SEARCH

Friday
Oct182019

Trump dismisses Mulvaney admitting Ukraine quid pro quo: 'I think he clarified it'

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s stunning admission that there was a quid-pro-quo in regard to U.S. military aid for Ukraine and investigating Democrats, contradicting the president's consistent denials about a key subject of the House impeachment inquiry.

At an event in the White House Roosevelt Room Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Trump: “Mr. President, do you want to clarify what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday?”

Trump replied quickly, “I think he clarified it," before pivoting to off-topic comments about his visit to Texas on Thursday.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared on Fox and Friends Friday morning, praising Mulvaney's performance at his briefing Thursday, emphasizing that “we put a statement out clarifying some of the things that the media got themselves in a tizzy over.”

While Mulvaney, in a statement issued Thursday evening after his admission set of a political firestorm, claimed the press had decided to "misconstrue" what he had said -- despite reporting using the actual words he spoke in the White House briefing room hours earlier -- the president, who seemingly attacks the so-called "Fake News" at nearly every opportunity, did not weigh in further about Mulvaney's admission.

At midday Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine “a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.”

“Those were the driving factors,” Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room. “Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.” (The "server" reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine – and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory “completely false.” )

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked.

“’Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,” Mulvaney said. “And that is absolutely equivalent.”

“What you described is a quid pro quo,” Karl pressed. “It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered.

In a terse statement issued Thursday evening, Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's press briefing."

After hours of backlash, Mulvaney attempted to clarify his comments shortly after Thursday.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," Mulvaney noted. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

Mulvaney added in the statement that he repeatedly cited the president's interest in "rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately" during the news conference.

"There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server," he said. "There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

 Mulvaney did not mention that a rough White House transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shows the investigation into alleged corruption Trump and the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wanted specified a probe of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

Asked whether Giuliani's role was problematic, Mulvaney dismissed questions raised about having a private citizen, not a government official, involved in U.S. foreign policy.

"It is not illegal, it is not impeachable. The president gets to use who he wants to use. If he wants to fire me and hire someone else, he can. The president gets to set foreign policy. He gets to choose who to do so. As long as it does not violate law or laws regarding confidential information or classified material or anything like that the president can use who he wants tom" he argued.

Mulvaney, who stepped into the role of acting chief of staff from his post as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, insisted that an investigation of Joe Biden was not part of the equation, and dismissed the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.”

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”

While previous American presidents have pressured foreign leaders in order to achieve U.S. policy objectives, it has not been considered acceptable that they could do so for the personal benefit they might get from an investigation into political opponents, and many Democrats have said doing so, by itself, is grounds for impeachment.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee and is leading the impeachment investigation, called Mulvaney's blocking of the aid "illicit."

"With his acknowledgement now that military aid to a vital ally, battling Russia as we speak, was withheld in part out of the desire by the president to have Ukraine investigate the DNC server or Democrats of 2016, things have just gone from very, very bad to much, much worse," Schiff said. "The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason, for reason of serving the presidential election campaign, is a phenomenal breach of the president’s duty to defend our national security."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

How Joe Biden's effort to dodge son's conflict of interest may have backfired

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- More than a decade ago, as then-Sen. Joe Biden launched his second presidential campaign, he asked a favor of his youngest son: stop lobbying -- according to claims in a lawsuit filed at the time.

Hunter Biden had made a name for himself as a power broker in Washington for clients including Napster and St. Joseph's University, but reportedly took steps to avoid taking on work that could be construed as a conflict of interest given his politician father. The elder Biden's request that his son step away from the industry came as part of a larger effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit brought by brought by a former business associate of Hunter Biden.

Now, as the former vice president embarks on a third presidential bid, Hunter Biden's professional record has come under scrutiny for the very thing Joe Bidenfeared ahead of his second unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008. The glare around the appearance of a conflict of interest is particularly bright this time around, having attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.

Hunter Biden had made a name for himself as a power broker in Washington for clients including Napster and St. Joseph's University, but reportedly took steps to avoid taking on work that could be construed as a conflict of interest given his politician father. The elder Biden's request that his son step away from the industry came as part of a larger effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit brought by brought by a former business associate of Hunter Biden.

Now, as the former vice president embarks on a third presidential bid, Hunter Biden's professional record has come under scrutiny for the very thing Joe Bidenfeared ahead of his second unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008. The glare around the appearance of a conflict of interest is particularly bright this time around, having attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden argued that, given Joe Biden's role in policy-making, there was no field in which he could have steered clear of his father's shadow.

"Because my dad was vice president of the United States, there's literally nothing, as a young man or as a full grown adult, that my father in some way hasn't had influence over," he said.

After graduating from Yale Law School in the mid-1990s, Hunter Biden embarked on multiple career paths that intersected directly with his father's political work.

He first worked at MBNA, a Delaware-based credit card company and one of his father's most generous campaign donors. When Hunter Biden was promoted to a senior vice president at the company at age 28, it raised eyebrows. Years later, after Joe Biden was named Barack Obama's running mate, the Obama campaign struggled to defend Hunter Biden's work at the company.

Joe Biden has faced criticism on the campaign trail over his legislative record on credit card debt, including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who testified against a bankruptcy bill in 2005 that she said would benefit the credit card companies at the expense of struggling families – a bill Biden had supported.

After leaving MBNA, Hunter Biden went to Washington, D.C., where he helped launch a lobbying and consulting firm called Oldaker, Biden, & Belair.

"Hunter didn't do anything that involved his dad, didn't do anything that involved any help from his dad," Vincent Versage, described by The New Yorker as Hunter Biden's lobbying mentor, told the magazine in July.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy group, said that while it is not uncommon for children of powerful public figures to work in Washington, it can present an ethical conundrum.

"It's not all that unusual, and that doesn't make it a crime," Weissman said. "But it isn't right."

Before Joe Biden launched his second campaign for president in November 2006, he sought to find Hunter Biden a new line of work as he became "concerned with the impact that Hunter's lobbying activities might have on his expected campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," according to court documents filed by Hunter Biden’s former business associate Anthony Lotito in New York in 2007 as part of a dispute between the two men.

According to claims Lotito made as part of a lawsuit targeting the Bidens, Joe Biden tasked his brother, James, with finding his son a new job, and James Biden reached out to Lotito for help.

"[James] Biden told Lotito that, in light of these concerns, his brother had asked him to seek Lotito's assistance in finding employment for Hunter in a non-lobbying capacity," the court documents read. "Lotito agreed to help, and, in connection therewith, began to consider whether any of his contacts in the financial community might be a good starting place in which to seek out employment on Hunter's behalf."

In their own filings in the Lotito case, the Bidens denied that Joe Biden sought Lotito's help finding his son work.

Before Joe Biden launched his second campaign for president in November 2006, he sought to find Hunter Biden a new line of work as he became "concerned with the impact that Hunter's lobbying activities might have on his expected campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," according to court documents filed by Hunter Biden’s former business associate Anthony Lotito in New York in 2007 as part of a dispute between the two men.

According to claims Lotito made as part of a lawsuit targeting the Bidens, Joe Biden tasked his brother, James, with finding his son a new job, and James Biden reached out to Lotito for help.

"[James] Biden told Lotito that, in light of these concerns, his brother had asked him to seek Lotito's assistance in finding employment for Hunter in a non-lobbying capacity," the court documents read. "Lotito agreed to help, and, in connection therewith, began to consider whether any of his contacts in the financial community might be a good starting place in which to seek out employment on Hunter's behalf."

In their own filings in the Lotito case, the Bidens denied that Joe Biden sought Lotito's help finding his son work.

A lawyer for Hunter Biden told ABC News the fund currently has a registered capital of $4.2 million, and Hunter Biden holds a 10% stake, meaning his committed capital is worth $420,000. His lawyer insists Hunter Biden has yet to receive a financial return on investment, adding that he only became a minority stake-holder in the company in October 2017 – after Joe Biden was vice president. Prior to then, he served as an unpaid director.

In April of 2014, Hunter Biden and his Rosemont Seneca partner, Archer, landed seats on the board of directors at a Ukrainian oil and gas firm called Burisma. According to banking records reviewed by ABC News, the firm began collecting $166,666 payments each month.

Heinz never joined Biden and Archer on Burisma's board, and reportedly "strongly warned" his two associates against doing so. In a statement to The Washington Post in September, a spokesman for Heinz said, "The lack of judgment in this matter was a major catalyst for Mr. Heinz ending his business relationships with Mr. Archer and Mr. Biden."

President Trump has used Hunter Biden's foreign business forays to level at him and his father allegations of engaging in conflicts of interest. In Ukraine, the president's repeated efforts to have the incoming administration in Kyiv investigate the Bidens has led to an impeachment inquiry in Congress. The president also called on Beijing to investigate Hunter Biden's role in the joint investment firm in China.

President Trump has used Hunter Biden's foreign business forays to level at him and his father allegations of engaging in conflicts of interest. In Ukraine, the president's repeated efforts to have the incoming administration in Kyiv investigate the Bidens has led to an impeachment inquiry in Congress. The president also called on Beijing to investigate Hunter Biden's role in the joint investment firm in China.

Both Bidens have denied any wrongdoing. During an exclusive interview with ABC News earlier this week, Hunter said he exercised "poor judgment" in taking the Burisma board seat, but defended himself against the ethical questions raised about his private ventures,

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

During a deposition before Congress this week, Deputy Secretary of State George Kent told investigators he raised the issue of potential ethical concerns with Hunter Biden's business ties in Ukraine with former Vice President Joe Biden's office in 2015, two sources familiar with the deposition confirmed Friday to ABC News.

In May 2014, responding to a question raised by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, then-White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president."

Hunter Biden declined to renew his board membership at Burisma in April 2019. Earlier this month, his lawyer announced he would also cut ties with the Chinese investment firm.

On Twitter, President Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption, which is presumably a situation Joe Biden sought to avoid in asking Hunter Biden to end his Washington lobbying career more than a decade ago.


The Biden campaign recently released details of a proposed government ethics plan, which included a stipulation designed to "rein in executive branch financial conflicts of interest" if he's elected president -- an apparent response to allegations lodged against the Biden family.

The ethics pledge also made several references to President Trump and his family. Ivanka Trump currently serves as a special adviser to the president, and Trump's two adult sons control day to day operations of the Trump Organization. As part of the rollout, Biden told reporters that "no one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in at meetings as if they're a cabinet member."

The former vice president publicly defended his son in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal earlier this month, calling Hunter Biden "a fine man."

"He's been through hell," Biden told the newspaper.

 

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

'You have to ask Rudy': 5 key things to know about Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine affair

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- Once known as “America’s mayor,” Rudy Giuliani has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry into whether President Donald Trump abused his power as a sitting president to benefit his political campaign.

Here are five key things to know about Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine affair:

Giuliani engaged a foreign power as Trump’s personal lawyer

Giuliani doesn’t work on behalf of U.S. taxpayers as a diplomat or other government employee; he’s the president’s personal lawyer.

That’s why it was so astonishing last May when Giuliani told The New York Times that he planned to travel to Ukraine to press the government on matters that some Trump’s allies thought would help Trump’s re-election bid.

The goal, he said, was to find information that would be “very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Giuliani said he specifically wanted Ukraine’s new government to find evidence that corrupt politicians there had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton. (U.S. intelligence has determined that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the U.S. election -- to benefit Trump, not Clinton.)

Giuliani also wanted the foreign power to look into potential conflicts of interest involving Democrat presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board a Ukraine gas company at the time. Both Biden and his son, Hunter, have denied any wrongdoing.

Giuliani told The New York Times in May that he wasn’t meddling in the upcoming election. “We’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” he said.

Giuliani says he was acting on behalf of the president

Internal texts and documents suggest Giuliani was so deeply entangled in U.S. discussions with Ukraine, that senior State Department officials sought him out repeatedly to keep him updated.

“The key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Giuliani,” said Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in testimony to Congress.

And in his July phone call to Ukraine’s president, Trump made clear it was Giuliani who was acting on his behalf and not the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump called “bad news.”

“He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General,” Trump said of Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump added, according to a rough White House transcript of the call. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”

Giuliani earned $500K from a man accused of funneling foreign money into US campaigns.

Two associates of Giuliani – both Soviet-born, Florida-based businessmen – were arrested last week at a Washington-area airport with one-way tickets.

The men are accused of breaking campaign finance laws by funneling money from an unnamed foreign national – identified in the indictment only as a “Russian citizen and businessman” – into political contributions to specific U.S. political campaigns. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

When asked whether he knew the men, Trump said he wasn’t sure. “You have to ask Rudy,” he told reporters.

The business relationship between Giuliani and the two men is now the subject of an ongoing investigation conducted by federal authorities in New York, ABC News reported last Friday. And raising questions in particular is a $500,000 payment that Giuliani acknowledges that he received for work he did with a company co-founded by one of the men.

Giuliani’s influence remains outsize on other matters, too

According to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, Trump in 2017 urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to push the Department of Justice to drop a criminal case against one of Giuliani's clients -- an Iranian-Turkish gold trader accused of helping the Iranian government evade U.S. economic sanctions. Giuliani did not respond to a request to comment when reached by ABC News.

Separately, a former senior administration official tells ABC News that Giuliani urged Trump to extradite a Turkish cleric living in exile in the U.S.

The former senior official tells ABC that White House officials stepped in and blocked any actions, telling Giuliani that the Turkish government should go through proper channels for extradition requests. Giuliani declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

Giuliani’s business relationships are under investigation

With Giuliani’s business relationships with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman under investigation, the question is what happens next and how his dealings will impact the administration.

According to the Times, former national security adviser John Bolton told another White House staffer that Giuliani was a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that others at the White House didn’t have the “evidence” he did of “Ukrainian collusion.”

It’s not the first time a personal lawyer to Trump was scrutinized by law enforcement. Michael Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to tax, bank and campaign finance crimes.

Unlike Cohen, Giuliani says he is not complying with a congressional subpoena.

Giuliani tells ABC News “if they enforce it, then we will see what happens.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Former Navy SEAL commander William McRaven says US under attack from Trump

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- The retired Navy admiral who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden rebuked President Donald Trump for what he called the abandonment American leadership domestically and abroad in an op-ed, citing what he said he'd heard from members of the military and intelligence community.

“The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within,” Adm. William H. McRaven, who led the U.S. Special Operations Command before retiring, wrote in the New York Times Thursday describing the mood at two functions he attended in the span of a week -- one at an Army change of command ceremony and the other a gala honoring members of the intelligence and Special Operations communities.

Recalling a conversation he had while attending a ceremony at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, McRaven wrote, “one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’”

McRaven castigated Trump for what he described as failing to stand up to tyrannical regimes abroad and assaulting U.S. institutions, behavior that he said undermines the nation’s standing in the world, and said “it is time for a new person in the Oval Office” if “this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs.”

McRaven’s comments come just over a week after Trump announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria -- leaving America’s Kurdish partners to fend for themselves against Turkey and the Assad regime -- and amid an impeachment inquiry that is ensnaring a growing list of Trump administration officials and associates.

Vice President Mike Pence has since traveled to Turkey in an attempt to curb Turkey’s operation, and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday admitted to ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl that the administration withheld military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into political opponents.

Thursday’s op-ed is not the first time McRaven has criticized the president. Last year, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post shortly after CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance was revoked, McRaven wrote that Trump “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

Trump dismissed those comments at the time, calling McRaven a “Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer” in a Fox News interview, though McRaven later told CNN that he “did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else.”

McRaven's op-ed was published on the same day that Trump's former defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, took a few jabs of his own at Trump. At a white-tie dinner in New York, just a day after Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general,” Mattis said, "I'm honored to be called that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actor. So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Former Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis roasts Donald Trump

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(NEW YORK) -- Former Defense Secretary James Mattis roasted his former boss at the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York City on Thursday night.

Mattis took the stage at the annual dinner -- an opportunity to crack jokes about local and national politics -- with an introduction from comic legend Martin Short.

"According to the president he’s the 'most overrated general,'" Short cracked in his intro. "I think he’s an American hero."

"I'm not just an overrated general. I’m the world’s greatest overrated general," joked Mattis, who received a standing ovation as he stepped to the dais. "I'm honored to be called that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actor. So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals."

The rebuttal came a day after President Donald Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general” during a meeting with lawmakers about the situation in Syria.

Mattis had said in an interview in August that his silence about Trump was "not going to be forever.”

One of the general's most biting jokes came in relation to Trump's infamous deferment of military service in Vietnam over alleged bone spurs in his feet.

"I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor," Mattis said.

Mattis, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, served as Trump's first defense secretary, but resigned in December 2018 over policy differences, particularly Trump's plans to pull out American troops from Syria, writing in his resignation letter that Trump should have a defense secretary "whose views are better aligned" with his own.

He joked on Thursday that his work in combat zones overseas was easier than being in Trump’s Washington.

“I tried to bring some peace and order to the places with no organized government, chaotic and warring factions, irrational fears, and toxic hatred. It was hard work, but it wasn’t until I started working in Washington, D.C., that I realized how easy I had it overseas in the combat zone,” Mattis said.

He also knocked Trump for his many hours of executive time.

“It’s been a year since I’ve left the administration, the recovery process is going well," he joked. "The counselor says I’ll graduate soon. A year according to White House time is about 9,000 hours of executive time or 1,800 holes of golf."

Mattis, who has been critical of many of Trump's foreign policy decisions since leaving office, also got serious for a moment Thursday, mentioning the United States' Kurdish allies in Syria. He called for the U.S. to again back the population, which has been attacked by Turkey.

"Let us restore trust in one another," Mattis said.

The president was onstage in Dallas at the same time as Mattis' keynote, delivering a campaign speech to a packed crowd at American Airlines Center.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct172019

Trump focuses on House Democrats at Dallas campaign rally

President Trump departs Washington, D.C. for Texas on October 17, 2019. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)(DALLAS) -- Shortly after stepping behind the podium at a campaign rally in Dallas, President Donald Trump launched into a string of fiery attacks on House Democrats over their impeachment push.

"I don't really believe anymore that they love our country," Trump said Thursday -- just a few minutes into his speech.

"Crazy Nancy, think of that. That crazy Nancy, she is crazy," Trump said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "The radical Democrats want to destroy America as we know it. They want to indoctrinate our children and teach them that America is a sinful, wicked nation. You see that happening all the time."

Trump visits Texas amid a continued impeachment inquiry by House Democrats and a day after a meeting about Syria at the White House with House and Senate leaders ended with the Democrats walking out.

Just prior to the meeting, the House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria.

Thursday's raucous event is Trump's third rally in just seven days, following an event in Minnesota last Thursday and Louisiana the following day.

It's also the president's second trip to Texas this year, a state he won by nine points in 2016, and one that some Democrats argue is ready to flip blue in 2020.

"Democrats and the media think they are going to turn Texas blue," Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told the rally crowd before the president took the stage, brushing off the speculation that Texas may be in play next year to a chorus of cheers.

The campaign dismissed the idea that the president was heading back to Texas out of fear that the state could be at risk.

"This is one of our biggest fundraising states, and the people here love the president -- so of course we're going to come back," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told ABC News.

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct172019

The story behind that photo of Pelosi, Trump and an angry White House meeting

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the photos from the contentious meeting this week between the president and congressional leaders don’t tell the whole story, and those who were there are telling dramatically different versions. In fact, the two sides don’t even agree on who asked whom to meet.

Regardless of how it came together, House and Senate leaders caravanned down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House on Wednesday to discuss with President Donald Trump the path forward in northern Syria – one week to the day after Turkey launched its offensive against the Kurds.

The lawmakers from both sides of the aisle entered the West Wing just before 3:30 p.m. By 4:10 p.m., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had walked out on the White House driveway.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Pelosi said, addressing reporters eager to hear about the first face-to-face meeting between the president and speaker since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry. “We were invited to a meeting with the president that comes at a very difficult time for him.”

Just prior to the meeting, the House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria.

Pelosi attributed what she described as the president’s “meltdown” to that vote, saying “It shook him up, melted him down and he behaved accordingly.”

“The president immediately started off by saying that we asked for the meeting, which we had not,” she said. “You know, that’s a minor thing, it was not a particularly hospitable opening to the meeting.”

Hours later, President Trump turned to Twitter seemingly to get back at Pelosi, tweeting out a trio of photos from the Cabinet Room. One of them, showing Pelosi standing and pointing toward the president, has since gone viral. The text accompanying the photo reads, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown,” echoing Pelosi’s criticism.

The tit-for-tat continued when the speaker subsequently turned the photo into the background on her Twitter page. When asked Thursday what was happening at the time the photo was taken, Pelosi smiled. “I think I was excusing myself from the room,” she said.

Pelosi said the president called her a “third-grade politician,” at which time House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged her to leave the meeting. According to Democratic sources, as they left the room, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”

Schumer soon followed them, but hung back for a few minutes to express his concern over the security of ISIS prisoners formerly guarded by the Kurds.

At one point, Schumer began citing Trump’s former secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, who has warned ISIS will come back if the pressure on the terror group is relieved. According to sources, Trump interrupted, claiming credit for defeating ISIS and calling Mattis, “the world’s most overrated general.”

After the meeting ended, Republicans gathered on the White House driveway to share their account of what happened behind closed doors.

“I see a pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, the Speaker tries to make everything political. Her own statements weren’t productive. To storm out of a meeting, which I’ve watched time before during other crises, is really not the ability of a speaker or the style how a speaker should carry herself out.”

Pelosi pushed back on the Republicans’ account of how the meeting played out, and suggested a simple solution for achieving clarity.

“I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices,” Pelosi mused. “Because when they come out and say, ‘Oh, this happened and that happened,’ and you’re like we must have been at two different meetings because that didn't happen.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct172019

Mulvaney admits quid pro quo, says military aid withheld to get Ukraine to probe Dems

(Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)(WASHINGTON) -- After repeated White House denials – including from President Donald Trump himself -- that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine affair, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday admitted there was one, saying Trump had ordered him to withhold military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation of Democrats.

“President Trump is not a big fan of foreign aid. Never has been. Still isn’t. Doesn’t like spending money overseas, especially when it's poorly spent, and that is exactly what drove this decision,” Mulvaney told ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during a White House briefing. “I've been in the office a couple of times with him, talking about this, and he said, ‘Look, Mick, this is a corrupt place. Everybody knows it's a corrupt place.’”

In a terse statement issued Thursday evening, Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's press briefing."

After hours of backlash, Mulvaney attempted to clarify his comments in a statement released by the White House.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," Mulvaney noted. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

The "server" reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine – and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory “completely false.”

Mulvaney added in the statement that he repeatedly cited the president's interest in "rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately" during the news conference.

"There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server," he said. "There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

Earlier Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine “a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.”

“Those were the driving factors,” Mulvaney said. “Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.”

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?” Karl asked.

“’Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,” Mulvaney said. “And that is absolutely equivalent.”

“What you described is a quid pro quo,” Karl pressed. “It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered. “We were holding up money at the same time for, what was it? The Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they -- so that they would change their policies on immigration.”

Mulvaney did not mention that a rough White House transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelenskiy shows the investigation into alleged corruption Trump and the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, specifically talked about a probe of the Ukrainian energy company Burisima where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

Asked whether Giuliani's role was problematic, Mulvaney dismissed questions raised about having a private individual, not a government official, involved in U.S. foreign policy.

"It is not illegal, it is not impeachable. The president gets to use who he wants to use. If he wants to fire me and hire someone else, he can. The president gets to set foreign policy. He gets to choose who to do so. As long as it does not violate law or laws regarding confidential information or classified material or anything like that the president can use who he wants tom" he argued.

Mulvaney, who stepped into the role of acting chief of staff from his post as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, insisted that an investigation of Joe Biden was not part of the equation, and dismissed the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.”

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”

While previous American presidents have pressured foreign leaders in order to achieve U.S. policy objectives, it has not been considered acceptable that they could do so for the personal benefit they might get from an investigation into political opponents, and many Democrats have said doing so, by itself, is grounds for impeachment.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee and is leading the impeachment investigation, called Mulvaney's blocking of the aid "illicit."

"With his acknowledgement now that military aid to a vital ally, battling Russia as we speak, was withheld in part out of the desire by the president to have Ukraine investigate the DNC server or Democrats of 2016, things have just gone from very, very bad to much, much worse," Schiff said. "The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason, for reason of serving the presidential election campaign, is a phenomenal breach of the president’s duty to defend our national security."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct172019

Nearly 1M kids could lose their eligibility for free lunch under Trump administration proposal

SDI Productions/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly 1 million children could lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal, according to a new analysis.

The rule, proposed by the Agriculture Department, aims to restrict broader access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. But the estimate of how many children would lose their eligibility for free meals under the rule was left out of the Federal Register when the proposal was announced in July.

According to an estimated analysis by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), "as many as 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on SNAP participation.”

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, released a statement on Wednesday calling for the agency to "abandon" its proposed rule.

"The internal analysis released by the Department of Agriculture shows that the impact of its proposed rule would be even worse than we had feared,” Scott said. "According to its own projections, the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility would eliminate automatic access for free school meals for nearly 1 million children, and roughly half of those children would no longer be eligible for free school meals at all."

The additional analysis was released by the Agriculture Department earlier this week, and in a news release, the department said it would reopen the public comment period for 14 days to "provide the public an opportunity to review and provide comment on this document as part of the rulemaking record.”

The publication of the new analysis’ comes after Scott requested the information in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue following the announcement of the proposed rule.

Scott’s July 26 letter said that during a phone briefing with committee staff, the FNS estimated the proposed rule would "result in more than 500,000 children losing their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”

The proposed rule came after Congress initially failed to come to an agreement on SNAP benefits in the 2018 farm bill, and looks to limit access to SNAP benefits by not automatically enrolling individuals who are also receiving minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

When the rule was proposed, the department said in a press release that the proposed rule closes a perceived "loophole” in the application process to ensure the program provides benefits "with consistency and integrity to those most in need.”

"While I appreciate that the USDA finally released its analysis, which I requested several times over the last three months, this small step forward in transparency is overshadowed by a tremendous step backward in the fight against child hunger,” Scott said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct172019

Individuals tied to Giuliani probe in SDNY plead not guilty

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Two individuals with ties to President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty before a judge in the Southern District of New York on Thursday afternoon.

David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin appeared before the judge on Thursday. They were charged along with Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas last Thursday in connection with an alleged scheme to circumvent federal laws against foreign campaign donations.

Central to the campaign violation scheme were Parnas and Fruman, who were also reportedly working with Giuliani on investigating the president's political opponent in Ukraine, but only Correia and Kukushin made the initial court appearance in the New York Thursday. The arraignment for Parnas and Fruman has been delayed until next Wednesday

Manhattan federal prosecutors at the hearing said they're expected to turn over "mulitple gigabytes" of evidence that allegedly ties associates of Trump and Giuliani to a scheme to skirt around federal laws against foreign campaign donations and funnel the funds for campaign donations.

Correia's attorney Jeffrey Marcus and William Harrington declined to comment after the brief court appearance.

Since the indictment, Giuliani has acknowledged receiving $500,000 in payments for work he did with Parnas. Giuliani told ABC News that he was retained by Parnas' business "Fraud Guarantee" to do consulting work and insisted that any money he took came from domestic, not foreign sources.

Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman specifically, though he is pictured with the two at multiple events. Fruman and Parnas have reportedly played a significant role in helping with Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

The indictment outlines a "foreign national donor scheme" alleging the men "conspired to circumvent the federal law against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates." The indictment, details how the four defendants allegedly funneled "$1-2 million" from a Russian donor into the U.S. political system between June 2018 and April of this year.

Additionally, Parnas and Fruman allegedly made a series of illegal straw donations that included a $325,000 donation to the pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action, and prosecutors allege that the two violated the law by falsely reporting the origin of those funds as under the name of their newly-created company Global Energy Producers.

In the indictment, prosecutors also outline an alleged scheme by Parnas and Fruman to raise $20,000 for a "then-sitting U.S. Congressman," who "had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million" from America First Action during the 2018 midterms. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his "assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine," Marie Yovanovitch.

The indictment doesn't name the congressman, but the description matches ABC News' reporting that Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, had benefited from $3 million in backing from the super PAC during the 2018 cycle, and that during the same month that Parnas raised funds for Sessions, Sessions wrote a letter calling for Yovanovitch's immediate removal.

Sessions has since been subpoenaed as part of the Southern District's probe and he told ABC News that he is fully cooperating with investigators.

Giuliani is not named in the indictment, but as ABC News has previously reported, the business relationship between the president's personal lawyer and Parnas and Fruman is the subject of the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities in New York, with a primary focus on whether there were any criminal violations of the Foreign Agent Act in Giuliani's representation of foreign entities.

Fruman and Parnas were arrested last week at Dulles International Airport with one-way international tickets, according to a prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, where Parnas and Fruman face charges. It was later reported that the men had dined with Giuliani in the Trump International Hotel in Washington a few hours before their flight.

Parnas and Fruman appeared before a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia the next day where the judge agreed to a bail package which included a $1 million bond for each defendant, the surrender of travel documents and passports, GPS monitoring and home detention.

As of Wednesday evening, Fruman had met the bond requirements and was no longer in the custody of the Alexandria, Virginia, jail. Parnas remained in custody.

The judge set $1 million bond or $100,000 cash for Kukushkin, who posted the cash alternative. Kukushkin was ordered to turn over his two passports and will be under home detention once he returns to California. Correia, arrested in New York on Wednesday, was released under the same bail conditions set at his first court appearance on Wednesday.

The next court date for Correia and Kukushkin has been set for Dec. 2.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.







ABC News Radio