

"Unlike what many assume in the West -- that Putin is sitting and laughing and expecting NATO to collapse -- it's not the case," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, who sometimes advises the government.

Trump='s rancorous NATO summit in Brussels this week, where reports surfaced that he'd warned the U.S. could "go it alone" if allies didn't contribute more, sparked dire warnings that the alliance's foundations were weakening.

But Russian observers see the drama around NATO more as political theater and an internal squabble than as something profoundly affecting Russia -- not least because ultimately Trump is pushing for a better-funded NATO.

"I think the perception here, widespread among both politicians and experts, is that the West will survive, NATO will survive," Lukyanov said. "There might be a lot of internal quarreling. "But, in general, no one expects this community to disappear."

Instead, experts said, the most realistic win for the Kremlin is restoring more-normal relations with the U.S., portraying Russia as turning a corner following its 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The priority for the Russian side will be restore regular communication channels with the U.S. government that were effectively cut off by the Obama administration. For the past four years, those have been mostly frozen except for occasional talks between top-level officials and communications between the two countries' militaries to prevent clashes over Syria.

In Moscow, some believe there is a desire to break out of that.

"Helsinki will mark the first détente in the four-year-old Hybrid War between Russia and the United States," Dmitry Trenin, the influential director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote this week.

Trenin, like many experts and officials in Moscow and Washington, believes Russia and the U.S. have effectively been in conflict for four years, but in a conflict fought with unconventional means -— cyber-attacks, propaganda, espionage and economic sanctions, as well as through a proxy war in Syria.

The conflict has been compared to the Cold War, but some observers warn it currently lacks the diplomatic guardrails and understandings that managed that confrontation. Some experts therefore see Helsinki as set to play the role it did during the Cold War, as a place where U.S. and Russian leaders can bring down tensions in a longterm confrontation that's threatened to get out of control, producing a 21st-century detente for this 21st-century conflict.

"Make no mistake: U.S.-Russian relations will not be miraculously transformed as a result," Trenin wrote. "The Hybrid War will continue. But some rules will be laid down, and a measure of dialogue will be taking place."

Russian officials have been candid about re-establishing communication as a priority for the summit. On Saturday, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said, "Ideally, we would like to agree on the restoration of communication channels on all the difficult questions where our positions diverge."

"Success would be if we start to communicate normally," he said.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, has justified the summit on similar grounds, saying the two powers ought to be talking to one another.

The Kremlin is not aiming at friendly relations, experts said, but at a more realistic lowering of tensions, where they play less of a role in the relationship with Washington.

"There will be no major breakthrough. President Putin regards a meeting with the U.S. president not as a reward but as a resumption of normal business," Trenin wrote.

Officials and foreign policy experts in Europe and the U.S., however, believe that restoring normal ties though would reward the Kremlin when it has not changed its behavior -— more of a capitulation rather than a de-escalation.

But even among those advocating for Russia's continued isolation, many say more communication is desirable, particularly around nuclear arms control.

The Kremlin has also signalled it hopes the summit can help start building stronger economic ties to the U.S., with an aide to Putin telling reporters this week the Russian president will put some specific economic proposals to Trump. Syria also has been suggested as an area for renewed agreement despite Russian-backed offensives there that have violated the de-escalation zones previously agreed on by the U.S. and Russia.

Putin may well also coax Trump on his hints that he considers Crimea should be viewed as Russian, although it will be aware that Trump's ability to formally recognize Russia's annexation is limited given Congress has legislated never to do so.

Therefore the menu of potential benefits for Putin from the summit is broad even if expectations in Moscow remain restrained. The risks are largely on the U.S. side, Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council that has links with Russia's foreign ministry.

"There is a risk that Trump will promise something not quite so, or do something not quite so. Naturally, Trump needed to invest more political capital in this meeting," Kortunov said.

Potentially throwing a wrench into any detente, however, are new special counsel indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence hackers that lay out how they allegedly meddled in the 2016 election. The indictments have reignited a blaze under an issue that Trump already was under pressure to raise.

Russia, again, has already denied any involvement. Its foreign ministry denounced the indictments in typically florid tones, with Lavrov saying the investigation provides "no facts." Putin appears certain to repeat the same when he meets Trump.

Sticking with its blanket denial, the Kremlin sees election meddling as a distraction from its goals at the summit, even as it has become a political priority in the U.S.

U.S. officials have suggested Trump will push for a guarantee that Russia will leave the November midterms alone. Trenin suggested that with little real reason to target the vote, it could be a concession Putin is happy to make.

But the uproar in the U.S. around the indictments underlines why some observers in Moscow are skeptical over how long-lasting any possible détente from the summit can be.

"Remember what happened a year ago after their first negotiation," Lukyankov said. "The situation deteriorated abruptly and dramatically."

Their first full summit may bring down tensions briefly, he said, “but the temperature will be up again after, I don't know, two weeks' time."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jul152018

'I find it hard to believe' Putin didn’t know about Russian interference in U.S. election: Bolton

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's top national security adviser said he finds it "hard to believe" Vladimir Putin didn't know about top Russian military intelligence officials' extensive efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election -- efforts the Russian president has repeatedly denied were state sponsored.

In an interview for This Week on Sunday, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, "Do you have any doubt that Putin himself knew what was going on, at the very least?"

Bolton said that when he met with Putin in Moscow at the end of June to prepare for the Trump-Putin summit, the Russian president "made it plain that he said the Russian state was not involved," adding, "he was very clear with his translator that that's the word that he wanted."

"Now," Bolton added, "we'll have to see given that these are allegations concerning GRU agents obviously part of the Russian state, what he says about it now."

Trump is set to meet with Putin in Helsinki on Monday. The summit was first announced June 27 after Bolton met with Putin and other senior Russian officials in Moscow.

The summit is scheduled for just days after special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment Friday charging 12 Russian intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment alleges that the dozen Russians worked in the GRU, Russia's intelligence body. The named defendants are specifically alleged to have taken part in a sustained effort to hack into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, announced the charges in a press conference on Friday, saying that while there were Americans who corresponded with these officers, none of them appear to have known they were corresponding with members of the Russian government. Rosenstein said he had briefed the president "earlier this week" on the charges.

"Is there any way," Karl pressed Bolton on This Week, "that we could have 12 officials, some of them quite senior in Russian military intelligence, carry out an operation to undermine a U.S. presidential election and Putin himself would not know? Do you find that in any way credible?"

"I find it hard to believe," Bolton responded. "But that's what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it."

Karl asked Bolton if Trump felt "blindsided or undermined by the timing of that indictment," and Bolton replied that it actually "strengthened" Trump's hand.

"The president was briefed on the indictment coming," Bolton said. "I spoke with him about it. He was perfectly prepared to have it come before the meeting with Putin. I would say, in fact, it strengthens his hand ... I think the president can put this on the table and say, 'This is a serious matter that we need to talk about.'"

"If Putin is unwilling to acknowledge the Russian state's effort to interfere in our elections," Karl asked, "can you really trust him on anything else?"

"I think the president will handle this as he chooses," Bolton said. "I think he'll put it to President Putin. He said he's going to do that. He'll listen to President Putin's response, and we'll go from there."

Karl pressed: "Well, let me ask you as the national security adviser to the president: Do you think that President Trump should trust Vladimir Putin?"

"Look," Bolton replied, "I've said this before, I'll say it again: I'm the national security adviser, not the national security decision maker. It's a privilege to give my advice to the president. I don't discuss it publicly. He's going to make the decision how to handle this."

Karl asked Bolton how concerned he was that Russia would again try to undermine a U.S. election.

"Well, I think we're quite concerned about it," Bolton said. "There's a lot of -- a lot of things going on -- that we can't talk about because they're classified, and obviously you're not going to alert your adversaries or those trying to corrupt the election process to what we're doing.

"But I think it's very clear that the president's determined we're not going to have any outsider interfere with the integrity of our electoral process."

Asked if Trump would present Putin "with the evidence that it was ... Russian government interference with our election," Bolton said the Russians were "well aware" of the Mueller indictments.

"We're not looking for concrete deliverables here," Bolton said. "It's very important that the president have a direct, one-on-one conversation with President Putin. That's how this is going to start off."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jul152018

SCOTUS battle highlights red-state Democrats' 2018 dilemma

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy immediately set off a rush of political jockeying ahead of what promises to be a lengthy and contentious confirmation battle.

The most immediate target for Republicans included a familiar list of names, including North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. This week the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) labeled Heitkamp as "hiding Heidi," saying the senator "is either going to have to vote to support" President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, or "kiss her Senate seat goodbye."

Heitkamp, who in 2017 along with three other moderate Democrats voted to confirm Neil Gorusch, Trump's first nominee for the Supreme Court, has struck a cautious tone in the wake of Kennedy's retirement, saying she is preparing to "thoroughly review" Kavanaugh's record.

The rhetorical battle is familiar, and Republicans are quick to pin similar labels on a particular set of Democrats that are at the center of the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

They are the group of 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Donald Trump won in the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, and while the states they hail from are all colored by various cultural, economic and political differences, they are nonetheless tied inextricably together as they seek political survival in the coming November midterm election.

The list of 10 includes: Heitkamp, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Jon Tester of Montana. Those six men and four women span a unique swath of Democratic politics, are hyper-aware of their political brand and connection with voters in their home state and have navigated the treacherous and chaotic nature of the Trump presidency in distinct ways.

The Supreme Court battle is indicative of the larger dilemma facing these "Red State Democrats." Will personal branding and a focus on bread and butter issues like health care and trade be enough to give them the political room to maneuver around the negative assumptions some voters in their state, many of whom voted for Donald Trump, to win re-election in 2018.

When it comes to the Supreme Court, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin's comments that Senate Democrats "understand it's an historic decision," and "about more than the next election," comments starkly underscore the conundrum these Democrats face.

"Even Sen. Dick Durbin said he was fine with his 2018 colleagues losing re-election just to obstruct President Trump," said Katie Martin, the Communications Director of the NRSC, "The dysfunction within the Democratic Party is on full display with this vote."

Part of the answer to how Democrats are straddling that difficult line lies in how these senators have voted on various pieces of legislation in the Trump era.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Baldwin votes in line with a Trump position just 21.9 percent of the time, the lowest number of the group, while Manchin votes in line with Trump 60.8 percent of the time, the highest. Within that range exist this group of ten Democrats on which the control of the U.S. Senate rests.

At a time when the Democratic Party is grappling with a battle between its progressive and establishment wings, these ten Democrats represent a key cross-section of the Democratic Party.

Most speak of a desire to work with President Trump when it benefits their state and vociferously oppose him when they believe he acts against their constituents interests. ABC News reached out to each of the ten campaigns to ask how they believe the fact that President Trump won their state affects how they're approaching 2018.

Not all campaigns directly responses to ABC News' request, but a thorough look at each individual reveals important similarities and differences across this pivotal group.

The firm liberals

It should come as no surprise that of the ten Democrats that align more traditionally with the party's left flank, all represent states where Trump's margin of victory was especially tight in 2016. The Rust Belt was key to Trump's victory in 2016, and an average of the margins of victory for Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin comes to just 0.8 percent. Ohio, where Trump scored an over 8-point win in 2016, is a slight exception to that rule, even if he was barely able to crack 50 percent of the total vote in the state.

Sens. Baldwin, Brown, Casey and Stabenow have all maintained solidly liberal voting records during the first years of the Trump presidency, opposing most major cabinet and judicial nominees that Trump has put forward, and speaking out strongly against the GOP tax plan and healthcare overhaul.

But that is not to say these senators don't also attempt to seek out common ground with Trump to court certain voter groups they know they will need to form a winning coalition in November.

Brown, the gravelly voiced longtime staple in Ohio politics, is quick to point out that he and President Trump strike a similar tune on trade. Brown voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, and opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership championed by President Barack Obama, two votes his campaign provides as evidence that he is willing to break with his own party on certain issues.

"Sherrod has led the fight against unfair trade deals that have hurt Ohio’s economy and eliminated good-paying American jobs," Brown's campaign Press Secretary Rachel Petri told ABC News, "He's been consistent that he'll work with anyone when it's right for Ohio, but he'll stand up to either party when their policies hurt workers and families."

Brown's rhetoric on tariffs and China's "cheating" is often not that far off from the frustration often vented by Trump on social media.

It is indeed in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan where a winning coalition of energized Clinton-voters and disillusioned Trump voters could save these incumbents from defeat in 2018.

"In Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or even Ohio, you probably have to win some Trump voters but you don’t necessarily have to win Trump approvers -- a subtle but important difference," said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"Between Trump’s relatively mediocre approval in a lot of these states, and the fact that you do have some legitimate Trump Democrats who are probably going to come home, at least for 2018, plus all the Clinton voters in the state, that provides a pretty decent base for a number of these senators," Kondik added, with the caveat that Manchin, Heitkamp and Tester do not face the same type of political environment in their races.

In the Badger State, Baldwin's hopes largely rest on a unique set of 13 counties that voted for Trump for president in 2016, Scott Walker for governor in 2014 but broke for both Baldwin and Barack Obama in 2012. Peppered across the state, these mostly rural counties are where Baldwin hopes to focus her "Buy American" message and tap into the same strain of economic populism that enabled Donald Trump to become the first Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Casey, the son of a former governor, is known as a more pro-life member of the Democratic caucus but votes the Trump line just 29.7 percent of the time. But running against the ardently pro-Trump Congressman Lou Barletta this cycle has afforded Casey a degree of room to maneuver politically in a way he likely would not have in a midterm cycle with a relatively unpopular Republican that narrowly won his home state occupying the White House.

Earlier this week, Casey came out against Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court before it was announced that Kavanaugh was the pick. In a statement Casey struck a populist tone, decrying "corporate America," and "Washington special interests" he says were behind the process.

"I was elected to represent all Pennsylvanians. I was not elected to genuflect to the hard Right, who are funded by corporate America," Casey said.

The pragmatists


Occupying a relative middle ground within the Democratic caucus are three Senators with varying odds for re-election and some progressive bona fides: Nelson, McCaskill and Tester.

While all three are a bit less locked into the Democratic line, they vote with Democrats most of the time. Nelson, McCaskill and Tester all held firm with Democrats on immigration, taxes and the Affordable Care Act.

The three Senators voted to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act, a key liberal financial reform, and have voted to confirm some of Trump’s cabinet nominees, including Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. Nelson was one of six Democratic Senators to vote in favor of confirming Gina Haspel as CIA Director, despite Democratic objections to her involvement in CIA “black sites.”

Nevertheless, all three are not afraid of taking more progressive stands on issues and running on their liberal records.

In her race in Missouri, McCaskill has vocally defended the Affordable Care Act and its provision that protects insurers from rejecting coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Her opponent, Josh Hawley, is participating in a pending lawsuit challenging the provision in his capacity as the state’s Attorney General.

McCaskill has been emphasizing her ability to work hard for Missouri in the Senate in her campaign, putting out a campaign ad that highlighted the fifty town hall meetings she held with constituents last year. The Senator has also been driving across the state on an RV tour to engage with constituents. McCaskill came under fire for the tour, however, as she ultimately admitted that she had used a private plane during part of her tour.

In Montana, Tester sells his lifelong ties to Montana to contrast with his opponent Matt Rosendale, who grew up in Maryland. Tester has also shown a willingness to incorporate progressive rhetoric into his campaign, aligning himself strongly with local unions and defending a woman’s right to choose on abortion.

Despite his progressive credentials, Tester has packaged his policies in a way that appeals in a Republican-leaning state like Montana. On reproductive health issues, Tester has framed his support for abortion rights as a small-government issue.

Nelson has been relatively quiet so far in his re-election bid against Republican Governor Rick Scott. Nelson, a former NASA astronaut and fifth-generation Floridian, is vying for his fourth term but has kept a low profile. Nevertheless, Nelson is accumulating campaign money as he is currently sitting on over $10 million in funds. Scott is putting pressure on Nelson, however, accumulating record-breaking fundraising hauls. Nelson will likely step up his campaign efforts as the election draws nearer.

In the campaigning Nelson has already done, he has relied on his astronaut background as a representation of how he looks beyond political decisions in his role as a Senator, incorporating it into an ad he released in May.

"When I looked back at our planet," Nelson says as dramatic music plays over shots of the space shuttle, "I didn't see political divisions. I saw how we're all in this together, bound by timeless values we all share."

These three senators are relatively unlikely to join Republicans in confirming Kavanaugh, as all three voted against Gorsuch’s confirmation last year. Nelson has already said publicly before the announcement of Kavanaugh that he expects to vote against a Supreme Court nominee Trump puts out.

The true moderates

In this group are three particularly moderate and particularly vulnerable Democrats: Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly. These three Democrats are among the most conservative in their caucus, voting with Trump over 50 percent of the time.

All three voted to confirm most of Trump’s cabinet nominees and even voted for some conservative measures. Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly all voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch last year and for the Republican “sanctuary cities” immigration bill, while the latter two joined Senate Republicans in favor of a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks.

Despite these votes straying from the Democratic line, all three held firm in opposing the tax bill Republicans passed last year as well as the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

For these three Democrats, the message to voters is that they are independent voices willing to work with anyone who will help put their state first. All three have taken a range of stances that would cater to local voters, with Manchin backing efforts to revive West Virginia’s struggling coal industry, and both Heitkamp and Donnelly touting their support for the Farm Bill and opposition to Trump’s tariffs in their farm-heavy states.

When running as Democrats in states where the national Democratic brand turns off voters, these Senators emphasize their local ties and try to project a personality that voters are attracted to.

In North Dakota, Heitkamp’s campaign messaging has played to her background as a born-and-bred North Dakotan and a member of a prominent in-state family, something that plays well in an environment where voters look for a candidate who both looks out for local interests and play up their local roots, according to Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota.

“Senator Heitkamp is an interesting phenomenon. She is in many ways a unique individual in state politics. She sold herself as an independent, not beholden to party orthodoxy,” Jendrysik said. “North Dakotans are aggressively humble. She really has worked that angle-- not dour, but definitely serious, focused, attached to the soil, grown up here.”

The face-to-face, retail politicking aspect of the race is something that Manchin is also leaning into in his race in West Virginia. Manchin has positioned himself as a both a proud independent and a proud West Virginian in his campaign.

“People here have been screwed by both political parties,” Manchin proclaimed in an ad launched in April. Turning to his local roots, Manchin added, ”Yes, Washington sucks, but West Virginians don’t give up.”

Patrick Hickey, a political science professor at the University of West Virginia, sees Manchin’s branding as a double-edged sword.

“People are looking for an authentic personality who is not a politician. It both helps and hurts Manchin in this race. Manchin has built a brand as an independent person. People like him as a person and like this independent brand, but he’s a career politician-- but so is his opponent,” he said.

In an effort to leverage Trump’s relatively high approval ratings Republican candidates in these states have sought to counter all three by turning social issues, particularly abortion and its ties to the upcoming confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, into parts of their campaign.

Manchin's opponent, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, encouraged his supporters this week to sign a petition urging Manchin to back Kavanaugh's nomination, referencing President Trump's 2016 margin of victory in his pitch to supporters.

"West Virginia voters were clear in 2016 when they overwhelmingly elected President Trump by more than 40 points," Morrisey said Wednesday, "They have an opportunity to remind Sen. Manchin to stand with our President and a highly-qualified Supreme Court nominee."

Mike Braun, challenging Donnelly in Indiana, criticized Donnelly for not immediately announcing his support for Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Jul152018

Progressive candidates who could be the ‘next Ocasio-Cortez’ prepare for primaries

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez lavished praise on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently calling her “the future of our party.”

After the 28-year-old progressive candidate unseated House Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Joseph Crowley in an upset in New York’s 14th Congressional District, candidates across the country are looking to her for inspiration.

ABC News spoke with a few of them about their visions for the upcoming primary elections and the nation.

Abdul El-Sayed

Running to be Michigan’s next governor, Abdul El-Sayed, 33, is a medical doctor and Rhodes Scholar who’s been endorsed by Justice Democrats, a progressive advocacy group, Our Revolution, a group borne out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign that supports “a new generation of progressive leaders”, and Ocasio-Cortez.

“I believe a politics of working hard for economic, social, and racial justice can succeed anywhere in America. Michigan is blessed to have Abdul El-Sayed as a candidate for Governor, and I am proud to support him,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

El-Sayed said he is “deeply thankful” for the leadership and support of Ocasio-Cortez.

“@Ocasio2018 is showing us all how to do it. Thankful for her leadership, grateful for her support, and looking forward to building a more just, equitable, and sustainable America together,” he tweeted Monday after receiving Ocasio-Cortez’s official endorsement.

El-Sayed’s platform includes abolishing ICE, implementing single-payer healthcare, and free college for families making under $150,000 a year.

Billy Kovacs

Running for Congress in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, Billy Kovacs is a 31-year-old small business owner who’s lived in Southern Arizona for 15 years. His platform includes abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a position he’s advocated “since May” – as well as implementing “common sense" gun reform measures and Medicare-for-all.

While Kovacs hasn’t directly spoken with Ocasio-Cortez, he’s been following her race along with the campaigns of fellow progressives.

“Amazing campaign and win for @Ocasio2018 tonight,” Kovacs tweeted on June 26.

Kovacs, a first-time congressional candidate, founded a Tucson-area group of restaurants and describes himself as an “on-the-ground, community organizer.”

As a self-described “6-foot-5, white male talking about a path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, Kovacs hopes to focus on appealing to millennial, Latino, and rural voters heading into the primaries.

“I put 10,000 miles on my car to drive through all of rural Cochise County and meet as many people as I possibly could,” he said. “I’m not rich. I’m grinding, and working my ass off for the vote.”

Tahirah Amatul-Wadud

Running against 15-term Rep. Richard Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, 44, is an African-American, Muslim attorney who says her hijab makes her “easily visible as a Muslim.”

Having grown up in inner cities, Amatul-Wadud seeks to be a “voice for the voiceless and marginalized.” She’s running on a platform of promoting universal healthcare and boosting infrastructure, including “high-speed internet access for all,” which she says her district’s rural areas lack.

When asked if she supports abolishing ICE, Amatul-Wadud said she’s “in favor of adopting policies that dismantle ICE as we know it.”

“It’s easy to say ‘abolish ICE.’ But my plan is more achievable. ICE is not broken: it’s doing exactly what its mission is to do, which is to terrorize families,” she said. “We need to stop ICE from operating in public school districts and state courts.”

While she hasn’t received an endorsement from Justice Democrats or Our Revolution, Amatul-Wadud said she’s received the support of Indivisible’s national chapter and the Progressive Democrats of America, although she hasn’t had direct contact with Ocasio-Cortez.

“I’m planning to send [Ocasio-Cortez] a congratulatory letter and ask for her help in coalition-building,” she said. “My most important value is to answer the call for unity throughout my district.”

Amatul-Wadud said her district is “so diverse” and she hopes to unite constituents and “secure prosperity” for all.

Ayanna Pressley

The first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, Pressley, 44, is being tipped as another potential Democratic primary upset.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley is taking on a 10-term incumbent in a heavily Democratic majority-minority district as she challenges incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano in Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District.

In an interview with ABC News, Pressley explained that she hopes to not only vote in line with Democrats as her opponent has, but also become a voice of advocacy, something she feels has been missing from Capuano’s tenure.

“I think this is about the party returning to its roots and who we say we are,” Pressley said. “We don’t have to trade our heart for our soul. This is not about working class white voters and everybody else. We are a big tent party. There’s an intersectionality in all of these issues and we need to act like it.”

Ocasio-Cortez gave Pressley a ringing endorsement on Twitter last week, saying, “Vote her in next, Massachusetts.”

Cori Bush

Running against Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri's 1st Congressional District, Bush, 41, is an African-American registered nurse, an ordained pastor, single mother, and community organizer who’s received the endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats.

Bush told ABC News she was inspired to run for office after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, which sparked months-long riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I never wanted to be in politics. But after the murder of Michael Brown, I went out there as a medic, and organized protests and marches,” Bush said. “I didn’t see our elected officials out there when we were being beaten and shot at with tear gas and bullets.”

Bush is running on a platform of abolishing ICE, ensuring “quality affordable education,” and promoting Medicare-for-all.

After Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, Bush said her social media platforms “went nuts” while her campaign donations “skyrocketed.”

“We didn’t have $2000 for two weeks, but the next day, we had $2000. There were so many more people noticing and believing in our race,” she said.

Bush said her support within the district “crosses all lines.”

“Everybody wants to be a part of our movement. People are excited and ignited,” she said.

Ilhan Omar

Running to succeed Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, Omar made history as the first Somali-American Muslim legislator elected to office in the United States. Omar, a former refugee, has run on an ardently progressive platform, joining in calls to abolish ICE, supporting a $15 minimum wage and proposing sweeping criminal justice reform.

Omar’s district has a sizable Somali-American community, with many former refugees. It’s something that Omar believes helps informs her politics.

“I have always had a very social justice bent approach to everything that I do in my life,” Omar said in an interview with ABC News. “I am a former refugee who grew up in war and understand the kind of trauma that is associated with it.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered support for Omar earlier this month, prior to Ocasio Cortez’s primary victory and Omar securing the support of the Democratic convention in her district.

Chardo Richardson

Chardo Richardson, an Air Force veteran and the former president of the Central Florida Chapter of the ACLU, is running to unseat Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Richardson said he entered the race because he was unhappy with the state of politics today.

In addition to supporting Medicare for all and the end of mass incarceration, Richardson supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, has joined calls to abolish ICE, and wants to get money out of politics. He has been endorsed by Brand New Congress, which also endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“I’m standing up for what I believe our country needs,” he added. “While this district is split a lot of ways...it’s gonna come down to who turns out the voters. I believe that we can turn out the voters.

Kerri Evelyn Harris

Kerri Evelyn Harris is a biracial, lesbian candidate running to unseat U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del). If elected, she would be the first openly LBGTQ woman of color in Congress.

But more than the diversity of identity that she brings to the race, Harris, a veteran who used to be an auto-mechanic, said adding “we need diversity in experience so that when legislation is written people are not left at the margins.”

Harris told ABC News she believes “part of being a legislator is inspiring your constituents to advocate for themselves.” She's joined calls to abolish ICE and was recently arrested at a protest in the Hart Senate Office Building over the issue.

In addition to calling for Medicare for all, Harris supports universal pre-K, environmental justice, and an end to mass incarceration.

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