ABC - Politics News
Subscribe To This Feed

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Cal/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana criticized Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for his spending habits and other behavior during his time leading the agency but said the decision whether to fire him should be left up to President Donald Trump.

“This money didn’t fall from heaven, we thank heaven for it but it came out of people’s pockets, it’s what the swamp is all about,” Kennedy told ABC News’ Rick Klein on the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast Wednesday, “If you don’t respect taxpayer money, you’re not qualified to serve in my opinion.”

Pruitt has faced a wave of criticism following an ABC News report that he'd been renting a room for $50 a night in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist, as well as other news reports that he circumvented the White House to give pay raises to several staffers and spent excessive amounts of money on travel and security personnel.

Kennedy said he would be saying the same thing if an appointee of the Obama administration had been accused of similar conduct, and said Pruitt "can't go around acting like a big shot," and not expect pushback.

"There’s no excuse, I don’t care what party you’re in or who you are, you can’t abuse taxpayer money," Kennedy said, "I’m not saying people don’t make mistakes, they do. But when there’s a pattern, that’s misbehavior, and as far as I’m concerned – I don’t know if chucklehead is the right word but people need to behave.”

Kennedy also said he expects that Ret. Gen. John Kelly, President Trump's chief of staff, is "not amused" but the allegations dogging Pruitt, and is "trying to get it under control."

When asked about the controversy surrounding President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson, Kennedy said he does not know if Jackson is qualified to lead the department, but was reserving judgment until Jackson's confirmation hearing.

"I don’t know Dr. Jackson, but he deserves his day in court and I’m looking forward to it," Kennedy said, "I just want to give him a fair chance.”

Kennedy also offered cautious praise of French President Emmanuel Macron, who he described as "very smart" and "a good politician," but as someone who he disagrees with on some matters of foreign policy.

"Macron is a charming guy, he’s a good politician and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense," Kennedy said of the French leader who addressed Congress Wednesday afternoon, "[He's] is bright but he’s a little young and it’s just been my experience that some folks you can’t reason with, like President Putin."

Kennedy, who attended the state dinner for Macron and his wife Tuesday evening at the White House, heaped praise on first lady Melania Trump for what he called a "great evening."

"I was very proud that she is the first lady of the United States. I talked with her before, she’s extremely intelligent, she’s fluent in a number of languages, I have trouble with English. She just did a magnificent job and I thought she was beautiful," Kennedy said.

The Louisiana Republican did tepidly critique the Jambalaya served at the state dinner, referring to it as "Washington Jambalaya," but said he enjoyed all the other items on the menu Tuesday night.

"The lamb was delicious, had some goat cheese. We had Jambalaya, the Washington Jambalaya. I don’t usually eat desserts but the dessert was good. I’m not a big drinker but the wine was excellent. It was just a great evening and I think everybody had a good time.” Kennedy said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON)-- President Donald Trump's old campaign pit bull is already reclaiming his role of defending his friend.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who last week formally joined the president's legal team handling the Russia probe, is already firing off at special counsel Robert Mueller's team.

"I can guarantee you this: When Mueller is finished, no matter whatever he does, he’s not going to have a stitch of evidence that [Trump] colluded with the Russians. Now, that's a disgrace. The case should be over,” Giuliani, who is also a former federal prosecutor, told ABC affiliate WMUR in an interview Wednesday.

The Trump legal team, including Giuliani, met with Mueller’s team on Tuesday, sources with direct knowledge confirmed to ABC News. One source said the meeting is “part of ongoing negotiations.” The source added the president remains apprehensive about agreeing to an interview of any kind with the special counsel at this time but negotiations are continuing.

News of the meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.

"First of all, [Trump is] innocent. There isn't a person in the world who thinks he's guilty of collusion with the Russians,” Giuliani went on to tell WMUR.

For months prior to Giuliani's arrival, the president's lawyers have had multiple meetings with the special counsel's office regarding a potential interview by the president. The options, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, have included a formal sit down with parameters or a questionnaire.

Yet ever since an early morning raid was carried out against Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, sources close to the president say the commander-in-chief is "less inclined" to sit down for an interview with Mueller.

Mueller's office has declined to comment on the alleged meetings with Trump's lawyers.

 Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Yana Paskova/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- While speculation swirls over whether President Donald Trump might pardon longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, who’s in the midst of a federal criminal probe into his handling of an array of matters, Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused Wednesday to say whether he has spoken with Trump or other administration officials about the possibility of a pardon for Cohen.

“I’m not able to reveal the contents of any communications I might have with the president of the United States or his top staff,” Sessions told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

A day earlier, when ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jon Karl asked Trump whether a pardon for Cohen was being contemplated, Trump dismissed it as a “stupid question.”

Cohen has been under federal criminal investigation for several months, with federal agents secretly reviewing his emails and then -- in dramatic fashion -- executing search warrants at his home, hotel room and office three weeks ago. According to court documents, Cohen “is being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.”

Cohen’s attorney said the investigation started after special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, referred the matter to the Justice Department, which then passed it to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan for investigation.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Sessions made clear that he believes Trump has the authority to unilaterally pardon Cohen and anyone else. But when Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., noted that nearly two decades ago after President Bill Clinton pardoned controversial figure Marc Rich before leaving office, Sessions insisted that such presidential pardons should be made only after consulting with the Justice Department.

Trump has already used his power to issue two highest-profile pardons -- of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of criminal contempt by a federal judge in Arizona, and then of Scooter Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney's ex-chief of staff convicted of perjury during the Bush administration.

Asked whether he has recused himself from oversight of the Cohen matter -- like he did for the Russia-related investigation -- Sessions wouldn’t offer an answer. He said he is “required to be recused from any matter” tied to the 2016 presidential campaigns, “and I will comply with that.”

“But it is a policy of the department that if you get into discussing the details of those matters, you can reveal the existence, scope or breadth or nature if a matter. That would be inappropriate,” he continued.

Sessions said he did seek advice from career ethics officials within the Justice Department over whether he should have recused himself.

Meanwhile, Sessions offered support for his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who has recently been ridiculed by Trump and others as he oversees Mueller’s probe since Sessions is recused.

Rosenstein “works every day to do the job that he is called upon to do, that got dropped in his lap,” Sessions said. “I do have confidence in him.”

Sessions, however, would not say if he would resign if Rosenstein or Mueller were fired.

Sessions himself received words of support and encouragement from Senators on the panel. The attorney general has also recently found himself in the crosshairs of Trump’s ire.

While walking out of Wednesday's hearing, ABC News' Pierre Thomas asked Sessions to describe his current relationship with the president.

"We’re getting along," Sessions said.

 Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Kanye West's latest tweets about President Donald Trump have attracted a lot of attention online, including from the president himself.

On Wednesday, the rapper took to social media to sound off on a variety of topics, including his career, importance of free thought and love, and his respect for Trump.

After West called Trump "my brother," the president responded by retweeting the message and thanking the rapper for his words.

"Very cool!" he added.

West, 40, famously said on stage in November 2016 that had he voted in the presidential election, he would have voted for Trump. That December, West and Trump met at Trump Tower in New York City, after which the then president-elect told reporters that they'd been friends "for a long time." Though Trump said that they discussed "life," West maintained that the meeting was about "multicultural issues."

"These issues included bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums [sic], and violence in Chicago," he tweeted. "I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future president if we truly want change."

In his more recent tweetstorm, West also expressed appreciation for Hillary Clinton and individuality, in general. He also pointed out, at the behest of his wife, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, that he does not agree with Trump on everything, noting: "I don't agree 100% with anyone but myself."

Kardashian West, 37, is standing by West. In a series of tweets, the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" star slammed reports that the rapper's mental health is waning and noted that he "will never run in the race of popular opinion."

"Now when he spoke out about Trump... Most people (including myself) have very different feelings & opinions about this. But this is HIS opinion. I believe in people being able to have their own opinions, even if really different from mine. He never said he agrees with his politics," she wrote. "In a few years when someone else says the same exact thing but they aren’t labeled the way he is and you will all praise them! Kanye is years ahead of his time."

This is not the first time in recent history that West has stirred the pot with his social media activity. On Saturday, he tweeted his support for conservative commentator Candace Owens, outraging some of his followers. According to the rapper, it may be part of a bigger project. He recently wrote that he's writing a book via Twitter in real time.

"No publisher or publicist will tell me what to put where or how many pages to write," he declared.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Pete Marovich/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is armed with a list of “hot topics” that he will potentially face during a marathon day of questioning by two Congressional committees on Thursday. A source with direct knowledge described a document to ABC News called “hot topics” includes a rough draft of talking points for Pruitt as he prepares to field questions from lawmakers.

Pruitt’s plan, according to the source familiar with the document, is for the embattled agency head to say he now only flies coach when traveling compared to his costly first-class travel in the early days of his time on the job. The document also says he plans to address the high priced salary hikes for two of his closest aides that have been by his side going back to his Oklahoma days.

Pruitt’s intention, per the source, is to claim he had no knowledge of the raises and pass the blame onto his staff. He previously denied that he knew about the raises in a contentious interview with Fox News.

"I did not know about the pay raise. I did not approve the process. The process was breached by individuals here at this agency and there’s going to be accountability there. Those individuals, that should not have happened. I can’t say anything any clearer than that," Pruitt said in the interview that aired earlier this month.

The EPA's inspector general found that Pruitt's chief of staff Ryan Jackson signed the paperwork approving the raises as "Ryan Jackson for Scott Pruitt."

Pruitt also plans, according to the document as described by the source, to address a report by the New York Times that the EPA boss retaliated against staff who rejected his demands.

The Times report said at least five staffers were “reassigned or demoted, or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending and management of the agency’s administrator.”

The extent of the accusations has not been verified by ABC News.

At least one of those employees, Kevin Chmielewski, then-deputy chief of staff, has met with members of Congress and staffers about the allegations as concerns have grown about the claims.

Pruitt’s intention is to deny those charges as well.

The description of the “hot topics” document was first reported by the New York Times, which has reviewed the document. The EPA has not responded to a request from ABC regarding the document.

“He’s been on lockdown,” said a separate source within the EPA regarding Pruitt’s preparations for the two Congressional hearings. “He’s been in marathon prep. Tomorrow is going to be a very interesting day,” the source continued referring to the hearings.

As ABC News has previously reported, Pruitt declined an offer from the White House to help him prepare for Thursday’s hearings, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations. The sources familiar with the prep say the group sessions have been led by his chief of staff, Jackson.

Among the spending concerns Pruitt will face questions over include his travel expenses, security details, and the installation of a $43,000 “secure phone booth” in his EPA office.

Lawmakers are also expected to grill Pruitt over his living arrangement at a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by a wife of a top lobbyist with business interests before the EPA. Pruitt’s $50 a night deal, first reported by ABC News, took place over the course of much of last year when he first came to Washington.

Between the ethics violation and spending concerns, Pruitt is the subject of 10 investigations and a White House review. There have been calls for Pruitt’s resignation from both sides of the aisle, though he has retained public support from President Trump.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt was looking forward to discussing the agency’s efforts with lawmakers.

“Congressional hearings are an opportunity to reiterate the accomplishments of President Trump’s E.P.A., which include: working to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, providing regulatory certainty, and declaring a war on lead, all while returning to Reagan-era staffing levels,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced Wednesday a legislative package that proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing assistance.

In an effort to reform a system that the administration describes as “broken,” Carson said he aims to institute “a menu of choice rents that housing authorities and owners may implement to promote greater flexibility, local control and self-sufficiency for non-elderly, non-disabled households.”

Under the current system, recipients of federal housing subsidies contribute 30 percent of their monthly adjusted income toward rent or a minimum rent in the amount of up to $50 as set by the public housing agency.

The administration’s new proposal recommends an increase to a family’s monthly contribution to 35 percent, or 35 percent of the amount earned by an individual working at least 15 hours a week at the federal minimum wage.

HUD assists 4.7 million families with affordable, quality housing options. But the agency is burdened by long waiting lists, according to Carson, and hinders the administration’s ability to appropriately serve low-income Americans.

“It is widely accepted that only one if four families who need and qualify for HUD programs actually receive housing assistance,” Carson said in a conference call with reporters.

The status quo creates “perverse incentives, such as discouraging these families from earning more income and becoming self-sufficient,” he added.

With this new outline for rent rules, the administration seeks to create, as Carson described, a much “simpler, less invasive, more transparent” process for families to access federal housing subsidies.

Carson insists these changes are for work-able individuals, and will not impact the elderly and disabled households.

“We’ve made great efforts to to make sure that disabled people and elderly people are not impacted by what is happening at this stage,” he said.

“The current proposal would require a phase-in for the 30 percent of gross for elderly and disabled after 6 years but those families that are currently in the program would see no appreciable change to their rent,” a HUD official affirmed. “It would be after the 6 years when this proposal would change how we calculate rent for the elderly and disabled.”

More than half of HUD-assisted families are headed by elderly or disabled individuals, but the administration could not provide an exact number of recipients who will see an increase in their rent contributions as a result of the legislative proposal.

Other reforms outlined in the Making Affordable Housing Work Act include encouraging work requirements, as well as verifying tenants’ incomes every three years rather than annually.

The latter change will, according to Carson, “ease administrative burdens” and “encourage recipients to increase their earned income.”

This latest move comes after the administration’s proposed FY2019 budget recommends a nearly 18 percent cut to HUD. This proposal also follows the White House’s lead on curbing anti-poverty programs that direct much-needed assistance to low-income Americans.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on reducing poverty that states, “The Federal Government’s role is to clear paths to self-sufficiency, reserving public assistance programs for those who are truly in need. The Federal Government should do everything within its authority to empower individuals by providing opportunities for work.”

Carson applauded this executive order in an op-ed earlier this week.

“Our social safety net exists to protect low-income families from poverty and hardship, and to help people get back on their feet. Despite all the good intentions, our nation’s welfare system continues to encourage a culture of dependency rather than self-sufficiency," he wrote.

The Democratic National Committee chastised the secretary's proposal in a statement as well as alluded to his recent purchase of a $31,000 dining set using taxpayer dollars that has since been canceled after ABC News reported the purchase.

“Instead of fighting for low-income Americans, Trump and Ben Carson want to make it more difficult for millions of families to find jobs and put a roof over their heads. At the same time, Ben Carson has wasted taxpayer dollars with lavish spending, including on an extremely expensive dining set. The American people are outraged that the Trump Administration continues to leave them behind.”

This new proposal by HUD heads to Congress for consideration as it will require congressional approval.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is fighting back against a federal judge’s ruling that the Trump administration must again accept new applications for protection from undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and keep the program in place.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders Wednesday maintained the administration’s position that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for the approximately so-called 700 thousand Dreamers violates federal law.

“We believe the judge's ruling is extraordinarily broad and wrong on the law,” Sanders said. “What's worse is that it creates an incentive for more illegal immigrant youth to come here and causes them to expect similar judicial policies be applied to them.”

Sanders put the onus on Congress to come up with a permanent fix to the DACA program.

“It's time for Congress to do what the president has called on them to do and offered to be part of and actually fix this problem,” she said.

In the ruling, the judge wrote that the administration’s “legal judgment was virtually unexplained...and so it cannot support the [Department of Homeland Security] decision ... It was also arbitrary and capricious in its own right, and thus likewise cannot support the agency’s action. For these reasons, DACA’s rescission was unlawful and must be set aside.”

The ruling is different from previous ones by other federal judges because it opens the door for a full reinstatement of the DACA program, not just renewals.

However, the judge is delaying the ruling for 90 days to give DHS a chance to “better explain” its view that DACA is unlawful.

DHS said it is “reviewing the court order,” with the Justice Department vowing to defend the administration’s position that DACA was implemented by the previous administration in an unlawful manner.

“DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend benefits to this same group of illegal aliens,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said. “As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress, and was susceptible to the same legal challenges that effectively ended DAPA. The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a filing this afternoon, attorneys for President Donald Trump told the federal judge overseeing the investigation of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that Trump would, as necessary, personally review documents to ensure that privileged information is not revealed accidentally to the FBI or prosecutors.

“…Our client will make himself available, as needed, to aid in our privilege review on his behalf,” wrote attorneys Joanna Hendon, Christopher Dysard and Reed Keefe in their filing.

The filing is part of the ongoing effort by Cohen and Trump to get first crack at reviewing records seized earlier this month from Cohen’s home, hotel and office. So far, US District Judge Kimba Wood has ruled against Cohen and Trump, though she has said she would be willing to consider their backup request to have an independent third-party review record before prosecutors and agents do.

This is a developing story, please refresh for updates.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The battle lines seemed drawn in Wednesday’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court over the legality of President Trump’s third iteration of his controversial travel ban, which restricts entry from five majority-Muslim countries, as well as North Korea and Venezuela, on the basis of these countries' alleged vetting deficiencies and security risks.

The conservative-leaning high court signaled in December that it might ultimately rule for Trump when it allowed the latest ban to go into effect while considering its challenges, and legal experts said today’s grilling further portends a victory for the administration.

Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco argued on behalf of the administration that the ban issued by presidential proclamation in September was the result of a "worldwide multi-agency review" based on "foreign policy judgment" rather than religious animus, and is not a “Muslim ban” because it excludes "almost all the majority-Muslim world."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a President Obama appointee, questioned whether the ban violates immigration laws that set forth how foreigners are vetted while giving the president some authority to suspend the entry of aliens whose admissions he finds “detrimental to the interests” of the United States. “I thought that Congress had looked at the situation and created a statutory system that addressed the very concern the President is expressing,” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor and Justice Stephen Breyer also expressed concerns that there was insufficient transparency in the current ban and that its waiver exceptions might be just "window dressing."

Justice Elena Kagan, another Obama appointee, posed a provocative hypothetical: “So let's say in some future time a President gets elected who is a vehement anti-Semite and says all kinds of denigrating comments about Jews and provokes a lot of resentment and hatred over the course of a campaign and in his presidency.” He then asks his staff to issue a proclamation that dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s and “in the context of this virulent anti-Semitism -- what emerges is a proclamation that says no one shall enter from Israel.” Francisco responded that in that scenario challengers could have a constitutional argument that the ban is discriminatory.

Kagan said that “this is an out-of-the box president” and after a micro-pause added “in my hypothetical,” which drew laughs across the gallery.

Francisco urged the court not to focus on the words of Donald Trump the candidate, like when he said in December 2015: “I Donald Trump call for a complete ban of Muslims entering the United States.” When the president-elect takes the oath of office, it “marks a fundamental transformation," Francisco said. "This is not a so-called Muslim ban. If it were, it would be the most ineffective Muslim ban that one could possibly imagine,” he stated.

Neal Katyal, the attorney for the state of Hawaii which is challenging the ban, argued that it is illegal because it conflicts with Congress’ immigration scheme and unconstitutionally discriminates against Muslims. If upheld, the order allows the president “to take an iron wrecking ball” to our immigration statutes and would “give the president a power that hasn’t been given in one hundred years.”

Katyal claimed that Trump’s own words prove the ban rests on religious animus. As president, Trump could have “easily moved away” from statements he made as a candidate, “but instead he embraced them."

In his rebuttal to the court, Francisco insisted that the president has no ill-will towards Muslims: "He has made crystal clear that Muslims in this country are great Americans and there are many, many Muslim countries who love this country and he has praised Islam as one of the great countries of the world." This travel ban, he said, is "what it says it's about: Foreign policy and national security."

Conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, along with Justice Anthony Kennedy – who often provides the court’s key swing vote – pressed Katyal on why the president cannot ban immigrants for national security purposes.

Alito asked Katyal “can you imagine any situation in which the threat of the infiltration of the United States by terrorists was so severe” to justify a ban, to which Katyal said “yes” but that after 460 days of this current order, we have not yet seen sufficient justification for it.

But Roberts rebutted that the president might have information from the military that Congress does not have, adding: “Imagine, if you can, that Congress is unable to act when the President asked for legislation,” eliciting laughs.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) - In the most detailed account of allegations against Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson so far, a document provided by the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee says the VA secretary nominee overzealously distributed prescription painkillers and other drugs to others and himself, according to interviews with colleagues and former colleagues, who described him as unethical.

One of the allegations is that Jackson once got drunk and “wrecked” a government car.

Shortly after the document was released Wednesday afternoon, Jackson denied several of the allegations when presented with them by reporters.

The document is based on interviews Democratic committee staffers did with 23 colleagues and former colleagues of Jackson’s, most of whom, Tester's office says, are still in uniform. The colleagues are cited as describing Jackson as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “100 percent bad temper,” “the worst officer I have ever served with,” someone who would “lose his mind over small things,” “vindictive” and “belittling.”

One staffer at the White House Medical Unit was quoted in the documents as saying working there was the “worst experience of my life.”

The two-page list provided by Democrats is divided into three sections, including one titled “Drunkenness,” which alleges that on at least one occasion during an overseas presidential trip, Jackson could not be reached when needed, while he was "on duty," because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room.

The document also includes an allegation that “At a Secret Service going away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.”

The first category contains a dozen claims about his prescribing practices, including that he would write himself prescriptions and, when caught, have his physician’s assistant do it instead. He is also said to have thrown the White House medical staff “into a panic” when tabs of the opioid Percocet were discovered missing when it turned out Jackson had provided a "large supply" to a White House Military Office staffer.

The document says, as Tester had said Tuesday in interviews, that Jackson was known as the “Candyman” because he would provide prescriptions without paperwork.

Speaking at the White House just after the document was circulated, Jackson told a group of reporters in the halls of the West Wing that he has “never wrecked a car” and has “no idea” where the allegations about his practice of dispensing drugs are coming from. He also said he’s still moving ahead with his nomination.

Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Jackson, saying no previous background checks for Jackson’s employment as the presidential physician raised any areas of concern, including one check conducted by the FBI. She defended his record as “impeccable.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Between attorneys who have quit, been fired, resigned or have simply not worked out – President Donald Trump has had a problem getting a lawyer to take a more aggressive approach with special counsel Robert Mueller.

In hiring former New York City mayor and fierce Trump campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani – a move that comes amid shakeups of the president’s team of attorneys – the Trump legal drama entered a potentially significant new phase. And while the hire of one of Trump’s most loyal supporters has raised questions among some critics, it also represents a turning point for the president amid intensifying legal troubles.

A former Trump campaign official described their relationship as one centered on “mutual respect” and described Giuliani as a “sounding board” for the president, predicting the two would "align their effectiveness" in their attorney-client relationship.

“Rudy is great. He has been my friend for a long time and wants to get this matter quickly resolved for the good of the country,” Trump said in a statement released by his attorneys last week.

Giuliani called it “an honor to be part of such an important legal team” in a statement after the announcement, adding that he looks forward to working with the president and his current team of lawyers.

Often referred to as America’s mayor for his handling of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, Giuliani was one of the most public faces by Trump’s side during the 2016 presidential election.

"They are very much akin," said George Arzt, the former press secretary to Mayor Ed Koch and democratic consultant, discussing the similarities between Giuliani and Trump. "They're exactly the same type. [Giuliani] is a very very rambunctious guy who thinks he's smarter than everyone else."

He wasn’t just Trump’s debate coach, Giuliani was among the few sent out by the campaign who would defend Trump after the October surprise of the decade-old "Access Hollywood" tape from in which the business mogul was heard bragging about acts that would amount to sexual assault.

Giuliani was also floated during the presidential transition as a possible cabinet nominee for a variety of roles, ranging from secretary of state to attorney general. In the end, the administration never brought him in for any cabinet-level position. The transition team said in a statement at the time that Giuliani asked to be removed from consideration for an administration position during a meeting with President-elect Trump on November 29, 2016.

“Rudy would have been an outstanding member of the Cabinet in several roles, but I fully respect and understand his reasons for remaining in the private sector,” Trump said at the time.

However, some worry that Giuliani's past activities could present some legal conflicts in representing Trump, such as his effort to resolve the Reza Zarrab case. Zarrab, a Turkish businessman accused of evading US sanctions on Iran, sought to use Giuliani’s political influence to get the case against him dismissed before he pleaded guilty on the eve of trial.

"There are real questions that are raised," Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School told ABC News. "Giuliani himself was involved in the campaign and had business ties with people who we think are subjects or targets of the [Mueller] investigation. At some point, I think it's going to be difficult for him to continue on as counsel. The special counsel may want to know -- what does he know?" Levenson said it's hard to know whether this ripens into a full blown conflict, because we don't know all angles Mueller's investigation.

"Giuliani cannot discuss with Mueller any matter in which Giuliani had a client, most obviously his representation of Zarrab," said Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU's law school.

Giuliani’s post-mayoral business ties also involved the government of Qatar, TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, and an Iranian opposition group that at one time appeared on the State Department’s list of foreign terror organizations.

Giuliani was also touted in a press release for TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a business consulting company tied to Russia.

While ABC News has not reported any connection between Mueller and Giuliani's business ties, legal experts say any potential ties he may have to the investigation do not effect his role on Trump's legal team -- at least for now.

"Giuliani may be a witness in the Mueller investigation so he is in the somewhat strange position of advocating for Trump while also a potential source of information for Mueller," said Gillers. "That information would most likely come from his unofficial role in the campaign. But while this dual status can be awkward, it does not prevent Giuliani from representing Trump, at least not based on what we know."

However, Trump's legal team is adamant that Giuliani's past legal work and business ventures present no legal conflicts.

"There are no conflicts at all regarding the representation of the president by Mayor Giuliani that would impact anything involving this case," Jay Sekulow, the president’s attorney handling the Russia probe told ABC News. In a statement last week, Sekulow confirmed Giuliani’s addition to the legal team along with two other attorneys, Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin.

Among the many matters related to the 2016 election that the Department of Justice Inspector General is looking into is the question of whether information was inappropriately shared with Giuliani ahead of the election, according to officials familiar with the matter.

"I do think that all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton finally are beginning to have an impact," Giuliani said on Fox News in October 2016. "[Trump's] got a surprise or two that you're going to hear about in the next two days." It's not clear if this is what the IG is probing.

But, now with negotiations ongoing with the special counsel team investigating Russia meddling in the 2016 election, Giuliani, 73, has been brought back into the fold at a time when multiple former associates close to the president have faced serious legal peril as a result of the Russia investigation. Giuliani is expected to go head to head with Mueller, despite their own professional history of working together dating back to Mueller’s time as FBI Director in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

Giuliani has spent the majority of his career in domestic politics but is also the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the very same federal prosecutor’s office that, years later, ordered the FBI raid on Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

For six years, Giuliani earned a reputation as a tough U.S. attorney fighting drugs, violence and organized crime in the city. He prosecuted a number of high-profile cases, including that of Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky, and indicted 11 heads of organized crime in the Mafia commission trial.

Despite a failed run for New York mayor in 1989 (Trump co-chaired his first fundraiser that year), Giuliani ran again as the Republican candidate in 1993 and won. He went on to serve two terms and cement his place in the city’s history.

As mayor, Giuliani worked to reform the New York City welfare system by requiring able-bodied people to work or perform community service to receive payments. The welfare-to-work initiative caused welfare rolls to drop more than 50 percent during his eight years in office.

With his appointed police commissioner, Bill Bratton, Giuliani aggressively tackled the city’s crime problem. By the time he left office, the violent crime rate had fallen 56 percent, according to PolitiFact. While robberies plummeted by 67 percent and murders fell by nearly two-thirds, some groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU have criticized the police tactics, such as stop and frisk, and raised concerns about racial profiling.

"The city may have been safer after his stay there, but he really polluted the city along racial lines. He split the city up really bad in a nasty way," Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-NY, told ABC News.

"His record in city hall shows clearly that he was one of the most divisive mayors in the city, he divided the city along ethnic and racial lines, that was clear," said Rep. Meeks.

Some critics also point to data from the U.S. Justice Department that show New York City crime rates began to drop in the years before his mayoralty, saying that declines were part of a broader trend also seen in Chicago, San Diego, Miami and other cities.

When Giuliani took a bigger role in Trump’s campaign, critics and former mayoral staffers said he had changed, becoming more willing to fall in line with Trump and more combative.

Giuliani was a top surrogate for Trump during the 2016 campaign, often seen by the candidate’s side at multiple campaign rallies.

“I’m sick and tired of the defamation of Donald Trump by the media and the Clinton campaign,” Giuliani said at the 2016 Republican convention about the candidate’s critics. “I am sick and tired of it! This is a good man!”

In 2000, while still serving as mayor, Giuliani ran against Hillary Clinton in New York for the U.S. Senate. A diagnosis of prostate cancer led him to withdraw from the race.

During his multiple TV appearances in the 2016 campaign in support of Trump, Giuliani cultivated a reputation for his fiery rhetoric aimed at Clinton that would at times devolve into personal or misleading attacks.

In addition to Giuliani promoting conspiracy theories that Clinton was severely ailing in her physical health, he also claimed in a campaign rally that Clinton was not present in New York City after the 9/11 attacks, despite a picture that showed the two walking together side-by-side down a street near Ground Zero. Giuliani later corrected his statement and apologized to Clinton.

Giuliani’s hire onto the Trump legal team comes as the president has escalated his attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller.

For the last several months, Trump lawyers have been in active negotiations with Mueller's team, working toward a potential interview of the president that would include either a face-to-face interview with parameters, a written questionnaire or some mix of both, sources have told ABC News.

The last reported meeting the Trump team had with the special counsel's office was on April 9, the same day that FBI agents in New York raided the home, office, and hotel of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Sources told ABC News that since the Cohen raid, the president has since been “less inclined” to sit down for an interview with Mueller’s team.

Giuliani enters the arena after the president’s lead attorney John Dowd abruptly resigned in March. Sources told ABC News at the time that Dowd resigned in part because he felt the president was not taking his advice.

But time will tell if Giuliani's previous professional relationship with Mueller bodes well for Trump.

"I think that just because you know Mueller does not mean anything," Arzt said. "You gotta come across with some substance."



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Jason Andrew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On the eve of what could be make-or-break congressional hearings Thursday, embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing mounting GOP concern, with perhaps none more eye-catching than that expressed by his home state senator, a self-professed friend and one-time neighbor.

Sen. James Inhofe’s unusual criticism – relayed to multiple reporters this week – following an unflattering weekend report in The New York Times about Pruitt's past real estate deals and relationships with lobbyists that quickly made headlines around the country.

But on Wednesday, when ABC caught up with the senior senator, whose environmental policy views often align with Pruitt's, Inhofe was also quick to throw his fellow Oklahoman a much-needed lifeline, saying he still supports Pruitt and want to give him every chance to explain.

"I’ve taken the position that the things that were in the New York Times story were things that to me were totally out of character for the Scott Pruitt I’ve known for decades," Inhofe told ABC News. "so what I’m doing is checking to see if there’s a lot of truth to that, and if there is I would respond to it but I don’t think there is."

News of Pruitt's deals with lobbyists in his home state comes as Congress is already looking into his Washington living arrangements at the start of his tenure. As ABC News first reported, Pruitt spent a majority of last year living for $50 a night at a condo co-owned by the wife of a top lobbyist with business interests with the EPA. That lobbyist, Steven Hart, has since stepped down from his firm ahead of his planned retirement as it was revealed he met with Pruitt on behalf of a friend and former Smithfield Farms executive while Pruitt still lived in the condo co-owned by his wife. Smithfield Farms was a client of Hart's firm but Hart said through a spokesman that the meeting was not in his official capacity.

Pruitt is expected to face questions about the ethical issues related to his living arrangement and spending decisions at EPA in Thursday's congressional hearings. More than 100 Democrats have called for him to step down from the agency, but more Republicans have expressed concern about Pruitt's financial decisions and relationships with lobbyists prior to taking over at the agency in recent days.

Some White House sources have expressed surprise that ahead of his day in the hot seat, Pruitt declined the White House's help to prepare for the hearings. The EPA's preparations have focused on policy questions, sources tell ABC News, and Pruitt's opening statement released ahead of the hearing does not mention the growing ethics concerns.

“Congressional Hearings are an opportunity to reiterate the accomplishments of President Trump’s EPA, which includes: working to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and WOTUS, providing regulatory certainty, and declaring a war on lead - all while returning to Reagan-era staffing levels," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.

Pruitt's opening statement includes information about the EPA's proposed budget cuts, saying that the agency will focus on being "careful stewards of taxpayer resources."

Inhofe, whose own former aide was just sworn in as the number two at the agency, has been a strong supporter of Pruitt but told the Times he is concerned about possible ethical lapses when Pruitt was attorney general in Oklahoma. Inhofe called Pruitt a “friend” and “neighbor” when he introduced him during his confirmation hearing — both men lived in Tulsa — and shares Pruitt’s philosophy that the EPA should have a limited role and should leave more decisions to the states.

But Inhofe told the Times that he was not aware of some of the allegations that have surfaced about Pruitt’s actions and that the EPA chief should have to answer questions about the reports.

“I want to check and see how authentic the accusations against him are. If they are authentic it could have an effect,” he told the Times. “But something things are not all that authentic.”

The senator also told Politico earlier this week that multiple members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which he is a member, say there should be a hearing on the various accusations around Pruitt.

The chairman of that panel, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, told ABC News that he is holding off on a hearing until the White House completes its own review of ethical concerns around the administrator. The White House has not said specifically what its inquiry includes but press secretary Sarah Sanders has said they're looking into "some of the allegations" and reports about Pruitt.

Four Republicans have publicly called for Pruitt to resign over the concerns about his decisions as EPA chief and more have criticized the recent controversies as a distraction. The GOP Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has called for the EPA to hand over documents and make aides available for on-the-record interviews with the committee.
 


Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Mick Mulvaney is under fire for remarks he delivered to a group of bankers Tuesday regarding access he granted to lobbyists as a congressman.

“We had a hierarchy in my office, in Congress," Mulvaney said during the American Bankers Association's Government Relations Summit. "If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Mulvaney, however, then added that constituents from his South Carolina home district would be granted access first and foremost.

“If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talk to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions,” he said.

ABC News independently obtained a transcript of remarks reported first by the New York Times Tuesday evening.

The comments sparked controversy among Democrats and left-leaning groups, who have heavily scrutinized Mulvaney's activities since he was appointed by President Donald Trump as the independent watchdog agency's head in November of last year.

While in Congress, Mulvaney was a vocal opponent of the CFPB and advocated for its elimination, but while he has moved to scale back the agency's oversight functions deemed by conservatives as over burdensome, he has insisted he would not do so in a way that would violate the law.

Explaining the context of the remarks, Mulvaney’s senior advisor John Czwartacki told ABC News that those who have attacked Mulvaney's remarks are not considering the overall context.

“As you can see he was praising people who come to town to participate in the democratic process and saying how being from back home was more important than being a lobbyist or having contributed cash," Czwartacki said. "Very different than others seem to be sharing and saying.”

In his remarks to the room filled with around 1300 banking and lending industry executives, Mulvaney, who also serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget, also offered tips on how best to approach lawmakers to urge them how to execute agendas that would best benefit their interests.

“They will never know as much about your industry as you do,” Mulvaney says of lawmakers. “They will never know as much about your issues as you do. And they will not know that it is as important to you as it is until you tell them.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is circling the wagons around President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Veterans Affairs secretary, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, as the senators in charge of confirming him say they are still gathering information on allegations against him.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Jackson's record is "impeccable," while pointing to the praise he received from Presidents Trump and Obama.

"In fact, because he's worked within arm's reach of three presidents, he has received more vetting than most nominees," she said.

The administration has circulated talking points about Jackson with Republican senators to use when asked about him. Under a section titled “On the Democrats’ attempt to smear Dr. Jackson,” the first point advises senators to push back by calling the allegations “false,” then saying that allegations, in general, should be taken seriously but considered during a hearing, not through the media.

The page-and-a-half memo, obtained by ABC News, defends Trump almost as much as it does Jackson, offering context for the president's remarks Tuesday that he would remove himself from consideration if he were in Jackson’s position. “What does he need it for?” Trump asked during a press conference.

“What the President was also telling Dr. Jackson is to make up his own mind and Dr. Jackson has done just that,” the talking points said.

And the memo rejects accusations from some Senate Democrats that the White House did not properly vet Jackson before nominating him.

“I would really push back at the notion that the President needs to do a better job vetting his people,” the memo reads, noting the high marks that President Obama gave Jackson when he was his physician.

Sanders also told reporters Wednesday that the administration was moving forward in its request that Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., reschedule the confirmation hearing, which was originally supposed to happen Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said that he and his staff have been talking to the colleagues of Jackson’s who have been making the allegations against him.

Tester said in a series of interviews Tuesday that the allegations involved Jackson improperly dispensing prescription drugs, intoxication while on the clock and being “abusive towards staff.”

"We've talked to a number of folks that have made these claims. The goal here is to get to the bottom of what has happened with Admiral Jackson because we need the very best person as VA secretary to live up the promises we've made to our veterans," Tester said in an interview with ABC News Wednesday.

Tester, who did not provide evidence to back up his claims, said "over 20 people" have come forward with allegations about Jackson, said he discussed the nomination with White House chief of staff John Kelly.

"John Kelly said, 'Ya know we need to get this guy confirmed, these claims do not have merit.' and I told him, 'Look, we've got to make that determination and have to do some investigation which is what we're doing right now.'"

"He said they could be without merit, he did not say they were without merit. Could be. And so we're making that determination and we're doing the investigation because there is a pattern of conduct that's been reported to us that is disturbing and we need to find out if it's true or not," Tester said.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, said that the Senate’s confirmation process will work in such a way that the Senate will be able to acquire all the facts and consider Jackson accordingly.

“I suspect that if he should be confirmed, he will, and if he there are reasons he shouldn't, he won't,” Blunt said.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Yana Paskova/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge in New York has instructed attorneys for President Trump; his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen; and the Trump Organization to appear in court Thursday amid an ongoing dispute about materials seized in an FBI raid earlier this month.

Judge Kimba Wood scheduled a conference in Manhattan federal court as she decides how the files taken in a court-authorized search of Cohen’s properties should be reviewed to protect the attorney-client privilege.

Cohen has requested a “special master” review the files to weed out any privileged material, but President Trump has opposed it, arguing that he should be able to decide what constitutes privileged communications between him and his personal attorney.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, have argued that appointing an outside referee would needlessly delay the investigation. They have said an internal team, separate from the investigators, is capable of reviewing the seized material without prejudice.

Judge Wood has signaled that the dispute will play out in public view on Thursday.

“Counsel should be prepared to address the process to be undertaken by a special master, should one be appointed, to review claims of privilege,” Judge Wood wrote in her order summoning the parties to court.

The judge is expecting an update from federal prosecutors who have been copying the records and recordings so they can be given to Cohen’s legal team.

She will also hear arguments from attorneys for the president, Cohen and the Trump Organization explaining the resources they can devote to reviewing the material and how they would flag potentially privileged files to an independent third party, if the judge decides to appoint one.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Find Us On Facebook