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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Former Trump campaign staffer Sam Nunberg is expected to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Thursday in Washington, according to a source with knowledge. 

Nunberg spoke on the record about the Trump campaign in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Before the book published, leaked passages showed Nunberg quoted as reportedly calling President Trump as an "idiot" in a conversation with Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

In an interview with ABC News' "The Briefing Room" on Jan. 4, Nunberg said he "probably" called the commander-in-chief an "idiot" in the conversation with Wolff, but maintained that the comment was sarcastic.

Nunberg also declined to dispute another exchange in the book in which he reportedly described his struggle to explain the Constitution to Trump.

“I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head," Wolff writes of Nunberg's recollection.

Nunberg was fired in August of 2015.

Nunberg declined ABC News' request for comment.

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Creatas/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary James Mattis will make his private recommendation to President Donald Trump this week on how to address military service by transgender individuals.

The deadline was originally Feb. 21, as outlined in an August presidential memorandum. But the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday that the recommendation will be made sometime this week.

Trump tweeted last July that he wanted to ban all transgender service members, saying the military "must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory."

The move reversed the 2016 Obama administration directive that allowed those individuals to serve openly for the first time.

The August memo directed the Pentagon to develop an implementation plan. Mattis then tasked a panel of experts to study the issue and inform his recommendation to the president, who will make the final policy decision that is scheduled to go into effect on March 23.

Since Trump's tweets, federal courts have rejected portions of the proposed ban. Most notably, beginning Jan. 1, the Pentagon complied with a court order that allowed transgender individuals to join the military if they met strict criteria, including certifications from a medical provider about the status of their health.

What do we know about transgender service members?

Last year, defense officials estimated there were about 200 transgender individuals in the U.S. military who had self-reported to their services a desire for some form of medical treatment related to their gender identity.

However, the actual number of transgender service members is still unknown, primarily because military personnel records do not currently track transgender individuals.

A 2016 Rand study, which was referenced by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, estimated that 2,450 active-duty service members might be transgender, with 1,510 in reserve units.

The same Rand study said the "little research" on transgender service members showed "little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness."

"Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force," the study said.

At the time of the study, eighteen countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, and Australia, allowed transgender personnel to serve openly.

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iStock/Thinkstock(FRANKFORT, Ky.) -- Democrats celebrated another state legislative victory Tuesday night, reclaiming a Kentucky State House seat where President Donald Trump received 72 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Linda Belcher won the special election in Kentucky’s 49th House of Representatives district over her Republican opponent Rebecca Johnson, the widow of former state Rep. Dan Johnson, who committed suicide in December.

The victory for Belcher, who lost her seat in 2016 by less than one percentage point, is the 37th flip from Republican to Democratic control of a state legislative seat since the inauguration of President Trump in January 2017.

However, even after last night’s loss, Republicans still hold a wide 62-37 seat majority in the 100 seat Kentucky House, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.

That did not stop national Democrats from hailing Belcher’s win as a sign of the growing discontent with President Trump and the Republican Party ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, where control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are at stake for the GOP.

“Congratulations to Representative-elect Linda Belcher on her victory in today’s special election, which flipped yet another Republican-held seat from red to blue in a district that Trump won easily in 2016,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Democrats are organizing, investing and winning elections in red districts across the country as voters reject Donald Trump and the Republican agenda.”

Democrats have now flipped state legislative seats in 11 different states since Trump’s inauguration: Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri and now Kentucky.

But, despite the Democratic victory lap, Republicans in Kentucky and nationally are urging perspective on their losses, saying that special elections are not a reliable barometer of the broader political landscape.

“Tonight’s special election has been anything but normal from the beginning and offers little resemblance to what we should expect in November. Turnout was low, even by special-election standards, and the impact of recent events hung over the race, clouding the outcome,” Tres Watson, a spokesman for the Kentucky Republican Party, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Republicans still enjoy a dominance of state legislatures across the country, a trend that began toward the beginning of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The GOP currently controls 32 out of the country’s 50 state legislatures in the United States. Thirteen are controlled by Democrats, four are divided between the two parties, and the state of Nebraska operates under a unicameral state legislative system. According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans make up 56 percent of all state legislatures across the country.

Republicans such as Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), caution that while these victories are obviously frustrating, it is too early to say that Democrats are poised to fundamentally alter control of state legislatures.

“You're naturally going to have -- in the first-term election with a new president -- you're going to have a regression to the mean from those all-time historic highs,” Walter told ABC News last month after a state senate seat in Wisconsin flipped from red to blue. “The question then becomes how much of that is going to be executed in a way that has an impact on the overall environment? Is that going to lead to flipping chambers?”


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David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Rev. Billy Graham preached to millions of people around the world, but he was especially known for counseling U.S. presidents. He sat with many of them -- from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and even met Donald Trump before his presidential run.

Graham had extraordinary access to the White House over the years and served as spiritual adviser to many of the presidents in their hour of need.

To Graham, it was not about politics. It was about unity and hope in times of crisis and national tragedy.

"My calling has been to help people look beyond this world and its problems to the world to come," Graham told ABC News in 2006.

But Graham was not always a White House favorite. Truman, the first of Graham's presidents, said he thought the young preacher was just a publicity seeker.

But, perhaps because of such publicity, Graham's popularity grew.

By 1952, his words of encouragement helped convince Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to run for president and, once in office, establish a National Day of Prayer. Graham then became an Oval Office regular and a presidential golf partner.

It was a pattern that continued in the John F. Kennedy years. Though some Protestants weren't sure they could trust a Roman Catholic president, Graham liked Kennedy and helped put to rest the long-held suspicions.

"Kennedy -- I met him because of his father. His father said, 'You know, the man that you ought to get acquainted with and get to know is Billy Graham,'" Graham said in 1997. "And he invited me to play golf with him, and we did get acquainted, and we became friends, and I like him very much."

After Kennedy's assassination, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, asked Graham to join him in prayer -- and an unlikely friendship developed between the clean-living pastor and the blunt-spoken politician. At Johnson's request, Graham spoke at his funeral.

Graham said Johnson was "rough one side, but he was tender on the other," adding that he thought "he was sincere in his battle against poverty."

Graham had an especially close -- and complicated -- relationship with Richard Nixon. He stuck by Nixon's side through the Watergate scandal. But the reverend later said he was shocked to hear what was really going on in Nixon's secretly recorded White House tapes.

"I really had a deep affection for him. I felt like that I knew him, but there were things that apparently I didn't know," he said. "I've often wondered if there wasn't some strange demonic power that came into the whole White House system at that time."

Graham continued counseling presidents through the decades, remaining a White House fixture through the Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations. He called Ford as he was making the decision about whether to pardon Nixon. Ford told Graham he had not yet made up his mind.

The reverend personally liked President Carter, who he noted was "one of the sweetest guys you could ever know."

Carter also had a deep admiration for Graham.

"He was broad-minded, he was innovative, he believed in breaking down the barriers between black and white when it was very unpopular to do so in the South," Carter said. "I just think that in almost every way, the things that he did as a Christian were admirable and the kinds of actions that I have sought to emulate."

He had particularly kind words about Reagan, telling ABC News that he was "the greatest. I mean, he helped turn this country around. He made us proud to be American."

When President George H.W. Bush decided to enter Kuwait to repel Saddam Hussein's invading army, he sat up with him the night Desert Storm began. The elder Bush later honored him with the George Bush Award for public service in April 2006.

"When my soul was troubled, it was Billy I reached out to for comfort, advice and prayer," Bush said as he gave Graham the award.

Graham was also one of several prominent clergies in President Clinton's circle of advisers.

"I doubt that many presidents ever wanted to be around him because they thought it would help them politically," Clinton said. "I think that they really felt and hoped that whatever the state of their own spiritual life, that by being with Billy Graham, their own faith and understanding might be deepened."

He also counseled President George W. Bush, whom he had known most of his life.

"I've known him as a boy, I've known him as a young man, I've known him now still as a young man," Graham said. "And I'm very proud of him, and I'm very thankful of the privilege of calling him a friend."

In 2010, Graham and son Franklin met with President Obama at Graham's home, chatting about wives; golf; and Chicago, Obama’s adopted hometown.

Trump and wife Melania met Billy Graham at the reverend's 95th birthday party in 2013, but they never met after Trump took office.

Instead, Trump maintained a White House connection to the Graham family through Franklin Graham, who read a passage from the New Testament at Trump's inauguration and has attended at least one White House event during his administration.

Graham told ABC News' Diane Sawyer he was proud to minister to some of the most powerful men in the world.

"It was a great privilege for me and a great honor for me," he said.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabby Giffords is calling out Florida Gov. Rick Scott over his inaction on gun violence and ties to the National Rifle Association a week after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Giffords rolled out an ad campaign against the governor on Tuesday, including what she called a "six-figure ad buy" to air a commercial targeting Scott.

The 30-second ad opens with video from vigils for shooting victims in Florida, naming off "Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Parkland" in reference to the three mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in June 2016, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017 and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

The ad, financed by Giffords' gun control nonprofit, singles out a law that Scott championed in 2011 that would prevent doctors from asking patients whether they owned a gun. The law was criticized at the time as posing a safety risk.

"Gov. Rick Scott should realize the risks to public health and safety that he would be sanctioning by giving into the gun lobby's agenda," the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said in a joint statement released in June 2011 in conjunction with the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and American College of Physicians.

The ad released Tuesday by Giffords -- the name of the nonprofit -- seizes on the bill and notes that even mental health professionals were not able to ask about gun ownership. The law, however, was struck down six years later.

"Rick Scott made it illegal for a doctor to ask a patient if they own a gun, even a mental health professional," the Giffords ad said. "This law was so dangerous that a court had to strike it down. Gov. Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety."

This year is an election year for governor in Florida, but Scott is not eligible to run, having already served two consecutive terms. But the governor is reportedly seriously considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, according to Politico.

"We're educating Florida voters about the governor's tragic record on gun safety and sending a message to all who seek public office: Enough!" Peter Ambler, executive director for Giffords, said in a statement. "Voters are going to be examining politicians' records on gun safety very closely this year, and we're ready to help them make informed decisions."

The statement released by Giffords mentions that Scott has "complied with the gun lobby's every wish" and makes reference to a speech he delivered at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum last year.

Giffords suffered life-threatening wounds during an assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011, when a man opened fire at an outdoor event held by the Arizona congresswoman. Six people were killed and 19 people were injured in the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was shot in the head, but made a miraculous recovery. Jared Lee Loughner was arrested at the scene and later pleaded guilty in the shooting. He is serving 140 years in prison.

Giffords later resigned from the House to focus on her recovery in January 2012.

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United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Last week's shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead and 14 wounded has once again brought the debate over gun control to the forefront. This time, the school's students are taking the lead in demanding change at both the local level and in Washington.

Critics, however, argue that pro-gun campaign money has more influence in the gun policy debate than victims of gun violence.

The National Rifle Association continues to be a huge force in American politics. It's made more than $11 million in direct contributions to federal lawmakers and candidates over the past 20 years. In 2017, the group's lobbying expenditures included $5 million spent pushing Second Amendment rights.

But the NRA’s real power shows up in independent expenditures. It can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates - as long as it doesn't coordinate with the candidates.

During just the 2016 election cycle, the NRA spent $54 million in the presidential and congressional races, nearly $20 million of which went to attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton and more than $11 million to support Republican Donald Trump. IN 2008 and 2012, the group had spent $18 million opposing Democrat Barack Obama and $10 million supporting Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney.

A NRA spokesperson said the group spends money in elections on behalf of its five million members across America to defend their constitutional right to own guns.

In the past 15 years, the pro-gun group has spent a total of more than $132 million on ads supporting or opposing presidential or congressional candidates.

Here are the three U.S. senators and House members who have benefited the most from the NRA’s ad buys, according to Federal Election Commission records:

SENATE


Sen. Richard Burr: $6.9 million

In 2016, the NRA was determined to keep North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s seat. The group spent $5.6 million on ads attacking his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross. Over the years, the group has spent $1.4 million on ads supporting Burr and donated $40,150 to his House and Senate campaign committees.

Sen. Roy Blunt: $4.5 million

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has long been one of the biggest beneficiaries of NRA money. Not only has the group donated $56,500 to Blunt’s campaign committee over the years, the group has also spent $1.4 million bankrolling ads supporting him. The NRA also spent $2.5 million in 2016 opposing Democrat Jason Kander’s bid against the Missouri Republican.

Sen. Thom Tillis: $4.4 million


The NRA was one of many outside groups that helped unseat North Carolina's Democratic incumbent senator, Kay Hagan, and elect Republican Sen. Thom Tilllis in 2014. The NRA spent $2.45 million against Hagan and nearly $2 million in support of Tillis.

HOUSE

Rep. French Hill: $1.1 million


The NRA was one of the biggest spenders in a competitive Arkansas House race in 2014. The group spent more than half a million dollars supporting Republican French Hill and another half million attacking Democrat Patrick Hays.

Rep. Ken Buck: $829,377

In 2010, the NRA spent nearly $830,000 in an unsuccessful effort to replace Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet with Republican Ken Buck in Colorado. Buck, however, was able to win the seat only after Bennet left office to run for the Senate in 2012. The NRA didn’t get involved in the 2014 race, but Buck was backed by another pro-gun group called Gun Owners of America.

Rep. David Young: $697,778

The NRA helped elect Republican David Young in an open House race in Iowa in 2014 by spending nearly $700,000 on ads in support of Young and against Democratic opponent Staci Appel.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has walked back President Donald Trump's tweet from last weekend suggesting the FBI could have prevented the Parkland high school shooting if it hadn't been so focused on the Russia investigation.

On Friday, the FBI said it failed to follow up on a tip about the Parkland shooter. And Tuesday, when asked if Trump believes the FBI missed warning signs because of the time it's spending on the Russia investigation, Sanders said that was "not necessarily" the cause.

"I think he was speaking - not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter certainly not the responsibility of anybody else," Sanders said.

Sanders tried to clarify when asked if the tweet Trump sent late Saturday night from his private Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was a "mistweet."

"I think he's making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms getting the Trump campaign and its involvement," Sanders said.

Trump's tweet outraged some survivors of the school shooting that killed 17 last week.

Over the weekend, Trump fumed about Friday's indictment from the special counsel's investigation that accused 13 Russians of interfering in the 2016 election. Trump pointed at the Obama administration for not intervening earlier. "The 'Russian hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!" he tweeted.

Sanders, asked Tuesday if the president believes Russia meddled in the election, gave the strongest acknowledgement yet from the White House.

"Absolutely," said Sanders. "It's very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It's also very clear that it didn't have an impact on the election. And it's also very clear that the Trump campaign didn't collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place."

Sanders also defended the administration's response to that Russian interference.

"President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference in our elections will have consequences and we're going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyber attacks. Just last week, we called out Russia by name. It was one of the first times that you've seen something like that take place. We're going to continue doing things like that," Sanders said.

Asked why Trump hasn't condemned Russia, Sanders said, "He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions; he's taken away properties; he's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia."

Sanders cryptically made reference to a new, unreported incident in which Trump came down on Russia.

"Last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days in another way that this president was tough on Russia," said Sanders.

The White House has not revealed any details about that incident.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While the White House has said President Donald Trump is “supportive of efforts” to update the nation’s background check system in the wake of the Florida high school shooting last week, the president's proposed budget for 2019 would actually roll back federal grants to help states in reporting to the national background check system.

Under the proposed FY 2019 budget, which the administration rolled out just two days before the deadly Parkland, Fla. shooting that left 17 people dead, proposed federal spending for the grants that help states improve the completeness of the records they report to the federal database would be reduced from $73 million to $61 million — a $12 million decrease.

But an administration official insists that the president's budget fully funds the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and said the decrease in proposed funding is designed to match the level of spending requested by states that qualify for the grants.

"The FY 2019 President's Budget proposes to reduce funding for this program because the number of states eligible for NICS Act Record Improvement Program funding is not expected to increase and the $10.0 million request is sufficient to sustain the existing level of activity under this program," the official said, noting that the government only funded the states that were eligible and that some states have failed to produce required compliance plans related to reporting mental health records.

President Trump, who sources tell ABC News has repeatedly said “we have to do something” in the wake of the Florida tragedy, announced on Tuesday that he directed his Justice Department to look into banning bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shooting last year.

The president has also expressed support for a bill introduced last year by Sen. John Cornyn, R–Texas, to update the background check system to ensure that states and federal agencies have up-to-date and accurate information on individuals prohibited from buying firearms.

Cornyn introduced the bill, called the Fix NICS Act, last year following the Sutherland Springs mass shooting in his home state. The bill is co-sponsored by leading gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy, D–Conn., who saw 20 children killed in his home state in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

The bill, referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Press secretary Sarah Sanders has said that “discussions are ongoing” but that “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system."

While any action the administration takes in the wake of Florida is expected to stop short of any proposal that would amount to gun restrictions, Principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said late last week that “mental health and school safety” would be at the forefront of any policy prescriptions the administration may pursue.

“The president wants to take leadership and actually fix this problem and create best practices across the country,” Shah said on FOX News late last week.

On Wednesday, the president is set to host a “listening session” with high school students and community members impacted by the school shootings Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine communities.

On Thursday, he will meet with state and local officials on the issue.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he has signed a memorandum directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose new regulations that would ban devices that can effectively turn legal weapons into machine guns.

The news comes four months after the Las Vegas concert mass shooting, in which the gunman was found to have used 'bump stocks' that significantly increased the rate of fire for the multiple assault weapons he used from his perch on an upper floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

"I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon," Trump said during a ceremony in the White House for Medal of Valor recipients. "The key in all of these efforts, as I said the day after shooting, is that we must not take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference - we must take actions that actually make a difference."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement underscoring her contention that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not have authority to ban bump stocks, and that "legislation is the only answer."

"The agency made this clear in a 2013 letter to Congress, writing that ‘stocks of this type are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes,’" Feinstein said.

“If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years," Feinstein said, "and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold."

Trump's announcement comes as the administration faces new pressure over accusations of inaction in the wake of multiple deadly shootings, most recently last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

President Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.

Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues."

"You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."

After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.

Sanders did not answer definitively, however, when asked whether the president would oppose reinstating a ban on assault weapons.

“We haven't closed the door on any front,” Sanders said. “That's what the next several days and weeks will be, to have conversations and see what this process looks like.”

The briefing is Sanders' first in a week, after the White House cancelled a Valentine's Day briefing, citing the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.

Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues."

"You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."

After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.

The briefing is Sanders' first in a week, after the White House cancelled a Valentine's Day briefing, citing the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to making false statements to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team in the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Van Der Zwaan, a 33-year old Dutch citizen, allegedly made the false statements to officials with the special counsel and FBI agents in an interview on Nov. 3, 2017.

The felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated that a finding of guilt could result in Van Der Zwaan’s deportation.

The judge indicated both sides have agreed to recommend a reduced prison sentence of up to six months and a reduced fine of between $500 and $9,500, saying Van Der Zwaan has no criminal history.

The special counsel’s office said in their court filing that Van Der Zwaan, who worked for a law firm that did work in Ukraine in 2012, made false statements about communications in 2016 with Gates and an unnamed person.

While Gates was never a client of Van Der Zwann’s according to a source with knowledge of the relationship, the two were connected because of Gates’ past work representing the Ukraine government on behalf of his former boss Paul Manafort.

The communication, prosecutors allege, took place when Gates was still a member of the Trump campaign team.

Manafort left the campaign in mid-August, Gates stayed on through the election.

Gates is currently facing criminal charges from the special counsel over his lobbying work in Ukraine.

Van der Zwaan's father-in-law is German Khan, a Ukrainian-Russian who is one of the three owners of Russia's Alfa Bank and who is mentioned in an infamous dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele was employed by opposition research firm Fusion GPS which received funding for its efforts, in part, from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Khan is also mentioned in court filings and congressional records request of Paul Manafort for their past work together.

In a statement to ABC News, Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom, which employed Van Der Zwaan as an associate in its London office, said they terminated his employment last year and have been "cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Under heavy criticism for still not condemning Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump is defending his record on Russia - and claiming he's been tougher than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

"I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!" the president tweeted Tuesday morning.

Trump has still not fully embraced the finding of U.S. intelligence agencies - and now the special counsel's office - that Russia interfered in the election to damage Hillary Clinton and support his candidacy. He has rarely spoken ill of President Vladimir Putin and often voiced support for better relations with Moscow.

But despite Trump's rhetorical embrace of the autocratic leader and his regime, his administration has taken some big steps to push back on Russia, including some steps that Obama avoided.

In December, his administration decided to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, and his State Department has consistently criticized Russia for leading, arming, and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. While the Obama administration increased aid to Ukraine, and rallied European partners to slap Russia with international sanctions, it never crossed the line into providing lethal support.

The Trump administration has kept those sanctions in place - and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said they will remain so until Russia withdraws from eastern Ukraine, abides by the peace deals it pledged to support - known as the Minsk agreements - and returns Crimea to Ukraine, four years after it began its illegal annexation of the territory.

In fact, in June, the Trump Treasury Department actually expanded those sanctions to include 38 new individuals and companies, including two Russian officials, for their alleged involvement in the ongoing violence in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. The move was largely meant to bring the U.S. up to date with the European partners' sanctions and with the changing figures and aliases of the shadowy pro-Russian actors in Ukraine.

In response, however, Russia retaliated by forcing the U.S. to shrink its diplomatic missions in Russia. Trump responded by "thanking" Putin "because we're trying to cut down on payroll," again stoking outrage.

But his administration took a bold step, expelling a number of Russian diplomats, and more important, shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco - reportedly a major spy hub for the country.

The other foreign policy pursuits that his administration has used to push back on Russia are the airstrikes on Russia's client Bashar al-Assad in Syria for the use of chemical weapons; the expansion of domestic energy production and the sale of U.S. liquefied natural gas to counter Russia's energy strong-arming of European neighbors; and more sanctions on Russian officials for corruption and human rights abuses under the Magnitsky Act.

Some of Trump's action on the world stage, however, have made him weaker than Obama, according to critics. He has withdrawn the U.S. from international commitments, including the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership, weakening the country's leadership role. His constant criticism of NATO and his initial refusal to commit to Article 5 - the alliance's principle of common defense - shook Europe's faith in the U.S. And despite those early airstrikes on Assad, he has let Russia have free reign in Syria and let Assad come to dominate the majority of the country again, despite his human rights abuses and use of chemical weapons.

Trump has still not condemned Russia for its interference in the election, even at times still calling into question whether it did so at all and in November saying he "believed" Putin when he told him Russia did not interfere; the White House later walked that back. His words have also gotten him in trouble in the Oval Office, when he reportedly disclosed classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last May.

But it's the sanctions issue that has critics most riled up - especially because Trump has not sanctioned Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.

Instead, he was forced to sign new sanctions legislation against Russia in August - calling parts of the law "unconstitutional," but signing it to avoid an embarrassing veto override. Congress passed the law to codify the sanctions Obama passed in December 2016, when he expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives, seized two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland, and sanctioned five Russian entities and four individuals. The law also called on the administration to publish a list of Russian oligarchs and government officials, a report of Russia's sovereign debt, and a list of defense and intelligence sector entities and individuals, with sanctions on anyone who does business with them.

The administration dragged its feet initially, missing the first deadline by three weeks - for the defense and intelligence sector list. In January, they released the other two on time, the so-called "oligarchs" list and the sovereign debt report.

But officials announced that they would not yet impose sanctions on anyone doing business with Russia's defense and intelligence sectors. Instead, they said, the threat of sanctions had already deterred "billions" of dollars worth of deals with Russia, although they provided no evidence of that. Administration officials also have not imposed sanctions on Russia for cyber activity, which the law says shall be imposed unless the White House can certify to Congress that Russia "has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions."

Given that Tillerson, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and other top officials have warned that Russia is taking steps to interfere in the 2018 congressional elections, it does not seem likely any certification is coming.

Although the administration seems to have so far met its commitments under the law, the lack of sanctions has incensed Democrats. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it "inexcusable," while Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democrat who authored the law, said Trump had left the U.S. "vulnerable to malign Russian efforts because the president has put himself above the security of our nation."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, went so far as to call it "a constitutional crisis," in a tweet that garnered tens of thousands of retweets and likes.

Perhaps most of all, it's those divisions of the Trump era -- whether one believes they are of the president's own making or his enemies' -- that have weakened the U.S. -- just as Putin wanted.

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@GovernorTomWolf/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a new congressional map for the state — a decision that could have major ramifications for the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The court issued the map after Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state legislature, were unable to submit a map satisfying both parties by the court-ordered Thursday night deadline.

"Implementation of this map would create a constitutional crisis where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is usurping the authority of the Legislative and Executive branches. We anticipate further action in federal court," Pennsylvania House Speaker and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement Monday.

The new map significantly redraws the districts that encompass the Philadelphia suburbs, a key purple part of a purple state where Democrats are poised to pick up seats, and it creates another competitive district in northeast Pennsylvania near the Allentown area.

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in both the suburban Philadelphia districts currently represented by Rep. Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello in the 2016 presidential election.

Thirteen of the districts in the previous map went to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, while just five went to Hillary Clinton. Ten of the districts in the new map were won by Trump, while eight went to Clinton, according to an analysis by redistricting expert Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Republicans currently hold 12 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, while Democrats control just five. One seat is currently vacant but will be filled following the March 13 special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who resigned over a sex scandal last year.

Under the newly issued map, both candidates in the March special election, Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone, would find themselves living outside of the 18th congressional district for which they are currently running to represent.

Democrat Conor Lamb, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, would find himself in the new 17th district, parts of which are currently represented by Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus. It's an area that would receive an influx of suburban Pittsburgh Democratic voters and a race that could become more competitive than it has been in the past.

Republican Rick Saccone, who lives in Elizabeth, moves into the new 18th district encompassing much of the current 14th district which is presently represented by Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle. Democrats would continue to have a distinct advantage given the district's inclusion of Pittsburgh's urban core.

Prior to the court's decision, both candidates have signaled that they are interested in running again in November, win or lose. In a statement provided to ABC News, Saccone called the new map "partisan," but said he was "going to run and win in whatever district I compete in because it's not about the lines that are drawn, but about the values I represent." Lamb's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the uncertainty ahead, outside groups remain focused on a potentially momentum-shifting victory in the district next month.

American Bridge, a Democratic Super PAC, is releasing a new digital ad this week bashing Saccone for "out of touch" comments on the region's opioid crisis. But by happenstance, the ad will run on Facebook for users across Pennsylvania, not just in the 18th district, according to a PAC official, a move that could pay dividends should Saccone run elsewhere come November.

Numerous map submissions from both sides of the aisle were presented to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the state’s congressional boundaries redrawn late last month. But after Wolf vetoed a map submitted Republican leaders in the statehouse last Tuesday, it became clear both sides were not going to reach an agreement by the February 16 deadline.

Republicans in the state harshly criticized Wolf for rejecting the map they submitted, saying his decision “sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance.”

“This entire exercise, while cloaked in ‘litigation,’ is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander – one brought about by the Democrat Chief Executive of the Commonwealth acting in concert with politically-connected litigants in order to divest the General Assembly of its Constitutional authority to enact Congressional districts,” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement last Tuesday.

President Trump also weighed in on the new map Tuesday morning, imploring the GOP to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wolf submitted his own map last week that he claimed “combined features of legislative submissions” and was “statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.”

“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.”

The new congressional map, if it survives the coming legal challenges from Republicans, could allow Democrats to pick up between 2 to 3 seats in the 2018 midterm elections.

“If the Pennsylvania map changes, it’s hard to imagine how the Republicans hold control of the House so maybe that’s why we’re seeing the desperation we’re seeing,” Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute, told ABC News.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Sergei Millian emerged last year as one of the more intriguing characters to surface during the ongoing investigations into foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The Belarusan-American businessman and onetime Russian government translator claimed to have brokered Trump-branded real estate to Russian buyers. He contacted high-level members of the Trump campaign who have since been swept into the widening Russia probe. And he was alleged in news reports to be the unwitting source of a key allegation contained in the infamous dossier of unverified claims that have beguiled the Trump presidency from its inception.

Congressional investigators want to interview Millian, sources familiar with aspects of the congressional inquiries told ABC News. They have been trying — and failing — to track him down for months.

So where in the world is he?

Last week, Millian offered those investigators a tantalizing clue as to his possible whereabouts, posting on Twitter a photo of himself addressing what appears to be a Harvard Business School event , with the caption, “Speaker at Harvard University.”

Not so fast. A university spokesman told ABC News there is no record of Millian appearing there in recent years.

“We have him listed as a guest speaker at a European Conference held at the school on March 3, 2013. His session was about Russian-European Energy Relations,” said Brian Kenny, a Harvard spokesman. “That's all the information I have.”

Exactly how Millian fits into the investigation remains unclear.

He has said publicly that he has no ties to the scandal and has simply been pursuing his efforts to foster cooperation as the head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

“The more fake news appear, the heavier the price will be paid by those who are behind this organized campaign,” he wrote on Twitter in August 2017.

Millian has not always been silent. He granted an interview to ABC News in July of 2016, during the presidential campaign. He described meeting Trump in 2008 during a marketing meeting to help bring attention to the Trump-branded development in Hollywood, Florida. He had even posed for a photo with Trump at the event and, he said, was introduced to Michael Cohen, who was then the senior attorney for the Trump Organization.

“Trump’s team, they realized that we have lots of connection with Russian investors. And they noticed that we bring a lot of investors from Russia,” Millian told ABC News. “And they needed my assistance, yes, to sell properties and sell some of the assets to Russian investors.”

Millian said he signed an agreement “with his team so I can be his official broker.”

Both Cohen and the developer of Trump Hollywood, the Related Group, told ABC News that they had no record of any signed agreement with Millian.

“I’ve never met the guy,” Cohen said at the time. “I have spoken to him twice. The first time, he was proposing to do something. He’s in real estate. I told him we have no interest. Second time he called me, I asked him not to call me anymore.”

During the 2016 campaign, Millian had contact with several of then-candidate Trump’s campaign aides and business colleagues, including George Papadopoulos, the campaign figure who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with the federal probe.

Papadopoulos’s fiancé Simona Mangiante told ABC News Millian approached the young Trump foreign policy advisor early in 2016, after he became associated with the campaign, and they struck up a friendship.

Millian also briefly engaged in social media contact on Twitter with Cohen. Cohen later told ABC News that he exchanged emails with Millian in order to tell him to stop exaggerating his ties to the Trump Organization.

Cohen said he wrote Millian to say it had become clear “that you too are seeking media attention off of this false narrative of a Trump-Russia alliance” and to ask him to stop “attempting to inject yourself into this crazy, [Hillary] Clinton campaign lie.”

Last spring, news reports alleged that Millian was an unwitting source of information for the uncorroborated “dossier” compiled by a former British spy for the Washington research firm Fusion GPS. That firm’s founder, Glenn Simpson, would not confirm that to Congress in November, but he told the House Intelligence Committee that Millian caught his attention early on.

“Sergei Millian isn't named in the dossier, but is someone who was important,” Simpson said.

In more recent interviews, Millian has denied being the source of any information that appeared in the dossier.

“This is just a blatant lie,” he told a Russian television talk show called 60 Minutes, according to a translation prepared for ABC News. He called it an attempt “to show our president [Trump] in a bad light, using my name.”

Millian declined to respond to emailed questions from ABC News in recent months, other than sending an email objecting to his portrayal in earlier reports and expressing general frustration with the media coverage that has centered on him.

“Shame on you for working like this and deceiving your viewers,” he said.

A phone number listed for him on the Russian American Chamber of Commerce web site does not accept calls or messages.

As for Millian’s whereabouts, that remains something of a mystery. Public records suggest he lived in Atlanta, and later at locations in New York City. Last year, he posted photos of himself in Washington, D.C., attending parties celebrating the Trump Inauguration.

And that photo from Harvard? It was geo-tagged in New York -- perhaps a new clue for congressional investigators who are hoping to speak with him.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer surprising support for a regular opponent on Monday night. The president endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for senator from Utah, a position he hopes to inherit from the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The president tweeted, "He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch and has my full support and endorsement!"

Romney made the announcement he would be running last week, but never mentioned Trump in his campaign video.

Romney was extremely critical of Trump during the 2016 election, including a speech from March 2016 in which he meticulously outlined all of the problems Trump presented if elected. The former Massachusetts governor ripped Trump over foreign policy, his businesses and the economy, his temperament and dealings with Russia.

"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," Romney told an audience at the University of Utah last March. "His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

Trump in turn said Romney "choked like a dog" when he lost in 2012 to President Barack Obama and called him a "mixed up man who doesn't have a clue."

Yet, Romney accepted Trump's endorsement on Twitter late Monday, making no mention of his critical comments from a year ago.

Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press on the day of his campaign announcement last Friday he was on the same page policy-wise as Trump, but wouldn't hesitate to speak out against the president if he disagreed. He voiced an immigration plan similar to Trump's in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, voicing support for "a border fence or wall" and saying he agreed chain migration and the lottery program should be fixed.

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