Progressive veterans frame climate change as a national security issue

Posted on: August 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Self-described “ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat” MJ Hegar, a candidate for Texas’ deep-red 31st district, has a novel approach to environmental politics: she doesn’t care if her supporters believe in man-made climate change, but says it’s hard to deny the corrupting effects of petroleum dependence on American foreign policy.

“Our dependence on foreign oil is just so damaging to our country on so many levels,” Hegar told ABC News in a June interview. “I respect other people’s freedom to be discerning and to make their own decisions. But they can’t deny that the U.S. military pays the price for our dependence on foreign oil – that our diplomacy and foreign policy is complicated by our dependence.”

Hegar is one of a number of progressive veterans running for Congress who have made climate change action a key part of their platforms.

“I don’t think another country, or another entity, like OPEC, should be able to have such an impact on our economy,” she said.

An Air Force veteran who received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat and led a 2012 fight to overturn a policy barring women from direct ground combat, Hegar is challenging Rep. John Carter, a Tea Party Republican who has held his seat for fifteen years.

She sees her military background as compatible with many traditionally progressive causes: for Hegar, a robust defense strategy includes opposing travel bans, gaining independence from foreign oil, and support for environmental legislation.

In December, issuing his first major update to U.S. National Security strategy, President Donald Trump omitted climate change from the list of recognized national security threats, reversing the Pentagon consensus to define climate change as a security risk.

Candidates across the country are pushing back on that notion, by not only stressing environmental concerns like the upsurge in natural disasters, but by describing climate change as a national security threat and foreign policy issue, as well as an arena for potential economic leadership.

Maura Sullivan, a former U.S. Marine officer in the Iraq War and Department of Veterans Affairs official in the Obama administration, is the Democratic candidate for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District. Sullivan describes her growing worry over numerous environmental threats to national security, from displaced refugees in developing countries, to rising sea levels that could damage billions of dollars of U.S. military equipment.

“We face the potential for water shortage and famine – something we’ve seen the United States military respond to around the globe,” she told ABC News. “Our ability to respond to these crises is also significantly impaired by the threat of climate change itself. We’ve got billions of dollars of coastal assets, bases, that rising sea levels threaten.”

Sullivan referenced Obama-era reports by military officials and security experts that commonly described climate change as a “threat multiplier.”

In 2014, for instance, the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Review cited “threat multiplier” effects, arguing that the pressures of climate change “will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

Like Hegar, Sullivan saw the devastating effects of oil dependency firsthand during her time in the military – in particular, while serving as an operations and logistics officer in Iraq. She pointed out that over 3,000 American service members were killed in fuel supply convoys between 2003 and 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“A part of that is just purely caused by a dependence on oil. And, if we had a stored a replenishable energy source… there would simply be need for fewer convoys, and that saves thousands of American lives,” Sullivan said.

In Wisconsin, Randy “Ironstache” Bryce is the candidate vying for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s old seat in the 1st Congressional District. If he wins, he would flip the southeastern district blue after two decades of conservative control. He faces Bryan Steil, an attorney and former staffer for Ryan, whose website does not include any mention of climate change.

Bryce is among the most vocal candidates in 2018 on the urgency of climate action – he has built his campaign around a ‘Green New Deal’ plan for environmentally sustainable jobs that pay a living wage. An army veteran, he told ABC News his time in the military convinced him that the threat of climate change extends beyond extreme weather and rising temperatures.

“As a result of being dependent on fossil fuels… we send troops to protect resources like oil,” Bryce said, citing the Iraq war as an example of why the U.S. must invest in independent, renewable energy sources.

Bryce is a member of Ironworkers Local 8 Union, and has firsthand experience working in the energy industry. He argued that environmentally sustainable development is often much better for construction workers’ health and safety.

Describing his work in iron ore mining, Bryce said that after he finished each 12-hour shift, he would be “covered with red, everywhere.” It took him three showers to get the red dust off his body, he said, and even then, he felt the toll the work took on his health.

“It’s just filthy. When you get done working, you’re coughing – I stopped smoking, but I felt like I smoked a carton after every shift. And that’s with the safety equipment on, too, with the respirators,” he said. “When you compare that to something like putting up a wind turbine, its completely the opposite – you’re tired from the work, and sometimes dirty, but it’s a clean dirt.”

In addition to creating green jobs that offer workers a higher standard of living, Bryce wants to hold polluters accountable, including by prosecuting Exxon Mobil for the negative health effects of fossil fuels on the public.

Asked why he is calling to prosecute Exxon Mobil, Bryce didn’t equivocate.

“We have records that show that they knew about the negative effects of fossil fuels on the health of the public, both long and short term, and intentionally just continued profiting off it. We need to make them accountable to the communities that have been hurt by their pipelines and pollution,” he said.

Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on Bryce’s claims.

Bryce’s “Green New Deal” stimulus aims to get the U.S. entirely off fossil fuels by 2035 while creating thousands of new jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Proponents of a “Green New Deal” – which is also touted by democratic-socialist insurgent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – say that a radical strategy for economic and environmental overhaul is the only plan commensurate with tackling the threat of climate change.

Many left-wing environmentalists argue that moderate concessions – from the straw ban to plastic bag taxes and cap-and-trade programs – are short-term remedies that don’t begin to address the scale of the crisis.

One recent study from the National Academy of Sciences, dubbed the “Hothouse Earth” report, gained attention for its grim assessment of impending catastrophe. Researchers argued that only a rapid response to climate change that includes political and economic reforms stands a chance of averting crisis.

“Incremental linear changes to the present socio-economic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System,” the researchers wrote, insisting that “widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations” in political economy are necessary to stave off disastrous outcomes.

Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey are two more Air Force veterans running for Congress pitching climate change as a key plank in their national security platforms.

On her campaign website, Sherrill denounces the “false choice between creating jobs, fighting climate change, and keeping our air and water clean,” framing environmental concerns instead as an “economic and national security issue” that will particularly impact citizens of New Jersey, who live along 130 miles of coastline.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky – a state with an economy fueled by the coal industry – McGrath does not mince words in her description of environmental threats.

“A changing climate has had and will continue to have hugely disruptive effects not only on the environment, but also on migration patterns, economies, disease vectors, and political unrest around the world,” her climate change platform reads. “In the 20th century, we fought wars over values or economic conflicts; in the 21st century, it will be over food, water and resources.”

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Gov. Cuomo continues war of words with Trump

Posted on: August 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo ramped up his war of words with President Donald Trump during a political speech at a Brooklyn church on Sunday morning, calling him “King Trump” and the “great divider in chief.”

Standing from the pulpit at First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, Cuomo said his feud with the president “is not just politics as usual.”

“This debate we’re having with the president is really about the country we want to be. This is about our values, our beliefs, our character,” Cuomo said. “It is a frightening portrait.”

“Trump’s America is one of division and intolerance,” Cuomo continued.

Cuomo came under fire last week after doing a riff on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan during a bill signing ceremony.

“We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great,” Cuomo said. “We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”

Trump lambasted the governor in a tweet saying, “Wow! Big pushback on Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York for his really dumb statement about America’s lack of greatness. I have already MADE America Great Again, just look at the markets, jobs, military- setting records, and we will do even better. Andrew ‘choked’ badly, mistake!”

Trump called Cuomo’s comment potentially “career threatening.”

“When a politician admits that ‘We’re not going to make America great again,’ there doesn’t seem to be much reason to ever vote for him,” Trump tweeted.

Cuomo, who faces a Democratic primary on September 13 against Cynthia Nixon, later walked back his comments after widespread criticism by saying his words were “inartful.”

Dani Lever, a spokesperson for the governor, clarified the intention of his words in a statement. “The Governor believes that when everyone is fully included and everyone is contributing to their maximum potential, that is when America will achieve maximum greatness.”

Despite backlash for his comments, Cuomo on Sunday continued to take direct aim at the White House and Trump, calling him “un-American.”

“I believe it’s un-American to deny a young persons dream to come to college, I believe its un-American to take babies out of the arms of their mothers because they want to come to this country,” Cuomo said. “I believe its un-American to put children in cages, I believe its un-American to lock up refugees.”

Cuomo then addressed Trump directly.

“Mr. Trump, I’ve known you for 30 years you may be a slick salesman who fooled a lot of people in this country, but you didn’t fool me and you didn’t fool a lot of New Yorkers.”

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Pennsylvania bishop named in report denies cover-up but says, ‘I understand the rage’

Posted on: August 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(PITTSBURGH) — A Catholic bishop among those named in a grand jury report alleging widespread sexual abuse by hundreds of Pennsylvania priests pushed back against calls by a survivors’ group for him to resign, saying he has never covered up sexual misconduct by clerics but has instead acted on allegations by victims.

Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday that since he became the leader of his diocese in 2007 he has worked to help victims and refer allegations of abuse to prosecutors.

“I was a little bit surprised to hear, after my first answer to the news conference on Tuesday, that I was somehow a part of the cover-up,” Zubik said of the press conference where the Pennsylvania attorney general released the report. “I realized that what we needed to do here in Pittsburgh was to be able to show the public how that wasn’t so.”

The grand jury report documents decades of abuse of over 1,000 children by more than 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also alleges that some church officials failed to follow up on the accusations and allowed some offending priests to remain in the ministry.

“I can well understand the rage that people have in reading this report,” Zubik told Stephanopoulos. “I feel that rage as well.”

Following the release of the report, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, called on Zubik to step down for failing to acknowledge that cover-ups of abuses occurred in the Pittsburgh diocese as in other dioceses in the state.

“Most other U.S. bishops have admitted, at some level, in vague terms, that cover-ups have happened,” SNAP said in a release.

Zubik said on “This Week” that “the church of Pittsburgh today is not the church that’s described in the grand jury” report. “I can honestly say that we have followed every single step that we needed to follow to be responsible in our response to the victims,” he said.

He said the diocese developed stringent policies against abuse, including establishing an independent board to review allegations, assigning an assistance coordinator to meet with victims, and referring cases to prosecutors.

Stephanopoulos pressed him, saying, “But you know the feeling out there is deep, that so many Catholics and others feel betrayed by the church hierarchy. What do you say to them?”

“We have to be able to continue to look at the things that we have done to really correct this issue,” Zubik said.

More broadly, he said, “We have to look for new ways to be able to eradicate sexual abuse in the church, [and] to work together with all of society to eradicate [it] from society in general.”

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Trump adviser John Bolton on possibly privatizing US war in Afghanistan: I’m ‘always open to new ideas’

Posted on: August 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser addressed the idea of using private contractors to help fight the U.S. war in Afghanistan, saying he is “always open to new ideas.”

In an exclusive interview Sunday, John Bolton responded to a question from ABC News “This Week” Co-Anchor and Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz about possibly privatizing some part of what is now America’s longest war, the nearly 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

“Would you consider privatizing [in Afghanistan], with using contractors instead of U.S. military? There have been some reports about that this week,” Raddatz said.

“There’s always a lot of discussions,” the president’s national security adviser said. “I’m always open to new ideas, but I’m not going to comment on what the thinking is. That will ultimately be the president’s decision.”

According a report from NBC News Friday citing current and former administration officials, the president is showing interest in a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to hire private military contractors to support the war.

“It is not a private army,” Prince told NBC News of his proposal for Afghanistan. “It is a very clear delineation of who’s in charge, OK? Afghan government working for a U.S. government official funded by the United States at a fraction of the cost we’re spending now.”

Prince, who now heads Hong Kong-based security firm Frontier Services Group, also told NBC News that Trump advisers who oppose his plan are painting “as rosy a picture as they can” of the recent U.S. efforts for peace talks with the Taliban.

Bolton told Raddatz there are “signs” conversations between the Taliban and Afghan government are “moving in the right direction.”

“We’ve looked at several different possibilities to get the Taliban and others directly engaged with the government of Afghanistan. There have been some signs that’s moving in the right direction,” Bolton said.

“I don’t rule out that we’d have a change in some of the things we’re doing there, but the president’s view is that he’ll support the government of Afghanistan in its efforts to see if the Taliban are finally ready to talk seriously,” Bolton said.

Raddatz pressed, “I feel like I’ve heard these arguments for 17 years, the same thing: ‘The Taliban is desperate.’”

Bolton responded, “Well, what I remember over 17 years is the attack on 9/11. And I think the administration is determined that it never happen again.”

“The bottom line is the security of the United States,” he said.

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Trump adviser defends revoking of security clearance of former CIA chief

Posted on: August 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton floated the possibility of reviewing longstanding policy of maintaining security clearances of former government officials.

In the wake of Trump’s revoking the clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, Bolton told ABC News’ This Week Co-Anchor and Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview Sunday that he doesn’t see “anything wrong” with the possibility of reviewing whether former officials should have access to classified information.

“I think it’s certainly appropriate in a time when we’re seeing what I believe are unprecedented leaks of highly classified information to look at the question of how many people have clearances, how many people receive this very sensitive information, both inside the government and in the case of former officials,” Bolton said. “I don’t see that there would be anything wrong if it were determined to go that way to review the policies about former officials having clearances.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced the president’s decision to end Brennan’s access to classified information, reading a statement from Trump on Wednesday about “risks” posed by Brennan’s “erratic conduct and behavior.”

The president’s move drew fire from 15 former top intelligence officials, including some who served under Republican presidents, who signed a letter asserting that Trump was using security clearances “as a political tool.”

“Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views,” they wrote in defense of Brennan, who headed the CIA under President Barack Obama, and was national counterterrorism director under President George W. Bush.

Raddatz on This Week asked Bolton, “Brennan has been a strong critic of the administration. But what does this have to do with protecting classified information?”

Bolton said career intelligence officials who come out of the government need to “keep that wall of separation” between intelligence and politics. “And I don’t think Brennan has followed that and, you know, whether he actually used classified information, I think people will be able to determine. But I think that’s a serious problem.”

Raddatz asked if there were specific examples of Brennan politicizing classified intelligence in his criticism of Trump.

“No,” Bolton said. He then added that there “is a line and somebody can cross it.”

“But let me be clear here,” Raddatz said. “You’re not sure whether John Brennan used classified information? You have no specific examples.”

Bolton said, “I think a number of people have commented that he couldn’t be in the position he’s in of criticizing President Trump and his so-called collusion with Russia unless he did use classified information. But I don’t know the specifics.”

He also said he believes Brennan politicized his handling of national security issues while he was CIA chief under Obama.

“It was my view at the time that he and others in the Obama administration were politicizing intelligence,” Bolton said. “I think that’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

Bolton, who served as U.N. ambassador under President George W. Bush, was a Fox News contributor during Brennan’s tenure as CIA director.

He said that, in general, it may be appropriate at times for former government officials to retain their clearances, citing his own time out of government as a member of a board of directors of a company that did classified work for the government.

“It was felt important that some of the directors be able to access that information,” Bolton said. He added that, at other times, he was a civilian and his clearance was “dormant.”

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White House counsel cooperated with Mueller’s probe, met with special counsel’s team several times:

Posted on: August 18th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — White House counsel Donald McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s meddling with the 2016 presidential election, sources with knowledge of his interviews tell ABC News.

McGahn has met with Mueller’s team at least three times and has been questioned by the special counsel’s team more extensively than any other member of the White House staff who has gone for an interview, the sources said.

The New York Times first reported the extent of McGahn’s interviews with the special counsel, saying he provided “detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice.”

Two senior administration officials told ABC News that Trump and McGahn have had a frayed relationship. McGahn has openly expressed his frustrations, and signaled his desire to leave the White House months ago, but decided to stay on to lead the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

McGahn’s attorney, William Burck, declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.

According to sources familiar with the process, President Trump knew about and approved the staffers whom Mueller interviewed.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president and McGahn “have a great relationship.”

“He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees, Sanders said in a statement to ABC News.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, told ABC News that after speaking with McGahn’s lawyer, “I am confident that he didn’t provide any evidence that is remotely harmful to the president.”

Mueller had requested to speak with McGahn about the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing and his reported involvement in the event surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from the Russia investigation, the sources said.

ABC News reported earlier this year that McGahn was among the White House staffers who were against any notion of President Trump’s firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June when the president wanted to do just that, a source said.

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Trump claims social media platforms are ‘discriminating’ against conservatives

Posted on: August 18th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Trump weighed in on social media platforms’ banning certain content, claiming in a series of tweets that the sites are “totally discriminating” against conservative voices supportive of his administration.

“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The president’s tweets come as major social media platforms have removed certain content by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Facebook said earlier this month that it removed content from some of Jones’ pages for “glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”

Spotify, Apple and YouTube have also taken down at least some content from Jones and Infowars, and Twitter recently suspended his account temporarily.

Trump said on Twitter Saturday that “censorship is very dangerous.” He also made his oft-repeated reference to news organizations — in this case, CNN and MSNBC — as “fake news,” and suggested that there should be no controls on social media. “Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!”

Twitter took action Tuesday, suspending Jones’ personal account for seven days for violating the platform’s rules.

Twitter would not comment on what the offending post said. But in a video posted Wednesday to the Twitter account for Infowars, Jones said the company suspended him and may shut him down completely because he violated its rules by posting a “video I shot last night saying Trump should do something about the censorship of the internet.”

The video is no longer available on Twitter or Periscope, where Jones posted it. But it is still up elsewhere on the web. In it, Jones said people “need to have their battle rifles and everything ready at their bedsides and you got to be ready because the media is so disciplined in their deception.”

Jones is currently the defendant in a lawsuit by families of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims over his past claims that the 2012 mass shooting in Connecticut, which killed 26 children and adults, was staged. Jones now says he believes the Sandy Hook shooting did occur, and has argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because he was acting as a journalist.

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Special counsel says up to 6 months jail ‘warranted’ for Trump aide-turned cooperating witness

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Obtained by ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is recommending a judge sentence one-time Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos to up to six months in jail for lying to the FBI, a request that factors in his pledge to cooperate with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, according to documents filed with the court.

Prosecutors did not make a specific recommendation but said a sentence within the guideline range of up to six months imprisonment was “appropriate and warranted.”

Papadopoulos, who had served as a volunteer to the Trump team, traveled as an emissary from the campaign to foreign leaders in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In July 2017, he was charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts during the campaign with a professor who had “substantial connections to Russian government officials,” and accused of trying to conceal his contacts from the FBI.

Court records filed by special counsel Robert Mueller describe how the professor approached Papadopoulos after learning of his role in the Trump campaign. The court filing does not name the professor, but he has since been widely identified as Joseph Mifsud, then the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. ABC News has been unable to reach Mifsud for comment.

The professor told Papadopoulos the Russians had “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” that they had procured, according to the court documents.

Papadopoulos reportedly bragged about that offer to an Australian diplomat, who then tipped off the FBI and launched that agency’s counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI when he arrived at Dulles International Airport in July 2017 and charged under seal. He agreed to cooperate with investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Papadopoulos’s legal team will file their own sentencing assessment to the court in two weeks, and is expected to ask for probation.

The sentence recommendation comes as Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, the wife of the one-time foreign policy adviser, has mounted the latest in a series of publicity campaigns – this one suggesting her husband has misgivings about his plea agreement.

Back in December, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, she had described her spouse as the “John Dean” of the Russia probe, a reference to the Watergate-era former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and became a key witness against President Richard Nixon and his aides.

“George is very loyal to his country,” she said at the time. “He is already on the right side of history. I think he will make a big difference.”

But more recently she has told reporters her husband is considering changing lawyers and rescinding his plea deal. After appearing before Democratic members of the House intelligence committee earlier this summer, she said that Papadopoulos has come to believe the professor may have been working for Western intelligence agencies and set him up.

“I actually never said explicitly that it was an entrapment from the FBI. I just said that he definitely was…the target of a different set-up,” she said.

In June, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported that Simona Papadopoulos said, “It looks to be one among a series of attempts to entrap George,” adding, “The question today to me [is whether] these people are simply shady businessmen or are they part of a greater attempt to entrap George in illegal activity.”

Since her husband’s guilty plea in exchange for cooperation with the Mueller probe Papadopoulos has been living in Chicago. Federal investigators have imposed restrictions on his travel until his sentencing, which is now scheduled for September 7.

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The conservative DC legal group behind a challenge to Mueller probe

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The latest legal challenge to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, now heading to the U.S. Court of Appeals, is being steered by a veteran Washington legal group that has a history of taking on Democrats and is bankrolled, in part, by longstanding Republican donors.

The National Legal and Policy Center is backing a subpoena fight launched by Andrew Miller, a former associate of Trump confidant and political provocateur Roger Stone, who has refused a demand from prosecutors to appear before a grand jury. He is objecting, the lawyers said, in order to mount a broad legal challenge to the legitimacy of the special counsel probe.

“The government wanted to hold [Miller] in contempt,” said Paul Kamenar, who was hired by the policy center to mount a constitutional case against the Mueller team. “In order to appeal Judge Howell’s decision challenging the constitutionality of the special counsel we have to have a contempt order in order to go to a Court of Appeals.”

Kamenar told ABC News he believes Miller’s constitutional battle could head all the way to the Supreme Court. He has argued that Mueller was not a constitutionally valid special counsel because he should be considered a “principal officer of the United States,” and therefore should have been appointed by the president. The Department of Justice has taken the position that he is an “inferior” officer who could be appointed by a deputy, in this case, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

A recent challenge to the constitutionality of the special counsel was rejected by federal district court judge in D.C. earlier this week.

On Monday, a federal judge denied a move by Concord Management Consulting LLC, who was charged in the special counsel’s probe earlier this year, to have their indictment dismissed based on virtually the same argument being used by Kamenar in Miller’s case.

“The Court will deny Concord’s motion,” U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich wrote in the Memorandum Opinion filed in D.C. federal court on Monday. “The Special Counsel’s appointment complies with the Constitution’s Appointments Clause because (1) the Special Counsel is an ‘inferior Officer’; and (2) Congress ‘by Law vest[ed]’ the Acting Attorney General with the power to make the appointment.”

In a statement reacting to the decision, Kamenar told ABC News on Monday, “Judge Friedrich did not reach the issue only presented in our case, namely, that Mueller even if he is an inferior officer, should have been appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions instead of Rod Rosenstein as a so-called Acting AG. That issue is part of our appeal.”

Miller’s objections will be the first taken up on appeal.

The National Legal and Policy Center is a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation with a deep history of mounting legal challenges against left-leaning organizations and Democratic politicians. In 1993, the group successfully sued to open the meetings and records of Hillary Clinton’s health care task force.

On its website, the group touts its role in investigations that led to allegations of wrongdoing against a series of Democratic politicians. Among them were ethics charges against former Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, who was censured in 2010 for ethics violations, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NY, who was indicted in 2015 on corruption charges but acquitted earlier this year.

More recently, the group targeted Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., filing a complaint July 26 with the Federal Election Committee alleging she violated election laws for some of her mailings. Waters’ office has not yet responded to a request for comment from ABC News.

The group has received sizeable donations from well-heeled conservative foundations, including the the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, run by Right-wing mega-donor Richard Uihlein.

Uihlein was a major donor to pro-Trump GOP Senate primary challengers in the 2018 midterm elections. An Illinois shipping-supplies magnate who avoids the limelight, he “has risen to become one of the most powerful — and disruptive — GOP donors in the country,” the Washington Post wrote in April.

Another prominent conservative NLPC donor, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, has deep ties to the Trump administration.

The most recent available charity tax filings show the Uihlein foundation gave NLPC $50,000 annually between 2010 and 2016, and the Scaife foundation gave the group $100,000 a year between 2010 and 2014, raising their donation to $125,000 in 2015. Flaherty told ABC News that both foundations are continuing supporters of NLPC. Neither organization responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

The group first became interested in challenging the Mueller probe in May, when Flaherty says he saw an op-ed arguing that Mueller was not constitutionally appointed.

“I thought it would be worth pursuing,” Flaherty told ABC News. “So I was thinking it’d be a good project for the National Legal and Policy Center.”

Flaherty said he reached out to longtime Stone associate and former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo, who he knew had met with special counsel investigators earlier that month.

“I asked [Caputo] if he knew anybody who might want to serve in this role and he said ‘as a matter of fact, there’s a guy named Andrew Miller; let me give him a call,’” Flaherty told ABC News. ”He called Andrew. Andrew had a positive response.”

Miller had served as an aide to Stone, who has described Miller as his “wingman” because he helped manage Stone’s schedule, media appearances and offered other assistance to him around the 2016 Republican National Convention. Miller identifies himself as a registered libertarian and has said he did not support Trump’s candidacy.

The special counsel’s interest in Miller is unclear, but investigators have made repeated efforts to bring him in front of a grand jury impaneled for the Russia probe.

Already, attorneys for Miller had tried unsuccessfully two times in July to quash a subpoena requiring Miller to testify before the special counsel’s grand jury, arguing that Mueller lacked the constitutional authority to issue it.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell held Miller in contempt of court for refusing to comply with the subpoena. Miller’s lawyer said they sought the contempt citation because it allows them to mount an appeal where they can advance the constitutional challenge. Now, the argument can be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“If we win in the Court of Appeals, of course, the government will go to the Supreme Court,” Kamenar told ABC News. “If we lose then we will petition the Supreme Court.”

Kamenar said that depending on how fast the Court of Appeals takes, the case could be brought to the Supreme Court by either party as soon as late this fall, or early next year.

The strategy is not without risk, according to Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor.

“If Andrew Miller were to lose his appeal, and be denied review by the Supreme Court, and still persist in refusing to testify, then he likely would be subjected to penalties by the Court,” Epner said.

Penalties could range from fines to imprisonment until he agrees to testify – or the grand jury term expires.

“Some judges have imposed a $1 fine, which doubles daily. Within 10 days, that number becomes big enough to bankrupt virtually anyone. After 30 days, the daily fine would be over $536 million. After 60 days, the daily fine would be over 1 quintillion dollars.”

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HUD files formal complaint against Facebook for housing discrimination

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Housing and Urban Development has filed a formal complaint against Facebook for allowing landlords to target specific racial groups or other demographic groups in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Facebook has previously faced lawsuits from housing groups after ProPublica reported in 2016 that advertisements for rental homes were targeting ads based on an “affinity” for demographics like African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic or excluding people interested in terms that could be associated with protected groups.

HUD’s complaint specifically says that as of July 2018, Facebook’s ad targeting tools allowed advertisers to show ads only to men or women, not show ads to users interested in terms associated with persons with disabilities, religions, having children, or even other countries.

HUD also said that Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate by race by “drawing a red line around majority-minority zip codes and not showing ads to users who live in those zip codes,” according to the complaint.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face.”

Facebook has previously said that it would address advertising options that allowed advertisers to target these groups and said the company would fight lawsuits alleging it allowed discrimination.

In addition to the complaint filed by HUD. the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a statement challenging Facebook’s advertising platform. HUD’s complaint is the result of an investigation and will lead to a formal fact-finding investigation. If the department finds reasonable cause that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act they could refer a discrimination charge to the Justice Department.

A Facebook spokesman said they will work with HUD to respond to their concerns.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. Over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse. We’re aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court; and we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns,” the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

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Trump says he’ll likely strip ‘dossier’-linked DOJ official of security clearance

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump on Friday said he is on the verge of stripping the security clearance of a longtime Justice Department official who has emerged as a target and political talking point for Republicans upset over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly,” Trump said of Ohr’s security clearance on Friday, just two days after the White House announced it had taken away clearances for former CIA director John Brennan, a ferocious critic of Trump.

“For [Ohr] to be in the Justice Department, and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace,” Trump added.

But — even after months of repeated attacks on him from Trump and the president’s political allies — it’s still unclear exactly what, if anything, Ohr did.

Trump has attacked Ohr by name frequently in recent months, as his reportedly private fuming over Mueller’s probe increasingly seeps onto his Twitter feed. On Tuesday, Trump accused Ohr and his wife, Nellie, of being “in on the act big time” to undermine his presidential campaign in 2016.

In early 2016, when Trump was still vying for the Republican nomination, a young adviser on his campaign told an Australian diplomat he had reason to believe the Russian government had obtained “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The diplomat alerted the FBI, which opened a counterintelligence investigation into the matter.

Around the same time, backed by money from Democratic operatives, the research firm Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele to look into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Steele was friendly with a Fusion GPS employee’s husband – Bruce Ohr, an organized crime expert who was serving as associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.

Steele ultimately compiled a “dossier” filled with an array of controversial allegations against Trump. Ohr “wasn’t working on the Russia matter,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently told lawmakers. Nevertheless, Ohr gave a copy of the dossier to the FBI – but by then the FBI had already obtained a copy of the dossier from another source.

The dossier helped push the FBI to expand its counterintelligence investigation into whether anyone associated with Trump’s campaign may have been coordinating with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election. And, for a short period then, the FBI was in contact with Steele about his work on the matter.

In October 2016, the dossier was one of many pieces of evidence the FBI used to justify its secret monitoring of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who the FBI believed was working as an agent for Russia and who the FBI knew had been targeted three years earlier for recruitment by Russian spies. Page has denied working for the Russians.

The FBI’s probe of Russian meddling and possible ties to Trump associates was being run by Peter Strzok, the now-fired FBI veteran. In late 2016 or early 2017, around the same time the FBI decided to cut off contact with Steele, Strzok and Ohr spoke as many as five times about “operational” and “investigative matters,” Strzok recently told a House panel.

Citing orders from FBI attorneys, Strzok wouldn’t offer any more details about their interactions. But under oath he insisted to lawmakers that the true nature of what Ohr did –when it can be made public — will both “reassure” and “disappoint” concerned Republicans.

It’s unclear if Ohr was using those contacts with Strzok to pass information from Steele to the FBI. At the time, Ohr was assigned to work on matters completely unrelated to Russia. A State Department website shows that in October 2017, while still in the deputy attorney general’s office, he traveled to Honduras to speak at a forum about security issues facing Central America. But when Rosenstein then learned that Ohr had been in contact with Steele, “we arranged to transfer Mr. Ohr to a different office,” Rosenstein recently told lawmakers.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is now looking into Ohr’s actions, Rosenstein said.

In recent months, many Republicans — led by Trump and a small group of House members –have used Ohr to push their view that Mueller’s probe is tainted.

“I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace with his wife Nellie,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “And Mr. Mueller has a lot of conflicts also.”

A source with knowledge of the Mueller probe described such allegations against Ohr as “a fishing expedition.”

Before joining the deputy attorney general’s office, Ohr served as director for the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. In 2013, the State Department described him as “a Department of Justice subject matter expert” on transnational organized crime.

He had spent several years in senior positions within the department, overseeing gang- and racketeering-related prosecutions.

From 1991 to 1999, he served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

He also served in private practice, and has a law degree from Harvard Law School, according to government documents posted online.

On Wednesday, when the White House announced it had stripped Brennan of his security clearance, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump was contemplating whether to strip several others, including Ohr, of their clearances.

At least two of those she mentioned, former FBI director James Comes and former deputy director Andrew McCabe, lost their clearances some time ago.

In response to Brennan’s loss of security clearance, a dozen senior intelligence officials — who served Republican and Democratic presidents — issued a joint statement, saying, “[T]he president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thousands could lose Medicaid coverage as states enforce work requirements

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Thousands of Americans — many low-income — are at risk of losing Medicaid health care insurance coverage as states implement work requirements pushed and approved by the Trump administration.

In Arkansas, more than 5,400 people failed to comply with the work requirements for the past two months, according to a monthly report provided by the Arkansas Department of Human Services putting them in a position to lose their coverage if they don’t comply in August.

If residents don’t submit information that proves they work, attend school or job training, or volunteer at least 80 hours a month during three months a year, they could be frozen from applying for Medicaid until next year.

Under the Arkansas requirements, residents who want to submit proof that they worked or apply for an exemption have to do so through an online portal, which has been reported as a problem for people without reliable internet access. Advocates for people who are homeless have also said they struggled to help them apply for exemptions, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Advocates in Arkansas filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of residents that could lose Medicaid coverage challenging the administration’s decision to approve the policy.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Cesar Ardon, says he used Medicaid for treatment following a surgery to remove a tumor from his torso last year and other health problems like arthritis, carpal tunnel, and high cholesterol.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit, says Ardon works as a handyman and has unpredictable work hours but falls under the requirement to show that he works at least 20 hours a week to keep his coverage. He reportedly received a notice that he did not meet the requirement in June and had trouble submitting his report for July because of a bad internet connection.

Ardon said in a statement that he sometimes can’t afford his internet bill to report his work hours.

“I worry about getting sick and being unable to work and access health care if I lost my Medicaid coverage,” said Ardon. “I hope this lawsuit will help others like me. No one should have to lose their Medicaid coverage just because they are having trouble finding enough work.”

The state is phasing in the requirements gradually so not everyone eligible for Medicaid is subject to them yet. They apply to about 46,000 adults ages 30-49 in the state and data shows that more than 30,000 automatically met the requirements. Of the 13,000 people that were required to report through the state’s online system the data shows that only 844 reported enough hours to meet the requirements and a spokeswoman said most of them did not report anything.

“We’re seeing what we didn’t want to see, we want to see those numbers go up, we want to see more and more people meet the work requirement,” another DHS spokesperson Marci Manley told ABC affiliate KATV.

In January, the Trump administration told states it would support programs that require residents to work, attend school, or enroll in job training programs to receive Medicaid benefits. Administration officials have also said they would support work requirements on aid programs like nutrition and housing assistance.

“People who participate in activities that increase their education and training are more likely to find sustainable employment, have higher earnings, a better quality of life, and, studies have shown, improved health outcomes,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Selma Verna said at the time.

Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Indiana have been granted waivers to add a work requirement component to Medicaid programs and at least seven more states have requested waivers, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Michigan lawmaker apologizes for racial slurs targeting opponent

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Michigan House (DETROIT) — A Michigan lawmaker apologized after roiling her state Senate race and drawing the ire of the state Democratic party for making racial slurs against her former rival, an Asian-American candidate.

Rep. Bettie Cook Scott, who is African-American, said in a statement released on Twitter by her lawyer, Bill Noakes, “I deeply regret the comments I made that have proven hurtful to so many. Those are words I never should have said.”

Coming under fire for allegedly making derogatory, anti-immigrant comments aimed at her opponent, Rep. Stephanie Chang, to multiple voters outside polling precincts during Michigan’s primaries, Scott called her “ching-chong,” according to the Detroit News.

She also purportedly told voters who showed up last Tuesday that she was disgusted at “seeing Black people holding signs for these Asians and not supporting their own people,” and told a volunteer for Chang’s campaign, “you don’t belong here,” the Detroit News reports.

Scott and Chang, both from Detroit, competed in a crowded primary for state Senate District 1 with a deep field of six candidates. Despite the attempt by Scott to smear her opponent at the polling places, Chang emerged on top in the primary race after garnering 50 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the secretary of state. Scott only captured 11 percent of the 32,930 voters who turned out for the Aug. 7 Democratic primary.

Currently serving in her third term in the Michigan state House, Scott started her tenure in 2007, after three years with Detroit public schools as a public school teacher and 17 years with the Detroit Police Department as a police officer. Scott was not eligible to run for re-election in the state House this cycle due to term limits.

Chang, who is also from Detroit, represents Michigan’s 6th House District as the first Asian American woman elected to serve in the Michigan legislature. She is in her second term and previously was a community organizer in the city.

Scott’s disparaging remarks led to dozens of groups calling for an apology after her comments were reported earlier this week. Among them was the Michigan Democratic Party, who lambasted Scott for her racially-motivated comments, asserting, “There is no place in our state or our party for bigotry and discrimination.”

“Bettie Cook Scott’s remarks were not only offensive but go against all the values of the Democratic Party,” said party chair Brandon Dillon, in a statement released Thursday. “She must apologize immediately … We, at the Michigan Democratic Party, are deeply offended by these statements and the attitude behind them. We expect better from anyone who wants to call themselves a Michigan Democrat. Bettie Cook Scott needs to apologize to the entire Asian American community. If an individual doesn’t share our fundamental values of tolerance, decency, and respect, they should find another party.”

Shortly after the statement from the state party, Scott released her apology and offered to meet with Chang.

“I humbly apologize to Representative Chang her husband, Mr. Gray, and to the broader Asian American community for those disparaging remarks,” the statement reads. “In the divisive age we find ourselves in, I should not contribute further to that divisiveness. I have reached out to Representative Chang to meet with her so that I may apologize to her in person. I pray she and the Asian American community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.”

In response, Chang told ABC News in a statement that, “Hate has no place in our state, and especially not from those elected to serve the public.”

She also accepted Scott’s offer to meet in person.

“I understand Rep. Scott has recognized that her comments were uncalled for and inappropriate,” she continued. “This is not about me — it is about the impact of xenophobia and bigotry on Asian American and immigrant communities. I appreciate Rep Scott’s offer to sit down and discuss these problematic comments in person, and will meet with her next week with representatives I have invited from the Asian American and immigrant community.”

Scott did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Former intelligence officials criticize Brennan’s loss of security clearance

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In an unprecedented show of support, more than a dozen top former intelligence officials have signed a letter backing former CIA Director John Brennan whose security clearance was revoked by the White House earlier this week.

The group of former CIA directors, CIA deputy directors and Director of National Intelligence called the move “ill-considered” and said the threat of additional removals are not based on security concerns but have “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

Brennan has drawn President Trump’s ire for his vocal criticism of the President and his policies.

The White House announced earlier this week that Brennan’s national security clearance had been revoked because he “recently leveraged his status with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television about this administration.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also said President Trump was considering removing the national security clearances of other former intelligence officials who have been critical of his presidency.

The move has united a who’s who of former top intelligence officials who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The list of former senior intelligence officials who signed the letter includes James Clapper, a former Director of National Intelligence, and seven CIA Directors including Robert Gates, William Webster, George Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus.

“As former senior intelligence officials, we feel compelled to respond in the wake of the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances,” they wrote.

“We know John to be an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation,” the letter continued. “Insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless.”

“Insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless” it added.

Some of the officials who signed the letter noted that they may not side with Brennan’s comments or choose to go public with any comments, but “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

The officials said they had “never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case.”

They labeled the removal of Brennan’s security clearance as “a signal” to current and former officials about potential limits to their free speech.

“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech – even when that right has been used to criticize us – that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable,” they wrote. “Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”

Brennan received a separate endorsement on Thursday from retired Admiral William McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

In an open letter published in the Washington Post, McRaven expressed his support for Brennan and challenged the administration to also remove his security clearance.

“Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him,” McRaven wrote in his letter. “Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

In his letter McRaven also directly criticized President Trump saying “through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.” He added, If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.”

Departing for New York on Friday, President Trump said he did not know McRaven, but added that he had received a “tremendous response from having done that because security clearances are very important to me.”

Trump also doubled down on his criticism of Brennan saying “I’ve never respected him” and said he would likely soon remove the security clearance of Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

One year after crisis began, US sanctions Myanmar military over Rohingya ethnic cleansing

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Rehman Asad / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is sanctioning four Myanmar military officials and two military units for the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, the Muslim-majority ethnic group that has fled by the hundreds of thousands from a violent campaign into neighboring Bangladesh.

Other than one general sanctioned last December, these are the first commanders and units hit with economic penalties since the crisis started nearly a year ago. While it was a welcome step for human rights groups and activists, they say it took too long and does not do enough.

The sanctions target four commanders who led teams that engaged in human rights abuses – the Border Guard Police, the Military Operations Command, the Bureau of Special Operations, and the 99th Light Infantry Division. In addition, the 99th Division and the 33rd Light Infantry Division were sanctioned as units for their bloody roles.

In grim detail, the Treasury Department lays out what the men and their units did – mass executions of men and boys, raping and beating women and girls, burning homes down with families trapped inside. They slaughtered thousands – including the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities like the Kachin, Shan, and others.

Myanmar has a long history of violent oppression of ethnic minorities, especially the Rohingya. But this latest round of violence began on August 25 when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of police posts in northern Rakhine state, according to the Myanmar government, which responded immediately with a violent crackdown, burning villages and killing civilians.

That sparked a flood of refugees into neighboring Bangladesh – now totaling 919,000, according to the latest United Nations estimates.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has denied the allegations, saying it is combating an Islamic terrorist threat.

The U.S. has been hesitant to coming down too hard on Myanmar, which is governed by a hybrid military-civilian government. Ruled by a military junta since 1988, Myanmar began a transition to allow civilian rule in 2011, but that power-sharing is still delicate.

Just years since it relaxed sanctions on Myanmar, the U.S. is also concerned about pushing the country back into China’s orbit.

While the administration developed a list of six to nine sanctions targets earlier this year, the effort stalled amid internal debates, ABC News was first to report.

Instead, the U.S. was caught flat-footed when the European Union and Canada led the way with their own sanctions on seven Myanmar military officials on June 25, freezing their assets within European and Canadian jurisdictions and banning them from traveling to Europe and doing business with Canada.

In addition to the $299 million in aid the U.S. has provided for Rohingya refugees, the Treasury said Friday it will continue to address the crisis, potentially with more sanctions.

“There must be justice for the victims and those who work to uncover these atrocities, with those responsible held to account for these abhorrent crimes,” said Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker in a statement. “The U.S. government is committed to ensuring that Burmese military units and leaders reckon with and put a stop to these brutal acts.”

But human rights group say Friday’s actions are not enough.

“Responsibility extends to the highest levels of the chain of command – so too should justice and accountability,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific advocacy manager Francisco Bencosme told ABC News, calling for sanctions on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar military.

The State Department is still working on a full investigative report of the Rohingya crisis, including through on-the-ground interviews with survivors in refugee camps. For months now, teams of U.S. investigators have been gathering evidence, as ABC News reported in April. The administration is reportedly debating whether to call the violence “genocide” when it reveals the report sometime soon, according to Politico. But it’s unclear when that release may be.

Last November, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined that the violence constituted ethnic cleansing, but the term genocide is stronger, carrying legal ramifications and obligations.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump razzes Cuomo again about America ‘never that great’ comment

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The ongoing feud between President Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued Friday when the president slammed the Democrat on Twitter once again for comments he made earlier in the week.

“How does a politician, Cuomo, known for pushing people and businesses out of his state, not to mention having the highest taxes in the U.S., survive making the statement, WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT? Which section of the sentence is worse?” Trump tweeted.

“We’re not going to make America great again, it was never that great,” Cuomo, who is running for a second term, told the audience at an event that included a bill signing for an anti-human trafficking measure.

Cuomo went on to say that America “…will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping against women, 51 percent of our population, is gone. And every woman’s full potential is realized and unleashed and every woman is making her full contribution.”

Cuomo’s remarks Wednesday prompted a quick response from the president.

“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.” Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!” Trump tweeted Wednesday evening.

Immediately after Trump’s first tweet, the Trump campaign reacted with a press release issued by Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and senior campaign advisor.

“Today, Andrew Cuomo showed his true, pessimistic colors when he defamed America as a country that was ‘never that great.’ Yet, the vast majority of Americans believe in America as the ‘last best hope of earth,'” Lara Trump wrote.

In a statement sent after Cuomo’s comments Wednesday, his press secretary Dani Lever sought to clarify the governor’s remarks.

“Governor Cuomo disagrees with the President,” Lever said in a statement sent to ABC News. “The Governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality. America has not yet reached its maximum potential.”

Lever also referenced how some associate the president’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” with a history of sexism and racism.

“When the President speaks about making America great again – going back in time – he ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions,” the statement read.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump’s military parade postponed until 2019 as reported cost skyrockets

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s military parade that was slated to have taken place on November 10 has been postponed, according to a Pentagon statement. Earlier on Thursday, a U.S. official had told ABC News that the cost of the parade had risen to $92 million, a significant increase to initial estimates that it could cost $14 million.

“The Department of Defense and White House have been planning a parade to honor America’s military veterans and commemorate the centennial of World War I,” said the statement issued Thursday night. “We originally targeted November 10, 2018 for this event but have now agreed to explore opportunities in 2019.”

The White House did not have an immediate comment.

The postponement comes on the heels of news that the cost of the parade had ballooned from its initial estimated price tag of $12 million. A U.S. official told ABC News on Thursday that the cost of the parade was now estimated to be $92 million.

The official stressed that the cost was an estimate that could vary based off of a final decision on the scope of the parade made by Defense Secretary James Mattis. At the time the secretary had still not signed off on the final plans for the parade.

About $50 million is expected to be paid for by the Pentagon with the other $42 million coming from the Department of Homeland Security, the official said.

The latest estimate means the cost of the parade could be as high as six times that of the U.S. and South Korean military exercise Trump suspended after he labeled them “provocative” and “very expensive.” The cost of the suspended exercise, scheduled to take place this month, was $14 million.

The official said that the initial $12 million estimate was based off of a review of the capital’s last military parade for the 1991 Gulf War. Before that figure, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told the House Budget Committee in February that the cost could range between $10 and $30 million.

Last month, ABC News reported that between 5,000 and 7,000 service members were estimated to march in the parade which was slated for Saturday, November 10, according to a U.S. defense official familiar with parade planning documents.

Nearly 3,000 personnel, a mix of civilian and military employees, are planned to be supporting the execution of the parade the week before it takes place. Some of those individuals will be security personnel.

In addition to the 5,000 to 7,000 individuals who could be marching, the parade, which was slated to begin at the U.S. Capitol and end at the White House, is expected to feature a mix of vehicles, aircraft, and horses.

A March memo from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said no tanks would be used in the parade, only wheeled vehicles in order to “minimize damage to local infrastructure.” But on Thursday, CNBC reported that eight tanks have now been approved following an analysis that showed the vehicle’s weight would not negatively impact the streets of Washington, D.C.

Trump first mentioned the idea of a grand parade after attending France’s Bastille Day parade last summer. Then, in February, he asked the Pentagon to begin planning for such a parade to take place in the U.S.

The date of November 10 is one day before Veteran’s Day, which would have coincided with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Christian baker who won Supreme Court case in new legal battle

Posted on: August 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(LAKEWOOD, Colo.) — When Christian bakery owner Jack Phillips won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in June over his refusal to make a wedding cake a gay couple based on his religious convictions, he thought his legal battles with the state of Colorado were over, according to a lawsuit.

But now Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, is facing a new court fight, this one involving a lawyer who asked him to bake a cake to celebrate the anniversary of her gender transition.

Phillips filed a federal lawsuit this week accusing the state of Colorado of “anti-religious hostility” against him and asked the U.S. District Court in Denver to overturn a Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling that he discriminated against a transgender person.

“He’s extremely disappointed because the Supreme Court’s decision was very clear. It condemned Colorado’s hostility toward his religious beliefs,” Phillips lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, told ABC News on Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, names Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and all seven members of the state Civil Rights Commission as defendants. It also names Aubrey Elenis, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division as a defendant.

“Colorado [Civil Rights Commission] is intent on continuing its campaign to crush him and his business,” said Waggoner, of the conservative Christian nonprofit law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. “It’s sobering, it’s disappointing, it’s tiring and we should expect more and demand more from our government. It’s deeply disturbing that the state government would disregard the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, according to the lawsuit, ruled that Phillips violated the state’s non-discrimination law when he declined to bake the cake for Autumn Scardina, who says she was celebrating her birthday and the seventh anniversary of her gender transition, according to the lawsuit.

Scardina specifically requested a cake with a blue exterior and a pink interior that, according to the suit, reflected her transition from male to female.

“Phillips declined to create the cake with the blue and pink design because it would have celebrated messages contrary to his religious belief that sex–the status of being male or female–is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings and cannot be chosen or changed,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims Scardina called Phillips bakery back several times asking the staff to create cakes celebrating Satan, orders they say they also rejected.
“The person is a lawyer and an LGBT activist,” Waggoner said of Scardina. “While Jack has become accustomed to activists trying these kinds of actions, we’re focusing on what the government does because the government’s role is to protect all Americans and not just those with whom it agrees in terms of ideology.”

She said the state has also shown a “double standard” by zeroing in on Phillips, but not other bakers who have declined requests for cakes with messages they deemed objectionable.

Scardina did not return messages from ABC News seeking comment.

She placed the gender celebration cake order with Phillips the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Phillips’ first case against the state, according to the lawsuit.

In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after Phillips told them he would not make their wedding cake because it was counter to his religious beliefs. The couple argued he had violated Colorado law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The nation’s highest court issued a 7-2 ruling on June 4 that affirmed Phillips’ right to refuse to bake the couple a cake on religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Waggoner said that 24 days after Phillips prevailed in the Supreme Court, he was informed he violated Colorado law by declining to create the cake Scardina requested.

Phillips says the first court battle cost him 40 percent of his business and prompted him to lay off six of his 10 employees. He says he also endured death threats and his shop was vandalized.

“The state’s continuing efforts to target Phillips do not just violate the Constitution; they cross the line into bad faith. This court should put a stop to Colorado’s unconstitutional bullying,” the lawsuit states.

Both State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and the Civil Rights Commission declined to comment.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Hickenlooper said he expects Phillips’ new lawsuit to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The first ruling from the Supreme Court did not address the basic issue” of religious freedom, Hickenlooper said. “That’s what I think the U.S. Supreme Court will have to address this time.

“When you’re talking about people’s religion, it doesn’t matter what religion, it’s one of the most tightly held American freedoms that we have,” the governor said. “It’s why millions of people fought and lost their lives.”Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Senate Republicans defend Trump’s decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senators’ reactions to President Donald Trump revoking former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance mostly broke down along party lines, with Democrats condemning and Republicans defending him.

In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., cited a New York Times op-ed published Thursday, after Brennan’s security was revoked, in which Brennan wrote that Trump’s claims of no collusion were “hogwash,” saying the only remaining questions were whether the collusion amounted to a criminal conspiracy and whether the Trump team obstructed justice in order to cover up the collusion Brennan alleged.

Burr said that if in fact Brennan had information that proved the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power, he should have provided that information to special counsel Robert Mueller, rather than writing about it in a newspaper.

Burr also asked that if Brennan had had direct knowledge of collusion during his CIA tenure, he should have included it in the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment of Russian interference, released just before Brennan resigned. If Brennan learned information after he left office, Burr said it would constitute an intelligence breach.

“If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch,” Burr’s statement continued.

A spokesperson for Burr did not respond to a follow-up question about whether Brennan said or did anything before his clearance was revoked that led Burr to believe it should be revoked.

Brennan has been one of the more outspoken former members of the intelligence community – though far from the only one – in criticizing the president, often addressing the president directly over Twitter.

In the White House’s own announcement of his security revocation, press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Brennan of demonstrating “erratic behavior” and specifically cited testimony Brennan gave to Congress last year in denying that the so-called Steele dossier was a factor in the intelligence community’s ultimate conclusion regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But she did not present any evidence that Brennan has actually ever mishandled classified information.

Back on the Hill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended the president, saying it was Brennan who had overstepped.

“Mr. Brennan has gone way over the line in my view and I think restricting his clearance, pulling his clearance makes sense to me,” he said.

Graham added that he believed Trump should also strip Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, of his security clearance. Flynn plead guilty in December to lying to the FBI and has been cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference since then.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., told reporters Thursday that he wasn’t sure it was necessary for any former intelligence community employees to maintain their clearance “unless there is some justification not to.”

Asked Wednesday for their thoughts, Sens. John Kennedy and Richard Shelby also deferred to presidential authority and focused on Brennan’s faults.

“I don’t see why he would need a security clearance. I really don’t. And I don’t think he’s qualified to have one,” Kennedy said, calling Brennan a “butthead.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t know why they give them security clearances anyway other than maybe a transition period,” Shelby added.

One Republican who bucked the party line was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., who said she disagreed with Brennan’s statements but also disagreed with the president’s decision.

“I believe that John Brennan has acted in far too politically a role since he left the CIA. Nevertheless I do not see the grounds for revoking his security clearance, unless there was some disclosure of classified information of which I am unaware,” she said.

Senate Democrats were much more openly critical.

“I think it is pretty clear this is a president who goes out of his way to punish his political adversaries. And just really haven’t seen anything like this before,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said.

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Manafort jury asks judge to define ‘reasonable doubt’ during deliberations

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — After a full day of deliberation, the 12-person jury in the financial crimes trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has yet to reach a verdict, meaning the panel will reconvene Friday to continue considering Manafort’s fate.

Jurors’ first day deliberating the special counsel’s case against Manafort, who faces 18 counts of tax- and bank-related fraud, ended with questions – not answers. Before leaving the courtroom on Thursday, jurors sent a note to the judge asking four questions about nuances of the case, including the definition of “reasonable doubt.”

Judge T.S. Ellis – the federal judge overseeing Manafort’s case in Alexandria, Virginia, clarified to jurors that the government is not required to find “guilt beyond all possible doubt,” but defined reasonable doubt as a “doubt based on reason.”

Jurors also asked the court to define “shelf company,” and for more information on foreign bank account records. Jurors also asked for the special counsel’s indictment of Manafort to be included in their exhibit list.

Judge Ellis told jurors to rely on their collective recollection based on testimony to answer those questions.

Leaving the courthouse after learning of the jury’s questions, Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing told reporters that the jury’s questions are “good news” for Manafort.

“Well we just got some good news. The jury’s been deliberating. They had some questions which the judge addressed, and they’ve asked to come back tomorrow to continue deliberation,” Downing said. “So, overall a very good day for Mr. Manafort.”

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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Bin Laden raid commander defends Brennan, tells Trump, ‘revoke my security clearance as well’

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The retired U.S. Navy admiral who led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden is defending former CIA director John Brennan after President Donald Trump revoked his security clearance earlier this week.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Thursday, retired Adm. William McRaven asks Trump to revoke his own security clearance in solidarity with Brennan, a frequent critic of the president.

“Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him,” McRaven wrote. “Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

McRaven, a former Navy SEAL, led the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014 before leaving the military. He notably oversaw the 2011 mission that killed the former head of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan.

“Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs,” McRaven wrote, addressing Trump. “A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself. Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities.”

“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” he continued. “If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.”

McRaven has criticized Trump before, saying the president’s characterization of the press as “the enemy of the American people” is the “greatest threat to democracy” he’s ever seen.

The retired admiral, who went on to become the chancellor for the University of Texas system, made the comment during a speech at the University of Texas – Austin campus last year, according to the Daily Texan.

Mixing the military with politics

Many of the military’s former top leadership have not-so-quietly waded into American politics.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn campaigned for Trump before briefly serving as his national security adviser, while retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen campaigned on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

John Kirby, a retired Navy admiral, and James Clapper, a retired Air Force general and former Director of National Intelligence, frequently appear on CNN with their own analysis of the current administration. Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who also ran the NSA and CIA, is another vocal critic.

But Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general himself, has advocated against these “formers” revealing their political persuasions so publicly.

“I think that it is wrong in America, the United States of America, to say as a retired general or admiral to come out in a public position supporting one candidate or another,” Mattis said during a speech in South America this week. “The reason is, we do not want to politicize the officer corps, and I don’t want anyone thinking when they have a general in the room ‘well he retires next year, I wonder what he’s going to do after that.’ So that’s why I took no part in the campaign. I don’t believe I should.”

There are military policies that restrict political activities for service members, especially when they are in uniform. But those restrictions go away upon retirement.

Still, more than half of former U.S. presidents served in the military at some point during their lives. The last retired general elected to office was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

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Federal court reinstates clean water rule delayed by Trump administration

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A federal judge in South Carolina has issued an injunction to block the Trump administration’s move to delay a clean water rule intended to prevent pollution from being released into bodies of water like creeks, lakes and streams.

The change to the Waters of the United States rule was a hallmark of former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s time at EPA, who often said that under the rule a dry creek bed would be regulated as a Water of the United States. Groups like the American Farm Bureau opposed the rule, saying that the Obama administration did not listen to their concerns that it put too many regulations on their business.

EPA was working to change definitions in the rule that would have drastically rolled back protections.

Similar to other rulings that have gone against rules delayed or rolled back under the Trump administration, South Carolina District Judge David Norton ruled that the government did not follow proper procedure in delaying the rule and suspended the EPA’s decision, specifically by not considering public comment in its decision.

“The agencies refused to engage in a substantive reevaluation of the definition of the “waters of the United States” even though the legal effect of the Suspension Rule is that the definition of “waters of the United States” ceases to be the definition under the WOTUS rule,” he wrote in the decision.

Norton ruled in favor of environmental groups and states that challenged the delay and granted an injunction to reinstate the rule.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency and Army Corps of Engineers will review the ruling to determine the next step.

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Trump’s military parade estimated to cost $92 million

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s military parade is now estimated to cost approximately $92 million, a U.S. official tells ABC News.

The official stressed that this is still an estimate that could vary based off of the final decision on the scope of the parade made by Defense Secretary James Mattis. The secretary has still not signed off on the final plans.

The latest estimate, first reported by CNBC, is $80 million higher than the previous estimate of $12 million. About $50 million is expected to be paid for by the Pentagon with the other $42 million coming from the Department of Homeland Security, the official said.

The latest estimate means the cost of the parade could be as high as six times that of the U.S. and South Korean military exercise Trump suspended after he labeled them “provocative” and “very expensive.” The cost of the suspended exercise, scheduled to take place this month, was $14 million.

The official said that the initial $12 million estimate was based off of a review of the capital’s last military parade for the 1991 Gulf War. Before that figure, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told the House Budget Committee in February that the cost could range between $10 and $30 million.

Last month, ABC News reported that between 5,000 and 7,000 service members were estimated to march in the parade which is slated for Saturday, November 10, according to a U.S. defense official familiar with parade planning documents.

Nearly 3,000 personnel, a mix of civilian and military employees, are planned to be supporting the execution of the parade the week before it takes place. Some of those individuals will be security personnel.

In addition to the 5,000 to 7,000 individuals who could be marching, the parade, which is slated to begin at the U.S. Capitol and end at the White House, is expected to feature a mix of vehicles, aircraft, and horses.

A March memo from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said no tanks would be used in the parade, only wheeled vehicles in order to “minimize damage to local infrastructure.” But on Thursday, CNBC reported that eight tanks have now been approved following an analysis that showed the vehicle’s weight would not negatively impact the streets of Washington, D.C.

Trump first mentioned the idea of a grand parade after attending France’s Bastille Day parade last summer. Then, in February, he asked the Pentagon to begin planning for such a parade to take place in the U.S.

The date of November 10 is one day before Veteran’s Day, that will also coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

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Livid lawmakers clash with feds over safety of unaccompanied immigrant children

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Lawmakers clashed with federal officials during a heated hearing Thursday examining which agencies maintain legal responsibility for the welfare of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant children after they are placed in the homes of sponsors.

Amid a growing backlog of children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or legal guardian, a bipartisan report released Wednesday evening found several federal agencies failed to address deficiencies that create “significant risk for trafficking and abuse” for immigrant minors who are placed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement into homes with sponsors.

After the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released its 52-page report, Sens. Rob Portman and Tom Carper, the chairman and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), pressed federal officials at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Justice on their efforts to protect such children (UACs) from human trafficking and other forms of abuse after they are placed in the homes of sponsors and await legal proceedings.

Commander Jonathan White, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Federal Health Coordinating Official for the 2018 UAC Reunification Effort at HHS, insisted under sworn testimony that the responsibility to enforce the law is not HHS’s.

“HHS does not presently have the authority to exercise supervision or oversight of children who are not in the physical care and custody of ORR,” White testified. “We have neither the authorities nor the appropriations to exercise that degree of oversight after minors exit ORR care.”

That posture flabbergasted several senators.

“You’re catching these children and then you’re releasing them and everyone goes like this: ‘not my problem!’” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., exclaimed incredulously.

“I can tell you along with the rest of America this sickens me,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, said. “It sickens me that these children have been put in this position and in harm’s way and that we in the United States government have responsibility for these children.”

The departments, collectively, slammed the report as “misleading,” adding that it “demonstrates fundamental misunderstandings of law and policy related to the safety and care of Unaccompanied Alien Children.”

“Congressional oversight is critical and often helps to improve the agencies’ operations, but flawed reports based on a lack of understanding of Executive branch operations will not produce any meaningful opportunities to advance legislation,” DHS, HHS and DOJ noted in a joint statement.

Without a federal agency tasked to ensure the children appear at their immigration court cases, an increasing number of the kids have failed to show up, the report found.

Over a three-month period in 2017, HHS attempted to locate 7,635 undocumented immigrant children whose cases were still pending. Out of 7,635 attempted phone calls, HHS discovered that 28 of the kids “had run away” and the agency was “unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 UACs.”

Despite those facts, White asserted that there are “no lost children” – prompting a sharp rebuke from Portman.

“Your blanket statement that there are no lost children is simply inaccurate. There are lost children, clearly,” Portman, R-Ohio, said. “Of course there are lost children — and that’s the whole point here. No one’s responsible.”

DOJ immigration courts have more than 700,000 backlogged cases, according to the report. As of the end of June, a whopping 80,266 pending cases awaited a resolution from just 355 immigration judges authorized to review the mounting legal work – a stunning figure that has exploded from 18,852 at the end of 2014.

“A siloed response to child welfare is not acceptable,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, said. “These children are here and the American people want to know we are doing what we would do for any child to make sure they are safe.”

While current cases have been pending an average of 480 days, President Donald Trump has scoffed at proposals to hire more judges to handle the casework.

“I don’t want judges,” Trump said during a campaign rally in South Carolina on June 25.

“I want ICE and border patrol agents. That’s what I want.”

The report notes that the Department of Justice currently has the authority to hire 129 additional judges, though James McHenry, III, the director of DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, told the panel that that figure is misleading and the department expects to fill all vacancies in the next year.

“Our bigger problem is not hiring. We’ve gotten the hiring process down to as little as 266 days right now. Our bigger problem is going to be space and logistics,” McHenry said. “By the end of this year, we’ll approximately 426 permanent courtrooms. That’s less than our authorization. We can’t hire judges until we have the courtrooms or until we have the space for them and we can’t procure more space until we get our appropriations.”

More than 200,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the country illegally in the past six years, according to the report.

The investigation was initiated in 2015 after the subcommittee learned that HHS had placed eight children with human traffickers who subjected the children to forced labor on an egg farm in Marion, Ohio. The subcommittee found that HHS had failed to establish procedures to protect such children, such as conducting sufficient background checks on sponsors and following up with sponsors and the kids to ensure the childrens’ welfare.

The panel held two previous hearings on April 26, 2018 and January 28, 2016, when the agencies agreed to craft a Joint Concept of Operations to explain their responsibilities for the care and safety of unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children before and after they are placed with sponsors. After the agencies delayed submitting a written response to lawmakers, the document was finally submitted on July 31—17 months after it was initially due.

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Trump cites Russia probe as motivation for revoking former CIA director’s clearance

Posted on: August 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — In a striking admission after his unprecedented move to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, President Donald Trump said in a new interview that his true motive for targeting Brennan was his role in the start of the Russia investigation.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in a Wednesday interview with The Wall Street Journal. “And these people led it. So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

Reading off a statement from the president from the briefing room podium prior to his interview, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday the president’s move to revoke Brennan’s clearance was related to “risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.”

“Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations – wild outbursts on the internet and television – about this Administration,” according to the president’s statement. “Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the Nation’s most closely held secrets and facilitates the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.”

Trump is also expanding his review of revoking potential clearances from nine other current and former officials, all with different levels of involvement in the government’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with members of Trump’s campaign, Sanders added.

In citing the Russia investigation as his motive for attacking Brennan, the move amounts to one of the rare instances since the firing of former FBI Director James Comey where Trump has shown a willingness to move beyond threats and actually use the powers of the presidency to punish people he believes had a role in the Russia probe.

Brennan responded Wednesday to the news that his clearance was revoked by describing the act as part of “a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics.”

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With closing arguments wrapped, Manafort case goes to jury

Posted on: August 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — Closing arguments concluded Wednesday in the financial crimes trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, and the case is now in the hands of 12 jurors who will begin deliberations Thursday morning to decide Manafort’s fate.

In their closing argument, prosecutors attempted to paint Manafort as a liar and a schemer, calling attention to the mountain of financial records provided to the court.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it’s littered with lies,” special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said in federal court on Wednesday, telling jurors that Manafort is “not above the law.”

Manafort is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, where special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of shielding millions of dollars in off-shore bank accounts from American tax-collectors. During his closing arguments, Andres reminded jurors of the $60 million Manafort is accused of hiding in 31 separate bank accounts.

“He lied to his tax preparers, he lied to his bookkeeper, because he wanted to hide that money and avoid paying taxes,” Andres added.

Andres wrapped his closing statement after 90 minutes, then it was on to the defense.

Speaking for Manafort’s defense team, attorney Richard Westling implored jurors to see their client as a respected political operative and successful businessman, highlighting Manafort’s work on numerous presidential campaigns. Westling argued that the volume of documents provided by the special counsel did not amount to meaningful evidence of guilt.

“Sitting here today, Mr. Manafort is innocent and he will continue to be innocent until you render a decision,” Westling said. “If you are thinking this evidence adds up to something, you shouldn’t.”

Taking over for the defense, lead attorney Kevin Downing returned to the matter of Rick Gates, casting blame on the prosecution’s star witness and longtime business associate of Manafort. Downing reminded jurors of Gates’ confession to embezzling money from Manafort and engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs.

“The government was so desperate to make a case against Mr. Manafort, it made a deal with Mr. Gates,” Downing said, accusing Gates “fabricating” his testimony to make a deal with Manafort.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal authorities. Having initially been charged alongside Manafort, Gates has since cooperated with the special counsel as part of their investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Prior to the defense team’s closing statements, special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres sought to downplay Gates’ role in the trial, asking jurors to look at the paper trail.

“The government is not asking you to take everything Mr. Gates said at face value… we are not asking you to like him,” Andres said, adding, “The star witness, in this case, is the documents.”

If found guilty, Manafort, 69, faces a prison sentence of up to 305 years. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Special counsel prosecutors rested their case on Monday after bringing more than two dozen accountants and associates of Manafort to the stand. On Tuesday, Manafort’s defense team declined to mount a defense or bring any witnesses to the stand.

After the judge instructed jurors Wednesday afternoon, the 12-person panel will deliberate and return their verdict.

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With closing arguments wrapped, Manafort case goes to jury

Posted on: August 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — Closing arguments concluded Wednesday in the financial crimes trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, and the case is now in the hands of 12 jurors who will begin deliberations Thursday morning to decide Manafort’s fate.

In their closing argument, prosecutors attempted to paint Manafort as a liar and a schemer, calling attention to the mountain of financial records provided to the court.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it’s littered with lies,” special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said in federal court on Wednesday, telling jurors that Manafort is “not above the law.”

Manafort is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, where special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of shielding millions of dollars in off-shore bank accounts from American tax-collectors. During his closing arguments, Andres reminded jurors of the $60 million Manafort is accused of hiding in 31 separate bank accounts.

“He lied to his tax preparers, he lied to his bookkeeper, because he wanted to hide that money and avoid paying taxes,” Andres added.

Andres wrapped his closing statement after 90 minutes, then it was on to the defense.

Speaking for Manafort’s defense team, attorney Richard Westling implored jurors to see their client as a respected political operative and successful businessman, highlighting Manafort’s work on numerous presidential campaigns. Westling argued that the volume of documents provided by the special counsel did not amount to meaningful evidence of guilt.

“Sitting here today, Mr. Manafort is innocent and he will continue to be innocent until you render a decision,” Westling said. “If you are thinking this evidence adds up to something, you shouldn’t.”

Taking over for the defense, lead attorney Kevin Downing returned to the matter of Rick Gates, casting blame on the prosecution’s star witness and longtime business associate of Manafort. Downing reminded jurors of Gates’ confession to embezzling money from Manafort and engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs.

“The government was so desperate to make a case against Mr. Manafort, it made a deal with Mr. Gates,” Downing said, accusing Gates “fabricating” his testimony to make a deal with Manafort.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal authorities. Having initially been charged alongside Manafort, Gates has since cooperated with the special counsel as part of their investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Prior to the defense team’s closing statements, special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres sought to downplay Gates’ role in the trial, asking jurors to look at the paper trail.

“The government is not asking you to take everything Mr. Gates said at face value… we are not asking you to like him,” Andres said, adding, “The star witness, in this case, is the documents.”

If found guilty, Manafort, 69, faces a prison sentence of up to 305 years. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Special counsel prosecutors rested their case on Monday after bringing more than two dozen accountants and associates of Manafort to the stand. On Tuesday, Manafort’s defense team declined to mount a defense or bring any witnesses to the stand.

After the judge instructed jurors Wednesday afternoon, the 12-person panel will deliberate and return their verdict.

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White House revoking security clearance of John Brennan, mulling others

Posted on: August 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The White House is revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and mulling pulling them for several other former intelligence chiefs and other officials.

Reading aloud a statement from President Trump at the top of Wednesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that the president has decided to revoke Brennan’s security clearance citing “erratic behavior” and “lying”.

Brennan has been a major critic of the president’s since leaving public service.

Sanders said the president is also more broadly reviewing access to classified information by government officials and named others who are also now under specific review: James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Comey, a former FBI director who Trump fired last year, Michael Hayden, a former Director of the National Security Agency, Sally Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, Susan Rice, a former National Security Advisor, Andrew McCabe, a former deputy director of the FBI, Peter Strzok a recently fired FBI agent, Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer and Bruce Ohr, a former associate deputy attorney general.

In an exchange with ABC News’ Jon Karl, Sanders denied that the president is going after his political opponents with this action.

“No. If there were others that weren’t, that we deemed necessary, we would certainly take a look and review those as well,” Sanders said.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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Prosecution presents closing arguments in Manafort trial

Posted on: August 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — Closing statement are underway in the financial crimes trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, and prosecutors are taking the opportunity to paint Manafort as a liar and a schemer.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it’s littered with lies,” special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said in federal court on Wednesday, telling jurors that Manafort is “not above the law.”

Manafort is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, where special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of shielding millions of dollars in off-shore bank accounts from American tax-collectors. During his closing arguments, Andres reminded jurors of the $60 million Manafort is accused of hiding in 31 separate bank accounts.

“He lied to his tax preparers, he lied to his bookkeeper, because he wanted to hide that money and avoid paying taxes,” Andres added.

If found guilty, Manafort, 69, faces a prison sentence of up to 305 years. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Special counsel prosecutors rested their case on Monday after bringing more than two dozen accountants and associates of Manafort to the stand. On Tuesday, Manafort’s defense team declined to mount a defense or bring any witnesses to the stand.

After closing statements from both sides, a 12-person jury will deliberate and return their verdict.

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White House economic office faces criticism over incorrect African American economic figures

Posted on: August 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The White House Council of Economic Advisers is facing backlash from economists after it acknowledged providing incorrect economic figures to press secretary Sarah Sanders regarding African American unemployment.

Sanders during Tuesday’s briefing brushed off accusations of racism against President Trump amid his contentious feud with former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman with a familiar pivot, citing economic gains by African Americans during Trump’s time in office.

“This President, since he took office, in the year and a half that he’s been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans,” Sanders said. “When President Obama left, after eight years in office – eight years in office, he had only created 800 – or 195,000 jobs for African Americans.”

But that claim was false, by a factor of roughly 15 times the number Sanders provided.

According to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 700,000 jobs have been added for African Americans during Trump’s time in office, nearly 3 million were added for black workers during President Obama’s tenure.

As reporters started to raise issue with the misleading figure in the briefing, the Council of Economic Advisers’ Twitter account posted a graph showing changes in minority employment from the 20 months following Obama’s election with the 20 months following Trump’s election.

The account then tweeted “apologies” to Sanders for their “miscommunication.”

Sanders soon also took to Twitter to acknowledge the rare “correction,” though she wrongly insisted that the jobs numbers provided for Obama during the briefing “were correct.”

Several economists
and former top Obama officials were quick to point out, however, that there were still basic flaws in the logic of the CEA’s correction.

The graph measured employment numbers for President Obama and President Trump starting in November of 2008, and 2016, respectively, months before either president took office and began to implement their economic policies. Furthermore, President Obama entered office in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis when black unemployment was at 12.7%, while President Trump entered office in a period of sustained growth in the economy.

President Obama’s former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman offered his own reaction expressing dismay at the CEA’s handling of the controversy.

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