Surprising ally, Sen. Mitch McConnell, pushes for farm bill that legalizes hemp

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The typically conservative Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is applauding a somewhat surprising provision in the latest 807-page farm bill — a measure that legalizes hemp.

Industrial hemp is a different variety of the same plant that produces marijuana, so it’s been illegal under federal law except for some commercial uses. The Hemp Farming Act, which is part of the farm bill, would remove hemp from its status as a schedule I drug.

McConnell has been an advocate for legalizing hemp so it can be a bigger agriculture product in the U.S., especially in his home state of Kentucky.

Hemp could be a lucrative replacement for tobacco in Kentucky and other states and could provide an alternative for farmers looking to switch from commodities that are struggling or impacted by tariffs.

McConnell even signed the compromise version of the farm bill with a pen made of hemp grown in Kentucky, according to his statement.

 

Making it official with my hemp pen!πŸ–‹οΈ Proud to have served as conferee on #FarmBill & to fight for #Kentucky priorities. With today’s signature, my provision to legalize industrial #hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to @POTUS pic.twitter.com/8ypwBebXy7

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 10, 2018

The farm bill process has been more contentious than usual over the past year. The typically bipartisan bill is renewed every five years, but the process was delayed beyond a September deadline after House Republicans pushed for proposals to drastically change food assistance programs and last-minute forestry provisions in reaction to the California wildfires.

The process was also under scrutiny because of the economic strain that has affected farmers’ amid President Donald Trump’s trade wars. The compromise version of the bill dropped some of the most contentious elements and leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees have said they expect it to pass. The bill contains a wide variety of programs and provides billions of dollars in funding for aid to farmers and nutrition programs like food stamps.

Brady Cobb, a hemp and cannabis lobbyist who has been working with McConnell’s office, said there was a huge campaign to educate members of Congress on how hemp is different from marijuana.

Under the farm bill products containing cannabis byproducts, such as cannabanoid oil, must be below 0.3 percent THC, the active ingredient that causes the effects of marijuana. Such low levels don’t have the same effect as recreational or other forms of marijuana, which would still be subject to state laws. State and tribal governments would be charged with regulating and testing industrial hemp under the new law.

Hemp oil can have positive benefits for people suffering from anxiety, epilepsy or even post-traumatic stress disorder and Cobb said veterans’ and health groups have also been pushing to legalize it.

“To me this is a springboard, this is a big moment in our country’s drug policy history that you now have cannabis hemp plants removed from schedule I so they can be harvested as an agricultural commodity as part of a farm bill,” he told ABC News.

Legalizing industrial hemp will make it available to farmers to grow, sell, and export. It will also make it easier for researchers to study the affects of hemp oil products and possibly for health care providers to promote it as an alternative to opioids, Cobb said.

There will be some questions to sort out if the farm bill passes and legalizes hemp. The Food and Drug Administration approved a drug to treat seizures that includes hemp oil earlier this year but may now have to determine whether newly legal products should be regulated as drugs or supplements.

“I see a day when this is sold in Target, this is sold in Costco across a multitude of distribution channels,” he told ABC News. “And it has the ability to do that because its not going to be federally illegal anymore, the 800-pound gorilla is going to exit stage left.”

The farm bill passed the Senate on Tuesday night by a vote of 87-13. It still needs a vote in the House and the president’s signature to become law.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

 

Surprising ally, Sen. Mitch McConnell, pushes for farm bill that legalizes hemp

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The typically conservative Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is applauding a somewhat surprising provision in the latest 807-page farm bill — a measure that legalizes hemp.

Industrial hemp is a different variety of the same plant that produces marijuana, so it’s been illegal under federal law except for some commercial uses. The Hemp Farming Act, which is part of the farm bill, would remove hemp from its status as a schedule I drug.

McConnell has been an advocate for legalizing hemp so it can be a bigger agriculture product in the U.S., especially in his home state of Kentucky.

Hemp could be a lucrative replacement for tobacco in Kentucky and other states and could provide an alternative for farmers looking to switch from commodities that are struggling or impacted by tariffs.

McConnell even signed the compromise version of the farm bill with a pen made of hemp grown in Kentucky, according to his statement.

 

Making it official with my hemp pen!πŸ–‹οΈ Proud to have served as conferee on #FarmBill & to fight for #Kentucky priorities. With today’s signature, my provision to legalize industrial #hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to @POTUS pic.twitter.com/8ypwBebXy7

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 10, 2018

The farm bill process has been more contentious than usual over the past year. The typically bipartisan bill is renewed every five years, but the process was delayed beyond a September deadline after House Republicans pushed for proposals to drastically change food assistance programs and last-minute forestry provisions in reaction to the California wildfires.

The process was also under scrutiny because of the economic strain that has affected farmers’ amid President Donald Trump’s trade wars. The compromise version of the bill dropped some of the most contentious elements and leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees have said they expect it to pass. The bill contains a wide variety of programs and provides billions of dollars in funding for aid to farmers and nutrition programs like food stamps.

Brady Cobb, a hemp and cannabis lobbyist who has been working with McConnell’s office, said there was a huge campaign to educate members of Congress on how hemp is different from marijuana.

Under the farm bill products containing cannabis byproducts, such as cannabanoid oil, must be below 0.3 percent THC, the active ingredient that causes the effects of marijuana. Such low levels don’t have the same effect as recreational or other forms of marijuana, which would still be subject to state laws. State and tribal governments would be charged with regulating and testing industrial hemp under the new law.

Hemp oil can have positive benefits for people suffering from anxiety, epilepsy or even post-traumatic stress disorder and Cobb said veterans’ and health groups have also been pushing to legalize it.

“To me this is a springboard, this is a big moment in our country’s drug policy history that you now have cannabis hemp plants removed from schedule I so they can be harvested as an agricultural commodity as part of a farm bill,” he told ABC News.

Legalizing industrial hemp will make it available to farmers to grow, sell, and export. It will also make it easier for researchers to study the affects of hemp oil products and possibly for health care providers to promote it as an alternative to opioids, Cobb said.

There will be some questions to sort out if the farm bill passes and legalizes hemp. The Food and Drug Administration approved a drug to treat seizures that includes hemp oil earlier this year but may now have to determine whether newly legal products should be regulated as drugs or supplements.

“I see a day when this is sold in Target, this is sold in Costco across a multitude of distribution channels,” he told ABC News. “And it has the ability to do that because its not going to be federally illegal anymore, the 800-pound gorilla is going to exit stage left.”

The farm bill passed the Senate on Tuesday night by a vote of 87-13. It still needs a vote in the House and the president’s signature to become law.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

 

‘It’s like a manhood thing for him’: Pelosi on Trump and border wall

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s willingness to trigger a partial government shutdown over funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall boils down “to a manhood thing,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Democrats in a closed-door meeting Tuesday following her clash with the president at the White House.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing,” she said in the caucus meeting, according to a Democratic aide in the room.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office Tuesday to discuss funding the government and the president’s demands for funds for the construction of his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I was trying to be the mom,” she said of the meeting, which was partially captured on-camera by the White House press corps as Trump, Schumer and Pelosi battled over immigration policy and who would be responsible for a government shutdown if they failed to reach an agreement.

“I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild. It goes to show you: you get into a tickle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you,” she later recounted to Democrats.

A handful of government agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, are scheduled to run out of funding next Friday unless Congress passes the remaining spending bills.

While Trump has insisted on $5 billion for construction of the wall, Republicans can’t meet the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to clear the spending bill without Democratic votes, giving Democrats leverage in negotiations.

After going-back-and-forth with Schumer and Pelosi, Trump insisted that he would be “proud” to shut down the government “for border security.”

“I will be the one to shut it down,” he said to Schumer in an exchange captured on camera. “I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Pelosi later told members of the House Democratic steering and policy committee that Trump’s comments were an “accomplishment” for them.

“But the fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” she said, according to the aide.

“He said at the end of the meeting, he said, ‘We can go two routes with this meeting: with a knife or a candy. I said, ‘Exactly,’” she said.

Pelosi later told reporters that the conversation didn’t end at the White House: she had a phone call with Trump Tuesday afternoon on a path forward.

The California Democrat’s meeting with Trump and standoff over government funding comes as Pelosi works to secure a second stint as House speaker in the next Congress. She has made her ability to negotiate with Trump central to her argument.

Trump appeared to reference the speaker campaign in their meeting on Tuesday, saying Pelosi was “in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now.”

“Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of House Democrats who just won a big victory,” she replied.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pelosi in discussions with critics over possible leadership term limits

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

tupungato/iStock(WASHINGTON) — As she works to lock down the few remaining holdouts against her bid to reclaim the House speaker’s gavel, Nancy Pelosi and the loudest critics of her succession plan have begun discussing instituting term limits for caucus and committee leaders, according to Democrats familiar with the conversations.

The discussions have prompted a sensitive debate in the larger caucus, dominated by long-serving Democrats, with all but one committee set to be controlled by veteran ranking members of the party.

Pelosi, in public and private, has resisted putting an end date on her potential speakership, arguing that it would make her a less effective leader.

But she has signaled willingness to discuss term limits for leadership positions, telling reporters last Thursday that she’s “always been sympathetic to the concerns that have been expressed by our members on the subject.”

The conversation is a delicate one for House Democrats. While House Republicans have limited committee chair service to three consecutive terms, Democrats operate on a seniority-based system, which some minority members argue has helped them advance and gain influence.

On Monday night, prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized the prospect of possible term limits ahead of internal caucus deliberations.

“To take this up now when we are in the majority, we have so much work to do, they have not governed for the last two years. That has to be our priority,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the incoming chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We don’t need to take up an issue that’s going to cause us to have conflict with each other.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., a Pelosi critic who has been negotiating with her on the subject, declined to comment on the prospect of a deal on Monday evening.

But other Democrats familiar with the discussions say a deal — which would need to be approved by the Democratic caucus — would be for the support of incumbent Democrats who have held out against a Pelosi speakership. This would allow incoming members who campaigned on opposing Pelosi to vote against her on the floor.

One possible proposal would cap caucus leadership positions at three terms (six years), after which point chairs would need a majority of support from the committee to win reelection, according to a Democratic source familiar with the internal discussions among Pelosi’s critics.

It’s unclear if Reps. Steny Hoyer, 79, and Jim Clyburn, 78, Pelosi’s long-serving lieutenants, would support such an arrangement. Both Hoyer and Clyburn served as majority leader and whip when Democrats last controlled the House, and are on track to do the same in January.

In their weekly caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Democrats discussed the issue, with some incoming chairs expressing their opposition to term limits, according to an aide in the room. Eventually, the group agreed to table the debate until incoming freshmen could participate.

With Democrats set to gain 40 members in January, Pelosi can only afford to lose 17 votes on the floor vote for speaker and still win the gavel. Pelosi won the closed-door speaker vote among House Democrats 203-32, and roughly 20 Democrats have vowed to oppose her on the floor.

“There’s a balance I think that has to be struck,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who is on track to become the next chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee after Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking member, won the Minnesota gubernatorial race. “Our problem is succession.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to see chaos on January 3rd, and I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Takano, who supports Pelosi, said of members trying to reach an agreement before the speaker vote. “I want a strong speaker to be able to move decisively and to be able to bring the caucus together.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump meeting with Schumer, Pelosi erupts over border wall funding

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Political fireworks erupted in the Oval Office between President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over border wall funding.

The president welcomed Pelosi and Schumer into the Oval Office and discussed criminal justice reform while rattling off numbers about the proposed border wall. But things quickly spiraled out control with the president eventually threatening to shut down the government over the border.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump said. “People in this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it. The last time, you shut it down. It didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down.

“I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

Trump, Pelosi and Schumer were scheduled to meet at the White House to come to an agreement on border funding to avert a potential government shut down. No agreement was made.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Google says it didn’t use resources to target Latino voters in 2016

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

JHVEPhoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) — In a testy exchange in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai refuted allegations that the company targeted Latino voters during the 2016 U.S. elections.

During a hearing on Google’s data collection and filtering practices, Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, alleged that in 2016, the company engaged in partisan behavior to target Latino voters in key states, citing a leaked email written by Google’s head of multicultural marketing, Eliana Murillo.

According the email, Pichai “gave the effort a shout out and comment in Spanish, which was really special.” The email goes on to note that Voto Latino, an organization that encourages young Latino people to vote, helped transport Latino voters to the polls in specific key states.

“We as a company didn’t have any effort to votes for any particular demographic, that would be against our principals. We participate in the civic process in a non-partisan way,” Pichai said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump administration changes to clean water rule could have wide-ranging impact

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Thankful Photography/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is planning a major change to a clean water rule in the United States, exempting certain types of creeks and bodies of water from federal protection in a move that may have wide-ranging impacts.

The proposal — a campaign promise to farmers who say the regulation created too many regulatory burdens — would remove federal protection on bodies of water like creeks and streams that are only wet after it rains, but federal officials do not have data on the number of bodies of water it would impact.

The change would also reduce protections on wetlands that aren’t connected to larger bodies of water.

“Our goal is a more precise definition that gives the American people the freedom and certainty to do what they do best, build homes, grow crops, develop projects, then improve the environment and the lives of their fellow citizens,” said EPA Acting Commissioner Andrew Wheeler.

The new definition of what counts as a “Water of the United States” is intended to clarify years of legal wrangling over the rule, which at this point is effective in some states but not others. Trump has often said the Waters of the Unites States rule, known as WOTUS, had such a beautiful name but was a disaster, citing concerns from farmers and developers that it put too many restrictions on their work.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall and representatives from farm bureaus in all 50 states attended the rule signing Tuesday. Farmers have widely criticized the previous WOTUS rule, saying it was expensive, imposed too many restrictions, and duplicated state and local rules.

It’s unclear exactly how many streams or creeks the rule would impact. Previous EPA estimates found that about 60 percent of streams in the U.S. flow inconsistently due to rain on seasonal changes, but not all of those would be impacted by the new rule. That number includes both streams that only flow after it rains, known as ephemeral, and intermittent streams that can be impacted by seasonal changes or groundwater. Ephemeral streams would no longer be federally protected under the Trump administration’s proposal but not all intermittent streams would be impacted equally.

Dave Ross, assistant administrator in the EPA’s water office, said they know how many bodies could lose federal protection under the proposal because that data doesn’t exist.

“Right now there really isn’t a map that shows how many are in our out,” Ross told reporters on Monday.

But he said EPA will be working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, states, and tribal leadership to collect data to map out the changes. An EPA spokesperson confirmed there are generally more non-perennial streams in the west and southwest parts of the country. Some states like California already have strict clean water rules on the local level, but other states may not have as many resources to enforce rules as the federal government.

Ross said the Trump administration’s proposal is more legal than scientific, saying EPA went through multiple Supreme Court cases going back to 1985 to inform the proposed new rule. The proposal includes a new method of planning for flood events that will include more recent data, but they did not do any modeling on the impacts of climate change on drought conditions, flooding, or rain events and how that could impact bodies of water when drafting the new rule.

“I think that probably tells you everything you need to know about this rule is that it’s probably a political line-drawing exercise,” said Blan Holman, a clean water expert with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Holman said advocates are concerned about areas like the San Pedro River in Arizona, which relies on ephemeral streams for as much as half of its water flow.

“Do you really want somebody dumping pollution into one of these creek beds that that day is dry but then it’s going to rain the next day and then it’s going to wash into the San Pedro River?” he told ABC News.

He also said the Southern Environmental Law Center estimates a majority of wetlands in South Carolina could be at risk of losing protections under the proposed rule, depending on the specifics of the rule, which have not yet been released. Wetlands provide crucial habitat and help control flooding and advocates are concerned the looser protections will open them up to development.

The EPA’s proposal will be posted for 60 days of public comment.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump administration changes to clean water rule could have wide-ranging impact

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Thankful Photography/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is planning a major change to a clean water rule in the United States, exempting certain types of creeks and bodies of water from federal protection in a move that may have wide-ranging impacts.

The proposal — a campaign promise to farmers who say the regulation created too many regulatory burdens — would remove federal protection on bodies of water like creeks and streams that are only wet after it rains, but federal officials do not have data on the number of bodies of water it would impact.

The change would also reduce protections on wetlands that aren’t connected to larger bodies of water.

“Our goal is a more precise definition that gives the American people the freedom and certainty to do what they do best, build homes, grow crops, develop projects, then improve the environment and the lives of their fellow citizens,” said EPA Acting Commissioner Andrew Wheeler.

The new definition of what counts as a “Water of the United States” is intended to clarify years of legal wrangling over the rule, which at this point is effective in some states but not others. Trump has often said the Waters of the Unites States rule, known as WOTUS, had such a beautiful name but was a disaster, citing concerns from farmers and developers that it put too many restrictions on their work.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall and representatives from farm bureaus in all 50 states attended the rule signing Tuesday. Farmers have widely criticized the previous WOTUS rule, saying it was expensive, imposed too many restrictions, and duplicated state and local rules.

It’s unclear exactly how many streams or creeks the rule would impact. Previous EPA estimates found that about 60 percent of streams in the U.S. flow inconsistently due to rain on seasonal changes, but not all of those would be impacted by the new rule. That number includes both streams that only flow after it rains, known as ephemeral, and intermittent streams that can be impacted by seasonal changes or groundwater. Ephemeral streams would no longer be federally protected under the Trump administration’s proposal but not all intermittent streams would be impacted equally.

Dave Ross, assistant administrator in the EPA’s water office, said they know how many bodies could lose federal protection under the proposal because that data doesn’t exist.

“Right now there really isn’t a map that shows how many are in our out,” Ross told reporters on Monday.

But he said EPA will be working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, states, and tribal leadership to collect data to map out the changes. An EPA spokesperson confirmed there are generally more non-perennial streams in the west and southwest parts of the country. Some states like California already have strict clean water rules on the local level, but other states may not have as many resources to enforce rules as the federal government.

Ross said the Trump administration’s proposal is more legal than scientific, saying EPA went through multiple Supreme Court cases going back to 1985 to inform the proposed new rule. The proposal includes a new method of planning for flood events that will include more recent data, but they did not do any modeling on the impacts of climate change on drought conditions, flooding, or rain events and how that could impact bodies of water when drafting the new rule.

“I think that probably tells you everything you need to know about this rule is that it’s probably a political line-drawing exercise,” said Blan Holman, a clean water expert with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Holman said advocates are concerned about areas like the San Pedro River in Arizona, which relies on ephemeral streams for as much as half of its water flow.

“Do you really want somebody dumping pollution into one of these creek beds that that day is dry but then it’s going to rain the next day and then it’s going to wash into the San Pedro River?” he told ABC News.

He also said the Southern Environmental Law Center estimates a majority of wetlands in South Carolina could be at risk of losing protections under the proposed rule, depending on the specifics of the rule, which have not yet been released. Wetlands provide crucial habitat and help control flooding and advocates are concerned the looser protections will open them up to development.

The EPA’s proposal will be posted for 60 days of public comment.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Schumer, Pelosi to meet with Trump to hash out border funding

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi are set to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday morning in the hopes they can come to a budget agreement to avoid a partial government shutdown next week.

In recent weeks, talks on funding matters have stalled over funding for a border wall.

The funding fight represents the last time Trump can push through legislation while still holding a Republican-controlled majority. Come January, Democrats will take over the House, making it much harder for Congress to pass any legislation that Trump backs.

Trump has repeated his demands for $5 billion toward building a wall at the southern border, threatening to shut down the government if Congress sends him an appropriations bill that does not include funding for border security.

“[A shutdown] could happen over border security. The wall is just a part of border security — a very important part — probably the most important part,” Trump told reporters last month. “But could there be a shutdown? There certainly could, and it will be about border security, of which the wall is a part.

Republicans leading the House and Senate support Trump’s aggressive push for funding. But they need Democrats to support the proposal in the Senate to pass the 60-vote threshold, complicating any funding negotiations.

Senate Democrats are holding firm and have refused to budge from the $1.6 billion that’s currently approved in the bipartisan Senate funding bill.

If Trump won’t accept the $1.6 billion offer, Democrats will push for Trump to support a continuing resolution for Department of Homeland Security appropriations that maintains current levels of funding, or $1.3 billion, through the end of next September, a Democratic aide told ABC News.

Republicans think Trump isn’t planning on backing down from his demands.

“I haven’t heard it, no. I haven’t heard any indication of it, no,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Monday afternoon.

Congress has already succeeded with the low-hanging fruit — sending Trump bipartisan legislation to fund five of 12 areas of appropriations. But there are still seven bills that have not advanced all the way through Congress and require consideration by Dec. 21, when current funding expires.

A shutdown would be the second of the year, following a three-day partial government shutdown last January over the status of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

A shutdown this time around would only impact certain government agencies and departments, including the departments of Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, State and Agriculture.

While essential government functions and employees would continue to work, a shutdown would impact tens of thousands of others, and slow down key government functions.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Schumer, Pelosi to meet with Trump to hash out border funding

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi are set to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday morning in the hopes they can come to a budget agreement to avoid a partial government shutdown next week.

In recent weeks, talks on funding matters have stalled over funding for a border wall.

The funding fight represents the last time Trump can push through legislation while still holding a Republican-controlled majority. Come January, Democrats will take over the House, making it much harder for Congress to pass any legislation that Trump backs.

Trump has repeated his demands for $5 billion toward building a wall at the southern border, threatening to shut down the government if Congress sends him an appropriations bill that does not include funding for border security.

“[A shutdown] could happen over border security. The wall is just a part of border security — a very important part — probably the most important part,” Trump told reporters last month. “But could there be a shutdown? There certainly could, and it will be about border security, of which the wall is a part.

Republicans leading the House and Senate support Trump’s aggressive push for funding. But they need Democrats to support the proposal in the Senate to pass the 60-vote threshold, complicating any funding negotiations.

Senate Democrats are holding firm and have refused to budge from the $1.6 billion that’s currently approved in the bipartisan Senate funding bill.

If Trump won’t accept the $1.6 billion offer, Democrats will push for Trump to support a continuing resolution for Department of Homeland Security appropriations that maintains current levels of funding, or $1.3 billion, through the end of next September, a Democratic aide told ABC News.

Republicans think Trump isn’t planning on backing down from his demands.

“I haven’t heard it, no. I haven’t heard any indication of it, no,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Monday afternoon.

Congress has already succeeded with the low-hanging fruit — sending Trump bipartisan legislation to fund five of 12 areas of appropriations. But there are still seven bills that have not advanced all the way through Congress and require consideration by Dec. 21, when current funding expires.

A shutdown would be the second of the year, following a three-day partial government shutdown last January over the status of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

A shutdown this time around would only impact certain government agencies and departments, including the departments of Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, State and Agriculture.

While essential government functions and employees would continue to work, a shutdown would impact tens of thousands of others, and slow down key government functions.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

House Republicans lead vote to label Rohingya crisis ‘genocide’

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

tupungato/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The House of Representatives is expected to pass a resolution Tuesday to declare the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya a genocide, a move the Trump administration still has not made despite mounting evidence and a cavalcade of voices saying so.

The resolution’s expected passage is particularly striking because it brings Democrats together with House Republicans who rarely break with President Donald Trump on legislation or messaging. Republican House leadership pushed for the vote to come up before the end of the year, a House aide told ABC News, sending a signal to the White House that more should be done to punish Myanmar for the atrocities.

The resolution also condemns the arrest of two Reuters journalists who helped uncover one of the Myanmar military’s mass graves and calls for their immediate release. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested nearly a year ago on Dec. 12, 2017 and sentenced in September to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets — charges that have been roundly criticized and described as trumped up.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has long oppressed the majority Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. Starting last August, it began what the United Nations called a systematic campaign to eradicate the Rohingya and drive them from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh. More than 700,000 refugees escaped to make the journey and joined hundreds of thousands who already lived in camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. There are now close to one million there.

Since then, the United Nations, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and others have labeled that campaign a genocide.

Last November, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it “ethnic cleansing” and ordered a detailed investigation into what occurred, the scope of which was unprecedented. But after investigators interviewed over a thousand Rohingya and provided their detailed report to the State Department, Secretary Mike Pompeo never made a genocide designation.

Instead, he quietly released the report in September, with its grisly, detailed account of what happened and no legal determination. Even after the law firm that helped conduct the department’s investigation made their own genocide determination last week, there was no change in its findings.

While Trump administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley have spoken forcefully about the violence, critics say their label of “ethnic cleansing” does not do enough, especially because that term is not defined by international law and is seen as a lesser charge.

Genocide, on the other hand, is defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a 1948 treaty signed by the U.S. and other countries after the Holocaust. It defined genocide as killing, harming or seeking measures to prevent the births or transfer children of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with intent to destroy them entirely or in part — although the treaty is unclear about what, if any, real legal responsibilities signatories like the U.S. have to act on it outside of their borders.

The last time the U.S. declared a genocide was in March 2016. The Obama administration declared the Islamic State’s violence against Iraqi religious minorities a genocide, but determined it did not obligate them to take further action.

“It is time we call these atrocities against the Rohingya what they are: genocide,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, in a statement in September. He even cited the State Department’s own report, saying, “If this determination wasn’t obvious before, the recent report … should leave little doubt in anyone’s mind. The perpetrators must be held accountable.”

Chabot introduced the resolution being considered Tuesday with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, including the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce of California and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. While the legislation has faced some stops and starts, including a delay last week because of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, it finally got its vote at the request of leadership like Royce, a GOP House aide said.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s vote.

“Every day the United States stalls and drags its feet to make a legal determination — despite multiple opportunities — makes the U.S. complicit in covering up what actually happened,” Francisco Bencosme, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific advocacy manager, told ABC News. “It is clear, from what has been reported, that Trump’s policy on Myanmar is paralyzed and failing to help alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya.”

The U.S. has provided nearly $300 million in aid for Rohingya refugees. But Myanmar’s government has blocked humanitarian access to the northern Rakhine state, where much of the violence took place, in part to prevent international investigators from collecting evidence and accessing Rohingya victims and villages.

Still, a genocide determination by the U.S. could galvanize international action to investigate Myanmar’s atrocities.

“By passing this bill in the House, Congress is going on the record with the kind of moral clarity and leadership worthy of such an institution,” said Bencosme.

While the House takes action, the Senate has yet to hold a similar vote on the Rohingya crisis. That’s in part because of the close relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Myanmar’s top civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was eventually freed from house arrest and allowed to join the new civilian-military, power-sharing government.

Suu Kyi has dismissed criticism of the Rohingya crisis, in particular telling Pence last month that her government better understands their country than outsiders like the U.S. That’s spurred a global outcry and public rebukes by the human rights groups that once lauded her as a democracy icon.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

House Republicans lead vote to label Rohingya crisis ‘genocide’

Posted on: December 11th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

tupungato/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The House of Representatives is expected to pass a resolution Tuesday to declare the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya a genocide, a move the Trump administration still has not made despite mounting evidence and a cavalcade of voices saying so.

The resolution’s expected passage is particularly striking because it brings Democrats together with House Republicans who rarely break with President Donald Trump on legislation or messaging. Republican House leadership pushed for the vote to come up before the end of the year, a House aide told ABC News, sending a signal to the White House that more should be done to punish Myanmar for the atrocities.

The resolution also condemns the arrest of two Reuters journalists who helped uncover one of the Myanmar military’s mass graves and calls for their immediate release. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested nearly a year ago on Dec. 12, 2017 and sentenced in September to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets — charges that have been roundly criticized and described as trumped up.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has long oppressed the majority Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. Starting last August, it began what the United Nations called a systematic campaign to eradicate the Rohingya and drive them from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh. More than 700,000 refugees escaped to make the journey and joined hundreds of thousands who already lived in camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. There are now close to one million there.

Since then, the United Nations, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and others have labeled that campaign a genocide.

Last November, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it “ethnic cleansing” and ordered a detailed investigation into what occurred, the scope of which was unprecedented. But after investigators interviewed over a thousand Rohingya and provided their detailed report to the State Department, Secretary Mike Pompeo never made a genocide designation.

Instead, he quietly released the report in September, with its grisly, detailed account of what happened and no legal determination. Even after the law firm that helped conduct the department’s investigation made their own genocide determination last week, there was no change in its findings.

While Trump administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley have spoken forcefully about the violence, critics say their label of “ethnic cleansing” does not do enough, especially because that term is not defined by international law and is seen as a lesser charge.

Genocide, on the other hand, is defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a 1948 treaty signed by the U.S. and other countries after the Holocaust. It defined genocide as killing, harming or seeking measures to prevent the births or transfer children of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with intent to destroy them entirely or in part — although the treaty is unclear about what, if any, real legal responsibilities signatories like the U.S. have to act on it outside of their borders.

The last time the U.S. declared a genocide was in March 2016. The Obama administration declared the Islamic State’s violence against Iraqi religious minorities a genocide, but determined it did not obligate them to take further action.

“It is time we call these atrocities against the Rohingya what they are: genocide,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, in a statement in September. He even cited the State Department’s own report, saying, “If this determination wasn’t obvious before, the recent report … should leave little doubt in anyone’s mind. The perpetrators must be held accountable.”

Chabot introduced the resolution being considered Tuesday with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, including the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce of California and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. While the legislation has faced some stops and starts, including a delay last week because of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, it finally got its vote at the request of leadership like Royce, a GOP House aide said.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s vote.

“Every day the United States stalls and drags its feet to make a legal determination — despite multiple opportunities — makes the U.S. complicit in covering up what actually happened,” Francisco Bencosme, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific advocacy manager, told ABC News. “It is clear, from what has been reported, that Trump’s policy on Myanmar is paralyzed and failing to help alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya.”

The U.S. has provided nearly $300 million in aid for Rohingya refugees. But Myanmar’s government has blocked humanitarian access to the northern Rakhine state, where much of the violence took place, in part to prevent international investigators from collecting evidence and accessing Rohingya victims and villages.

Still, a genocide determination by the U.S. could galvanize international action to investigate Myanmar’s atrocities.

“By passing this bill in the House, Congress is going on the record with the kind of moral clarity and leadership worthy of such an institution,” said Bencosme.

While the House takes action, the Senate has yet to hold a similar vote on the Rohingya crisis. That’s in part because of the close relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Myanmar’s top civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was eventually freed from house arrest and allowed to join the new civilian-military, power-sharing government.

Suu Kyi has dismissed criticism of the Rohingya crisis, in particular telling Pence last month that her government better understands their country than outsiders like the U.S. That’s spurred a global outcry and public rebukes by the human rights groups that once lauded her as a democracy icon.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Maria Butina, accused Russian agent, reaches plea deal with prosecutors that includes cooperation

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

TR/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist who stands accused developing a covert influence operation in the United States, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

She admits, as part of the deal, according to a copy obtained by ABC News that is expected to be filed to the court, that she and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia.

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation. The target letter sent to Erickson is from federal prosecutors in Washington, sources familiar with the case told ABC News, and separate from any South Dakota-based federal fraud investigation into his business dealings that has been the subject of earlier media reports.

Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, declined to comment. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment. An attorney for Erickson declined to comment.

Butina was arrested in July and accused of ensnaring Erickson in a “duplicitous relationship,” using him for cover and connections as she developed an influence operation designed to “advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.” She pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent.

But now, according to the agreement, Butina has acknowledged that with U.S. Person 1’s assistance, she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 which was later sent to the Russian Official, in which she said that she had already “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration” and requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and meetings to further develop those ties. The Russian Official, the agreement said, confirmed that her proposal would be at least partially supported.

The government has alleged that U.S. Person 1 “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including high-ranking members of the National Rifle Association and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, that would ultimately give her a surprising level of access to conservative politicians, including — in one memorable interaction captured on video — to then-candidate Donald Trump.

Most notably, Butina’s Russian gun rights group “Right to Bear Arms” hosted a delegation of former NRA presidents, board members and major donors in Moscow in 2015, where she appears to have succeeded in arranging a meeting between NRA insides and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, raising the prospect of a discussion between conservative political operatives and a powerful member of Russian President Putin’s inner circle in the midst of a presidential campaign.

After that now infamous meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent the Russian Official a message, which was translated as saying “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

It would appear that, even as Erickson was helping Butina forge those connections, he may have been aware of the political implications.

“Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns,” Erickson wrote in an October 2016 email to an acquaintance that was later obtained by the FBI, “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization].”

And during an FBI raid of Erickson’s South Dakota home, investigators discovered a handwritten note suggesting Erickson may have been aware of a possible job offer from Russian intelligence services: “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” Erickson scratched, an apparent reference to the Russian equivalent of the CIA.

Butina’s attorney Driscoll has described her as a promising graduate student whose career has been derailed by this case, but prosecutors claimed that was just a “cover while she continued to work on behalf the Russian Official.”

Butina allegedly maintained that cover with the assistance of Erickson. He supported her financially, telling McClatchy DC he established a South Dakota-based company Bridges LLC with Butina in order to help defray her educational expenses, and according to court filings, assisted with her coursework “by editing papers and answering exam questions.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors claim, Butina “appear[ed] to treat [her relationship with Erickson] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities” and privately expressed “disdain” for continuing to live with him.

Driscoll, however, had insisted that Butina and Erickson, despite the government’s claims to the contrary, were engaged in a mutual and genuine cross-cultural romance.

“I think in some ways it’s a classic love story,” Driscoll said. “I think [reporters] are filling in a lot of the gaps with a lot of spy novels.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

President Trump scrambles for next chief of staff with John Kelly set to depart

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Kirkikis/iStock(WASHINGTON) — With current White House chief of staff John Kelly set to depart by year’s end, President Donald Trump is scrambling to fill the top White House position after Kelly’s expected replacement announced unexpectedly he would not take the job.

The uncertainty comes at a critical time as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation appears to be focusing more on the president himself and Democrats taking over the House in January are more openly talking about the possibility of impeachment.

Whoever ultimately replaces Kelly in the role will become the third person to fill the position within the first two years of the Trump presidency, marking an unprecedented level of turnover for the top White House job within the first two years.

Sources with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking told ABC News that the president has a list of five potential replacements for John Kelly, though some on the list have expressed hesitation to take on the role: Rep. Mark Meadows, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, one-time deputy campaign manager David Bossie, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Meadows, currently the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has formed some enemies on Capitol Hill and would be viewed as a controversial choice among establishment forces.

Meadows issued a statement Monday expressing his openness to filling the role should it be offered, calling the possibility “an incredible offer.”

“Serving as Chief of Staff would be an incredible honor. The President has a long list of qualified candidates and I know he’ll make the best selection for his administration and for the country,” Meadows said.

Vice President Mike Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff Nick Ayers had been widely expected to assume the role with Kelly’s departure, but said in a surprise announcement over the weekend he is set to leave the administration altogether and will move to a pro-Trump Super PAC.

Ayers’ withdrawal from consideration seemed to be a sudden decision, coming after he had extensive conversations with the president about the role.

On Saturday, Trump seemed confident he could name a successor.

“John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We’ll be announcing who will be taking John’s place, it might be on an interim basis,” Trump said. “I’ll be announcing that over the next day or two,” Trump told reporters on Saturday as he departed for the Army-Navy game.

After those remarks, reports surfaced that Ayers was only willing to accept the role on a temporary basis.

Sources familiar with the deliberations say President Trump had been favored Ayers for the role because of what he saw as his political acumen, a quality that the president saw as lacking with John Kelly.

Kelly has served in the role of chief of staff since July 2017 and was initially credited with bringing order to a chaotic White House after the president’s first chief of staff Reince Priebus lasted in the role for less than 200 days.

Earlier this year President Trump had asked Kelly to remain in the job through his 2020 reelection campaign. However, Kelly’s departure is not unexpected.

Kelly’s relationship with the president has been at times strained over the course of his 16 months on the job and his eventual departure has been speculated for the last several weeks.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Major players in Trump-Russia drama seek to dismiss DNC suit alleging international conspiracy

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ronniechua/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Several major figures in the ongoing Trump-Russia drama have lined up in opposition to a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee, arguing a federal judge should dismiss accusations of an international conspiracy ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

A group of defendants — including the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and a member of President Donald Trump’s family — unleashed a wave of court filings late last week, a deluge of documents totaling more than 150 pages. It amounts to the most comprehensive legal defense yet presented in the Russia probe, seeking to have the Democrats’ case thrown out.

The DNC filed the civil suit in April accusing a long list of defendants of being part of a conspiracy involving Russia’s effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including the Russian government itself, its military intelligence agency, the 2016 Trump campaign and several campaign officials, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, among others. President Trump is not named as a defendant.

The conspiracy, the suit alleges, “constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the Presidency” in part through the hacking of emails from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and the subsequent publication of the hacked material.

The 2016 Trump campaign, distinct from Trump’s already-formed 2020 campaign committees, fought back Friday, saying in court documents that the suit should be dismissed and echoing Trump’s oft-repeated claim that the Russia accusations only seek to “explain away [the DNC] candidate’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election.”

The filings generally do not contest the basic events laid out in what the Trump campaign’s filing refers to as the DNC’s “factual theory” — that the DNC was hacked by the Russian government, that Trump associates had contact with Russia-linked figures and that the hacked DNC files were then leaked by WikiLeaks ultimately to Trump’s political benefit.

But the various defendants maintained that while the hacking may have been against the law, it was allegedly done by the Russians before the particular contacts with the Trump campaign, which the DNC suggests concerned the stolen material, a timeline that they said immediately challenged the basis and scope of the conspiracy as alleged in the lawsuit.

“The DNC thus alleges — unburdened by any actual facts — that President Trump’s campaign… conspired with Russia and a hodgepodge of others to publish materials stolen from the DNC’s computer systems,” the campaign’s filing says. “But the DNC does not claim the Campaign had any role in hacking its systems and stealing the materials — it attributes that only to Russia. Nor does the DNC claim the Campaign played any part in publishing the stolen materials — it attributes that only to Russia and WikiLeaks.”

The Trump campaign also said the DNC failed to show it “aided and abetted Russia” after the hack, as alleged, even if campaign officials and then-candidate Trump himself enthusiastically promoted WikiLeaks’ DNC and Podesta releases.

The DNC suit specifically cites Trump’s comment on July 27, 2016 at a press conference when he said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” a reference to emails Clinton had deleted from her server after deeming them personal. That same day Russian operatives began targeting email accounts used by Clinton’s office, according to special counsel Robert Mueller.

But the campaign argued that “praising the results of others’ efforts… is not tantamount to directing those affairs. If it were, every journalist that credited the disclosures with providing useful information could similarly be said to have directed” the leak campaign.

“But that is obviously nonsense (and contrary to the First Amendment),” the filing says.

As part of its filings, the Trump campaign requested an oral hearing to argue its motion to dismiss at a date yet to be determined.

In its own motion to dismiss Friday, WikiLeaks argued that it is not alleged to have had any part in the actual hacking, and that it published the DNC material on First Amendment grounds. WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristenn Hrafnsson told ABC News in a statement Friday, “The DNC lawsuit is a litmus test for press freedoms. The suit claims that the scandalous emails of powerful political operatives are ‘trade secrets’ and cannot be published. If this precedent is set it will be the end of serious journalism as we know it.” Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, did not enter a simultaneous filing.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s filing defended his at a now-infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian attorney who had offered damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – evidence, the DNC said, of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. In his defense, the filing says that the DNC suit does not allege that Kushner, an adviser to Trump, knew about the prior communication regarding damaging material, that he knew the material had been obtained illegally nor that he “did anything other than attend and listen, or that he agreed to do anything following the meeting.”

Donald Trump Jr., another named defendant who attended the meeting and knew about the potentially damaging information on Clinton, did not enter a filing with the others. Trump Jr. previously said the meeting was “nonsense.”

Other figures in the Russia probe, like former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, a purported intermediary between the Trump campaign and Russia-linked individuals, and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser who boasted of communications with Assange, also filed documents challenging the DNC suit and casting their roles as innocuous.

The Russian government, for its part, has declined to answer the accusations against it in the court case. It previously sent a letter to the court and to the State Department arguing that even if it did hack the DNC, such an action should be considered a state action and therefore shielded by American law from civil suits.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

‘The View’: Michael Bloomberg takes GOP, Trump to task

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Michael Bloomberg, the former New York Mayor who is mulling running as a Democrat in the 2020 presidential election cycle, said Monday the GOP is suffering the consequences of unconditionally supporting an unpopular president.

“Republicans did not execute the checks and balances on the White House that the constitution calls for,” Bloomberg said on ABC’s The View.

Bloomberg promoted his documentary Paris to Pittsburgh, about the United State’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement’s efforts to combat climate change and blasted what he sees as the Trump administration’s rolling back of progress in addressing the issue.

“How can you look out the window and see all the wildfires,” among other occurrences, and still believe that “nothing is changing?” he said.

Bloomberg announced in October that he re-registered as a Democrat after being an Independent and, before that, a Republican. Last week the billionaire reportedly held meetings with top Iowa Democrats during a multi-city tour through the first state that has a say in a presidential race.

President Donald Trump mocked Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions in the New York Post last month, dismissing the former mayor with a derisive nickname.

“I’d love to run against Little Michael,” Trump told the Post. “I’d love to run against Michael. He’s been fighting me hard. He spent $100 million against me – that didn’t work. He spent a lot of money last night against Cindy Hyde-Smith. That didn’t work out so well.”

After the fellow billionaire criticized Trump’s business credentials at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Trump fired back on Twitter, saying Bloomberg’s final term as mayor was a “disaster.”

"Little" Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president, knows nothing about me. His last term as Mayor was a disaster!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2016

However, Trump and Bloomberg weren’t always at odds. The president vocally supported the mayor’s administration, tweeting in 2012 that Bloomberg was “doing a great job.”

Mike Bloomberg is doing a great job as Mayor of New York City. Ray Kelly is a great Police Commissioner. @MikeBloomberg

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2012

Bloomberg said Friday that he will make a decision regarding the presidential bid early next year.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

James Comey responds to recent Trump attacks in new interview

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Carsten Koall/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in an interview in New York on Sunday, responded to recent criticisms from President Donald Trump, who called him dishonest and accused him of lying in a Congressional hearing last week.

Comey also said Democrats “have to win” the 2020 presidential election.

Trump posted several tweets attacking Comey over the weekend after he testified before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in a closed session on Friday, but the ousted F.B.I. chief said he mostly shrugged it off.

“We have to remind ourselves that the president of the United States of America is publicly announcing that people are committing crimes, they should be in jail — private citizens — that’s not OK,” Comey told an audience at 92Y in Manhattan. “And if we become numb to it, we risk surrendering the norm.”

His comments came just hours after Trump claimed, without evidence, that “leakin'” Comey had lied in his House testimony.

“On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall or couldn’t remember things when asked,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful.”

In another tweet on Friday, Trump said: “It is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!”

Comey said the president’s tweets were “disturbing,” but he stopped short of saying they should be counted as witness tampering in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion probe.

“I’m not prepared to judge it,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace at the event. “I’m a witness, potentially. I don’t know how the special counsel thinks about it, but if I were a prosecutor and a public figure started attacking the credibility of one of my witnesses in a pending investigation that’s something I would look at very closely.”

Comey, who was fired by the president in 2017 over his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, urged Americans to hold Trump accountable in the lead up to the 2020 election.

“I can tell you that all of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lying stops on January 20, 2021,” he said. “I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be … but they have to win. They have to win.”

However, Comey stressed he doesn’t want the president to be impeached because to do so would let “the country off the hook.”

“Removal by impeachment would muddy that. … We need a clear jump upward,” Comey said. “It will come from tens of millions of Americans who don’t vote, voting their values.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

James Comey responds to recent Trump attacks in new interview

Posted on: December 10th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Carsten Koall/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in an interview in New York on Sunday, responded to recent criticisms from President Donald Trump, who called him dishonest and accused him of lying in a Congressional hearing last week.

Comey also said Democrats “have to win” the 2020 presidential election.

Trump posted several tweets attacking Comey over the weekend after he testified before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in a closed session on Friday, but the ousted F.B.I. chief said he mostly shrugged it off.

“We have to remind ourselves that the president of the United States of America is publicly announcing that people are committing crimes, they should be in jail — private citizens — that’s not OK,” Comey told an audience at 92Y in Manhattan. “And if we become numb to it, we risk surrendering the norm.”

His comments came just hours after Trump claimed, without evidence, that “leakin'” Comey had lied in his House testimony.

“On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall or couldn’t remember things when asked,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful.”

In another tweet on Friday, Trump said: “It is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!”

Comey said the president’s tweets were “disturbing,” but he stopped short of saying they should be counted as witness tampering in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion probe.

“I’m not prepared to judge it,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace at the event. “I’m a witness, potentially. I don’t know how the special counsel thinks about it, but if I were a prosecutor and a public figure started attacking the credibility of one of my witnesses in a pending investigation that’s something I would look at very closely.”

Comey, who was fired by the president in 2017 over his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, urged Americans to hold Trump accountable in the lead up to the 2020 election.

“I can tell you that all of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lying stops on January 20, 2021,” he said. “I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be … but they have to win. They have to win.”

However, Comey stressed he doesn’t want the president to be impeached because to do so would let “the country off the hook.”

“Removal by impeachment would muddy that. … We need a clear jump upward,” Comey said. “It will come from tens of millions of Americans who don’t vote, voting their values.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pence’s chief of staff will not take over White House role after John Kelly leaves

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Nick Ayers, who was widely speculated to be the next White House chief of staff, will not be stepping into John Kelly’s role, ABC News has confirmed.

Instead, Vice President Mike Pence’s 35-year-old chief of staff will go to a pro-Trump super PAC.

Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ #Georgia

— Nick Ayers (@nick_ayers) December 9, 2018

 
The president, who announced Kelly’s departure Saturday, will make a decision on a new chief of staff by the end of the year.

A senior White House source said Ayers has been clear for weeks that he was planning on moving his young family back to Georgia in December, and a time frame on being chief of staff had been a part of his discussions with the president.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved

Chris Christie: Trump ‘not totally clear’ until Mueller ‘hands in the keys’

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that new filings in federal investigations into Russian interference and campaign finance crimes in the 2016 election “totally” cleared him. But Chris Christie said, on This Week, that the president is “not totally clear.”

“My view would be that you’re not totally clear — nor is anyone — until Bob Mueller shuts down his office and hands in the keys,” the ABC News contributor, former New Jersey governor and U.S. attorney told This Week Co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

Special counsel Robert Mueller recently reached a plea agreement with Trump’s former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, in which he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in exchange for cooperation with the investigation. In addition to new filings by Mueller in the Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort cases on Friday, the Southern District of New York recommended that Cohen be sentenced to a “substantial prison term” for his campaign finance violations.

Friday’s sentencing memo by the Southern District of New York for the first time publicly leveled the accusation that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.

The president tweeted on Friday in response to the filings that the new information “totally clears” him, though the court documents say otherwise. Federal prosecutors in New York have implicated Trump in a scheme to silence women who alleged that they had extramarital affairs with him before he became president, ABC News reported.

Christie said that while he’s always thought that the “Michael Cohen situation was much more perilous for the White House than was Bob Mueller,” the Mueller investigation remains a threat to Trump.

He added that “There’s no way you can make this shorter but there’s lots of ways you can make it longer, and one of the ways to do that is to say you’re in the clear when the prosecutor still has subpoena authority.”

Christie — who ran for president unsuccessfully in 2016, endorsed Trump and later briefly served as the head of the Trump transition team — said the new filing sounds “very definitive,” and that the U.S. attorney investigating Cohen’s campaign finance crimes must have solid corroboration, given Cohen’s lack of credibility.

Cohen will be sentenced in New York this week for the campaign finance felonies. Mueller’s office recommended that Cohen be able to serve his sentence for lying to Congress concurrently with the campaign finance sentence.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sen. Murphy: Mueller probe now ‘beyond the stage’ of Clinton impeachment

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the publicly available facts from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe indicate that President Donald Trump’s actions are “beyond the stage” of what led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

On This Week Sunday, Murphy left the question of whether to move to impeach the president to the House and cautioned against drawing too many conclusions without all the facts of the investigation, but told This Week Co-anchor Martha Raddatz that Mueller’s investigation has reached a “new level.”

“I think you are beyond the stage that led to the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whether or not you think that that was worthy of impeachment,” Murphy said.

Murphy compared Trump’s status in the investigation — with the special counsel linking the president to illegal activity — to that of former President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

“The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office. President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator. Was certainly a different set of facts, but this investigation is now starting to put the president in serious legal crosshairs, and he should be worried and the whole country should be worried,” Murphy said.

Murphy was responding to the most recent revelations from the special counsel’s investigation, including multiple filings documenting criminal activity committed by the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former campaign chair, Paul Manafort.

Cohen’s filing from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicated that Trump, named in the filing as “Individual-1,” directed Cohen to make hush-money payments before the 2016 election to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to silence them and keep their allegations of extramarital affairs with Trump private.

The special counsel alleges that Manafort, meanwhile, lied on multiple occasions to prosecutors about the extent of his contact with a Russian national during the 2016 campaign and with Trump administration officials in 2018.

While sources tell ABC News that Mueller is in the process of writing his final report, there are questions about when the final report will be made public.

“I would also counsel the special investigator to show his cards soon,” Murphy said. “I mean, I think it’s important for the special investigator to give Congress what he has sometime early in 2019 so that Congress can make a determination. If the president did, in fact, collude with the Russians to try to manipulate the election or engage in multiple felonies with Michael Cohen, it doesn’t really make sense for Congress to get that report from the special investigator in 2020. We need that next year. We need that as soon as possible.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pardoning Paul Manafort would be ‘terrible mistake’: Sen. Marco Rubio

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said repeatedly that President Donald Trump pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be a “terrible mistake,” and that doing so could possibly “trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended.”

“I think that would be a terrible mistake” if Trump pardoned Manafort, Rubio said on This Week Sunday. “I really do. I believe it’d be a terrible mistake. Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of lying about his contacts with administration officials in 2018 and at least four other details related to his probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

As ABC News confirmed, Manafort’s legal team had been sharing information about his interactions with the special counsel with the president’s legal team — a story that was first reported by The New York Times.

This reignited speculation that Manafort could be angling for a pardon from Trump.

Trump last week told the New York Post that though a pardon for Manafort had never been discussed, he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I don’t believe that any pardons should be used with relation to these particular cases, frankly,” Rubio told This Week Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz. “Not only does it not pass the smell test, I just think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place. And I think, in fact, that if something like that were to happen, it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended given these circumstances, so I hope that they don’t do that. It would be a terrible mistake if they did.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pardoning Paul Manafort would be ‘terrible mistake’: Sen. Marco Rubio

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said repeatedly that President Donald Trump pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be a “terrible mistake,” and that doing so could possibly “trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended.”

“I think that would be a terrible mistake” if Trump pardoned Manafort, Rubio said on This Week Sunday. “I really do. I believe it’d be a terrible mistake. Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of lying about his contacts with administration officials in 2018 and at least four other details related to his probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

As ABC News confirmed, Manafort’s legal team had been sharing information about his interactions with the special counsel with the president’s legal team — a story that was first reported by The New York Times.

This reignited speculation that Manafort could be angling for a pardon from Trump.

Trump last week told the New York Post that though a pardon for Manafort had never been discussed, he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I don’t believe that any pardons should be used with relation to these particular cases, frankly,” Rubio told This Week Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz. “Not only does it not pass the smell test, I just think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place. And I think, in fact, that if something like that were to happen, it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended given these circumstances, so I hope that they don’t do that. It would be a terrible mistake if they did.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Cory Booker will decide whether to run for president ‘over the holidays’

Posted on: December 9th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, N.H.) — Sen. Cory Booker hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he’ll run for president in 2020, but he said in New Hampshire on Saturday that he’ll make a verdict in about a month.

Booker, D-N.J., was in the country’s first primary state on Saturday for a number of events. He was the key speaker at the state’s Democratic post-midterm celebration in a crowded auditorium at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. He was also guest of honor at a house party in Nashua hosted by former state Sen. Bette Lasky — alongside Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess and state Sen. Cindy Rosenwald.

He was in a spirited mood at both, but talked little about his presidential ambitions. He was more candid about his plans Saturday morning.

“During the holidays, I’m gonna sit down and take a lot of stock about what I want to do next — whether I want to run for president or stay in the Senate and help this continued movement in our country to reinvigorate our democracy,” Booker told Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR-TV in a one-on-one interview.

That he’s considering a run for the top of the ticket is hardly a surprise. He’s been testing the waters in both Iowa — the first caucus state — and New Hampshire for months. Booker was in Iowa on Oct. 6, exactly one month before the midterm elections.

There, he railed against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after grabbing national headlines during the confirmation hearings.

On Saturday, Booker echoed the last Democratic president speaking about “hope.”

“The definition of hope isn’t that you see some light at the end of the tunnel, or something on the horizon that gives you hope. Hope is generated from within,” he told the overflow crowd in Manchester.

In Nashua, Booker spoke at length about his own personal story growing up in New Jersey split between inner-city Newark and suburban Upper Saddle River, and the issues facing New Hampshire, including the opioid crisis. New Hampshire has the second-highest number of overdose deaths in the nation: 35.8 people per 100,000 in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“This incredible city is struggling with opioid addiction, struggling with mental health issues,” Booker said, referring to Nashua. “They’re struggling with what my region is struggling with.”

The house party also drew a large number of people in the very same place Barack Obama held a similar event in 2007 when he was a senator.

“We’ve never seen it as packed as this, and we’ve hosted quite a number of political people here,” Elliot Lasky, an optometrist in Nashua who attended the party, told WMUR-TV.

Booker will spend a second day in the state on Sunday in Keene.

The senator is part of a crowded field of potential Democratic contenders — though none have thrown their hats in the ring officially. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are among some of the top contenders to take on Donald Trump in 2020.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump performs coin toss at Army-Navy football game in first visit as president

Posted on: December 8th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) —  President Trump conducted the coin toss at the 119th Army-Navy game on Saturday, one of the oldest rivalries in college football.

Navy correctly called tails, winning the toss.

The president was joined by Sec. of Defense James Mattis on the field for the national anthem and coin toss. He shook hands with teach team’s captains and sat on the Navy side to start the game.

Later, the president switched sides of the field to show his impartiality.

It was the president’s first visit to the game as commander-in-chief, though he had visited as president-elect in 2016 and made an appearance on CBS Sports.

Since the storied match-up between the Black Knights and Midshipmen began in 1890, 10 sitting presidents have attended including President Barack Obama in 2011.

Before the coin toss, the stadium joined in a moment of silence for the late President George H.W. Bush, a former Navy aviator.

Joining President Trump and Sec. of Defense Mattis at the game were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dunford and his replacement, Gen. Mark Milley, Sec. of State Pompeo, Sec of Interior Zinke, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma.

Army won the game 17-10, their third consecutive win over Navy. With the victory, Army retained the “Commander in Chief” trophy, which is awarded to the three-way series between Army, Navy and the Air Force Academy.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to make hush money payments during 2016 campaign, federal prosecutors allege in court filings

Posted on: December 8th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Federal prosecutors have implicated Donald Trump in a scheme to silence women who alleged during the 2016 campaign that they had extramarital affairs with him before he became president, according to court documents.

In court filings submitted Friday afternoon by federal prosecutors in New York, the government alleged that President Trump, at the time a candidate, directed his longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, to make payments in an effort to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

Cohen had leveled this accusation against the president during his plea hearing in New York in August, saying then-candidate Trump directed the hush money deals that were made in the closing weeks of the 2016 election. Cohen told the court he acted “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

But Friday’s sentencing memo by the Southern District of New York marked the first time federal prosecutors sought to directly connect the president to those campaign finance violations, writing that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.

“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors in New York wrote Friday. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” referring to President Trump.

“In the process,” prosecutors continued, “Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

Cohen pleaded guilty last August to two counts of campaign-related violations, as well as several felony charges of making false statements to a bank and tax evasion.

Last week, Cohen reached a deal with special prosecutors looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election to plead guilty to making misstatements to Congress.

Allegations laid out in Cohen’s sentencing documents in that case Friday provide only a narrow window into the special counsel probe, which has largely been conducted in secret over the past 18 months. It remains unclear whether prosecutors are examining President Trump’s conduct beyond the possible campaign finance violations described in the New York case.

On Twitter Friday, President Trump suggested he was exonerated by Friday’s court filings, writing: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

He referred to the investigation again Saturday, this time saying, “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!”

But the documents filed in New York Friday night tell a different story, appearing for the first time to implicate Trump directly in a potentially criminal act. Federal election laws require proof that violations were committed knowingly and willfully.

It’s clear the New York prosecutors believe Cohen had the requisite knowledge of the law, but the court documents are silent on whether Trump knew at the time that such payments were possibly illegal.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors wrote. “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”

“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” according to New York prosecutors, again referring to Trump.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, responded to Trump’s declaration of exoneration on Twitter, writing, “Presumably, this is a response to the Cohen filing. Of course, the complete opposite is true. @SDNY says @realdonaldtrump directed Cohen to commit a felony.”

Nadler is expected to oversee the committee when Democrats take control of the House in January and gain subpoena power. It plans to examine the president’s role in the hush money payments, a House Judiciary Committee aide told ABC News last month.

In his own sentencing memo filed last week, Cohen asked the judge to spare him a prison term, contending that his extensive cooperation in multiple investigations and the “gargantuan cost” he said he has already endured because of the criminal investigation warrant leniency.

“This case has caused deep and lasting strain for Michael and his family,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote. “They have been subjected to daily public scrutiny and moral opprobrium in a media cauldron of exceptional heat and intensity.”

While the special counsel in Washington acknowledged Cohen’s help with the Russian investigation, the New York prosecutors said Cohen’s cooperation was modest and incomplete — paling in comparison to the crimes to which he pleaded guilty.

“Now [Cohen] seeks extraordinary leniency — a sentence of no jail time,” they wrote Friday. “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life … these were knowing and calculated acts — acts Cohen executed in order to profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.”

The combined statutory maximum penalty for those crimes is up to 65 years in prison, though the parties agreed that sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of between 46 and 63 months, before any post-conviction cooperation was factored into the recommendation.

A federal judge in New York is scheduled to sentence Cohen next week

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump says chief of staff John Kelly will leave at the end of the year

Posted on: December 8th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that his chief of staff, John Kelly, will leave at the end of the year.

A replacement will be named, possibly on an interim basis, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the Army-Navy football game.

“John Kelly will be leaving, I don’t know if I can say retiring. But he’s a great guy,” Trump said, adding he would announce Kelly’s replacement “over the next day or two.”

The leading candidate to take over would be Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, sources told ABC News.

The president, who has fired some of his closest advisors with a tweet, gave Kelly a more graceful exit with his South Lawn announcement, noting that Kelly has been with him in two different roles: DHS Secretary and Chief of Staff.

“I appreciate his service very much,” Trump said.

Kelly’s departure, long-rumored around Washington, represents yet another dramatic shift in power dynamics and management style inside a notoriously tumultuous West Wing.

Just a few months ago, Trump had asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign, and Kelly accepted, several White House officials confirmed to ABC News.

At a separate meeting with Cabinet-level communications staff at the time, a senior administration official said Kelly voiced his intention to stay on in the role for far longer — through 2024 — should the president be elected to a second term.

But the president, increasingly exerting direct control of West Wing operations, has marginalized Kelly’s role and influence. Kelly has also chafed at the president’s private disparagement of one of his closest allies and confidantes, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Ayers, 35, is seen by Trump and his closest allies as a loyalist and prominent advocate for the administration’s policies and political efforts. And Ayers’ role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity to some of the moments of the Trump presidency.

Kelly departs after 17 months on the job. He was appointed by Trump to replace Reince Priebus in July 2017 in an effort to impose order, discipline and workflow on a chaotic inner circle that had grown unwieldy.

While Kelly was lauded for streamlining operations, the president and some of his long-time aides have chafed at the restrictions Kelly imposed, including limits to Oval Office access, a crackdown on temporary security clearances and ban on personal cell phone use in the West Wing, sources told ABC News.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump nominates Army Gen. Mark Milley as next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Posted on: December 8th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Gen. Mark Milley (Photo Credit: Department of Defense)(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump has announced the nomination of Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the country’s top-ranking military official, Milley would succeed current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

The president announced the nomination on Twitter Saturday.

I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

“I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game,” he told reporters. “I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master’s Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army’s modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, “We’re in the midst of a change in the very character of war.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump is expected to name Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to senior administration officials.

Interested in Trump Administration?

Add Trump Administration as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Trump Administration news, video, and analysis from ABC News.

As the country’s top-ranking military official, Milley would replace current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September of next year.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.more +

 

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.more +

 

“I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game,” he told reporters. “I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

 

 

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

 

PHOTO: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. more +

 

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master’s Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army’s modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, “We’re in the midst of a change in the very character of war.”

Trump nominates Army Gen. Mark Milley as next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Posted on: December 8th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Gen. Mark Milley (Photo Credit: Department of Defense)(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump has announced the nomination of Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the country’s top-ranking military official, Milley would succeed current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

The president announced the nomination on Twitter Saturday.

I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

“I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game,” he told reporters. “I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master’s Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army’s modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, “We’re in the midst of a change in the very character of war.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump is expected to name Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to senior administration officials.

Interested in Trump Administration?

Add Trump Administration as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Trump Administration news, video, and analysis from ABC News.

As the country’s top-ranking military official, Milley would replace current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September of next year.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.more +

 

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.more +

 

“I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game,” he told reporters. “I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

 

 

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

 

PHOTO: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. more +

 

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master’s Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army’s modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, “We’re in the midst of a change in the very character of war.”

Paul Manafort lied about contact with administration officials: Special counsel

Posted on: December 7th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, of lying about his contacts with administration officials in 2018 and at least four other details related to his probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

In a heavily redacted court document filed Friday afternoon, Mueller and his team of prosecutors accused Manafort of lying about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate whom the special counsel has identified as a former Russian intelligence officer.

Manafort, according to the special counsel’s team also lied about money laundering, a wire-transfer to a firm that was working for him, “information pertinent to another department of Justice investigation,” and his contact with administration officials.

Kilimnik was indicted alongside Manafort in June. He has not submitted a plea.

Early last week Manafort’s cooperation agreement fell apart when prosecutors in the Washington D.C. case accused Manafort of breaching his plea agreement by lying during interviews after agreeing to “broad” cooperation with the special counsel’s probe. The special counsel’s office asked the judge to proceed with scheduling a sentencing date.

In court last week, U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C. gave prosecutors until Friday to submit a filing detailing the nature of Manafort’s alleged lies. Manafort’s defense team, which has disputed accusations that he lied to prosecutors, will have until Wednesday to tell the judge how they plan to respond to the filing.

In August, a Virginia jury found Manafort guilty on eight of 18 federal counts of tax and bank-fraud charged against him. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining ten counts, though Manafort later admitted guilt to these counts as part of a plea agreement in the DC case.

In September, Manafort’s attorneys struck the plea agreement with the special counsel’s office in a Washington D.C. court to avoid a second trial there for crimes similar but separate to those leveled in Virginia.

As ABC News confirmed, Manafort’s legal team had been sharing information about his interactions with the special counsel with the president’s legal team – a story that was first reported by the New York Times.

This reignited speculation Manafort could be angling for a pardon from President Trump.

Trump last week told the New York Post that though a pardon for Manafort had never been discussed, he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

The judge in Manafort’s DC case set a tentative sentencing date last Friday for Manafort on March 5, 2019.

This will come just under a month after Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced separately for tax and bank-fraud crimes in his Virginia case.

During the Virginia trial, prosecutors invoked his past work as a political consultant for pro-Russia elements in Ukraine and payments from political figures there in connection with the money laundering allegations he faced.

He maintained those overseas relationships both before and during his stint as then-candidate Trump’s campaign chairman during the 2016 contest.

Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and was elevated to the campaign adviser position in May of the same year. He departed the Trump campaign in August 2016 after reports appeared in the New York Times and Associated Press that suggested he had engaged in illegal lobbying activities in Ukraine.

Manafort last appeared in court for a scheduling conference in his Virginia case in mid-October, using a wheelchair to enter the courtroom.

He’s waived his right to appear at hearings held since then. Manafort has been behind bars since the judge in his DC case revoked his bail in June, and is currently being held in solitary confinement.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.