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Noam Galai/WireImage via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A government agency “ignored the Constitution” by allowing the Trump Organization to retain a lease of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue -- more widely recognized now as the Trump International Hotel -- when Donald Trump was elected president, according to a report issued Wednesday by the agency’s inspector general.

Lawyers with the General Services Administration (GSA) told investigators that “they ignored the emoluments issues” involved in determining whether the president’s election “caused Tenant to be in breach of the lease upon the President’s inauguration,” the report said.

The emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibits any federal office holder, including the president, from accepting any payment or benefit from a state or foreign government. For example, the hotel in Washington is frequently patronized by representatives of foreign governments while in the nation’s capital.

The agency failed to appropriately account for the possibility that Trump could profit from the hotel while in office, including from foreign governments, the report says.

“We also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution; and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration,” the inspector general wrote.

Investigators in the inspector general’s office launched the probe in July of 2017 “based on numerous complaints from members of Congress and the public about GSA’s management of the lease.”

The Trump International Hotel is already tied up in two legal challenges based on emoluments concerns.

Attorneys general from Maryland and the nation’s capital said Trump violated the emoluments rules by profiting from the hotel and congressional Democrats have filed a lawsuit against Trump arguing that Congress must consent to all foreign payments he receives, including at his hotel. Both lawsuits are moving forward.

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at his hotel ahead of his 2017 swearing-in, according to internal documents.

In their report on Wednesday, the inspector general recommended -- and the GSA agreed -- that the agency “conduct a formal legal review” of the matter.

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3000ad/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Before they square off over Democrats' planned inquiries into the Trump administration, House Democrats' chief investigator and President Donald Trump's top White House lawyer touched gloves for the first time Wednesday as they begin to work together on oversight requests regarding the Trump administration.

Sources tell ABC News in recent weeks under the new leadership of Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel’s office has been aggressively staffing up – adding attorneys with a variety of expertise many who have worked in oversight capacities in the past. The White House team of lawyers, according to sources, will cooperate when it’s deemed a request from Congress is valid – however, in the cases when it’s not in the legal team’s opinion they will fight that aggressively and would potentially invoke executive privilege or claim an active investigation.

After a brief "get-to-know you" phone call last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and White House counsel Cipollone sat down Wednesday, with the veteran lawmaker telling ABC News after the meeting that he has "a lot of respect" for the White House counsel.

"I think he's a distinguished lawyer," Cummings, who is also an attorney, said. "Certainly he's going to do his job in representing the president and I'm going to do my job in leading the committee."

White House lawyer Emmet Flood has also briefed senior White House staff on Congressional oversight ahead of the investigations, according to sources familiar with the matter. However, sources say, the briefing was a broad overview, not about strategy or tactics when it comes to requests from Congress.

Cummings has no illusions about the White House likely legal strategy and potential resistance to congressional oversight requests but said it's important for both sides to work together. He set a deadline last Friday for the White House to respond to dozens of requests for information but has not commented on next steps or the White House's compliance with those inquiries.

"We understand that we both have a job and we're going to be straightforward with each other. My relationship with lawyers and I've gone against some of the best, have always been like that," he said.

The Maryland Democrat is preparing for a marquee public hearing next month with Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, that will shine a spotlight on the president's family business and his time working for the businessman-turned-president.

Cummings has also expressed interest in following up with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the department's efforts to slip a citizenship question into the 2020 censure questionnaire. A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the administration from asking about citizenship on the census,but the ruling is expected to be appealed. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments next month.

Also on the radar for Congress, is the president’s company – the Trump Organization.

Compared to the White House, the company cannot claim executive privilege and sources familiar with internal discussions expect the company to comply with any requests it receives from Congress within reason. The company also hired Stefan Passantino, the former White House ethics chief who is already representing the Trump’s firm on a matter in front of the House Oversight Committee.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested to President Donald Trump that his State of the Union address, scheduled for later this month, be delayed because of the partial government shutdown.

In a letter to the president, Pelosi proposed the delay because the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, the agencies designated to provide security for the Jan. 29 event, and have not been funded for 26 days.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote.

Read the letter here.

The second-ranking House Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, tweeted that Pelosi's move showed "Democrats are only interested in obstructing."

Hours after Pelosi's letter became public, there was no response from the White House, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back in a tweet against the implication that the shutdown has harmed the department's ability to secure the event.

Trump's first State of the Union address in 2018 was viewed by 45.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, across broadcast and cable.

The last U.S. president to deliver a State of the Union address in writing was Jimmy Carter in 1981, though a written message conveyed to Congress was the historical norm in an era before broadcast radio or television.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to deliver the State of the Union in person from the House chamber in 1913. In 1922, Warren G. Harding made history as the first to share live audio of the address on the radio, though it the broadcast was not widely distributed. A year later, Calvin Coolidge's address was broadcast on the radio nationally. Harry Truman was first to deliver a televised address in 1947.

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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A key Senate panel is moving closer to issuing a subpoena for Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer, as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Asked Wednesday whether it is fair to say the Senate Intelligence Committee is moving closer to issuing a subpoena to Cohen after trying for some time to get him to agree to testify, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told ABC News, “Fair.”

Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison for financial crimes, two violations of campaign finance law, and lying to Congress – a charge based on false testimony he provided to the Senate and House intelligence committees in the fall of 2017.

He met twice with the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee in September and October of 2017, but the first interview was hastily cut short by “disappointed” committee leadership after Cohen released his own statement to the press beforehand.

Burr’s interest in bringing Cohen back in front of his panel comes less than a week after the House Oversight Committee announced that Cohen had agreed to appear in an open session next month.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has also expressed interest in scheduling Cohen to appear before his panel in a closed session.

President Trump, in an interview with Fox News over the weekend, accused Cohen of agreeing to testify before Congress as part of an effort “to get his sentence reduced,” and suggested without evidence that Cohen’s father-in-law might face legal exposure because “that’s the money in the family.”

The president’s comments prompted a statement from three top Democrats, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Schiff, warning Trump to cease any “efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure [Cohen] not to provide testimony to Congress.”

Cohen’s hearing in front of the House Oversight committee is scheduled for February 7. He is due to report to federal prison on March 6.

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Bill Chizek/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House Problem Solvers Caucus sat down with President Trump at the White House Wednesday as the president continues to demand funding to build a southern border wall as a condition for ending the partial government shutdown, now in its 26th day.

The meeting with both Democrats and Republicans comes the day after the president invited a group of rank-and-file Republican and Democrat members to the White House for lunch. No Democrats took the White House up on that invitation, which was viewed on Capitol Hill by some as an attempt by the White House to create fissures within the Democratic Party – though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave approval for Democrats to accept Trump’s invitation.

Democrats remain united in their firm opposition to building a physical barrier along the southern border and have said they will not negotiate with the president on the issue with the government still partially shuttered.

Talks between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders broke down a week ago when Trump walked out of a meeting with top Democrats after Pelosi told the president she would not be willing to cede to the president’s demand for wall funding if the government reopened.

The seven Democrats who attended Wednesday’s meeting released a statement as they arrived at the White House saying they accepted the president’s invitation in order to relay their message that the government must be reopened as a precondition for further in-earnest conversations.

"There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government. Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering,” the Democrats said in a group statement. "There is also strong agreement that if we reopen the government, the possibility exists to work together and find common ground to tackle some of our country’s toughest problems and fix them. But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened."

The Democrats included Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Thomas Suozzi, Vincente Gonzalez, Anthony Brindisi, Dean Phillips, Max Rose, and Abigail Spanberger.

While President Trump remains dug in with his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a southern barrier, the White House has acknowledged that the administration’s updated projection of the impact of the partial government shutdown on economic growth has worsened.

The administration’s updated projection estimates the ongoing shutdown shaves off 0.13 percentage points each week off quarterly economic growth.

The administration’s revised model includes both the estimated impact from those contractors that are not working because of the shutdown, as well as the 380,000 furloughed federal workers, according to an administration official.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed concerns about the negative impact of the ongoing stalemate on the economy, maintaining that the White House remains confident in the long term fundamentals of the economy and the president’s policies.

And while President Trump said Monday that he rejected a proposal from his close ally South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to reopen the government on a short term basis to allow for time to negotiate, Graham said Tuesday night that he and a bipartisan group of senators were preparing to make a pitch to the president to do just that.

Graham told reporters Tuesday night that the proposal would call for reopening the government on a short term basis, with a promise that within a "few weeks" they might be able to reach a viable solution that would meet his border security needs.

"I’m hoping in the next 24 hours there will emerge a group of Republicans and Democrats who will basically ask the president jointly to give us a few weeks to work on this, with you, to see if we can produce a result in the Senate," Graham told reporters Tuesday night.

"I would ask the President if that does come forward and there’s a critical mass of Republicans and Democrats asking for a period of time to work on this a short term CR, the president strongly consider giving us that opportunity," he said.

Graham argued that by reopening the government for a limited period of time would provide the president with a better opportunity to get his way in increased funding for border security. "I can’t guarantee an outcome if you give us three weeks, but I can pretty well guarantee you’re getting nowhere quick doing what we’re doing," he said.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As much of the energy in Washington is focused on the fight over the president's border wall and impact of the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump's nominee to take over the federal agency charged with protecting human health and the environment is scheduled for a crucial hearing.

Andrew Wheeler took over the helm of Environmental Protection Agency in July after Scott Pruitt, the previous administrator, resigned amid increasing ethical questions and controversy.

Wheeler has been working as acting administrator for several months and Trump nominated him to officially take over the post earlier this month.

A spokesman for the Environment and Public Works committee said in a statement senators are expected to question Wheeler on his track record since taking over at the agency as well as the impact of the government shutdown. The vast majority of EPA's nearly 14,000 employees have been sent home without pay.

"As EPA acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler has largely kept intact and built upon Scott Pruitt's policy agenda at the expense of the agency's mission to protect the environment and public health -- from weakening fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas tailpipe standards for vehicles to undermining the MATS rule, the list goes on," the spokesman said in a statement.

Democrats also will likely ask about Wheeler's connections to companies he represented as a lobbyist.

Democrats on the committee, led by Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, have have raised concerns that EPA employees are struggling without pay during the shutdown and that important environmental enforcement is on hold while they're not at work. Carper has also raised concerns that Republicans are trying to rush the nomination by having the hearing during the shutdown.

Public health and environmental advocacy groups have also raised concerns that Wheeler, like Pruitt, will continue to roll back environmental regulations including rules intended to prevent emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, did not hold back when reacting to Rep. Steven King’s remarks on the House floor.

King, who has been under fire for comments he made to the New York Times about white supremacy, was stripped of his new committee assignments Tuesday.

In an interview with ABC News’ The Briefing Room, Castro said this is not unusual behavior for King: "He’s been demonizing immigrants and brown people for a long time. And he crossed the line."

He also reacted to the court ruling against the White House’s attempts to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

"Those folks over at the White House are trying to use the Census as an act of intimidation, to basically get people to stay in the shadows -- and that’s undocumented immigrants and others," Castro said.

Watch the video below for the full segment:

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franckreporter/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The country’s major veterans groups came together Tuesday to call for an end to the government shutdown as union leaders separately clashed with the Veterans Affairs secretary over the partial government shutdown’s impact on military veterans.

“We have real lives being affected by the shutdown,” Veterans of Foreign Wars head B.J. Lawrence said at a press conference. “We have veterans and Coast Guard members that are having difficulties paying their mortgages, putting food on the table, paying their car payments. Enough’s enough, it’s got to end.”

Avoiding the political fray between Democrats and President Donald Trump, leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America -- among others -- avoided endorsing or condemning either party.

“We represent a diverse membership base. We don’t feel it’s our position to take a side in the matter,” Lawrence said.

Roughly one-third of federal workers are veterans, according to the Office of Personnel Management. More than a quarter million of those veterans are not receiving paychecks as a result of the shutdown.

Veteran service organizations have played a role in assisting their members through financial difficulty brought on by the shutdown. The VFW announced Tuesday that the organization has donated more than $45,000 to help Coast Guard families pay for mortgages, utilities and food.

Calls from veterans to resolve the federal funding lapse follow a public clash between VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and union leaders representing veteran government employees, which occurred after ABC News reported that veterans have been struggling to make ends meet during the shutdown.

Edward M. Canales, a U.S. Army veteran and local union president with the American Federation of Government Employees, told ABC News the ongoing funding lapse could have dire consequences.

"If this shutdown does not stop, we are going to have fatalities. We're going to have suicides," he said last week.

Those comments sparked a response from Wilkie, who demanded Canales apologize.

“AFGE Local President Canales’ attempt to use Veterans as pawns in a political debate while exploiting the serious issue of Veteran suicide is nothing short of disgraceful,” Wilkie wrote in a letter to the AFGE national president.

The Union Veterans Council, on behalf of its federal employee members on Monday, issued a rebuke to Wilkie.

“This is an outrageous attempt to distract from the very serious crisis that tens of thousands of veterans have been hurled into with no end in sight,” Union Veterans Council Executive Director Will Attig said in a statement.

According to a recent VA report about 26 of 100,000 veterans committed suicide compared to roughly 17 per 100,000 non-veteran adults.

The suicide rate among female veterans was 1.8 times higher than non-veteran women in 2016, and for men, the suicide rate was 1.4 times higher than non-veteran men, according to the VA's data. Male veterans between ages 18 and 34 have the highest rate of suicide.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is taking steps toward a 2020 presidential bid.

The New York Democrat announced that she is forming a presidential exploratory committee Tuesday night during a taping of CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

"I’m going to run for president of the United States because, as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own. Which is why I believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege,” she told the late-night host. “It’s why I believe we should have better public schools for our kids because it shouldn’t matter what block you grow up on. And I believe that anybody who wants to work hard enough should be able to get whatever job training they need to earn their way into the middle class.”

Gillibrand is the third woman to throw her hat in the ring for president. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have taken steps toward a 2020 run in recent days.

Once considered a moderate Democrat, Gillibrand was first elected to Congress in 2006 and represented a rural Republican district in upstate New York. In 2009, she was appointed to finish then-senator Hillary Clinton’s term when former President Barack Obama nominated her as secretary of State.

Gillibrand has used her time in the Senate to push a more left-leaning agenda.

In 2010 she championed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that banned gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. Over the past couple of years, she has opposed President Donald Trump’s nominees for his cabinet and other senior government roles including voting against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

 Gillibrand’s team paints her as a candidate that can reach across the aisle and be a unifying voice. A campaign official lauded her electoral victories where she earned more than half of the votes in predominantly rural counties that voted for Trump in 2016.

During her most recent re-election bid in 2018, Gillibrand denied having presidential ambitions. In a debate hosted by ABC News affiliate WABC-TV Republican opponent, Chele Farley cited out of state trips, including one to New Hampshire, as proof that she was thinking of running.

Gillibrand replied, “I will serve my six-year term.”

But a week after her successful re-election, she said on ABC’s “The View” that she was considering a 2020 run.

“But that’s a very important moral question that I’ve been thinking about ... what president is putting into this country is so disturbing, so divisive, so dark, that I believe I’ve been called to fight as hard as I possibly can to restore that moral integrity, that moral decency. So I’m thinking about it,” she said.

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Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When William Barr opened his remarks to the Senate Tuesday as he sought confirmation to become the 85th attorney general, he pointedly took time to reflect on his friendship with the man who could easily become his most consequential employee, special counsel Robert Mueller.

“I have known Bob Mueller for 30 years,” Barr said. “We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush. We’ve been friends since. And I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. And when he was named special counsel, I said his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today.”

While Barr and Mueller have different backgrounds, they followed overlapping routes into the Justice Department. In 1990, when Mueller became the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, Barr was appointed deputy attorney general and then attorney general the following year.

One emphasis of Tuesday’s senate confirmation was the significance of the future dealings between these two men.

With Mueller engaged in a politically sensitive investigation, Barr will assume a central role in the process. Barr’s approval would be needed if Mueller seeks to bring an indictment. And when Mueller writes a report, rules governing the special counsel would demand he deliver it to Barr.

What happens to it next would be Barr’s prerogative.

On Tuesday, as senators pressed Barr over how he may handle the Mueller probe, Barr at times sounded like he was in Mueller’s corner.

For example, Barre dismissed the notion that the Mueller probe was, as Trump has said repeatedly, a “witch hunt.”

"I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt," he said.

And when asked directly by Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) if he would fire Robert Mueller if President Trump directed him to do so, Barr said he wouldn't "without good cause."

"I would not carry out that instruction," he said.

Friends and former colleagues of both men say that if history is any guide, the two should have a cordial, professional, even friendly rapport.

George Terwilliger, who worked side-by-side with Barr as his deputy attorney general, said he has known both Mueller and Barr for 30 years. From 1990 to 1993, all three were colleagues at the Justice Department. “We were all close at DOJ, professional friends, more than acquaintances. Back then it was not unusual for us to socialize together,” Terwilliger told ABC News.

Terwilliger described Mueller and Barr’s relationship as one of “mutual profession respect” with no animosity, but he does not think they are close personal friends.

John Smietanka, who served as assistant to the attorney general during Barr’s first tenure at DOJ, and later as principal associate deputy attorney general, told ABC News that if Barr gets confirmed, he expects Barr and Mueller to have a strong rapport.

"I have great confidence in both of them, that they are able to handle this relationship as professionally as the last time they were working together," Smietanka said. "I expect it will be professional, because I know that Bill will make it professional."

Larry Urgenson, a former chief of the DOJ's fraud section, said he believes both men would approach the job “with an apolitical objective to enforce the law.”

“They share a very strong affection for the Department of Justice as an institution,” Urgenson said.

Michael Carey, another former Justice Department official who worked with Mueller and Barr in the early 1990s, told ABC News that “Bill relied on Bob’s input for many aspects of the operation.”

Carey said they worked extremely well together and “their dealings were the product of mutual respect.” Carey described Barr as a highly principled and thorough attorney, who took into account various opinions, especially Mueller’s.

Beyond working together, Barr and Mueller have remained in each other’s orbit during their long stints in private law practice in Washington. Their wives are part of the same Bible study group, Terwilliger said.

“The wives see each other more than we do,” said Terwilliger. “I don’t know that Bill [Barr] socializes with Bob [Mueller],” he added.

On Tuesday, Barr testified that he was transparent with Trump about his relationship with Mueller.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said.

“Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such,” he added.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a heavily-redacted court document Tuesday afternoon outlining the underlying evidence to support its claims that Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, lied to federal investigators.

The 31-page court filing is penned by Jeffrey Weiland, a special agent with the FBI.

Special counsel prosecutors, tasked with probing Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, accused Manafort in November of lying to federal investigators, marking the end of a short-lived plea deal struck just before the start of a trial in Washington, DC.

At a hearing in December, the federal judge overseeing that case asked the government to provide some “underlying evidence” to support the scant details they’ve offered about the content of his alleged lies.

Prosecutors have since filed court documents describing five areas in which Manafort is accused of lying to government investigators, including misleading statements about his contacts with Trump administration officials. He was also accused of lying about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate whom the special counsel has identified as a former Russian intelligence officer.

But Manafort’s legal team sought to explain away those lies in court documents filed last week, arguing their client did not intentionally mislead investigators.

“Mr. Manafort provided complete and truthful information to the best of his ability,” his defense team wrote. “He attempted to live up to the requirements of his cooperation agreement and provided meaningful cooperation relating to several key areas under current government investigation.”

As part of the document meant to defend Manafort against accusations that he lied to prosecutors, his defense counsel failed to adequately redact sections of their filing, inadvertently revealing that Manafort stands accused of sharing internal Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik while he was working for the campaign in the spring of 2016.

Manafort has already been found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank-fraud in a Virginia case related in part to his work as an unregistered foreign lobbyist. Sentencing, in that case, is scheduled for early February and could land him a lengthy prison term.

Manafort is scheduled for sentencing in the Washington, DC, case on March 5.

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wingedwolf/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The IRS will require some 46,000 employees to work without pay throughout the upcoming tax season to ensure returns are processed and refunds are mailed, the agency announced Tuesday in an updated plan for the government shutdown. That represents almost 60 percent of its 80,000-person workforce.

And while the IRS will be adding staff to answer some questions via telephone "in the coming days," the agency said, it's warning Americans to expect "heavier call volume" and "longer wait times." Walk-in assistance centers also will remain closed, including those offices intended to help people who are victims of identity theft and are required to visit an IRS office to establish their identity.

What will remain in effect is the requirement that people pay their taxes on time, although the agency said it won't conduct any audits during the spending lapse.

"During this period, the IRS reminds taxpayers that the underlying tax laws remain in effect, and all taxpayers should continue to meet their tax obligations as normal," the IRS wrote on its website. "Individuals and businesses should keep filing their tax returns and making payments and deposits with the IRS, as they are required to do by law."

The plan comes after the White House on Jan. 7 ordered the agency to still process tax returns starting Jan. 28 and issue tax refunds as planned. The move was in line with actions taken at other agencies, including food inspections, as the Trump administration tries to mitigate the impact of what has become the longest shutdown in history.

The upcoming tax season, however, was expected to be particularly tricky. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law a massive rewrite of the tax code.

With the spending lapse stretching into its fourth week, the IRS said it would need to recall tens of thousands more workers to handle the upcoming tax season if the shutdown remains in place. The IRS already had designated some 12 percent of its personnel as "excepted," meaning that their work was necessary to protect public safety or perform shutdown activities. Under the new plan, some 57 percent are required to report to work. None will be paid.

At least one top Democrat, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, has questioned whether such a move is legal in a government shutdown in which only the most critical employees are paid, usually for reasons of public safety.

"The president now is going to order them to do what we think is illegal to do because he wants to act like a dictator," Hoyer told reporters last week. "Federal employees are being deeply damaged by this continuing long-term shutdown."

In a statement issued last week, the IRS said that the Office of Management and Budget had reviewed the relevant laws at the Treasury Department's request and concluded that tax refunds may be paid during a government shutdown.

“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in the statement. "I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period."

In a statement released Tuesday, the IRS urged people to file electronically and go to its website with questions.

"No live telephone customer service assistance is currently available, although the IRS will be adding staff to answer some of the telephone lines in the coming days," the agency wrote. "Due to the heavier call volume, taxpayers should be prepared for longer wait times."

While tax laws remain in force during a government shutdown, the IRS does note that appointments related to audits and collections will be rescheduled. The agency also says it will not process applications for groups claiming tax-exempt status.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King faces fierce backlash for questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive, for now he’s showing no signs of stepping down amid mounting pressure to resign.

In an interview with the New York Times published Thursday, King asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?” Those comments set off a series of rebukes from both sides of the aisle and ultimately resulted in the eight-term congressman being stripped of his committee assignments by GOP leadership Monday.

“Steve’s remarks are beneath the dignity of the Party of Lincoln and the United States of America,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement, adding, “His comments call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have scheduled a House vote on a resolution Tuesday that disapproves of King’s statements. The resolution was introduced by House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American member of Congress, and two other Democrats, Rep. Bobby Rush and Rep. Tim Ryan, have also introduced censure resolutions, which serve as more forceful reprimands.

The harshest form of punishment King could face is expulsion from the House, but the bar for that is high. There have only been five members expelled from the House in history. All of those members were charged with crimes -- the first three were expelled for joining the Confederacy.

The most recent example of a member facing expulsion was in 2002 when Ohio Democrat-turned-Independent Rep. James Traficant was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery, filing false tax returns, and obstruction of justice, among other crimes. Prior to that, Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Michael Myers was ousted in 1980 after he was convicted of bribery.

In King’s case, the terms of how the rules of expulsion would apply are murky. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote to expel a member, but according to the Congressional Research Service, “there are no specific grounds for an expulsion expressed in the Constitution, expulsion actions in both the House and the Senate have generally concerned cases of perceived disloyalty to the United States, or the conviction of a criminal statutory offense which involved abuse of one’s official position.”

Meanwhile, King’s loss of committee assignments on the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees already renders him virtually powerless in terms of legislating, which would be problematic if he chooses to pursue a 2020 reelection bid.

King is now one of three GOP House members with no committee assignments – the others include Rep. Chris Collins and Rep. Duncan Hunter, both of whom are, respectively, under indictment for insider trading and misusing campaign funds.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official and longtime business associate of Paul Manafort, is still cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, suggesting Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign is marching forward.

A joint status report filed Tuesday states that Gates “continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations, and accordingly the parties do not believe it is appropriate to commence the sentencing process at this time.”

 Gates pleaded guilty in February 2018 to charges of conspiracy against the U.S. and lying to federal authorities about his work prior to joining the Trump campaign with Manafort, who served as the campaign's chairman for six months in 2016. The charges were brought by Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election.

Gates’ plea agreement has precipitated nearly a year of cooperation in the special counsel’s probe. His crimes carry a maximum penalty of more than five years in prison, but Gates could earn a lesser sentence if a judge deems his cooperation worthy of leniency.

The extent and content of Gates’ cooperation remain largely unknown. The next status update is due March 15.

The special counsel’s office indicted Gates and Manafort twice. The first round of charges in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2017 contained 12 counts of conspiracy, foreign agent registration violations, and other crimes. A second round of charges filed in Virginia months later centered around Manafort and Gates’ past lobbying and financial activities, including tax fraud and money laundering.

Both initially pleaded not guilty, but Gates succumbed to the mounting legal and financial pressure in February 2018 and struck a plea deal with prosecutors.

Manafort fought the Virginia charges at trial in August, where a jury found him guilty on eight counts of tax and financial crimes.

During that trial, Gates testified against his former boss, describing to jurors his role in hiding millions of dollars in more than a dozen offshore accounts from United States tax collectors, adding that he did so at Manafort's direction. Gates also admitted to embezzling "several hundred thousand" dollars from Manafort.

Ahead of a second trial in Washington in September, Manafort struck a plea agreement of his own. That deal fell apart within weeks after prosecutors accused him of lying.

Manafort is scheduled to face sentencing in the Virginia case in February.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special counsel Robert Mueller has zeroed in on at least three new witnesses associated with a conservative commentator connected to former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, signaling that investigators remain focused on the activities of Stone and his associates despite the continued public silence on a matter long thought to be close to resolution.

ABC News has learned that at least three new witnesses connected to Stone associate Jerome Corsi – the former Washington, D.C., bureau chief for the far-right internet site Infowars – have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury hearing testimony on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Copies of those subpoenas delivered to two individuals late last year bear Mueller’s name and call for the retention and producing of documents, communication logs and other records involving two people: Corsi and Stone.

The two individuals, whose names have not been publicly released, also testified before Mueller’s grand jury in December, according to the subpoenas and three sources who confirmed their attendance.

This week Corsi made public the identity of a third witness, who was served a subpoena last Friday -- Corsi's stepson Andrew Stettner, who is scheduled to testify before the grand jury this Friday. When reached by ABC News, Stettner’s lawyer David Gray, who also represents Corsi, declined to comment on the matter.

Corsi has been vocal in his objections to the continued push by Mueller.

“It’s clear Mueller and company now hate me,” Corsi told ABC News on Tuesday. “I’m calling him out as a crooked prosecutor.”

A spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment.

Corsi said that Stettner was questioned by the FBI in recent weeks because he has, on and off over the course of many years, helped fix Corsi's computers. Of particular interest to the FBI agents, Corsi said, was a computer of his that Stettner wiped of all its contents in the weeks leading up to Corsi’s subpoena to testify before the special counsel's grand jury in late August.

Corsi and his wife, Monica Corsi told ABC News in a recent interview following Stettner's encounter with the FBI that Stettner wiped the computer because Monica Corsi wanted to use the computer for her New Jersey-based small business, rather than buy a new one. He said neither he nor his wife had nefarious intentions.

“I don’t see how I can be accused of destroying evidence or a conspiracy to obstruct justice when I simply allowed – before I knew I was under investigation -- my stepson to restore a computer,” Corsi told ABC News. “I didn’t see the harm in wiping [the computer] instead of buying a new one.”

Corsi, known for promulgating political smear campaigns and conspiracy theories, rejected a plea deal he says was offered to him by Mueller in November, saying he could not sign on to a plea deal for a crime he says he did not commit.

The agreement would have allowed Corsi to plead guilty to one count of lying to federal investigators about communications with an unidentified “associate’s request to get in touch with an organization that he understood to be in possession of stolen emails and other documents pertaining to the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” according to a draft of the plea agreement Corsi provided to reporters.

That unknown associate mentioned by Mueller matches the description of Roger Stone, who hired Corsi to do research for him during the 2016 election.

Stone has been under scrutiny from the special counsel in part because of statements he made in August of 2016 which critics allege suggest he knew that WikiLeaks was going to leak damaging information on Clinton before it was released.

In an email exchange from the summer of 2016 reviewed by ABC News, Stone and Corsi appeared to communicate about ways to contact Julian Assange, the controversial WikiLeaks founder, about the imminent release of information meant to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.

Stone said in a statement to ABC News on Tuesday, “Any Claim that Jerry Corsi told me the source or content of either allegedly stolen or allegedly hacked e-mails published by Wikileaks or provided me copies of any such material is both categorically false and easily disproved. It's unfortunate that the limited e-mails between us on this subject have been willfully mischaracterized in terms of both their meaning and legal significance."

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