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United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Last week's shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead and 14 wounded has once again brought the debate over gun control to the forefront. This time, the school's students are taking the lead in demanding change at both the local level and in Washington.

Critics, however, argue that pro-gun campaign money has more influence in the gun policy debate than victims of gun violence.

The National Rifle Association continues to be a huge force in American politics. It's made more than $11 million in direct contributions to federal lawmakers and candidates over the past 20 years. In 2017, the group's lobbying expenditures included $5 million spent pushing Second Amendment rights.

But the NRA’s real power shows up in independent expenditures. It can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates - as long as it doesn't coordinate with the candidates.

During just the 2016 election cycle, the NRA spent $54 million in the presidential and congressional races, nearly $20 million of which went to attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton and more than $11 million to support Republican Donald Trump. IN 2008 and 2012, the group had spent $18 million opposing Democrat Barack Obama and $10 million supporting Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney.

A NRA spokesperson said the group spends money in elections on behalf of its five million members across America to defend their constitutional right to own guns.

In the past 15 years, the pro-gun group has spent a total of more than $132 million on ads supporting or opposing presidential or congressional candidates.

Here are the three U.S. senators and House members who have benefited the most from the NRA’s ad buys, according to Federal Election Commission records:

SENATE


Sen. Richard Burr: $6.9 million

In 2016, the NRA was determined to keep North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s seat. The group spent $5.6 million on ads attacking his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross. Over the years, the group has spent $1.4 million on ads supporting Burr and donated $40,150 to his House and Senate campaign committees.

Sen. Roy Blunt: $4.5 million

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has long been one of the biggest beneficiaries of NRA money. Not only has the group donated $56,500 to Blunt’s campaign committee over the years, the group has also spent $1.4 million bankrolling ads supporting him. The NRA also spent $2.5 million in 2016 opposing Democrat Jason Kander’s bid against the Missouri Republican.

Sen. Thom Tillis: $4.4 million


The NRA was one of many outside groups that helped unseat North Carolina's Democratic incumbent senator, Kay Hagan, and elect Republican Sen. Thom Tilllis in 2014. The NRA spent $2.45 million against Hagan and nearly $2 million in support of Tillis.

HOUSE

Rep. French Hill: $1.1 million


The NRA was one of the biggest spenders in a competitive Arkansas House race in 2014. The group spent more than half a million dollars supporting Republican French Hill and another half million attacking Democrat Patrick Hays.

Rep. Ken Buck: $829,377

In 2010, the NRA spent nearly $830,000 in an unsuccessful effort to replace Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet with Republican Ken Buck in Colorado. Buck, however, was able to win the seat only after Bennet left office to run for the Senate in 2012. The NRA didn’t get involved in the 2014 race, but Buck was backed by another pro-gun group called Gun Owners of America.

Rep. David Young: $697,778

The NRA helped elect Republican David Young in an open House race in Iowa in 2014 by spending nearly $700,000 on ads in support of Young and against Democratic opponent Staci Appel.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has walked back President Donald Trump's tweet from last weekend suggesting the FBI could have prevented the Parkland high school shooting if it hadn't been so focused on the Russia investigation.

On Friday, the FBI said it failed to follow up on a tip about the Parkland shooter. And Tuesday, when asked if Trump believes the FBI missed warning signs because of the time it's spending on the Russia investigation, Sanders said that was "not necessarily" the cause.

"I think he was speaking - not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter certainly not the responsibility of anybody else," Sanders said.

Sanders tried to clarify when asked if the tweet Trump sent late Saturday night from his private Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was a "mistweet."

"I think he's making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms getting the Trump campaign and its involvement," Sanders said.

Trump's tweet outraged some survivors of the school shooting that killed 17 last week.

Over the weekend, Trump fumed about Friday's indictment from the special counsel's investigation that accused 13 Russians of interfering in the 2016 election. Trump pointed at the Obama administration for not intervening earlier. "The 'Russian hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!" he tweeted.

Sanders, asked Tuesday if the president believes Russia meddled in the election, gave the strongest acknowledgement yet from the White House.

"Absolutely," said Sanders. "It's very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It's also very clear that it didn't have an impact on the election. And it's also very clear that the Trump campaign didn't collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place."

Sanders also defended the administration's response to that Russian interference.

"President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference in our elections will have consequences and we're going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyber attacks. Just last week, we called out Russia by name. It was one of the first times that you've seen something like that take place. We're going to continue doing things like that," Sanders said.

Asked why Trump hasn't condemned Russia, Sanders said, "He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions; he's taken away properties; he's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia."

Sanders cryptically made reference to a new, unreported incident in which Trump came down on Russia.

"Last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days in another way that this president was tough on Russia," said Sanders.

The White House has not revealed any details about that incident.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While the White House has said President Donald Trump is “supportive of efforts” to update the nation’s background check system in the wake of the Florida high school shooting last week, the president's proposed budget for 2019 would actually roll back federal grants to help states in reporting to the national background check system.

Under the proposed FY 2019 budget, which the administration rolled out just two days before the deadly Parkland, Fla. shooting that left 17 people dead, proposed federal spending for the grants that help states improve the completeness of the records they report to the federal database would be reduced from $73 million to $61 million — a $12 million decrease.

But an administration official insists that the president's budget fully funds the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and said the decrease in proposed funding is designed to match the level of spending requested by states that qualify for the grants.

"The FY 2019 President's Budget proposes to reduce funding for this program because the number of states eligible for NICS Act Record Improvement Program funding is not expected to increase and the $10.0 million request is sufficient to sustain the existing level of activity under this program," the official said, noting that the government only funded the states that were eligible and that some states have failed to produce required compliance plans related to reporting mental health records.

President Trump, who sources tell ABC News has repeatedly said “we have to do something” in the wake of the Florida tragedy, announced on Tuesday that he directed his Justice Department to look into banning bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shooting last year.

The president has also expressed support for a bill introduced last year by Sen. John Cornyn, R–Texas, to update the background check system to ensure that states and federal agencies have up-to-date and accurate information on individuals prohibited from buying firearms.

Cornyn introduced the bill, called the Fix NICS Act, last year following the Sutherland Springs mass shooting in his home state. The bill is co-sponsored by leading gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy, D–Conn., who saw 20 children killed in his home state in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

The bill, referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Press secretary Sarah Sanders has said that “discussions are ongoing” but that “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system."

While any action the administration takes in the wake of Florida is expected to stop short of any proposal that would amount to gun restrictions, Principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said late last week that “mental health and school safety” would be at the forefront of any policy prescriptions the administration may pursue.

“The president wants to take leadership and actually fix this problem and create best practices across the country,” Shah said on FOX News late last week.

On Wednesday, the president is set to host a “listening session” with high school students and community members impacted by the school shootings Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine communities.

On Thursday, he will meet with state and local officials on the issue.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he has signed a memorandum directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose new regulations that would ban devices that can effectively turn legal weapons into machine guns.

The news comes four months after the Las Vegas concert mass shooting, in which the gunman was found to have used 'bump stocks' that significantly increased the rate of fire for the multiple assault weapons he used from his perch on an upper floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

"I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon," Trump said during a ceremony in the White House for Medal of Valor recipients. "The key in all of these efforts, as I said the day after shooting, is that we must not take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference - we must take actions that actually make a difference."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement underscoring her contention that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not have authority to ban bump stocks, and that "legislation is the only answer."

"The agency made this clear in a 2013 letter to Congress, writing that ‘stocks of this type are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes,’" Feinstein said.

“If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years," Feinstein said, "and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold."

Trump's announcement comes as the administration faces new pressure over accusations of inaction in the wake of multiple deadly shootings, most recently last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

President Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.

Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues."

"You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."

After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.

Sanders did not answer definitively, however, when asked whether the president would oppose reinstating a ban on assault weapons.

“We haven't closed the door on any front,” Sanders said. “That's what the next several days and weeks will be, to have conversations and see what this process looks like.”

The briefing is Sanders' first in a week, after the White House cancelled a Valentine's Day briefing, citing the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.

Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues."

"You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."

After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.

The briefing is Sanders' first in a week, after the White House cancelled a Valentine's Day briefing, citing the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to making false statements to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team in the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Van Der Zwaan, a 33-year old Dutch citizen, allegedly made the false statements to officials with the special counsel and FBI agents in an interview on Nov. 3, 2017.

The felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated that a finding of guilt could result in Van Der Zwaan’s deportation.

The judge indicated both sides have agreed to recommend a reduced prison sentence of up to six months and a reduced fine of between $500 and $9,500, saying Van Der Zwaan has no criminal history.

The special counsel’s office said in their court filing that Van Der Zwaan, who worked for a law firm that did work in Ukraine in 2012, made false statements about communications in 2016 with Gates and an unnamed person.

While Gates was never a client of Van Der Zwann’s according to a source with knowledge of the relationship, the two were connected because of Gates’ past work representing the Ukraine government on behalf of his former boss Paul Manafort.

The communication, prosecutors allege, took place when Gates was still a member of the Trump campaign team.

Manafort left the campaign in mid-August, Gates stayed on through the election.

Gates is currently facing criminal charges from the special counsel over his lobbying work in Ukraine.

Van der Zwaan's father-in-law is German Khan, a Ukrainian-Russian who is one of the three owners of Russia's Alfa Bank and who is mentioned in an infamous dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele was employed by opposition research firm Fusion GPS which received funding for its efforts, in part, from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Khan is also mentioned in court filings and congressional records request of Paul Manafort for their past work together.

In a statement to ABC News, Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom, which employed Van Der Zwaan as an associate in its London office, said they terminated his employment last year and have been "cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Under heavy criticism for still not condemning Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump is defending his record on Russia - and claiming he's been tougher than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

"I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!" the president tweeted Tuesday morning.

Trump has still not fully embraced the finding of U.S. intelligence agencies - and now the special counsel's office - that Russia interfered in the election to damage Hillary Clinton and support his candidacy. He has rarely spoken ill of President Vladimir Putin and often voiced support for better relations with Moscow.

But despite Trump's rhetorical embrace of the autocratic leader and his regime, his administration has taken some big steps to push back on Russia, including some steps that Obama avoided.

In December, his administration decided to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, and his State Department has consistently criticized Russia for leading, arming, and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. While the Obama administration increased aid to Ukraine, and rallied European partners to slap Russia with international sanctions, it never crossed the line into providing lethal support.

The Trump administration has kept those sanctions in place - and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said they will remain so until Russia withdraws from eastern Ukraine, abides by the peace deals it pledged to support - known as the Minsk agreements - and returns Crimea to Ukraine, four years after it began its illegal annexation of the territory.

In fact, in June, the Trump Treasury Department actually expanded those sanctions to include 38 new individuals and companies, including two Russian officials, for their alleged involvement in the ongoing violence in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. The move was largely meant to bring the U.S. up to date with the European partners' sanctions and with the changing figures and aliases of the shadowy pro-Russian actors in Ukraine.

In response, however, Russia retaliated by forcing the U.S. to shrink its diplomatic missions in Russia. Trump responded by "thanking" Putin "because we're trying to cut down on payroll," again stoking outrage.

But his administration took a bold step, expelling a number of Russian diplomats, and more important, shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco - reportedly a major spy hub for the country.

The other foreign policy pursuits that his administration has used to push back on Russia are the airstrikes on Russia's client Bashar al-Assad in Syria for the use of chemical weapons; the expansion of domestic energy production and the sale of U.S. liquefied natural gas to counter Russia's energy strong-arming of European neighbors; and more sanctions on Russian officials for corruption and human rights abuses under the Magnitsky Act.

Some of Trump's action on the world stage, however, have made him weaker than Obama, according to critics. He has withdrawn the U.S. from international commitments, including the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership, weakening the country's leadership role. His constant criticism of NATO and his initial refusal to commit to Article 5 - the alliance's principle of common defense - shook Europe's faith in the U.S. And despite those early airstrikes on Assad, he has let Russia have free reign in Syria and let Assad come to dominate the majority of the country again, despite his human rights abuses and use of chemical weapons.

Trump has still not condemned Russia for its interference in the election, even at times still calling into question whether it did so at all and in November saying he "believed" Putin when he told him Russia did not interfere; the White House later walked that back. His words have also gotten him in trouble in the Oval Office, when he reportedly disclosed classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last May.

But it's the sanctions issue that has critics most riled up - especially because Trump has not sanctioned Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.

Instead, he was forced to sign new sanctions legislation against Russia in August - calling parts of the law "unconstitutional," but signing it to avoid an embarrassing veto override. Congress passed the law to codify the sanctions Obama passed in December 2016, when he expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives, seized two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland, and sanctioned five Russian entities and four individuals. The law also called on the administration to publish a list of Russian oligarchs and government officials, a report of Russia's sovereign debt, and a list of defense and intelligence sector entities and individuals, with sanctions on anyone who does business with them.

The administration dragged its feet initially, missing the first deadline by three weeks - for the defense and intelligence sector list. In January, they released the other two on time, the so-called "oligarchs" list and the sovereign debt report.

But officials announced that they would not yet impose sanctions on anyone doing business with Russia's defense and intelligence sectors. Instead, they said, the threat of sanctions had already deterred "billions" of dollars worth of deals with Russia, although they provided no evidence of that. Administration officials also have not imposed sanctions on Russia for cyber activity, which the law says shall be imposed unless the White House can certify to Congress that Russia "has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions."

Given that Tillerson, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and other top officials have warned that Russia is taking steps to interfere in the 2018 congressional elections, it does not seem likely any certification is coming.

Although the administration seems to have so far met its commitments under the law, the lack of sanctions has incensed Democrats. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it "inexcusable," while Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democrat who authored the law, said Trump had left the U.S. "vulnerable to malign Russian efforts because the president has put himself above the security of our nation."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, went so far as to call it "a constitutional crisis," in a tweet that garnered tens of thousands of retweets and likes.

Perhaps most of all, it's those divisions of the Trump era -- whether one believes they are of the president's own making or his enemies' -- that have weakened the U.S. -- just as Putin wanted.

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@GovernorTomWolf/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a new congressional map for the state — a decision that could have major ramifications for the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The court issued the map after Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state legislature, were unable to submit a map satisfying both parties by the court-ordered Thursday night deadline.

"Implementation of this map would create a constitutional crisis where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is usurping the authority of the Legislative and Executive branches. We anticipate further action in federal court," Pennsylvania House Speaker and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement Monday.

The new map significantly redraws the districts that encompass the Philadelphia suburbs, a key purple part of a purple state where Democrats are poised to pick up seats, and it creates another competitive district in northeast Pennsylvania near the Allentown area.

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in both the suburban Philadelphia districts currently represented by Rep. Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello in the 2016 presidential election.

Thirteen of the districts in the previous map went to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, while just five went to Hillary Clinton. Ten of the districts in the new map were won by Trump, while eight went to Clinton, according to an analysis by redistricting expert Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Republicans currently hold 12 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, while Democrats control just five. One seat is currently vacant but will be filled following the March 13 special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who resigned over a sex scandal last year.

Under the newly issued map, both candidates in the March special election, Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone, would find themselves living outside of the 18th congressional district for which they are currently running to represent.

Democrat Conor Lamb, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, would find himself in the new 17th district, parts of which are currently represented by Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus. It's an area that would receive an influx of suburban Pittsburgh Democratic voters and a race that could become more competitive than it has been in the past.

Republican Rick Saccone, who lives in Elizabeth, moves into the new 18th district encompassing much of the current 14th district which is presently represented by Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle. Democrats would continue to have a distinct advantage given the district's inclusion of Pittsburgh's urban core.

Prior to the court's decision, both candidates have signaled that they are interested in running again in November, win or lose. In a statement provided to ABC News, Saccone called the new map "partisan," but said he was "going to run and win in whatever district I compete in because it's not about the lines that are drawn, but about the values I represent." Lamb's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the uncertainty ahead, outside groups remain focused on a potentially momentum-shifting victory in the district next month.

American Bridge, a Democratic Super PAC, is releasing a new digital ad this week bashing Saccone for "out of touch" comments on the region's opioid crisis. But by happenstance, the ad will run on Facebook for users across Pennsylvania, not just in the 18th district, according to a PAC official, a move that could pay dividends should Saccone run elsewhere come November.

Numerous map submissions from both sides of the aisle were presented to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the state’s congressional boundaries redrawn late last month. But after Wolf vetoed a map submitted Republican leaders in the statehouse last Tuesday, it became clear both sides were not going to reach an agreement by the February 16 deadline.

Republicans in the state harshly criticized Wolf for rejecting the map they submitted, saying his decision “sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance.”

“This entire exercise, while cloaked in ‘litigation,’ is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander – one brought about by the Democrat Chief Executive of the Commonwealth acting in concert with politically-connected litigants in order to divest the General Assembly of its Constitutional authority to enact Congressional districts,” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement last Tuesday.

President Trump also weighed in on the new map Tuesday morning, imploring the GOP to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wolf submitted his own map last week that he claimed “combined features of legislative submissions” and was “statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.”

“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.”

The new congressional map, if it survives the coming legal challenges from Republicans, could allow Democrats to pick up between 2 to 3 seats in the 2018 midterm elections.

“If the Pennsylvania map changes, it’s hard to imagine how the Republicans hold control of the House so maybe that’s why we’re seeing the desperation we’re seeing,” Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute, told ABC News.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Sergei Millian emerged last year as one of the more intriguing characters to surface during the ongoing investigations into foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The Belarusan-American businessman and onetime Russian government translator claimed to have brokered Trump-branded real estate to Russian buyers. He contacted high-level members of the Trump campaign who have since been swept into the widening Russia probe. And he was alleged in news reports to be the unwitting source of a key allegation contained in the infamous dossier of unverified claims that have beguiled the Trump presidency from its inception.

Congressional investigators want to interview Millian, sources familiar with aspects of the congressional inquiries told ABC News. They have been trying — and failing — to track him down for months.

So where in the world is he?

Last week, Millian offered those investigators a tantalizing clue as to his possible whereabouts, posting on Twitter a photo of himself addressing what appears to be a Harvard Business School event , with the caption, “Speaker at Harvard University.”

Not so fast. A university spokesman told ABC News there is no record of Millian appearing there in recent years.

“We have him listed as a guest speaker at a European Conference held at the school on March 3, 2013. His session was about Russian-European Energy Relations,” said Brian Kenny, a Harvard spokesman. “That's all the information I have.”

Exactly how Millian fits into the investigation remains unclear.

He has said publicly that he has no ties to the scandal and has simply been pursuing his efforts to foster cooperation as the head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

“The more fake news appear, the heavier the price will be paid by those who are behind this organized campaign,” he wrote on Twitter in August 2017.

Millian has not always been silent. He granted an interview to ABC News in July of 2016, during the presidential campaign. He described meeting Trump in 2008 during a marketing meeting to help bring attention to the Trump-branded development in Hollywood, Florida. He had even posed for a photo with Trump at the event and, he said, was introduced to Michael Cohen, who was then the senior attorney for the Trump Organization.

“Trump’s team, they realized that we have lots of connection with Russian investors. And they noticed that we bring a lot of investors from Russia,” Millian told ABC News. “And they needed my assistance, yes, to sell properties and sell some of the assets to Russian investors.”

Millian said he signed an agreement “with his team so I can be his official broker.”

Both Cohen and the developer of Trump Hollywood, the Related Group, told ABC News that they had no record of any signed agreement with Millian.

“I’ve never met the guy,” Cohen said at the time. “I have spoken to him twice. The first time, he was proposing to do something. He’s in real estate. I told him we have no interest. Second time he called me, I asked him not to call me anymore.”

During the 2016 campaign, Millian had contact with several of then-candidate Trump’s campaign aides and business colleagues, including George Papadopoulos, the campaign figure who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with the federal probe.

Papadopoulos’s fiancé Simona Mangiante told ABC News Millian approached the young Trump foreign policy advisor early in 2016, after he became associated with the campaign, and they struck up a friendship.

Millian also briefly engaged in social media contact on Twitter with Cohen. Cohen later told ABC News that he exchanged emails with Millian in order to tell him to stop exaggerating his ties to the Trump Organization.

Cohen said he wrote Millian to say it had become clear “that you too are seeking media attention off of this false narrative of a Trump-Russia alliance” and to ask him to stop “attempting to inject yourself into this crazy, [Hillary] Clinton campaign lie.”

Last spring, news reports alleged that Millian was an unwitting source of information for the uncorroborated “dossier” compiled by a former British spy for the Washington research firm Fusion GPS. That firm’s founder, Glenn Simpson, would not confirm that to Congress in November, but he told the House Intelligence Committee that Millian caught his attention early on.

“Sergei Millian isn't named in the dossier, but is someone who was important,” Simpson said.

In more recent interviews, Millian has denied being the source of any information that appeared in the dossier.

“This is just a blatant lie,” he told a Russian television talk show called 60 Minutes, according to a translation prepared for ABC News. He called it an attempt “to show our president [Trump] in a bad light, using my name.”

Millian declined to respond to emailed questions from ABC News in recent months, other than sending an email objecting to his portrayal in earlier reports and expressing general frustration with the media coverage that has centered on him.

“Shame on you for working like this and deceiving your viewers,” he said.

A phone number listed for him on the Russian American Chamber of Commerce web site does not accept calls or messages.

As for Millian’s whereabouts, that remains something of a mystery. Public records suggest he lived in Atlanta, and later at locations in New York City. Last year, he posted photos of himself in Washington, D.C., attending parties celebrating the Trump Inauguration.

And that photo from Harvard? It was geo-tagged in New York -- perhaps a new clue for congressional investigators who are hoping to speak with him.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer surprising support for a regular opponent on Monday night. The president endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for senator from Utah, a position he hopes to inherit from the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The president tweeted, "He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch and has my full support and endorsement!"

Romney made the announcement he would be running last week, but never mentioned Trump in his campaign video.

Romney was extremely critical of Trump during the 2016 election, including a speech from March 2016 in which he meticulously outlined all of the problems Trump presented if elected. The former Massachusetts governor ripped Trump over foreign policy, his businesses and the economy, his temperament and dealings with Russia.

"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," Romney told an audience at the University of Utah last March. "His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

Trump in turn said Romney "choked like a dog" when he lost in 2012 to President Barack Obama and called him a "mixed up man who doesn't have a clue."

Yet, Romney accepted Trump's endorsement on Twitter late Monday, making no mention of his critical comments from a year ago.

Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press on the day of his campaign announcement last Friday he was on the same page policy-wise as Trump, but wouldn't hesitate to speak out against the president if he disagreed. He voiced an immigration plan similar to Trump's in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, voicing support for "a border fence or wall" and saying he agreed chain migration and the lottery program should be fixed.

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United States Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- The indictment Friday of 13 Russians accused of waging "information warfare" in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is raising new questions about why the Trump administration still has not imposed sanctions designed to punish Russia and deter it from interfering in the 2018 midterms.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked on the CBS program "60 Minutes" why the administration has not done what Congress directed when it overwhelmingly passed legislation last summer calling for new sanctions.

“We have and we are,” he responded. “We've taken steps that have already prevented a number of Russian military sales as a result of the legislation, and we are evaluating additional individuals for possible sanctioning."

But while the administration argues that the threat of sanctions has met the intended effect of the law, there have been no new sanctions on Russia since its passage, leading Democrats to express outrage.

Trump begrudgingly signed the law in August, but warned it was unconstitutional in parts. Since then, there have been questions about whether he would fully enforce the law designed to tie his hands and force him to clamp down on Russia, especially because he's also repeatedly declined to even criticize Russia's actions.

In October, the administration missed a deadline by weeks to publish a list of Russian entities and individuals in the defense and intelligence sectors. Those groups are already under sanctions, but anyone doing business with them would face American sanctions starting January 29.

But when that day came, the State and Treasury departments did not impose any sanctions, instead saying the threat of sanctions had achieved the goal of disrupting and ending billions of dollars worth of such deals.

"Since the enactment of the CAATSA legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement at the time, using an acronym for the law - Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

The administration has not published any evidence or details of the allegedly disrupted deals, citing private diplomatic conversations. Trump administration officials did, however, brief members of Congress about their efforts, which at least satisfied even Democrats initially.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., then the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “welcomed” the briefing and said he “appreciate[d] the administration’s engagement with Congress on this issue.” Cardin was one of the authors of the sanctions law, officially called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

Since then, the pressure for more sanctions has escalated. Last Thursday, the White House released a statement blaming Russia for a massive cyber attack last year known as the “NotPetya” that overwhelmed Ukraine and hit some businesses, banks, and media organizations in other countries. The following day, special counsel Robert Mueller announced indictments against 13 Russian citizens, laying out in great detail Russia’s intricate plot to interfere and disrupt the U.S. presidential election.

Together, the two underscored the seriousness of the cyber threat from Russia, renewing calls for sanctions — and criticism of Trump for not taking seriously enough the danger, especially after his top administration officials like Tillerson and CIA director Mike Pompeo have warned Russia is looking to interfere again in the 2018 congressional elections.

“Since coming into office, President Trump has failed to address the ongoing threat to our security posed by Russia’s international assault on the democratic process,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., now the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Friday.

“He continues to ignore congressional will with respect to the mandatory sanctions passed last year. It has been more than six months since [the sanctions bill] was signed into law, and not one, mandatory sanction has been imposed,” he added. “It’s inexcusable.”

But the administration has deflected, saying new sanctions could be coming. Tillerson’s comments echoed those of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was grilled during congressional testimony last week.

“We are actively working on Russia’s sanctions,” he told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.

After Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, interrogated him about whether Trump has asked him to impose sanctions, Mnuchin said the president was supportive.

“I told him we would be doing sanctions against Russia, and he was pleased to hear that,” he said.

Among those potential new sanctions, the law ordered the administration to impose sanctions for Russians and those who aid Russia in cyberattacks — unless the White House can certify that “the Government of the Russian Federation has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions.”

Four top Democrats urged the imposition of these sanctions in a letter to Trump and Tillerson last month, but the administration has not yet taken any steps to implement those.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Students from the Washington, D.C. area protested outside the White House Monday, calling for lawmakers to reform gun laws after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. last week.

"The most important thing is that the government knows that kids in our generation are getting involved with this issue," said Hollis Cutler, 17, a Washington, D.C.-area high school junior.

During the protest, organized by a group called Teens for Gun Reform, 17 students laid on the ground for three minutes in front of the White House to symbolize the 17 people killed last week and how long it takes to purchase a firearm, according to one of the student organizers, high school junior Eleanor Nuechterlein.

"My friend Whitney and I decided that we wanted to take action because politicians haven't done anything really since ten years ago. There's been so many school shootings since then and nothing's really been done and we wanted to intact change and because we're under 18, we can't vote," said Nuechterlein.

Last Friday, Nuechterlein, 16, and her classmate and friend, Whitney Bowen, 16, began organizing the White House protest and formed "Teens for Gun Reform" with the premise that it would be students speaking out for other students.

"We as teenagers want something to be done. It's not our parents, it's not adults. It's something that we truly believe needs to change," said Nuechterlein.

The student organizers felt that a protest was the best way to have their voices heard.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were shot and killed by a former student last week, have called for a national march on Washington, D.C. on March 24 to call on lawmakers to take action to prevent future mass shootings.

Nuechterlein said she would like to see background checks required for all gun sales. She said that the students weren't partisan, but rather asking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to listen.

"Both political parties should come together and change something because at the end of the day there are kids in school that are worried about their safety and that's not okay," she said.

Congressman Don Beyer, D-Va., who joined the protest Monday, said he hoped these young people would "finally" give Congress the motivation it needs to address gun violence.

"When I was growing up, sometimes we had to hide under our desk in case there was a nuclear attack, but these guys have to hide under their desks all the time -- school shooting after school shooting," he said.

Beyer said he would like Congress to pass federal laws that allow families and law enforcement to put mentally ill people on the background check list, but acknowledged that it might not get done this year.

Protesters on Monday held signs that read "Protect Kids, Not Guns" and "How about our children's rights?" while someone read the names of a decade's worth of school shooting victims over a bullhorn.

The 17 students who laid on the ground - arms crossed on their chests and American flags across their bodies - were joined by what appeared to be nearly 100 other young people and supporters on the ground with them.

"I was sitting there and thinking about all of the families and all of the friends and all of the people who have been so hurt or killed by school shootings and the politicians are the voice of the people and we are the people," said Bowen about what went through her mind during the "lie-in."

After getting up, Bowen and Nuechterlein said they wanted people to recognize that there are young voices calling for change and although they aren't old enough to vote, "we are the ones in the classrooms" and "we're not okay with what's happening around us."

After most of the young people stood up, a crowd clashed with what appeared to be the lone counter-protester, who was holding a sign that read, "Many armed staff behind us here, why not schools." People yelled and circled around the counter-protester.

At one point a Secret Service officer stepped in and reminded people that everyone had the right to protest and not to touch each other.

Parker, 12, and Pepper, 11, Margulis, who attended the protest with their mom, said that they had camp friends that went to school in Florida and have been scared to go to school since they learned of the shooting last week.

"When I heard a sounds the day after - there was a loud noise in the cafeteria, because of the speakers - I honestly thought it was a gun shot, and people were scared, it was so scary," said Parker.

"I was just scared to go to school, thinking, 'could this happen to me?'" said Pepper.

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United States Environmental Protection Agency (WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has canceled a scheduled trip to Israel amid scrutiny over his high travel costs.

Documents released last week showed that Administrator Scott Pruitt racked up nearly $200,000 in travel expenses for him and his staff, including some chartered flights and upgraded tickets to first or business class.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said Sunday that the agency decided to postpone a planned trip to Israel, though she did not give a specific reason. The Washington Post reported that Pruitt was scheduled to meet with the country's environmental minister and tour infrastructure sites like a water recycling plant.

“We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future,” Bowman said in a statement.

The EPA said last week that the administrator flies first class for security reasons. Pruitt explained then he had experienced multiple unfriendly encounters while he was traveling in his first few months as administrator.

"There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator as I've flown and I spent time of interaction that's not been the best and so ingress and egress off the plane, the security aspect, those are decision all made by our detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don't make any of those decisions," Pruitt told ABC affiliate WMUR in New Hampshire last week.

Pruitt has more security than previous administrators because there have been more threats against him, according to EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who said last week Pruitt has a waiver to fly first or business class because of those security concerns.

Multiple other administration officials have been under fire for their high travel spending, most recently Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. A VA Office of Inspector General report Shulkin said inappropriately accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and used agency funds to bring his wife on a European trip. Last year, the president asked then-HHS Secretary Tom Price to resign after criticism of his use of expensive private and military flights.

The documents showing travel costs at EPA were obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog group, through a FOIA request and lawsuit filed by the group after EPA did not respond to previous FOIA requests.

Those travel vouchers and other documents provide details about some of the administrator's travel. They show that the EPA spent thousands of dollars for the administrator to fly first class on domestic flights. For example, in May of last year, the EPA paid more than $1,900 for Pruitt to fly from Washington, D.C., to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and back for a tour of a chemical company. Pruitt also spent more than $1,500 for a flight from D.C. to New York for media interviews in June, while a staffer that traveled to assist Pruitt on the trip only paid $238 for his ticket.

In yet another example, the EPA got approval for a $5,700 charter flight to take Pruitt and his staff from Denver to Durango, Colorado, because his commercial flight was delayed. Pruitt could have traveled with on the Colorado governor's plane or on a different flight but there were no extra seats available for his security detail, according to a memo approving the trip.

The EPA also spent more than $90,000 for Pruitt and his staff to fly to Italy to attend one day of the G7 environmental summit. The administrator paid about $7,000 for his trip, which took him from New York to Rome and then back to D.C. from Milan. Flights for staffers and other EPA officials on the trip cost around $2,000. That trip also included a $36,000 military flight from Cincinnati to New York, which was approved so Pruitt could join President Donald Trump at an event there and still make his flight to Rome.

Information on the use of some charter flights was first reported in September when the EPA released information on the trips in response to questions from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General is currently investigating the EPA's travel spending in 2017 to determine if the agency followed all proper rules and procedures in booking private and upgraded flights. That investigation began in August of last year after other documents obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project showed that Pruitt traveled back to his home state of Oklahoma several times in his first few months as administrator.

Members of Congress have questioned whether the EPA is spending too much on the administrator's travel.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told ABC News' Mary Bruce last week that he thinks all officials should fly coach.

"I think everybody ought to fly coach and I've always felt that way. You get there roughly the same time, maybe a few seconds slower," Kennedy said.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA, criticized the agency for its spending on travel while the administration has proposed cutting the agency's budget.

Two former ambassadors also criticized the EPA's reasoning for the upgraded flights, saying that they traveled in economy class and without security even when traveling internationally.

Chris Lu, who was deputy labor secretary under President Barack Obama, told The Washington Post that no Obama Cabinet members were given waivers to travel first class under the previous administration.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Over the weekend, President Donald Trump suggested that the FBI’s Russia investigation had caused the agency to divert resources or attention that could have prevented last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” Trump tweeted Saturday.

His message came just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians for their alleged roles in a complex operation to sway the 2016 presidential election.

Federal law enforcement officials say Trump’s posting misstates how the FBI actually works.

The FBI has a broad mandate and spends every day focusing on multiple threats at once – terrorists, bank robbers, child predators, cyber criminals, corrupt politicians, gun traffickers, foreign spies, and many more.

There are about 35,000 people working for the FBI, including about 12,000 agents, according to FBI statistics.

The FBI has “a lot of people,” one federal law enforcement official told ABC News. “They’re not all working on Russia, I can tell you that. There’s a lot of other stuff going on.”

On Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people and injuring many others. Two days later, the FBI acknowledged that last month, “a person close to Nicolas Cruz” contacted an FBI tip line “to report concerns about him,” but “protocols were not followed” and the information was never passed on to authorities in Florida.

When the FBI receives a call like that from the public, the call goes to a center in West Virginia run by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division. The call center is supposed to assess the information, and if it is deemed a potential threat the information should be sent to the appropriate FBI field office. In the Cruz case, the information should have been deemed a potential threat to life and should have been sent to the Miami field office for further investigation, but the information was never deemed a threat to begin with, so it was never passed on, the federal law enforcement official said.

Nevertheless, personnel at the FBI’s call center would “absolutely not” ever be working on the Russia case, the official said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump felt liberated Friday afternoon, sources close to him told ABC News, when the news broke that the special counsel probing interference in the 2016 presidential election unveiled a grand jury indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups accused of meddling “with U.S. elections and political processes.”

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” the president tweeted as he boarded Air Force One in Washington where the televisions were tuned into Fox News.

Over the next 45 hours, the president would go on to tweet 11 times - blasting the Russia investigation and blaming Democrats for failing to stop Russian interference, which he once denied.

Then came the bombshell at 11:08 p.m. Saturday. The president connected one of the deadliest mass school shootings in history to the Russia investigation.

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russia collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” Trump tweeted, following dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club.

For some context, there are about 35,000 people working for the FBI, including about 12,000 agents, according to FBI statistics. The FBI has “a lot of people,” and, “They’re not all working on Russia, I can tell you that. There’s a lot of other stuff going on,” one federal law enforcement official told ABC News.

Aides have long cautioned Trump against tweeting about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, with one senior White House official conceding the weekend tweets were not helpful to the president.

Even the presence of chief of staff John Kelly – known to bring some order to a chaotic White House but who has said his role isn't to stop the president from tweeting – didn’t seem to help contain what soon turned into a twitter tirade.

“Trying to convince him not to tweet? People have been trying for three years – from his family to friends to aides. What makes them think this time would be any different?” said another White House official who expected Trump would ultimately link the deadly shooting to the Russia investigation.

There was bi-partisan backlash. Members of his own party even said he went too far.

“So many folks in the FBI are doing all they can to keep us safe, the reality of it is that they are two separate issues,” Republican Senator Tim Scott said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN.

One survivor of the Florida high school shooting tweeted to the president: “Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of you fake and meaningless “thoughts and prayers.”

On Friday, shortly after arriving in Florida, Trump traveled to Broward County to visit first responders and victim’s families after last week's shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – a visit that appeared to have a more congratulatory feel focused on praising law enforcement officials.

The Saturday Twitter barrage was just the beginning.

President Trump then took another swipe at the ongoing Russia probes early Sunday morning, tweeting “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption, and chaos within the U.S. they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

Trump, who has been hesitant to enforce sanctions on Russia for cyber meddling, has yet to speak out against Russia or say what he will do to stop future Russian meddling.

As White House spokesman Hogan Gidley was on Fox News claiming that the Democrats and the media have created more “chaos” than the Russia investigation, Trump’s own national security adviser was acknowledging Russian interference saying “the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”

The president even called him out for that comment, saying “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impact or changed by the Russians.”

In what seems like an attempt to shift the narrative, Trump ended his weekend tweeting about Oprah Winfrey, following her appearance on the CBS program “60 Minutes.”

“Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!” he tweeted.

Oprah discussed speculation surrounding a 2020 run, and while not ruling it out, said she really doesn’t think she’s cut out to be president.

“I am actually humbled by the fact that people think that I could be a leader of the free world, but it’s just not in my spirit, it’s not my DNA,” she said.

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