Melania Trump 'hates to see' families separated at border, hopes for immigration reform

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Melania Trump, who typically shies away from the political spotlight, waded into the controversial immigration debate when her office released a statement Sunday saying she “hates to see children separated from their families.”

The first lady issued the unusual statement in response to the growing outrage over the separation of children from their parents who illegally crossed the southern border into the United States.

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” the first lady’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

The current policy stems from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” toward people crossing the border illegally. As migrants who illegally crossed the border await trial, their children are separated from them and sent to a separate facility while their parents go through the criminal process.

The policy, set forth by President Donald Trump and implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has come under sharp criticism by lawmakers, advocates and the religious community -- including some in the president's base.

Despite the backlash, the president has defended the policy, which went into effect in May.

"I hate the children being taken away," he said Friday. "The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law."

Trump has falsely placed the blame on Democrats, saying they need to get behind Republican legislative efforts. However, there is no law mandating the separation of families.

The first lady’s comments are consistent with the president, who says that the current situation on the border can be remedied with immigration reform.

Former first lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on Sunday in which she said the policy "breaks my heart." She singled out the zero tolerance policy as not being the answer, calling it "cruel" and "immoral."

"People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer," Bush wrote in the Post. "I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this."

Next week, Congress is set to vote on two immigration proposals –- the conservative McCaul-Goodlatte bill, and a more moderate House GOP bill. Trump will make a rare trip up Pennsylvania Avenue to talk to the House GOP conference about immigration.

“The president is fully committed to both of these bills. He has put the full weight of his office behind it,” said House Homeland Security Committee chairman McCaul, who spoke with the president on Saturday.

Included in the moderate House GOP bill is a measure that would stop family separations at the border.

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway slammed the policy of separating children from their parents during an appearance on NBC News, saying she doesn't like it.

"As a mother, as [a] Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience," she said. "I will tell you that nobody likes this policy."

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Democratic lawmakers meet detained asylum seekers on Father's Day, call for end to family separation policy

John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --   A group of Democratic lawmakers toured an immigration detention facility in New Jersey Sunday, meeting with detained asylum seekers who have been separated from their families under the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

"Today, on Father’s day, we spoke to fathers whose children have been ripped from their arms, who have no idea when or if they will see their children again," Rep. Jerrold Nadler said during a press conference with reporters after the surprise visit.

The House Judiciary Committee Ranking member led the group of seven lawmakers -- including Reps. Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, and Reps. Albio Sires, Carolyn Maloney, Hakeem Jeffries and Adriano Espaillat of New York -- for the excursion to Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in New Jersey.

The House members lambasted immigration officials for delaying their entry into the facility to meet with those caught illegally crossing the southern U.S. border and torn from their families as part of the administration's new approach on illegal immigration.

On April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a Justice Department memo that the Trump administration was implementing a "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

The policy of treating people who try to illegally cross the border as criminals and thus separating them from their children went into effect in May, according to the Associated Press. From April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to Homeland Security statistics cited by the AP.

Nadler called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the local police department on Twitter for delaying the group and using "stalling tactics."

Maloney added in a tweet that they were "made to wait for over an hour" after dealing with "local PD."

Pascrell detailed how the facility staff was covering the windows to prevent members of the press from taking photos, but he warned, "We’ll tell everything we’ve seen inside."

A spokesman for ICE's Newark office said the facility, despite being surprised, worked with the members of Congress.

“ICE can state that the congressional reps showed up unannounced at the facility and were accommodated so they were able to meet with several ICE detainees,” the spokesman, with ICE's enforcement and removal operations, said.

They said after banging on the door, and speaking with ICE officials over the phone, they were granted access to meet with the detained individuals, who Nadler later said during the press conference, "came to this country in search of the protection and refuge that the proud inscription on the Statue of Liberty promises to those fleeing terror."

But he asserted, "Instead, they are being welcome by more terror."

Over a roaring crowd of protesters, Pascrell told reporters, "We will have zero tolerance for anything that deviates from that inscription on the Statue of Liberty."

Sires, who immigrated to this country when he was 11 years old, shared some of the stories of the detainees with reporters and protesters standing outside of the facility. Among the detainees the group met, one individual was separated apart from his 7-year-old brother and another individual came with his 5-year-old daughter who was taken from him while he was sleeping. He begged and cried as U.S. officials took her away, according to their accounts.

"It’s pretty heart wrenching what I saw in there," he said. "I came to this country when I was 11 years old, that’s not the country that I can remember that’s in there."

"One individual, they took his daughter away from him, she may be in Michigan, he hasn’t heard from her," the New Jersey congressman said. "The other individual, he can’t go back to his country because he was being harassed by gang members and he had to take his daughter. They went to his house, they went to her school. That’s why he decided to come to this country."

The people in the facility, according to Pallone, came to the United States because "they were being persecuted, and they came with their kids, this is Father’s Day, they came with their kids to protect them."

The group, who visited the detention facility to "mitigate the horrors of the Trump administration’s cruel, inhuman and un-American family separation policy," Nadler said, pressed the White House to end its enforcement of an immigration policy that separates families.

"This must not be -- must not be -- who we are as a nation," he urged. "That is why we have come here today, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, to stand with those who merely seek refuge in our country. To stand with those who’ve had their small children ripped from their arms and taken away from them, to stand with those who don’t where their children are ... and to shine a light on the cruel and inhumane policies that are tearing families apart."

Jeffries added, "We will not rest until we shut that policy down."

"We have a message for the president," he said. "The Republicans control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency. Stop lying to the American people, this is your policy and you are the one who we will force to shut this down."

House Democrats are planning to introduce legislation on Tuesday to stop the family separation policy.

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Bannon says Trump never lies to the American people, he 'speaks in a particular vernacular'

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said that to his knowledge, President Donald Trump has never lied to the American people.

Bannon was responding to ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl after he played video of Trump on the campaign trail in August 2016 telling supporters, "I will never lie to you. I will never tell you something I do not believe... I will always tell you the truth."

"You famously kept a white board of presidential promises to keep track of," Karl said, referring to Bannon's practice when he was at the White House. "That's a promise that [Trump] obviously broke. He has not always told the truth."

Bannon replied, "I don't know that ... From what I see ... he has [told the truth.] This is another thing to demonize him."

Karl pressed, "The president has never lied?"

"Not to my knowledge, no," Bannon said.

Karl cited Trump's false claim Friday that this week's Justice Department Inspector General report on the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation "totally exonerated" the president of any collusion or obstruction in the Russia investigation. The report makes no such conclusion.

"He says things that are not true all the time," Karl said.

"I don't believe that," Bannon said. "I think he speaks in a particular vernacular that connects to people in this country."

Some news outlets have made a practice of tracking statements by Trump that are false or erroneous.

On Friday, the president gave an impromptu press conference that was "packed with falsehoods," ABC News reported.

The false claims at the press conference included Trump's repeated assertions that his administration's new policy of separating migrant parents and children who try to cross the U.S. border illegally is due to a law passed by Democrats. There is no law requiring the separation of families trying to cross the border illegally.

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Bannon says Trump is trying to be a 'peacemaker' with North Korea but is being 'vilified'

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump's former chief strategist said the president is trying to make peace with North Korea but is getting unfairly "vilified" following his summit with Kim Jong Un.

"President Trump is trying to be a peacemaker," Steve Bannon said in an exclusive interview with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on This Week Sunday. "He is being vilified."

Trump and Kim signed a one-page letter at their meeting in Singapore announcing the intent to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The president afterward said he wanted to end the United States' joint military exercises with South Korea.

The summit and Trump's later comments have raised questions and drawn some criticism, including over whether the president has lavished too much praise on Kim, a brutal dictator; when any specifics will be announced on ending North Korea's nuclear program; and whether Trump is working closely enough with U.S. allies South Korea and Japan on North Korea policy.

Bannon continued that Trump's meeting with Kim helps to curb Chinese influence in the Far East.

"Donald Trump is handed cards, OK, with the inexorable rise of China and -- and Korea, it’s vassal state as a -- as a nuclear threat to our allies in the northwest Pacific in the United States. That’s what he’s dealt with," Bannon said. "And -- and what does everybody say about Trump? 'Oh he’s an isolationist, he’s going to go it alone.'"

Bannon suggested that Republican members of Congress should be touting Trump's North Korea summit rather than criticizing its outcome.

"Where is the Republican establishment on Capitol Hill? Where are [Sen. Bob] Corker and all those guys flooding these Sunday morning shows? Why am I here?" Bannon asked. "Why are they not flooding these Sunday morning shows, talking about how the president of the United States is finally engaged with our allies in the Pacific to stop Chinese hegemony?"

Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that he was "happy" the president met with Kim, but he questioned the strength of the document Trump and Kim signed in Singapore.

"I read the statement and it's difficult for me to see if something was actually agreed to or not,” Corker said. "I don’t think we know enough to challenge or celebrate.”

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Bannon says it's not necessary to justify separating kids, parents at border

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said President Donald Trump doesn’t need to “justify” the policy of separating children from parents who are caught illegally crossing the southern U.S. border because it is part of the administration's “zero-tolerance” approach on illegal immigration.

“It’s zero tolerance. I don't think you have to justify it,” Bannon, who was also CEO of Trump's presidential campaign, said to ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview on This Week Sunday.

“We ran on a policy -- very simply -- stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back to help our workers, and so he went to a zero-tolerance policy," Bannon said. "It's a crime to come across illegally, and children get separated. I mean, I hate to say it, that's the law and he's enforcing the law.”

Nearly 2,000 migrant children -- 1,995 -- were separated from 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31, after being caught illegally crossing the border, a Department of Homeland Security told reporters Friday.

The separation policy follows Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on April 6 of a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that includes criminally prosecuting illegal border-crossers, thus separating them from children who under U.S. law cannot be held in criminal detention centers.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple," Sessions told a conference of state criminal investigation agencies in Arizona in April. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

Karl asked Bannon on Sunday about the widespread criticism of the family separation policy, including from religious leaders such as top evangelical Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York.

Pope Francis posted a tweet last week that some interpreted as referring to the new U.S. practice of placing migrant children in centers separate from their parents.

“The pope more than anybody else has driven the migrant crisis in Europe,” Bannon responded, noting that he is himself a Catholic. “The Catholic Church is one of the worst instigators of this open-borders policy.”

Trump has repeatedly, falsely asserted that a law passed by Democrats is to blame for the family-separation policy. Just on Friday, an ABC News fact check found that Trump repeated this false claim at least seven times.

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Trump to be 'special guest' during House GOP Immigration Conference

Leon Neal/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump will be making a rare trip up Pennsylvania Avenue next week as a "special guest" at an additional House GOP Member Conference meeting to talk about immigration, a GOP source confirmed.

News of the meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday comes just one day after the president created a state of confusion on Capitol Hill after he dismissed one of the immigration measures in his spontaneous interview with FOX & Friends on the White House North Lawn. Trump's comments sent lawmakers into a last-minute tizzy as they prepare for potential votes in the coming week.

"I wouldn't sign the moderate bill. I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that," Trump said.

A White House official said the president had misunderstood the question, and later the White House issued a statement to clear up the confusion.

“The President fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill. In this morning's interview, he was commenting on the discharge petition in the House, and not the new package. He would sign either the Goodlatte or the leadership bill,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah.

The House may take up an immigration bill next week although nothing is on the schedule yet.

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Trump taps Kathy Kraninger to head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump plans to nominate Kathy Kraninger to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the White House announced Saturday.

Kraninger currently works under Mick Mulvaney at the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney has been working as acting director of CFPB after Richard Cordray, an appointee of President Obama, stepped down to run for Ohio governor. Cordray won the Democratic primary last month.

The bureau, which has been the subject of partisan bickering since its creation under the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, has undergone major changes at the direction of Mulvaney.

The White House says Kraninger would plan to continue reforms enacted by Mulvaney at CFPB.

Calling Kraninger a "staunch supporter of free enterprise," White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement that the White House hopes for a swift confirmation.

"She [Kraninger] will bring a fresh perspective and much-needed management experience to the BCFP, which has been plagued by excessive spending, dysfunctional operations, and politicized agendas," the statement says.

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Cartoonist fired for being critical of Trump: 'They've not silenced me'

iStock/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- When Rob Rogers met with human resources representatives of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, he didn't expect to be fired right then and there.

Rogers, 59, had been the editorial cartoonist for the daily newspaper in Pittsburgh for a quarter century, winning a number of awards for his work. And although he had clashed with the paper's leadership in recent months over his critical depictions of President Donald Trump, Rogers said he was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But he left Thursday's off-site meeting with a severance offer -- which he said he has not yet signed -- in place of his employee identification badge.

Rogers said he should have seen it coming and, in hindsight, he realizes he actually did.

"The only thing I think they had in mind was, 'We need him out of here,'" Rogers told ABC News in a telephone interview Saturday morning. "They were determined to either get me in line or fire me, and that part is clear to me."

There had been a shift at the traditionally left-leaning newspaper in the months and years leading up to Rogers' ousting.

Rogers, who was hired in 1993, said he first noticed a change at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2010 when the editorial board endorsed Tom Corbett, then-Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor.

Then, in late 2015, Rogers said the newspaper's chairman, publisher and editor-in-chief, John Robinson Block, indicated to the editorial board that they might endorse Trump for president, leading the editorial page editor and Rogers' longtime supervisor, Tom Waseleski, to take a buyout and retire a few months later.

Rogers, who was drawing critical cartoons of Trump, said tensions were high within the editorial board and he was nervous about navigating the waters without Waseleski. But he decided to meet with Block to address the elephant in the room.

"I just said, 'I'm going to continue drawing Trump.' And he said, 'Well it's not that I don't want you to draw Trump but they're just so negative and they're just so angry.' And I said, 'I disagree,'" Rogers told ABC News.

The meeting ended with Rogers and Block both agreeing that the paper shouldn't be publishing cartoons about Trump every day, which Rogers said he wasn't doing at the time and didn't want to do anyway. So Rogers returned to his drawing table but still got push-back from Block, mostly on cartoons that involved Trump or racial issues, he said.

"I was still doing only an average of two [Trump cartoons] a week," Rogers told ABC News. "I was spreading them out. I was trying to be a diligent journalist and cartoonist in terms of my topics ... I felt like I was doing a fair balance of Trump versus non-Trump."

Rogers said he often made changes to his sketches at an editor's request before going to press, and the publisher wouldn't always provide an explanation if his cartoons were killed. But Rogers said he began to notice a pattern in the ones that wouldn't get the green light.

"What I felt like they wanted were humorous cartoons that just poked light fun at Trump if I was going to do something on Trump. But they didn’t want anything that was too provocative or too scathing or too critical," he said.

In January of this year, the editorial board ran a piece defending Trump's use of the term "shithole countries" when referring to African nations as well as Haiti and El Salvador. The editorial, titled "Reason as racism," sparked outrage among current and former employees at the newspaper, including Rogers who described it as "blatantly racist."

Then, in March, Block named Keith Burris the editorial director over both The Toledo Blade and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, making him Rogers' new supervisor.

"I knew then, I knew at that moment I was counting the days," Rogers told ABC News. "I knew he was brought in to be the guy to get me in line."

Rogers said he met with Burris over lunch that month, who informed him that Block believes the editorial cartoonist should reflect the opinion of the paper's publisher.

"And I said, 'Well that’s news to me because that’s not the condition under which I was hired and I don’t believe that's the way most editorial cartoonist work,'" Rogers told ABC News. "So I just said, 'I totally disagree,' and we left it at that."

Up until this point, Rogers said only a few of his cartoons would be nixed every year. But over the next three months, he had 19 cartoons or proposals that were rejected, including six in a single week that illustrated a range of topics. One of them -- depicting a Klu Klux Klan member in a doctor's office asking, "Could it be the Ambien?" -- was even killed after it was sent for syndication, according to Rogers.

Neither Block nor Burris responded to ABC News' requests for comment.

In an interview this week with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burris said he didn't "suppress" his cartoons but was trying to address the "tone and frequency" of his drawings of the president. He claimed that Rogers was not willing to "collaborate."

"We tried hard to find a middle way, an accommodation to keep him at the paper," Burris told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons," he added. "For an in-house staff cartoonist, editing is part of it. Rob’s view was, 'Take it or leave it.'"

Rogers told ABC News that Burris' comment about him being unwilling to work with editors is "a total lie."

"I was more than willing to work with him and I changed my cartoons many times. But the thing I would not do was draw something I did not believe in or water down what I was trying to say," Rogers said during the telephone interview Saturday. "Sometimes we’d reach an impasse."

Rogers said he had reached a stalemate with the newspaper's leadership, where he would send emails defending his sketches and asking why they were rejected, but he'd never hear back.

"I'd just get crickets," he said. "Then it wouldn't be in the paper."

On May 31, Rogers sent them another email, demanding an explanation and that he allowed to return to his usual work flow. They responded a few days later, calling him in for a meeting with human resources representatives and giving him a set of "guidelines" to follow.

Rogers said he told them "no" and spelled out the reasons why it was "totally unacceptable." He also suggested that they instead move his cartoons to the op-ed page.

"I thought to myself, 'Well, they're clearly not doing anything to keep me," Rogers told ABC News.

On June 6, Rogers decided to take some vacation days while still trying to iron out the issues with his employer. He didn't hear from them for a week until one of the human resources representative returned his phone call and suggested they all meet again Thursday, according to Rodgers.

"That's the day I was fired," he said.

Rogers added that he and his lawyer are still in negotiations with the newspaper over the severance deal that was offered to him.

Editorial cartoon by Rob RogersWhen The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published its own article on Rogers' sacking, it included a statement from the newspaper's chief human resources officer, Stephen Spolar.

"The Post-Gazette does not provide details about employment matters, but in light of Mr. Rogers’ public comments today, we do want to acknowledge his long service to the newspaper and our community. Any further discussions will be conducted with Mr. Rogers as a private matter," Spolar said in the statement.

Spolar has not responded to ABC News' requests for comment.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last published one of Rogers' editorial cartoons on June 5 -- a sketch criticizing the United States for waging a trade war with Canada, Mexico and Europe. His last cartoon to appear in the newspaper before that was on May 24 -- a sketch lambasting the Republican-led Congress alongside a remark from Rogers, saying, "I really hope the midterm elections stick it to cowardly Republicans who won't stand up to Trump or defend the rule of law. Disgusting."

Rogers said the changes at the local paper are emblematic of a wider issue happening in newsrooms across the country, at a time when the sitting president has declared the media America's "biggest enemy."

"It's not about me. It's about where the paper's going, where the country's going and what journalism means in this country and whether it means a variety of opinions or just one opinion," he told ABC News. "By only representing one view that is favorable to the president, you're not keeping him accountable."

Still, Rogers said, "They've not silenced me."

"I love doing what I do and I'm going to continue doing it in some form, whether its for syndication or for a more permanent outlet," Rogers said. "But as long as this president is in office, I'll be drawing."

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Trump says US policy separating migrant families is law. It's not.

John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump told reporters on Friday, when asked about separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border: "I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law."

No, it's not. No law mandates separating families.

The administration's current policy was announced April 6 and went into effect in May. From April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.

Because of the policy, more adults have been jailed and more children have been shipped elsewhere. Previously, people who entered the country illegally and had no criminal record were detained or referred for deportation, and mothers and children usually remained together.

Government officials have said minors shouldn't be housed with adults in criminal holding facilities and that such a policy also should deter border crossings, even from those seeking asylum. There's a limit on how long children can be held before being transferred to a licensed family facility. More generally, the government is supposed to house minors in the least restrictive way possible.

"From a law enforcement perspective, this zero-tolerance approach makes little sense," said John Cohen, an ABC News consultant and former acting Homeland Security undersecretary. "The majority of those detained are non-violent individuals or families who have committed what amounts to a misdemeanor. Incarcerating these individuals, as opposed to issuing a notice to appear, is resource intensive, and as a result vital law enforcement resources and attention are being diverted from dealing with more serious border security issues."

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Rich Alaskan donor gave $250K to Trump after EPA reversed decision on Pebble Mine

Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT via Getty Images(BRISTOL BAY, Alaska) -- A wealthy activist who has funded efforts to block a proposed mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay donated $250,000 to President Donald Trump's re-election effort six weeks after the administration abruptly decided to prevent the mine from moving forward.

The move to block the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay from moving forward seems to diverge from a trend in policy under the leadership of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt -- seen as one of President Donald Trump's most productive cabinet members in moving to undo environmental regulations put in place under the Obama administration. During the Trump presidency, the EPA in 2017 had previously allowed the mine to move forward.

The EPA said the change in course was because the environmental risk was too great and announced on January 26 that the mine would not immediately move forward.

Robert Gillam made his second and largest donation to Trump Victory Fund just weeks later, donating $250,000 on March 9, according to FEC filings.

Gillam has previously spent as much as $2.5 million to block the Pebble Mine from moving forward in Alaska's fertile fishing ground called the Bristol Bay. He has been advocating against the mine since 2005, according to an Alaska state report. He declined to comment for this story.

Gillam has previously donated to the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Republican campaigns in Alaska.

He went to Wharton with Trump and met with him at Mar-a-Lago the weekend before he made a $250,000 donation to the president's Victory Fund, according to a report in E&E News. Gillam owns a fishing lodge in the area, according to public meeting records, and has said that the mine would hurt the local salmon population.

Last November he wrote in an editorial that the mine project was "doomed."

"For more than a decade, I have taken on the battle against the Pebble Mine, because, more than any other development proposal in our state's history, it threatens to forfeit to foreign mining companies an invaluable part of our heritage, something Alaskans cannot afford to lose -— and will never stop defending —- Bristol Bay; the last great salmon fishery on the planet," Gillam wrote in the opinion piece in a local newspaper.

The Pebble Mine project was blocked by the Obama administration in 2014, citing harm to the environment that the EPA said would be caused by mining in the area. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed that decision in May 2017 and allowed the permitting process to move forward as well as accept public comments on the process.

In late January, the EPA abruptly slowed the project again, saying the agency has "serious concerns" about the risk mining could pose to fishing operations and local residents around Bristol Bay. The agency didn't go so far as to block the mine completely but said the permit application "must clear a high bar" and provide information on how the mine will impact the surrounding area.

The company behind the Pebble Mine project announced in May that a major partner ended their agreement to support the mine, adding more uncertainty to the future of the project.

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