Political News


(WASHINGTON) -- The White House, following its steps to limit congressional testimony from administration officials in May, has told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that it will only allow key officials to testify before committees meeting in-person -- an apparent dismissal of the House's new remote hearing system that will likely further infuriate Democrats and complicate congressional oversight efforts.

"By permitting proxy voting, remote hearings, and virtual depositions, the Speaker and the House majority demonstrated they are not serious about doing the job that the American people sent them to Washington to do," the White House said in an email to congressional officials obtained by ABC News. "Nevertheless, the Administration is serious about and committed to its mission to lead and execute the laws. Therefore, federal officials will appear in person before a committee and we ask that each Chairman do the same."

The Democratic-led House recently voted to authorize proxy voting and remote hearings, in an effort to limit lawmakers' travel to Capitol Hill during the coronavirus pandemic. The GOP-held Senate has repeatedly returned to Washington to vote with new social distancing measures in place, though some committee hearings have taken place virtually.

"The Administration is willing to make accommodations, but only when Congress is similarly willing to make accommodations, including agreeing to appear in person," the letter reads. "We also remain cognizant of social distancing guidelines and instances where witnesses will need to participate virtually as a result of quarantine, and we will review those on a case-by-case basis."

The notice said that no cabinet-level senior administration official, member of the coronavirus task force or the administration's coronavirus vaccine initiative is permitted to accept hearing invitations without approval from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

"The Administration must continue to maintain its highest operational status to stop the spread and to reopen our economy. Every single agency continues to play a role in the response and this singular focus must continue," the White House wrote in the memo.

In May, the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and key member of the administration's coronavirus task force, from testifying before the House Appropriations Committee on public health funding and the coronavirus fight.

The White House argued that the hearing was "counter-productive" and distracted from the coronavirus response, but allowed Fauci and other top health officials to appear virtually before a Senate panel for a hearing on reopening the economy.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused the White House of trying to avoid accountability and oversight when the initial restrictions on testimony were put in place.

"The fact that they said, 'We're too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol' is, well, business as usual for them," Pelosi said on CNN, adding that the White House "might be afraid of the truth."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


phototreat/iStockBy LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon has placed a small number of U.S. Army units on a four-hour standby to deploy to Minneapolis if Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz requests them to help end the violent protests, but so far Walz has indicated he will use only National Guard troops from his state or neighboring states. If the active duty troops are requested, a senior defense official said they will only be providing support to local authorities.

"At this time there is no request by the Governor of Minnesota for Title 10 forces to support the Minnesota National Guard or state law enforcement," said Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, in a statement. "As a prudent planning measure, the department has directed U.S. Northern Command to increase the alert status of several units should they be requested by the Governor to support Minnesota authorities."

These are units that normally maintain a 48-hour recall to support state civil authorities for several contingencies (like natural disasters) and are now on 4-hour status," said Hoffman.

A senior defense official said that the shortening of response times for all types of missions, including those for civilian support, is not unusual, but did not know when the last time they had been modified in response to civilian disturbances.

Hoffman said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had spoken twice with Walz over the last 24 hours and had "expressed the department’s readiness to provide support to local and state authorities as requested."

Earlier on Saturday, Walz authorized the full call up of Minnesota's 13,200 guardsmen, however, that is merely an authorization if they are all needed.

For now, the Minnesota National Guard says it plans to have 3,200 guardsmen activated by the end of Saturday and additional personnel will be called up in coming days. Guardsmen are providing support to law enforcement personnel in Minneapolis, but are not authorized to carry out arrests under their rules of engagement.

Walz told reporters on Saturday that he was aware of the Pentagon's planning and called it "an option" that might involve "several hundred" forces. The Minnesota governor clearly stated his preference to use his state's guardsmen and others from neighboring states who could come in greater numbers and have more familiarity with his state.

Since the eruption of violence in Minneapolis, President Donald Trump has tweeted that the U.S. military might be involved, raising questions if he was referring to the use of active duty troops or the federalizing of the Minnesota National Guard.

Active duty military troops are prohibited by the post-Civil War Posse Comitatus Act from carrying out law enforcement duties in the United States. However, the Insurrection Act of 1807 allows the president to send in military troops to end lawlessness. It was used during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King trial acquittal and in 2005 in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Asked if the Insurrection Act might be invoked, the senior defense official would only say that "the department is prepared to support the governor or any requests that the governor has to deal with the situation currently taking place in Minnesota. That is the extent of what we're looking at."

A U.S. official told ABC News that several military police units at several Army bases, including Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were among those placed on prepare to deploy orders in case they are requested by Minnesota's governor.

But the senior defense official said that an engineering unit was also placed on alert status to possibly assist in placing barriers or fencing, if needed.

The senior defense official said planning for a possible active-duty military response was an internal decision and began on Friday ahead of Esper and Milley's call with Walz.

If the active duty forces are requested by Walz they would fall under the U.S. Northern Command.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBY: RACHEL SCOTT AND WILL STEAKIN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s controversial comments suggesting looters in Minneapolis be shot and calling protesters “thugs” marks the latest example of the president choosing to stoke long standing racial divides rather than trying to comfort a hurting community, a reality at odds with his campaign’s effort to court black voters.

As the death of George Floyd sparked widespread condemnation after disturbing video spread across social media showing a police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck as he yelled out, "I can't breathe,” the president remained silent for days on the topic.

Trump instead tweeted repeatedly about topics in the news and pushed unfounded claims about mail-in ballots being tied to widespread fraud and continuously promoted a baseless murder conspiracy, despite a widower’s plea, to smear a cable news host.

The president first commented on Floyd's death Wednesday afternoon after being asked by a reporter while touring Kennedy Space Center. He would go on to announced he'd asked the F.B.I. and Justice Department to investigate the incident.

But at nearly 1 a.m on Friday, as protests were raging around the country in the wake of another in-custody death of a black man, the president seemingly reverted to a place critics say he often heads; stoking heated tensions and fanning the flames of longstanding racial division.

In late-night tweets, which Twitter flagged for “glorifying violence,” the president smeared protesters as “thugs,” threatened to use military force to “assume control,” and said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing a phrase first used by a Miami police chief that civil rights groups have widely condemned.

Trump and the White House have since tried to walk back the comments, claiming the president was not encouraging violence and that the president meant “looting leads to shooting,” saying he didn’t know the phrase's origins.

The president’s campaign in a statement blamed the media, Twitter, and Democrats for “twisting of President Trump’s words… to take the entire nation down the worst road imaginable.”

“The facts show that the President expressed horror over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and ordered the Department of Justice to get involved. When riots erupted in that city and elsewhere, he warned on Twitter that looting could quickly turn into violence,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

But, senior Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson defended the president’s words on Twitter writing, “There’s no problem standing up to the looters and vandals,” in response to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticizing Trump for suggesting looters should be shot.

Trump’s remarks were swiftly condemned by activists and critics claiming Trump’s words suggesting looters should be shot showed a stark difference between how the president responds to civil unrest depending on who’s protesting, pointing to Trump’s tweets from a few weeks back egging on mostly white and some armed conservative groups protesting lockdown measures amid the coronavirus in contrast to his remarks on majority black protesters in Minnesota.

“You’re quick to send your troops to kill us?” Leslie Redmond, the head of Minneapolis NAACP said at a press conference on Friday. “You were crying, ‘liberate Minnesota,’ when it came to economics, property, and money. When are you going to tell them to liberate black people in America?”

But following a night of civil unrest across the country, the president Saturday morning again threatened violent retaliation against protesters.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the White House Friday night to protest Floyd's killing and the president's response, and amid boiling conflict Trump took to Twitter and goaded the protesters writing that if the demonstration had escalated, "that’s when people would have been really badly hurt"—threatening to sick the "most vicious dogs" and turn the "most ominous weapons" against them, even seeming to revel in the idea that "many Secret Service agents just waiting for action."

The president also, after threatening to use lethal force if protests escalated, appeared to urge pro-Trump demonstrators to show up to the White House on Saturday night, tweeting: "Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???" A move that many in response have pointed out could lead to escalated tensions.

Trump’s comments are the latest example of the president’s tendency to seemingly pour gasoline on flaming racial tensions. In 2017, after the massive white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president said there is “blame on both sides,” leading to widespread condemnation that he was blustering racist groups.

And last summer, Trump told a group of four American congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from, a comment that ignited condemnation from Democrats and Republicans.

And as protests rage over Floyd's killing, which many Americans decry as the latest example of police brutality against African Americans, the president's history of urging law enforcement to use excessive force is facing renewed scrutiny. During a 2017 speech to law enforcement officers, the president urged against protecting the heads of suspected gang members when putting them in police cars. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over...I said, ‘You can take the hand away, O.K.?’”

Trump’s latest remarks amid tensions in Minneapolis over the death George Floyd come in an election year and while his campaign has heavily invested in an effort to appeal to black voters, with plans to open retail-style stores in black neighborhoods, a multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad buy, and the launch of a “Black Voices for Trump” coalition.

“I think this is an opportune time to really show African Americans that they're trying to engage that they understand the grievances of the overall community, and what not a better time to showcase that than when the community is grieving about injustices,” political strategist Shermichael Singleton told ABC News.

And following the president’s lead, the campaign had remained on the sidelines for days as Floyd's death sparked mass condemnation, including by presumptive Democratic nomniee Joe Biden, and devastated and took an emotional toll on the black community they are working to court. Many on the president's team began speaking out on Floyd's death on Thursday amid rising protests across the country and to condemn rioting.

"Looting is not protesting. Burning down local homes and businesses is not protesting. How sad that the memory of #GeorgeFloyd has been lost in all of this," Trump campaign senior advisor Lara Trump tweeted.

But as the campaign has worked to hijack the phrase “woke” in an attempt to connect with voters, selling hats, shirts, and hoodies embroidered with the phrase groups like Black Lives Matter worked to popularize, some believe their response in times of racial violence has been anything but socially aware of racial injustice.

"Like all Americans, the Trump campaign was shocked and horrified over George Floyd’s death. The campaign and our surrogates have been active in condemning both Floyd’s death and the violent outbursts that have followed it," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said, pointing out that "unlike Joe Biden, who has no actual responsibilities, our candidate is the President of the United States, who has responsibility for the Department of Justice. When the President addressed Floyd’s death and quickly thereafter announced the DOJ civil rights investigation, the campaign amplified that action."

The campaign said they issued a statement to reporters on Floyd's death on Thursday and said "the country is still dealing with this tragedy, it is important for Americans to come together peacefully, call for clear-eyed justice, and unite as one nation.”

In contrast, it took moments for the re-election campaign to launch an all-out onslaught to attempt to smear former Vice President Joe Biden as a “racist” after his now infamous Breakfast Club interview, first posted online last Friday.

“This is disgusting,” the Trump campaign tweeted less than an hour after the interview appeared on YouTube, along with a clip of Biden telling radio host Charlamagne Tha God that black voters “ain’t black” if they’re still deciding between voting for him or the president. Biden later that same day during a call with the National Black Chamber of Commerce conceded that he was “much too cavalier” in his remarks, and said he did not take the black vote for granted.

Still in the hours leading up to that call, the president’s campaign team deployed a full-scale blitz utilizing its massive war chest, organizational might, and “Black Voices for Trump” coalition to try and capitalize on Biden’s comments as part of the Trump campaign’s latest effort to appeal to black voters, a core voting block for the former vice president and Democrats.

The Trump team helped push a #YouAintBlack hashtag that trended across Twitter--They dropped a $1 million ad-buy promoting Biden’s comments and labeling him a “racist." And before noon last Friday, the Trump campaign had scheduled and held a press conference call featuring South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the sole black Republican senator, to blast the presumptive Democratic nominee’s comments.

And as thousands took to the streets to demand justice for Floyd, the Trump campaign blasted its “Black Voices for Trump” email list on Wednesday afternoon still highlighting Biden’s comments, asking voters to mobilize behind President Trump.

On Friday night, the Trump campaign emailed supporters and the media a list of “what The Trump campaign is saying about the tragic loss of George Floyd,” which featured campaign officials like senior advisor Lara Trump condemning looting. But most Trump campaign officials remained silent regarding the incident until Friday when they issued statements online days later condemning the looting and protests in the wake of Floyd’s death along with condolences.

Biden first addressed Floyd’s death in a tweet on Tuesday calling for a “ thorough investigation” and adding “George Floyd deserved better and his family deserves justice. His life mattered.”

A day later, Biden again addressed Floyd’s death during a digital event on Wednesday, arguing that the incident--and its similarities to Eric Garner’s case from five years ago which saw a white New York City police officer caused the chokehold death a black man, proved just how much further the country needs to go to root out systemic injustice.

“It cuts at the very heart of our sacred belief that all Americans are equal in rights and in dignity, and it sends a very clear message to the black community and black lives that are under threat, every single day,” Biden said.

Along with touting the landmark criminal justice reform bill the president signed into law in late 2018, Trump had planned to use historically low black unemployment, which began to decline under President Barack Obama as his main pitching point to black voters, but with those numbers skyrocketing amid the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately impacting black and minority communities, his team has switched focus to painting Biden as a racist.

Plans for the Trump campaign to open up retail style community centers in several predominantly black cities in battleground states in an effort to pitch minority voters have been put off during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Trump allies also held independent events in black communities, touting the president’s record and giving away thousands in cash.

In 2016, Trump won just 8% of African-American voters. And as the Trump campaign has ramped up efforts to court black voters, advisers say even a marginal increase in support in key battleground states would have a significant impact.

“It defies all logic and reason for Donald Trump to try to court black voters while trying to win white votes by calling black people 'thugs' and amplifying racial violence,” Yvette Simpson, CEO, Democracy for America and ABC News contributor said.

“The Trump campaign's attempts to win black votes aren't about serving black people, they're about distracting the public (and especially white voters) from the image of an incompetent president who used bigotry and racial resentment to fuel his political rise, and who continues to fuel the fire of hate and racism today,” Simpson told ABC News.

Darrell Scott, a close ally to President Trump told ABC News discussions are underway to resume those events.

Scott, who President Trump called a “very good friend” during a listening session with African American leaders in Michigan this month, serves as the CEO of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump and Urban Revitalization Coalition.

He pushed back against accusations the community events, which he called “nonpartisan” are trying to buy the black vote.

“To imply that the black community would have a vote to sell or to imply that we thought so less of the black community to entice them with the selling of a vote is offensive,” Scott told ABC News.

Scott, who also serves as a co-chair for the “Black Voices for Trump” coalition is one of few campaign officials who spoke out publicly immediately following Floyd’s death.

“It’s more than a “Black Rights” issue, it’s a “Human Rights” issue,” Scott stated on Twitter.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBY: ALISA WIERSEMA, ABC NEWS

(MINNEAPOLIS) -- In recent months, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been floated as a presumptive top choice for the role of vice president on Joe Biden’s ticket.

While the former presidential candidate’s political visibility could be seen as an asset in the vice presidential vetting process, it also puts the senior Minnesota senator’s past public service as the Hennepin County attorney under sharper scrutiny in light of the fallout over the death of George Floyd.

As protests continue over officials’ handling of the prosecution of the officers involved in Floyd’s death, Klobuchar, who serves as the senior senator from Minnesota, is facing renewed scrutiny over her own record as the Hennepin County attorney, an issue she already faced on the campaign trail.

Throughout the Democratic primary cycle, Klobuchar frequently received questions about her role in sending a black teenager to prison for life and who may have been innocent of the murder charges for which he was sentenced. Those concerns manifested on the campaign trail when her final hometown rally in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, was cancelled 40 minutes after she was scheduled to take the stage as protesters overtook the stage and chanted for justice in the case of Myron Burrell.

More recently, following the death of George Floyd, Klobuchar’s actions in her former role have been further questioned for utilizing the practice of having a grand jury decide whether to criminally charge officers associated with police-involved fatalities.

"I have said repeatedly -- back when I was the county attorney, the cases we had involved with officer-involved shootings went to a grand jury. That was true across our state and many jurisdictions across the country,” Klobuchar said in a cable news interview Friday.

“I think that was wrong now,” she added, “I think it would have been much better if I took the responsibility and looked at the cases and made the decision myself, but let me make this clear -- we did not blow off these cases. We brought them to a grand jury.”

A spokesperson for the senator did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

On a call with reporters Friday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the top African American lawmaker in Congress, seemed to suggest that Floyd's killing and the ongoing protests in Minneapolis would damage Klobuchar's odds for being picked as Biden’s running mate. While Clyburn noted that Senator Klobuchar is “absolutely” qualified for the role, he alluded that it may not be her time.

“I lost three times before I ever got to the office and I told people the time was not quite right. We are all victims sometimes of timing, and some of us benefit tremendously from timing," he said. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much. The timing is tough."

Klobuchar dropped out of the presidential race after voters in Clyburn’s home state of South Carolina cast their ballots. Despite Klobuchar’s surprise third place finish in the early primary state of New Hampshire, she finished sixth with the Palmetto State’s more diverse electorate. In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz in the lead up to the Nevada and South Carolina primaries in February, Klobuchar acknowledged that she was struggling to build support with minority voters, and said at the time that people need “to get to know me.”

The political aftershocks happening in Klobuchar’s home state, paired with her struggle to appeal to black voters during the Democratic primary season, are now factoring into the public discourse about whether she would be the best vice presidential option for Joe Biden, whose campaign considers minority voters to be a key constituency they’ll need to win back the White House in November.

Klobuchar’s defense of her record happened after days of swirling allegations that in 2006 she declined to bring charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who was shown on-camera kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

According to a document that outlines instances of fatalities involving encounters with law enforcement agencies put together by the police watchdog group, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Chauvin was one of six Minneapolis police officers involved in an October 2006 incident in which police shot and killed a man named Wayne Reyes, who was suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and a male friend.

Hennepin County confirmed to ABC News that a grand jury declined to indict the officers involved in that incident.

On Friday, Klobuchar vehemently denied the allegations in a cable news interview, and said that she never declined the case because she was already in the U.S. Senate when it went to a grand jury.

"My successor's office said it was not my place to make decisions because the decision was made when I was in the U.S. Senate. In fact, nine months after I was in the senate is when it went to the grand jury," Klobuchar said.

In an email to ABC News, Lacey Severins, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office said, “Amy Klobuchar’s last day as the Hennepin County Attorney was Dec. 31, 2006; she had no involvement in the prosecution [of the case.]” Severins also added that “the date for when the case was referred to the grand jury could not have been any earlier than six weeks before a decision was made.”

Amid the scrutiny, Klobuchar repeatedly called for charges to be brought against those who were involved in Floyd’s death. She also urged for “a large scale investigation of what's been going on at the Minneapolis police department.”

On Friday, in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, Klobuchar, along with fellow Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and 26 other senators, called on the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the Minneapolis Police Department.

“Given the repeated instances of police violence that have resulted in the deaths of several citizens—a disproportionate share of whom have been black men—we ask that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the MPD,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that the Justice Department should “also be prepared to use the strongest tools ensure oversight, enforcement, and accountability on an ongoing basis.”

Despite the political rumblings, Klobuchar is not taking herself out of vice presidential consideration. In a cable news interview Friday, she deflected questions about whether her oversight of those cases amid the current cultural context should disqualify her from being considered for vice president.

"This is Joe Biden's decision," she said. "He was an excellent vice president and he's going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we're facing to take over leadership of who's the best partner for him...He will make that decision. He'll decide who he's considering."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General William Barr said on Saturday that the investigation into the death of George Floyd was moving at “exceptional speed" but took aim at some of the protesters who have been gathering in response to the incident.

“The voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” Barr said in a televised statement at the Department of Justice.

“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda. In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far left extremist groups using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom traveled from outside the state to promote the violence,” Barr said.

The death of Floyd, a black man who was seen pinned down in a video by a white police officer and later died, has caused outrage in the city of Minneapolis and across the United States. What started as mostly peaceful protests at the beginning of the week has turned into chaos.

The attorney general made clear that people crossing state lines to commit crimes would face federal charges.

“In that regard it is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting and we will enforce those laws,” Barr said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said at a press conference on Saturday that the state estimates up to 80% percent of those causing destruction throughout the area are people who have come in from outside Minnesota. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said everyone arrested in his city last night was from out of state.

“We must have law and order on our streets and in our communities and it is the responsibility of the local and state leadership in the first instance to halt this violence,” Barr said.

“The Department of Justice, including the FBI, US Marshals and ATF the DEA and our 93 USAO offices around the country are supporting these local efforts and are continuing to support them. We will take all actions necessary to enforce federal law,” he added.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not violate a law governing federal employees' behavior with his trips to Kansas in 2019, according to a letter from an independent federal investigative agency released by Pompeo late Thursday.

Pompeo has come under increased scrutiny after recommending the firing of the State Department's inspector general. Democratic lawmakers announced they were expanding their investigation Friday, requesting interviews with several senior State Department officials.

The probe into Pompeo's travel began last year after he made a series of trips to his adopted home state, with questions about whether he was using his office as secretary to pursue a run for Kansas's open Senate seat. The federal agency, known as the Office of Special Counsel, cleared him of wrongdoing because he said he is not running for office.

From the inspector general's firing to the travel probe, the top U.S. diplomat has pushed back on the renewed scrutiny by striking out at New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the State Department. Menendez accused him of "hackery" and "character assassination attempts" in a fiery letter released to ABC News.

Last fall, Menendez called for an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, or OSC, a special government agency tasked with investigating and prosecuting federal employee laws. That includes the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their position or government resources to pursue political office.

According to the agency's letter, dated Jan. 21 and and released by Pompeo's office, the office's Hatch Act unit chief said there was "no evidence" Pompeo violated the law when he made four trips to Kansas in 2019, three of which were for official purposes. Those trips helped fuel speculation that Pompeo may run for the open Senate seat in his adopted home state, where he served three terms as a congressman -- especially after he met with conservative billionaire Charles Koch during one visit in October.

Pompeo has said repeatedly he will not run for the seat, despite efforts by senior Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to recruit him to run. The OSC said it relied on Pompeo's public and reported denials to reach its conclusion, including reports in early January that Pompeo told McConnell he was a firm no.

"Based on our review of the evidence to date, OSC cannot conclude that you are currently a candidate in the 2020 Senate election in Kansas," wrote Ana Galindo-Marrone of the OSC, "Accordingly, OSC is closing this matter but reserves the right to reopen its investigation pending any new developments."

The filing deadline to enter the Kansas race is this Monday at 12 noon. The race is shaping up to be a competitive one for Kansas, usually a Republican stronghold, particularly if one of the leading GOP candidate wins the party's nomination -- controversial former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known for his hard-line immigration views.

In a letter to Menendez accompanying his release of the OSC letter, Pompeo accused Menendez of "hackery" and "character assassinations attempts" against him. He pointed to Menendez's comments to the Wall Street Journal last week that he never received a response from the OSC.

"The scurrilous allegations you put forward had the additional effect -- one which you clearly intended when you publicized your letter to the OSC -- of generating a series of media articles and reports with rumors, innuendo, and flat untruths about me and the U.S. Department of State," Pompeo wrote.

He copied several news outlets and said they "joined in your slander on this” -- a list that included ABC News, which reported on Menendez’s original call for an investigation.

A Pompeo aide specifically pointed to a November 2019 story that noted that Pompeo's travel has "drawn scrutiny from Congress" and that Menendez had "sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel, asking for an investigation into whether Pompeo's travel has violated the Hatch Act."

Pompeo and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have battled for as long as Pompeo's been the secretary and subject to the committee's oversight. They traded sharp lashings at a hearing after President Trump's Stockholm summit with Vladimir Putin in 2018.

Last week, Pompeo deflected questions about the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick's firing by blaming Menendez for leaking details about the IG's probes and questioning his morals.

"Clearly the Secretary of State feels deeply disturbed by the ongoing oversight work of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," Menendez said in a statement to ABC News Friday. "High-level temper tantrums will not stop the Committee from conducting our oversight responsibilities."

Menendez and several top Democrats in the House opened an investigation into Linick's removal, which Pompeo said he recommended. His office was probing Pompeo's use of an emergency declaration to bypass Congressional opposition and transfer $8 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as whether Pompeo used a political appointee to run personal errands for him and his wife.

Pompeo told Fox News Thursday that he called for Linick's removal because he was "investigating policies he simply didn’t like," without offering specifics.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has appointed a controversial Republican donor and businessman to head the U.S. consulate general in Bermuda, bypassing bipartisan opposition to his nomination to be a U.S. ambassador.

Lee Rizzuto, heir to the Conair Corporation fortune, was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019 to be the U.S. envoy to Barbados and other Caribbean island countries, but his nomination was sunk by Senate Republicans and Democrats after his controversial tweets promoting a conspiracy theory about Sen. Ted Cruz's wife and trashing Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, and others came to light.

His new appointment has sparked criticism for the message it sends America's closest neighbors and the State Department's rank and file, many of whom were upset with the decision.

"Mr. Rizzuto was deemed unqualified to lead a U.S. mission overseas by the Republican-held United States Senate. President Trump's decision to install him at the head of the consulate general in Bermuda betrays a lack of respect for the Senate, for Bermudans and the broader Caribbean community, and for the crucial work of American diplomats," said Michael Camilleri of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington focused on the Western Hemisphere.

Rizzuto donated at least $454,400 to Trump's presidential campaign, other Republican candidates, and the Republican Party in several states in 2016, according to OpenSecrets, as well as $25,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party. He also reportedly helped fund a "Trumpettes USA" gala at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, just two weeks after he was first nominated to be ambassador to Barbados, according to the Washington Post.

Opposition to his original nomination centered on Rizzuto's Twitter account. The 58-year old executive at Conair, the appliance and beauty product company built by his father, retweeted messages that attacked Trump's political rivals at the time, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton.

The messages called Romney a "Dumb A**" and Clinton a "terrorist with amnesia," while accusing Cruz's wife Heidi of being a leader in the North American Union movement, "whose goal is to destroy the sovereignty of the United States," one message said, by merging the governments of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

A spokesperson for Sen. Cruz declined to comment.

When he was first nominated in January 2018, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, had a particularly pointed message in response: "Mr. Rizzuto should feel free to put on his tinfoil hat and visit our office with evidence for his salacious conspiracy theories and cuckoo allegations. While he's at it, the Senate probably needs to know his views on the moon landing."

"Cynics and nuts are probably going to have a hard time securing Senate confirmation," said the spokesperson for Sasse, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is required to first approve any ambassadors before they get a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

Asked about Rizzuto's appointment as principal officer at the U.S. consulate general two years later, Sasse's spokesperson referred ABC News to the 2018 statement.

"Protecting U.S. citizens abroad is the first job of our diplomats. Appointing a conspiracy theorist and failed ambassadorial nominee to head a consulate currently led by an experienced, career foreign service officer can only weaken the State Department's ability to carry out that mission," said Camilleri, who served at the State Department under President Barack Obama and at the Organization of American States.

It is not the first time that a political appointee has been selected to lead the U.S. mission in Bermuda, a British overseas territory known most for being a vacation destination. President George W. Bush named Palm Beach investor Dennis Coleman to the role in 2003 and Texas author and businessman Gregory Slayton in 2006.

Slayton stayed on in the role through the first months of Obama's first term, authored a book on U.S.-Bermuda relations, and was awarded the Distinguished Foreign Service Award by the Congressional Black Caucus.

While the Senate must confirm a president's nominees for ambassadorships, the White House is entitled to appoint individuals to certain senior posts like this.

In announcing his appointment Wednesday, the State Department praised Rizzuto for his work as chairman of the Professional Beauty Association, director of the North American Beauty Events LLC, the producer of Cosmoprof NA, a beauty trade show, and creator of "Style Source Magazine."

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday announced sanctions on China over its approach to Hong Kong and said he would end the United States' relationship with the World Health Organization over its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to worldwide and deserving, urgent global public health needs,” Trump said.

Trump had last week threatened that the U.S. would permanently stop funding the W.H.O. and withdraw from the United Nations agency unless it made "major substantive improvements within the next 30 days."

Only 11 days has elapsed since he issued that threat. Trump's moves to pull U.S. funding for WHO have been widely criticized, particularly for ceding the global stage to China even as he criticizes the organization for being too deferential to Beijing.

During his remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, Trump focused entirely on China and took no questions from reporters, despite the White House's billing the event as a news conference.

He did not mention the death of George Floyd, a black man who was seen pinned down in a video by a white police officer in Minneapolis and later died, or the ensuing protests across the country.

At the end of his remarks, Trump walked away as reporters shouted questions about Floyd and Minnesota.

The president said he was directing his administration to “begin the process” of ending the special trade relationship with Hong Kong and impose sanctions on unspecified Chinese officials tied to China’s latest moves on Hong Kong, taking action "to revoke Hong Kong's preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China."

China’s rubber-stamp parliament on Thursday endorsed with thunderous applause a controversial new law to ban all “activities” in Hong Kong that endanger China’s national security.

The yet-to-be-drafted law would ultimately be enacted in Hong Kong by decree, bypassing the local lawmaking process. The Asian financial center is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy from Beijing under the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement put in place when the former British colony was handed back to China.

"China's latest incursion, along with other recent developments that degraded the territory’s freedoms, makes clear that Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous to warrant the special treatment that we have afforded the territory since the handover" of the territory from Britain to China, Trump said.

He said the announcement "will affect the full range of agreements we have with Hong Kong from our extradition treaty to our export controls on dual use technologies and more with a few exceptions,” he said. “We will be revising the State Department's travel advisory for Hong Kong to reflect the increased danger of surveillance and punishment by the Chinese state security apparatus.”

Trump said the United States would also move to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who have been "directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong's autonomy" and "smothering, absolutely smothering Hong Kong's freedom."

Trump also announced restrictions on Chinese nationals coming to study at U.S. universities, and he said he would instruct a working group to look at the practices of Chinese companies listed on U.S. financial markets.

“Investment firms should not be subjecting their clients to the hidden and undue risks associated with financing Chinese companies that do not play by the same rules,” he said. “Americans are entitled to fairness and transparency.”

He later signed a proclamation barring the entry of Chinese students tied to the Chinese military from entering the U.S. to study or conduct research above the undergraduate level, arguing Chinese “authorities use some Chinese students, mostly post graduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property.”

The proclamation, which goes into effect indefinitely starting Monday, provided exemptions for U.S. permanent residents and their spouses, the spouses of American citizens, people seeking asylum and a few other limited categories.

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(WASHINGTON) -- As protests over the death of a black man in police custody spread nationwide, President Donald Trump tweeted a phrase that echoed controversial remarks from a past era.

"Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way," the president tweeted Friday morning, referencing protests that turned violent over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. "Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Trump later doubled down, tweeting "Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night - or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.... "

In 1967, Walter Headley, who was then the police chief of Miami, used the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" at a press conference while addressing his department's crackdown on "hoodlums." He said Miami hadn't "faced serious problems with civil uprisings and looting because I've let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts," according to the Miami Herald. "We don't mind being accused of police brutality," Headley added.

Headley was known for cracking down on communities of color with policing policies like stop-and-frisk and his use of patrol dogs.

During the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach in August 1968, violent protests broke out in the predominantly black neighborhood Liberty City. According to The New York Times, Headley repeated the phrase again.

Trump's tweet — which also referred to protesters as "thugs" — was quickly flagged by Twitter as "glorifying violence." The White House subsequently tweeted the same language on Friday morning, which was also flagged by the platform.

The president has repeatedly used the word "thug," which carries its own racial context.

In 2016, in response to the cancelation of his presidential rally in Chicago, he tweeted: "The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!"

He addressed the word's connotations in an April 2015 tweet after then-President Barack Obama faced criticism for using it, writing, "They now say using the word 'thug' is, like so many other words, not politically correct (even though Obama uses it). It is racist. BULL!"

In an interview with NPR on the use of the word "thug" to describe Baltimore rioters after Freddie Gray's funeral, John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, said that "thug" is a polite way of using the "N-word."

"It is a sly way of saying there go those black people ruining things again. And so anybody who wonders whether thug is becoming the new N-word doesn't need to. It's most certainly is," he said.

He made the case that when African Americans use the word, it takes on a different meaning.

"When black people say it, they don't mean what white people mean, and that's why I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Barack Obama saying it means something different from the white housewife wherever who says it," he said.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Presumptive Democratic nominee and Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed the death of George Floyd, delivering brief remarks Friday afternoon following ‘incendiary tweets' from President Trump that used racially charged language about protests in Minneapolis broke out Thursday night.

“This is no time for incendiary...tweets. It’s no time to encourage violence. This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now -- leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism. It's time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It's time for us to face that deep, open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd,” Biden said in remarks given via live-stream from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden said Friday that he has spoken with members of Floyd’s family, and urged the nation to confront the “uncomfortable truths,” that his death earlier this week highlights.

“None of us can turn away. None of us can be silent. None of us any longer can hear the words 'I can’t breathe' and do nothing," Biden said in his remarks.

His remarks coming after a night of heated protests in the city of Minneapolis that resulted in the precinct of the officers involved in Floyd’s death being burned to the ground, Biden made mention of other recent deaths of African-Americans that have drawn widespread outrage and sparked protests, including Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

"We've spoken their names aloud, we've cried them out in pain and horror,” Biden said Friday, harkening back to the nation’s “original sin” of slavery. “It's a list that dates back more than 400 years. Black men, black women, black children. The original sin of this country still stains our nation today and sometimes we manage to overlook it. We just push forward with a thousand other tasks in our daily life. But it's always there.”

Biden also spoke to the “constant anxiety” African-Americans face, invoking other recent incidents of black Americans having the cops incorrectly called on them for sitting in a Starbucks, as was the case in Philadelphia in 2018 or watching birds, as was the case this week in New York’s Central Park.

“Imagine having police called on you just for sitting in Starbucks or renting an Airbnb or watching birds. This is the norm black people in this country deal with. They don't have to imagine it. The anger and frustration and the exhaustion is undeniable, but that's not the promise of America,” Biden said.

The former vice president called for police reform during his remarks to “hold cops to a higher standard,’ that would ‘hold bad cops accountable,” along with repairing relationships between law enforcement and minority communities.

“It's gonna require those of us who sit in some position of influence to finally deal with the abuse of power. The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone. I believe it's the duty of every American to grapple with it, and to grapple with it now -- with our complacency, our silence. We are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence. Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable,” Biden said.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has spoken about Floyd’s death throughout the week, addressing it at the top of an event focused on coronavirus, and during a fundraiser Thursday night.

“We can’t ignore that we are in a country with an open wound right now. A wound far older and deeper than George Floyd’s—George Floyd’s killing—and his brutal, brutal death captured on film. His final words, pleading for breath. ‘Let me breathe, I can’t breathe.’ It’s ripped open anew this—this ugly underbelly of our society,” Biden said at the fundraiser.

“You know, if we’re not committed as a nation, with every ounce of purpose in our beings--not just to binding up this wound in hope that somehow the scab once again will cover things over--but to treat the underlying injury, we’re never going to eventually heal. That’s the reason I’m running. This campaign is about healing this country,” Biden continued.

When launching his campaign in April of 2019, Biden placed a heavy focus on the events in Charlottesville, Va., and the president’s response that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the clash as a catalyst for his decision to run.

“With those words, the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate, and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in my lifetime,” Biden said in the video announcing his candidacy.

Biden’s address also comes one week after he made headlines for comments he made during an interview with “The Breakfast Club” radio program, in which he quipped that if African American voters support President Trump over him in November, they aren’t “black.”

"Well, I’ll tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Biden told radio personality Charlamagne tha God, who hosts the program.

Biden expressed regret for those comments later that day, saying he shouldn't have been so “cavalier with his remarks.”

"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," Biden added, “I don't take [the black vote] for granted at all. And no one, no one should have to vote for any party, based on their race, their religion, their background.”

Biden has relied heavily on support from the African-American community throughout this year’s Democratic primary, especially among older black voters, who propelled him to a landslide victory in South Carolina that many credit with reviving his campaign.

In his remarks Friday, Biden pledged to Floyd’s family that he would see justice done in his case, and urged the country to “stand up” and spark change.

“I promise you, I promise you we’ll do everything in our power to see to it that justice is had in your brother, your cousin's case...Folks, we got to stand up. We’ve gotta move. We’ve gotta change,” Biden said.

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Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy ALEXANDRA SVOKOS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Barack Obama put out a statement on George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned down by police in Minneapolis.

"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America," he wrote. "It can't be 'normal.' If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

Obama said this in reference to the point that many people in America would like life to go back to "normal" in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But, he wrote, "being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal'" for millions of Americans.

This difference, he wrote, comes "whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in the park." Those last two points seemingly reference Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed by two white men while on a jog in Georgia in February, and an incident in New York City's Central Park this week in which a white woman called the police on a black man who asked her to leash her dog.

My statement on the death of George Floyd:

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 29, 2020

Floyd died after being apprehended by police Monday. A video that went viral shows an officer pinning his knee to Floyd's neck as he is on the ground, saying, "I can't breathe." The four officers involved have been fired, and investigations are ongoing. No charges have yet been announced.

His death in police custody has led to outrage across the nation and protests in many cities, including in Minneapolis, where violence has broken out over several nights this week.

In the statement that he posted to social media Friday, the former president also referenced conversations he has "had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota."

These conversations included an email from "a middle-aged African American businessman" who wrote, "'the knee on the neck' is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help."

He also referenced a video of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant singing a gospel song with lyrics written by his mother about being a young black man in America, and wrote that Keedron and Obama's friend share the same "anguish," as do Obama himself and "millions of others."

Ultimately, Obama wrote, it is up to officials in Minnesota to thoroughly investigate and seek justice for Floyd's death. But, he wrote, it is up to everyone "to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts."

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he has not spoken to Floyd's family, but that he feels "very, very badly" and that what he saw in the video of Floyd's death "was not good, very bad." Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump are monitoring a Department of Justice investigation, according to officials.

On Friday morning, the president tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis, saying that "thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd" and, referencing the military, that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." This tweet was flagged by the social media platform as "glorifying violence."

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Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy WILLIAM MANSELL and LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Twitter has flagged a tweet from the official White House Twitter account which reposted the text of a tweet President Donald Trump sent early Friday morning, saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," claiming the tweets violated its rules about "glorifying violence."

The tweets were in reference to the ongoing unrest in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!" Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday.

The official White House account reposted the language of President Trump's tweet Friday morning, which had already been flagged by Twitter.

The tweets are now only visible if "view" is clicked.

"This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible," the social media company said.

Replying to its own flagged tweet which repeated the text of Trump's flagged message, the official White House Twitter account later argued that Trump was actually condemning violence.

The President did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.@Jack and Twitter's biased, bad-faith "fact-checkers" have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 29, 2020

Without addressing the Twitter guidelines that got his tweet flagged earlier Friday morning, Trump responded to Twitter saying the social media giant only targets Republicans.

"Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party," Trump tweeted. "They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated."

After protesters overtook the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct and set it on fire, Trump lashed out at local officials and said the military could take over the response to the protests.

"I can't stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership," Trump tweeted. "Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right."

Frey responded to Trump at an early-morning press conference Friday, saying that type of finger point is weak.

"Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your actions. Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis," Frey said. "Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell. Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you better be damn sure that we're gonna get through this."

First Lady Melania Trump also chimed in on the protests on Twitter, saying, "there is no reason for violence" and the country needs to focus on healing. She noted in the tweet how she's seen Americans come together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our country allows for peaceful protests, but there is no reason for violence. I’ve seen our citizens unify & take care of one another through COVID19 & we can’t stop now. My deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd. As a nation, let's focus on peace, prayers & healing.

— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) May 29, 2020

Floyd, who is black, was seen pinned down in a video by a white police officer and later died. He could be heard screaming, "I can't breathe," on the video of the incident.

The video of Floyd's death has now caused outrage in the city of Minneapolis and all over the country. Residents of the city have protested his death since Tuesday.

This is the second time this week Twitter has taken action against Trump's tweets.

It previously flagged two of Trump's tweets about mail-in voting in California, saying Trump's tweets were "potentially misleading" about elections.

Trump responded to the flags by issuing an executive order Thursday targeting social media companies.

He said the order allows for new regulations so that social media companies "that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield."

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his state's handling of the coronavirus pandemic on "The View" Friday, May 29, 2020. - (ABC)By JOANNE ROSA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As California moves into Phase 3 of the state's reopening approach, Gov. Gavin Newsom said his biggest concern is the public forgets the reality of the coronavirus outbreak they've experienced.

California, which is the most populous state in the U.S., was one of the first to declare a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, hair salons and barbershops can reopen their doors across most of the state.

He said during his appearance on The View Friday that the state needs to progress "soberly," with "eyes wide open" as it reopens.

"As evidence presents itself, we need to be able to pull those brakes and pull back," he added.

"My biggest fear is amnesia. My biggest fear is that we forget the reality of the last eight weeks, nine, 10 weeks in the state and in this nation and imperil, put ourselves at real risk of not just a second wave but recognizing that we're not even out of the first wave of this pandemic," Newsom continued.

On Monday, California released a framework that will permit counties to allow in-person worship services. They include limiting worshipers to 100 or less, taking everyone's temperature, limiting singing and group recitations and not sharing prayer books or other items.

"We hope people do this in a very thoughtful and methodical way," Newsom said Friday of reopening houses of worship in the state. "All of this is imperfect; perfect's not on the menu."

"We're trying our best to accommodate people's faith, their needs, businesses' needs to reopen, people's need and desire to get back out, but to do so safely," Newsom added. "I'm still humbled by all of this because it is a daunting challenge for governors all across the political spectrum, all across this country."

Despite the horrific impact the coronavirus outbreak has around the world, Newsom said he takes solace in the fact that now the public has a "deeper understanding of [the] novel virus" and has in many ways become "deeply humbled" by the unknown that's been revealed.

"That's a frame of reference all of us have to bring into this next phase as we start to reopen our economy, to recognize that we are walking and venturing into the unknown, the untested," Newsom continued. "We have to be open to argument, interested in evidence."

"We can't be ideological about how we conduct ourselves. But fundamentally as a nation, certainly as [the] state [of] California, we're more prepared than we were certainly eight weeks ago," Newsom added. "[We're] more capable and more confident in our capacity to get through this and recover and thrive once again."

On May 8, Newsom signed an executive order to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state for the November 2020 election. At the time, he said it was intended to protect registered voters from the virus by giving them the option of voting by mail if they considered it too risky to brave potentially crowded polling stations to cast their ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party filed a lawsuit against the governor and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday accusing them of using the coronavirus pandemic as "a ploy" to "rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election."

"We believe that we should not substitute people's public health and safety as it relates to their right to exercise their constitutional right to exercise a vote," Newsom said on The View Friday. "We believe you can do that in a thoughtful safe manner by providing more opportunity though vote by mail."

As flu season and the potential for a second wave to emerge in the fall, Newsom said he wants to provide Californians the opportunity to vote by mail, particularly when it comes to those most vulnerable to the novel virus, such as senior communities.

"We want to encourage them in a safe manner," Newsom said. "We think that's just foundational and fundamental to any good democracy."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Senior House Democrats are demanding more information on what they say is a bad deal for U.S. taxpayers struck by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin involving ventilators.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Democratic chairs said they have "grave concerns" that Trump recently agreed to provide 200 ventilators to Russia for free -- after paying $659,283 to Moscow for a separate Russian aid shipment that included 45 ventilators later deemed unusable.

ABC News first reported the details of the Russian cargo plane, including Russia's invoice and concerns expressed privately by U.S. officials at the time that the 45 ventilators included onboard might have "voltage-related" issues.

The Russian ventilators have not been used in U.S. hospitals and remain in storage.

"These misguided decisions waste millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, undermine our foreign policy and national security interests, and impair our nation's ability to combat the coronavirus crisis," wrote the Democratic chairs, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who oversees the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who oversees the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Signing the letter were the top Democrats overseeing State Department funding and House-led investigations into the coronavirus crisis. In addition to Maloney and Engel, the letter also was signed by Nita Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee; Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, chairman of a select subcommittee on coronavirus; and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, national security subcommittee chair on House Oversight and Reform.

The Trump administration has not said whether the U.S. might get a discount on Russia's aid bill now that the U.S. has agreed to send 200 ventilators its way.

In a statement provided Friday to ABC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) referred questions on the status of Russia's $659,283 invoice to the State Department, which did not provide comment.

"The flight contained 45 ventilators, over 90,000 gloves of various types, and other medical supplies such as medical clothing and respirators. This was a mix of donated goods and goods purchased by the US State Department," FEMA wrote.

One source familiar with the shipments said the cargo flights were not a swap and that the two shipments were considered unrelated. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Earlier this spring, as the spike of coronavirus cases prompted fears of a ventilator shortage in New York and New Jersey, Putin offered to send the U.S. the aid shipment.

The April 1 cargo flight that landed at New York City's John F. Kennedy airport included thousands of pieces of equipment not typically used by hospitals, including chemical warfare-style gas masks and household cleaning gloves, as well as 45 ventilators and thousands of surgical gloves, medical clothing and antiseptic packets.

"It was a very nice gesture on behalf of President Putin and I could have said 'no thank you' or I could have said 'thank you' and it was a large plane of very high-quality medical supplies, and I said 'I'll take it,'" Trump told reporters April 2.

New York and New Jersey wound up returning the Russian ventilators to the federal stockpile after reports that several coronavirus patients in St. Petersburg were killed in fires linked to overloaded ventilators.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the states are returning the ventilators to FEMA," a spokesperson said in a statement released earlier this month. "The conclusion(s) of the investigation being conducted by the Russian authorities into the fire in St. Petersburg will help inform our decision regarding any future use of the ventilators."

Since then, the State Department has agreed to send 200 ventilators to Russia, which has the third largest number of cases of COVID-19 in the world. The first batch of 50 ventilators were delivered on May 21, with another 150 ventilators expected to ship next week, according to a senior administration official.

The ventilators are being manufactured by Vyaire Medical in California and will be donated to the Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Center in Moscow.

Russia isn't alone. The U.S. has agreed to provide more than 15,000 ventilators to more than 60 countries, including in Europe.

Democrats are also questioning why the U.S. would buy ventilators manufactured by a subsidiary of a company currently under U.S. sanctions as a result of Moscow's 2014 aggression against Ukraine.

According to Russia's foreign ministry, the money for the supplies came from the Russian Direct Investment Fund -- Russia's sovereign wealth fund that was sanctioned by Treasury in June 2015 as part of sanctions punishing Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Also, at least some of the ventilators were made by a Siberian factory that is owned by a Russian state company sanctioned by the U.S. over Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment Fund don't apply to medical equipment and supplies.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration's decision to hire its new "vaccine czar" as a private contractor, rather than a government employee, has alarmed some ethics experts who say the designation will involve him in programs that could channel millions of federal dollars into the development of coronavirus vaccine and treatments without requiring he disclose financial holdings or potential conflicts.

When it was announced two weeks ago that Moncef Slaoui would head up "Operation Warp Speed" to find and distribute a vaccine, the administration described him as “chief advisor,” but did not explicitly say he would not be a formal government employee. As a private contractor, he is not bound to the same disclosure regulations and criminal ethics laws as many formal executive branch employees, ethics experts told ABC News.

That decision marks the latest concern with what ethics experts are describing as a blind spot into the coronavirus response, including where millions of public dollars are going, and an increasing risk that those with conflicts could capitalize on the mad dash for new COVID-19 drugs.

“The nation, the globe, is in an all-time historic crisis,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a non-partisan public interest group. “We would pay a fortune to resolve this pandemic. So we are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by those who seek to profit on our misery.”

This week, Public Citizen was one of two watchdog organizations to call on the Office of Government Ethics to step in and re-classify the “vaccine czar” as a government job requiring disclosure -- as other similar appointments, such as the nation’s “drug czar,” have required. But even before this question surfaced, Holman said there have been a number of red flags about the broader risks of people profiteering off of the coronavirus response.

For instance, earlier this month, federal agents served a search warrant on Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, seizing his cellphone. Burr is under scrutiny for selling 33 stock holdings collectively worth $628,000 to $1.7 million in February, just after a series of private briefings on the spreading coronavirus. Burr has denied wrongdoing.

Slaoui’s appointment in mid-May as the vaccine czar brought a strong early reaction from watchdog groups that had concerns about his past and ongoing ties to private companies, including those focused on health issues, as ABC News previously reported.

White House officials declined to comment about Slaoui’s job designation, or whether they would ask him to submit financial disclosure paperwork, and referred questions to Health and Human Services. Slaoui has not responded to requests for comment Thursday.

Health and Human Services spokesperson Michal Caputo told ABC News that Slaoui is on a contract receiving $1 for his services, as previously reported by The New York Times. Caputo said Slaoui's contract includes an ethics provision, though he did not provide details. Caputo also said Slaoui had "left all advisory boards and boards of directors of companies with even the appearance of conflict" and agreed to not trade coronavirus-related stocks. The agency allowed him to keep his investment in health giant GlaxoSmithKline, which announced last month that it has teamed up with Sanofi in a coronavirus vaccine development effort.

"HHS ethics officers have determined Dr. Slaoui’s contractor status, divestiture and board resignations put him in compliance with our robust department ethical standards. The American people are fortunate to have him as a leader of President Trump’s effort to discover vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to defeat the coronavirus," Caputo said.

But the fact that Slaoui would not be required to disclose his personal holdings only added to the broader, earlier concerns, Holman said.

"He is in such a unique position that almost every decision he would make would affect his financial interests, and so you would then be expected to divest from those interests," Holman told ABC News. “That's why the disclosure requirement's so critical."

Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel with the non-partisan advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the concern is that Slaoui will have access to mountains of nonpublic information, not just about companies with whom he has financial ties but also about his competitors, that could enable him to make profitable stock trades ahead of the rest of the marketplace or give him an advantage when he returns full-time to the private sector.

If Slaoui were hired as a government employee, Canter said, he would not only be required to disclose his personal finance but also be subject to a criminal conflict of interest law that would prohibit him from maintaining financial interests directly related to his role in the government, and thus he would be required to divest from those interests. As a contractor, he would not necessarily face criminal consequences even if he violated the ethics provision included in his contract.

"I think what's disconcerting about this is, he's coming from a venture capital firm," Canter said. "How how long will he be refrained from getting back into the venture capital business after he leaves this position?"

The new ethics worries also come as lawyers for investors and experts in financial regulation sound their own alarms about the conduct of the drug companies currently in the hunt for coronavirus cures and vaccines.

One company that has already faced scrutiny is Moderna Inc., where Slaoui recently served as member of the corporate board. He stepped down in order to accept the government post and divested some $12 million-worth of stock options.

According to financial records filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Moderna executives cashed in millions of dollars in stock just hours and days after the value soared on what they said were “positive” indications from the early work on a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and some financial and legal experts took notice.

Days later, the company’s share value receded as the scientific community urged caution, emphasizing that those early developments were based on a tiny sample size, and had not yet been subject to wider scientific scrutiny.

“It doesn’t just smell fishy – it smells like a rotting whale,” said Kevin Simpson, a financial and stock advisor who has watched the trading activity closely. “From a careful investor's point of view and from the SEC’s point of view, stock manipulation is a valid and worrisome concern.”

Moderna has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Ray Jordan, the head of corporate affairs for Moderna, noted that all of the trades were disclosed in accordance with the SEC rules.

"The trades themselves are all pursuant to 10b5-1 plans, which were entered into consistent with the companies insider trading policy," Jordan told ABC News.

The SEC did not say whether it is reviewing any of the trading activity. But several law firms that organize investor class action cases have already issued press releases in the past several days announcing they are investigating both the trades and a $1.5 billion stock offering that Moderna launched just after announcing promising vaccine news.

“The investigation focuses on whether the company and its executives misled investors concerning the viability of the Moderna’s lead drug candidate, a vaccine candidate against novel coronavirus,” said the release from one firm, The Portnoy Law Firm in Los Angeles.

The developments have brought new scrutiny to the potential that the sudden flurry of drug development activity could tempt some executives to engage in insider trading or stock manipulation, experts told ABC News.

Daniel L. Zelenko, a former federal prosecutor and SEC enforcement official, said he believes federal regulators are looking “quite closely” at all of the trading activity by companies in the hunt for cures and vaccines.

“With more players involved in the hunt for new cures and vaccines, it increases the risk for insider information to change hands without precautions being taken,” Zelenko said. “Along with federal investigators, companies themselves need to take steps to ensure that information remains confidential.”

Some financial experts pointed out that in Moderna’s case, the stock price had already been on the rise this year, since before its announcement of the early test results, and that the company’s executives have been actively cashing in on their stocks for at least a couple months. The stock price especially saw an early surge last month when the company announced it had received $483 million in federal funding as part of the coronavirus vaccine development effort.

Andrew Gordon, a financial analyst at Equilar, a company that specializes in collecting executive compensation data, said “It’s not uncommon for insiders to sell shares they own, nor is it bad for them to capitalize on the current stock price.”

Gordon and Simpson both noted that company insiders, including directors and executives, filed documents intended to head off allegations of stock manipulation by alerting the SEC that they intend to make designated trades at specific times. The filings, which are referenced in public documents, are submitted so there cannot later be allegations that improper trades were made based on internal information.

That has not stopped some critics from questioning the timing of the trades.

“Was it just good fortune or irony that the news release happened on the same day [as the scheduled trades]?” Simpson asked. “It’s very suspicious. I think it should be looked into.”

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