ABC - Politics News

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy ALEXANDRA SVOKOS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Barack Obama put out a statement on George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned down by police in Minneapolis.

"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America," he wrote. "It can't be 'normal.' If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

Obama said this in reference to the point that many people in America would like life to go back to "normal" in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But, he wrote, "being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal'" for millions of Americans.

This difference, he wrote, comes "whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in the park." Those last two points seemingly reference Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed by two white men while on a jog in Georgia in February, and an incident in New York City's Central Park this week in which a white woman called the police on a black man who asked her to leash her dog.

My statement on the death of George Floyd:

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 29, 2020

Floyd died after being apprehended by police Monday. A video that went viral shows an officer pinning his knee to Floyd's neck as he is on the ground, saying, "I can't breathe." The four officers involved have been fired, and investigations are ongoing. No charges have yet been announced.

His death in police custody has led to outrage across the nation and protests in many cities, including in Minneapolis, where violence has broken out over several nights this week.

In the statement that he posted to social media Friday, the former president also referenced conversations he has "had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota."

These conversations included an email from "a middle-aged African American businessman" who wrote, "'the knee on the neck' is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help."

He also referenced a video of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant singing a gospel song with lyrics written by his mother about being a young black man in America, and wrote that Keedron and Obama's friend share the same "anguish," as do Obama himself and "millions of others."

Ultimately, Obama wrote, it is up to officials in Minnesota to thoroughly investigate and seek justice for Floyd's death. But, he wrote, it is up to everyone "to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts."

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he has not spoken to Floyd's family, but that he feels "very, very badly" and that what he saw in the video of Floyd's death "was not good, very bad." Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump are monitoring a Department of Justice investigation, according to officials.

On Friday morning, the president tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis, saying that "thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd" and, referencing the military, that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." This tweet was flagged by the social media platform as "glorifying violence."

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Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy WILLIAM MANSELL and LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Twitter has flagged a tweet from the official White House Twitter account which reposted the text of a tweet President Donald Trump sent early Friday morning, saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," claiming the tweets violated its rules about "glorifying violence."

The tweets were in reference to the ongoing unrest in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!" Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday.

The official White House account reposted the language of President Trump's tweet Friday morning, which had already been flagged by Twitter.

The tweets are now only visible if "view" is clicked.

"This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible," the social media company said.

Replying to its own flagged tweet which repeated the text of Trump's flagged message, the official White House Twitter account later argued that Trump was actually condemning violence.

The President did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.@Jack and Twitter's biased, bad-faith "fact-checkers" have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 29, 2020

Without addressing the Twitter guidelines that got his tweet flagged earlier Friday morning, Trump responded to Twitter saying the social media giant only targets Republicans.

"Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party," Trump tweeted. "They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated."

After protesters overtook the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct and set it on fire, Trump lashed out at local officials and said the military could take over the response to the protests.

"I can't stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership," Trump tweeted. "Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right."

Frey responded to Trump at an early-morning press conference Friday, saying that type of finger point is weak.

"Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your actions. Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis," Frey said. "Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell. Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you better be damn sure that we're gonna get through this."

First Lady Melania Trump also chimed in on the protests on Twitter, saying, "there is no reason for violence" and the country needs to focus on healing. She noted in the tweet how she's seen Americans come together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our country allows for peaceful protests, but there is no reason for violence. I’ve seen our citizens unify & take care of one another through COVID19 & we can’t stop now. My deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd. As a nation, let's focus on peace, prayers & healing.

— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) May 29, 2020

Floyd, who is black, was seen pinned down in a video by a white police officer and later died. He could be heard screaming, "I can't breathe," on the video of the incident.

The video of Floyd's death has now caused outrage in the city of Minneapolis and all over the country. Residents of the city have protested his death since Tuesday.

This is the second time this week Twitter has taken action against Trump's tweets.

It previously flagged two of Trump's tweets about mail-in voting in California, saying Trump's tweets were "potentially misleading" about elections.

Trump responded to the flags by issuing an executive order Thursday targeting social media companies.

He said the order allows for new regulations so that social media companies "that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield."

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his state's handling of the coronavirus pandemic on "The View" Friday, May 29, 2020. - (ABC)By JOANNE ROSA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As California moves into Phase 3 of the state's reopening approach, Gov. Gavin Newsom said his biggest concern is the public forgets the reality of the coronavirus outbreak they've experienced.

California, which is the most populous state in the U.S., was one of the first to declare a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, hair salons and barbershops can reopen their doors across most of the state.

He said during his appearance on The View Friday that the state needs to progress "soberly," with "eyes wide open" as it reopens.

"As evidence presents itself, we need to be able to pull those brakes and pull back," he added.

"My biggest fear is amnesia. My biggest fear is that we forget the reality of the last eight weeks, nine, 10 weeks in the state and in this nation and imperil, put ourselves at real risk of not just a second wave but recognizing that we're not even out of the first wave of this pandemic," Newsom continued.

On Monday, California released a framework that will permit counties to allow in-person worship services. They include limiting worshipers to 100 or less, taking everyone's temperature, limiting singing and group recitations and not sharing prayer books or other items.

"We hope people do this in a very thoughtful and methodical way," Newsom said Friday of reopening houses of worship in the state. "All of this is imperfect; perfect's not on the menu."

"We're trying our best to accommodate people's faith, their needs, businesses' needs to reopen, people's need and desire to get back out, but to do so safely," Newsom added. "I'm still humbled by all of this because it is a daunting challenge for governors all across the political spectrum, all across this country."

Despite the horrific impact the coronavirus outbreak has around the world, Newsom said he takes solace in the fact that now the public has a "deeper understanding of [the] novel virus" and has in many ways become "deeply humbled" by the unknown that's been revealed.

"That's a frame of reference all of us have to bring into this next phase as we start to reopen our economy, to recognize that we are walking and venturing into the unknown, the untested," Newsom continued. "We have to be open to argument, interested in evidence."

"We can't be ideological about how we conduct ourselves. But fundamentally as a nation, certainly as [the] state [of] California, we're more prepared than we were certainly eight weeks ago," Newsom added. "[We're] more capable and more confident in our capacity to get through this and recover and thrive once again."

On May 8, Newsom signed an executive order to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state for the November 2020 election. At the time, he said it was intended to protect registered voters from the virus by giving them the option of voting by mail if they considered it too risky to brave potentially crowded polling stations to cast their ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party filed a lawsuit against the governor and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday accusing them of using the coronavirus pandemic as "a ploy" to "rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election."

"We believe that we should not substitute people's public health and safety as it relates to their right to exercise their constitutional right to exercise a vote," Newsom said on The View Friday. "We believe you can do that in a thoughtful safe manner by providing more opportunity though vote by mail."

As flu season and the potential for a second wave to emerge in the fall, Newsom said he wants to provide Californians the opportunity to vote by mail, particularly when it comes to those most vulnerable to the novel virus, such as senior communities.

"We want to encourage them in a safe manner," Newsom said. "We think that's just foundational and fundamental to any good democracy."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Senior House Democrats are demanding more information on what they say is a bad deal for U.S. taxpayers struck by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin involving ventilators.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Democratic chairs said they have "grave concerns" that Trump recently agreed to provide 200 ventilators to Russia for free -- after paying $659,283 to Moscow for a separate Russian aid shipment that included 45 ventilators later deemed unusable.

ABC News first reported the details of the Russian cargo plane, including Russia's invoice and concerns expressed privately by U.S. officials at the time that the 45 ventilators included onboard might have "voltage-related" issues.

The Russian ventilators have not been used in U.S. hospitals and remain in storage.

"These misguided decisions waste millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, undermine our foreign policy and national security interests, and impair our nation's ability to combat the coronavirus crisis," wrote the Democratic chairs, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who oversees the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who oversees the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Signing the letter were the top Democrats overseeing State Department funding and House-led investigations into the coronavirus crisis. In addition to Maloney and Engel, the letter also was signed by Nita Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee; Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, chairman of a select subcommittee on coronavirus; and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, national security subcommittee chair on House Oversight and Reform.

The Trump administration has not said whether the U.S. might get a discount on Russia's aid bill now that the U.S. has agreed to send 200 ventilators its way.

In a statement provided Friday to ABC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) referred questions on the status of Russia's $659,283 invoice to the State Department, which did not provide comment.

"The flight contained 45 ventilators, over 90,000 gloves of various types, and other medical supplies such as medical clothing and respirators. This was a mix of donated goods and goods purchased by the US State Department," FEMA wrote.

One source familiar with the shipments said the cargo flights were not a swap and that the two shipments were considered unrelated. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Earlier this spring, as the spike of coronavirus cases prompted fears of a ventilator shortage in New York and New Jersey, Putin offered to send the U.S. the aid shipment.

The April 1 cargo flight that landed at New York City's John F. Kennedy airport included thousands of pieces of equipment not typically used by hospitals, including chemical warfare-style gas masks and household cleaning gloves, as well as 45 ventilators and thousands of surgical gloves, medical clothing and antiseptic packets.

"It was a very nice gesture on behalf of President Putin and I could have said 'no thank you' or I could have said 'thank you' and it was a large plane of very high-quality medical supplies, and I said 'I'll take it,'" Trump told reporters April 2.

New York and New Jersey wound up returning the Russian ventilators to the federal stockpile after reports that several coronavirus patients in St. Petersburg were killed in fires linked to overloaded ventilators.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the states are returning the ventilators to FEMA," a spokesperson said in a statement released earlier this month. "The conclusion(s) of the investigation being conducted by the Russian authorities into the fire in St. Petersburg will help inform our decision regarding any future use of the ventilators."

Since then, the State Department has agreed to send 200 ventilators to Russia, which has the third largest number of cases of COVID-19 in the world. The first batch of 50 ventilators were delivered on May 21, with another 150 ventilators expected to ship next week, according to a senior administration official.

The ventilators are being manufactured by Vyaire Medical in California and will be donated to the Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Center in Moscow.

Russia isn't alone. The U.S. has agreed to provide more than 15,000 ventilators to more than 60 countries, including in Europe.

Democrats are also questioning why the U.S. would buy ventilators manufactured by a subsidiary of a company currently under U.S. sanctions as a result of Moscow's 2014 aggression against Ukraine.

According to Russia's foreign ministry, the money for the supplies came from the Russian Direct Investment Fund -- Russia's sovereign wealth fund that was sanctioned by Treasury in June 2015 as part of sanctions punishing Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Also, at least some of the ventilators were made by a Siberian factory that is owned by a Russian state company sanctioned by the U.S. over Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment Fund don't apply to medical equipment and supplies.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration's decision to hire its new "vaccine czar" as a private contractor, rather than a government employee, has alarmed some ethics experts who say the designation will involve him in programs that could channel millions of federal dollars into the development of coronavirus vaccine and treatments without requiring he disclose financial holdings or potential conflicts.

When it was announced two weeks ago that Moncef Slaoui would head up "Operation Warp Speed" to find and distribute a vaccine, the administration described him as “chief advisor,” but did not explicitly say he would not be a formal government employee. As a private contractor, he is not bound to the same disclosure regulations and criminal ethics laws as many formal executive branch employees, ethics experts told ABC News.

That decision marks the latest concern with what ethics experts are describing as a blind spot into the coronavirus response, including where millions of public dollars are going, and an increasing risk that those with conflicts could capitalize on the mad dash for new COVID-19 drugs.

“The nation, the globe, is in an all-time historic crisis,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a non-partisan public interest group. “We would pay a fortune to resolve this pandemic. So we are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by those who seek to profit on our misery.”

This week, Public Citizen was one of two watchdog organizations to call on the Office of Government Ethics to step in and re-classify the “vaccine czar” as a government job requiring disclosure -- as other similar appointments, such as the nation’s “drug czar,” have required. But even before this question surfaced, Holman said there have been a number of red flags about the broader risks of people profiteering off of the coronavirus response.

For instance, earlier this month, federal agents served a search warrant on Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, seizing his cellphone. Burr is under scrutiny for selling 33 stock holdings collectively worth $628,000 to $1.7 million in February, just after a series of private briefings on the spreading coronavirus. Burr has denied wrongdoing.

Slaoui’s appointment in mid-May as the vaccine czar brought a strong early reaction from watchdog groups that had concerns about his past and ongoing ties to private companies, including those focused on health issues, as ABC News previously reported.

White House officials declined to comment about Slaoui’s job designation, or whether they would ask him to submit financial disclosure paperwork, and referred questions to Health and Human Services. Slaoui has not responded to requests for comment Thursday.

Health and Human Services spokesperson Michal Caputo told ABC News that Slaoui is on a contract receiving $1 for his services, as previously reported by The New York Times. Caputo said Slaoui's contract includes an ethics provision, though he did not provide details. Caputo also said Slaoui had "left all advisory boards and boards of directors of companies with even the appearance of conflict" and agreed to not trade coronavirus-related stocks. The agency allowed him to keep his investment in health giant GlaxoSmithKline, which announced last month that it has teamed up with Sanofi in a coronavirus vaccine development effort.

"HHS ethics officers have determined Dr. Slaoui’s contractor status, divestiture and board resignations put him in compliance with our robust department ethical standards. The American people are fortunate to have him as a leader of President Trump’s effort to discover vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to defeat the coronavirus," Caputo said.

But the fact that Slaoui would not be required to disclose his personal holdings only added to the broader, earlier concerns, Holman said.

"He is in such a unique position that almost every decision he would make would affect his financial interests, and so you would then be expected to divest from those interests," Holman told ABC News. “That's why the disclosure requirement's so critical."

Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel with the non-partisan advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the concern is that Slaoui will have access to mountains of nonpublic information, not just about companies with whom he has financial ties but also about his competitors, that could enable him to make profitable stock trades ahead of the rest of the marketplace or give him an advantage when he returns full-time to the private sector.

If Slaoui were hired as a government employee, Canter said, he would not only be required to disclose his personal finance but also be subject to a criminal conflict of interest law that would prohibit him from maintaining financial interests directly related to his role in the government, and thus he would be required to divest from those interests. As a contractor, he would not necessarily face criminal consequences even if he violated the ethics provision included in his contract.

"I think what's disconcerting about this is, he's coming from a venture capital firm," Canter said. "How how long will he be refrained from getting back into the venture capital business after he leaves this position?"

The new ethics worries also come as lawyers for investors and experts in financial regulation sound their own alarms about the conduct of the drug companies currently in the hunt for coronavirus cures and vaccines.

One company that has already faced scrutiny is Moderna Inc., where Slaoui recently served as member of the corporate board. He stepped down in order to accept the government post and divested some $12 million-worth of stock options.

According to financial records filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Moderna executives cashed in millions of dollars in stock just hours and days after the value soared on what they said were “positive” indications from the early work on a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and some financial and legal experts took notice.

Days later, the company’s share value receded as the scientific community urged caution, emphasizing that those early developments were based on a tiny sample size, and had not yet been subject to wider scientific scrutiny.

“It doesn’t just smell fishy – it smells like a rotting whale,” said Kevin Simpson, a financial and stock advisor who has watched the trading activity closely. “From a careful investor's point of view and from the SEC’s point of view, stock manipulation is a valid and worrisome concern.”

Moderna has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Ray Jordan, the head of corporate affairs for Moderna, noted that all of the trades were disclosed in accordance with the SEC rules.

"The trades themselves are all pursuant to 10b5-1 plans, which were entered into consistent with the companies insider trading policy," Jordan told ABC News.

The SEC did not say whether it is reviewing any of the trading activity. But several law firms that organize investor class action cases have already issued press releases in the past several days announcing they are investigating both the trades and a $1.5 billion stock offering that Moderna launched just after announcing promising vaccine news.

“The investigation focuses on whether the company and its executives misled investors concerning the viability of the Moderna’s lead drug candidate, a vaccine candidate against novel coronavirus,” said the release from one firm, The Portnoy Law Firm in Los Angeles.

The developments have brought new scrutiny to the potential that the sudden flurry of drug development activity could tempt some executives to engage in insider trading or stock manipulation, experts told ABC News.

Daniel L. Zelenko, a former federal prosecutor and SEC enforcement official, said he believes federal regulators are looking “quite closely” at all of the trading activity by companies in the hunt for cures and vaccines.

“With more players involved in the hunt for new cures and vaccines, it increases the risk for insider information to change hands without precautions being taken,” Zelenko said. “Along with federal investigators, companies themselves need to take steps to ensure that information remains confidential.”

Some financial experts pointed out that in Moderna’s case, the stock price had already been on the rise this year, since before its announcement of the early test results, and that the company’s executives have been actively cashing in on their stocks for at least a couple months. The stock price especially saw an early surge last month when the company announced it had received $483 million in federal funding as part of the coronavirus vaccine development effort.

Andrew Gordon, a financial analyst at Equilar, a company that specializes in collecting executive compensation data, said “It’s not uncommon for insiders to sell shares they own, nor is it bad for them to capitalize on the current stock price.”

Gordon and Simpson both noted that company insiders, including directors and executives, filed documents intended to head off allegations of stock manipulation by alerting the SEC that they intend to make designated trades at specific times. The filings, which are referenced in public documents, are submitted so there cannot later be allegations that improper trades were made based on internal information.

That has not stopped some critics from questioning the timing of the trades.

“Was it just good fortune or irony that the news release happened on the same day [as the scheduled trades]?” Simpson asked. “It’s very suspicious. I think it should be looked into.”

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Bill Oxford/iStockBy MATTHEW VANN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Amid President Donald Trump’s charge that voting by mail is ripe with fraud potential, there are worries that such claims, in addition to the subsequent lawsuits that have followed, politicize state efforts to expand mail-in voting, and could cost some Americans a vital opportunity to have their votes counted.

The Republican National Committee has intervened in legal battles across the country, including New Mexico, Michigan and Arizona to limit mail-in ballot expansions.

In California, the RNC filed a lawsuit seeking to have Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order automatically issuing an absentee ballot by mail to every registered state voter, overturned and declared unlawful.

"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom’s executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Newsom’s illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote."

Some election experts, however, argue that continued legal action, as states race against time and limited financial resources, could potentially have a negative effect on citizens looking to cast their vote amid concerns of a second coronavirus outbreak this fall.

“Litigation that is aimed at making it harder for people to vote in a pandemic really does threaten not only the ability of voters to vote, but voter’s confidence in the fairness and the legitimacy of the process,” said Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California Irvine.

The RNC also got involved in a lawsuit brought by Democrats in Florida, that requested the state to count votes coming in after Election Day and permit ballot harvesting -- the practice where a voter fills out an absentee ballot and entrusts it to another person to take it to a ballot-drop off location or a mail center.

Trump, who has often railed against mail voting, took aim at efforts in two battleground states -- Michigan and Nevada -- aimed at making it easier to obtain an absentee or mail-in ballot. He threatened to cut off federal funding to those states over what he claimed were "illegal" tactics.

In West Virginia, a mail carrier was charged with attempted election fraud after allegedly changing voter requests from a Democratic ballot, to a Republican one, according to the Department of Justice.

While election experts have dispelled the notion of widespread improprieties with mail-in voting, incidents like this give Trump and officials seeking further restrictions concrete examples to reference.

Another issue complicating the job of state governments in proceeding with their vote-by-mail efforts is addressing early indications of how various demographic groups are preparing to participate in upcoming elections, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A study from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that white voters in Georgia are shifting their behavior to mail-in voting by larger numbers compared to minority voters. White voters make up 25% of the voters who have already requested their mail ballots, compared to 17% of black voters and 11% of Latinos.

“There’s evidence that members of all racial groups are shifting to what lots of people are saying is a safer and healthier option of voting by mail,” said Kevin Morris, a quantitative researcher NYU’s Brennan Center, who wrote the report. “There’s good reason for some voters in Georgia to be nervous about what will happen if they don’t follow the law to the letter in submitting absentee ballot applications."

A poll conducted by BlackPAC, a left-leaning political action committee, found that a majority of black voters have no experience in voting by mail with some expressing concerns about the process. It found that only 36% of black voters have voted by mail with another 41% concerned that their vote will not be counted if they vote by mail.

In Fulton County, the largest and most diverse county in Georgia, local election officials are scrambling to keep up with a backlog of absentee ballot applications that have voters worried about whether they’ll receive their ballot on time ahead of the state’s June 9th primary. No other county in the state is reported to have had a processing problem as extensive as the one in Fulton County.

The processing backlog is troubling given that the county previously faced charges of voter suppression in 2017, when 50,000 voters received letters saying their voting status would be declared as inactive because they didn’t update the address on their voter registration cards. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit following the 2018 election arguing that long lines and ineffective voting machines in Fulton County prevented many people from voting.

In a briefing with reporters, Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barren acknowledged the slowdown and attributed it to a staffer being diagnosed with COVID-19, resulting in a processing center being closed for several days.

Officials from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, however, determined that Fulton County wasn’t reviewing all of the absentee ballot request applications in real-time.

“They made a decision that they were going to process all their paper ones that were mailed in first and then go back and process the ones that were e-mailed,” said Election Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling. “So they literally caught up on that particular thing this past weekend.”

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, the state saw only 40,000 mail ballots counted in the 2016 general primary elections, but has now processed and sent out more than a million ballots in response to the surge triggered by concerns about contracting the coronavirus at a polling center.

“Are there problems on the ground? Yes. And that was highlighted in Fulton County's case,” said Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. “There are always going to be issues in extremely populous urban areas that have more voters than a lot of these counties combined, so the county should probably get some grace here.”

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OlegAlbinsky/iStockBy MATT SEYLER, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump will extend the use of roughly 46,000 National Guardsmen currently helping states across the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic into mid-August.

Trump tweeted his decision to lengthen the National Guard's Title 32 orders on Thursday after defense officials said their services would likely be needed further into the summer and politicians complained that some guardsmen would narrowly miss out on educational and retirement benefits under the original June 24 cutoff.

For the guardsmen activated late March, the June 24 end date would have put them one day short of the 90 days needed to receive a percentage of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits and to collect retirement pay three months before turning 60 years old, as is standard.

In his tweet, Trump said he would extend the orders this week.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had previously advocated Trump continue the National Guard's assignments, so long as they were still serving a purpose.

"If they have a valid mission assignment verified by FEMA, my view is we should extend those tours of duty," Esper said last week. "I think it's the right thing to do."

On Thursday, Esper tweeted his approval of Trump's decision, offering his "full support."

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph Lengyel also supported Trump's decision.

"I was happy to see the tweet," Lengyel said, adding, "It's just bad optics and business to cut people off at the 89th day."

Lengyel also said the work of the guardsmen would likely be needed longer anyway.

"There is widespread recognition that the requirement to keep National Guard members on duty to fight this virus exists well beyond the 24th of June," he said.

Last week a bipartisan group of 125 members of Congress ranging from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal signed a letter to Trump, Esper and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor imploring them extend benefits to the National Guardsmen responding to the crisis.

"We encourage you to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service," the letter read.

Since March, members of the National Guard have helped states set up and run coronavirus testing sites, deliver vital food and equipment, and in some cases have given direct care to infected citizens.


Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy KATHERINE FAULDERS and LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order targeting Twitter and other social media giants, saying he is taking action to "defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history," after Twitter called two of his tweets "potentially misleading."


This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020


The social media executive order is expected to make it easier for companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google to be held liable for the content posted on their platforms, according to a draft obtained by ABC News.

Although it's still being drafted and is subject to change, the particular order -- tentatively titled "Preventing Online Censorship" -- has been in this works since 2019 and has seen multiple revisions along the way. The president's recent threats prompted the draft to be revived internally.

The draft asks that the scope of Section 230 in a law known as the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity to websites that curate and moderate their own platforms, be clarified by curbing some liability protections.

Republicans have also introduced legislation on Capitol Hill to strip these protections. Attorney General Bill Barr has raised concerns over Section 230 as well, saying it has the potential to enable online child exploitation.

However, experts warn it could have a major impact on free speech on social media and predict this could land in the courts.

"It is the policy of the United States to foster clear, nondiscriminatory ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet. Prominent among those rules is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230). 47 U.S.C. 230,' the draft reads. "It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified."

The draft also states that "the emergence and growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology" and that online platforms are "engaging in selective censorship that is hurting our national discourse."

"As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the Internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our businesses, our newspapers, and our homes. It is essential to sustaining our democracy. In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power."

The draft order also proposes that an online tool for tech bias reporting created by the White House Office of Digital Strategy be reestablished to "collect complaints of online censorship and other potentially unfair or deceptive acts or practices by online platforms and shall submit complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It directs the FTC to develop a report based off the complaints and make that report public, "consistent with applicable law."

Section 4 of the draft order also says the Attorney General "shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

The White House office of digital strategy is directed to submit complaints received to this working group. The order also directs the working group to collect publicly available information on monitoring or creating watch-lists of users based on their interactions with content or users (e.g. likes, follows, time spent); and monitoring users based on their activity off the platform.

The president first threatened the action on Wednesday after Twitter added a fact-checking feature to two of his tweets on mail-in balloting late Tuesday, calling the content "potentially misleading."


Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference on Thursday said, "We like to Twitter to put up their fact-check of the president but it seems to be very selective," suggesting more of his tweets should come with a disclaimer.

She then said most social media companies, singling out Facebook, are in the business of making money "at the expense of the truths and the facts."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "panders" to the White House to avoid taxes and regulations, and suggests Pres. Trump's expected executive order targeting social media platforms may be a case of "no honor among thieves."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 28, 2020

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called out Twitter for the action in an interview with Fox News airing Thursday, saying that privately-owned digital platforms should not act as the "arbiter of truth."

"Private companies probably shouldn't be, especially these platform companies, shouldn't be in the position of doing that," he said.


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent out a series of tweets Wednesday night providing more details on how the platform will employ fact-check links.

Dorsey said that the platform will "continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally," suggesting Twitter is prioritizing fact checks on tweets related to elections.


This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.

— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020


Twitter's Civic Integrity Policy, which is dated May 2020, states that Twitter may not be used "for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process."

Policy violations include tweeting misleading information about how to participate in elections, tweets intended to suppress voting or intimidate voters, and creating fake accounts claiming to be tied to a candidate or political party.

Violations can result in tweet deletion, profile modifications and permanent suspension, according to the policy.

In a statement responding to the order, Facebook said, "We believe in protecting freedom of expression on our services, while protecting our community from harmful content including content designed to stop voters from exercising their right to vote. Those rules apply to everybody. Repealing or limiting section 230 will have the opposite effect. It will restrict more speech online, not less. By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Fox News Thursday morning declined to comment on the specifics of the social media-related executive order, saying, "it's still in the works."

She did say Twitter's handling of Trump's mail-in ballot tweets prompted the action.

"We have seen some egregious actions by Twitter. For them to single out the president's tweet, which was a very truthful tweet, you've gotta ask yourself, what kind of political motivation was there in them doing that, when they were not signaling, until minutes ago, when I walked out here, they were not fact-checking Chinese propaganda, which was blaming COVID on the United States military?"

However, Twitter put labels on those tweets Wednesday as well.

McEnany also seemed to support Mark Zuckerberg's statement Wednesday that "Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth," contrasting that with Twitter's approach.

Though the president has spent part of his morning going after social media, he also attacked the Mueller probe, former President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The only coronavirus related tweet on the president's feed so far today was an attack on Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions.

While Twitter has started fact-checking tweets, Facebook, meanwhile, has chosen not to regulate its political advertisement content.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



The executive order President Donald Trump signed targeting Twitter and other the social media giants could prove toothless and face legal challenge, experts said.

The president's order, a draft of which was obtained by ABC News, takes aim at part of a 1996 law that has given technology companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook immunity from lawsuits based on the content its users post.

It was expected to push federal agencies to review those protections.

But experts said it was likely up to Congress, not Trump and the executive branch, to reinterpret the part of the law in question, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The executive order, as drafted, would also raise significant First Amendment questions and could face legal challenge, they said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized Section 230, which grants liability protections to companies that run social media platforms, but have differed on how to address it. Democrats have said social media giants do not do enough to regulate content, while Republicans say they do too much.

According to the draft copy of the order, tentatively titled "Preventing Online Censorship," the president will ask for a review of Section 230, which states “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provider by another information content provider.”

The order is expected to push the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to review these protections -- and it may start a messy debate and face multiple legal challenges -- particularly the First Amendment, which protects free speech.

Trump's impact may be limited

While many lawmakers agree Section 230 needs to be changed, experts said it is likely up to Congress -- not the president -- to do so.

While the draft of the order said the review of Section 230 should start without Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union said Congress was the only body with the power to reinterpret the law.

“The president has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230," the ACLU tweeted. "Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable. It enables speech, not censorship.”

Jonathan Turley, a Republican lawyer who testified in the House impeachment proceedings as the sole Republican witness, took issue with Twitter’s fact-check labels on the president’s tweets, but he said that without legislation in Congress, Trump's order is unlikely to move anything forward.

“His new executive order would seek the elimination of key liability protections for social media companies while calling for federal investigations into political bias,” Turley wrote in a column in The Hill Thursday. “Without legislative support, such a crackdown on these companies is unlikely to succeed. However, Congress has been angling to curtail internet free speech for years.”

While Twitter “said Trump did not violate its rules, it still intervened between him and his followers to add its own view of the truth on a political controversy," Turley said.

The order also ignores two and a half decades of judicial precedent since the law passed in 1996, in which courts have almost always found platforms to be protected by Section 230, according to Kate Klonick, an assistant professor of law at St. John's University, in Queens, N.Y.

“It’s not the president’s job to interpret federal law, and it’s just very unlikely that a court will suddenly decide to go back against all this precedent," Klonick told ABC News.

She said the order, as drafted, did not contain much that was actually enforceable and appeared to be more of a signal to Trump's base that he is fighting tech companies, who he has long maintained are biased against conservatives.

“If the purpose of the executive order is to actually have any kind of effect on how social media companies actually police online moderation -- if they’re biased against conservatives -- then this is likely to have very little effect," she said.

Two Democratic FCC commissioners raised questions Thursday about the expected order.

"“This does not work," Jessica Rosenworcel wrote. "Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the President’s speech police is not the answer. "

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks said he would review the order, but noted, "the First Amendment and Section 230 remain the law of the land and control here."

'Egregious actions by Twitter' prompted order, White House says

McEnany, the White House press secretary, said Thursday morning that Trump decided to sign the executive order after Twitter put labels on two of his tweets about mail-in voting that directed users to pages offering more context.

"We have seen some egregious actions by Twitter," she said in an interview with Fox News. "For them to single out the president's tweet, which was a very truthful tweet, you’ve gotta ask yourself, what kind of political motivation was there in them doing that?"

On Wednesday, Trump threatened to "strongly regulate" social media platforms "or close them down" because, he said, without offering evidence, "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative voices."

But it was unclear if the White House had worked with the FCC on the order. When it was first rumored back in 2019, Rosenworcel tweeted a link to a CNN article about it with the added comment, "What."

Bipartisan support for reform

Both sides of the political aisle think Section 230 needs to be reformed, but for different reasons.

Democrats like the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Joe Biden, have said it doesn’t moderate content enough, while Republicans have alleged that it moderates content way too much.

Attorney General Bill Barr has raised concerns over Section 230 as well, saying it has the potential to enable online child exploitation.

In April 2019, Speaker Pelosi said that Section 230 was “a gift” for these tech companies.

“I do think that for the privilege of the 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility of it. And it is not out of the question that that could be removed,” Pelosi said in an interview with Recode. When asked this morning about the executive order, Pelosi called it “silly.”

Biden told the New York Times editorial board that Section 230 should be revoked immediately. He was asked about a letter his campaign sent to Facebook about an advertisement that falsely claimed he blackmailed officials in Ukraine to not investigate his son, Hunter Biden.

“The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms,” Biden said.

Barr said in December 2019 that the Department of Justice was studying the scope of the law.

“Section 230 was passed at a time where the internet was relatively new, and Congress wanted to protect the growth of online services and the ability for the internet to offer “a forum for true diversity of political discourse,” Barr said according to a transcript of his remarks.

“Section 230 has been interpreted quite broadly by the courts. Today, many are concerned that Section 230 immunity has been extended far beyond what Congress originally intended. Ironically, Section 230 has enabled platforms to absolve themselves completely of responsibility for policing their platforms, while blocking or removing third-party speech - including political speech - selectively, and with impunity.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Federal prosecutors on Thursday unsealed a 50-page indictment charging dozens of individuals who they accuse of illegally transferring more than $2.5 billion through the global financial system to North Korea's foreign exchange bank since 2013 in an effort to skirt U.S. sanctions.

The grand jury indictment charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese nationals with propping up "over 250 front companies" to launder payments that "transited through the United States," after the Foreign Trade Bank had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department over its support of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The indictment identifies covert branches created by the bank and operating in China, Russia, Thailand, Libya, Austria and Kuwait that prosecutors said helped to facilitate the payments.

Among those charged were two former presidents of the Foreign Trade Bank, Ko Chol Man and Kim Song Ui, both of whom have been directly targeted with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping steer financing to North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program.

The case has been under seal since February and none of the officials charged in the indictment are currently in U.S. custody.

The announcement of the charges comes as nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea remain in limbo, after North Korean state media reported earlier this week that Kim Jong Un convened a meeting with military leaders to discuss "bolstering" the country's nuclear arsenal.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/zrfphoto(HARRISBURG, Penn.) -- BY: IVAN PEREIRA

Democratic state leaders in Pennsylvania are accusing GOP counterparts of endangering everyone at the statehouse after a representative, who'd attended meetings, announced he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rep. Andrew Lewis, who represents Dauphin County, revealed on Wednesday he tested positive for COVID-19 on May 20 after he experienced flu-like symptoms two days earlier.

"I immediately began self-isolation protocol and contacted the House of Representatives, and our caucus Human Resources department. My last day in the Capitol was Thursday, May 14," Lewis said in a statement.

Two other Republicans, Rep. Russ Diamond and Rep. Frank Ryan, announced on their Facebook pages Wednesday they went into self-isolation after they were informed by human resources that they came in contact with someone who tested positive at the Capitol. Neither leader said they're experiencing any symptoms.

Neither Diamond nor Ryan, who have been videotaped not wearing face coverings in recent hearings, revealed who that person was, but they did say the contact happened on around May 14. Diamond said he was notified on May 21, the same day he attended a legislative hearing.

Lewis, Diamond and Ryan were reportedly seen sitting close to each other during recent hearings in the Capitol.

The Pennsylvania state Democrats said they and some Republicans were not informed about Lewis's diagnosis until recently, and they're accusing the house GOP of covering up his condition.

"If he truly cared about the well-being of those he may have exposed, he should have been transparent from day one," Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Brendan Welch said in a statement.

Lewis said that he chose to reveal his diagnosis this week because he felt it was the appropriate time.

"Out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed, I chose to keep my positive case private," he said in a statement.

Welch said the representative's explanation made no sense and called for him to be replaced.

The Pennsylvania GOP didn't immediately return messages from ABC News asking for comment.

Dauphin, Pennsylvania, currently has 1,174 coronavirus cases and 66 related deaths, according to the state's health department.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- More than 14 hours after 100,000 Americans were reported to have died from the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Thursday acknowledged the death toll, calling it a "very sad milestone."

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump said he extends his "heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent."

This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020

This comes after the president for months downplayed the coronavirus, comparing it to the flu, and suggested throughout the month of April that the country wouldn't reach 100,000 deaths.

At the same time, in what critics say is a part of an effort to distract from the bad news -- and to highlight his claims that states moving to mail-in voting amid the pandemic will lead to fraud -- Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday on social media that would make it easier for companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google to be held liable and face lawsuits for the content posted on their platforms, after Twitter fact-checked two of the president's tweets on mail-in ballots.

Here are Thursday's most significant developments in Washington:

Trump expected to sign executive order against social media companies

President Donald Trump has tweeted it will be "a big day for social media and fairness" as he's expected to sign an executive order that could expose social media platforms to more regulations and lawsuits, following his tweets alleging widespread fraud will result from states allowing mail-in voting amid the pandemic.

The draft, obtained by ABC News, comes after Twitter earlier this week added fact-checks to two of the president's tweets alleging mail-in ballots will produce fraud, calling the president's content "potentially misleading."

This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020

It asks that the scope of Section 230 in a law known as the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity to websites that curate and moderate their own platforms, be clarified by curbing some liability protections.

However, experts warn it could have a major impact on free speech on social media and predict it could land in the courts.

-- ABC News' Katherine Faulders

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- For years, he’s been an Iowa conservative kingmaker. His annual pheasant hunts required stops for GOP White House hopefuls.

But now, after losing his committee seats following comments about white supremacy, Rep. Steve King is on his own, caught in a five-candidate primary challenge that could end his political career.

“It’s his biggest threat ever, and largely because he’s gone a bridge too far in rendering himself useless for Iowans,” said Doug Gross, an attorney and strategist in Iowa who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2002.

State and national GOP groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican Jewish Coalition and National Right to Life have thrown their weight behind Randy Feenstra, a conservative state senator who has raised more money than King, and panned the veteran congressman as ineffective.

“Our farmers, our families and our President deserve an effective leader that can deliver conservative results,” Feenstra told ABC News in an email.

“Leaders deliver. Steve King couldn’t,” the narrator says in Feenstra’s most recent television ad.

King doesn’t need to win outright to keep his seat and win the GOP nomination: The contest will go to a convention if no candidate receives more than 35 percent of the total primary vote -- though either King or Feenstra, if not both, are expected to meet the threshold.

And he has some history with conventions: King won his first House primary race on the third ballot in a nominating convention in 2002.

“If it goes to convention, which it could, I think that’s his best shot to win,” Brent Siegrist, a former speaker of the Iowa state legislature who lost to King in that 2002 convention by 19 votes. “The delegates that are selected tend to be those hardcore, true believers, if you will, and Steve plays very well with them.”

While King has courted controversy with comments about abortion, immigration and race in the past -- including remarking that some immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from “hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert” -- it was his comments to the New York Times about white supremacy that prompted swift backlash from his party.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" he told the paper in a recorded interview he later disputed.

After the remarks, the eight-term Republican was rebuked by House Republican leadership and stripped of his committee posts in January of 2019.

Longtime allies, including Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, condemned his remarks. Sen. Ted Cruz, who appointed King the co-chair of his 2016 presidential campaign, called the comments “stupid.”

Since then, King has seen his support dry up across the country, and has just over $30,000 in the bank heading into the final stretch of the campaign.

Feenstra has received contributions from former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and a number of House Republicans, while outside groups have run ads -- including one spot featuring Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative leader in Iowa -- attacking the congressman and boosting Feenstra’s profile.

President Donald Trump, who had previously praised King’s record on immigration -- the congressman promoted a U.S.-Mexico border wall a decade before Trump took office -- has been silent on the primary, leaving the race out of a slew of House GOP endorsements he tweeted over the weekend.

While King recently told an Iowa newspaper House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed to help him reclaim his committee posts, the California Republican quickly disputed the claim, telling reporters he "never said that."

“Committee assignments are decided by the Steering Committee, and he’ll have the opportunity to make his case,” McCarthy said.

In interviews, Republican operatives told ABC News that King’s lack of clout, more than his policy positions, makes him vulnerable to a primary challenge from Feenstra.

“It’s not really about the things that he said and the outrageous comments, it’s about his effectiveness and spots on the committees at a time when agriculture is struggling and small businesses are struggling,” said Dave Kochel, a veteran GOP strategist who has donated to Feenstra and is working with Priorities for Iowa, a Super PAC supporting the state senator.

They also argued that King, who came within three points of losing his ruby-red House seat to Democrat JD Scholten in 2018, could hurt Republican turnout in the fall -- when Scholten will be back on the ballot, and Ernst and Trump will need support from the conservative voters in the district to help win the state.

“Part of this effort is to make sure that King as a nominee is not an albatross around Joni Ernst’s neck,” Scott Reed, a senior political strategist for the Chamber of Commerce, told ABC News.

King, whose campaign did not respond to a request for an interview, recently told a local Republican group that his views are in step with the Republican Party.

“I’m happy to have all of this scrutiny. I want people to look at my record,” he told the Stone County Republican Party in a recent online candidate forum. “I think people who are going back to the polls will be pleased with the job that I have been doing.”

In a televised primary debate earlier this week, he also attributed the backlash he’s faced to “Never Trumpers” who “ginned this all up.”

“There’s powers that be, some of them are money powers, not all of them, that want Steve King out of the way, because they like to do battle on life, on marriage, on budgets, and on guns,” he said at the debate hosted by WHO-13.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesBy MARIAM KHAN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- A vote on a bill to reauthorize three expired surveillance tools was in jeopardy after President Donald Trump called on Republicans to reject the measure in a late-night tweet.

"I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.

House Republican leaders jumped on the president's call to abandon the measure, with leaders actively whipping against the bill, even though a majority of Republicans initially voted for the bill in March when it first cleared the House.

The initial bill was drafted with input from Attorney General Bill Barr and garnered support from some of Trump's top Republican allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The bill would reauthorize three expired surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform law. It would also make some changes to the FISA court.

The Senate cleared the bill in a strong bipartisan vote late last week. The version the Senate passed added language to provide additional legal protections for some FISA warrant applicants.

The House is still expected to vote on the Senate version of the bill. Democratic leaders dropped plans to vote on an additional amendment late Wednesday that would further restrict law enforcement's ability to access Americans' web browsing history after bipartisan push-back that left passage of the bill in question.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill that the bill would be acted on "one way or another" by Wednesday.

"You'll see what we bring forward. We will act upon it today one way or another," she said, although she wouldn't comment on whether she thinks the bill will pass or which version of the bill will be voted on.

And by late Wednesday, members were advised that there were no more votes expected. The chamber will reconvene Thursday at 9 a.m.

Republican Whip Steve Scalise and Trump spoke Wednesday morning about the bill, according to a Republican official. Trump, per the source, reiterated that the bill should not move forward in the House in its current form.

Even the Department of Justice weighed in Wednesday, urging the House to reject the bill.

"Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department's ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation," Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said in a statement.

Late Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked Democratic leadership to pull the bill from the floor. At a press conference on Wednesday, McCarthy called on Democrats to hit pause.

"Let's take a deep breath and work together and move it forward," McCarthy said. "If they bring it up, they are just playing politics."

"In moving forward today, it won't be signed into law. The president has questions, the attorney general has questions," McCarthy said. "Since the time we had passed the bill in the House, there has been more information coming forward with the FISA court being used in processes it shouldn't have been."

McCarthy said he believes investigations into alleged FISA abuses inside the FBI during the 2016 presidential election should be completed before any vote takes place on reauthorizing the legislation.

"I'm interested in making sure the FISA court has reform and is able to sustain itself, that it's looking at foreigners and not Americans," he said.

The vote in the House Wednesday would have been the first time members could vote by proxy. More than 70 Democrats had designated a proxy to vote on their behalf Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

McCarthy and other Republicans filed a lawsuit in a federal court Wednesday to stop the proxy vote from happening, citing constitutional concerns.

"We know that we have a responsibility [and that] it is essential that Congress does its work... For 231 years, never have we seen a proxy vote on the floor of the House. This challenges the Constitution only to protect and empower a speaker," McCarthy said.

"It violates the Constitution. It is a dereliction of duty by its members," he said. "It is essential that Congress continues to meet, and that's why we will move forward with the lawsuit."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy ELIZABETH THOMAS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened that Republicans will try to close down social media platforms a day after Twitter, for the first time, added a fact check to two of his tweets, ones concerning his unsubstantiated claims about widespread mail-in voting fraud.

Trump, in a tweet not specifically naming any platforms, said that "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen."

....happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020

A few hours later, the president continued his tirade, singling out Twitter, saying that everything "we have being saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct " and that there will be "Big action to follow."

Twitter responded late Wednesday night, defending its decision to label two of Trump's tweets.

"We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy," the company tweeted. "We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process."

Twitter also shared a link to its "Civic integrity policy," which states that people can't use its platform for manipulating or interfering in elections.

"This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process," the policy says.

Trump has long accused social media platforms of being biased against conservative voices. In July 2019, during a White House "Social Media Summit," Trump attacked Facebook, Google and Twitter, claiming them of having “terrible bias” and silencing his supporters.

"A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies," Trump tweeted prior to the event. "We will not let them get away with it much longer."

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday backed up Trump's attacks on Twitter's new fact-check notices on his tweets during an interview with Fox News, saying that they're "relying upon the same people who attack him all day long to quote fact check him."

She took aim at Twitter's head of integrity, Yoel Roth, spelling out his handle (@yoyoel) during a hit on Fox.

"Go and read what he said," she said.

His past tweets have been making the rounds on Twitter amid all this, in particular this one from November 2016: "I’m just saying, we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason," Roth tweeted.

On Tuesday evening, responding to Trump's complaints about Twitter's move, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted a threat similar to Trump's.

And @Twitter is getting subsidized by the federal government for that interference in the form of special immunity worth billions. Time to end #BigTech sweetheart deal w/ government

— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) May 27, 2020

GOP lawmakers have long searched for a way to rein in social media companies. Sen. Marco Rubio weighed on Twitter's new fact-check adds to Trump's tweets, saying that "they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law."

"The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers," Rubio tweeted. "But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


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