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Wednesday
Oct182017

Greg Pence, brother of the vice president, may be running for Congress 

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Greg Pence, an older brother of Vice President Mike Pence, appears to be preparing a run for Congress in Indiana’s 6th District.

The seat was represented by the vice president for more than 10 years before he became governor of the state, and is currently represented by Rep. Luke Messer, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Democrat Joe Donnelly.

In paperwork filed with the IRS, “Greg Pence for Congress Inc.” was formed to “establish a federal principal campaign committee exempt from federal income tax under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, for purposes of conducting a campaign in 2018 for the election of Greg Pence as United States Representative in Indiana.”

Greg Pence also submitted a statement of candidacy Wednesday, according to paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Greg Pence is currently serving as the statewide finance chairman for Messer’s Senate campaign.

A spokesperson for Messer’s Senate campaign did not immediately respond when asked for comment by ABC News.

Craig Kunkle is listed as the point of contact and custodian of records for Greg Pence's committee. Mr. Kunkle did not immediately reply when asked for comment by ABC News.

If Greg Pence does enter the race, he would have instant name recognition in the district. Other candidates for the GOP nomination in the district include State Sen. Mike Crider and businessman Jonathan Lamb.

Democrats in the state pounced on the news.

"If you thought one Pence was damaging enough to our state's economy, wait until you see what a second can do. Mike Pence was so blinded by his political ambition that he divided the state, cost our economy $60 million and set himself on track to lose the governorship had he not been parachuted out," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody wrote in a statement. "Now comes Greg Pence, so blinded by his own ambitions that he's willing to overlook the damage his brother caused to the Indiana economy. Voters must hope that he doesn't represent a second helping of that harm."

Democrats, however, face long odds to win the seat. President Trump won Indiana's 6th District by more than 40 points in the 2016 presidential election.

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Wednesday
Oct182017

Trump bringing John Kelly into fallen soldier controversy was hurtful, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says

US Department of Defense(NEW YORK) -- Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized President Donald Trump’s recent comments regarding his predecessor’s outreach to the families of fallen soldiers, saying it was ill-advised to point to the experience of his chief of staff John Kelly.

“He’s intensely private about not only his own service but certainly what happened to his son,” Panetta told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the Powerhouse Politics podcast. “It’s very regrettable that the president decided to throw him into the argument. It really in a very real way not only hurts I think both John Kelly and his family, but it demeans the presidency.”

Kelly’s son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. On Tuesday, the president pointed to his chief of staff’s own experience when his son died.

"As far as other presidents, I don't know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from [then-President Barack] Obama? I don't know what Obama's policy was," the president said during a radio interview Tuesday.

“This president has a way of just throwing ... names out there in a way to kind of defend what he’s doing, and it’s harmful,” Panetta said. “John Kelly is a patriot. He’s a Marine who put his life on the line and his son is a patriot as well, having given his life.

“I just always felt that John felt very deeply about what had happened with his son, that it was deeply personal, and I just I really hesitate to even begin to comment,” Panetta said of Kelly, who served as his senior military adviser during his time at the Pentagon. “Really knowing John and knowing his family, I really think they would prefer privacy on this issue.”

Panetta, who led the defense department under Obama, said the president’s comments questioning the practices of his predecessors when American soldiers were killed in the line of duty diverts attention from their sacrifice and service.

“When the president made his comment, he made the focus about him, about President Obama and what he did and didn’t do, and I think really distracted from what the country ought to focus on, which is the sacrifices of those individuals and those families.”

The former secretary of defense, who himself interacted with Gold Star families, said Obama wrote letters, made phone calls and visited in person with military families who lost their loved ones.

Panetta argued it’s the sentiment -- not the method in which it’s expressed -- that’s most important.

“It’s not so much what you do or what you decide to do," he said. "I think the most important question is whether it comes from the heart, really expresses the compassion and thanks of a grateful nation.”

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Wednesday
Oct182017

Sessions defends travel ban as 'lawful,' 'necessary,' day after parts were blocked

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended President Donald Trump's third travel ban Wednesday, the day it was set to go into effect, as a "lawful" and "necessary" order that the Department of Justice is "proud to defend."

The Trump administration's attempts to restrict travel from some overseas countries in the name of national security, which range back to January, were dealt its most recent setback Tuesday when a Hawaiian district court judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking part of the ban. The most recent ban, the third iteration, restricted immigration and travel to the U.S. from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

"The president's executive order is an important step to ensuring that we know who is coming into our country," Sessions said during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning. "It is a lawful necessary order that we are proud to defend."

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson, who also issued a temporary restraining order on the second version of the ban that was later converted into a preliminary injunction, wrote Tuesday that the third executive order "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: It lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be 'detrimental to the interests of the United States.'"

An additional district court in Maryland later granted a preliminary injunction on the ban.

Sessions pointed out Wednesday that the Supreme Court previously permitted parts of the second version of the order to take effect in June. He additionally expressed confidence that the administration would eventually succeed, should the matter again make its way to the country's highest court.

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Wednesday
Oct182017

Oversight committee may subpoena USDA, DOJ over air travel

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee is sending a warning shot to federal agencies and the White House for not fully complying with the panel's investigation into administration air travel.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., could subpoena the Departments of Justice and Agriculture at the end of the month if the agencies do not turn over flight records or make a "good faith commitment" to respond to the panel, according to a new letter sent to the departments and obtained by ABC News.

"If you have not complied with the request or satisfactorily provided a good faith commitment for complying in full on or before October 31, 2017, the chairman intends to issue a subpoena for the materials," the letter reads.

Gowdy, along with Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a second round of letters to 24 federal agencies and the White House Tuesday seeking information about the use of government and private aircraft.

The White House, Treasury and several additional agencies did not fully comply with the initial request for flight records, according to the committee, which has asked them to turn over additional records by the end of the month. Representatives for Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

In a two-page letter to the committee last week, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short declined to turn over flight records, referring the panel to various federal agencies.

On Tuesday the House Oversight Committee also expanded on their initial request, asking the White House and all agencies to provide the requested flight records for any air travel in the last year of the Obama administration, between January 1, 2016 and January 19, 2017.

Ten agencies -- including the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior -- turned over all requested records to the committee, including flight manifests, records of government and non-commercial aircraft use, travel justifications and cost estimates.

The House Oversight Committee started investigating agency air travel after reports that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spent hundreds of thousands of dollars flying on private jets for government work.

Price resigned in late September over the controversy. The White House also cracked down on private air travel, putting in place a new policy requiring chief of staff John Kelly to sign off on Cabinet officials' non-commercial air travel.

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Wednesday
Oct182017

Nancy Pelosi visits memorial for Las Vegas shooting victims

Twitter/CityOfLasVegas(LAS VEGAS) -- House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi headed to Las Vegas Tuesday to pay her respects to the victims of the shooting earlier this month. Gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire during a country music festival killing 58 attendees.

Pelosi, joined by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada, spent time at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, which was built after volunteers worked around the clock to create it in less than a week.

"This has become a center of humanity that is setting a standard around the world," Mayor Carolyn Goodman said.

 The garden consists of a remembrance wall, where visitors leave photos behind of the massacre's victims.

Pelosi wrote a message to one of the victims, Stacee Etcheber, writing "To Stacee and all the angels remembered here. You will always be in our hearts."

 There are also 58 trees of life planted there to honor each of the victims.

"When you're in a garden it's about renewal and rebirth," Pelosi said.


Pelosi also met with the creators of the garden, which was documented in a pair of photos the city of Las Vegas tweeted.


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Wednesday
Oct182017

Trump denies telling widow of fallen soldier 'he knew what he signed up for'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump Wednesday denied telling the widow of a fallen U.S. soldier "he knew what he signed up for" in a phone call he made Tuesday, contradicting a Florida congresswoman who said she was with the woman at the time.

Rep. Frederica Wilson said she was with Myeshia Johnson in a car headed to Miami International Airport Tuesday afternoon to meet the body of Johnson's late husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who died in Africa this month, when the president called.

In an interview with CNN Tuesday night, the Democratic congresswoman said of Trump's comment about Sgt. Johnson: "Basically, he said, 'Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for. But I guess it still hurt.' That's what he said."

Trump denied Wilson's claim and said he had a "very nice conversation" with Johnson, "who sounded like a lovely woman."

"I didn't say what that congresswoman said, and she knows it," Trump told reporters Wednesday at the White House. "I didn't say it at all."

Trump also tweeted Wednesday morning, "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof)."

When asked about his claim of "proof" that disputes Wilson's account, the president said Wednesday from the Oval Office, "Let her make her statement again and then you’ll find out."

Rep. Wilson responded Wednesday to Trump's tweet, calling him a "sick man" and saying she has her own proof.

"I'm not trying to prove anything with the president,” Wilson said in an interview with CNN Wednesday morning. “So the president evidently is lying.

“Because what I said is true. I have no reason to lie on the president of the United States. With a dead soldier in my community. I have no time. I have no motive.”

Early Wednesday Trump called that description a "total fabrication" and suggested Wilson would issue a correction to her statement. Instead, Wilson doubled down on her criticism of the president.

"It was the wrong thing to say, but that’s not the worst part," Wilson said. "He did not even know La David Johnson’s name. He kept referring to him as your guy. He never called his name. So that was even more painful."

Wilson said other family members who overheard the conversation also seemed upset by it.

"He didn’t call her by name, he didn’t call anyone by name. He was just talking. That was so insensitive and so terrible and I felt insulted, and I’m sure the widow felt insulted and everyone else in the car was just shaking their heads," she said.

The president also said in a tweet Wednesday he had "proof" Wilson wasn't telling the truth. White House spokesman Sarah Sanders later said the president was referring to officials who were in the room with Trump during the call and could corroborate his version of the conversation. Sanders said there is no recording of the call.

Sanders called Wilson's actions "disgusting" and accused her of politicizing the death of a soldier. "I think it's appalling what the congresswoman has done and the way she's politicized this issue and the way that she's trying to make this about something that it isn't," she said.

Wilson, for her part, does not deny politicizing the call. When asked about it by ABC News, she said she's a politician and acts as a voice for the people. "When I pick up a puppy, I'm politicizing it," Wilson said.

She also said the deadly ambush in Niger that killed Sgt. Johnson and three other special operations soldiers leaves so many unanswered questions that "this is going to be Mr. Trump's Benghazi," a reference to the 2012 attack that killed four Americans.

When asked by ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV whether she was sure about what she heard Trump say, Wilson responded, "Yeah, he said that. To me that is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn’t say that to a grieving widow. And everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive. But you don’t remind a grieving widow of that. That’s so insensitive."

La David Johnson died earlier this month in Niger when he was ambushed by militants believed to be linked to ISIS. His pregnant widow broke down in tears hugging his casket Tuesday as it was unloaded from the airplane.

Wilson told WPLG, "Now I didn’t hear the entire conversation, but when I tried to find out what the entire conversation was, she said I just can’t remember everything that he said. But that stood out in everyone’s, uh heart, on the call. You don’t say that. He is the president of the United States.”

“This is a soldier who gave his life for his country. He is a hero in our minds, in our communities’ minds, that is an insult to the entire Miami Gardens community, to our entire District 24, to Miami-Dade County, and to this nation. And I hope he did not say that to the other 3 families that he called,” she added.

The full context of the president's comment as described by Wilson is not known.

And the White House has declined to comment on the remarks that are being attributed to Trump.

"The president's conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private," a White House official told ABC News Tuesday night.

The controversy comes just a day after Trump criticized former President Obama for not always reaching out to the family of fallen soldiers. Trump was asked why he hadn't reached out to the families of victims of the Niger attack, and he responded by criticizing former presidents.

"If you look at President [Barack] Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I am able to do it," Trump said on Monday. "They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally I would say that I like to call. I'm going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass. I'm going to be calling them."

Trump made calls to family members of all four killed servicemen on Tuesday.

In an appearance on ABC News' The View Wednesday, Wilson elaborated on her reaction, saying she wanted to confront the president and "cuss him out."

As for Johnson's reaction, Wilson said, "She was crumbled up in a ball.... She had just found out that her husband would not be able to have an open-casket funeral because of the condition of the body. So she was grief-stricken.

"She said he doesn't even know his name," Wilson said of the widow.

Wilson said she was not politicizing anything by sharing what she heard from the phone call.

"He died as a sergeant. He died as a hero," Wilson said.

She added, "And Mr. Trump was extremely insensitive to that family and I will stick by that. I'm not trying to politicize it, but I think it was a disgrace."

Despite the president's pushback, Wilson is standing by her remarks.

Sgt. Johnson's mother told The Washington Post that Wilson's remarks are "accurate."

Asked by ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV whether she was sure about what she heard Trump say, Wilson responded, "Yeah, he said that. To me, that is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn't say that to a grieving widow. And everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive. But you don't remind a grieving widow of that. That's so insensitive."

Johnson was one of four soldiers killed in Niger when a joint patrol of American and Niger forces was ambushed Oct. 4 by militants believed linked to ISIS. Johnson enlisted in the Army in January 2014 as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic and was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, a Green Beret unit based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The military says his body was found Friday after an extensive search; his body was initially listed as missing.

The bodies of the three other U.S. troops were recovered shortly after the attack, which also killed four Niger military members. The U.S. and Niger forces were leaving a meeting with tribal leaders when they were ambushed.

Johnson, mother to the couple's 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, is expecting their third child in January.

A GoFundMe account set up to pay for education costs for the couple's three children skyrocketed on Tuesday evening. The campaign, which was set up on Tuesday, met its goal of $100,000 and kept climbing to over $146,000 by 3 a.m. on Wednesday. Over 3,100 people had donated to the fund early Wednesday. TV producer Bill Prady donated $5,000 to the campaign and offered to match donors for another $5,000.


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Wednesday
Oct182017

President Trump weighs in on tearing down Columbus statues

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump waded into a new statue controversy on Tuesday night when he called out people who want to tear down statues of Christopher Columbus.

"We believe we should preserve our history, not tear it down," Trump said in remarks he delivered Tuesday night at the Heritage Foundation's annual President's Club gathering. "Now they are even trying to destroy statues of Christopher Columbus. What's next? Has to be stopped, it's heritage."

Calls for Columbus statues to be torn down have flared up around the country in the wake of similar calls for Confederate statues to be removed. The threat of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia incited riots between supporters and protesters and left one woman dead in August.

The Columbus controversy has been most prominent in New York City, where a 76-foot tall statue of the Italian explorer rises over Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park. The monument, designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, was officially unveiled in October 1892.

In the wake of the Charlottesville incident, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio commissioned a 90-day review of all the statues in the city.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called on the city to include the Columbus statue in that review, telling New York ABC station WABC, "There are still to this day conversations happening because of the monuments, other Columbus statues, being talked about. I would want the commission to look at that statue as well."

Columbus has drawn criticism for starting the European colonization of the Americas, his brutal treatment of native people and beginning the transatlantic slave trade.

De Blasio has been mum on whether he would tear down the Columbus statue, saying he will wait until the review is finished to comment, but even that has drawn ire from Italian-American groups in the city. Organizers of the Bronx Columbus Day parade said the mayor was not welcome at the march, according to WABC, but de Blasio did march in the larger Columbus Day parade in Manhattan.

The debate over Columbus was also interjected into the New York City mayoral race, with de Blasio's Republican opponent Nicole Malliotakis calling on the statue to remain in Columbus Circle.

 ABC News has reached out to the White House to clarify Trump's comments and ask for what incident he was specifically referring to Tuesday.

Several statutes of Columbus have been vandalized recently, including ones in Pittsburgh, Providence and St. Louis.

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Tuesday
Oct172017

Senators reach deal to continue Obamacare insurance subsidy payments

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to halt government payments that subsidize insurance plans for low-income Americans, Senate leaders agreed "in principle" to a bill that would cover the payments for two years.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee announced Tuesday that he reached an agreement with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee's ranking member. The senators each made brief presentations on the deal at lunches with their respective parties.

According to one source with knowledge of the bill, the agreement contains $160 million to restore outreach and enrollment funding for the Affordable Care Act.

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

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Tuesday
Oct172017

Independent economists on why they aren't buying Trump's tax plan promise

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump told the audience at a Heritage Foundation event in Washington Tuesday night that his administration's tax plan will boost the average American household income by $4,000. The figure was included in a report from White House economists published on Monday.

"Our tax plan will ensure that companies stay in America, grow in America, and hire in America," Trump said Tuesday night.

While the president previously made the pitch at speech in Pennsylvania last week, independent economists say the estimate is inflated and unrealistic.

White House Chief Economist Kevin Hassett has long advocated for a concept popular among many Republicans known as "supply-side economics," the view that tax cuts can spur investment, raise worker productivity and lead to higher wages and a stronger economy at all levels.

Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate at the non-partisan Urban Institute's Tax Policy Center, agreed that cutting federal corporate taxes from 35 percent to 20 percent, as the White House has proposed, could increase corporate profits. That could, in turn, spark wage growth, something economists say has been lacking since the Great Recession.

However, "the number is way too large and outside the range of plausible estimates," said Rosenberg, whose research focuses on business and corporate taxation.

William G. Gale, a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and former senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush, said while it is important to understand this relationship between corporate tax cuts, growth, and wages, the estimates "are way too high and not well-justified."

Both economists expressed concern over the plan's potential to increase the national debt, which could offset the benefits the Trump administration is hoping for.

Gale told ABC News that the report leaves out the outcome of higher deficits, which could raise interest rates and hurt investments.

Both Gale and Rosenberg said a more reasonable result in annual household income would be about 10 percent of the White House's estimated increase, or about $400 per household per year. In 2016, the average household income was $83,143, according to the Trump administration’s report.

"Even that may be an overestimate of the net effect because it does not account for deficits," Gale said.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs, a former employer of many current White House economic advisers, told clients to expect a "modest" impact from Trump's plan.

“Overall, the research literature appears to suggest that tax cuts can have modestly positive supply-side effects, though some studies find no effect," the report stated.

A 2012 Obama administration report directly contradicts the current administration's suggestion that workers would benefit the most from such a corporate tax cut. But the paper is no longer on the Treasury Department's website.

When asked by ABC News about the report's removal, a Treasury spokesperson said the paper was "a dated staff analysis from the previous administration" and "does not represent our current thinking and analysis."

Jay Shambaugh, a professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University and former chief economist for the Obama administration, is also skeptical of Trump's tax plan. He said the suggestion of the average household income in the United States increasing by $4,000 annually is "unlikely" and the evidence used in the report is weak.

"Sensible, revenue-neutral business tax reform could increase growth, but simply cutting the rate in a way that increases deficits will also have offsetting losses for growth," Shambaugh told ABC News.

He cited the likelihood of reduced government investment as deficits increase due to less tax revenue.

The report suggests that the president will use the "$4,000 pay raise," as he called it in a speech in Pennsylvania last week, as the central argument for the plan.

The plan is heavily supported by GOP leadership like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and right-leaning groups such as Americans for Prosperity, but President Trump has plenty of work ahead of him to pass the notoriously difficult tax reform. Sen. Bob Corker said earlier this month that he would vote against any bill that added "even one penny" to the national deficit.

Despite the disagreement from many outside economists and some budget hawk Republicans, the president will be speaking tonight to a crowd at the Heritage Foundation that has typically supported his agenda across the board.

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Tuesday
Oct172017

Sean Spicer interviewed by special counsel team

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer met with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s staff Monday as part of the expanding probe into potential collusion with Russia on election interference efforts in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. The news was first reported by Politico.

Spicer, who left his post as President Donald Trump’s first White House press secretary in August, follows his former boss and longtime ally Reince Priebus, who met with investigators last week.

In an interview with last month, when asked about the Russia investigation by ABC News' Paula Faris, Spicer provided a consistent response to repeated questions on the subject: “I’m not gonna discuss that issue at all.”

An attorney for Spicer, Chris Mead, declined to comment when reached by phone by ABC News.

Mueller’s team has indicated they’re interested in speaking with additional current and former White House aides, among them White House counsel Don McGahn and communications director Hope Hicks.

In June, ABC News reported that Mueller requested that White House officials preserve any records related to Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

ABC News also reported that Mueller wants to talk to some top aides who were involved in crafting the initial statement Trump Jr. gave in response to inquiries about the Trump Tower meeting, according to a source familiar with the conversation. The meeting was also attended by Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort.

Mueller, the source said, is interested in learning the extent to which the president weighed in on the statement, along with whether anyone else was involved in its crafting. ABC News has reported that President Trump was personally involved in the crafting of the original statement made by his son.

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