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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The only Democratic congresswoman from Alabama said voting for Republican Roy Moore "will only take us backwards."

"I really hope that the people of Alabama realize this election is about the soul of this nation and the soul of Alabama," Rep. Terri Sewell told This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday.

"We who have been proud Alabamians know that we have been trying to overcome our painful past, and this candidate will only take us backwards and harken us back to the days of segregation," Sewell said.

The congresswoman is campaigning for Democratic candidate Doug Jones for the special election Tuesday for U.S. Senate.

Moore, 70, has been accused by eight women of actions ranging from inappropriate behavior to sexual assault when he was in his 30s and, in most of the cases, when the women were in their teens. Moore has denied the allegations.

Sewell said many Republicans in Alabama are focused on winning the seat for their party and are ignoring the allegations against the GOP candidate.

"At the end of the day, they’re putting party before people, party before principle," she told Raddatz.

Sewell added that she believes Alabama voters will "see through this" and vote for Jones.

"The people of Alabama deserve a senator whose character and integrity and veracity won’t be in question day one in the United States Senate," she said. "When Roy Moore, if he should win, goes to Washington, we will always be questioning his character."



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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he agreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital but that the announcement should have been handled with greater diplomacy and as a way to advance the Middle East peace process.

"We’ve seen this in so many places of the world -- that Mr. Trump has no appreciation for diplomacy," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said to This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday. "I think the president is damaging our national security and standing in the world for his inability to use diplomacy in the right way."

Trump on Tuesday recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated the process of moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Arab leaders in the Middle East and others, including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron, spoke out against Trump's decision.

"There was a right way of doing this," Cardin said. "It should have been done in a way to advance the peace process for a two-state solution. Instead, the president just made the announcement and did not take advantage of that, in regards to the Israelis, and offered the Palestinians very little."

"He did not really try to move forward on the peace process," the senator said.


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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With the highly anticipated Alabama special election just days away, a top aide for embattled GOP candidate Roy Moore is confident he'll win and that he won't face a Senate ethics investigation when he gets to Washington.

"Judge Moore's going to go to Washington, Judge Moore is going to win, and I highly doubt there's going to be a Senate investigation," Roy Moore's chief political strategist, Dean Young, told This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday.

If there is a Senate probe, Young said Judge Moore is "going to be found telling the truth, just like he always has, and he will win. The stakes couldn't be higher for Alabama."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week that he expects Moore will face a Senate ethics probe if he wins.

“If he were to be elected, I think he would immediately have an issue with the Ethics Committee, which they would take up,” McConnell said.

Young, the Moore strategist, cast the Senate election Tuesday in Alabama as a referendum on President Donald Trump.

"This is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama," Young said on This Week. "If the people of Alabama vote for this liberal Democrat, Doug Jones, then they’re voting against the president, who they put in office."

"It's ground zero for President Donald Trump," Young added. "If they can beat him, they can beat his agenda, because Judge Moore stands with Donald Trump and his agenda."

Trump gave a full-throated endorsement of Moore in a rally Friday in Pensacola, Florida, just 20 miles from the Alabama border.

Moore, 70, has been accused by eight women of actions ranging from inappropriate behavior to sexual assault when he was in his 30s and, in most of the cases, when the women were in their teens. Moore has denied the allegations.



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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Newly unsealed court documents reveal August 2016 emails between former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates in the days after Manafort left the Trump campaign, discussing a "press strategy" to defend himself after his departure.

The emails, attached to a prosecution filing opposing Manafort’s request to alter his bail conditions entered Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, include correspondence between Manafort and Gates from August 21, 2016, two days after Manafort resigned.

That email outlines three "main attacks" in the strategy: "1. Cash ledger 2. Fara (redacted) 3. Russia."

Manafort and Gates charged in October with, among other charges, making false or misleading statements on Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings and acting as unregistered agents of a foreign principal (Ukraine).

Another email, dated September 5, 2016, from Gates to Manafort, contains a strategy memo titled "Outline of Issues." The document includes a section about "PJM work in Ukraine" with the first points being "1. Never worked in Russia or for Russians," and "2. Work was centered on pro-Ukraine efforts to enter into the EU."

The memo also included a section about "PJM work in other countries" and the "need to beat back the idea that this was nefarious work." The memo referred to the work as being "on behalf of the US government" and "in support and promotion of pro-democratic values around the world."

Manafort, in an earlier filing, had requested that his restrictive house-arrest conditions be relaxed.

The special counsel shot back in a filing last Monday that alleged Manafort defied the court's strict gag order "requiring all interested parties, in particular, counsel for both sides, to refrain from making further statements to the media or in public settings that are substantially likely to have a materially prejudicial effect on this case." Manafort, the government alleged, worked with a Russian associate to draft an op-ed that was published in the Kyiv Post in hopes of influencing public opinion.

After Manafort's attorneys replied on Thursday, the government responded late Friday, saying Manafort's conduct "raises serious concerns about his trustworthiness" that warrant denial of his request for a relaxed conditions of release.

The court also unsealed a declaration from FBI Special Agent Brock W. Domin, which contained a detailed accounting of Manafort’s revisions to the op-ed, which was published Thursday under the byline of Oleg Voloshin, the former spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

Prosecutors had filed the declaration and its attachments under seal to prevent the draft op-ed from becoming public, but prosecutors suggested the declaration could be unsealed since the potentially prejudicial material had been made public.

The government asked that Manafort’s bail conditions remain unchanged, saying in its opposition papers that Manafort’s conduct undermines trust in his adherence to bail conditions.

“Bail is fundamentally about trust -- whether a defendant can be trusted to appear and to abide by the conditions put in place to assure his appearance,” prosecutors wrote in the Friday filing. “Manafort cannot bring himself to state that he had a role in drafting the op-ed, although that fact is established by irrefutable evidence.”

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ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- Roy Moore's campaign is set to run a robocall featuring the voice of President Donald Trump, in what would be Trump's most direct involvement with Moore's campaign efforts to date.

Alabama voters will begin receiving calls with the president's endorsement starting Sunday, according to a Moore campaign official.

"We need Roy voting for us and stopping illegal immigration and crime, rebuilding a stronger military and protecting the Second Amendment and our pro-life values," Trump's voice is heard saying in a version of the robocall played for ABC News. "But if Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped full.

"Roy Moore is the guy we need to pass our 'Make America Great Again' agenda," Trump adds.

The helping hand will come just two days after Trump's campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, less than 20 miles from the Alabama state border. Trump polled the audience for attendees who crossed the state line to see his rally, and urged voters to "get out and vote for Roy Moore."

"The President has recorded a robocall for Roy Moore’s Senate campaign," White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement Saturday.

A White House official separately confirmed the authenticity of the audio to ABC News.

Moore is facing allegations from multiple women of sexual misconduct committed against them decades ago, some of whom claim they were pursued by Moore as teenagers. One of the women alleges he initiated sexual contact when she was 14.

Moore has repeatedly denied the allegations and dismissed them as politically motivated attacks.

Voters will take to the polls Tuesday in the Alabama special election when Moore faces off against Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

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Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/Getty Images(JACKSON, Miss.) -- The head of the NAACP and two black congressmen, including prominent civil rights leader John Lewis, say they were not present for Saturday's opening of the nation's newest civil rights museum because President Donald Trump was there.

“We take this stand out of respect for our heroes and ancestors who, often at the cost of their lives, paved the way for the ending of segregation and racial discrimination in Mississippi,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Saturday. “We honor that legacy by speaking truth to power and calling out this administration’s divisive policies and its pullback from civil rights enforcement.”

Instead of attending the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Johnson held a "separate event" with local leaders at the Smith Robertson Museum in the state capital to "pay homage to those who have dedicated their lives to the civil rights of Mississippians, without the presence of President Donald Trump," according to a press release.

Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., released a joint statement Thursday announcing their decision to skip Saturday's museum's opening, also citing Trump's attendance.

“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum," the congressmen said in the statement.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum. The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place."

“After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum," the congressmen added.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was among the elected officials who attended the competing press conference during Trump's visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

“It is my appreciation of martyrs both known and unknown that will not allow me to share the stage with a president who does not have a containing commitment to civil rights," Lumumba said at the press conference. “Mr. President, we don’t need you to tell us what civil rights means in Mississippi."

Dozens of protesters, some holding signs that read "Love Trumps Hate" and "Trump Trounces on Civil Rights," gathered outside the state-sponsored museum as the president arrived in Jackson for a private tour of the facility's exhibits.

Although his attendance was deemed controversial by civil rights leaders such as Lewis, Trump veered from any confrontation in his brief remarks inside the museum after the viewing.

"The civil rights museum records the oppression, cruelty and injustice inflicted on the African-American community, the fight to bring down Jim Crow and end segregation, to gain the right to vote and to achieve the sacred birthright of equality," he said at the museum. "And it’s big stuff. That’s big stuff."

Trump spoke broadly of the "heroes" of the American civil rights movement, without making a direct mention of Lewis. He also praised Martin Luther King Jr., describing him as a "man who I've studied and watched and admired for my entire life."

"Here, we memorialize the brave men and women who struggled to sacrifice, and sacrifice so much, so that others might live in freedom," Trump said. "Today, we pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past and dedicate ourselves to build a future of freedom, equality, justice and peace."

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- After Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed a senior FBI agent from his team for allegedly expressing potentially anti-Trump views, a veteran FBI official briefly involved in the launch of the agency's probe into Hillary Clinton's private email server has stepped in to join Mueller’s ranks, ABC News has learned.

Agent David Archey is described by colleagues as a utility man of sorts within the FBI.

The FBI later told ABC News he played a fleeting administrative role in the initial opening of the Clinton-related probe. He quietly joined Mueller’s team over the summer, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

While Archey’s exact role within the Special Counsel’s office remains unclear, some in FBI circles believe he was sent there to replace Peter Strzok, who was brought onboard by Mueller to help manage the far-reaching investigation but removed in early summer. Others questioned whether Archey’s enlistment had anything to do with Strzok.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, looking into an array of FBI actions tied to last year’s election, found text messages from last year sent by Strzok that could be interpreted as critical of Donald Trump, sources told ABC News.

“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel’s Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said in a recent statement.

Trump seized on the news, saying in a tweet on Sunday that the FBI’s “reputation is in tatters.”

During a House hearing on Thursday with FBI Director Chris Wray, Republicans similarly used Strzok’s situation to question the integrity of federal investigations, including the probe being led by Mueller -- a Republican himself who was appointed special counsel by a Trump nominee.

Strzok has spent much of his law enforcement career working counterintelligence cases, and he has been widely praised by federal law enforcement officials who spoke with ABC News.

He reportedly left Mueller’s team in late July and is now working for the FBI's human resources division. At the time of Strzok’s departure, Archey was serving as the acting head of the FBI’s field office in Birmingham, Alabama.

Archey is “very seasoned and smart,” one source who’s worked alongside Archey told ABC News. The limited public profile offered of Archey reflects a low-key man who has repeatedly been asked to temporarily step into vacancies within his own agency.

For a brief period in 2015, he served as the acting deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division at headquarters in Washington. According to documents released by the FBI, he was one of a small group of senior FBI officials who -- on the day that the FBI launched its criminal probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state -- approved the move. He was not otherwise involved in the FBI’s investigation related to Clinton.

“Whether they are elected or appointed, public officials are servants of the public's interest,” Archey said in a press release, unrelated to Clinton, during his time in Alabama. “While the vast majority of public officials are honest, those who are not should know that there is no acceptable level of corruption, and my office is dedicated to rooting out corruption at every level.”

Even amid the public spectacle that has engulfed Mueller’s investigation -- with reporters and photographers chasing prosecutors and others around the nation’s capital -- the FBI agents behind the sprawling probe have largely remained unseen and unsung.

But with every charge brought by Mueller, an FBI agent working on the case is identified in open court, offering the public another peek at the team of FBI agents working for the special counsel.

When former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, appeared in court for the first time to face money-laundering charges, prosecutors were accompanied by FBI agent Omer Meisel.

Meisel has known Mueller’s top prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, for several years.

In 2002, after focusing on fraud, insider trading and money laundering from the FBI’s San Francisco field office, Meisel was assigned to the FBI task force created to investigate the collapse of energy giant Enron. Weissmann was the lead prosecutor on the case.

Each member of the Enron Task Force was “uniquely skilled at drilling deep into balance sheets and following the money,” the FBI said in a 2006 summary of the investigation, which lasted five years. It added that their job was “to learn how company officials perpetrated fraud on such a grand scale, build a strong criminal case, and hold accountable those responsible.”

Ultimately, top Enron officials were convicted of federal fraud charges and 16 others pleaded guilty to their roles in what the FBI called a “sham accounting” scheme. At the time, it was “the largest and most complex white-collar investigation in FBI history,” according to the FBI.

When Trump’s former national security, Michael Flynn, admitted in court last week that he lied to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian government, prosecutors in that case were accompanied by FBI agent William Barnett.

Little is publicly known about Barnett.

Before leaving Mueller’s team, however, Strzok had become well-known among reporters covering the FBI.

As chief of the FBI's counterespionage section last year, he helped oversee the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and he took part in the bureau's interview of her.

Within weeks of the end of the Clinton probe, Strzok found his office facing a new challenge: investigating Russia's alleged efforts to influence last year's presidential election, including hacking of Democratic National Committee computers.


During the congressional hearing Thursday, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee repeatedly pressed FBI Director Wray about Strzok and questioned whether Mueller’s investigators could be fair and impartial.

“We do not know the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, said. “One thing is clear though: It is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation.”

Wray balked at such comments.

“Congressman, there is no shortage of opinions out there,” Wray said. “What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe from the next terrorist attack, gang violence, child predators, spies from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women who are working as hard as they can to keep people that they will never know safe from harm."

Wray noted that the Justice Department’s “outside” and “independent” inspector general is currently looking into allegations related to Strzok and others.

“And when that independent fact-finding is complete, we will hold our folks accountable if that’s appropriate,” he said.

At the hearing Thursday, Republicans also raised concern that Strzok played a key role in then-FBI Director James Comey’s remarks last year announcing that Hillary Clinton would not face charges for her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

After coming to the conclusion that Clinton bore no criminal responsibility, Comey had planned to describe Clinton’s actions as “grossly negligent,” but based on Strzok’s recommendation, he changed the phrase to “extremely careless,” according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

U.S. law makes such “gross negligence” a federal crime, “but I believe also that almost anybody who grabbed a thesaurus would say that ‘gross negligence’ and ‘extremely careless’ are pretty darn close to each other,” Wray told lawmakers.

A spokesman for the Special Counsel’s office declined to comment for this article. An FBI spokesman also declined comment.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PENSACOLA, Fla.) -- Rallying supporters at a venue just 20 minutes away from the Alabama border, President Trump sought to discredit one of the women accusing Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct in calling on Alabama voters to vote for the Moore in the upcoming special election.

"How many people here are from the great state of Alabama?" Trump asked the audience about an hour into his remarks at an event by the president's re-election campaign.

"Did you see what happened today? Do you know the yearbook? Did you see that? There was a little mistake made. She started writing things in the yearbook. Oh, what are we going to do? Gloria Allred, any time you see her you know something's going wrong," the president said, referring to the lawyer for Moore accuser Beverly Young Nelson.

Nelson is one of one eight women who have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore and has brought forward a Yearbook from 1977 which she says Moore signed prior to allegedly assaulting her. Moore has denied it’s his handwriting in the Yearbook, and his supporters have further sought to discredit her story, noting differences in some of the handwriting on the inscription.

Nelson told ABC News Friday that she wrote a note under the inscription she says is Moore's inscription.“I had wrote under it where it happened at,” she said, but maintained that Moore "wrote the note and signed his name.”

The president, who has endorsed Moore in the election despite the multiple sexual misconduct allegations that have been leveled against him, said Friday night that the Republican Party can't afford to lose a vote in the Senate, where Republicans maintain a slim 2-vote majority.

"We cannot afford ...to lose a seat in the very, very close United States senate. We can't afford it, folks. We can't," Trump said. "We can't afford to have a liberal Democrat who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We can't do it."

He went on to say, "So get out and vote for Roy Moore."

The White House maintains that the president remains concerned about the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Moore but say that Moore's denials should also be taken under consideration.

President Trump's remarks on Moore Friday night was the first time he has touted the candidate in a political campaign setting, but the president has previously made supportive statements about Moore's candidacy -- tweeting on Friday morning "VOTE ROY MOORE!"

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Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  White House communications director Hope Hicks met with special counsel Robert Mueller's team for interviews Thursday and Friday, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

Hicks was interviewed as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

The New York Times reported Friday that the FBI warned Hicks earlier this year that Russian operatives had made repeated attempts through email to contact her during the presidential transition.

According to the Times, FBI agents met with Hicks after President Donald Trump took office and cautioned her that the emails might be part of a Russian intelligence operation.

There is no indication Hicks did anything wrong, the Times reported.

It's not known whether the attempts to contact Hicks were discussed in her meetings with the special counsel's team.

A lawyer for Hicks declined to comment to the Times. Hicks did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Hicks was named communications director in September. She has been a member of Trump's inner circle since joining the presidential campaign in 2015 and serving as a spokeswoman. The White House brought her in as director of strategic communications after the inauguration.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks, who announced Thursday that he would resign at the end of January after an investigation was launched into conversations he had with members of his staff, will now step down immediately.

In a statement, Franks said he advanced the date of his resignation after his wife was admitted to the hospital Thursday evening "due to an ongoing ailment" and he reconsidered his options.

"We came to the conclusion that the best thing for our family now would be for me to tender my previous resignation effective today, December 8th, 2017," he said.

On Thursday, Franks announced his resignation, admitting that he broached the topic of child surrogacy "with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable". The congressman noted that he and his wife had been struggling with infertility after several miscarriages.

"I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress," Franks wrote, adding, "I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable."

Franks further claimed that he never "physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff."

The conservative lawmaker became the third member of Congress to resign this week, following Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., and Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., who each stepped down in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against them.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- One of the women accusing Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, Beverly Young Nelson, told ABC News it “sickens” her to think what might happen if Moore is elected to the U.S. Senate.

“It sickens me to wonder what may go on with him if he gets into office,” Nelson told ABC News’ Tom Llamas in an interview that aired on “Good Morning America” today.

Nelson has accused Moore of groping her in the 1970s when she was a 16-year-old waitress at a restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama and he was the deputy district attorney of Etowah County and in his 30s.

She said Moore, who has vehemently denied the allegation, offered her a ride home after work but instead parked the car and tried to assault her. He told her not tell anyone about the alleged incident, she said.

"He could be doing this still,” Nelson told ABC News. “We don’t know. And, then again, I hope that he’s changed. I pray that he’s changed. I really do.”

Moore has repeatedly denied her allegation, as well as those from other women who’ve accused him of sexual misconduct.

“These allegations are completely false. They're malicious. Specifically, I do not know any of these women, nor have I ever engaged in sexual misconduct with any woman,” he said last week before a crowd of supporters at a rally in Henagar, Alabama.

But Nelson told ABC News that Moore’s comments “really hurt” her and that she hopes for an apology.

“God knows and Roy knows that I know what happened. And he will have to answer to that one day,” she said.

After going public with her allegation last month, Nelson added, she is “scared to go anywhere” and she and her children have been threatened.

Despite the allegations, Moore still has lots of support.

A CBS News poll released Sunday found that 71 percent of Alabama Republicans believe the allegations against Moore are false and that half of Moore’s supporters would rather back Moore because they want a conservative in the Senate, and not a Democrat.

But Nelson, who said she’s a Republican and a Trump supporter, asked “Is the party more important really than what happened? I feel like my incident is being swept under the rug, literally, because he’s a Republican.”
 
Nelson went public with her allegation after the Washington Post first reported on other allegations made by four women.

"Every time I saw him go up for re-election through the years, I’d always think, you know, maybe I need to do something,” she told “GMA.”

“Maybe I do. But I thought all this time, all these years I thought I was his only victim. I probably wouldn’t have come forward if it hadn’t been for the other four girls that came forward."

She also showed on “GMA” her high school yearbook, which she said Moore signed before he allegedly tried to assault her.

The inscription reads, “To a sweeter, more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas. Christmas 1977. Love, Roy Moore, D.A.”

Moore has denied it’s his handwriting, and his campaign and attorney have called for her to release the yearbook so a handwriting expert can examine and evaluate it.

Nelson has not done so but insists that Moore signed her yearbook, though saying she made notes underneath.

Nelson and her attorney Gloria Allred plan to hold a news conference later today.

“We’re going to present evidence that we think is important on the issue whether Roy Moore signed the yearbook,” Allred told ABC News today.

Voters in Alabama head to the polls Tuesday to decide between Moore and his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, to fill the Senate seat vacated this year by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Democratic Party working group will meet in Washington, D.C. today and tomorrow to finalize a formal list of recommended reforms for the party.

By then end of this weekend the group called the "unity commission," which has been meeting for a year around the country, plans to have voted on and submitted a final document to all Democratic National Commitee members.

Sources close to the commission who have seen working drafts of its current report tell ABC News the panel plans to recommend dramatic cuts to the individual voting power of superdelegates and new rules around caucuses and primaries to improve access for voters and recordkeeping.

The unity commission was created during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and tasked with devising a plan to limit the party’s total number of superdelegate votes by two-thirds.

Superdelegates are elected officials and party leaders who, in the past, have been free to support any candidate for the presidential nomination in contrast to pledged delegates who support candidates based on local popular vote results in each state's primary or caucus.

After Democrats' surprise and devastating loss in the presidential election last year, the commission’s work took on a new, broader purpose to analyze the party’s shortcomings and missteps as a whole.

Sources close to the commission say the group's likely recommendation on superdelegates will be for some select superdelegates such as Congress members, governors and former presidents to continue as unbound superdelegates, but to change the rest of the system so the votes of all other superdelegates are pooled or bound in another way to match up with to the popular vote totals from their respective states.

“One of the big problems you had in the 2016 election was that one candidate had 400 or more quote-unquote "delegates" before a single voter had cast a vote,” Sen. Bernie Sanders' former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told ABC News of the primary race between the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton, and Sanders. Weaver now sits on the unity commission.

“So you had Iowa, which was basically a tie, and after New Hampshire the pledged delegates were close to even, but the reporting on TV was 400 for one [candidate] and 50 or 60 for the other candidate. It creates the perception of inevitability from the get-go,” Weaver said.

Sources tell ABC the group will also likely recommend that caucus states allow absentee voting, written votes to facilitate recounts, and record-keeping -- all of which would enable voters who can't participate in long caucus envents to quickly write and submit a first-round vote and leave.

In addition, there will likely be recommendations that states report statewide vote totals. In the past, states had only been required to release final delegate totals and not popular vote totals, a practice that many say hurt underdog candidates in early states who may have won 6 or 8 percent of the vote statewide, but not enough to secure a delegate.

The panel is also expected to make recommendations for dramatic changes to how states run primaries.

Commission members appointed by Sanders largely lobbied for the party to mandate open primaries across the board. But that position, sources tell ABC News, was not the consensus of the majority of the commission.

Instead, as a compromise to open up the voting process to new party members, the group will likely suggest that the party penalize states that require residents to switch their party affiliation long before their scheduled primary. In the large, politically progressive state of New York, for example, independent voters who wanted to participate in the 2016 Democratic primary had to have changed their party status a full six months before the primary voting day.

The final document submitted from the group may also include language compelling states to allow same-day party registration.

Another hot topic for the group has been the issue of budget transparency and conflicts of interest. Some members on the unity commission have pushed a reform requiring the DNC chair to release a budget to members or the executive board, while others have pushed back arguing that the chair and his team need flexibility to make last-minute spending decisions without tipping off competitors.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, called those arguments “silly,” and said she provides detailed profit-and-loss statements to her state party members.

“The nonsense that if you hand out a budget in March, that is somehow going to tip off an ad buy in November, is literally ridiculous,” Kleeb told ABC News over the phone. “We are not saying the DNC should send every single consideration of every single budget expenditure to DNC members. But a basic budget about where we are going to be spending money and which vendors we have chosen to do business with, that is what we are asking for.”

Kleeb and others have posited that the DNC has kept budget details under wraps because of potential conflict-of-interest concerns for members who are also being paid as consultants. That is another area likely to see reforms. Some sources say the final document from the commission will recommend that strategic consultants cannot represent both the party and individual candidates, especially during times when the two may be at odds.

While members of the working group have agreed the process has been collegial, most say it is just the first step to recovering and rebuilding their party.

“For me, reform is an ongoing process,” Kleeb added. “You can’t just do one document and think all of our problems are solved. We still have major rebuilding to do in the vast majority in our states in terms of having party structures that volunteers and candidates have confidence in.”

“But it is major step forward in terms of telling voters, 'We heard you,'" she said.

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Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Eight-term Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona announced Thursday night he is resigning from the U.S. House of Representatives after the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into his conduct over subordinates.

"I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable," Franks said in a statement. "I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress."

Franks said he will resign, effective January 31, 2018.

"I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff," Franks explained. "However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable."

House Speaker Paul Ryan first demanded Franks resign last Thursday, on Nov. 30, after one of his aides was contacted with information about "troubling behavior" Franks directed at a former staffer.

After the speaker’s general counsel interviewed the former staffer, and validated misconduct against a second aide, Ryan was briefed and soon presented the claims to Franks. The speaker then filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee on Friday, according to his office.

Franks is a conservative fire-brand, known on Capitol Hill as a prominent evangelical Christian member of Congress and high-profile anti-abortion advocate. He is a member of the Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee, and serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.

Franks had recently announced plans to seek a ninth term in the House. He is the third U.S. congressman to step down this week, after Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken both resigned amid sexual misconduct ethics investigations.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The Italian fiancee of George Papadopoulos offered the first public defense of the embattled former Trump campaign adviser, who in October was revealed as the first campaign adviser to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel’s Russia probe.

“George is very loyal to his country,” Simona Mangiante told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. “He is already on the right side of history. I think he will make a big difference.”

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and has agreed to cooperate with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. He is due to be sentenced in January.

Mangiante said she decided to speak publicly to counter claims from President Donald Trump and his aides that Papadopoulos was, as Trump tweeted, a “young, low level volunteer.” Or in the words of campaign adviser Michael Caputo, a “coffee boy.”

Mangiante said he was far from a bit player in the historic Republican campaign.

“First of all, I would love George to learn how to make a coffee, because it's absolutely out of his skills,” she joked. “George is a remarkable young man with incredible experience in the field of energy and oil policies. This experience led him to get into the campaign and to advise the president at only 28 years old."

Mangiante said Papadopoulos "set up meetings with leaders all over the world” for senior campaign officials. He was “constantly in touch with high-level officials in the campaign,” she added. That included direct communication with now-former senior Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn, Mangiante said, adding that she had seen correspondence supporting the assertion.

Neither Bannon nor an attorney for Flynn responded to a request for comment Thursday.

How close Papadopoulos got to the upper ranks of the campaign remains unclear. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has said previously that his role was "extremely limited."

"It was a volunteer position," she said in October.

Mangiante said that while she is eager to offer proof that Papadopoulos was a campaign insider, she has been instructed by attorneys to not provide emails or other possible evidence to reporters.

“He never took any initiative, as far as I know, [that was] unauthorized. All the initiatives had [the] blessing of the campaign,” she said.

The story of how Papadopoulos became swept up into the special counsel probe has only begun to emerge into clearer view. His fiancée said she now believes the young energy consultant was manipulated by a European academic who reached out to him after he was named as a member of Trump’s foreign policy team. Both she and Papadopoulos had worked at different times for Professor Joseph Mifsud, then the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy.

Court records filed by special counsel Robert Mueller describe how a professor approached Papadopoulos after learning of his role in the Trump campaign. The court filing does not name the professor, but Mangiante identified him as Mifsud.

The court records describe the professor as someone with “substantial connections to Russian government officials," who said Mifsud told Papadopoulos he could help the young campaign aide obtain “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton that had been obtained by the Russians.

Mangiante said she always had questions about Mifsud’s role because she rarely saw him do the work typical of most professors. He was “opaque,” she said. “It was never clear to me, his role. He doesn't strike me as an academic. He always [was] someone networking [with] people from different governments.”

She said she now believes Mifsud became interested in Papadopoulos “precisely because he was working for Trump.”

But in October, Mifsud acknowledged to the Daily Telegraph that he indeed was the man described in the papers. He also denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the Clinton emails.

In retrospect, Mangiante told ABC News, it may be that Papadopoulos “didn’t really realize what was going on” when the professor offered to provide him with connections in Russia.

Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI when he arrived at Dulles International Airport on July 27 and charged under seal. Since that time, she said, he has been cooperating with investigators.

An Italian citizen, Mangiante herself was questioned by agents who wanted to know more about her. She said she was brought to an FBI office in Chicago and asked about her work for Mifsud, about her work as a political aide for the European Parliament in Brussels, and about how she came to meet Papadopoulos. At one point, they asked her if she spoke Russian, she said -- she told ABC News she does not. She received a subpoena in October to appear before a grand jury but did not have to attend, she said, because agents were satisfied by her interview.

“I must say that they have been fair,” she said. “And I was happy to give my contribution.”

Mangiante said she was speaking out now because it has pained her to see her fiancé marginalized by his former campaign colleagues, and to make it clear that he now intends to help his country by cooperating fully.

“He was very brave and decent to take responsibility” for lying to the FBI, she said. “George is very loyal to his country.”

She said she believes he will now have a firm place in history as “the first domino in the Russia investigation.”

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --Controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is "strongly considering" mounting a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018, he told ABC News Thursday.

Arpaio, 85, was pardoned by President Donald Trump in August after being found guilty in July on criminal contempt charges stemming from his refusal to stop imprisoning suspected undocumented immigrants.

The former sheriff of Maricopa County said he has not spoken with the president about his thoughts of running for the Senate, but added, "if I run, I'm running for him."

Known for his hardline stance on immigration issues and his claim that former President Barack Obama's birth certificate was fraudulent, Arpaio was an early supporter of President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, endorsing him in January of 2016 well before he had secured the Republican Party's nomination.

And the praise was reciprocal: As a candidate, Trump made immigration a central fixture of his campaign with his promise to build a southern border wall and frequently touted Arpaio's endorsement as evidence of his relative toughness of immigration issues.

"[Arpaio] is the best. So he endorsed Donald Trump and that means that my plan is the best, my plan is the strongest,” Trump said of Arpaio at a 2016 campaign rally in Oklahoma City.

Arpaio declined to say whether any national political operatives have reached out to him about a potential candidacy but said he did meet with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon within the last month. But he said he did not share his thoughts on running for office with Bannon, and insisted that the decision to run or not will be his own. He added that he will make his intentions known shortly after the New Year.

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LOCAL NEWS

News Headlines for Sat., Dec. 9, 2017

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