In new campaign ad, Bullock looks for silver lining after not making debate stage

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- If there's a silver lining for 2020 Democratic candidates who didn't make the cut for the first Democratic debates later this month, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is certainly looking for it.

As the only candidate elected in a state that also voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Bullock has argued that the DNC is blocking the one Democrat who can truly connect with Trump voters. He's taking advantage of not making the debate stage to emphasize what's he accomplished working with a Republican legislature in Montana -- and giving his campaign a chance at what his many rivals in the 2020 field wish for: a moment to stand apart from the pack.

Capitalizing on that moment, it took just a day after the DNC's announcement, Bullock's campaign to issue a fundraising call. In a new campaign ad obtained exclusively by ABC News, a man born and raised in Montana sits in the bed of his truck and rails against the DNC's decision not to include the governor on the debate stage.

"Yeah, I heard the news," says Jock Conyngham, a 63-year-old ecologist who comes from a long line of Montana ranchers. "DNC is saying Gov. Bullock doesn’t qualify for the debates. That’s horses--t."

Conyngham's dog, Muddy, sits nearby and on his lap is a local newspaper with a headline about Montana Democrats blasting the DNC.

"You don't need to be from Montana to know that anybody who wins by four, same election Trump wins by 20, is doing something right here," Conynham says. "He doesn’t qualify -- really?"

It's the second campaign ad Bullock's team has released that focuses primarily on the debates. An earlier ad, released a day before the announcement, featured a young woman from Montana who said Bullock wouldn't make the stage because he was too busy working on health care in the state.

Though he came close, Bullock was one of three major candidates to not qualify for the debate stage ahead of the first debate in June in Miami, an event that will draw millions of Democratic primary voters and offer exposure that could give candidates a boost.

The governor was on the cusp of meeting the DNC’s requirements and even briefly considered by media outlets to have met the threshold up until a recent DNC rule change, which removed one of the polls that would’ve qualified the Montana governor for the stage. After the change was publicized, Bullock qualified in only two polls accepted by the DNC. His campaign also did not meet the donor threshold.

“When the DNC blocks the leading Democratic voice on rural America from contributing to our Party's vision, we’re only making it that much easier for Donald Trump to be a two-term president,” said Galia Slayen, Bullock's communications director. She described the rules as "set by Washington elites."

The DNC rules for the June and July debates stipulate a candidate must either net at least 1% in three national or early-state polls conducted between January 2019 and two weeks before a given debate, or receive donations from more than 65,000 people across 20 states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state.

The DNC's recent rule change led to a Hail Mary effort late Wednesday night, just hours before the DNC began certifying each candidate for the stage. Bullock's campaign manager Jennifer Ridder wrote a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez and told him they had submitted documents to join the debate.

Bullock "has met the threshold for qualification for the first debate," Ridder argued Wednesday, and “looks forward to joining his colleagues on the stage for this important occasion."

Bullock also made the case in an op-ed Wednesday that the DNC not including him in the debate would be a sign the Democratic Party has not "learned the right lesson from the 2016 election." By Thursday evening, however, Bullock was resigned to not taking the debate stage.

“I'm disappointed with the DNC,” Bullock said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. But asked if he would challenge the DNC’s decision, Bullock demurred.

“Chuck, you just showed the board of everyone that’s going to be on there, so certainly, you know — disappointed,” he said, referring to a graphic of each of the 20 candidates who will be on the stage, including front-runners like former Vice President Joe Biden and lesser-known candidates like entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Previously, media outlets including POLITICO, MSNBC and ABC News had considered Bullock to have hit the polling threshold in three polls, including a Washington Post/ABC News poll, but the DNC later publicly said that poll was not eligible because it was open-ended.

A spokesperson for the DNC said they made the Bullock campaign aware that the poll would not count back in March.

But in her letter Wednesday, Ridder defended the February poll results, saying "polling experts agree that it's actually harder to get 1% in an open-ended vote question than when a list is provided." She argued that the DNC didn’t specify against open-ended polls in its original rules or certification rules.

"Since there is no sufficient warrant to exclude such a poll in either of the original rules or in the Polling Method Certification form promulgated by the DNC this week, the poll meets the DNC requirements and is valid," Ridder wrote.

The DNC did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Two other 2020 candidates, Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, also fell short of the debate qualifications.

Messam, whose hometown of Miramar is just minutes from where the first debate will be held in June in Miami, told ABC News last week that he wasn't sure of the "system or rationale" behind the requirements developed by the DNC.

"But it'll definitely stifle the diversity of candidates that would be able to be heard on the debate stage," Messam predicted. Messam didn't hit the donor threshold and hit 1% in one poll.

In an interview at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Thursday, Moulton, who did not hit the donor threshold or 1% in any polls, said he hadn't expected to make the first debate because he entered the race later than most candidates.

The congressman said he wasn't concerned he didn't make the debate but also said he's "not naive."

"Look, it's a big field. And, you know, we poll very well among people who know me but most Americans just don't know me yet, because I'm new to the race," Moulton said.

And there's a long road ahead, a campaign spokesperson pointed out.

"At this point in 2016, Trump wasn't even in the race. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was the presumed nominee, and in 2004 we were preparing for President Howard Dean," said Moulton's national press secretary Matt Corridoni.

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Trump blames Iran for oil tanker attack, won't say how US plans to respond

CENTCOM/ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday directly blamed Iran for the attack on two oil tankers in Gulf of Oman, pointing to video the Pentagon released as evidence of Iran’s culpability, but when pressed would not reveal how the United States would respond despite his earlier threats to do so.

“Iran did do it,” the president said in an interview with Fox News Friday morning.

“You saw the boat, I guess one to have mines didn't explode and it has essentially got Iran written all over it. And you saw the boat at night trying to take the mine off the boat, unsuccessfully took the mine off the boat and that was exposed. And that was their boat, that was them, and they didn’t want the evidence left behind. It was them that did it,” Trump continued.

Iran denies it carried out the attack, which comes just weeks after a similar attack that the United States also said was Iran’s doing but did not make any evidence public.

Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, the United States deployed an aircraft carrier to the Middle East last month in response to what the U.S. said was intelligence showing Iran or one of its proxies were planning an attack on U.S. assets.

President Trump has also issued stern verbal warnings to Iran, tweeting last month: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” At another point he said, “If they do anything they will suffer greatly” apparently referring to attacks on American troop, ships or other interests in the Middle East.

But despite his declared confidence in Iran’s culpability for the latest attack, and his previous harsh warnings, the president would not say Friday how he plans to respond to Iran’s latest provocation. Instead, the president sought to shift blame to former President Barack Obama for reaching a nuclear deal with Iran and also made the case that his administration’s sanctions on Iran have been effective.

“We are being very tough. We are being very tough on sanctions,” Trump said. “When I came into office, they were an absolute terror. They were all over the place. They were in Yemen, they were in Syria. We have 14 different sites of conflict, they were in charge of every single place and they really are, they are a nation of terror and they've changed a lot since I've been president, I can tell you. They were unstoppable and now they are in deep, deep trouble.”

“How do you stop the outrageous act?” "Fox an Friends" anchor Brian Kilmeade asked.

“We are going to see how to stop,” Trump said, not offering any hint to what actions the U.S. might be weighing in response and shifted to criticizing former President Obama.

“I don't think they've talked the same way when President Obama signed agreement, they were saying death to America, they were having good time at his expense and he’s given them 150 billion in cash, cash, nobody ever heard of a thing like that and all of that money and screaming death to America, they haven't screamed death to America lately,” Trump said.

The president later said he wants to sit back down at the negotiating table with Iran, but added “I'm ready when they are. I'm in no rush.”

The president also said he’s not seeking military conflict but is instead focused on preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power: “I'm not looking to hurt the country but they can't have a nuclear weapon. It’s that simple.”

President Trump spoke Friday to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who just completed a trip to Iran and thanked him for "his effort to facilitate communication with Iran."

"The two leaders discussed a range bilateral issues, including Prime Minister Abe’s recent travel to Iran and the circumstances surrounding the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. President Trump thanked Prime Minister Abe for his effort to facilitate communication with Iran," a White House readout of the call said.

One of the attacked tankers on Thursday was Japanese-owned.

The White House would not confirm that Abe was asked to deliver a message from the president, but a senior official with Abe's office said the prime minister "told Supreme Leader Khamenei in a candid manner his own view what kind of intention President Trump had."

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Trump: 'Not going to fire' Kellyanne Conway despite finding she made illegal political statements

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said on Friday that he has no plans to fire his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway despite a federal watchdog agency's call the day before that she should be “removed from service” for using her office for political activity.

"No, I'm not going to fire her, I think she's a tremendous person, tremendous spokesperson, she's loyal, she's a great person," Trump said in an interview on Fox and Friends.

He added, "They have tried to take away her speech and I think you're entitled to free speech in the country. Now, I'm going to get a very strong briefing on it and I will see, but it seems to me very unfair."

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates wrongdoing by government employees, said on Thursday that Conway “violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” The report released Thursday cites comments Conway made during the Alabama Senate special election in December 2017, which the office found violated the Hatch Act in another report released last year.

Conway, whose formal title is Counselor to the President, commented on the Alabama election in multiple interviews at the time, though the White House defended her comments as reflecting the president's positions on policy.

"Doug Jones in Alabama, folks don’t be fooled," Conway said during one Fox and Friends interview. "He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime, weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners. And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he’s not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him."

The report also cites more recent statements to White House reporters in which Conway criticized former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom are seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

In an interview on May 29, Conway reportedly downplayed the law, according to Thursday's OSC press release, saying she wouldn't stop making political statements.

“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” and “Let me know when the jail sentence starts," she said, according to the OSC press release.

A spokesman for the office said it's the first time the office has recommended the removal of a White House official. In the report, sent to Trump on Thursday, the office said that Conway has not faced consequences for her repeated violations of ethics rules on government employees.

The office recommended Conway be removed from her position because she has "shown disregard" for the law that prohibits federal government employees from engaging in political activities.

"Ms. Conway's disregard for the restrictions the Hatch Act places on on executive branch employees in unacceptable," Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote in the report. "If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her position by the Merit Systems Protection Board."

"As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions. Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system - the rule of law," Kerner continued.

White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves said in a statement that the OSC's actions are "deeply flawed."

“The Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) unprecedented actions against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Others, of all political views, have objected to the OSC’s unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees. Its decisions seem to be influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations – and perhaps OSC should be mindful of its own mandate to act in a fair, impartial, non-political manner, and not misinterpret or weaponize the Hatch Act,” Groves said.

The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 and aims to ensure that federal programs are administered without partisan bias and to protect federal employees from political pressure. The president and vice president are exempted by the rule. The Merit Systems Protection Board is a judicial agency that adjudicates civil cases involving federal employees. The OSC report says the board has recommended removal of employees in other cases where they engaged in political activity even after being warned it could violate the Hatch Act.

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings announced the committee will hold a hearing with the Office of Special Counsel on June 26 and will invite Conway to testify.

The Office of Special Counsel is not connected to the office of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Conway was also found to have violated ethics rules when she directed viewers to buy items from Ivanka Trump's clothing line in a 2017 interview. She has previously said that she discussed the incidents with the president.

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EXCLUSIVE: Trump says of Fed Reserve chairman 'I've waited long enough'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump slammed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell again this week, insisting that Powell’s actions have prevented the economy from soaring even higher and declaring he’s out of patience with the man he picked to lead the nation’s central bank.

His comments -- during an exclusive interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopolous -- were among his strongest yet aimed at the politically independent Federal Reserve. They add weight to concerns that the president could try to oust the head of the Federal Reserve, even if he isn’t successful. Powell has said he wouldn’t resign if asked by Trump.

Speaking with Stephanopoulos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday, Trump said that the market would be stronger "if we had a different person in the Federal Reserve who wouldn’t have raised interest rates so much.”

Trump’s repeated public criticism of the Federal Reserve potentially puts the chairman in an uncomfortable position. If Powell eventually does what Trump wants -- even if he makes that decision independently without factoring in the president’s opinion -- the board could be perceived as biased or politically tainted.

At one point in the exchange, Stephanopoulos asks Trump whether he has concerns that his repeated commentary on the Federal Reserve puts Powell “in a box.”

“Yes, I do,” Trump responded. “But I’m gonna do it anyway because I’ve waited long enough.”

The Federal Reserve -- which can raise or lower interest rates to slow down or stimulate the economy with inflationary concerns in mind -- was created so as to operate independently of any political influence.

While the president can appoint its chair and fill open seats on the board with governors serving 14-year terms, the Federal Reserve doesn’t need approval from the White House or Congress to raise or lower rates. Even its budget remains independent, with operations paid for through fees and income generated from the securities it owns.

Firing a Federal Reserve chairman or governor for “cause” is feasible but also virtually unheard of. The last time a Federal Reserve chair clashed so starkly with a president was under President Lyndon B. Johnson, though the chairman at the time, William McChesney Martin, didn't resign.

In his interview, Trump said he was “allowed” to criticize Powell and claimed it was commonplace in the “old days” for a president to "settle" with the bank’s chairman.

“You know, in the old days, they used to speak to the head of the Federal Reserve often,” Trump said.

“And it was … very much a part of the administration from the standpoint as they’d talk and they’d really settle,” he said. “You have no idea how important it is.”

Trump said he thinks the market could be 10,000 points higher if the Federal Reserve hadn’t hiked rates last year.

At one point, Stephanopolous notes that Powell wouldn’t be in the job if it weren’t for him.

“He’s my pick,” Trump acknowledged. “And I disagree with him entirely.”

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Trump says it 'doesn't matter' what former White House counsel told Mueller

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is directly disputing the account of a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible obstruction of justice during the course of the Russia probe saying that it "doesn't matter" what his former White House counsel Don McGahn testified.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, Trump says McGahn "may have been confused" when he told Mueller that Trump instructed him multiple times to have the acting attorney general remove the special counsel because of perceived conflicts of interest.

"The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller," Trump told Stephanopoulos.

But when Stephanopoulos pushed back and referenced McGahn's testimony, Trump was defiant.

"I don't care what [McGahn] says, it doesn't matter," Trump said.

"Why would [McGahn] lie under oath?" Stephanopoulos later asked.

"Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer," Trump said. "Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen -- including you, including the media -- that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest."

"And has to go?" Stephanopoulos followed up.

"I didn't say that," Trump insisted.

The special counsel's report (Vol. II, page 80) undercuts Trump's oft-repeated claim that Mueller was conflicted.

At the president’s instruction McGahn is currently fighting a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee to testify publicly about those conversations with Trump, among other things. McGahn spent nearly 30 hours with the special counsel’s investigators testifying under oath and was one of most quoted aides to the president to appear in the report.

Trump also defended his decision not to sit for an in-person interview with Mueller's investigators -- something he had repeatedly said he would do -- by expressing concern investigators were looking to catch him in lies or misstatements. He ultimately submitted written responses to questions from the investigators.

And while Trump ultimately refused to speak to Mueller’s investigators directly about McGahn and other topics, he wasn’t shy about sharing his views with ABC News.

"If you answer these questions to me now," Stephanopoulos asked, "why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?"

"Because they were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements," Trump said. "I looked at what happened to people, and it was very unfair. Very, very unfair. Very unfair."

When Stephanopoulos pointed out that the president did not provide written answers to address questions of possible obstruction of justice, Trump grew frustrated.

"Wait a minute," Trump said. "Wait a minute. I did answer questions. I answered them in writing."

"Not on obstruction," Stephanopoulos said.

"George, you're being a little wise guy, OK -- which is, you know, typical for you," Trump shot back. "Just so you understand. Very simple. It's very simple. There was no crime. There was no collusion. The big thing's collusion. Now, there's no collusion. That means they set -- it was a setup, in my opinion, and I think it's going to come out."

While Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction, the 11 episodes of possible obstruction he investigated have been a central component to Democrats' case for impeachment.

The special counsel's investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it did detail several "offers of assistance to the [Trump] campaign" by the Russian government. Mueller did not reach a conclusion about whether the president obstructed justice, the special counsel said, because charging the president with a crime was "not an option we could consider" because of Justice Department policy.

The word "collusion," itself, as members of Trump’s legal team have repeatedly pointed out, does not appear in the federal code.

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Anita Hill now says 'of course' she could vote for Joe Biden if he becomes nominee

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Anita Hill now says she could vote for former vice president Joe Biden if he becomes the 2020 Democratic nominee -- despite her criticism of the way he handled her sexual harassment allegations during the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

“Of course I could,” Hill said in an NBC News interview, when asked if she could conceive of voting for Biden, the current front runner, should he become the Democratic choice to take on President Donald Trump.

In an interview with the New York Times back in April, she said she could not support Biden for president until he took full responsibility for his conduct. That included, she told the Times, his failure to call as corroborating witnesses other women who were willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She told the Times "there needs to be an apology to the other witnesses and there needs to be an apology to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women."

In the new interview with NBC News, Hill tried to make it clear she saw no moral equivalency between Biden and Trump, who has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct.

"Absolutely not. I never said that and never intended to say that," Hill said.

The Biden campaign had no comment.

Biden -- then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- has come under fire for how he conducted the Thomas hearings, when Hill -- at the time, a young African American law professor who once had worked for Thomas -- was grilled by an all-white, all-male committee of senators about her allegations that Thomas sexually harassed her.

Hill still believes Biden is to blame for the way the hearing went as chairman -- but doesn't think that it disqualifies him from running for president .

"I believe every chairman of any committee really is responsible for how a hearing is conducted,” Hill said.

"I don't think it has disqualified him. He's perfectly capable of running for president,” she said.

Biden has previously said he took responsibility for the way the hearing went, and the way Hill was treated.

“I was chairman. She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That's my responsibility,” Biden told ABC's Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts during an interview in April after the Times interview with Hill was published. “As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well. I take responsibility for that.”

Biden reached out to Hill prior to announcing his presidential campaign, and had a “private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country,” an aide for the Biden campaign told ABC News in April.

Hill said that Biden’s call did not do enough.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,’” Hill told the New York Times, “I will be satisfied when I know that there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

Now, Hill says that it isn’t a matter of what Biden could say to make up for the past, it's actions that matter.

"For me, it's a matter of what we want all of our leaders to say; that is, after almost three decades now of having discovered the problem of sexual harassment, more people understanding it is a serious problem and so prevalent. What I really want our leaders to stand up and say what happened in 1991 will never happen again,” Hill said.

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EXCLUSIVE: Trump slams 2020 hopeful Kamala Harris

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump slammed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris for saying that, if elected, she would "have no choice” but to pursue criminal charges of obstruction of justice against a former President Trump.

"Oh, give me a break. She's running for president. She's doing horribly. She's way down in the polls,” the president said in reaction to Harris’ comments during his exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

"She said she would have no choice but to prosecute you,” Stephanopoulos said.

The president was reacting to comments Harris, herself a former prosecutor who served as the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, made in an interview, suggesting that in her administration, the Justice Department would have to pursue criminal obstruction of justice charges.

But even as the president blasted Harris’ comment, he also suggested he’d say the same thing if he were in her shoes.

"I heard she made that statement. And you know what? Who wouldn't? Probably if I were running in her position, I'd make the same statement,” the president said, casting Harris’ position as a political posture.

He continued: "There was no crime. There was no Russia collusion. There was no Russia, I'll put it in your language, conspiracy, which is even better than collusion.”

The Harris campaign doubled down on its critique.

"Donald Trump is using the Department of Justice to run interference on his own behalf, and he's appointed an Attorney General to act like his personal defense lawyer, not the lawyer for the American people. Senator Harris believes no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States, and as president, she would restore an independent DOJ that values the rule of law and follows facts and evidence wherever they lead," Ian Sams, Harris' national press secretary, told ABC News in a statement.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it did detail several "offers of assistance to the [Trump] campaign” by the Russian government. Mueller did not make a decision about whether the president obstructed justice, the special counsel said because charging the president with a crime was "not an option we could consider" because of Justice Department policy.

The word "collusion," itself, as members of Trump’s legal team have repeatedly pointed out, does not appear in the federal code.

The president also reacted angrily to the statement that more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors from both Democratic and Republican administrations have signed onto stating that Trump would be charged with multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice if not for long-standing Department of Justice policy protecting a sitting president from prosecution.

"I know more about prosecutors than you'll ever know,” Trump said when Stephanopoulos pressed Trump to respond to the statement, countering that he could bring forward thousands of prosecutors to his defense.

"They're politicians. I could get you 5,000 that would also say that there's nothing. I saw their names. And these are all, many of them, are Trump haters. Many of them if you look at the names,” the president said.

Many of those names are Republicans, Stephanopoulos responded to the president.

In continuing his defense, Trump specifically pointed to Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who is a frequent defender of the president.

"I could get you thousands of prosecutors that say this is the most unfair– you take a man like Alan Dershowitz, who's a very brilliant guy. He thinks this is one of the worst things ever to happen to our country because I've been unfairly treated,” Trump said.

The president continued: "Even a question like that’s unfair.”

"Mr. President, there’s nothing unfair about the question,” Stephanopoulos responded.

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Census Bureau to test impact of citizenship question amidst pending Supreme Court decision

liveslow/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether a citizenship question will be included in the 2020 census, but the Census Bureau launched a test Thursday to observe how the addition of such a question might impact response rate.

The test is aimed at determining “the operational effects of including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” according to the Bureau press release.

Some 480,000 housing units around the nation will receive a questionnaire with households randomly assigned to one of two versions of the questionnaire: one with the citizenship question included, the other without. The test is also designed to oversample housing units in areas with “high proportions of non-citizens and historically low self-response.”

Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House Oversight subcommittee for the census and consultant, said conducting a test of this magnitude so close to the start of the 2020 census is “unprecedented” and has “potential for confusion” with the actual census.

“They might think to themselves, ‘I already got that, and I already filled it out,’” Lowenthal said.

The final preparations for the 2020 census should be on autopilot, but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ late notice of the decision to add the citizenship question and the much-awaited Supreme Court decision has left the Census Bureau in a difficult position to prepare.

“The eleventh-hour decision by Secretary Ross was comparable to throwing a hand grenade in the middle of a carefully planned multi-year effort to pull off the census,” Lowenthal said. “The Census Bureau was left with no time to prepare, plan, and conduct another large test.”

“The Census Bureau does multi-year iterative testing,” Lowenthal told ABC News. “That’s why a decision to add a new question that has not been part of any testing for this census, I think, you know, was highly irresponsible. It went against all traditional procedures, and you know scientific standards for making that kind of decision.”

By launching this test, the Bureau is trying to prepare for the potential outcome of having the citizenship question as part of the 2020 census.

Data collection will run from June 13 to August 15, 2019, and the preliminary results for the test will be released in October 2019. The findings from the test will help inform updates to the Bureau’s 2020 operations including the number of census takers needed to follow up with non-responding households.

Lowenthal said it would be wise to hold off on the test until the Supreme Court ruling, but that the Census Bureau feels it must move forward with the test because time is of the essence.

“I think the Census Bureau should cancel the test if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling prohibiting the Commerce Secretary from adding this question,” she told ABC News. “But the Census Bureau believes it has to move forward at this point of time. That it doesn’t have give in its schedule in preparing to start the census."

The Trump administration has pushed for the citizenship question deeming the number and locations of non-citizens as necessary information for the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Critics have stated that including such a question could deter non-citizens -- both legal and illegal residents -- from responding and undercount a significant portion of Latinos and immigrants. This could skew the population totals used to draw legislative districts and potentially provide Republicans with an electoral advantage.

According to a study by the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, the citizenship question would lead to an undercount of six million Hispanics, approximately 12 percent of the total Hispanic population. The Census Bureau told the White House in February that they expect 630,000 households to either submit the survey without the citizenship question answered or to not reply at all.

The Supreme Court is expected to come to a decision by the end of the month on whether the addition of a citizenship question is constitutional.  

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Who's in: Democratic National Committee announces 20 qualifying candidates for first debates

3dfoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee announced the long-awaited list of 20 presidential contenders appearing in prime-time on the first Democratic debate stages – the largest and most significant gathering of the crowded field so far on the campaign trail.

The 20 candidates who qualified under the DNC's polling and grassroots criteria include: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, motivational speaker Marianne Williamson and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

The first televised debates – an early, crucial opportunity to gain a foothold in the primary before a national audience – are two weeks away but party leaders are relegating three lower-polling candidates to the sidelines: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton and Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam.

 Before the sprawling field grew to 23 candidates, the national Democratic party capped the debates at 20. But as the number of qualifying candidates ticked up towards the self-imposed ceiling in the lead up to the deadline, the road to Miami -- the site of the debates which span two consecutive nights to make room for the large field -- turned into a high-stakes skirmish to secure a podium, particularly after little-known long-shots Yang and Williamson cleared both thresholds ahead of a sitting senator and governor.

The historically expansive field is a reflection of both the Democrats' eagerness to unseat Trump and the notion that the party is split over a successful path forward.

The process preceding the first debates has been fraught with complaints from campaigns over the stringent rules, and the DNC reignited backlash after the committee announced a late rule change a week before Wednesday's qualifying deadline, in which two ABC News/Washington Post polls would be struck from the list of eligible polls.

The last-minute clarification upended predictions for the first debate stages, as Bullock's qualification hinged on one of the ABC News/Washington Post polls. The DNC debate rules, which were first announced in February, included ABC News and The Washington Post in a list of qualifying poll sponsors. The first ABC News/Washington Post poll of the Democratic field was released in January.

In a last-ditch effort to reclaim his standing on the stage, Bullock's campaign submitted a certification letter to DNC chair Tom Perez declaring his eligibility for the first debates ahead of Thursday's deadline. The letter was first published by Politico and confirmed to ABC News by the Bullock campaign.

"While there has been discussion in the press regarding the status of the Washington Post/ABC poll, the poll plainly meets the standards published by the DNC," the letter states. "Since there is no sufficient warrant to exclude such a poll in either of the original rules or in the Polling Method Certification form promulgated by the DNC this week, the poll meets the DNC requirements and is valid. As such, Governor Bullock has met the threshold to qualify for the first debates and he looks forward to joining his colleagues on the stage for this important occasion."

The DNC did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment before they announced the participants.

To qualify for the debates in June and July, candidates were required to earn at least 1% support in three separate national or early-state polls conducted from Jan. 1 to two weeks before the given debate, or receive donations from at least 65,000 people across 20 different states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state. The DNC used both the polling and the donor threshold to winnow down the number of participants to 20.

The new grassroots qualifying rule, implemented by the DNC after the 2016 presidential primary in an effort to prioritize inclusion, reshaped the tactics employed by the candidates to push their donor base beyond the 65,000 donor-threshold needed to secure a spot on the early debate stages.

Twenty candidates total will participate (10 on each night), with the lineups for each night chosen at random and announced on Friday for the June debates.

The committee confirmed to ABC News in May that the final 20 candidates will be divided into two groups based on polling averages and then randomly assigned to a debate stage -- to prevent the higher polling candidates all appearing on the same night.

One group will consist of candidates who have a polling average at or above 2 percent. A second group will include those candidates with a polling average below 2 percent. Both groups will then be randomly assigned to a debate stage on June 26 and 27, evenly dividing the candidates over the two-nights of debates in an effort to ensure that both nights feature well-known candidates. The selection process rules were first reported by Politico.

The first of the party's 2020 presidential primary debates will take place over two nights, on June 26 and 27 in Miami, Florida at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The June debate will be hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, and the July debate by CNN.

The second round of debates on July 30 and 31 in Detroit's Fox Theatre will use the same criteria as the first.

For the next round of debates happening later this year, the DNC announced new, more rigorous qualifying rules that up the ante to qualify for the September debate, hosted by ABC News and Univision, and for the debate to follow, slated to take place in October.

For the September and October debates, the DNC requires candidates to meet the polling and grassroots funding criteria, and have doubled the thresholds: a candidate must receive 2% or more support in at least four national polls and candidates must have received donations from at least 130,000 unique donors over the course of the election cycle, with a minimum of 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.

The new qualifying rules ramp up the pressure on many in the crowded Democratic field, particularly those who struggled to land on the first stages.

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Press Secretary Sarah Sanders leaving White House

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving her post, President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday.

"After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas," Trump tweeted. "She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas - she would be fantastic. Sarah, thank you for a job well done!"

At an event aimed at highlighting hiring efforts for former inmates, Trump praised Sanders calling her "a warrior."

"We've been through a lot together. She's tough, but she's good," he said and added, "If we can get her to run for the governor of Arkansas, I think she'll do very well."

Sources familiar say Sanders has not revealed whether she might consider mounting a political bid of her own back in Arkansas, but a personal familiar said there has been speculation among staffers in the White House about the possibility of Sanders pursuing a political career.

Sanders described her role as "the honor of a lifetime."

"This has been the honor of a lifetime, the opportunity of a lifetime… particularly to work for this president," she said adding it is "something I will treasure forever .. loved every minute…even the hard minutes."

Sanders gathered members of her staff Thursday afternoon and informed them of her planned departure at that time. Sources familiar with Sanders decision to depart cited her desire to make the move back to Arkansas for the sake of her family. Sanders and her husband have three young children, all under the age of ten, and sources said she and her husband felt now was the right time to move the family and get them settled back in Arkansas during the summer school recess.

 Sanders was named White House press secretary in July 2017, just hours after Sean Spicer resigned from the position. She is the daughter of former Arkansas governor and two-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and grew up with a fascination for politics.

“I always say that when most kids are seven or eight years old out jumping rope, she was sitting at the kitchen table listening to [political commentators] analyze poll results,” her father told Fox News in May of 2017.

Sanders confirmed earlier this year that she has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“The President urged me, like he has everyone in the administration, to fully cooperate with the special counsel. I was happy to voluntarily sit down with them,” Sanders said in a statement to ABC after the news was first reported by CNN.

One source told ABC News the interview happened around the same time that it's believed other White House officials were being brought in for interviews.

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