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Chris Sununu now says Trump shouldn't drop out if convicted but stands by his past criticism

ABC News

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Sunday reaffirmed his support for Donald Trump in the 2024 general election while standing by some -- but not all -- of his past criticism of the former president.

In an interview on ABC News' "This Week," Sununu, a Republican who endorsed former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley over Trump in the GOP primary, was repeatedly pressed by anchor George Stephanopoulos about his previous statements attacking the former president.

Sununu said he stood by a 2021 denunciation of Trump over Jan. 6 but said he no longer believes that Trump should leave the race if he is convicted in one of his four criminal cases. Trump denies all wrongdoing.

In a June 2023 CNN interview, when several Republicans were vying for the primary nomination against Trump, Sununu said that Trump should drop out of the presidential race if convicted of any of the charges he faces.

At the time of that interview, Trump had just been indicted over his alleged mishandling of classified documents while out of office and had already been indicted in a New York hush money case that is going to trial on Monday.

Since then, Trump has been indicted two more times -- in a federal case related to Jan. 6 and a Georgia case over his alleged behavior while trying to overturn his 2020 defeat.

After repeated questioning by Stephanopoulos on "This Week" on Sunday, Sununu adjusted his response compared to his answer last year.

"Previously, you've said these charges are serious and Trump should drop out of the race if he's convicted. Do you still believe that?" Stephanopoulos asked.

At first, Sununu said that Trump's legal issues were the very "chaos" that he had challenged during the GOP primary when he backed Haley.

When Stephanopoulos followed up again, Sununu said he no longer thinks Trump should end his campaign upon a conviction.

"No, no, no -- he's going to drop out after being the nominee? Of course, not. You know that's not to be expected at all," Sununu said.

"At the end of the day, they [people] want that culture change within the Republican Party. And if we have to have Trump as the standard-bearer -- and the voters decided that's what they wanted, not what I wanted ... If he's going to be the standard-bearer of that, we'll take it if we have to. That's how badly America wants a culture change," he said.

However, Sununu also said he "100%" still agrees with sharply worded criticism of Trump that he made days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Sununu said, "President Trump's rhetoric and actions contributed to the insurrection."

"His actions absolutely contributed to that," Sununu said on Sunday. "There's no question about that. I hate the election denialism of 2020. Nobody wants to be talking about that in 2024. I think all of that was absolutely terrible."

But he said that backing Trump, who continues to falsely claim he won the 2020 election, was about more than just Trump and argued that many Americans agree that "change" is needed in the federal government.

"Liberal elites in Washington want to stand on the shoulders of hardworking American families that built this country, defended this country and tell them how to live their lives. They're angry. They're upset. That's the culture change that people want to see," the governor said.

"People are upset by Jan. 6," he added. "They're upset by the election denial. They have every right to be -- I am -- but at the end of the day, they need a culture change to get America back on track."

Stephanopoulos pressed: "Please explain, given the fact that you believe he contributed to an insurrection, how you can say we should have him back in the Oval Office?"

"For me, it's not solely about him; it's about maintaining a Republican administration, Republican secretaries and Republican rules that prioritize states' rights, individual rights and parents' rights," Sununu said.

"We're going to have a pro-business economy. We're not going to have a cancel culture that has really infiltrated all across America. It's not about Trump with me," Sununu insisted.

Sununu cited Trump's continued, widespread support among Republicans and early polling that shows him sometimes beating President Joe Biden in the general election, though Sununu exaggerated how high Trump's numbers usually are, according to polls tracked by 538.

"They're not crazy. They're not MAGA conservatives. They're not extremists. They want culture change," Sununu said.

"I'm not talking about polls," Stephanopoulos pressed. "I'm asking you a very simple question. ... You believe that a president who contributed to an insurrection should be president again?"

Sununu answered: "As does 51% of America, George."

He went on to say that "it's about understanding inflation is crushing families. It's understanding that this border issue is not a Texas issue. It's a 50-state issue, right, that has to be brought under control. It's about that type of elitism that the average American is just sick and tired of."

Meanwhile, Sununu contended that Trump's pending trials have become akin to reality TV for "the average American."

While he's previously said he believes the New York case is political (which prosecutors deny), Sununu said last year that the classified documents charges against Trump were "obviously very severe" and "self-inflicted" and similarly called the federal election case against Trump "extremely severe."

Stephanopoulos pushed for an answer: "You're comfortable with the idea of supporting someone who's convicted of a federal crime as president?"

"No -- I don't think any American is comfortable with any of this, they don't like any of this, of course," Sununu said.

Despite polling also showing that many voters would be turned off by Trump being convicted of a felony, Sununu emphasized his view that "right now this is about an election."

"This is about politics. That's what people are judging this on," he said. "And the ultimate decision will be in November to see where people stand."

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

On eve of Trump's New York hush money trial, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg touts drop in violent crime


Alvin Bragg had a problem.

It was August 2022, and the Manhattan district attorney had just found out two people had been shot -- including a bystander who had been shot in the head -- during an attempted robbery in the borough's Washington Heights neighborhood.

In a city struggling through the post-pandemic crime surge, it posed a crisis for Bragg, who had been elected as a reformist prosecutor but who critics painted as soft on crime.

"We've got more work to do in an absolute sense," Bragg told ABC News during an interview in his office Friday. "We want to get back down to pre-pandemic levels, and the data is encouraging. It's going in the right direction, but we have more work to do."

As Bragg sat in his office, he made no mention of his most notable prosecution just three days away -- the 34-count indictment against former President Donald Trump set to go to trial on Monday.

The former president, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, has criticized Bragg for bringing the case while accusing the DA of being "lazy on violent crime" -- calling him a "radical liberal New York prosecutor who refuses to prosecute violent criminals."

'Things speak for themselves'

Since Bragg's first day in office -- when he set a new office policy against prosecuting certain crimes and limiting the use of incarceration -- he has faced blowback against his approach to law enforcement, which has flared up with each high-profile instance of violent crime.

In the last year, the chokehold death of a homeless man on the New York City subway, the attack on police officers by migrants in Times Square, and the refusal by an Arizona prosecutor to extradite a murder suspect to New York have provided fodder for Bragg's critics.

Bragg defended his conduct as measured and responsible, including the exoneration of a Venezuelan man who was falsely identified -- and subsequently vilified -- for allegedly participating in the Times Square assault earlier this year.

He has called on the city and the state to support mental health treatment initiatives, as he did Sunday in a New York Times editorial.

And in the fight to lower crime, Bragg and his partners at the New York Police Department are seeing results: Since 2021, shootings in Manhattan have dropped by 38% while homicides have dropped by 21%.

"I think things speak for themselves," Bragg said about his record. "The reporting schedule can often get out in front of the investigatory schedule, and I do think that that can lead to some unfortunate sort of informational dislocations."

'The right thing for the right reason'

In his campaign appearances and on social media, Trump has made crime in New York a centerpiece of his attacks on Bragg.

"We have violent criminals that are murdering people, killing people. We have drug dealers all over the place and they go free, and they can do whatever they want," Trump said after a hearing in the criminal case last month. "But they go after Trump when there is not even a crime."

Bragg on Friday declined to address Trump's criticisms directly, citing his office's policy of not discussing active cases, but he insisted his prosecution of the former president has no impact on the other work of his office.

"I'm not going to talk about any one particular defendant -- I don't think that would be appropriate or any one active case -- but what I will say is 1,500 committed public servants come there every day focused on doing the right thing for the right reason in the right way," Bragg said, noting that prosecutions for gun-related offenses and hate crimes are up.

Come Monday, Bragg and his team of prosecutors will be at the center of arguably the most consequential trial in American history, after charging the former president of the United States with falsifying business records to conceal information from voters. Bragg is the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a current or former U.S. president.

"I am charged with exercising independent prosecutorial discretion. I've been doing this for more than 20 years," Bragg said about his overall record of public service that includes stints at the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York and the New York Attorney General's office.

To many of his friends and colleagues, Bragg is close to the perfect person to bring the unprecedented case against Trump.

"This is a very unique moment," said Randall Jackson, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz who worked as a federal prosecutor with Bragg. "Alvin is a person who is deeply rooted in his sense of public service, that he has been trying to do for his whole career."

'Follow the facts'

Two weeks before his office charged Trump with 34 felony counts, Bragg announced an indictment related to the Washington Heights shooting, using the same methods he applies to white collar crime.

"We knew someone was a driver of violence but didn't have the evidence to bring it as a gun-trafficking case," Bragg said. Instead, investigators noted the same person appeared to discuss on social media a separate scheme to steal tax and stimulus checks from the mail.

Prosecutors got a warrant for the suspect's Instagram account where he communicated his scheme to steal checks, deposit the money, and withdraw it before any raised concerns about potential fraud. Bragg said prosecutors "followed the facts" and got a search warrant for the subject's apartment, where they found a firearm.

Ballistic tests later proved that the weapon fired those shots in Washington Heights in August 2022.

An indictment soon followed -- not only for a scheme to steal over $800,000 in checks but also for attempted murder.

Bragg said that, when it comes to New Yorkers' perception of crime, part of his challenge is convincing people in relatively safe neighborhoods that crime numbers are going in the right direction.

"When I go to neighborhoods that have had historically high shootings, they know that shootings are down," Bragg said. "I think there are parts of the borough that don't see those advances."

"It's our job to not just drive these numbers down -- but that people feel that," the DA said.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Top Democrat slams Trump's latest abortion position: 'Women are not going to be conned'

ABC News

A top Democrat on Sunday slammed former President Donald Trump after he sought to clarify his view on abortion bans as a state issue and said the various local laws were working "very brilliantly."

"American women are not going to be conned by Donald Trump," Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith told ABC News "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos, adding, "We know that he is the one who is responsible for what's going on."

Abortion restrictions returned to the spotlight after the Arizona Supreme Court last week upheld a near-total abortion ban from the 1800s that only provides exceptions if the mother's life is at risk. The ruling was celebrated by abortion opponents but condemned by advocates for reproductive rights.

Trump said he thought the decision went too far and maintained that it "will be taken care of" by state lawmakers. Republican leaders in Arizona say they are weighing their options and what constituents want.

While Trump defended his states' rights position on abortion as weakening Democrats' political advantage on the issue, saying he "totally killed" it, Sen. Smith on "This Week" took another view. Trump has also often touted his role in ending Roe v. Wade's guarantees to nationwide abortion access, Smith noted.

"That is what has caused all of this chaos and cruelty," she said.

"He is responsible for these abortion bans," she said, "and I think he's going to be held accountable for that come the election in November."

Smith, who has also worked at Planned Parenthood, is backing a proposal that would repeal The Comstock Act, a 19th-century law that abortion opponents say can be used to limit the mailing of abortion medication. On "This Week," Smith indicated that Comstock could be another front in the fight over the issue.

"We have to pay attention to this and make sure that we are doing everything that we can to protect people's rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own lives," she said.

Pressed by Stephanopoulos about Trump's view and why it wasn't sufficient to her, Smith said women in various states now live with disparate rights.

She pointed back to Trump's comments last week that having states handle it individually is "working the way it's supposed to."

"We broke Roe v. Wade, and we did something that nobody thought was possible," Trump said then. "We gave it back to the states. And the states are very working very brilliantly, in some cases conservative, in some cases not conservative."

Smith responded on "This Week": "Ask a woman in Arizona or Texas whether she thinks this is working for her. Because, for her, this isn't a political discussion. This is about her personal life and her decisions that she can make for herself about her own life."

Currently, 14 states enforce bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and two states -- Georgia and South Carolina -- don't allow abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Roe in 2022 that undid a national right to abortion, Smith was one of more than 20 senators who called on President Joe Biden to use executive action to protect abortion rights.

On Sunday she lauded him for his support for abortion access but said the ultimate goal must be to elect more pro-abortion access lawmakers "so that we can put the protections of Roe in law."

In light of how potent abortion access now appears to voters, who have consistently sided with Democrats on the issue, Stephanopoulos asked Smith about general election polls persistently showing Trump tied or ahead of the incumbent president

What matters is the choice that people will make at the ballot in November, Smith maintained, adding that "the [choices] couldn't be more clear."

"You have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who are fighting to protect people's freedom," she said, "and Donald Trump who's responsible for taking it away."

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

White House touts 'extraordinary success' against Iran's Israel attack but doesn't want 'wider' war

ABC News

White House spokesperson John Kirby on Sunday praised the "extraordinary success" of Israel's defense against a massive drone and missile attack unleashed by Iran on Saturday night but said that the U.S. does not want to see further escalation between the two nations or a broadening battle in the Middle East.

Kirby told ABC News "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos that the capabilities exhibited on Saturday underscored the "unprecedented sense of resolve and determination and military capability" by the U.S., Israel and other allies.

"It should tell everybody else that Israel is not alone, that this was a coalition put together to help Israel defend itself," Kirby said. "Iran is just increasingly further isolated in the region."

Still, he conceded that more will only be known "in the coming days" about how the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Iran progresses after Iran's direct attack on Israel in retaliation for the bombing of Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria, earlier this month.

The Damascus strike, which Iran said killed top Iranian military officials as well as others, was blamed on Israel, who has not publicly commented. The Middle East has already been unsettled by an ongoing, six-month-old war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by Hamas' October terror attack.

"The president has been very clear, publicly so: We don't seek a war with Iran," Kirby said on "This Week." "We don't seek an escalated tensions in the region. We don't seek a wider conflict. And everything he's been doing, literally since the seventh of October, has been designed to that outcome."

Those remarks come after Iran launched more than 300 drone and missiles at Israel, Israeli officials said, marking the first time such an attack has emanated directly from Iranian territory rather than through its proxies elsewhere in the Middle East. The Israeli military said that 99% of the bombardment was intercepted, many outside of Israeli airspace.

While Iranian officials celebrated the barrage, minimal damage was recorded inside of Israel, according to Israeli officials. A 10-year-old girl injured by shrapnel is the only casualty recorded thus far, and a military base in southern Israel suffered minor damage but is still operational.

"However, it is important to say -- the event is not over. We remain prepared and ready for further developments and threats," military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a statement.

Iran's retaliation had been forecasted for weeks and Iranian officials stressed afterward that the country "has no intention" of further operations, which it described as a proportional response to the strike in Damascus.

With the attack failing to do significant damage to Israel or its military capabilities, Kirby indicated on "This Week" that the White House would prefer to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

Referring to President Joe Biden, Kirby said, "Everything he's been doing since Oct. 7 has been to try to keep this from becoming a wider regional war. And he pre-positioned forces, even in the last few days, destroyers and fighter squadrons into the region to help Israel defend itself to keep it from becoming a wider war, to keep it from escalating further."

It is still unclear precisely how Israel plans to respond to Iran.

Kirby told Stephanopoulos that Biden's message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been simple regarding threats from Iran: "He congratulated the prime minister on an extraordinary achievement and success last night, but also to reiterate that the United States is going to continue to help Israel defend itself. That's a commitment going back many, many administrations and the president believes wholeheartedly in it."

Kirby rebuffed criticism of Biden by rival Donald Trump that the president is inept on the world stage, leading to foreign crises. Kirby pointed to Biden traveling to Israel soon after its war with Hamas began as well as to how the U.S. had helped marshal defensive operations for Israel.

"That's leadership not just in the world, but it shows the power of American leadership around the world," Kirby said.

Stephanopoulos also asked Kirby about negotiations for hostages thought to still be held by Hamas during the war in Gaza, which is ongoing while Israel defends itself against Iran.

Kirby said the White House hopes Hamas takes a deal that was put on the table, though it is still unclear if Hamas intends to do so and how many living hostages it has to trade. In exchange, the fighting would be paused for more than a month to allow for more aid and support for civilians in Gaza.

"Hamas needs to take that deal. It's a good deal. It will get those hostages out, at least the first tranche -- elderly, sick, women -- and it'll give us what will be about a six-week cease-fire to allow for an increase in humanitarian assistance. It's time now to move that forward," Kirby said. "It's up to Hamas."

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Major media organizations urge Biden and Trump to debate

ABC News

ABC News is among a unified grouping of the five chief broadcast and cable news networks, along with major wire, print and radio organizations, that have penned an open letter asking presidential candidates to publicly commit to taking part in televised debates ahead of the general election.

In addition to ABC News, the letter is signed by CBS News, CNN, NBCUniversal News Group and FOX News Media, along with The Associated Press, C-SPAN, NewsNation, Noticias Univision (Univision Network News), NPR, PBS NewsHour and USA TODAY.

"With the contours of the 2024 general election now coming into clear focus, we -- the undersigned national news organizations -- urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November's election," the letter, published on Sunday, reads.

This unusual move comes amid an election cycle during which the practice of debates, a decades-old American campaign tradition, has been met with uncertainty from both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Trump, who skipped all four Republican National Committee-sanctioned 2024 primary election debates and pulled out of one of his three debates with Biden in 2020, has enthusiastically urged Biden to participate in the three general debates scheduled for this fall -- a position echoed by his campaign again on Sunday.

"President Trump has been very clear: he is willing to debate Joe Biden any time, any where, any place. We once again call on Joe Biden to commit to debates," spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said.

The Biden campaign has expressed concern with the organization of these debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates, signaling that the nonpartisan group that has sponsored the events since the 1980s has been unclear about their ability to administer a "fair" debate with Trump.

In April 2022, the Republican National Committee also voted unanimously to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the new letter but the president has previously played down Trump's eagerness to get on stage with him.

"Well if I were him I'd want to debate me, too. He's got nothing else to do," Biden told reporters in February.

"General election debates have a rich tradition in our American democracy, having played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976. In each of those elections, tens of millions have tuned in to watch the candidates debating side by side, in a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens," the media organizations urged in their letter.

"If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high. Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation," the letter concludes.

Biden has mostly avoided commenting publicly on engaging in debate with Trump. Asked following his State of the Union address in March if he would commit to one, Biden remarked to ABC News: "It depends on his behavior."

The Democratic National Committee, which has thrown all of its support behind Biden, did not hold any primary election debates this cycle despite the urging of his long shot challengers. There is no precedent for an incumbent president to have participated in a primary debate, however, since the first modern debate was held in 1948-- even when presented with high-profile primary opponents.

Trump's campaign is still lobbying hard for general election debates against Biden. On Thursday, the former president's senior campaign advisers sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates calling for "much earlier" and "more" presidential debates than initially proposed, saying voting is beginning "earlier and earlier."

"Voting is beginning earlier and earlier, and as we saw in 2020, tens of millions of Americans had already voted by the time of the first debate," top Trump campaign advisers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita wrote in the letter.

"Specific to the Commission's proposed 2024 calendar, it simply comes too late," they wrote, listing estimates of how many votes Americans will have likely voted by current proposed dates.

The two claimed Americans were "robbed of a true and robust" debate in 2020 because the debate commission accepted the Biden campaign's wish amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, there were only two debates involving Biden and Trump. A third scheduled debate was canceled after the former president backed out because it was moved from being an in-person to virtual event because of COVID-19.

Trump then attacked the commission, claiming he would not accept any of their changes intended to enforce the rules and limit interruptions at the remaining presidential debates.

The RNC's vote in 2022 to pull back from comission-sanctioned debates mandated that candidates pledge not to participate in them. The national party has not revised its position.

The commission has announced it plans to hold the first debate on Sep. 16 at Texas State University, the second on Oct. 1 at Virginia State University and the third on Oct. 9 at The University of Utah, Salt Lake City. It plans to hold a vice presidential debate on Sept. 25 at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Fritz Farrow, Lalee Ibssa, Soo Rin Kim and Mike Pappano contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he has ruled out libertarian run for president

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has ruled out a run as a libertarian candidate to assist in his efforts to get on the ballots in all 50 states -- a marked change from his prior posture, where he kept the door open.

"We're not gonna have any problems getting on the ballot ourselves so we won't be running libertarian," he told ABC News.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

DNC uses political donations to pay Biden's legal fees from special counsel Robert Hur's investigation

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee has been paying President Joe Biden's legal fees incurred in connection with special counsel Robert Hur's investigation into his handling of classified documents, according to sources and disclosures of expenditures filed by the party committee.

Since last year, the party committee has paid the law firm of Bob Bauer, the lead attorney representing Biden in Hur's investigation more than $1 million -- roughly $150,000 a month -- from July 2023 through February 2024, the party committee's most recent disclosures show.

Axios was the first to report on the DNC's legal spending on behalf of Biden.

The DNC since last year has also paid roughly $905,000 to Hemenway & Barnes LLP, the law firm of Jennifer Miller, who is named as one of the attorneys that had represented Biden in the special counsel probe, disclosure filings show.

Hemenway & Barnes LLP has long represented the DNC, well before Hur's investigation began, so it's unclear how much of the payment, if any, to the firm was for Biden's legal fees. Since July last year, the same time the DNC began paying Bob Bauer PLLC, the party has increased its monthly payment to Hemenway & Barnes LLP from roughly $15,000 to $100,000.

Throughout last year, Bob Bauer PLLC and Hemenway & Barnes LLP were among the top law firms paid by the DNC, followed by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and Perkins Coie, which have both represented the DNC in other matters for a long time.

The DNC said that the money they’ve paid for Biden’s legal purposes isn’t coming from their grassroots donors.

"There is no comparison -- the DNC does not spend a single penny of grassroots donors' money on legal bills, unlike Donald Trump, who actively solicits legal fees from his supporters and has drawn down every bank account he can get his hands on like a personal piggy bank," DNC spokesperson Alex Floyd said in a statement to ABC News.

The Democratic Party providing financial support for Biden's legal challenges comes amid their intense criticism of the Republican Party's fundraising for and paying of former President Donald Trump's mounting stack of legal bills over the years.

Just last week, the Biden campaign's finance chair Rufus Gifford said on MSNBC that "every single dime that you give to the Biden-Harris reelection campaign, we spend talking to voters."

"We are not spending money on legal bills," Gifford said. "We are not hawking gold sneakers, or any of that stuff. The money that we are raising, we are going straight to voters."

Ahead of a big-dollar Biden fundraiser with former Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton last month, Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz highlighted the support of their grassroots donors and contrasted it with Republicans' fundraising lulls and need to pay for Trump's legal bills.

"When you look at the money that we are raising, which is overwhelmingly from grassroots donors… this is money going to voters, this is money going to voters in the battleground states. And when you look at what Trump is doing, that money, we don't know where it's going. It might be going to legal fees," Munoz said.

Trump's campaign accused the Democrats on Friday of being hypocritical in their critique of RNC contributions.

"Joe Biden and the Democrats entire campaign against President Trump is based upon lies and hypocrisy -- they have repeatedly stated they don't spend money on Biden's legal bills while they attack President Trump for having to defend himself from Biden's witch hunts," Trump campaign's national press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement provided to ABC News. "Come to find out, the DNC paid millions to cover Biden's legal bills."

Trump has faced multiple investigations and legal battles throughout his presidency and after he left the White House, which has cost both his political operation and the Republican Party tens of millions of dollars more in legal bills.

Since Trump left the White House, his various fundraising committees and PACs, including his leadership PAC Save America, spent nearly $100 million in legal bills, including more than $50 million in just 2023 – with much of it going to legal bills related to Trump's various court battles as he faces 88 criminal charges and multiple civil and criminal trials, disclosure reports show. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of those cases.

Separately, during Trump's presidency, the RNC has covered hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills on behalf of Donald Trump Jr. and other close allies of the former president amid investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as well as Trump's impeachment proceedings; and between 2021 and 2022, the RNC spent nearly $2 million in bills for Trump related to investigations in New York, according to disclosure reports.

The RNC stopped paying Trump's legal bills after he announced his 2024 candidacy in late 2022 saying the move was intended to ensure impartiality as the GOP presidential primary played out – with much of the legal coverage moving over to Save America, disclosure reports show.

Earlier this year, as the Republican Party declared Trump its presumptive nominee and Trump's team took over the RNC, the new leadership of the party insisted that the party committee will not pay any of his legal bills.

And while the RNC is no longer paying Trump's legal bills, a part of its joint fundraising operation with the Trump campaign is dedicated to the Save America PAC, up to $5,000 of every donation going to Save America first before it goes to the RNC and 40 other state party committees that raise money with them.

Lara Trump, Trump's daughter-in-law recently elected co-chair of the RNC, said last month that donors could opt-out of giving to the pot of money that goes to Trump's legal bills if they want to.

"Anyone who does not want to contribute to that very small amount of money is able to opt out of that … [If you] don't want that specific amount to go to Donald Trump's legal bills, then you are very -- you can very easily opt out of that," she said, referring to how donors could also choose to donate directly to the RNC or to a different fundraising vehicle that doesn't include Save America.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'Nowhere near as angry': Sketch artists prepare for historic Trump criminal trial

Peter Charalambous/ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When veteran sketch artist Christine Cornell draws former President Donald Trump, she searches for details.

"He's got some very pretty qualities," Cornell said. "I like the way his eyes have a kind of cat-like slant. I like his bushy eyebrows that are like caterpillars. I like that little pouty thing he does."

Cornell, along with her colleagues Jane Rosenberg and Elizabeth Williams, have had dozens of opportunities to sketch Trump since he became the first former president to be arraigned on criminal charges last April, with Trump attending multiple days of his subsequent civil trials in New York. The former president has pleaded not guilty to falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

For Cornell and her colleagues, capturing details like Trump's hair -- which Cornell describes as a "helmet" -- or his unique facial expressions -- which include a "pissed off look" according to Rosenberg -- has become a routine exercise.

But in interviews with ABC News, the three New York-based artists acknowledged that Trump's criminal hush money trial, scheduled to begin in lower Manhattan on Monday, carries a different weight.

Taking place in a spartan courtroom no larger than the size of a basketball court, the trial will be witnessed in person by approximately 60 reporters. Apart from a few photographs at the start of the day, cameras are banned from the room once the proceedings begin.

As a result, the task of visually portraying the trial largely rests in the hands of the three veteran sketch artists -- deadline artists in the most literal sense of the term -- whose pastels and inks will depict an unprecedented moment in American history.

"My whole life is going to revolve around this trial," Rosenberg said. "My job is to capture the intangible quality ... to capture the emotion that's happening. I think an artist can do that."

'Smooth-talking real estate tycoon'

Trump, who this year attended nearly three weeks of his civil trials in New York, has become a regular subject for the three sketch artists, who all drew their first sketches of a younger Trump in 1986 when he testified in an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.

Trump, then the owner of the New Jersey Generals football team, presented himself as a charming witness, according to Williams and Cornell.

"He's got this swagger and charisma. He's this smooth-talking real estate tycoon," Williams said, describing the younger Trump as "more subdued."

"He was a young handsome thing back then, but still just as arrogant," Cornell said. "Nowhere near as angry."

According to Rosenberg, that anger was palpable last year when she sketched Trump during his New York arraignment. Her sketch of Trump glaring at prosecutors went viral online in the hours following Trump's historic court appearance, and the New Yorker put the sketch on the magazine's cover.

"He had that pissed off look -- 'I'm mad, I can't believe they're doing this, how could they' -- and I think I caught it," Rosenberg said.

Trump's New York hush money trial -- which is scheduled to take six to eight weeks -- will provide Cornell, Rosenberg, and Williams with repeat business by working with wire services or other news outlets. Having Trump in the courtroom on a daily basis also gives them a steady subject to refine in their sketches.

"The more I draw somebody, the more I can ace them," Cornell said.

They each acknowledged that they enjoy sketching the former president, whose unique features add character to their work. Rosenberg said she enjoys the expressiveness of his face and the "crazy hair" in his eyebrows.

"Nobody looks like Trump," Rosenberg said.

Cornell added that Trump's hue -- famously described as orange -- is less intense in person, and his hair appears to be less "artificial" than in the past.

"I see more gray coming in on the sides. He's allowing that to happen. It's also a little thinner than it used to be," Cornell said.

Williams believes that the sketches of Trump's court appearances will capture a more realistic view of Trump than cameras could ever offer.

"He's posing for them. When they're gone, you really see who he really is, his real reaction, his real expression," Williams said. "The words are the harmony. The illustrations are the melody. That's how you tell the complete picture."

'The only survivors'

As outdated as a drawing might seem in today's digital world, sketch artists serve a unique purpose by distilling hours of court into a cohesive image, according to Sara W. Duke, a curator of popular and applied graphic art at the Library of Congress.

Subtle changes in expression, pivotal moments of testimony, or a remark from a judge can drastically change a jury's perception of a trial. For example, according to Duke, Timothy McVeigh -- who was convicted for killing 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- expressed little emotion during most of his month-long trial.

"Timothy McVeigh was stone cold until his mother testified -- and then he broke down," Duke said. "If you're watching a televised trial, you might not remain interested long enough to watch that moment in time, but a courtroom artist is paid to notice the difference between somebody who refuses to show emotion and the moment in which they are compelled to show emotion."

The work of sketch artists was driven by historical necessity, after photographers were banished from the courtroom due to the distracting nature of magnesium flash photography at the turn of the century. By 1937, the American Bar Association issued a policy prohibiting the use of still cameras and recording equipment in court. In the 1960s, a Texas businessman successfully appealed his conviction based on the presence of cameras in court, further entrenching the rules against cameras.

But that only heightened the public's appetite for court reporting, which increased in the 1960s with the expansion of network news outlets, according to Duke.

CBS News, faced with the challenge of covering the trial of Jack Ruby -- who murdered JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963 -- helped pioneer the commercial sketch artist industry by hiring Howard Brodie, a former war artist, to sketch the trial. By the 1980s, more than 18 sketch artists flowed through the New York Court system, including Cornell, Rosenberg, and Williams.

Asked why she began sketching trials, Cornell said, "Out of desperation. It was a job also that immediately turned into repeat work."

"Because I couldn't make any money being a fashion illustrator," Williams said.

"We're the only survivors from back then," Rosenberg said about herself and her two colleagues' status as veteran New York sketch artists.

'I gotta lose some weight'

As creatures of the court, Cornell, Rosenberg and Williams have drawn numerous historic figures who have had brushes with the law.

"If you're famous and you get in trouble, I'm going to be there," Cornell said.

Some subjects avoid being the focus of a sketch, while others play into the novelty of it, they said.

"Eddie Murphy was mocking me for drawing him. He was looking up and down, and did a little sketch of me on a Post-it," Rosenberg said. Murphy offered her the sketch, which Rosenberg keeps among her own sketches in her New York apartment.

Others will attempt to influence their sketch.

"Leona Helmsley said, 'If my hair is that messy, my husband should divorce me,'" Cornell recalled about the famous hotel magnate.

Rosenberg said that disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein asked if she could make his hair fuller.

Mafioso John Gotti went as far as to send men to ask courtroom artists to reduce the appearance of his double chin -- a message he reinforced by gesturing to the artists in court with his hand near his neck.

"That was intimidating," Rosenberg said.

Williams described a different encounter with Gotti, when he silently approached her from behind to comment on why she did not draw him with a smile.

"I just froze. I said, 'Well, I got one of you smiling at home. I will bring it in tomorrow," Williams recalled.

Trump has also taken some interest in the courtroom sketch artists, according to Rosenberg, who said she frequently catches glances from the former president.

During his civil fraud trial last year, the former president offered Rosenberg feedback on some sketches during a break in the proceedings.

"I gotta lose some weight," Trump remarked, according to Rosenberg.

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Fact checking Trump's claims about 'election integrity'

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson have a joint appearance at Mar-a-Lago Friday afternoon where they are discussing "election integrity."

The topic is a chief priority for Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, who continues to falsely claim that he won the 2020 election. Trump's calls for "election integrity" come in an election year when there is expected to be another tight matchup against President Joe Biden.

Johnson has echoed Trump's calls for "election integrity" and was one of the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He also led the charge to get 125 of his Republican colleagues to sign an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, supporting Texas' lawsuit that would have invalidated the election results in key battleground states.

ABC News is fact checking some of Trump's previous and false comments on elections and voting ahead of the joint appearance with Johnson.

State and federal courts have dismissed more than 50 lawsuits across six states from Trump and his allies aiming to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In many of the cases, Trump pushed thinly supported allegations of election misconduct and fraud.

Trump has continued to falsely claim he won the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, but he lost all three of those states in the last presidential election. In Pennsylvania, Biden won by 81,660; in Michigan, Biden won by about 21,000 votes; in Wisconsin, Biden won by more than 20,000.

The United States National Intelligence Council, comprised of the United States' intelligence and security agencies, announced in 2021 that it found "no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 elections."

Trump has also criticized voting methods.

Trump routinely disparages mail-in voting and has made unfounded claims about the process which he claims, in part, led to his 2020 election loss. Despite his repeated claims about mail-in vote fraud, no widespread fraud has been found. A Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center found that there were 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections. That comes out to 0.0025%.

"Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head. It has to be," Trump said at a rally in Michigan in February, repeating unfounded claims about mail-in voting.

Trump has also continued to float claims against voting machines, pushing for paper ballots instead.

"I will secure our elections. We are going to secure our elections. Our goal will be one-day voting with paper ballots -- very simple -- and a voter ID, but until then, Republicans must win. Landslide. We want it to be too big, too big to rig," Trump said at an April 2 rally in Wisconsin, where he continued to falsely claim he won the state in 2020.

However, the vast majority of Americans already vote with hand-marked paper ballots or on touch-screen machines that print one.

Trump and his allies have claimed that Democrats are "importing voters" to allow non-U.S. citizens participate in the U.S. elections.

"That's why they are allowing these people to come in -- people that don't speak our language -- they are signing them up to vote," Trump said at a January rally in Iowa.

While election officials and law enforcement authorities have found cases of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote over the years -- either by mistake or with malicious intent -- it has not been enough to affect the any outcome of an election, the Washington Post reported.

PolitiFact reported that it has found no effort by Democrats to register people in the country illegally.

"Most noncitizens don't want to risk jail time (or deportation if they are here illegally) by casting a ballot. Election officials take several steps to ensure that only eligible voters cast ballots," PolitiFact reported.

In Georgia, for example, the attorney general's office announced in 2022 that the state had found a total of 1,634 cases of potential noncitizens registering to vote in the state since 1997 -- none of whom were permitted to vote.

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US moving 'assets' to region to deter Iran from retaliatory attack on Israel, avoid wider conflict, officials say

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(WASHINGTON) -- High-level U.S. officials are urgently trying to pressure Iran to back down from its threat to launch a retaliatory strike against Israel -- the latest challenge facing the Biden administration as it tries to avert an all-out regional war in the Middle East.

At the same time, the U.S. was moving troops and other assets to the Middle East as Iran readied a large number of missiles and drones for a potential strike against Israel, according to U.S. officials.

The deployment of American troops was intended to try to deter Iran from launching a large-scale attack and protecting U.S. troops in the region

Two U.S. officials said that Iran has readied more than a hundred cruise missiles for a possible strike.

The U.S. assets being moved into the region in response could assist with air defense, according to one official.

Some 3,400 US troops are in Iraq and Syria with tens of thousands more U.S; personnel in the Mideast region.

Earlier Friday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was monitoring the situation “very, very closely,” and that while its top priority was ensuring Israel is able to defend itself from a potential Iranian attack, the U.S was also "doing everything we can to protect our people and our facilities.”

“It would be imprudent if we didn't take a look at our own posture in the region, to make sure that we're properly prepared as well," he said.

In a sign of how seriously the U.S. views the risk of escalation, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, had "moved up" a previously scheduled trip to Israel to meet with senior Israeli military leaders "due to recent developments."

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke by phone with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday afternoon "to discuss the current situation in the Middle East and to reaffirm the U.S.'s ironclad commitment to Israel's security against threats from Iran and its proxies," according to Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary.

Although the U.S. does not have direct diplomatic ties to Iran, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been working the phones with his counterparts in countries that do -- encouraging them to use their influence to dissuade Iran from taking military action in response to the bombing of its consulate in Damascus, Syria.

In his conversations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, Blinken made clear "that escalation is not in anyone's interest and that countries should urge Iran not to escalate," according to Miller.

U.S. officials previously told ABC News that the administration believes Iran could retaliate against Israel in the coming days -- potentially using drones and missiles to attack "regional assets" -- and that information about the threat has been shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

At a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said Iran was "threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel" and that he had assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. commitment to his country's security was "ironclad."

"We're going to do all we can to protect Israel's security," he said.

While officials say they still believe Iran may could change course, the State Department announced it had placed new restrictions on U.S. personnel in Israel on Thursday, prohibiting employees and their family members from undertaking personal travel outside of the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be'er Sheva areas until further notice.

According to a travel alert from the department, the limits were imposed "out of an abundance of caution." Miller declined to speak to any specific security assessments that motivated the change in policy but acknowledged Iran's vow for revenge.

"Clearly we are monitoring the threat environment in the Middle East and specifically in Israel, and that's what led us to give that warning to our employees and their family members and to make it public so all U.S. citizens who either live in Israel or traveling there are aware of it," he said.

The renewed concern over a widening conflict in the Middle East was sparked by a strike on an Iranian facility in Syria that Tehran says was carried out by Israel and killed 12 people, including Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior leader in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Although Israel has attacked a number of targets linked to Iran in recent years, primarily as part of its efforts to disrupt arms transfers to Hezbollah and other proxy groups in the region, the Israeli military has not taken credit for the incident in Damascus, which occurred on April 1.

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House clears a hurdle on reauthorizing FISA spy program after previous GOP setback

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House on Friday voted to reauthorize a key U.S. spy program considered crucial to national security.

In a 273 to 147 vote, lawmakers renewed Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire on April 19, through 2026.

It won't head to the Senate right away.

Right after the House passed the FISA bill, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., objected to its passage. Luna requested a vote on the motion to reconsider the legislation. That means the FISA bill will not be able to head to the Senate yet until after the House votes to table the motion to reconsider the vote next week.

Section 702 allows the U.S. government to collect electronic communications of non-Americans located outside the country without a warrant. It came under scrutiny among some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and civil liberties groups because it sometimes results in the collection of data on Americans who are in contact with those surveilled individuals.

An amendment was offered to add a warrant requirement to see data from Americans, but it narrowly failed in a 212 to 212 vote.

The measure was supported by far-right Republicans and progressive Democrats, who argued it was necessary to protect Americans' privacy. The White House and intelligence officials, however, warned such a requirement would cripple the program and leave the U.S. "blind" to intelligence used to identify terrorist threats and other risks to national security.

While the FISA reauthorization passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, its path was uncertain earlier this week after hard-line Republicans revolted and tanked a routine procedural vote on the matter.

Wednesday's failed vote, in which 19 Republican hard-liners voted against party leadership, came after former President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue at the last-minute. In a message posted to his social media platform, Trump wrote: "KILL FISA."

House Republicans huddled Wednesday evening and Thursday to regroup, and the House Rules Committee on Thursday night voted 8-4 to advance the FISA bill after the setback.

Changes to the bill that appeared to appease conservative hard-liners were reauthorizing the FISA program for two years instead of five years.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., signaled that adjustment was a win for Trump if he is elected in November.

"I am really grateful at the receptiveness to some of our requests," Gaetz said on Thursday.

"We just bought President Trump an at-bat. The previous version of this bill would've kicked reauthorization beyond the Trump presidency. Now, President Trump gets an at-bat to fix the system that victimized him more than any other America," he added.

Virginia Rep. Bob Good also said "going from five years to two years is a good thing."

The shorter timeframe allows the next Congress to reevaluate to make sure the legislation is "actually working," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.

Gaetz also said he was given "absolute assurance" from Johnson that next week the House will vote on a privacy bill from Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, ahead of the vote, predicted its passage and said it would be a win for Johnson, who has repeatedly struggled in his six months in leadership with the party's right flank. Johnson continues to face a looming threat to his speakership from Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene.

"We are going to keep moving forward and the Senate is going to have to do their job," Scalise said of FISA.

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.

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Washington rule could leave Biden off the November ballot, but state has a solution

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, Aug. 20, 2020. -- Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Washington state has just joined Ohio and Alabama in signifying through election officials that President Joe Biden could be left off their general election ballots due to conflicts between the dates of the Democratic National Committee's nominating convention and state ballot deadlines. The Evergreen state, though, appears to have already proposed a way for the Democrat to remain eligible.

On Thursday, the director of elections at the office of Washington's Secretary of State sent a letter -- obtained by ABC News -- to DNC Chair Jamie Harrison, warning that the deadline for ballot certification under state law falls on Aug. 20, the day after the DNC convenes in Chicago to nominate their presidential and vice presidential selections.

Stuart Holmes, the Director of Elections under Democratic Secretary Steve Hobbs, signaled that their office would make an exception for the party if they submit a provisional certification of nomination no later than Aug. 20, according to the letter.

This comes as Ohio and Alabama's Republican Secretaries of State over the past week have indicated they'd enforce similar state election codes in a way that experts have said is unprecedented and perhaps partisan in nature.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen have alerted Democrats about comparable conflicts between their respective state's deadlines and the scheduling of the DNC convention in mid-August, cautioning that Biden's nomination in Chicago comes too late to get on their general election ballots.

In Ohio, LaRose flagged in a letter last week that the DNC's convention, set to begin on Aug. 19, would miss their Aug. 7 ballot certification deadline. In Alabama, Allen sent a letter to Democrats on Tuesday warning that their Aug. 15 cutoff would occur before the convention.

This scheduling conflict isn't a new obstacle -- a late August convention has occurred several times in past years for both parties -- but states have historically avoided banning major party candidates from their ballots by either easily granting provisional ballot access, the way Washington is suggesting, or working through their legislatures to allow certification extensions.

But now, the red-state officials, experts say, are uniquely leveraging the issue against Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the presumptive Democratic nominees, even as their predecessors made exceptions for former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence to appear on their ballots when the when the RNC convention came too late for their certification.

"This has not been something anybody has ever dealt with. … [The GOP Secretaries] just cooked it up. No, this has never happened before," Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Democratic National Committee, said.

Richard Winger, a ballot access expert and political analyst, agreed.

"These deadlines don't exist for partisan reasons. ... But it is kind of partisan this year," he told ABC News.

"You have to go all the way back to 1964 to find a state that kept a major party presidential candidate off the ballot, and that had nothing to do with deadlines. … There's never ever since been a major party candidate who was off the ballot in any state," Winger added.

Do Democrats have a game plan to get Biden on the ballot?

Now, the Biden campaign, along with Democratic officials, are looking into ways to ensure the president will appear on the ballot in front of Ohio and Alabama voters.

In response to the news from Ohio and Alabama, Biden's reelection campaign has maintained that "Joe Biden will be on the ballot in all 50 states." They see this happening first by provisional certification (the process of formally notifying states before the convention that they expect Biden to be the nominee); second by changing the state's election filing deadlines through the state's GOP-controlled legislatures; third through litigation in court; and finally, by virtually nominating the Biden-Harris ticket ahead of their in-person convention.

Historically, in both Ohio and Alabama -- and across a handful of other states -- provisional ballot access certification has been granted to nominees of both major parties if they weren't able to square their convention dates with state election code certification deadlines.

Ahead of the 2020 general election, Oklahoma, Illinois, Washington and Montana accepted provisional certifications from the DNC and the Republican National Committee. Alabama also accepted a provisional certification from Republicans that year in order to make Trump and Pence qualify.

In 2020, the Alabama legislature moved their certification deadline for that election only to Aug. 20, 2020, but that was still ahead of the Republican convention's end a week later. The RNC then submitted a provisional certification, which was accepted by the state.

In Ohio, the Biden campaign has said they are in conversation with the Secretary's office about steps forward in terms of provisional certification.

In a letter received by the Ohio Secretary of State and reviewed by ABC News this week, Democratic Ohio-based lawyer Donald McTigue said the Democratic party would provisionally certify Biden and Harris by the state's Aug. 7 deadline and later confirm the results at the convention.

Ben Kindel, a spokesperson for LaRose's office, said their legal counsel was in the process of reviewing the letter.

In Alabama, attorney Barry Ragsdale, representing the Biden campaign, sent a letter -- obtained by ABC News -- to general counsel for the Alabama Secretary of State's office on Wednesday, saying the DNC could provisionally certify Biden and Harris as party nominees by the state's Aug. 15 deadline and then later confirm the results at the convention.

"This proposal avoids the constitutional problems that would arise if your office were to interpret Ala. Code § 17-14-31(b)'s certification deadline to preclude President Biden and Vice President Harris from appearing on the Alabama general election ballot," Ragsdale wrote.

"It would allow the many Alabamians who support President Biden and Vice President Harris to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to meaningfully participate in the presidential election," he added.

In response to the letter, Allen said in a statement to ABC News that he would not provide "for 'provisional certifications' or any other exceptions."

If provisional ballot certification cannot be achieved, the Biden official said their strategy would shift to the state legislatures. This legislative action has worked not only in Alabama but also in Ohio, where laws were passed ahead of both the 2012 and 2020 elections to skirt around the state's 90-day deadline for nomination ahead of an election. These laws aided both Republicans and Democrats in getting their candidates on the ballot, most recently in 2020, when Democrats and Republicans both held conventions ahead of the deadline.

In their initial letter to Democrats, legal counsel for Secretary LaRose gave two options: either move up the date of the DNC convention or by May 9, the state's GOP-led legislature would need to pass a law allowing for an extension.

In the days following Alabama's warning to Biden, Democratic state senator Merika Coleman introduced a bill that would move the state's deadline back to Aug. 23, after the DNC Convention.

One of the final courses of action would be through litigation in court, which the Biden campaign claims they have a "strong case" for.

In their letter to Alabama leadership, Biden's counsel wrote that "a court would have little difficulty finding that strict application of the eighty-two- day deadline imposes a severe restriction on President Biden and Vice President Harris's access to the ballot," arguing that the state's actions in barring the presumptive nominees were "unjust and unconstitutional."

Courts might even cite the recent Supreme Court decision on Trump v. Anderson, the challenge that sought to bar Trump from Colorado's GOP primary ballot, as the high court's justices ruled that states have no power to bar candidates for federal offices – especially the Presidency -- from appearing on the ballot.

The final step would be for the DNC to hold a virtual vote to nominate the Biden-Harris ticket before their August convention.

"If for some reason they don't do the provisional certification, there's the legislature. If, for some reason, the legislature doesn't play ball and we have litigation, the case for litigation is really strong. But if for some reason we are unsuccessful, then we have this procedure on this that the DNC can use and like completely nullify the issue," a Biden campaign official said to ABC News.

"So bottom line is we're gonna be on the ballot in both these states," they added.

ABC News has requested comment from Washington's Secretary of State.

-- ABC News' Kendall Ross contributed to this report.

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What is FISA? Surveillance law in spotlight as lawmakers debate key spy program

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- (WASHINGTON) -- A bill to reauthorize a spy program considered critical to U.S. national security is in limbo on Capitol Hill.

An attempt on Wednesday to move ahead with reforming and renewing parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was blocked by House Republicans, in another blow the Speaker Mike Johnson.

Johnson and members of the GOP caucus huddled privately after the failed procedural vote but disagreements remained, making FISA's future unclear.

The House is aiming to vote on a newly revised plan Friday morning.

Here is what to know about the surveillance measure.


What is FISA?
The federal law sets out rules and procedures for gathering foreign intelligence through electronic surveillance, physical searches, pen registers and more. It established the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

It was passed in 1978 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and other intelligence controversies unearthed around that time, including surveillance against U.S. dissidents such as anti-war protesters and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has been amended several times since then, including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

What is Section 702?
The FISA debate on Capitol Hill largely centers around Section 702, which allows the U.S. government to collect electronic communications of non-Americans located outside the country without a warrant.

But it sometimes results in the collection of data on Americans who are in contact with those surveilled individuals, making it controversial.

Critics of the program, such as civil liberties groups like the ACLU, have called for requiring a warrant to access the data of those Americans. Some lawmakers are also opposed to reauthorizing the program without an amendment requiring a warrant or other reforms to protect Americans' privacy.

Intelligence officials, though, have warned a warrant amendment would cripple a program relied upon for counterterrorism.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said if Congress were to impose such a requirement, it would "blind ourselves to intelligence in our holdings."

Congress is facing a time crunch to come to a resolution, as Section 702 is set to expire on April 19.

"If we lost 702, we would lose vital insight into precisely the threats Americans expect us in government to identify and counter," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

That includes, he said, "terrorist threats to the homeland; fentanyl supply chains bringing deadly drugs into American communities; hostile governments' recruitment of spies in our midst; transnational repression by authoritarian regimes; penetrations of our critical infrastructure; adversaries' attempts to illicitly acquire sensitive dual-use and military commodities and technology; ransomware attacks against major American companies and nonprofits; Russian war crimes; and more."

When has FISA been used?
Section 702 was used to target al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2022. Al-Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden's deputy and helped coordinate the Sept. 11 attacks.

Section 702 played a role in locating ISIS commander Hajji Iman, who was killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces in 2016, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The agency added that it has also been used to help the government gain insight on plans to smuggle fentanyl and other drugs into the U.S. and to mitigate ransomware attacks on U.S. infrastructure.

Former President Donald Trump and some of his conservative allies in Congress have broadly criticized FISA after surveillance against Carter Page, a former adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump this week urged lawmakers to "KILL FISA," which likely contributed to its demise earlier this week.

The Justice Department admitted errors in the FISA applications for surveillance on Page, however the ordeal didn't include Section 702 but rather another provision of the law.

ABC News' Jay O'Brien, Lauren Peller, Arthur Jones and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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Trump's co-defendants in classified documents case seeking to have charges dropped

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(NEW YORK) -- The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump's classified documents case is hearing arguments Friday from his co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira on motions to have the charges against them dismissed.

Attorneys for Nauta, Trump's longtime aide, will ask U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to dismiss the case based on unconstitutional vagueness.

Nauta and De Oliveira, the property manager at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, pleaded not guilty last August, along with Trump, to obstruction charges related to alleged attempts to delete Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage, after Trump pleaded not guilty in June to 37 criminal counts related to his handling of classified materials after leaving the White House.

"Because the indictment fails to allege that Mr. Nauta acted corruptly in any of the conduct as alleged in the indictment, Counts 33, 34, 35, 40, and 41 must be dismissed," Nauta's attorney Stanley Woodward said in a filing. "Otherwise, 'corruptly' as required under the applicable statutes and as applied to Mr. Nauta is void for vagueness."

De Oliveira is also asking Cannon to dismiss the charges against him.

Nauta is also charged with lying to the FBI in May of 2022 when he told agents that that he was unaware of boxes being brought to Trump's residence and said he didn't know where they had been stored before they were taken there. A transcript of that interview was made public on the court's docket Friday morning.

Friday's hearing comes one week after Cannon denied one of Trump's requests to have the documents case dismissed based on the Presidential Records Act.

Trump's attorneys had argued, as part of multiple motions to dismiss, that Trump should have been able to have custody of the documents in question and declare them as personal records, even after he was president, due to the Presidential Records Act.

Judge Cannon is expected to delay the start of the trial, currently on the public docket for May 20, following recent arguments from both the defense and the special counsel.

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Trump to hold Mar-a-Lago joint appearance with Johnson amid speakership threat

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks during a news conference following a closed-door caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, March 20, 2024, in Washington. -- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

(PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- As Mike Johnson faces a threat of being ousted as House speaker, he's set to join Donald Trump on Friday in Mar-a-Lago for a joint appearance where the former president is expected to offer him his support.

"I am looking forward to going to Florida and spending some time with him," Johnson said Friday morning when asked if he will discuss the move the oust him as speaker with Trump.

The high-profile joint appearance comes despite the two men recently being at odds on passing additional aid to Ukraine and Trump encouraging House GOP hard-liners this week to block reauthorizing FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a measure Johnson backed.

Still, Johnson may be looking to Trump to help him keep the job he has held since October after fellow Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a motion to vacate the speaker's chair just before lawmakers left Washington last month for a two-week recess.

The Senate in February passed a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes nearly $60 billion in funds for Ukraine, but the legislation has yet to be taken up in the Republican-controlled House, where some hard-line conservatives are opposed to sending any more money to Ukraine.

Johnson had said the House would act on Ukraine funding with "innovations" when lawmakers returned from recess this week. But as of Wednesday, there was still little sign of progress on how to move forward.

Trump has signaled he would not support aid to Ukraine, as its war rages on against Russia, urging Congress to stop funding Ukraine, too. Republicans are looking at a "loan" idea floated by Trump, which would make aid available to Ukraine as a loan that could be waived with no interest.

Despite their differences on Ukraine, Johnson posted a smiling, thumbs-up photo with Trump on Presidents Day, pointing to their shared effort to "save America."


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