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Wednesday
Apr262017

POLL: Views on Russian influence reflect partisan finger-pointing

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It’s a partisan cold war right here at home: A majority of Democrats think now-President Donald Trump’s campaign tried to help Russia influence the 2016 election, while a majority of Republicans think former President Barack Obama’s administration spied on the Trump campaign.

And fewer than half of Americans -- in either party -- are confident that Congress will sort it all out.

See a PDF with the full results HERE.

Overall, 56 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll think Russia tried to influence the election, and 39 percent think the Trump campaign intentionally tried to assist such an effort. Just among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, suspicions soar: Sixty percent think Trump aides assisted Russian efforts. Among Hillary Clinton voters, 72 percent say so.

Fewer overall, 32 percent, think the Obama administration intentionally spied on Trump and members of his campaign during the election, as Trump has alleged. But just among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 55 percent think this occurred. And it’s 64 percent among Trump voters in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.

These results, and similar gaps between liberals on one side and strong conservatives on the other, underline the depth of partisan mistrust still simmering three months into Trump’s presidency. Simply put, Democrats are motivated to see Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, while Republicans are motivated to believe his predecessor was up to no good.

Leaders in both parties in Congress have said the evidence establishes that Russia tried to influence the election. Yet just 38 percent of leaned Republicans and 32 percent of strong conservatives believe this to be the case, versus 73 percent of leaned Democrats and 77 percent of liberals.

Turning the tables, 55 percent of leaned Republicans and 63 percent of strong conservatives think the Obama administration spied on Trump and his campaign. Just 14 percent of leaned Democrats and 13 percent of liberals buy that idea.

Among other groups, suspicion that Russia tried to influence the campaign peaks at 83 percent Clinton voters, compared with 28 percent of Trump voters. As mentioned, 72 percent of Clinton voters not only think this happened, but also think Trump aides lent a hand. Among Trump voters, a mere 4 percent share that view.

Conversely, 64 percent of Trump voters (and 74 percent of those who supported him enthusiastically) think the Obama administration spied on Trump and his aides. Only 10 percent of Clinton voters agree.

Suspicions of Russian meddling reach 70 percent among Americans with a postgraduate degree, versus 55 percent of others; and two-thirds of minorities, versus 51 percent of whites. About half of postgraduates and nonwhites think the Trump campaign participated in Russian influence, versus 38 and 32 percent of their counterparts, respectively.

For its part, suspicion that the Obama administration intentionally spied on Trump reaches 47 percent among evangelical white Protestants, versus a quarter of the non-religious; and 44 percent among non-college white men, versus a quarter of college-educated white women.

Mistrust of Congress’ investigation also is partisan, but much less sharply so. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents divide by 41-55 percent on whether the investigation will or will not be fairly conducted. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents split more evenly, 46-46 percent. Neither result reflects optimism.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Apr262017

Five things to know about Melania Trump

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Melania Trump has maintained a mostly low profile for the first three months of Donald Trump's presidency, choosing to remain in New York with son Barron so as not to disrupt the 11-year-old's schooling.

Like on the campaign trail, when she made infrequent campaign appearances and gave few interviews, she has largely avoided the spotlight, a departure from her high-profile modeling days early in her career when she made regular stops in places like Paris and London.

As the first lady turns 47 years old on Wednesday, here are a few fast facts to know about her:

She was born abroad


Melania was born in Slovenia in 1970, but didn't stay there past her teenage years.

She moved to Italy after signing with a modeling agency in Milan when she was just a teen and then eventually moved to the United States to work in New York.

She became a permanent U.S. resident in 2001 and a citizen in 2006.

As first lady, she is the first presidential spouse born outside the United States since Louisa Adams, the wife of the sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams, who held office from 1825 to 1829.

Like her husband, she has had multiple business ventures

After starting her business career in modeling, she expanded into different areas of the fashion world and currently sells a line of jewelry and watches on QVC.

Since launching "Melania Timepieces and Fashion" in 2010, she expanded it to include a skin care line in 2013 that her website says is made entirely of "caviar imported from a cultured sturgeon farm in the South of France."

She had early contact with her husband's rivals and a surrogate

Melania Knauss became Melania Trump when the couple married in 2005 in Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Several hundred of their closest friends and family attended the affair, and while a photo from the wedding of the Trumps smiling with Bill and Hillary Clinton has made the rounds during the campaign, the former Democratic president and his wife were not the only politicians there for the Trumps' big day.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, was also in attendance at the nuptials, and his relationship with the Trumps is still going strong. Giuliani appeared frequently on the campaign trail and in television appearances as a surrogate for Donald Trump.

She speaks five languages

The first lady speaks multiple languages. As a result of her international upbringing and modeling work, she has picked up English, French, Serbian and German, in addition to her native Slovenian.

She had an early vision for her would-be role

Prior to her husband's election victory, the former model already had an idea in mind about what kind of first lady she would be.

She told The New York Times in 1999, ahead of one of her husband's previous flirtations with the presidency, that she would be a "very traditional" wife if she were to move into the White House.

"Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy, I would support him," she said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

White House spokesman: 'I don't know' if Michael Flynn broke law over Russia payments

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Oversight Committee leaders said Tuesday that newly provided classified documents show that President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, may have broken the law when he failed to seek U.S. government permission for or to disclose his acceptance of payments from a media organization considered to be an arm of the Russian government.

Republican chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and the panel's top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland spoke to reporters after reviewing classified documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency in a secure area of the Capitol's basement.

"As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else, and it appears as if he did take that money," Chaffetz said of Flynn. "It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law," the Republican representative added.

Cummings said someone convicted of such a violation could face a punishment that included "fines and five years imprisonment." He said the information on Flynn in the intelligence documents was "extremely troubling."

When White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked by reporters later if Flynn might have broken the law, he said, "I don't know," adding that it was a question for a law enforcement agency.

Chaffetz said earlie, "I see no information or no data to support the notion that general Flynn complied with the law."

"He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment but to engage in that activity," Chaffetz said. "I see no evidence that he actually did that."

The Oversight Committee has been investigating whether Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, properly disclosed foreign payments he received for work overseas, including a speech in late 2015 to Russia's state-owned TV network Russia Today for which he which he received over $33,000.

Flynn directed the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency until he was pushed out by the Obama administration in 2014. At the time of the RT speech in December of 2015, the retired military officer he continued to hold a top-level security clearance.

Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Mike Flynn, said in a statement to ABC News Tuesday that Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency "extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings."

In March, Chaffetz and Cummings requested documents from the Pentagon, White House, FBI and Director of National Intelligence regarding Flynn’s contacts with foreign nationals and any funds he received from foreign sources.

Separately, the House Oversight Committee is also claiming that the White House is "refusing" to provide documents it might have in its possession related to what it knew about Flynn's contacts with the outside groups.

A White House official told ABC the requests are "too broad to fill," and that it can't be responsive because the requests "predate the Trump administration."

Trump fired Flynn early in his term as national security adviser for allegedly misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials.

Flynn was paid nearly $60,000 in 2015 by three Russian firms affiliated with the Kremlin, including RT, according to documents released by Democrats on the Oversight Committee.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

GOP makes government funding offer excluding money for wall

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congressional Republicans have offered Democrats a government funding deal that does not include new funds for the construction of a border wall, according to congressional aides familiar with the offer.

The move from GOP leaders comes as Capitol Hill scrambles to pass a government funding measure by midnight Friday to avert a shutdown on President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office.

The latest proposal doesn’t include funding for construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, but would allocate money to other border security initiatives, such as surveillance technology. News of the offer was first reported by The Washington Post.

"I think sometimes we get hung up on the semantics rather than really looking at what a really good system should include," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, pointing to border security elements that have bipartisan support like technology and personnel.

“We're not opposed to border security. We are opposed to a wall,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the president sounded defiant on wall funding, accusing the media of misconstruing his position after he told a group of conservative journalists Monday night that he would be open to revisit wall funding in September in the next fiscal year.

In his daily press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC News' Jonathan Karl that the administration is determined to begin planning for wall construction this fiscal year.

“The wall is going to get built, folks,” Trump later told the travel pool in the Oval Office Tuesday when asked about government funding.

But even as both sides move closer to an agreement on border funding, Republicans and Democrats remain divided over a key Obamacare subsidy payment to insurers.

After Trump threatened to withhold the payments to insurers -- subsidies that help reduce insurance costs for low-income Americans -- in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Democrats demanded to include funding for the payments in a broader government funding measure.

According to a senior Democratic aide, the new offer from Republicans doesn’t resolve questions about the subsidies, which are known as cost-sharing reduction payments.

A senior White House official told ABC News the White House will not agree to include money for Obamacare subsidies in the fiscal year 2017 spending bill, saying, “Why don’t you ask the Democrats if they are willing to shut down the government over that?”

The official called including the subsidies a “nonstarter.”

So far, Democrats have indicated that they're willing to go to the mat for the payments to protect the Obamacare system. And ultimately, Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass a funding bill through the Senate.

It still remains likely that before tackling a massive funding bill, Congress will pass a short-term government extension that will keep the government open at current funding levels for at least a week while negotiations continue.

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Tuesday
Apr252017

State Department explains blog post critics said promoted Mar-a-Lago

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of State provided explanation Tuesday for a story posted on one of its blogs that critics said promoted the Mar-a-Lago estate owned by President Donald Trump.

State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said that no one was ordered to write the article posted to ShareAmerica, a State Department blog that creates content for embassies and consulates overseas.

He added that it was “researched and written by staff members of the International Information Programs bureau” and it “was not reviewed at the time it was sent out” by anyone outside the IIP, as is generally the case.

Toner said that the post, which described the exclusive club's use as the president's vacation home as a "dreams-come-true" story for the mansion's original builder, socialite and heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, was “meant to provide historical information and context relevant to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and was not intended to endorse or promote any private enterprise.”

He noted that “in light of some of the feedback we were getting about some of the article’s purpose, or rather, misperceptions about its purpose,” the story was removed. Prior to its removal, it was also featured on the website of at least one U.S. embassy -- the mission in the United Kingdom.

“This was in-house completely. This was a decision made by the content creators, the writers of the International information Program, IIP, and that is their mandate," said Toner. "In retrospect, we made the decision to pull this article down because there was some confusion about its intent, but their mandate, if you will, is to create content that educates foreign audiences about significant landmarks, etc., in the United States."

Moving forward, Toner said that the State Department will consider whether any additional review of IIP content is needed before it’s posted. In ShareAmerica’s two-year history, they could not find a similar case where a privately or publicly owned property was promoted, he said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Trump vows ‘we will confront anti-Semitism’ at Holocaust memorial ceremony

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump vowed Tuesday to crack down on anti-Semitism during a speech on Capitol Hill as part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Days of Remembrance.

"This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism,” he said. “We will stamp out prejudice. We will condemn hatred. We will bear witness and we will act.”

Trump's strongly worded speech comes nearly two months after a series of threats against Jewish community centers across the country and questions about rising anti-Semitism during the course of the election and the new administration.

Trump has previously pointed to his personal ties to Judaism -- including his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who practices Orthodox Judaism, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted before her marriage to Jared -- when asked about the issue. He did not mention either of them during his speech this morning.

He told the story of Elie Wiesel, the deceased Holocaust survivor and political activist, and slammed Holocaust deniers.

"Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil and we will never be silent; we just won't. We will never ever be silent in the face of evil again," Trump said.

"Denying the Holocaust is only one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues around the world," he said.

He also reiterated his support of Israel, which was on display earlier in his term when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House.

"The state of Israel is an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people," Trump said.

He later said, "I will always stand with our great friend and partner: the state of Israel."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Poll finds 66 percent of Americans under 30 disapprove of President Trump

Ida Mae Astute/ABC(WASHINGTON) -- Two in three Americans under 30 years old disapprove of President Trump's job performance so far, and roughly half say they believe his border wall, travel ban and health care legislation would make the country worse, according to a new poll from Harvard University.

Only 32 percent of surveyed Americans ages 18 to 29 years old say they approve of Trump's time as president so far. A majority disapprove of him on most major issues, from the economy (59 percent) to health care (66 percent) to race relations (70 percent). They also disapprove of Trump on climate change (68 percent) and handling ISIS (64 percent).

Half of Americans under 30 polled say building a border wall with Mexico will make America worse — twice as many as the 23 percent who say it will make America better.

Pluralities of Americans under 30 say two other items on Trump's agenda would make America worse: Health care legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare (45 percent) and a ban on new visas for travelers from six Muslim-majority countries (48 percent).

An ABC News/Washington Post poll last week found that 42 percent of Americans asked approved of Trump, while 53 percent disapproved.

The Harvard poll, from the university's Institute of Politics, was conducted from March 10 to 24.

Both parties in Congress are unpopular among young Americans. A majority surveyed, 54 percent, say they disapprove of Democrats in Congress, and the Republican majority is even more unpopular, garnering a 69 percent disapproval rating.

Very few Americans under 30 who were surveyed say they approve of Trump's tweets. Only 11 percent say they think Trump's use of Twitter is "mostly appropriate," versus 68 percent who say it's "mostly inappropriate."

The survey signals major distrust for large institutions to do the right thing "often." Only 24 percent say they trust the president to do so. Likewise, only 20 percent trust Congress, 16 percent trust the media, and 12 percent trust Wall Street. Slightly more trust the U.S. military, the Supreme Court and the United Nations: 50 percent, 46 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

The Harvard University Institute of Politics Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service examines beliefs of Americans ages 18 to 29. The organization polled 2,654 respondents. The margin of error is +/– 2.7 percent.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Former President George HW Bush remains hospitalized after pneumonia

Al Bello/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- Former President George H.W. Bush remains hospitalized this week after he was diagnosed with pneumonia earlier this month.

Bush, 92, is currently being held for "a few more days of observation," according to his spokesman Jim McGrath.

"President George H.W. Bush continues to be in good spirits and is resting comfortably at Houston Methodist Hospital," McGrath said in a statement yesterday. The former president is expected to be released by the end of the week.

This marks the third hospital stay for Bush this year. In January, he was hospitalized for 12 days after contracting pneumonia. He recovered enough to toss the coin for the Super Bowl held in Houston, Texas, Feb. 5. However, the former president was again hospitalized after the event, for yet-to-be-named reasons, which was not disclosed at the time.

Last week, Bush's staff announced he had been hospitalized again "for observation due to a persistent cough that prevented him from getting proper rest. It was subsequently determined he had a mild case of pneumonia, which was treated and has been resolved."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Foreign policy moments that mattered in Trump's first 100 days

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Just shy of his 100th day in office, President Donald Trump -- the first U.S. president with no political, military, or foreign policy experience -- has shaken up the globe, surprising allies with his demands, adversaries with his military action, and maybe even himself with his new power.

During his short time in office, Trump has had to make decisions about life and death, war and peace, and military and diplomacy, as his administration exerts itself on the world stage. Here are the top foreign policy moments of his first 100 days.

Surprise strikes on Syria

The “America First” president shocked the world with his muscular response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Just days after the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad reportedly bombed the town Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk strikes on the air base where Assad’s planes are said to have taken off.

"I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly," he said at a Rose Garden press conference with Jordan's King Abdullah.

Critics on the left and right were surprised that the businessman who had decried years of wasteful spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was ready to play the world’s policeman. But allies, from the UK to Israel, applauded the response, even as Russia and Iran blasted the U.S. for the attack on their ally Assad.

The administration has left the door open to more strikes against Assad for further violations of international laws and norms -- although it has faced some confusion on its views of Assad’s future and its priorities in Syria.

High-stakes diplomacy with China

If Syria was the moment of crisis for Trump, China has been the steady challenge.

Candidate Trump bashed China constantly, citing the country as a source of America’s problems, often with graphic language. They were manipulating their currency, stealing American jobs, beating the U.S. on trade, even raping the American economy.

But now that he’s in office, Trump has taken a more nuanced tone, culminating in a two-day summit at his private club Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He agreed to abide by the one-China policy, to not label China a currency manipulator, and so far, to not slap them with the sort of tariff that critics said would start a trade war.

Instead, Trump appears to be using that tough economic talk as leverage to get China to help with North Korea. Since the summit, Trump and Xi have spoken twice by phone, and China may be pressuring its ally and neighbor North Korea a bit more.

This is an important space to watch, though, as the stakes in North Korea rise or the domestic politics in China change.

Boiling tensions with North Korea

Key to that is what happens next in North Korea, where every day the rhetoric seems to heat up. North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States for years, but it just could happen under Trump’s watch.

On a critical trip to Japan, South Korea, and China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that all options are on the table and that the time for “strategic patience” is over. And the President said the U.S. would send a strike group and a nuclear submarine to the area, although it took some time before the USS Carl Vinson and company actually headed toward those waters.

Now, the world anxiously awaits what that means if North Korea successfully tests an intercontinental ballistic missile or another nuclear bomb. If Trump strikes preemptively, will it mean all-out war on the Korean peninsula, as strongman Kim Jong-un has promised?

So far, the administration is pursuing diplomatic and economic options in the face of those fiery words and after the Kim regime detained a third American citizen. The pressure on China to do more is working, they say, and this week both Trump and Tillerson will speak to the United Nations Security Council, to push full implementation of existing UN sanctions.

But even then, it’s unclear how far China is willing to go on North Korea, since it fears destabilizing or toppling the regime. Trump and Kim’s next moves are treading on a fine line here, as the world holds its breath.

The Russian question

For months now, the Trump administration has been dogged by questions about ties between his advisers and the Russian government. Those questions still loom, as the FBI and two Congressional committees investigate.

It’s created a dilemma for the real estate magnate who promised to “get along” with Russia and work on what he saw as common issues, including terrorism. Complicating that campaign promise are the politics of working with the country that reportedly hacked his political opponent to favor him and the reality on the ground in places like Syria, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has labeled as terrorists and even targeted American-backed rebels.

That tension came to a head with Tillerson’s big visit to Moscow, meeting with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Initially announced at the same time that the State Department said Tillerson would skip a NATO summit, critics were quick to pounce that the Trump administration was insulting European allies in favor of Russia.

At those meetings, Tillerson and Lavrov commented that U.S.-Russian relations were at their lowest point yet. They tried to paper over major differences on Syria and promised to take steps to work together down the line -- although no tangible changes have been announced so far.

Accelerating the fight against terrorism

The most apparent change in U.S. foreign policy may be what Trump has done to the military, pushing for a more robust, muscular presence to take on terror groups around the world.

The administration granted new capabilities to commanders in Yemen and Somalia, allowing them to conduct more airstrikes without individual White House approval. They returned strike authority to battlefield commanders in Iraq and Syria. And the military dropped the world’s largest, non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS cave complex in Afghanistan.

But the increased activity has created more risks, too. Early into his administration, a controversial raid in Yemen killed several civilians and a U.S. Navy SEAL. U.S. airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq, and Al Jinah, Syria, may have killed hundreds of civilians. The military is still investigating those claim but it did reveal that it accidentally bombed a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel position, killing 18 allied fighters.

In its fight against terror, the Trump administration has also targeted what it sees as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism -- Iran. While it reviews its Iran policy writ large, especially whether it will abide by the nuclear agreement, it has blasted Iran for its support for terrorists in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq; for harassing U.S. ships in international waters in the Persian Gulf; and for its missile tests and its continued pursuit of a nuclear bomb, according to Tillerson. That review should conclude in mid-July.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Trump opens the door to delaying funding of border wall

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The White House continues to send mixed signals over whether it will draw a hard line on requiring that funding for a border wall be included in any spending bill that hits the president's desk.

President Trump signaled to a gathering of conservative media on Monday that he may be open to a delay in funding for his proposed border wall.

The president said, according to tweets from conservative media at the gathering this evening, that his administration could get the funding for the wall this week or could come back to it in September.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) quickly seized on the remarks in an off-camera response Monday evening, saying it's good for the country that the president is taking the wall off the table in negotiations with Congress over government funding.

“It's good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations. Now the bipartisan and bicameral negotiators can continue working on the outstanding issues," Schumer said in a statement.

But when asked by ABC News on Tuesday morning, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president has not given up on getting funding for the wall now. He said funding for the border wall remains a White House priority for both the fiscal year 2017 and 2018 spending bills.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to block the passage of a last-minute appropriations bill if it includes funding for the wall.

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