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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge in Manhattan has sentenced Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, to three years in prison for various crimes including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress.

Before leveling his sentence, Judge William Pauley said “Cohen pled guilty to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct" and “lost his moral compass,” adding that “as a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better.”

In addition to his imprisonment, Cohen will have to pay $1.39 million in restitution plus $500,000 in forfeiture for the financial and campaign finance crimes. He will face an additional fine of $50,000 for lying to Congress.

For more than a decade, Cohen stood by Trump’s side as a personal attorney, fixer and confidant, famously proclaiming that he would “take a bullet for the president” and “never walk away.” But over the past year, as investigators targeted his personal finances, Cohen flipped on his former boss and cooperated in multiple investigations, including Mueller's probe, targeting Trump’s campaign and family business operations.

Prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York charged Cohen with eight felony counts in August, including tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, and campaign finance violations. Special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, tacked on an additional count of lying to Congress last month. Cohen pleaded guilty to all nine counts and struck a deal to cooperate with ongoing investigations.

Before ruling was issued, Cohen had pleaded for leniency, accusing President Trump – his former boss – of causing him to “follow a path of darkness rather than light” and “cover up his dirty deeds.” Cohen’s attorney, Guy Petrillo, argued that Cohen “came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in the country.”

But while the special counsel’s office appeared to be willing to give Cohen credit for his cooperation, SDNY prosecutors took a tougher stance.

In court on Wednesday, Jeannie Rhee, a prosecutor with the Office of the Special Counsel, said Cohen had provided “wide ranging and helpful” information on matters related to the Russia probe while being careful not to inflate the value of that information.

Nicolas Roos, a prosecutor with the Southern District of New York, however, struck a different tone.

Cohen “didn’t come anywhere close to assisting this office in an investigation,” Roos told the court, adding, “the charges portray a pattern of deception, of brazenness and of greed.”

With the pounding of his gavel on Wednesday morning, Judge Pauley marked the conclusion of Cohen’s improbable journey from Trump’s legal counsel to perhaps the most potent vehicle for President Trump’s legal exposure.

Federal prosecutors allege that Cohen violated campaign finance laws by paying off two women who allege to have had affairs with Donald Trump acting “in coordination with and at the direction of” the then-candidate. Trump has argued the payments amount to nothing more than a “simple private transaction,” and do not qualify as campaign finance violations.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and vocal critic of the president, said he believes the Cohen sentence will send a powerful message.

“Hopefully this signals to others that it’s time to come clean,” Swalwell said.

Swalwell is one of several Democrats who are voicing interest in having Cohen return to Congress to testify in public, even if it means transporting him from prison to do so.

“Cohen is one of the only individuals who lived in Donald Trump’s personal, political and financial worlds,” Swalwell said. “I would like to see Michael Cohen come clean, wholly before Congress, about what the president knew and what he was doing politically and financially with the Russians. I would like to hear from him. Just for the country’s sake.”

Cohen, who departed court on Wednesday without addressing the scrum of awaiting cameras, has been ordered to report to prison on March 6, 2019.

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Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has agreed to abide by proposed term limits if elected speaker, a move that would cap her speakership at four more years that is expected to clear her path to the speaker's gavel in the Jan. 3 floor vote.

The proposal would limit members to three terms of service in those roles, with the option of seeking an additional fourth term with the support of two-thirds of House Democrats. It would be retroactive, including her first two terms as speaker from 2007-2011.

Pelosi said she will abide by the rule whether it is approved by the caucus in February or not.

"I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not," she said in a statement.

Seven House Democrats announced their support for Pelosi after her announcement, likely giving her the votes she needs to win the speaker's gavel in the official floor vote in January.

"We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders. We will support and vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress," Reps. Ed Perlmutter, Bill Foster, Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan, Filemon Vela, Linda Sanchez and Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros said in a statement.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, slammed his old boss during his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, saying that Trump made him "cover up his dirty deeds."

Cohen made his case for leniency in front of a federal judge in Manhattan, accusing Trump of causing him to "follow a path of darkness rather than light."

"I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired," he said.

Speaking directly of Trump, Cohen said, "There is little to admire."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violation, tax evasion and lying to Congress.

"I stand before your honor humbly and painfully aware that we are here for one reason," Cohen said. "Today is the day that I am getting my freedom back."

At one point Cohen turned toward his parents. "I'm sorry," he uttered.

That was one of only two times that he turned around from the podium to look at his legal team and relatives. The other instance came when he described strangers writing letters to him expressing their support.

When he sat back down he touched his daughter Samantha’s shoulder. Samantha Cohen, who was using a cane because of a recent surgery, was loudly weeping after the hearing ended, and her father was seen consoling her. His son Jake was also seen crying, along with Cohen's wife who was sobbing.

He also owes $1.39 million in restitution plus $500,000 in forfeiture for the financial and campaign finance crimes. He is required to report to prison on March 6, 2019.

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Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced Wednesday they have reached an agreement with American Media Company, Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer, in connection with a payment made during the campaign meant to silence a woman who claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006.

“As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election,” according to a press release issued by the Southern District of New York.”

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, signed a $150,000 deal with AMI in August 2016 that transferred to the company the rights to her story of an alleged 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006.

In the agreement between prosecutors and AMI, which was signed on Sept. 20 but unsealed Wednesday, “AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” the press release read.

News of the AMI deal came less than an hour after Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for charges brought by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday used a terror attack at a famous Christmas market in a small, scenic town in France on Tuesday night to argue for more funding for U.S. border security. His call came a day after he threatened to shut down the government if he doesn't get $5 billion for a border wall.

"Another very bad terror attack in France," Trump tweeted. "We are going to strengthen our borders even more. Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to get additional Border Security!"

Trump's tweet sought again to connect terrorism, like the attack seen in France, to security at the border, which he discussed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office. Trump met with the Democratic leaders to discuss the spending bill Congress must pass by Dec. 21 in order to keep the government open, but the meeting turned into a 15-minute argument in front of news cameras.

During the back and forth, the president said people were "pouring into our country," including terrorists -- a claim that has not been matched by public data or comments from the Department of Homeland Security. The president also said "10 terrorists" were caught at the border "over the last very short period of time."

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said previously that DHS blocks "10 known or suspected terrorists a day from traveling to or attempting to enter the U.S.," but that figure is an average taken over the last year that concerns efforts worldwide and is not specific to migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The State Department said in a report last year that there was "no credible information" that any member of a terrorist group traveled through Mexico to enter the U.S.

Trump made similar unsubstantiated claims about terrorists entering at the U.S.-Mexico border in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections when he said there were "Middle Easterners" in a migrant caravan making its way north through Central America. Vice President Mike Pence also doubled down on the president's claim, specifically saying Customs and Border Patrol Agents apprehended 10 terrorists a day at the Southern border.

Trump acknowledged to reporters at the time that there was "no proof of anything" and expanded the time frame for border apprehensions to include multiple years.

"There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything. But there could very well be," Trump said.

In an interview on Fox News' morning show Wednesday, Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made the argument for border security, saying the U.S. monitors large numbers of people but knowing "who's coming in and out of the country" reduces that number.

"We have this problem here in the United States as well, lots of folks that we're watching, we think are a risk, we try to monitor. But the numbers are so big. It's why frankly border security matters, too. These are related issues, in the sense of we need to know who's coming in and out of country, so there are fewer people that the FBI and sheriffs offices in Kansas, places like that, we have to watch," Pompeo said.

According to Pompeo, no Americans were killed or injured in the terror attack in Strasbourg, France, but the U.S. is still getting information.

At least two people were killed and 14 injured when a suspected extremist opened fire at the market in Strasbourg Tuesday, authorities said. The shooter, identified as Cherif Chekatt, 29, remained at large as of early Wednesday morning. Authorities said he had a history of committing petty crimes and had been flagged as a potential radical.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Michael Flynn, the president’s onetime national security adviser, is asking a federal judge to spare him a prison sentence after cooperating for more than a year with prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn, whose sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, pleaded guilty last year to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the presidential transition period from election day in 2016 until President Donald Trump's inauguration.

“Following extraordinary public service in the United States Army, during which his innovations as a highly decorated intelligence officer saved countless American lives, and a lifetime of faithful devotion to his family and fellow service members and veterans, as described in the powerful letters of support that accompany this submission, a sentence of non-incarceration is both appropriate and warranted,” attorneys for Flynn wrote in a sentencing memo filed late Tuesday.

Flynn's attorneys argued for the judge “to sentence him to a term of probation not to exceed one year, with minimal conditions of supervision, along with 200 hours of community service.”

As part of his plea agreement, Flynn agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. But until last week, when the government filed its sentencing memo for Flynn, details of his cooperation largely remained secret.

In their memo, special counsel prosecutors commended Flynn’s “substantial assistance” over the course of “19 interviews with the [special counsel’s office] or attorneys from other Department of Justice offices,” the content of which notably included “firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials.”

Federal guidelines call a penalty of up to six months in prison for Flynn’s crime, but Mueller argued that “a sentence at the low end of the guideline range -- including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration -- is appropriate and warranted.”

Friends and relatives have said Flynn, who at 2016 campaign rallies led chants of "Lock her up!" about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, is eager to face the judge and accept his fate following his dramatic guilty plea almost exactly one year ago.

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Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Accusations of a blatant power grab, personal appeals from the incoming Democratic governor to his Republican predecessor, protesters marching on the State Capitol and the ongoing situation unfolding in the state of Wisconsin have all the hallmarks of a classic political drama.

Now, with a deadline to sign the bills into law fast approaching, Democrats in the state are ramping up their pressure campaign on outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker, hoping he will heed calls not to make a series of bills stripping incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and other statewide elected officials of an array of consequential powers.

But this week, Walker signaled the clearest sign yet that he is dug in on support for the bill, despite national blowback and rebukes from some in his own party, including former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott McCallum.

"It appears completely political, [like] a power grab," McCallum said in a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In a statement released Tuesday, Walker defended the legislation, which would limit the governor's power over several state agencies and prevent the state's newly elected Democratic attorney general from pulling out of a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, saying Evers will still maintain some of the strongest powers of any governor in the country.

"Let’s set the record straight -- the new governor will still have some of the strongest powers of any governor in the nation if these bills become law," Walker wrote. "He will have the power to veto legislation and he will have some of the broadest line-item veto authority of any governor in the nation."

Evers defeated Walker, who was seeking a third term to the governor's office in the Badger State, by a margin of just over 30,000 votes last month, while Democrats simultaneously swept elections for all statewide offices, including attorney general and state treasurer.

The Democrat said over the weekend that he has spoken with Walker about a potential veto, but that his predecessor was "noncommittal" during those talks.

"I'm not particularly encouraged at this point in time," Evers said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press. "But it's around Scott Walker's legacy. He has the opportunity to change us and validate the will of the people that voted on Nov. 6."

Walker's office confirmed to ABC News that he has not yet received the bills passed by the state legislature during the lame-duck session.

The governor has not yet called for the bills to be delivered, but the legislation will automatically be sent to his desk by the chief clerk of the Wisconsin State Senate on Dec. 20. He then has six days from that point, excluding Sunday, to either sign the legislation into law, veto the legislation or not sign it and have it automatically become law. That means the latest the bill could become law would be Dec. 27th.

The episode continues to raise questions about the acceptability of partisan responses to election losses, and a potentially destabilizing precedent set by this and a similar situation playing out across the lake in the state of Michigan, where the Republican-controlled House and Senate are seeking to limit the power of incoming Democratic state officials, including Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer.

"This really is shocking, and it really is profoundly to the central, democratic norm, which is when one side loses power, they turn over power peacefully," said Kenneth Mayer, a professor of American politics at the University of Wisconsin. "If is how it’s going to work from here on out, that is just really unhealthy for democratic stability."

The situations in Michigan and Wisconsin are reminiscent of a 2016 attempt by the GOP-led state legislature in North Carolina to limit the powers of an incoming Democratic governor.

The courts eventually ruled that the legislation violated the state's constitution.

But if the efforts in Wisconsin and other states are ultimately successful, the worry becomes a fundamental shift in the allowable terms of political warfare in the wake of defeat.

"You don’t want to bring a Nerf gun to a knife fight. If one player is violating norms and the other player says well I’m still going to behave as if they still exist, then you’re at a real disadvantage," Mayer said. "Over time, if voters are OK with that, or in a position where they can’t respond, then you have serious questions about the meaning of democratic rule."

Republican leaders in the state have fervently defended the legislation, claiming the firestorm of the last few weeks is the result of hyperbolic rhetoric from Democrats and the news media.

"The extraordinary session of the state legislature was not a 'coup' or a 'power grab,'" Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, wrote in an op-ed this week defending his party's actions. "The extraordinary session was merely an effort to ensure that in divided government, every branch of government has an equal seat at the table."

Top Democrats in the state say they are hopeful they can mount a pressure campaign strong enough to influence Walker.

"We’re hoping that the pressure from other Wisconsinites, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, whoever will cause him to back down. Because this will be his legacy," Wisconsin Democratic Party chairwoman Martha Laning told ABC News in a phone interview.

Evers and other Democrats in the state have said legal action is one of many options "on the table," but that they are waiting for a final decision from Walker before proceeding in that direction.

"We’re all looking at what the precedent is out there and what’s happened before," Laning said. "And we’re ready to do whatever is necessary to protect our democracy."

The episode all but ensures a bitter brawl in the Badger State come 2020 when control of the state legislature is at stake and it returns to its status as a key presidential battleground.

Democrats say in 2020 that they won't let voters forget what happened in 2018.

"We will bring this back to light to let people know that Republicans did not accept the word of the people and it’s time to replace them and be sure that we get leadership that voters choice," Laning said.

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

The resolution's expected passage is particularly striking because it brings Democrats together with House Republicans who rarely break with President Donald Trump on legislation or messaging.

Republican House leadership pushed for the vote to come up before the end of the year, a House aide told ABC News, sending a signal to the White House that more should be done to punish Myanmar for the atrocities.

The vote was expected to occur Tuesday, but had to be pushed to Wednesday after debate on other legislation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the vote, but deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters Tuesday that the ethnic cleansing label "in no way prejudices any potential further analysis on whether mass atrocities have taken place, including genocide or crimes against humanity." He added that the U.S. was "open to new information."

It's unclear what more they expect to learn after their already exhaustive report, making a legal analysis and a determination the priority now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At first, the president welcomed Pelosi and Schumer into the Oval Office and discussed criminal justice reform while rattling off numbers about the proposed border wall. But things quickly turned into an open argument with the president eventually threatening to shut down the government over the border wall dispute.

 When Schumer said to Trump, "You said 'I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall'," Trump shot back, "I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. People in this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won't blame you for it. The last time, you shut it down. It didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down.

"I'm going to shut it down for border security," the president said.

 Trump, Pelosi and Schumer were scheduled to meet at the White House to come to an agreement on border funding to avert a potential government shutdown. No agreement was made. Instead, three of the most powerful leaders in government went back and forth over the wall and border security for almost 13 minutes as the press, presidential advisers, and Vice President Pence looked on.

"We may not have an agreement today. We probably won't. But we have an agreement on other things that are really good," Trump said at the beginning.

The meeting began civilly and Pelosi thanked the president for the opportunity to meet with him "so that we can work together in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of the American people."

But then, the mood shifted.

"I think the American people recognize that we must keep the government open. That a shut down is not worth anything, and we should not have a Trump shut down," Pelosi said.

The president interrupted her.

"A what? Did you say 'Trump'?" the president said, before adding under his breath, "I was going to call it a Pelosi shutdown."

The White House, Republicans, and Democrats have until Dec. 21 to avoid a government shutdown over border spending. The president has continued to push for $5 billion in government funding for a border wall, far beyond the $1.6 billion the Republican Senate initially requested for border security.

"Let me say one thing. The fact is, you do not have the votes in the House," Pelosi said.

"Nancy, I do. We need border security. Nancy, Nancy. We need border security," Trump said, emphatically waving his hands.

Then Schumer jumped in.

"Mr. President. You say, 'My way, or we will shut down the government.' We have a proposal with Democrats and Republicans, that they will support, to do a [continuing resolution] that will not shut down the government. We urge you to take it," Schumer said.

Trump said he wouldn't take it.

"But you said it is effective," Schumer interrupted.

"Let's call a halt to this," Pelosi said, recognizing the meeting was going off the rails. "We come here as the first branch of government. Article I, the legislative branch, she said, referring to the Constitution. "We are coming in good faith to negotiate with you about how we can keep the government open," Pelosi said.

"We are going to keep it open if we have border security. If we don't have border security we aren't going to keep it open," Trump replied.

"You are bragging about what has been done. What we want to do, the same thing that we did last year this year. That is our proposal. If it's good then, it's good now, and it won't shut down the government," Schumer replied.

"Let's debate in private. Okay?" Pelosi said. "Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward."

The meeting was on the president's schedule as being closed to the press, but was opened up to reporters and cameras at the last minute.

"We came in here in good faith. We entered into a discussion in the public view," Pelosi said.

"It's called transparency," Trump said, in reference to the press packed into the Oval Office.

"It's not transparency when we are not sticking to a set of facts. When we want to have a debate with you, we confront them," Pelosi shot back.

The president said he wanted to defend $5 billion in border wall money, but Pelosi chimed in to say that as the new Democratic leader, she is coming to present a different view.

"Elections have consequences, Mr. President," said Schumer.

"And that's why the country is doing so well," Trump retorted.

"One thing I think we can agree on is that we shouldn't shut down the government over a dispute. You want to shut it down, you keep talking about," Schumer said.

"The last time, Chuck, you shut it down," Trump said.

"I don't want to do what you did. Twenty times you called for it, you said 'I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall.' You have said it," Schumer said.

The president said he would "take the mantle" for shutting down the government for the sake of border security.

"But we believe you shouldn't shut it down," Pelosi replied.

After the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement saying that the president, Schumer, and Pelosi had a "constructive meeting," but added, "Major disagreement remains on the issue of border security and transparency."

Pelosi and Schumer said they gave the president two options. "It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down," the two Democratic leaders said in a short joint statement after the meeting.

In a gaggle with reporters outside the Oval Office, Pelosi said that their meeting showed that "This new Congress will be something different from the Congress we have now.

"We didn't come here to divide. We came here to unify. We extend that hand of friendship to him, that course of action."

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A judge in the federal case against Paul Manafort told prosecutors that she needs to see more in the way of evidence supporting their claims that the former Trump campaign chairman lied to them in his cooperation agreement relating to the probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Defense attorneys for Manafort and prosecutors with the special counsel’s office met Tuesday in a federal courthouse for the first time since Robert Mueller and his team described the subject of lies Manafort of perpetrating. The defense counsel said they did not have enough information from the government about their client’s alleged lies to respond to their allegations Tuesday.

A series of January deadlines were set for the defense to submit disputes with the government’s accusations and for the prosecution to respond.

The special counsel’s office filed a heavily-redacted court document last week accusing Manafort of providing false information about his contacts with Trump administration officials and interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate whom the special counsel has identified as a former Russian intelligence officer.

According to the document, Manfort also lied about money laundering, a wire transfer to a firm that was working for him, and "information pertinent to another Department of Justice investigation.”

Manafort’s lies, Mueller wrote, amounted to a breach of his plea agreement.

Tuesday's hearing was largely perfunctory, with U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson asking both sides how to proceed. The defense will have until early next year to file court documents responding to each allegation of their client’s lies.

Defense counsel said they did not have enough information from the government about their client’s alleged lies to respond to their allegations Tuesday.

Manafort, who was found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank-fraud in Virginia the previous month, struck a plea deal with Mueller's team in September on the eve of a second trial in Washington, D.C.

But the agreement fell apart last month when prosecutors accused Manafort of breaching his plea deal by lying during interviews after signing on to “broad” cooperation.

In another wrinkle to his cooperation, ABC News has reported that Manafort's legal team has continued sharing information about his interactions with Mueller’s team with the president's legal team, a development that has reignited speculation that Manafort could be pining for a presidential pardon.

Regarding a possible pardon for his onetime campaign chairman, Trump told the New York Post last month that he "wouldn't take it off the table."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said on "This Week" Sunday that pardoning Manafort would be a "terrible mistake" and that doing so could possibly "trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended."

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and became the campaign chairman in May of that year. He departed the Trump campaign in August 2016 after reports appeared in The New York Times that suggested he had engaged in illegal lobbying activities in Ukraine.

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

While Democrats decided to postpone discussion of term limits in their weekly caucus meeting on Tuesday, according to an aide in the room, the conversations have prompted a sensitive debate in the larger caucus, dominated by long-serving Democrats, with all but one committee set to be controlled by veteran ranking members of the party.

Pelosi, in public and private, has resisted putting an end date on her potential speakership, arguing that it would make her a less effective leader. She strongly pushed on President Trump's aside about the speaker campaign in an Oval Office meeting on government funding Tuesday.

“Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Democrats familiar with the discussions say a deal -- which would need to be approved by the Democratic caucus -- is unlikely to win the support of every Pelosi critic, including incumbents and incoming freshmen. But it would ideally convince enough of the incumbent holdouts to support her to secure her path to the speakership.

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

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

"She's not negotiating for me," Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday of Pelosi's discussions.

"I'm not for term limits," he said. "I am for the intellect of the voter, whether it's my constituency or my colleagues, being able to operate without such a constraint and choose whom they want when they want for leadership or representation."

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

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

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

John Lawrence, Pelosi's former chief of staff and the author of "The Class of '74: Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship," said Democrats would have to carefully weigh the value of possibly limiting the service of their leaders.

"A lot of legislation takes time to develop. A lot of the effectiveness of leaders comes from the gravitas they bring," he said. "I don’t think the House wants to straight jacket itself."

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JHVEPhoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In a testy exchange in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai refuted allegations that the company targeted Latino voters during the 2016 U.S. elections. During a hearing on Google’s data collection and filtering practices, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan alleged that in 2016, the company engaged in partisan behavior to target Latino voters in key states, citing a leaked email written by Google’s head of multicultural marketing, Eliana Murillo.

According the email, Pichai “gave the effort a shout out and comment in Spanish, which was really special.” The four-page email goes on to note “we pushed to get out the Latino vote with our features in key states,” pointing out “we supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states.”

Pichai denied the allegations, saying that Google “found no evidence to substantiate those claims.”

In her email, Murillo described the 2016 election as “devastating for our democratic Latino community.”

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

“So she just made it up out of thin air the day after the election, wrote this email to your top executives, and it’s not true?” Jordan asked.

Punting the question, Pichai said that he was “happy to follow up,” noting that “employees do their own activities.”

Jordan retorted that he didn’t want a follow-up. “I want the real answer right here in the committee,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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