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Wednesday
May162018

EPA chief Scott Pruitt to face more questions from Congress

Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency will face more questions Wednesday from lawmakers about his conduct and spending since taking over at the agency.

This time, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the agency's budget.

Pruitt is under multiple investigations into the cost of his security detail, travel, pay raises for aides, alleged retaliation against whistleblowers, and his time renting a condo in a Capitol Hill townhouse connected to lobbyists.

In opening statements, Democrats slammed Pruitt for the parade of scandals around his time at EPA, including his frequent use of first-class flights that the agency says were recommended for security reasons.

The full committee's Ranking Member, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, called Pruitt’s explanation for flying in first class a security precaution a "silly reason.”

“Nobody even knows who you are," Leahy added.

Democrats lamented the constant barrage of scandals at the agency, launching strongly-worded attacks on Pruitt’s conduct.

"Your tenure at the EPA is a betrayal of the American people,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., ranking member of the Senate Appropriations’ environmental subcommittee, told Pruitt.

In response to the criticism of his spending and other decisions at the agency, Pruitt repeated some of the defense he gave in testimony before House committees last month.

Pruitt deflected some of his spending decisions as a result of problems with the process at EPA, adding that he has instituted a new rule requiring additional approval for expenditures more than $5,000.

"There have been some decisions over the last 16 or so months that, as I look back on those decisions, I wouldn't make the same decisions again," Pruitt said.

On Tuesday, six Democrats on a separate Senate committee with oversight of EPA called for Pruitt to testify before their committee, saying that a new letter from the inspector general directly contradicts Pruitt's testimony to two House subcommittees last month.

In that letter to Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on Monday the EPA's internal watchdog said Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail before his first day at the agency.



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Wednesday
May162018

Senate releases insider accounts of Trump Tower meeting between campaign aides and Russian emissaries

Epics/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump may have weighed in directly as his lawyers crafted an initial response to news reports that his top campaign aides met in Trump Tower with Russian emissaries during the 2016 campaign, his son Donald Jr. said during his interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That first public response, according to documents released today, said the focus of the meeting was “adoptions” and failed to mention it came after the Russians had promised to deliver “dirt” on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton – an omission that has become a topic of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“He may have commented through Hope Hicks,” Trump Jr. told the Senate of one of the president’s closest and longest-serving aides. “I believe some [of Trump’s comments] may have been [incorporated into the formal response], but this was an effort through lots of people , mostly counsel.”

Trump Jr. later told the senators that he never mentioned to his father he was going to hold the meeting and did not think he talked with him about it immediately afterward.

“I wouldn't have wasted his time with it,” he said.

The disclosure was included in the roughly 2,500 pages of interview transcripts and other documents released by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning providing new inside accounts of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides to Donald Trump and Russian emissaries promising damaging political “dirt” on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

The newly released Senate interviews provide the most detailed look to date into what happened at the June 9, 2016 meeting in the offices of Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, decided earlier this year he would permit the release the 2,500 pages of transcripts, a decision welcomed by Democrats.

“Let’s get them out there for everyone to see,” Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters in January.

Trump Jr. said he welcomed the chance for the public to review his testimony.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have assisted the Judiciary Committee in its inquiry,” he said in a statement to ABC News. “The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the Committee.”

The planned gathering occurred two weeks after then-candidate Trump locked up the Republican nomination. Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort all gathered with a Kremlin-connected lawyer and her entourage in Trump Tower in Manhattan after being promised damaging political "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

The June 9 meeting quickly emerged as a key early focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference. It was initially pitched to Trump Jr. in an email from music publicist and former tabloid reporter Rob Goldstone who reached out at the request of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, who befriended Trump when his father agreed to sponsor the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. The Agalarov family is prominent in Moscow development circles and holds close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the senate in written answers to question that she had no idea if Trump Jr. knew her background.

“Whether Mr. Trump Jr. knew anything about me and my name is unknown to me,” she said.

Veselnitskaya later revealed in an interview on NBC and in emails obtained by ABC News that - contrary to her earlier denials of Russian government ties to Senate Judiciary Committee investigators - she is, in fact, closely linked to top Kremlin official, Yuri Chaika, the prosecutor general.

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she told NBC. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.” The revelation raised new questions about the purpose of the June meeting, which Trump Jr. initially explained away as being merely about Russian adoptions.

Numerous questions have swirled around the controversial private meeting since it first came to light, particularly after the eldest Trump son's shifting stories about the purpose of the meeting once it became known to reporters.

The Russian participants have largely maintained identical descriptions of the day’s events. Scott Balber, a New York lawyer who represents the Agalarovs and one of the meeting’s participants, Ike Kaveladze, told ABC News “the meeting itself was a big nothing.”

Of Goldstone’s promise of dirt, Balber said: “I think he has said publicly that he quote ‘goosed the story’ for the purpose of getting the folks in the Trump campaign to agree to the meeting.”

The first reports about the meeting, initially in the New York Times on July 8, 2017, sent off shock waves, as it was the first known private meeting between Russian nationals and Trump officials during the campaign.

When Trump Jr. first found out about the New York Times story, he said the meeting was about adoptions and mentioned nothing about a promise of political dirt on his father's political rival. When the Times presented material to the contrary, the Trump son released a statement saying, "After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

Trump Jr. then said the Russian lawyer turned the focus to Russian adoptions.

President Trump and his staff have insisted he was not involved in the meeting, but the Washington Post in late July 2017 reported that the President dictated his son's first misleading statement about the meeting to the New York Times, saying the meeting was about adoptions and not campaign-related issues.

After the incident, Trump's legal team spokesman, Mark Carrollo, according to Michael Wolf in his book "Fire and Fury, "seeing no good outcome — and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice — quit." ABC News first reported that Mueller sought an interview with Corallo afterward.

But Trump Jr. revised his account on Twitter soon after the Times broke the story, publishing his full e-mail exchange with Goldstone, including where he responded, "I love it" when offered the damaging information on Clinton. But - Trump Jr. said in the posting accompanying the release that he thought the information was simply "Political Opposition Research."

He then went on Fox News' Sean Hannity show with something of a mea culpa saying, “'In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” in reference to the meeting.

Kushner met behind closed doors for two hours with Senate investigators in late July 2017, telling reporters afterward of the handful of meetings he took with Russian officials, including at Trump Tower, "All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign,” adding unequivocally, “I did not collude with Russians, nor do I know of anyone in the campaign who did.”

Along with Veselnitskaya and her translator, Anatoli Samochornov, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, Goldstone, and Russian businessman Kaveladze attended the meeting.

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Wednesday
May162018

Michael Avenatti casts himself as anti-Trump avenger

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Michael Avenatti, the telegenic attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, has demonstrated an uncanny knack for commanding national media attention, first making headlines in early March when he filed a lawsuit against President Trump and his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate a once-secret $130,000 non-disclosure deal Daniels signed just days before the presidential election, attracted immediate, widespread attention.

In the two months since, Avenatti has become a near-daily fixture of cable news programs, advocating for Daniels - whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford - but also making a series of public disclosures about much broader issues in the ongoing investigations of Cohen in New York and by the Office of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

“I think Mr. Avenatti has gotten past the point at which he is only talking about issues that are related to his client,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Illinois. “Now he's become kind of a broader spokesperson on issues related to Michael Cohen or Donald Trump. And that's an unusual situation for a lawyer to be in.”

Last week Avenatti disclosed a summary of Cohen’s confidential banking records, He followed that up with a cryptic tweet on Sunday showing photos of Cohen stepping off elevators in the Trump Tower lobby during the presidential transition, escorting a high-ranking functionary of the government of Qatar.

“Unless I’m missing something, Cohen dealing with the Qataris isn't relevant to whether or not he paid hush money to Stormy Daniels,” said Paul Rosenzweig , a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning R Street Institute and a former Whitewater investigator. “It seems more like [Avenatti] is running a private effort to kind of spread on the public record some of what he thinks might be in the Mueller investigation.”

Avenatti’s disclosure of the banking records, which detailed large corporate payments to Cohen for consulting deals that began shortly after Trump entered the White House, did lead to revelations that Mueller had been probing Cohen’s business dealings for several months. It also prompted Cohen’s attorneys to point out some errors in the records. And, they asked a federal judge to require Avenatti to explain how he acquired information that the lawyers argued he had “no lawful basis to possess.”

The inspector general of the Treasury Department is now investigating possible leaks of Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, from Cohen’s financial institutions.

“Suspicious activity reports are confidential. They're not allowed to be leaked,” said Michael Volkov, a white-collar defense lawyer who spent seventeen years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

Volkov notes that the disclosure of the records came after Avenatti had spent weeks publicly cajoling the Treasury Department to release the reports, employing the Twitter hashtag, “#ReleaseTheSARs.”

“He's a PR show and he's trying to serve as a focal point for people to deliver information to,” Volkov said. “He's marketing, ‘Please bring the information on this stuff.’ And he's good at it. Look, give the guy credit, he's good at it. He doesn't have an army of lawyers behind him.”

Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney in Miami, puts it more bluntly: "I think he's the go-to guy for anyone that wants to keep their fingerprints off of information about Michael Cohen."

"I don't recall this effective a media campaign with finite factual elements," Coffey said. "Most things connected to President Trump get a multiplier with respect to the media, but we're still talking about a relatively discrete transaction for a hundred-thirty-thousand dollars with a non-disclosure agreement, which is certainly common enough. And yet from those finite factual elements, we've had a downpour that continues for weeks, for months, and the downpour keeps falling."

Avenatti has said he obtained his information legally, but he's declined to reveal the sources. He has defended his release of the records as protected by the First Amendment. And he’s promised that there’s more to come, while boldly predicting that Trump won't complete his term in the White House.

"I’m not going to disclose how we're getting the documents," Avenatti told ABC News recently. "We’ve only scratched the surface, though. We've got a lot of evidence and a lot of information that are coming to light in the coming days weeks and months."

Last month, a federal judge in California put Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump and Cohen on hold. Cohen sought the delay of the civil case to protect his rights during the criminal investigation ongoing in New York.

Cohen has not been charged with any crimes and -- through his attorneys -- he has denied any wrongdoing.

Yet in the absence of courtroom developments, Avenatti has still managed to create opportunities to keep his client's case in the news, while repeatedly questioning the integrity and truthfulness of the President and Cohen, his longtime fixer.

"Avenatti's client's interests are to show in court and to the public that Cohen and Trump cannot be trusted and should not be believed when they call her a liar," said Mimi Rocah, a long-time federal prosecutor in Manhattan, now a Criminal Justice Fellow at Pace Law School. "So, to that extent, I think he is representing her interests, albeit in a very non-traditional way."

Still, Rocah and other legal observers see risks in Avenatti's ever-expanding offensive against Cohen and Trump.

"He has made himself, in essence, a public figure who is asking the public to trust him by being the original source of some of the information that he has put out there," Rocah said. "The danger of this, in my view, is that even Avenatti has only bits and pieces of the whole story at his disposal right now. Prosecutors and investigators who have subpoena power and other powerful legal methods of investigation at their disposal are more likely to get all the facts and make sense of them and get at the truth whatever that is."

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Wednesday
May162018

James Comey not expected to appear at Senate Russia hearing

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former FBI Director James Comey is not expected to attend a closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday reviewing the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russia’s 2016 election interference efforts, according to a committee aide.

As part of its Russia investigation, the panel, which is reviewing the January 2017 report, invited four former intelligence community leaders to testify about the analysis compiled during the Obama administration that concluded, among other things, that the Kremlin targeted Hillary Clinton and favored President Donald Trump -- a finding questioned by some Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers are expected to appear on Capitol Hill Wednesday for the hearing, according to the committee.

Comey, who was fired by Trump last year and recently released a book about leadership that described his encounters with the president and likened Trump to a mafia boss seeking loyalty, was also invited to testify but is not expected to appear, according to the committee aide.

A representative for Comey did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, who recently wrapped up their own investigation, released a report last month that found “no evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and also accused the intelligence community of not using “proper analytic tradecraft” in its judgement of Russia President Vladimir Putin’s “strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election.”

Previously, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who led the committee’s Russia probe, told reporters that the Republican majority on the committee disputed the intelligence community’s January 2017 high-confidence determination that Putin “developed a clear preference” for Trump over Clinton, arguing that the claim was not properly supported.

House Democrats -- and several Republicans -- disputed that initial conclusion by the committee’s majority, which was not a part of the final report.

"The Minority has found no evidence that calls into question the quality and reliability of the [Intelligence Community Assessment's] underlying reporting and key judgments, including the assessment about President Putin’s desire to help candidate Trump," Democrats wrote in their own dissenting views. "The Minority likewise has found no reason to doubt the subject matter expertise and analytic rigor of the ICA’s authors, nor the review standards and process leading to the assessment’s production and release."

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the panel will release a separate report on its review of the intelligence community assessment.

In March, the committee released election security policy recommendations, while last week it released an interim report on election security.

That report concluded that Russian-linked hackers targeted election systems in at least 18 states. The committee found no evidence that any voters were changed as a result of Russian activities, but determined that hackers were in a position to alter or delete voter registration data in a few states.

Asked how the Senate’s review of the intelligence assessment would differ from the House Intelligence Committee’s determinations, Burr said, “I’m not sure that the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts.”

“We may have different opinions, but whatever we propose, whatever we assess -- we’re going to have the facts to show for that. So it may be that we don’t go as far as they did. It may be that we do,” he told reporters.

While Comey will not appear on Capitol Hill before the Senate, House Republicans have expressed renewed interest in questioning the former FBI director about his interactions with Trump and past congressional testimony following his media blitz.

The Justice Department inspector general is expected to release its report into Comey's actions and the FBI's handling of the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations in the coming weeks.

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Wednesday
May162018

Trevor Noah says McCain apology won't happen 'in Trump's world'

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Supporters of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have called on the White House to apologize for derogatory comments made by a staffer about the ailing politician, but they shouldn't expect an atonement any time soon, Trevor Noah said.

"You know, I understand what's happening here. In Trump's world, if you apologize, you're admitting that it happened," Noah said on "The Daily Show" Tuesday night. "For Trump, that's a sign of weakness."

Politicians on both sides of the aisle were outraged last week when reports surfaced that White House aide Kelly Sadler claimed McCain's opposition to Trump's nominee for CIA director "doesn't matter, because he's dying anyway."

The 81-year-old senator is battling brain cancer.

The comment in questions reportedly was made during a closed-door meeting, but Noah said that's no excuse for the White House's current inaction.

"Just because it wasn't meant to get out doesn't mean you can expect everyone to act like it didn't happen," Noah said. "That's not how this works."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the situation, refusing to "validate a leak one way or the other out of an internal staff meeting."

Noah said that was a lame excuse.

"Imagine if someone tried this technique in court," he joked. "It would be, like this:

"'Defendant how do you plead?'

"'I plead, Y'all were not supposed to know nothing about my drug dealing, so I'm not going to validate that with a response.'

"'Yeah, you're getting life.'"

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Tuesday
May152018

Michael Cohen battles Stormy Daniels' lawyer over publishing the former Trump attorney’s alleged confidential banking information 

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen and the publicity-savvy lawyer Michael Avenatti, who represents adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, are battling over whether Avenatti had the right to publish Cohen’s alleged confidential banking information last week.

Cohen asked a New York federal judge to shut Avenatti out of his court case because of the publication. On Tuesday, Avenatti shot back that he had a First Amendment right to publish information “of the utmost public concern,” according to court filings.

In a letter to Judge Kimba Wood on May 9, Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan asked Wood to deny Avenatti’s application for pro hac vice admission -- which is a request for a lawyer to appear in court despite being licensed in a different state -- because “Avenatti is apparently in possession of and has published information from some of Mr. Cohen’s actual bank records” that he has “no lawful basis to possess.”

Cohen’s attorneys further contended that Avenatti “has made numerous incorrect statements to the public in an apparent attempt to prejudice and discredit Mr. Cohen” in the case.

Cohen’s lawyers asked that if Avenatti wishes to enter the case, he must first explain to the court how he came to possess and release the records.

Cohen’s letter to the judge asserted that Avenatti’s document contains a “number of blatantly incorrect statements,” citing an example of a payment to an account in Toronto detailed in Avenatti’s documents that actually refers to a Michael Cohen who is a Canadian citizen; and another payment from a Kenyan bank that has also apparently identified the wrong Michael Cohen.

“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct in somehow obtaining random bank records and publishing them without proper concern for their accuracy is extremely troubling for the parties, in this case, the court, and the public,” according to Cohen’s filing.

Cohen admitted that some of the leaked information was correct, such as payments made to Cohen by business clients AT&T and Novartis. Nevertheless, Cohen claimed that Avenatti has “deliberately distorted information…for the purpose of creating a toxic mix of misinformation.”

Avenatti on Tuesday argued in court papers that he has “First Amendment rights of free speech to publish information on matters that, without serious dispute, are of the utmost public concern.”

Also, laws protecting bank privacy apply to the financial institutions and government entities that hold that information, and not to third parties like him, Avenatti argued.

Avenatti did not reveal how he obtained the confidential records, but said he was in his rights to publish them.

Finally, Avenatti said that almost all the information he made public was accurate.

“In fact, in less than 48 hours after it was published, more than 99 percent of the payments to Mr. Cohen listed in the report were proven accurate either by other reporting or by the entities themselves that made the payments,” Avenatti wrote.

Avenatti is a member of the California bar and has asked to intervene in the Cohen matter because some of the materials seized from Cohen in April relate to Cohen’s hush payment to Daniels after the actress claimed she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

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Tuesday
May152018

Judge throws out Manafort’s latest attempt to block Mueller

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Paul Manafort’s latest request to have one of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments against him thrown out was shot down Tuesday when a federal judge in Washington rejected the former Trump campaign chairman’s claim that the special counsel’s investigative mandate is too broad.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson roundly rejected Manafort’s motion to dismiss the special counsel’s indictment, citing several examples of legal rectitude for Mueller’s aggressive investigation of Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“The indictment falls squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable: the order to investigate ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign,’” Jackson wrote on Tuesday.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on Jackson’s memorandum opinion.

Manafort, 69, was indicted and pleaded not guilty in two criminal cases brought by the special counsel related to charges of money laundering and tax evasion, among other things.

Trump’s former campaign chairman has mounted multiple legal challenges to the criminal cases against him in Washington, D.C., and Virginia by arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mueller had exceeded their authority to investigate and charge him.

“The case did not arise in a vacuum, and the special counsel did not create his own job description,” Jackson wrote on Tuesday in defense of Mueller.

Earlier this month, Judge T.S. Ellis, a federal judge in Virginia, questioned the scope of Mueller’s investigation, at times warning against “unfettered power” and calling attention to the fact that charges against Manafort predate his time on the Trump campaign.

“None of it had any relation to the campaign,” Ellis said during the April 4 hearing.

Later that day, Trump praised Judge Ellis as “really something very special...he's a respected person" during his address to the National Rifle Association.

Jackson, in her Tuesday memorandum opinion, appeared to push back on Ellis’ skepticism of the special counsel’s broad mandate, arguing that Rosenstein granted Mueller the power to investigate “any matters that arose” from his immediate probe of Russian meddling.

“Even if a judge were to conclude that the regulations could give rise to rights that can be enforced in a courtroom,” Judge Jackson wrote in her memorandum, “the Acting Attorney General did not violate those regulations when he exercised his statutory authority to authorize the Special Counsel to investigate not only ‘links and/or coordination,’ but also, ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.’”

Manafort’s trial in Virginia is scheduled to begin on July 10, and his Washington, D.C., trial is slated for September.

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Tuesday
May152018

Senate Republicans don't press Trump on McCain insult during meeting

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Despite some Senate Republicans expressing anger over a derogatory comment made by a White House aide about their colleague, GOP Sen. John McCain, they didn't raise the issue with President Donald Trump during a luncheon Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

"No, the issue didn't come up," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said when reporters pressed him on whether he encouraged the president to urge the staffer to apologize.

"Well, the person who said that should apologize and should apologize publicly," McConnell said.

"The president was in a very good mood, and really quite funny," McConnell said on the overall tone of the meeting.

GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said it wasn't the right time or place to raise the issue with Trump.

"This wasn't that kind of meeting," Kennedy said. "I think the comments were rude, crude and unconscionable. And I think the staffer ought to apologize and the administration ought to apologize. But this was not that kind of meeting."

Earlier, on his way into the luncheon, Trump ignored a reporter's question asking if he were going to apologize to McCain.

Last week, White House aide Kelly Sadler said McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel’s nomination to be the next CIA Director didn't matter because he’s “dying anyway," multiple White House officials confirmed to ABC News.

Sadler has still not apologized publicly.

The senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, said on ABC's "The View" that she asked Sadler to publicly apologize and she agreed to it, but "I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come."

Senate Republicans have been openly fuming about Sadler's comment.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday that McCain’s family is owed respect and an apology.

"If I had said that, I would apologize,” Grassley said.

McCain’s closest ally in the Senate – GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – called the comment “disgusting.”

“It's [a] pretty disgusting thing to say, if it was a joke, it was a terrible joke,” Graham said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

“I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that's not who we are in the Trump administration.”

When was asked if President Trump should apologize for the comment: "I'll leave that up to him, but if something happened like that in my office -- somebody in my office said such a, such a thing about somebody, I would apologize on behalf of the office,” Graham said.

GOP Rep. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska tweeted on Sunday: “As to the White House official who offered such an insult, she should show some respect and apologize.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in on the controversy from the Senate floor on Monday. He mounted an impassioned defense of McCain and called him a “genuine American hero.”

"We had some laughs and even reminisced about the battles; sometimes we were on the same side, and sometimes we weren’t," McConnell said. "But one thing about our colleague, John McCain -- you’d rather be on his side than not."

House Speaker Paul Ryan praised McCain’s legacy in a pre-taped interview with HLN last week, and said McCain is a “hero” who has helped “save our military.”

"His legacy is so long that John McCain is a hero to us and John McCain all of our thoughts and prayers are with John and his family right now at this time," Ryan said.

Multiple White House officials told ABC News that press secretary Sarah Sanders scolded her press and communications team on Friday morning for the leak. Sanders called the comment "unacceptable,” senior White House officials confirmed. Sadler, who was at the meeting, did not apologize to her colleagues for the comment.

A senior White House official told ABC News they don't expect Sadler will be fired.

"She had no intent. She said something she shouldn't have said and apologized to the family right away," according to a White House official.

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Tuesday
May152018

Nikki Haley denies Gaza violence is related to new US Embassy in Jerusalem

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council Tuesday, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley denied the violence in Gaza Monday had anything to do with the U.S. opening up its new embassy in Jerusalem.

“Rather, the violence comes from those who reject the existence of the state of Israel in any location,” Haley said. “The location of the embassy has no bearing on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. … It does not undermine the prospects for peace in any way.”

Haley placed the blame for the violence, in which at least 60 people were killed according to Gaza’s health ministry, squarely on Hamas terrorists, backed by Iran.

A vocal supporter of Israel, Haley walked out of the Security Council meeting in protest before the Palestinian representative addressed the chamber.

Haley attempted to move attention to Iran throughout her remarks, chastising the Security Council for not focusing more on Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. “That is violence that should occupy our attention, too,” Haley said.

While other representatives condemned the killing of Palestinians by live fire in the strongest terms, Haley merely said, “We are all concerned about violence in the Middle East. The United States deplores the loss of human life.”

Haley went further than other Trump administration officials in talking about whether Israel should show restraint. Until Tuesday, White House deputy press Security Raj Shah and a State Department spokesperson both agreed Israel has a right to defend itself, but would not say whether Israel has a responsibility to act with restraint.

But Haley claimed Israel’s response to protestors has indeed been restrained, saying “no country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process, began the session with a markedly different tone, calling Monday's events a tragedy for the Palestinians.

“Who can find the words to console the mother of a child that has been killed? Who?” Mladenov asked. He called on Israel to protect their borders proportionally, and to investigate every incident that causes loss of life. He also said the international community must step in to prevent war in the region.

Kuwait called for the emergency session Monday, and also proposed a draft statement that would have called for an independent investigation into the deadly violence. But the United States blocked the adoption of the statement, according to a UN Security Council diplomat.

“We regret the Security Council was unable to adopt the draft statement,” Kuwait’s Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi said.

The Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, responded by calling for a “transparent, independent, and international inquiry to be conducted.”

“The occupation is the main source of violence in our region. Any attempt to falsify this by some does not match reality. To those who have different rhetoric and agendas, why have you so often blocked a transparent, independent, international inquiry?” Mansour said, without directly referring to the United States. He also criticized the UN Security Council for inaction on Palestine.

Before the session, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told reporters Hamas has committed a “double war crime” for inciting both Israel and its own people. Danon said Israel regrets every casualty, but the people on the border are a “mob” carrying explosives.



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Tuesday
May152018

CIA nominee Gina Haspel earns Dem support, likely securing confirmation 

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- CIA nominee Gina Haspel has told Congress that she now feels the spy agency should not have undertaken the harsh interrogations program of al Qaeda detainees that included waterboarding.

Haspel's comments came in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who later on Tuesday said he would support Haspel's nomination. With three additional Democrats supporting her nomination, it appears that Haspel now has the votes to be confirmed by the full Senate.

In the letter sent to Warner on Monday, Haspel also acknowledged that it was "a mistake" for the CIA not to have briefed Congress about the program at its inception.

Haspel comments went further than those she expressed publicly during her contentious confirmation hearing last week.

Last week Haspel told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that, should she be confirmed, she would not bring back the agency's controversial rendition, detainee, and interrogation program.

“I don't believe that torture works," she told the committee, but she stopped short of saying whether the interrogation program was "immoral" or should have ever been carried out.

"With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken," she wrote in a letter sent Monday to Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

"While I won't condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world," Haspel continued.

Haspel, poised to potentially become the first woman to head the CIA, faced pointed questions during last week's hearing about her reported role in the CIA's "black sites" — overseas prisons the agency used to hold top al Qaeda terrorists.

In the letter to Warner, she also wrote that "it was a mistake not to brief the entire Committee at the beginning."

"Both the committee and the Agency shared the goal of obtaining the critical intelligence needed to thwart another attack," Haspel wrote. "CIA needs to have consensus from members of the oversight committees who make decisions on behalf of the American people as their elected representatives on activities that can't be made public."

Later Tuesday, Warner acknowledged that Haspel's comments in writing had helped in his "difficult decision" to support her nomination.

"There are valid questions that have been raised regarding the Acting Director’s record, and I have been frank with Ms. Haspel that I wish she had been more open with the American public during this process," Warner said in a statement.

"However, in both our one-on-one meetings and in classified session before the Committee, I found Acting Director Haspel to be more forthcoming regarding her views on the interrogation program, which is why I asked her to memorialize those comments in writing. I also take to heart the strong support Ms. Haspel has among rank-and-file members of the intelligence community and from intelligence community leaders who served under President Obama," Warner's statement said.

In addition to Warner's key expression of support, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota joined Senators Joseph Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana in supporting Haspel's nomination. The three senators face tough re-election battles in states where President Trump won by large margins in 2016.

In her letter, Haspel reaffirmed that "as Director she would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values."

She disclosed that in the classified hearing before the committee that followed the open confirmation hearing she stressed that "every operation I review must not only meet those high standards, the activity must also be consistent with CIA's mission, expertise, and the law.

"I do not and would not hesitate to reject a proposal that fails to meet this threshold," Haspel wrote.

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