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Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the photos from the contentious meeting this week between the president and congressional leaders don’t tell the whole story, and those who were there are telling dramatically different versions. In fact, the two sides don’t even agree on who asked whom to meet.

Regardless of how it came together, House and Senate leaders caravanned down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House on Wednesday to discuss with President Donald Trump the path forward in northern Syria – one week to the day after Turkey launched its offensive against the Kurds.

The lawmakers from both sides of the aisle entered the West Wing just before 3:30 p.m. By 4:10 p.m., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had walked out on the White House driveway.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Pelosi said, addressing reporters eager to hear about the first face-to-face meeting between the president and speaker since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry. “We were invited to a meeting with the president that comes at a very difficult time for him.”

Just prior to the meeting, the House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria.

Pelosi attributed what she described as the president’s “meltdown” to that vote, saying “It shook him up, melted him down and he behaved accordingly.”

“The president immediately started off by saying that we asked for the meeting, which we had not,” she said. “You know, that’s a minor thing, it was not a particularly hospitable opening to the meeting.”

Hours later, President Trump turned to Twitter seemingly to get back at Pelosi, tweeting out a trio of photos from the Cabinet Room. One of them, showing Pelosi standing and pointing toward the president, has since gone viral. The text accompanying the photo reads, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown,” echoing Pelosi’s criticism.

The tit-for-tat continued when the speaker subsequently turned the photo into the background on her Twitter page. When asked Thursday what was happening at the time the photo was taken, Pelosi smiled. “I think I was excusing myself from the room,” she said.

Pelosi said the president called her a “third-grade politician,” at which time House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged her to leave the meeting. According to Democratic sources, as they left the room, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”

Schumer soon followed them, but hung back for a few minutes to express his concern over the security of ISIS prisoners formerly guarded by the Kurds.

At one point, Schumer began citing Trump’s former secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, who has warned ISIS will come back if the pressure on the terror group is relieved. According to sources, Trump interrupted, claiming credit for defeating ISIS and calling Mattis, “the world’s most overrated general.”

After the meeting ended, Republicans gathered on the White House driveway to share their account of what happened behind closed doors.

“I see a pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, the Speaker tries to make everything political. Her own statements weren’t productive. To storm out of a meeting, which I’ve watched time before during other crises, is really not the ability of a speaker or the style how a speaker should carry herself out.”

Pelosi pushed back on the Republicans’ account of how the meeting played out, and suggested a simple solution for achieving clarity.

“I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices,” Pelosi mused. “Because when they come out and say, ‘Oh, this happened and that happened,’ and you’re like we must have been at two different meetings because that didn't happen.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


(Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)(WASHINGTON) -- After repeated White House denials – including from President Donald Trump himself -- that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine affair, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday admitted there was one, saying Trump had ordered him to withhold military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation of Democrats.

“President Trump is not a big fan of foreign aid. Never has been. Still isn’t. Doesn’t like spending money overseas, especially when it's poorly spent, and that is exactly what drove this decision,” Mulvaney told ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during a White House briefing. “I've been in the office a couple of times with him, talking about this, and he said, ‘Look, Mick, this is a corrupt place. Everybody knows it's a corrupt place.’”

In a terse statement issued Thursday evening, Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's press briefing."

After hours of backlash, Mulvaney attempted to clarify his comments in a statement released by the White House.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," Mulvaney noted. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

The "server" reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine – and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory “completely false.”

Mulvaney added in the statement that he repeatedly cited the president's interest in "rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately" during the news conference.

"There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server," he said. "There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

Earlier Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine “a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.”

“Those were the driving factors,” Mulvaney said. “Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.”

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?” Karl asked.

“’Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,” Mulvaney said. “And that is absolutely equivalent.”

“What you described is a quid pro quo,” Karl pressed. “It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered. “We were holding up money at the same time for, what was it? The Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they -- so that they would change their policies on immigration.”

Mulvaney did not mention that a rough White House transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelenskiy shows the investigation into alleged corruption Trump and the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, specifically talked about a probe of the Ukrainian energy company Burisima where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

Asked whether Giuliani's role was problematic, Mulvaney dismissed questions raised about having a private individual, not a government official, involved in U.S. foreign policy.

"It is not illegal, it is not impeachable. The president gets to use who he wants to use. If he wants to fire me and hire someone else, he can. The president gets to set foreign policy. He gets to choose who to do so. As long as it does not violate law or laws regarding confidential information or classified material or anything like that the president can use who he wants tom" he argued.

Mulvaney, who stepped into the role of acting chief of staff from his post as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, insisted that an investigation of Joe Biden was not part of the equation, and dismissed the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.”

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”

While previous American presidents have pressured foreign leaders in order to achieve U.S. policy objectives, it has not been considered acceptable that they could do so for the personal benefit they might get from an investigation into political opponents, and many Democrats have said doing so, by itself, is grounds for impeachment.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee and is leading the impeachment investigation, called Mulvaney's blocking of the aid "illicit."

"With his acknowledgement now that military aid to a vital ally, battling Russia as we speak, was withheld in part out of the desire by the president to have Ukraine investigate the DNC server or Democrats of 2016, things have just gone from very, very bad to much, much worse," Schiff said. "The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason, for reason of serving the presidential election campaign, is a phenomenal breach of the president’s duty to defend our national security."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


SDI Productions/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly 1 million children could lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal, according to a new analysis.

The rule, proposed by the Agriculture Department, aims to restrict broader access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. But the estimate of how many children would lose their eligibility for free meals under the rule was left out of the Federal Register when the proposal was announced in July.

According to an estimated analysis by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), "as many as 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on SNAP participation.”

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, released a statement on Wednesday calling for the agency to "abandon" its proposed rule.

"The internal analysis released by the Department of Agriculture shows that the impact of its proposed rule would be even worse than we had feared,” Scott said. "According to its own projections, the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility would eliminate automatic access for free school meals for nearly 1 million children, and roughly half of those children would no longer be eligible for free school meals at all."

The additional analysis was released by the Agriculture Department earlier this week, and in a news release, the department said it would reopen the public comment period for 14 days to "provide the public an opportunity to review and provide comment on this document as part of the rulemaking record.”

The publication of the new analysis’ comes after Scott requested the information in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue following the announcement of the proposed rule.

Scott’s July 26 letter said that during a phone briefing with committee staff, the FNS estimated the proposed rule would "result in more than 500,000 children losing their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”

The proposed rule came after Congress initially failed to come to an agreement on SNAP benefits in the 2018 farm bill, and looks to limit access to SNAP benefits by not automatically enrolling individuals who are also receiving minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

When the rule was proposed, the department said in a press release that the proposed rule closes a perceived "loophole” in the application process to ensure the program provides benefits "with consistency and integrity to those most in need.”

"While I appreciate that the USDA finally released its analysis, which I requested several times over the last three months, this small step forward in transparency is overshadowed by a tremendous step backward in the fight against child hunger,” Scott said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Two individuals with ties to President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty before a judge in the Southern District of New York on Thursday afternoon.

David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin appeared before the judge on Thursday. They were charged along with Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas last Thursday in connection with an alleged scheme to circumvent federal laws against foreign campaign donations.

Central to the campaign violation scheme were Parnas and Fruman, who were also reportedly working with Giuliani on investigating the president's political opponent in Ukraine, but only Correia and Kukushin made the initial court appearance in the New York Thursday. The arraignment for Parnas and Fruman has been delayed until next Wednesday

Manhattan federal prosecutors at the hearing said they're expected to turn over "mulitple gigabytes" of evidence that allegedly ties associates of Trump and Giuliani to a scheme to skirt around federal laws against foreign campaign donations and funnel the funds for campaign donations.

Correia's attorney Jeffrey Marcus and William Harrington declined to comment after the brief court appearance.

Since the indictment, Giuliani has acknowledged receiving $500,000 in payments for work he did with Parnas. Giuliani told ABC News that he was retained by Parnas' business "Fraud Guarantee" to do consulting work and insisted that any money he took came from domestic, not foreign sources.

Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman specifically, though he is pictured with the two at multiple events. Fruman and Parnas have reportedly played a significant role in helping with Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

The indictment outlines a "foreign national donor scheme" alleging the men "conspired to circumvent the federal law against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates." The indictment, details how the four defendants allegedly funneled "$1-2 million" from a Russian donor into the U.S. political system between June 2018 and April of this year.

Additionally, Parnas and Fruman allegedly made a series of illegal straw donations that included a $325,000 donation to the pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action, and prosecutors allege that the two violated the law by falsely reporting the origin of those funds as under the name of their newly-created company Global Energy Producers.

In the indictment, prosecutors also outline an alleged scheme by Parnas and Fruman to raise $20,000 for a "then-sitting U.S. Congressman," who "had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million" from America First Action during the 2018 midterms. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his "assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine," Marie Yovanovitch.

The indictment doesn't name the congressman, but the description matches ABC News' reporting that Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, had benefited from $3 million in backing from the super PAC during the 2018 cycle, and that during the same month that Parnas raised funds for Sessions, Sessions wrote a letter calling for Yovanovitch's immediate removal.

Sessions has since been subpoenaed as part of the Southern District's probe and he told ABC News that he is fully cooperating with investigators.

Giuliani is not named in the indictment, but as ABC News has previously reported, the business relationship between the president's personal lawyer and Parnas and Fruman is the subject of the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities in New York, with a primary focus on whether there were any criminal violations of the Foreign Agent Act in Giuliani's representation of foreign entities.

Fruman and Parnas were arrested last week at Dulles International Airport with one-way international tickets, according to a prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, where Parnas and Fruman face charges. It was later reported that the men had dined with Giuliani in the Trump International Hotel in Washington a few hours before their flight.

Parnas and Fruman appeared before a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia the next day where the judge agreed to a bail package which included a $1 million bond for each defendant, the surrender of travel documents and passports, GPS monitoring and home detention.

As of Wednesday evening, Fruman had met the bond requirements and was no longer in the custody of the Alexandria, Virginia, jail. Parnas remained in custody.

The judge set $1 million bond or $100,000 cash for Kukushkin, who posted the cash alternative. Kukushkin was ordered to turn over his two passports and will be under home detention once he returns to California. Correia, arrested in New York on Wednesday, was released under the same bail conditions set at his first court appearance on Wednesday.

The next court date for Correia and Kukushkin has been set for Dec. 2.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US Department of Energy(WASHINGTON) -- Energy Secretary Rick Perry, described by colleagues as one of the "three amigos" on U.S. policy on Ukraine, will step down at the end of the year, President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday.

Trump was traveling with Perry in Texas, where the president would be attending a political rally in the evening. Trump said he already had Perry's replacement picked out.

"Three years is a long time," Trump told reporters of Perry's tenure as secretary.

He later added, "We have the man we're going to be putting in Rick's place and we’ll be announcing it very shortly."

Perry's resignation notice comes amid questions about his role in a White House effort to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation that some conservatives thought would help Trump's re-election campaign.

Perry, who was Texas' longest serving governor and ran against Trump for president in 2016 before joining his administration, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He also has insisted that actions he took regarding Ukraine were intended to advance U.S. interests in the region -- namely addressing government corruption and encouraging American companies to do business there.

In recent weeks, Perry has repeatedly knocked down suggestions that he planned to resign, including telling the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Wednesday that he planned to still be in the job on Thanksgiving.

In the interview, Perry also seemed to point the finger at Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for trying to press the newly installed Ukrainian government to conduct an investigation.

According to Perry, he wanted Trump to call Ukraine's new president to forge a positive new relationship between the two countries. But Trump referred him to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who told Perry that Ukraine manufactured evidence used to launch the U.S. special investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Giuliani said Ukraine had Democrat Hillary Clinton's email server and fabricated evidence that implicated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

U.S. intelligence agencies have long said Russia, not Ukraine, tried to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump, not Clinton.

Manafort was sent to jail for tax and bank fraud on charges unrelated to the Trump campaign and tied to his political consulting work in Ukraine.

"I don't know whether that was crap or what," Perry told the Journal of Giuliani's call. "But I'm just saying there were three things that he said. That's the reason the president doesn't trust these guys."

Perry said in the interview that former Vice President Joe Biden never came up in his discussions with Trump, Giuliani or others. But in a July 25 phone call to Ukraine's president, Trump urges Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into the 2016 election and the role Biden's son played serving on a board of a Ukraine gas company.

Biden and his son, Hunter, have both said they did nothing wrong. In an interview with ABC News, Hunter acknowledged it was "poor judgement" to serve on an overseas board while his father as working as vice president but that there was no wrongdoing.

Perry's influential role in the region has led him to be described by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and others as one of the "three amigos" tasked with overseeing the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.

That role in Ukraine also has made him a key person of interest for lawmakers seeking first-hand knowledge of events. He received a subpoena on Oct. 10; while some federal officials have testified under subpoena, other entities – the Defense Department, Office of Management and Budget, as well as Giuliani -- have declined to comply.

Perry is the second Cabinet member to step down in a week. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan resigned on Oct. 11 for reasons unrelated to the impeachment inquiry.

In his 2016 bid for the presidency, Perry said the Energy Department should be eliminated. After being named to head the post, he has used his role as secretary to expand the influence of American energy abroad, particularly in natural gas and nuclear technology. He has frequently said that being Energy secretary is the "coolest job in the world," while being governor of Texas was the best job.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News (Hunter Biden talks with ABC's Amy Robach, October 2019)(NEW YORK) -- Hunter Biden was not alone when he stepped out of the shadows in his first broadcast interview since drawing the ire of President Donald Trump. By his side was his new 33-year-old bride, Melissa Cohen Biden, whom he married in Los Angeles in May -- just six days after they met.

When Hunter first met Melissa, he leveled with her about his past, including the tragic deaths of his mother, sister and brother, decades of struggling with addiction and a turbulent divorce. And yet, they are ready to face the future together.

"I instantly fell in love with her. And then I've fallen in love with her more every day," Biden, 49, said.

The couple met through a friend of hers, who jotted Melissa’s phone number onto Hunter’s hand and insisted he call her. Hunter got a "shalom" tattoo to match Melissa's within days of meeting her and they were married at her apartment less than a week later; neither had their families in attendance and the wedding photos were taken by a friend on a cellphone.

Hunter's first call was to his father to share the happy news. Joe Biden thanked Melissa for "giving my son the courage to love again."

Hunter has three adult daughters from his marriage to his first wife, Kathleen: Naomi, 24; Finnegan, 19; and Maisy, 18. According to the couple, his daughters love Melissa and get along great.

Melissa is from South Africa, but recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, a ceremony Hunter proudly attended.

Watch the full interview on "Nightline" THURSDAY, Oct. 17 at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC.

Hunter is not hiding, he says defiantly, despite Trump's public claims to the contrary on Twitter and at his rallies.

"No, not at all," he said. "I'm actually having an incredible extended honeymoon with my beautiful bride."

"I would call it the honeymoon phase, definitely," added Melissa, who was also previously married. "Although, I have an inclination that I'm gonna be in the honeymoon phase for a very long time. ... Things have not been easy externally, but internally things have been amazing."

Melissa believes "the truth will prevail" in relation to the criticism her husband has received over his controversial position on the board of Burisma, an oil company in Ukraine, and described her husband as "an incredible human being" who "very much cares about his country and his family and his friends and his children." Biden reportedly made $50,000 a month to sit on the board. Melissa also welcomed an investigation.

"Sure. Why not? I mean, nothing's gonna change. I mean, I would probably -- I think it would probably be a waste of tax payer's money. And seeing as though how many of -- how many investigations can be done? But if it would bring peace of mind to whoever needs peace of mind brought to this, I know we have peace of mind, we're okay, we've -- we live in truth, so sure."

Trump's obsession with the position came into clear view after the news of a whistleblower complaint detailing a July call by the president to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, when he repeatedly asked for an investigation into the Bidens.

Despite being at the center of a political maelstrom, their daily life is innocuous, as Hunter describes it:

"I talk to my dad every day. I live my life in the open," Hunter said. "I get in my car in the morning and I go down the road and I get coffee. And I go to the same place for lunch with Melissa. And I go about doing my business and my work, and I come back at night. And we watch -- you know, Netflix, and then we do it all again in the morning, just like anybody else."

"And the reason I'm able to do that is because I am absolutely enveloped in love of my family," he added.

Biden has sought out treatment for substance abuse issues more than seven times. His late brother Beau personally took him to his first rehab session. It was a positive test for cocaine that got him discharged from the Naval Reserves in 2014.

Now, Hunter refers to his wife Melissa as his "redemption" and his "protector." When asked if she was worried about her husband’s sobriety with so much public pressure, Melissa firmly stated: "No. He's incredibly strong."

"You don't want to live in the worry of it because then you're feeding the beast," Hunter said. "I have no answer other than this: you gotta live in the connections that you have to healthy things. And I have so many of them."

He likened seeking treatment for addiction to doing the same for a "terminal illness," musing that tabloid headlines describing him as going "in and out of rehab" send the wrong message.

"Boy, if you have to be embarrassed about asking for help, you know how much harder it makes for people without the means or the ability or a job that's not gonna tolerate it?" Hunter asked. "Or a husband or a wife that doesn't want you to go in and out? That feels embarrassed by it? So we all gotta start talking about it differently. ... It is terminal. And so I think that we owe people that are seeking help the empathy, but also a level of compassion."

"Every time everybody that I know that goes back in to try to get help -- whatever way that it is -- it's a courageous act on their part, it really is," he added. "It's an act of humility. It's an act of admission and it ain't easy."

A series of tragic events have shaped Hunter Biden’s life. In 1972, when he was 2 years old, his mother, Neilia, and his sister, Naomi, were killed in a car crash. He and Beau were also in the vehicle and were severely injured.

The brothers were close all their lives, but in 2015, Beau, the former attorney general of Delaware, died of brain cancer. Hunter later dated Beau's widow, Hallie.

He is currently facing a paternity and child support lawsuit from an Arkansas woman named Lunden Roberts alleging Hunter is the father of her child. He denies that claim.

Hunter's life is often on display in tabloids, but in the interview with ABC News' Amy Robach he wanted to share his side of the story.

"I've gone through my own struggles … like every single person that I've ever known; I have fallen and I've gotten up," he said. "I've done esteemable things and things that I regret. Every single one of those things has brought me exactly to where I am right now, which is probably the best place I've ever been in my life."

Hunter Biden had been noticeably absent from the campaign trail with his father, one of the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination four years after he served as vice president. He and Melissa made their first public appearance with his father last Friday at a fundraiser in Los Angeles.

He had previously avoided the spotlight, saying, "This is not a family business."

"Everybody kinda thinks that somehow -- you know, whether it's a compliment that we're like the Kennedys or whether it's a backhanded compliment like you're the Trumps -- my dad has a job, but that does not mean that I had ever had any plans to go do rallies and talk about Donald Trump's kids," Hunter said. "And I never will."

For now, Hunter seeks refuge in his art studio at home, where he likes to paint.

"It literally keeps me sane," he says.

When it's pointed out that there is a TV in the room, he chuckles, "You know, luckily I don't get cable down here."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kiyoshi Tanno/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department announced that it will require all American-based Chinese officials to notify the U.S. of any meetings with state and local governments and educational or research institutions.

The move, the latest in a growing diplomatic tit-for-tat, is meant to "level the playing field here with China," according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters Wednesday, but sparked an angry response from Beijing.

U.S. diplomats in China must notify and get approval for any such meeting in China -- a step that the Trump administration is not requiring of Beijing -- and they frequently get denied, the official said.

"What we're trying to accomplish here is just to get closer to a reciprocal situation, hopefully with the desired end effect of having the Chinese government provide greater access to our diplomats in China," they added.

The new rule applies to Chinese diplomats at its embassy in Washington, its five consulates across the country, those at the United Nations in New York and any Chinese officials visiting on official business.

Governors, state representatives, or local mayors and colleges, universities or research institutions will not have to report anything to the U.S. government, according to the official who said the "full onus" will be on the Chinese. They declined to say how many total notifications they expect to receive, but estimated around 50 per week.

The official denied this was tied to any recent event, including trade talks or sanctions over China's crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in its western province Xinjiang.

Instead, the official said, this change had been "in the works for some time" to close a "clear gap" in how China treats U.S. diplomats and the U.S. treats the Chinese after protesting to China for years.

"We do think that after our complaints went unanswered for so long, that it was time for us to take some measures to let them know that we intend to do what we can to make this a bit more reciprocal," they said.

The Chinese embassy called the decision a "violation of the Vienna Convention," which dictates how countries treat each other's diplomatic missions and personnel.

"According to Article 25 of the Vienna Convention, the receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performances of the functions of the mission. But the U.S. side is doing exactly the opposite," the embassy tweeted.

The State Department made clear it was not blocking Chinese officials from any meetings, only requiring advanced notification, although the senior official said, "It does place a little bit of a sort of a paperwork burden on them."

The senior State Department official declined to say what would happen if a Chinese official did not comply.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Elijah Cummings, the long-serving Democratic congressman who was deeply involved in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, has died at age 68.

Despite that, Trump tweeted his condolences and the White House lowered the flag to half-staff in his honor.

The flag was lowered at the Capitol as well -- where Cummings had served since 1996, representing Maryland's 7th Congressional District.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is "personally devastated" by Cummings' passing and will miss his "warm friendship."

“In the House, Elijah was our North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose," she said in a statement. "His principled leadership as Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform was the perfect testament to his commitment to restoring honesty and honor to government, and leaves a powerful legacy for years to come."

“Earlier this year, Chairman Cummings asked us, ‘When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?’ May Chairman Cummings’ strength guide us as we carry on his work to honor the oath and protect our democracy," she said.

His office announced that he passed away at approximately 2:45 a.m. Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges.

He had an unspecified medical procedure on Sept. 19, causing him to miss one of his committee's hearings. His office said at the end of September that they anticipated Cummings would be back at work when Congress returned to session.

His office announced that he passed away at approximately 2:45 a.m. Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges.

He had an unspecified medical procedure on Sept. 19, causing him to miss one of his committee's hearings. His office said at the end of September that they anticipated Cummings would be back at work when Congress returned to session.

At the time of the procedure, Cummings released the following statement through his office: "I was very disappointed to miss today’s hearing. Unfortunately, I’ve had to have a medical procedure, and my doctors expect me to be back in the office in a week or so. However, nobody should mistake my absence as a lack of commitment to D.C. to statehood or passage of H.R. 51.”

President Trump most recently sparred with Cummings over the summer, calling the lawmaker a racist and Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."

Cummings appeared on "This Week" on July 21, where he told ABC Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos there was “no doubt” that President Trump was a racist, following the president’s attacks on Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, known as "The Squad."

"I was beaten and all kinds of rocks and bottles thrown at me. And the interesting thing is that I heard the same kind of chant, 'Go home, you don't belong here.' And they called us the N-word over and over and over again," Cummings said, recalling racism he had faced in the past.

"What it does when Trump does these things, it brings up the same feelings that I had over 50 something years ago, and it's very, very painful," Cummings said. "It's extremely divisive and I just don't think this is becoming of the president of the United States of America, the leader of an entire world."

In an interview with ABC News Live anchor and correspondent Kimberly Brooks, former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake talked about her personal relationship with Cummings.

"I've known him my whole life. I've known him to be a generous man, a thoughtful man, a kind leader. And we've taken a big hit today," she said. "His legacy is of ego-less or selfless public service. He was so focused on the next generation. He was clear about what his purpose was. He was here to make a difference in the lives of children he would never meet and he did that up until his last breath."

In his tweeted condolences, the president said, "My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!"


My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019

 Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama expressed their condolences as well, saying they were “heartbroken” over the late congressman's passing. In a statement posted on Twitter, they expressed their sympathy for his wife, Maya, and his three children.


Michelle and I are heartbroken over the passing of our friend, Elijah Cummings. May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service. pic.twitter.com/lM2rES3PNV

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 17, 2019


Other tributes poured in from across the political spectrum:


We lost a giant today. Congressman Elijah Cummings was a fearless leader, a protector of democracy, and a fighter for the people of Maryland. Our world is dimmer without him in it.

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 17, 2019



Our Chairman leaves behind a beautiful and powerful legacy. I am already feeling the impact of a little less grace in the world. Deep gratitude to have spent these early months in Congress guided by his wisdom. Rest in power @RepCummings pic.twitter.com/n4ekGvhAVx

— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) October 17, 2019



Such sad news this morning. @RepCummings was my friend and a giant of public service and the U.S. Congress. His presence, passion and moral clarity will be missed and my heart goes out to his family and constituents. https://t.co/FmwLkwaYIe

— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) October 17, 2019



Deeply saddened by the passing of Chairman Elijah Cummings.

He spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity.

Congress has lost a Champion. Heaven has gained an Angel of Justice. May he forever #RestInPower. pic.twitter.com/3pg555ijFG

— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) October 17, 2019



.@RepCummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one, and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate. His commitment to his city and country was unwavering, as will be my lasting respect for him.

— Senator Ben Cardin (@SenatorCardin) October 17, 2019



With a heavy heart, we mourn the passing of our my dear colleague Rep. Elijah Cummings of Md. Elijah was a giant among us who led with his heart but governed with his love of his district and this country! His legacy will live on! https://t.co/xmY0dhnukT

— Rep. Terri A. Sewell (@RepTerriSewell) October 17, 2019



MORE: This is part of a statement released by Rep. Elijah Cummings' wife, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: pic.twitter.com/LEAZ4dhLdb

— Lindsey Mastis (@LindseyMastis) October 17, 2019



It has been an honor to serve alongside Representative Cummings. His loss will be felt across our country. I thank him for his service and his leadership. My heart is with his family, loved ones, and community. May he rest in peace.

— Chrissy Houlahan (@RepHoulahan) October 17, 2019



At a time of chaos and division, our friend Elijah Cummings stood strong as a man of principle, unity, dignity, and compassion. His insatiable thirst for justice was rooted in his core. Maryland has lost a beloved son and our nation a hero of our times.

— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) October 17, 2019



We’ve lost a leader like no other. Elijah Cummings was a lion when standing up for his beloved Baltimore & rights & truth. But he was also so kind, including to brand new senators like me a decade ago. His advice was as true as his love for his country. 💔 https://t.co/T5pLt24Jjv

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) October 17, 2019


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uschools/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday declined to place a timeline on the impeachment process, pushing back on questions about whether it would wrap up before the 2020 election.

"I keep saying to people impeachment is about the truth and the Constitution and the United States. Any other issues you have with the president ... that's about the election," Pelosi said. "That has nothing to do with what is happening in terms of honoring our oath of office."

"These two are completely different," she continued. "Voters are not going to decide whether we honor our oath of office."

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell briefed Republican senators on the impeachment process in a closed-door meeting, suggesting a Senate trial could begin after Thanksgiving and conclude before Christmas.

"The timeline will depend on the truth-line," Pelosi said.

Pelosi spoke to reporters following a contentious meeting on Wednesday at the White House with President Trump and congressional leaders on the conflict in Syria and Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region.

Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer left the meeting after a testy exchange with the president about his plan for the region, following clashes between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The House - including two-thirds of Republicans - voted on an overwhelming bipartisan basis Wednesday to approve a resolution of disapproval of Trump's withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

Pelosi recounted her exchange with Trump at the White House, saying Trump had a "meltdown" when she and Schumer pressed him on his plan for the region.

She said Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops because of his campaign promise to bring American soldiers home.

"My question to him was, is Saudi Arabia home?" she recounted, a reference to a newly-announced deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia.

"He said, 'well the Saudi Arabians are paying for it,'" she recalled. "It just didn't add up."

She also took a moment to eulogize the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who died early Thursday morning.

"He lived the American dream," said Pelosi, a Baltimore native, referring to Cummings as "my Baltimore brother."

Pelosi said Democrats would name their signature prescription drug pricing bill, known as House Resolution 3, after Cummings, given his focus on the issue.

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felixmizioznikov/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The United States plans to host next year's Group of Seven, or G-7, summit at the president’s Trump National Doral Miami resort, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday.

The selection of a resort owned by the president's own company is certain to draw criticism from Democrats in Congress who have criticized Trump's mixing of personal and official business. In August, when reports first emerged that the Doral, Florida, club could host next year's summit, and Trump voiced support for the idea, the House Judiciary Committee said it would investigate the proposal.

Mulvaney, who came to the White House briefing room to make the announcement, was asked repeatedly by reporters how the selection of Trump Doral for next year’s summit, which will take place June 10-12, was appropriate and how the president would not profit from the selection.

Mulvaney responded that Trump Doral would host the summit “at cost,” which, he said, meant it was millions of dollars cheaper – about half the cost – of another site that had been under consideration.

Democrats on Capitol Hill had previously filed a lawsuit against the president alleging his private businesses violate the Constitution's emoulments clause, which prohibits US officials like the president from personally profiting from foreign governments. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Thursday that the decision to hold the G-7 summit at Trump's Doral resort would now become part of that suit.

In August, when reports first emerged that the Doral, Florida club would host next year's summit and Trump voiced support for the idea, the House Judiciary Committee said it would investigate the proposal.

The Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, said in a statement, “The Administration’s announcement that President Trump's Doral Miami resort will be the site of the next G7 summit is among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption. He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain. The Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption."

Asked about the marketing opportunity that hosting an international diplomatic summit would present, Mulvaney said Trump didn’t “need much help promoting his brand.”

“I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald Trump’s brand is probably strong enough as it is, and doesn’t need any more help on that,” Mulvaney said.

He later added that Trump was “not making any money off of this, just like he’s not making any money from working here. And if you think it’s going to help his brand, that’s great, but I would suggest that he probably doesn’t need much help promoting his brand.”

The president himself was the one who first suggested holding it there, Mulvaney said.

“We sat around one night, we were back in the dining room and -- going over it with a couple of our advance team, we had the list (of potential sites),” Mulvaney said. “And he goes, what about Doral? And I was like, that’s not the craziest idea. It makes perfect sense.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about who made the final decision.

Trump was already facing multiple lawsuits based on the foreign emoluments clause, and ethics groups said this latest move fit a pattern.

“President Trump’s behavior in office is a continuing affront to the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause,” the president of the ethics watchdog group Constitutional Accountability Center, Elizabeth Wydra, said in a statement. “By treating the G7 summit like a commercial for his businesses, inviting foreign governments to line his pockets and hold their next meeting at his Doral, FL golf course next year, he mocks the Constitution he swore to uphold.”

The nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) dismissed Mulvaney's argument the summit would have no impact on Trump's brand, saying Trump used the federal government “as a public relations and marketing subsidiary of the Trump Organization.”

A spokesperson for CREW told ABC News that its “legal team has been looking into possibilities” of bringing litigation against the president over his G-7 decision, saying the group was "gathering more information."

When asked at the site of the most recent G-7 summit, in Biarritz, France, about where the next one in the U.S. might be held, Trump told reporters that holding the summit in Miami would be "really fantastic" and that his club would be ideal because it was near Miami's international airport and because each country could have its own "bungalow."

"With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings -- we call them bungalows," Trump said then. "They each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms with magnificent views. We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants. It's like -- it's like such a natural -- we wouldn't even have to do the work that they did here."

Trump said he was "not at all" concerned about the ethical implications of using a diplomatic gathering to promote a club run by his own company. He said the U.S. Secret Service and the military were involved in the selection process, and that 12 sites had been under consideration.

G-7 summits are massive undertakings that attract hundreds of participants and thousands of law enforcement, support staff, journalists, and more – and sometimes thousands of protesters – and costs to the host country can amount to tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars. Hosting the summit rotates among the group’s members, with the United States taking the helm next year.

As of Thursday, rooms at the Doral resort ranged from $337 to $637 per night for the days of the summit, according to the resort's website.

The Miami area has been dealing with effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, but when asked by a reporter Thursday whether climate change would be on the agenda -- particularly considering it would take place during a summer month -- Mulvaney said it would not.

It would not be the first time the president has used a Trump property to host world leaders. China's President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have both joined him at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, also in South Florida. Trump's visits to that resort -- which he frequents in the winters -- have also come under scrutiny from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

There was an initial list of about a dozen sites, and advance staff visited just under 10, including sites in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, Mulvaney said. That list was further narrowed to four sites, including one in Hawaii, two in Utah, and Trump Doral, he said. “It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event,” Mulvaney said an advance staff team member told him.

“We use the same set of criteria that previous administrations have used,” he said. Asked if the White House would reveal the documentation of how the decision was reached, Mulvaney said "absolutely not" but did say relative cost numbers might be made available.

When Trump discussed Doral in August, focus turned to a previous case of bedbugs at the resort. The president at the time criticized Democrats for spreading what he called a "false and nasty rumor," tweeting, "No bedbugs at Doral."

But in fact, a possible bedbug infestation was the subject of a 2016 lawsuit, in which a New Jersey man who sued for $15,000 in damages alleging that he woke up covered in bites and sores after a night in one of the resort's villas. In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, lawyers for the resort denied all of the allegations. The resort settled the suit out of court.

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drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. ambassador to the European Union will tell Congress that President Donald Trump directed him and others to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push Ukraine to announce investigations, but that he was in the dark on the extent of Giuliani's efforts and the political motive behind it, according to his opening statement obtained by ABC News.

Gordon Sondland, the Trump mega donor turned diplomat, has emerged as a central character in the impeachment inquiry led by three House committees for the role he played in leading Ukraine policy, at times outside official government channels.

While he denied in a September text message already obtained by Congress that there were "quid quo pro's of any kind," Sondland will tell committee staff and lawmakers Thursday that Ukraine announcing "anti-corruption" investigations "was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy," the country's new president eager for U.S. support.

But Sondland will say that he, former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, while "disappointed," had no choice but to work with Giuliani to do that: "The key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Giuliani... My understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani's participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President."

Sondland Statement 191017 by ABC News Politics on Scribd

In a July 25 call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to "do us a favor" and work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to investigate an unfounded allegation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election and claims of corruption by former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

At least one week before the call, Trump had ordered nearly $400 million of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to be withheld -- a fact that Ukrainian officials would learn later in August as Sondland, Volker and others continued to ask for an investigation announcement.

Sondland will say that he did not know the political nature of those investigations, that Giuliani never discussed the Bidens with him, and that he didn't know the Biden connection to Burisma -- insinuating that if he did, he would have opposed the effort.

"Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings," his opening statement reads.

Instead, he will say he believed the administration was pushing for "a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine" as a precondition for the meeting.

"Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor," Sondland will say.

Taylor, a career State Department official, is the top diplomat to Ukraine. Volker resigned as special envoy in late September after the extent of his role in facilitating Giuliani's efforts was revealed.

But Taylor did raise a red flag in September. In text messages turned over to Congress by Volker and first obtained by ABC News, Taylor tells Volker and Sondland, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

In his testimony Thursday, Sondland will confirm that after receiving that message, he called Trump directly and asked him what he wanted from Ukraine.

"The President responded, 'Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.' The President repeated: 'no quid pro quo' multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood," Sondland will say.

In those texts, Sondland and Volker also discussed working with Zelenskiy's aides to have them announce an investigation, including into Burisma, in order to secure a White House meeting. On Aug. 13, they even help draft a statement for Zelenskiy to announce the investigations that, at Giuliani's insistence, included specific references to Burisma and the 2016 election, according to a source familiar with Sondland's testimony.

"We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections,” Volker's draft says in part. Sondland responds, "Perfect," and says it should be sent to Andrey Yermak, a top Zelenskiy aide.

In his testimony, Sondland defends that draft: "Requesting that parties align their public messaging in advance of any important leadership meeting is a routine way to leverage the power of face-to-face exchange."

Sondland is the sixth person to testify in the impeachment inquiry led by the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees. Still the current E.U. ambassador, he was initially blocked from appearing for testimony by the State Department and White House. But he announced last week that he would comply with a subpoena and testify Thursday.

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ABC News(Columbus, OHIO) -- Support for impeachment may be on the rise, but the view from central Ohio is strikingly complicated and nuanced.

ABC News Live embarked on a 100-mile road trip through the political battleground state this week, talking to dozens of voters -- from downtown Columbus, to the purple suburbs of Westerville, to the Republican-dominant fields of Pataskala.

Nearly all of those voters showed openness to the inquiry into President Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, but few expressed a sense of outrage or urgency. In a word, the Ohio voters ABC News spoke with are cautious about impeachment.

“The facts and the truth. I want to see where it goes,” Columbus retiree and registered Democrat Judy Miller said. “I would just say continue the investigations.”

As clear a case as House Democrats might think they have, we found healthy skepticism of the politics surrounding the process; doubts about the ability of news media to fairly present the facts; and concern about the potential impact a successful impeachment vote might have.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good idea or not. I don’t know if it would just cause more chaos,” said a 17-year-old high school senior from Pataskala, who will cast a vote for the first time in 2020, and asked not to be named. “I personally don’t think [President Trump] is the best, but I don’t know right now if there would be anybody too much better.”

Many voters who spoke with ABC News seemed genuinely torn: believing it important to enforce norms and uphold principles, but also not seeing a direct stake in the president’s alleged misconduct.

“I think impeachment is important in one sense of the word, because I think it’s important how our president acts and how he conducts himself. But I also realize that there’s a lot of ways in which information is getting filtered in a bunch of different ways,” said Michael Cole, a middle-aged manager for a truck management solutions company in Columbus.

“I don’t really have time for it. So it’s like white noise in the background,” he said of the daily deluge of headlines coming out of Washington. “I don’t know who to trust anymore. That’s really the bottom line.”

Colin Gardner, an IT specialist and independent voter from Pataskala, chatted as he picked out pumpkins with his wife at Lynd Fruit Farm.

“I feel like regardless of the result of the impeachment, if we don’t have an impeachment inquiry we may have a constitutional crisis,” Gardner said.

“I’m gonna have a kid in the next month and I want him to grow up in the kind of place where leaders are held accountable for their actions,” he added, motioning to his wife who is 8 months pregnant with their first child.

We also observed near-universal Trump scandal fatigue.

“There is interest,” said Westerville Mayor Craig Treneff of his constituents’ familiarity with the impeachment push, “but when I talk to people going door to door, they’re mostly focused on local matters that affect them more directly than the national politics.”

Vickie Whaley, a dental hygienist in New Albany, said she thinks it’s all “dirty politics.”

“I think that I’d let it just be fought out in the election,” she said.

“I truly believe they have been trying to impeach this man from day one,” said Todd, a pro-Trump kitchen worker at the Westerville Grill. “The truth will come out, and I hope that [Trump] prevails.”

Few of the dozens of voters ABC News spoke with could describe even the most basic, key details of Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine now at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

None could name the president of Ukraine when asked to identify him.

Anna Webber, a special education teacher in Westerville, said she supports an inquiry into Trump’s actions for the message it will send to politicians throughout government.

“If we don’t follow through with this,” she said, “if they’re not accountable to the public and feel they can do whatever they want, that’s very scary.”

Madison Lovell, a 28-year-old nurse in New Albany, said she doesn’t approve of a president asking a foreign government for help investigating a rival, but considers it no worse than other Trump behavior she doesn’t like.

“I’m half for Trump because I don’t agree with some of the stuff that he does,” she said. “At the same time, there’s things I really agree with.”

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3dfoto/iStock(JUNEAU, Alaska) -- Less than two months after voting to reject the "virtual" caucus plans set forth by the Iowa and Nevada Democratic parties, the Democratic National Committee panel tasked with approving all state party delegate plans is faced with the decision of whether to allow the Alaska Democratic Party to implement a mobile voting absentee ballot option for its presidential primary.

The committee was holding an executive session on Wednesday where they would again discuss the plan, a member confirmed to ABC News. Voatz, the potential vendor for Alaska -- should the plan be approved -- was invited to call into the meeting, its CEO and founder Nimit Sawhney told ABC News.

A vote by phone option would offer rural Alaskans across the massive state an opportunity to participate in the state's primary process. Some have never been able to do so before, due in part to the state's unique, mostly inaccessible terrain.

While new territory for a presidential election, the mobile voting landscape isn't completely uncharted. It's been successfully used by military members and overseas voters in West Virginia in 2018, and Denver in 2019.

DNC members are so divided over what to do with Alaska that the committee postponed a decision to conditionally approve the state party's delegate plan without the mobile voting method on Friday.

Some members argued that Alaska's small population and later primary date make it a good test pilot for this kind of technology, but others want to err on the side of caution, given Russia's election interference in 2016 and the constant threats to that domain.

Similar plans for Iowa and Nevada were scrapped after the DNC chairman and technology teams recommended they not go forward due to security concerns.

"I think we ought to go ahead and do this," committee member Harold Ickes said Friday. "It's a complicated state. It's a huge state. I don't even know how they vote up there. But if the whole thing is a flop and a failure, this republic is not going to fall."

In making her pitch to the committee, Casey Steinau, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said that her party needed to develop a plan that addressed Alaska's distinct challenges.

While the party has 40 polling locations reserved for its April 4 primary day, and also a method of by-mail absentee voting, a mobile voting option would most significantly impact about 12,000 rural Alaskans, and particularly natives, who live in "off the road systems" -- a full 90% of the state that's literally inaccessible by roads.

Many of the people who live there have never participated in a presidential nomination, Steinau said, because they couldn't physically get to a caucus location. Even by forgoing the caucus and switching to a primary ahead of the 2020 cycle, weather and lack of roads still pose challenges for in-person voting and by-mail absentee voting.

However, Steinau said, "Those members do have phones."

Despite DNC tech teams' and committee co-chairs' stance that there isn't a "system available that is sufficiently secure, reliable and at scale to be used given the importance of this process," Steinau said the risk is worth it for Alaska.

"Let's not let perfection be the enemy of good," she told members. "All I ask is that we be bold."

"Theoretically, no system is 100% safe," Voatz's Sawhney conceded in an interview with ABC News. "But our goal here is to make the practical aspect of [hacking] very, very difficult, if not close to impossible. … Any slight detection of a threat or impropriety, the system will shut you down and tell you to use another form of voting."

Voatz, an application available on most iPhones and Android devices, was the mobile voting vendor used by West Virginia and Denver. Once approved by the election jurisdiction, voters then go through a multi-factor authentication process, and once their identity is verified, it's compared against the user's voter registration. The data is securely stored on one's device, and locked by a PIN that the user creates or a "biometric credential" like a fingerprint or face ID. Once all of this is completed, the user is ready to cast the ballot. Users get a digitized, anonymous receipt, and voters can then check their ballots and make sure their votes were accurately recorded.

"I'll be honest, I was impressed ... mainly because most companies think about security as a build-on after the fact," said former FBI cyber special agent Andre McGregor, whose company, Shift State, was hired to give an independent assessment of the security of Voatz's system. "They had thought of security from day one, which is just rare for any company, let alone a company that's specifically in the voting space."

McGregor applauded the vendor's multi-factor authentication system, as he said that's one of the most effective ways to thwart attacks.

Asked about the possibility of a vote being changed by a bad actor after-the-fact, Sawhney said that "there's no practical way for them to do it, and remain undetected," due to the blockchain technology the app uses, which is, by design, hard to manipulate once it's been recorded. Cautioning again that "no system is 100% safe," he said that the ability to make modifications after a ballot's been cast is "practically as close to impossible as you can get."

Others, however, are worried about parity and argue that election systems deemed too risky for some states shouldn't be used in any.

"We think every vote counts and every vote matters and, so ... if you're not willing to do it for certain voters in certain states, why would it be OK to say to other voters, 'Oh, go ahead and use it because your vote may not count as much,'" Edgardo Cortés, an adviser to the Brennan Center's election security team, told ABC News.

He warned against any form of voting that uses the internet, saying that U.S. elections are always under threat and voting this way "just opens the door for increased risk of your election results being undermined and being impacted by these efforts to influence elections."

"When we look at kind of the overall landscape and the threats that are out there ... this really isn't the time, I don't think, to be attempting to use these systems that are so much more prone to this potential malicious activity from foreign actors to allow people to cast votes," he said.

Several committee members were in agreement with the DNC tech teams' and outside cyber security experts' recommendation that mobile voting "not be permitted."

Former interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile, who was personally impacted by the WikiLeaks email dumps in the 2016 election, said the committee should heed the tech teams' recommendation and revisit the idea in 2024, after the 2020 election can be evaluated.

"The notion that we're going to, at a time when the president of the United States is calling on foreign governments to interfere in our elections, we're going to try something new -- I'm all about new ... but this is not the time to try to test, even in a small area," she said.

Barry Goodman said that if Alaska does implement this plan, and there is a hack, the DNC and the Democratic Party "would look foolish."

"We'll sow doubt in the process nationally, despite taking the process to Alaska only," he said.

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OlegAlbinsky/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Top Democrats on Wednesday walked out of a White House meeting on Syria between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders when Democrats say Trump started insulting them, calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "third-rate politician" and suggesting she should like ISIS because the terrorist group includes some former communists.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking to reporters afterward alongside Pelosi in the White House driveway, said, "He was insulting, particularly to the speaker. She kept her cool completely. But he called her a third-rate politician. He said that there are communists involved and you guys might like that. This was not a dialogue. It was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts."

Pelosi said the president was "shaken" because the House had just voted overwhelmingly, 354-60, on a non-binding resolution criticizing the president's decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria.

On returning to the Capitol, Pelosi continued her criticism.

“I think it’s a very sad commentary on the president of the United States that he doesn’t have enough confidence in what he’s doing to listen to other points of view – especially the overwhelming vote of the House of Representatives and have some level of respect for that,” Pelosi said. “It shook him up, melted him down and he behaved accordingly.”

"Very sad," she said. "It was very sad," she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, also in the meeting, said the subject of Trump's possible impeachment didn't come up, but this was the first face-to-face meeting between Pelosi and Trump since she announced that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry, which earlier in the day he called "absolutely crazy."

As she has before, Pelosi said she prayed for the president, but this time she went a step further.

“I pray for his safety and that of his family, now we have to pray for his health because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president,” Pelosi said, later adding “I’m not saying mentally, I'm just talking about handling...just handling the truth.”

She also said she recalled Trump calling her a "third-grade politician."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans in the closed-door meeting had a very different version of what happened.

"I see a pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She storms out of another meeting trying to make it unproductive. The other Democrats stayed and actually had a very productive meeting with the general from the Joint Chiefs, with the secretary of defense," McCarthy said.

He argued the meeting with Trump became more productive after the she left the room.

"I’ve been in a lot of meetings where individuals get heated with one another. I do not believe in that process, that you should get up and you walk away. The other Democrats did not walk away. They stayed in the room, and you know what happened when Speaker Pelosi left the room? McCarthy said. "They seemed pretty much calmer. It seemed much more productive. It seemed as though when the speaker was in the room, she was there for one reason and one reason only, and that’s really unbecoming of a speaker."

In May, President Trump reportedly walked out of a bipartisan meeting at the White House involving members of Congressional leadership.

Earlier, Pelosi had tweeted that a classified full House briefing on Syria scheduled for Thursday afternoon had been canceled.

"I am deeply concerned that the White House has canceled an all-Member classified briefing on the dangerous situation the President has caused in Syria, denying the Congress its right to be informed as it makes decisions about our national security," she said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement blasting Pelosi.

"The President was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising," Grisham said. "She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.  While Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country."

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Late Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement blasting Pelosi.


"The President was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising," Grisham said. "She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.  While Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country."


YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In a ceremony at the Department of Justice on Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of a landmark anti-hate crime law, a speaker read off a letter that directly targeted Attorney General William Barr, accusing him of "hypocrisy" related to the department's stance on legal protections for transgender people.

Appearing as a representative for the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was murdered in Wyoming in October 1998, Cynthia Deitle read a letter from the family excoriating Barr for not "disagreeing with the administration" and what they described as its promotion of hate. The law is named after Shepard and James Byrd, who also was murdered in a hate crime.

"We find it interesting and hypocritical that he would invite us to this event commemorating a hate crime law named after our son and Mr. Byrd, while, at the same time, asking the Supreme Court to allow the legalized firing of transgender employees," said Deitle, who serves as the programs and operations director of the foundation named after Shepard. "Mr. Barr, you cannot have it both ways. If you believe that employers should have the right to terminate transgender employees, just because they are transgender, then you believe they are lesser than and not worthy of protection."

Deitle continued: "If so, you need not invite us to future events at the Department of Justice that are billed as celebrating the law that protects these same individuals from hate crimes. Either you believe in equality for all or you don't. We do not honor our son by kowtowing to hypocrisy."

While Barr himself was not in attendance, sitting next to Deitle was Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. He did not react to Deitle's comments.

Earlier in the program, Dreiband touted the department's handling of hate crimes cases, saying it remains a "top priority" for the administration.

"Since January 2017 alone, the Department of Justice has charged more than 70 defendants for committing crimes motivated by hate," Dreiband said.

In response to the letter, a Justice Department spokeswoman said it "mischaracterizes the department's position" related to protections for transgender people.

In a recent argument before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the administration does not believe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars sex-based employment discrimination, has a legal application to transgender people.

"As the head of the Department of Justice, he can take a stand as a member of this administration to disavow and condemn any person who fuels the fires of hate with their words and actions," Deitle said, reading from the letter. "He must lead and demonstrate his refusal to accept hate in all its manifestations. He must demonstrate courage, even if it means disagreeing with the administration. So far, he has done none of these deeds."

At the conclusion of Deitle's remarks, a large portion of the audience in the Justice Department's Great Hall offered a sustained round of applause, including some who stood up and cheered.

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