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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to arrange hush-money payments with two women because then-candidate Trump “was very concerned about how this would affect the election” if their allegations of affairs became public, the president’s former personal attorney said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

Cohen’s comments are his first since being sentenced earlier this week to three years in federal prison for financial crimes, lying to Congress and two campaign finance violations in connection with the deals with the women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who claim past affairs with Trump.

[ Click here to read the full transcript of Cohen's interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos ]

“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” Cohen told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “I stood up before the world [Wednesday] and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.”

When asked if the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course,” adding that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”

Cohen said he is “angry at himself” for his role in the deals, but that he did it out of “blind loyalty” to Trump.

“I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty,” he said.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have implicated, but not charged, the president in the deals reached in the closing weeks of the 2016 election. They allege that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, according to court filings. Prosecutors also reached a plea agreement with AMI, the publishers of the National Inquirer, in which the tabloid admitted to making a $150,000 payment to McDougal “in concert” with the Trump campaign.

The president has denied allegations of the affairs -- but has had shifting explanations about when he learned about the payments to the women. He has also contended that the deals were private and unrelated to the campaign and that if anything illegal occurred, it was Cohen’s responsibility.

Trump has lashed out at Cohen since his sentencing, contending in a Thursday tweet that his former close confidant only agreed to plead guilty “in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did.”

“It is absolutely not true,” Cohen said. “Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth.”

Cohen was particularly distressed by another Trump tweet on Thursday, in which the president implied that prosecutors investigating Cohen had let his wife and father-in-law off the hook.

“Instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do?” Cohen said. “He attacks my family.”

And Cohen refuted the president’s contention that he never directed Cohen to do anything wrong.

“I don't think there is anybody that believes that,” Cohen told Stephanopoulos. “First of all, nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.

“He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth,” Cohen continued. “And here is the truth: People of the United States of America, people of the world, don't believe what he is saying. The man doesn't tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”

When confronted about his convictions for lying to Congress and for tax evasion and banking crimes, Cohen said he was “done with the lying. I am done being loyal to President Trump and my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son and this country.”

“Why should we believe you now?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful,” Cohen replied. “There’s a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.”

Cohen -- who is due to report to prison on March 6 -- has professed his willingness to continue to answer questions for special counsel Robert Mueller and other federal and state investigators.

He declined in the interview to answer specific questions about the Mueller investigation “out of respect for process.”

“I don’t want to jeopardize any of their investigations,” he said.

But when asked if he thinks the president is telling the truth about the Russia probe, Cohen replied simply, “No.”

Cohen once said he would “take a bullet” for the president, but now he finds himself opposing the president and facing the prospect of becoming a witness against him.

“It’s never good to be on the wrong side of the president of the United States of America, but somehow or another this task has now fallen onto my shoulders and as I also stated ... I will spend the rest of my life in order to fix the mistake that I made.”

Cohen said as he observes Trump’s actions in the White House, he barely recognizes the man he served for more than a decade at the Trump organization.

“He’s a very different individual,” Cohen said. “I think the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It’s not like the Trump organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done. There’s a system here; he doesn’t understand the system and it’s sad because the country has never been more divisive and one of the hopes that I have out of the punishment that I’ve received as well as the cooperation that I have given I will be remembered in history as helping to bring this country back together.

“I will not be the villain of his story,” he said.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The federal judge in retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's case has ordered that documents related to Flynn's 2017 FBI interview be turned over by the government for his review, just days before Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced for lying to the FBI.

And the order comes as President Donald Trump and Flynn’s supporters have escalated their arguments that Flynn was pressured or tricked into lying.

The documents concern an interview between Flynn and two FBI agents at the White House in January 2017.

In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the interview about contacts he had with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition -- from election day 2016 until Trump's inauguration.

Flynn, who became Trump’s national security adviser before he resigned in February 2017, has been cooperating with investigators since, though most of his 19 interviews with the special counsel team occurred early this year, a source close to Flynn has told ABC News.

It wasn't immediately clear why U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan has ordered the FBI interview report -- or “302” form -- be shown to him. But one Republican lawyer surmised that the judge -- who replaced another judge shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty a year ago -- was concerned by allegations made by Flynn's defense lawyer that the FBI misled Flynn about what he thought was an informal meeting with the agents at the White House.

“They’re not changing the admission that he was lying, but they are saying there are mitigating factors,” Solomon Wisenberg, who served as deputy independent counsel in the Ken Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton, told ABC News Thursday.

It did not appear to be a move by Flynn’s lawyer to get the conviction tossed out, he added.

“It’s reputation management,” Wisenberg speculated. "It's his lawyer's last chance to say there are mitigating circumstances."

Flynn is set to be sentenced on Tuesday.

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller recommended in a filing that Flynn receive no prison time in exchange for what they called his "significant" cooperation with the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn's legal team responded to the special counsel's filing Tuesday by echoing calls for leniency in Flynn's sentencing.

However, Flynn's defense team also offered more information on the meeting in which Flynn has admitted he lied to the FBI. According to their filing, Flynn was not warned of the consequences of lying to the agents before his interview. The filing said that the agents were concerned that warning Flynn "might adversely affect the rapport."

In the defense's explanation of the meeting, the filing references in a footnote the documents now being requested by the judge.

Trump tweeted about Flynn on Thursday, alleging that the special counsel had recommended a lighter sentence because prosecutors were "embarrassed" by the way Flynn was treated.

"The FBI said he didn’t lie and they overrode the FBI," Trump tweeted. "They want to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true by catching them in the smallest of misstatements. Sad!......"

Flynn's supporters have long insisted he didn't lie to the FBI agents, who included Peter Strozk, a senior agent later dismissed because of embarrasing texts he exchanged with now-former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

The meeting with Flynn in the White House was set up by then-FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe, who served as the agency’s acting director after James Comey was fired by Trump as FBI director in May 2017. McCabe was fired himself this year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Trump repeatedly complained about McCabe. Flynn's lawyer noted the firings in his sentencing memo.

Last year, however, Trump seemed to admit knowledge of Flynn's lies in a tweet that read, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

The judge has not, as of now, altered Flynn's sentencing date in light of his request for documents. The government has until Friday at 3 p.m. to submit the requested documents to the judge and to respond to the recent defense filing.

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Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his first reaction since his longtime personal -- and now former-- attorney and fixer was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes committed while working for him, President Donald Trump again attempted to distance himself, repeating legal arguments and saying he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," contrary to what federal prosecutors contend.

"He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel,' and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid," Trump said in an early morning series of tweets on Thursday.

I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called “advice of counsel,” and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

 

....stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

....guilty even on a civil basis. Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did-including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

The president expanded on his tweets in an interview later in the morning with Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner.

“Whatever he did he did on his own, he’s a lawyer, a lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing – that’s why you pay them a lot of money,” Trump said.

A federal judge in Manhattan sentenced Cohen for multiple crimes, including campaign finance violations, despite the president's tweeted assertion that "this was not campaign finance." Cohen was also found guilty of tax evasion and lying to Congress.

The campaign finance violations stemmed from hush money payments Cohen made to two women who alleged affairs with then-candidate Trump, which prosecutors and Cohen alleged in court documents that Trump directed. Though the payments were made with the intent to influence the outcome of the election, prosecutors said, they weren't disclosed as such.

The president said he'd never "directed" Cohen to "break the law" and said liability fell to Cohen "if a mistake is made."

Federal prosecutors contend Cohen did not make a mistake and had the requisite knowledge of the law, as federal election laws require proof that violations were committed knowingly and willfully.

But Trump in his Thursday interview came prepped with multiple clips from commentators who have argued that Cohen's actions didn't amount to campaign finance violations and that Trump similarly shouldn't face legal jeopardy.

Trump also claimed that the campaign finance charges Cohen pled guilty to were only intended to "embarrass" the president, and sought to downplay his relationship to his former fixer and personal lawyer.

"He did very low-level work," Trump said. "He did more public relations than he did law."

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

Hours after Cohen was sentenced Wednesday, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced they'd also reached an agreement with American Media Company, Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer, in connection with the $150,000 payment made to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate.

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

But Trump in his interview claimed he wasn't aware of any payment made to A.M.I. to facilitate the alleged hush agreement.

"I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid," Trump said. "I was asking the question -- I don't think we made a payment."

Through the deal McDougal made with AMI, she transferred to the company the rights to her story of an alleged 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied that the affair took place.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As a partial government shutdown looms, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi flatly dismissed President Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion towards a border wall, scoffed at his claim that Mexico is implicitly paying for the wall as a result of the renegotiated trade agreement and revealed that she told him on Tuesday, after a public confrontation at the White House, that she is praying for him.

Flexing her muscles as she attempts to reassume the speakership in the next Congress, Pelosi said Thursday that the impasse over the border wall is likely to result in a long-term continuing resolution for all the appropriations that lawmakers have not agreed to fund yet.

“[Republicans] do not have the votes to pass the president's proposal -- $5 billion dollars, whatever it is -- for the wall,” Pelosi said. “Nothing is going to change in that regard.”

Trump met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday in the Oval Office and they publicly sparred over the border wall funding.

"You said 'I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall,'" Schumer said to Trump.

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

"I'm going to shut it down for border security."

On Thursday, Pelosi said that following the wild exchange, she told the president in private that she is praying for him. She also revealed that she hasn't spoken to Trump since he called Tuesday to follow up after the meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Trump tweeted, that “just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL.”

“He said that, but it doesn't make any sense,” Pelosi, D-California, said. “The American people are still paying the price. Mexico is not paying for this wall. But maybe he doesn't understand how a trade agreement works for him to say such a thing.”

“It's really unfortunate that the president has decided that he would shut down government at a time when the markets are in a mood, where people are losing their jobs in some industries. The auto industry, for one, where there's uncertainty in terms of the financial security of America's working families," she said. “That’s a drastic thing for him to do, especially as we leave the Congress for the holidays because that means it would be shut down for a while."

Lawmakers must come to terms by the end of the day Friday, Dec. 21 or there will be a partial government shutdown. Without a deal, up to 420,000 federal employees would be faced to work without pay and more than 380,000 others would face furloughs.

If there is a shutdown, Pelosi promised that House Democrats would vote in January to reopen government, which she conceded is little consolation to federal employees working paycheck-to-paycheck.

“[Trump’s] taking full responsibility for the Trump shut down,” Pelosi said. “Perhaps he doesn't understand people need their paychecks. Maybe that's not the life he leads.”

“It's not enough to say we’ll pay you in January when people have to make ends meet in December. Of course if he went down that path as soon as we took over the Congress we would pass legislation to open up government and send it to the Senate and we think it would then go to his desk. But we don't want to have to go to that place.”

“I don't know why we just don't proceed to keep government open so that people can be home for the holidays and enjoying all of that," she added.

Pelosi said that Democrats are essentially waiting for Republicans to bring them back into negotiations.

“We're not going for the $5 billion for the wall,” she said. “We simply are not.”

“Let’s hope that there won't be a shutdown of government. That's a very bad thing to do and maybe the president doesn't grasp that but that is very harmful to our country,” she said. “The only obstacle is the president of the United States.”

The House of Representatives has adjourned until Wednesday, though appropriators are expected to continue negotiations throughout the weekend.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who became one of the president's sharpest critics, gave a farewell address on the Senate floor on Thursday that paid tribute to his family, the people of his state and Americans around the country but also warned of the continued stress he said today's politics place on "American liberty."

"As I stand here today, I am optimistic about the future, but my optimism is due more to the country that my parents gave to me than it is due to the present condition of our civic life," said Flake, who announced that he wouldn't seek re-election in October of last year, about a year after President Donald Trump was elected.

"Let us recognize ... that the shadow of tyranny is once again enveloping parts of the globe and let us recognize, as authoritarianism reasserts itself in country after country, that we are by no means immune," Flake said.

"We, of course, are testing the institutions of American liberty in ways that none of us likely ever imagined we would – and in ways that we never should again," he said.

Flake didn't mention President Trump by name in Thursday's speech. But he has frequently criticized him for undermining U.S. institutions with his Twitter account, as he said in his speech on the Senate floor when he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, and has called for other Republicans to call out Trump's behavior. When Republicans have stayed silent, Flake has also criticized the party, telling The Arizona Republic that "there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party."

But Flake has also been known to vote with the president on many issues -- as often as 80 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight's congressional vote tracker. Most notably, Flake voted for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, despite rumblings throughout the nomination process that he was a potential swing vote and a last-minute bipartisan move alongside Democratic Sen. Chris Coons to force an FBI investigation before the final confirmation vote.

Coons spoke after Flake, paying tribute to their bipartisan friendship.

"I look back fondly at our six years serving together," Coons said on the Senate floor. "I only wish I had the blessing of Senator Flake's partnership for six more years."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also had kind words for his colleague, saying his policy contributions have "tangibly made life better for Arizonans and the nation."

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

The resolution's passage is particularly striking because it brings Democrats together with House Republicans who rarely break with President Donald Trump on legislation or messaging. Republican House leadership pushed for the vote to come up before the end of the year, a House aide told ABC News, sending a signal to the White House that more should be done to punish Myanmar for the atrocities.

The vote was expected to occur Tuesday but had to be pushed to Thursday after debate on other legislation. In the end, it passed with 394 votes in favor, only one Republican member in opposition and 38 members not voting.

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

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has long oppressed the majority Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. Starting last August, it began what the United Nations called a systematic campaign to eradicate the Rohingya and drive them from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh. More than 700,000 refugees escaped to make the journey and joined hundreds of thousands who already lived in camps in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh. There are now close to 1 million there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But McConnell has spurned that criticism, dismissing it as a "pile-in" that "hasn't done any good," in an interview with Reuters in October, "I just don't think joining that and further undercutting the best hope we have for genuine Burmese democracy in the future is good policy."

McConnell's intransigence has upset some House Republicans, who say amid the administration's silence, a similar resolution from the Senate would be welcomed.

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wildpixel/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- If lawmakers fail to strike a spending deal by Dec. 21, a government shutdown will take place. But it would look a little different than past instances, mostly because Congress has already funded about 75 percent of the federal government.

While President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he would take ownership of a shutdown over his demands for a border wall, he has already signed legislation into law accounting for nearly $900 billion of the $1.2 trillion in federal agency operating expenses. As a result, only some agencies would close after funding runs out next week, and even in those offices, essential employees would still be required to report to work.

For example, the U.S. Secret Service agents protecting Trump and his family would not be paid during a shutdown. Transportation Security Agency personnel working at airports through the holiday season would also stay on the job during a shutdown, but they’d also have to wait to get paid.

Even a partial government shutdown could impact hundreds of thousands of federal employees -- with workers facing furloughs and unpaid labor -- depending on how much of the bureaucracy Congress agrees to fund in the next nine days.

Seven of 12 sections of federal appropriations remain unfunded, accounting for approximately 30 percent of federal workers. Negotiators have signaled that they’ve nearly reached consensus on six of the areas of appropriations, with an agreement on Homeland Security proving to be the most elusive due to disagreements over the president’s demand for $5 billion towards the border wall.

About 420,000 federal employees who are deemed “essential” would continue to work through a shutdown, ensuring that critical operations in government would proceed unhindered. But these workers would not receive any compensation until the shutdown ends and lawmakers pass legislation to pay them retroactively.

That includes federal employees at the Department of Homeland Security, where 54,000 border patrol employees and 53,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees would continue working through a shutdown, though with their pay delayed.

The spending bills already approved by Congress and signed into law would keep departments operating in Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. Lawmakers have also cleared bills to fund the legislative branch, military construction, veterans affairs and energy and water development.

So what else could suffer from congressional gridlock? Here are the six areas of appropriations that lawmakers are still working to fund for fiscal year 2019, other than Homeland Security:

1. Department of Agriculture, Federal Drug Administration and Rural Development

Routine inspections for food safety would stop, namely for pharmaceutical and plant food testing.

2. Commerce, Justice & Science

Most of the Department of Justice’s employees are classified as essential, so they’ll continue working without pay. According to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, there are 2,614 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, 16,742 Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, 13,709 FBI agents, 3,600 deputy U.S. Marshals, and 4,399 Drug Enforcement Administration agents who would have to wait for paychecks to come once the shutdown ends.

The special counsel’s investigation would also continue, as it is funded with a permanent, indefinite appropriation and all direct employees are excepted positions because their funding is not dependent upon an appropriation that requires renewal.

Most of the National Science Foundation would close down, and NASA would furlough 16,700 employees -- accounting for 96 percent of its staff.

3. Financial Services and General Government

Most employees at the Internal Revenue Service -- 52,000 of them -- would be furloughed since the shutdown is months away from tax season and their jobs are not considered essential at this time.

Most U.S. Secret Service employees, tasked with protecting the president, his family and former presidents, would also continue working without pay.

The U.S. Postal Service will not shutdown four days before Christmas, contrary to any rumors suggesting otherwise.

4. Interior and Environment

National parks, forests and presidential libraries would all send up to 80 percent of their employees home during a shutdown, though many facilities would remain operational with a skeleton crew.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, workers involved in emergency environmental cleanup would continue working, though they’d likely be approved for retroactive pay after the shutdown. Almost everything else at the agency would shut down.

5. State and Foreign Operations

Every U.S. diplomat stationed abroad is designated “essential” and most operations would continue, including the processing and issuance of most passports. Passport offices physically located inside another agency’s building would temporarily close if it is shuttered.

6. Transportation, Housing and Urban Development

Investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board would halt, but air traffic controllers would still come to work -- to ensure the safety of the country’s commercial aviation.

One week prior to the possible expiration of appropriations, the Office of Management and Budget communicates with senior agency officials throughout the administration “to remind them of their responsibilities to review and update their lapse plans and to take other necessary steps to prepare for a potential lapse in appropriations, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent,” a senior Trump administration official said.

Funding for these appropriations expires at the end of the day on Friday, Dec. 21.

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uschools/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Wednesday advanced a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, fueled by a desire to send a strong message to Saudi Arabia over the kingdom's role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Senate voted 60-39, with 11 Republicans who supported the measure. It was unclear when the Senate would take it's final vote on the measure.

Despite the message senators are sending to President Donald Trump and the Saudis, their efforts will largely be fruitless.

The House is not expected to take up similar legislation due to a last-minute maneuver by Republican leadership, which essentially shut the door on war powers resolutions in this session of Congress.

Even if the resolution were to make it to the president's desk, it's expected he would oppose the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued strongly against the Yemen resolution on Wednesday.

“Members on both sides have legitimate concerns about the war in Yemen, about the U.S. interests tangled up in this conflict and especially about the horrible plight of Yemeni citizens who are caught in the crossfire,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “And where Saudi Arabia is concerned, I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and wants accountability.”

But the GOP leader argued that American support in the Saudi-Yemen war does not amount to military engagement, and said the U.S. is not involved in direct combat and has stopped providing midair refueling for coalition's warplanes.

“If the Senate wants to pick a constitutional fight with the executive branch over war powers, I would advise my colleagues to pick a better case,” McConnell argued.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In what could be one of the first campaign announcements ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign, former San Antonio Mayor and Obama housing chief Julian Castro said he will announce whether he’ll make a run for the Democratic presidential nomination on Jan. 12.

Castro, who has been open about exploring a run for president for months, released a video on Wednesday where he outlined his vision for America and announced that he had set up an exploratory committee.

“Americans are ready to climb out of this darkness, we’re ready to keep our promises, and we’re not going to wait. We’re going to work. That’s why I’m exploring a candidacy for president of the United States in 2020,” he said in a four-minute video released on social media. “I never thought, when I was growing up on the west side of San Antonio, that I would be speaking to you today about this. My name is Julian Castro and I know the promise of America.”

 

As a kid growing up on the west side of San Antonio, I never thought that I’d one day be making this announcement: https://t.co/2NAIFEsCFh I’m exploring a candidacy for President of the United States in 2020 to renew the promise of this country for all. https://t.co/9jOBdjHcLO

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) December 12, 2018

 

The 44-year-old former mayor first announced his interest in running early this year. Just before the midterm elections last month, he said he was “likely” to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

"I'm likely to do it. I have a strong vision for the country. I believe that our country's going in the wrong direction and that it needs new leadership. I'll make a final decision after November, but I'm inclined to do it," Castro told Rolling Stone in October.

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dkfielding/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- After a year rocked by the #MeToo movement and months of negotiations, Congress is on the verge of reforming its own sexual harassment regulations.

House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Wednesday to overhaul congressional regulations governing sexual harassment, clearing the way for a vote on the measure in both chambers over the next two weeks, before Congress adjourns for the year.

Under the terms of the compromise announced Wednesday, members of Congress would be held personally liable for sexual harassment and retaliation settlements, requiring them to reimburse the Treasury. It would also publicly identify members of Congress who settle harassment claims, along with any settlements.

“I think it will send that message that there is zero tolerance for bad behavior,” Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Mississippi, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, told ABC News.

The agreement would also extend harassment protections to unpaid staff, including interns and congressional fellows, and create an electronic system for processing sexual harassment claims.

The deal announced by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, split from the House-passed overhaul legislation on several key provisions: Lawmakers will not be on the hook for discrimination settlements, and congressional staff who come forward with claims will not be provided free legal counsel, as the House bill mandated.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, one of the leaders on the House bill earlier this year, is working to introduce bipartisan legislation in the next Congress that will include the provisions that didn't make it into the Senate bill, according to an aide. She is also exploring whether some of those provisions could also be implemented in the House rules for the next Congress.

Congress has already made a number of changes to policy this year to address concerns about sexual assault and workplace harassment, including requiring mandatory anti-harassment training for members, staff, interns and congressional fellows in each session of Congress.

A handful of members of Congress have stepped down or retired this year as a result of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. In recent years, Congress has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds spent to settle sexual harassment claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JET

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"Always in our Heart! "