President Trump, first lady to host Macrons at Mount Vernon

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a nod to history and the special relationship between the United States and one of the nation’s oldest allies, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife for a rare private dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

“The setting will serve as a beautiful reminder of France’s unique status as America’s very first ally going all the way back to the American Revolution,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

The 18th-century home of America’s first president and founding father was specifically chosen as a backdrop for the first dinner of the first state visit of Trump’s administration. Last July, the Macrons hosted the Trumps for a dinner above Paris inside its most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower.

“President Trump is eager to host the Macrons for this special event, as he remembers fondly the dinner the couples shared together in the Eiffel Tower on the eve of Bastille Day last July,” said a senior administration official.

In addition to dinner, the Macrons and Trumps will receive a tour of the grounds from Mount Vernon Regent Sarah Coulson and Mount Vernon President Doug Bradburn, and visit the gravesite of George Washington.

“Our crews have been working around the clock to freshen up the estate in preparation for the visit,” said Melissa Wood, spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon estate.

The grounds will close at 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon in anticipation of the event.

Over the years, Mount Vernon has been the host site for visits from foreign dignitaries such as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

In 1961, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy planned the first White House state dinner outside of Washington, D.C., in honor of President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan and his daughter, Naseem Akhtar Aurangzeb. Four boats transported guests up the Potomac River to a tent, decorated by Tiffany’s, on the sprawling grounds of Mount Vernon.

The White House has remained tight-lipped about specific details of the visit, but like Kennedy, Melania Trump “was involved in every aspect of the planning of the state visit,” her press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, told ABC News.

The estate holds particular symbolism for the United States and France, as Washington welcomed his close friend and Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette to his estate three years after fighting alongside each other in the Revolutionary War.

After fighting for the United States, Lafayette went on to serve an important role in the French Revolution. In 1790, as a symbol of his appreciation for the United States and shared democratic ideals, Lafayette sent Washington the key to Bastille prison, which remains on display at Mount Vernon more than 200 years later.

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Trump says North Korea agreed to denuclearize. It hasn’t.

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

President Donald Trump claims North Korea has agreed to "denuclearization" before his potential meeting with Kim Jong Un, but that’s not the case

Trump lawyer facing ‘epic battle’ by prosecutors for his cooperation: Dershowitz

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

A "sword of Damocles" is hanging over Cohen’s head, Dershowitz said.

DNC suing Trump and Russia because US has ‘not imposed sufficient costs" on Moscow for election meddling: Perez

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) — The chairman of the Democratic National Committee said the party’s civil lawsuit against the Trump campaign and Russia aims to deter Moscow from interfering in the 2018 midterm elections.

“We have to deter misconduct,” Tom Perez told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday. “We’ve got elections coming up in November. It’s hard to win elections when you have interference in elections. And they’ve done it with impunity. And I’m concerned that it’s going to happen again.”

The Democratic Party is working to create a “strong voter protection infrastructure,” Perez added. “And one way to make sure we protect voters this November is to make sure we are doing our level best to insure that interference never occurs again.”

The Democratic National Committee filed a sweeping lawsuit in federal court Friday alleging collusion between Russians and Trump campaign operatives in the 2016 election and naming the Russian government, the Trump campaign, Trump family members, WikiLeaks and others. The suit claims a wide-ranging “Russia-Trump conspiracy” and is based on the same anti-racketeering statutes that have been used against underworld criminals.

The Trump campaign in a statement Friday called the lawsuit “frivolous” and a “last-ditch effort” to validate the “baseless” claim that Trump conspired with the Kremlin.

“This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian collusion claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional, and nearly insolvent Democratic Party,” said Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager.

Stephanopoulos on “This Week” asked Perez about criticism from David Axelrod, a fellow Democrat who worked as chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. Axelrod tweeted Friday night that the DNC suit was “spectacularly ill-timed” and would support Trump’s portrayal of the federal Russia investigation as “a partisan vendetta.”

Perez responded, “We’ve done our homework.”

“Over the course of the last year, we have seen story after story, brick after brick in the conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign to affect the outcome of the election,” the DNC chief said. “We have a strong case. That’s why we brought it.”

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Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is subject of ‘epic battle’ by prosecutors for his cooperation: Alan Dershowitz

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) —  Alan Dershowitz said prosecutors are engaged in “an epic battle for the soul and cooperation of Michael Cohen,” the longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump whose office and hotel room were raided by the FBI this month.

Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor emeritus, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday that prosecutors could potentially be threatening Cohen with a long prison term if he fails to cooperate.

There is “a sword of Damocles hanging over his head,” said Dershowitz, who appeared on a “This Week” panel of lawyers discussing the implications of the April 9 raids on Cohen’s hotel room, home, office, safety deposit and cell phones.

“After those raids, how serious is the threat to Cohen and Trump?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Oh, it’s a very serious threat,” Dershowitz said. “They have enormous abilities to really put pressure” on a witness.

But the law professor also said he’s not sure whether Cohen will “flip” to become a prosecution witness who could possibly give some kind of evidence against his client, Trump.

“I think it’s very hard not to flip when they’re threatening you with long imprisonment, but I don’t think we know enough,” Dershowitz said.

He added that Trump has “a unique weapon” on his side in any investigation — the presidential pardon. However, he said in regard to Cohen, “I don’t think he’s going to be pardoned.”

Cohen is under criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York and has been for months, court documents released on April 13 and obtained by ABC News confirm. According to the documents, Cohen “is being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.” Cohen’s attorney said the investigation started, in part, following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to Trump associates.

After the April 9 raids by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, Cohen and Trump’s attorneys argued that many of the items seized fall under attorney-client privilege and therefore should not be viewed by prosecutors until they, or a neutral third party, have an opportunity to review them.

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Meet the prosecutor experts say could be Robert Mueller’s Supreme Court closer

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Special counsel Robert Mueller built a team of more than a dozen prosecutors to investigate Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, but experts say one member might best be considered “the closer”: Michael Dreeben.

“I don’t have many insights into his legal approach except to say there is no human being, on the planet, with more knowledge about federal criminal law than Michael Dreeben, and no one with more expertise than him,” said Leah Litman, a constitutional law professor at University of California at Irvine.

Dreeben is one of the government’s most venerated and tested Supreme Court specialists. His career at the Office of the Solicitor General, the lawyers who represent the federal government before the high court, spans nearly three decades. He has argued more than 100 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, making him “only the second person to reach that rare milestone this century,” declared Chief Justice John Roberts during the court hearing that marked the occasion.

And he could prove a powerful asset in a case that could eventually pit the Justice Department against the president of the United States.

One of his particular areas of expertise has been in search and seizure law, explained Matt Olsen, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and now an ABC News contributor. Dreeben has recently argued, for example, that federal prosecutors should have access to digital data stored outside the United States and that the government’s collection of cell-tower records does not violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

In fact, it was that topic that brought Dreeben into court this week. He made an early appearance for the Mueller team in federal court in Washington to argue the government’s position that former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s criminal case should not be dismissed and that certain seized evidence should be admissible.

At the hearing, Dreeben sought to assure the judge that the special counsel is checked in his authority by both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who must approve actions that might be beyond Mueller’s mandate, and by Congress, which exercises oversight of the Department of Justice.

Peter Carr, a Spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment for this report. While few know where the Mueller case will head next, legal analysts expect Dreeben to play a key role in ensuring that special counsel prosecutors stay on the right side of the Constitution.

“I can imagine Michael being responsible for a host of pressing constitutional issues that might arise, ranging from the indictability of a sitting president to the lawfulness of the use of the pardon power,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former Whitewater investigator and senior fellow at the conservative think tank R Street Institute.

Another potential constitutional brawl “would be a fight for a compelled interview if the president refused to sit down with Mueller,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School, who noted that the law in this area remains unsettled.

Most prosecutors on the Mueller team have maintained a low profile, but there have been hints in recent weeks that some Trump supporters plan to challenge the integrity of the probe by highlighting the political leanings of some of the prosecutors on the case. Veteran appellate lawyers told ABC News they cannot imagine any critique of that nature sticking to Dreeben.

 “I have no idea what his politics are, but I know he is as faithful to the Constitution and laws of the United States as anyone who has ever served in government. Period. He is the consummate public servant,” said Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

Katyal said that Dreeben cares more about fairness than winning. He recalled an incident when Dreeben told him, “We won this case in the court of appeals, but we really should have lost it. So let’s tell the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule against us.”

Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who worked with Dreeben at the Justice Department for over a decade, said the veteran prosecutor is not swayed by politics.

“With him and others like him on the team you can be confident that the prosecution will go where it ought to,” Lederman said.

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Presidents Trump, Macron solidify political bromance with state visit

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Their relationship began with a show of machismo –- an extended, white-knuckle handshake on their first meeting last year in Belgium.

 Emmanuel Macron had reportedly studied Donald Trump’s style of domineering power-grabbing handshakes, apparently prepared to avoid being outdone by his counterpart. Instead, it was President Trump who at one point in the 5-second-long handshake attempted to withdraw his hand from Macron’s firm grasp.

The maneuver marked the start of what has become a close partnership between the two leaders, who recently joined forces along with the United Kingdom to strike Syria earlier this month.

“It’s no secret that President Trump and President Macron enjoy a good working relationship. I may say a close personal relationship,” a senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters.

President Macron has already feted Trump in grand style, inviting him to be his guest of honor at France’s elaborate Bastille Day celebrations last summer. The president and first lady dined with Macron and his wife at the Eiffel Tower and sat side-by-side as French military tanks, planes and troops rolled down the Champs-Elysee in the elaborate military parade.

The event so inspired Trump that he has since called on the Pentagon to look into organizing a military parade in the United States. That parade is now set to take place on Veterans Day.

By extending an invitation to host Macron for a state visit in the United States, Trump is in many ways returning the favor and celebrating the deeply-rooted historical ties between the two countries and marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This will be the president and first lady’s first time hosting a foreign leader to the full ceremonial honors of a state visit and sends a symbolic message about the value Trump places on his close ties with the French president.

“This will be a visit of symbolism of the strength and history of the U.S.-French relationship,” says Heather A. Conley, senior vice president for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will be more symbolism than substance.”

The events

When Macron arrives in Washington on Monday for a three-day visit, he and his wife will stay at Blair House, the presidential guest house, and will dine privately with the president and first lady at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home and pay a visit to the first president’s tomb. 

“President Trump is eager to host the Macrons for this special event, as he remembers fondly the dinner the couples shared together in the Eiffel tower on the eve of Bastille day last July,” a senior administration official said.

President Trump will officially welcome Macron to the White House on Tuesday with an elaborate welcome ceremony on its South Lawn, complete with honor guards and marching bands. They are scheduled to engage in bilateral meetings and partake in a joint news conference. Macron will also dine with Vice President Mike Pence at the State Department for a luncheon that is traditionally hosted by the Secretary of State, and visit the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The day will conclude with a formal white-tie state dinner that has been in the works for several months at the personal direction of First Lady Melania Trump.

Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, said the dinner will be a chance for the first lady to showcase her skills as a hostess. McBride predicted that Melania Trump has put a keen interest in creating an elegant evening.

“Mrs. Trump wants her guests to have a wonderful, sensory experience. The flowers and lighting in the room. She pays great attention to detail. It’s really a chance for her to show how they entertain,” McBride said.

The White House is closely guarding the invite list, with plans to only release the names of the invitees after the final guest has arrived for the evening, which is sure to include both French and American dignitaries. But the guest list is one of the most important and trickiest matters to navigate — to strike the right balance and set the desired tone.

Several offices and departments are involved in the process, with recommendations flowing in from the State Department, the Office of Public Liaison — which largely manages the White House’s relationship with outside groups — and the offices of Cabinet Affairs and legislative affairs, McBride said.

But the most important suggestions of all, she added, are those that come from the first couple.

“The most important list of all is who the first family wants to have there,” said McBride.

As for what’s on the menu, the White House has yet to reveal what will be served but says the first lady has personally selected and taste-tested the dishes.

While some modern state dinners have been hosted in a large event tent on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday’s dinner will be in its State Dining Room. Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, says the setting is a “nod to tradition and the historic relationship between the two countries.”

She added that there has been an effort on the part of the first lady’s office “to keep things elegant and more traditional than perhaps some of the last few state dinners.”

The live musical accompaniment for the evening will be “classical and traditional,” says Grisham.

She suggested the entertainment will be a departure from the modern artists who made a splash at some of former President Obama’s state dinners, which included live performances from A-list artists like Gwen Stefani and Beyonce Knowles.

On Wednesday, Macron will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress, which Elysée Palace says will be a “very important moment” of Macron’s visit.

“The French president will introduce himself to the American people, will send a message of friendship, of respect and affection toward the American nation,” the Elysée Palace says. “Our common history is incredible, a history of friendship that started 250 years ago. The central message that we will see at the Congress will be: Do you want to continue to write history together?”

Macron will also make a public address at George Washington University, and hold his own news conference at the conclusion of his U.S. visit.

The Issues

Amid all the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial visit, there will also be the work of high-level diplomacy between the two leaders and their delegations.

Macron has described his relationship with Trump as “extremely direct and frank,” telling the BBC in January: “Sometimes I manage to convince him, and sometimes I fail.”

Macron appeared to test the limits of that frankness when he seemed to take credit recently for convincing President Trump not to pull U.S. troops out of Syria in the immediate future; Trump had said days before that the U.S. mission in Syria was nearly complete and that troops would be coming home “very soon.”

“We convinced him that it was necessary to stay there long-term,” Macron said during an extended televised interview on Sunday.

The White House then came out to refute Macron’s assertion.

“The U.S. mission has not changed — the President has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

And Macron himself also sought to walk back the comments, later attempting to clarify: “I did not say that either the U.S. or France will remain militarily engaged in the long term in Syria.”

After the joint strike earlier this month and the public fissure around Macron’s comments on the duration of a U.S. military commitment, one issue to watch will be whether the two countries come to any sort of shared understanding around next steps for war-torn Syria. A senior administration official said the leaders would “discuss probably in some detail the way forward on Syria” but said it’s “difficult to say right now” how far those discussions will go.

“The question around Syria would be, ‘Now what?'” says Conley. “President Macron very much wants to see a diplomatic process come through. He wants more U.S. engagement … [and] wants to talk to President Trump about what the U.S. policy towards Syria will be at the same moment where President Trump has publicly announced that his desire is to remove U.S. forces from Syria.”

Conley added that it will be interesting to see how the “leaders comment publicly on their two positions on Syria and a diplomatic process moving forward.”

While the Elysée Palace has made clear they don’t have high expectations for producing substantive agreements, the French delegation will try their hand at the art of persuasion in presenting the French position on issues of disagreement, namely the Iran nuclear deal, trade, and the Paris Climate Accord.

“We hope that this State visit will be useful and allow us to present our arguments, to convince and move forward. But on these three topics, we do not expect to obtain results, make deals [or] agreements during the visit. For example, on the Iran deal, we know that President Trump has not made a decision yet. We do not think there will be a diplomatic breakthrough during the State visit,” the Elysée Palace said.

A senior administration official said the Iran nuclear deal is sure to be a “a major topic of discussion” during the meetings but said that any decisions as it relates to the United States’ continuing participation in the agreement would come in mid-May, when the president faces a deadline on whether to continue to keep the U.S. a party to the deal.

Even as both U.S. and French officials say there’s no expectation that a final decision will be reached on the Iran deal during the visit, Conley says Macron is uniquely suited among European leaders to make potential headway with Trump as he seeks to convince him not to withdraw the United States from the pact.

“This visit will be dubbed the ‘Save the Iran Nuclear Agreement’ trip,” Conley said. “The French have historically been the toughest EU of the three –- that’s U.K., France, and Germany -– on being tough on Iran, getting the toughest compliance possible. So in some ways, President Macron is the best to provide the president with … the toughness that he wants about and towards Iran, but trying to do so in a way that preserves the Iran nuclear agreement.”

But as it relates to the Paris Climate Accord — the historic pact on climate change to which President Obama had previously committed the United States and has since been adopted by every other country in the world — the Elysée Palace says President Macron will refrain from trying to convince President Trump to get back on board with the agreement.

“We are not trying to get the United States back into the Paris Accord,” the Elysée Palace said. “What we are doing is describing the consequences of climate change. We continue scientific and economic cooperation with the U.S. This goes beyond the U.S. Federal state; working with American cities, NGOs, companies. By working collectively, the United States will reach their objective of decreasing gas emissions. On the political aspect, it can show the Trump administration the positive consequences of actions to fight climate change in terms of job creations and innovation.”

Asked if Paris Climate Accord is set to be discussed, a senior administration official said, “I don’t have any insight on that for you” and said the topic is not on the agenda “unless it’s brought up by President Macron.”

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Meet the prosecutor who could be Robert Mueller’s Supreme Court closer

Posted on: April 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Michael Dreeben is one of the government’s most-tested Supreme Court experts.

Sessions told White House counsel he would consider resigning if Rosenstein were fired, sources say

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a phone conversation with White House counsel Don McGahn he would consider resigning if President Donald Trump were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, sources familiar with the matter confirms to ABC News.

The conversation happened a week ago and just days after a meeting at the White House between Roseinstein and Trump. Sources said at the time the meeting was focused on congressional requests for documents from the Justice Department.

Sessions’ phone conversation was first reported by the Washington Post.

Amid speculation that Trump was considering firing both Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he declared earlier this week: “They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here.”

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Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

President Donald Trump says he doesn’t expect personal lawyer Michael Cohen to "flip" as the government investigates Cohen’s business dealings

The Latest: Bush was ‘first lady of the greatest generation’

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Historian tells hundreds at Barbara Bush’s funeral that she was the "first lady of the greatest generation"

EPA chief recorded a single, one-hour meeting on day 1 of Morocco trip

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Jason Andrew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) —  The Environmental Protection Agency has released new details about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule in Morocco last year that show he was scheduled for only one meeting on the first day of the costly trip.

The new details about Pruitt’s schedule came in an updated response to a records request from ABC News and other news organizations on the Morocco trip, which generated controversy both about his spending habits and his justification for being there. Earlier this month, the EPA released the six-page schedule from Pruitt’s 47-hour North Africa trip with four pages blacked out.

On Friday the EPA made public an un-redacted version of the schedule after criticism from government watchdog groups about the agency’s lack of transparency.

The newly released version of the calendar showed the four previously blacked out pages of his calendar did not include any additional meetings beyond those already released.

“The four-page redaction to the Morocco schedule is simply a calendar entry for a Senior Staff Meeting at EPA Headquarters in DC, which the Administrator did not attend because he was in Morocco,” EPA Spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “The entry includes all attendees invited to the meeting, which is the reason for the extensive redaction.”

The reason the redacted section from December 11 was so long, Wilcox said, was because the four pages were consumed by a list of attendees for the meeting in Washington.

The document release, however, did not address questions from Democratic lawmakers about the number and nature of Pruitt’s meetings.

“For a trip … that included at least 10 EPA staff, your official business consisted of one full working day, and two days each with one, one-hour meeting,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a top Democratic on the committee with oversight of EPA, wrote in recent letter to Pruitt.

Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, told ABC News on Friday the EPA should not have blacked out the staff meeting in its initial response. The agency’s explanation for the redaction – citing it as part of its “deliberative process” privilege – was improper.

“There have certainly been lots of questions raised as to how the EPA is handling FOIA requests under the current administration and I think that this adds to that growing list of questions as to what is going on when it comes to EPA and FOIA,” he told ABC News.

The trip is already under review by the EPA’s inspector general as part of an ongoing audit of Pruitt’s travel costs. Multiple Democrats have asked for more information on what prompted the Morocco trip and what Pruitt discussed with Moroccan officials, including the ranking member of the Senate committee with oversight of EPA, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

In a letter to the EPA inspector general, Carper wrote that he was especially concerned that the EPA listed promoting U.S. exports of natural gas as one of the topics on the trip. Carper wrote in the letter that natural gas is not part of the agency’s mission “to protect human health and the environment.”

In response to questions about those allegations, an EPA spokesman told ABC News that two career EPA officials traveled with Pruitt on the trip, not only political staff, and that liquid natural gas was not the only topic on the agenda, as described in an EPA press release. 

After spending two days in Paris due to travel delays, Pruitt arrived in Rabat, Morocco on December 11, with one meeting listed on his schedule for that day. The next day he held several meetings and toured an energy park before traveling to Marrakesh and having breakfast with the director of the Moroccan renewable energy agency. He then flew back to Washington on December 13.

Congressional sources conservatively estimated the trip cost at least $40,000, including a first-class flight that cost nearly $17,000 for Pruitt alone. Federal guidelines allow officials to fly first-class on international trips but the expense caught the attention of investigators who were already looking into the cost of Pruitt’s international and domestic travel.

The EPA did not publicly announce the trip to Morocco ahead of time but said in a press release after the trip that Pruitt met with Moroccan leaders on U.S. environmental priorities, the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, and the benefit of liquid natural gas imports for the country. Pruitt also toured a green energy facility during the visit.

The EPA’s inspector general agreed to review Pruitt’s personal travel this week, according to Whitehouse’s office, in addition to ongoing audits of the cost of his official travel and security detail.

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EPA chief recorded a single, one-hour meeting on day 1 of Morocco trip

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

The Environmental Protection Agency has released new details about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule in Morocco last year.

Missouri Gov. Greitens charged with second felony

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Greitens has been charged with felony computer tampering related to his alleged use of a donor list from his veterans’ charity for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Missouri Gov. Greitens charged with second felony

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has been charged with felony computer tampering related to his alleged use of a donor list from his veterans’ charity for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, according to the state’s attorney general.

It’s the second felony charge the Missouri Republican is facing. Greitens also faces a felony charge related to accusations from his former mistress who alleges he bound her hands with tape, put a blindfold on her, took a partially nude photo of her and then threated to release the photo if she mentioned his name, according to a Missouri House committee report.

That charge is for invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a partially or fully nude photo and “subsequently transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”

He faces a criminal trial on that charge on May 14.

Greitens’ attorneys had made a motion to get those charges dismissed but a judge ruled on Thursday that case can proceed.

The latest charge alleges Greitens obtained an electronic donor list without permission from The Mission Continues charity he founded and then used that list for political fundraising as he was preparing to run for the governorship.

Greitens started the organization in 2007 but left it in 2014, before he ran for governor.

The governor has denied all the allegations but he did pay a fine to the state ethics commission for not reporting the list as an in-kind contribution on campaign disclosure forms.

Friday night Greitens put out a statement lashing out at St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

“By now, everyone knows what this is: this prosecutor will use any charge she can to smear me. Thank goodness for the Constitution and our court system. In the United States of America, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” the statement said. “In the United States of America, you get your day in court. And when I have my day in court, I will clear my name. People will know the truth.”

Multiple elected officials in the state, including the GOP leaders in both chambers of the state legislature. Additionally both Senate candidates – incumbent Democratic Sen. Clarie McCaskill and her GOP opponent, Attorney General Josh Hawley – have called on Greitens to resign from office.

The controversy around Greitens, once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, has consumed Missouri politics.

On Tuesday, Greitens tweeted that he would not be resigning the governorship and said he will be proven innocent in court.

Hawley’s office announced Tuesday that his office may have found evidence of a felony by Greitens in an investigation involving the veterans charity. He turned it over to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who has jurisdiction in the matter. It was her decision to charge Greitens.

Hawley said in a statement on Friday that his office is ready to assist as needed.

“St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner reviewed the evidence turned over to her by my office and determined that there is probable cause to file criminal charges against the Governor. The Office stands ready to assist the Circuit Attorney’s Office where appropriate and if needed. These are serious charges—and an important reminder that no one is above the law in Missouri. Like all criminal defendants, Governor Greitens is presumed innocent under the law until proven guilty,” he said.

The governor is fighting for his political life.

But a Missouri state house committee released a bombshell investigative report last week detailing an alleged nonconsensual sexual encounter with his former hairdresser.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but said it was consensual. He claims he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

That bipartisan investigative committee – comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats – is expected to release a second report next week focused on the charity.

Statehouse officials have also said they could hold a special session after the regular legislative session ends in May to focus on the impeachment of the governor.

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Trump administration’s first human rights report sparks fierce criticism

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

This is the first human rights report compiled by the Trump administration.

About 2,500 mourners pay respects to Barbara Bush at viewing

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Around 2,500 mourners have attended a public viewing for former first lady Barbara Bush, who was married to President George H.W. Bush for 73 years

The Latest: 2,500 attend public viewing for Barbara Bush

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Officials say around 2,500 people have walked past a casket holding former first lady Barbara Bush during a public viewing at a Houston church

Coons announces opposition to Pompeo, cuts off path to favorable committee vote

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, announced Friday that he will not vote to support the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state, officially closing the door on Pompeo’s chances of being favorably recommended out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ahead of a full Senate floor vote.

Coons, the last Democrat on the panel to announce his position, said in a statement that he was encouraged by Pompeo’s commitment to the diplomatic corps that he laid out in his confirmation hearing but concluded that the current CIA director and former congressman would embolden rather than temper President Donald Trump’s most bellicose instincts.

“I do not make this decision lightly or without reservations,” Coons said in a statement. “I remain concerned that Director Pompeo will not challenge the President in critical moments. On vital decisions facing our country, Director Pompeo seems less concerned with rule of law and partnership with our allies and more inclined to emphasize unilateral action and the use of force.”

Coons also said he was concerned with some of Pompeo’s past statements made over his political career on “a range of issues.”

Republicans on the 21-person committee hold a slim one-seat majority over Democrats. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also opposes Pompeo’s nomination to be the nation’s top diplomat. That meant Pompeo needed the support of at least one Democrat on the committee to get the simple majority needed for a favorable recommendation.

But with Coons’ announcement, all ten Democrats on the committee have now announced that they would not support Pompeo.

Coons’ position is not a surprise. He had said as late as Thursday afternoon that he was “leaning against” Pompeo’s nomination and he also voted against him to serve as CIA director last year.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on Pompeo’s nomination Monday.

With the option of a favorable recommendation off the table, they can still report the nomination to the Senate floor with an unfavorable recommendation or simply take no action. And the full Senate will still vote on his confirmation, which is likely to succeed.

But the fact that Pompeo’s confirmation will not be referred favorably to the full Senate is an almost unprecedented rebuke from the committee of jurisdiction. The last time any cabinet-level nominee who was reported unfavorably by a committee but went on to be confirmed by the full Senate was 73 years ago when Henry Wallace was confirmed to be the secretary of commerce on March 1, 1945.

Past secretaries of state, including Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton have breezed through their respective confirmations, receiving strong tallies from both sides of the aisle.

While Pompeo will not receive the support of any of the ten Senate Foreign Committee Democrats, at least one member of the caucus has announced she will vote for him: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who is facing a tough re-election fight in a state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump in 2016.

If no other Republican besides Paul opposes Pompeo in the Senate floor vote, Heitkamp’s support means he will have just enough votes to be confirmed, including Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote.

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Pompeo loses chance of getting favorable Senate Foreign Relations vote

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., announced Friday that he will not vote to support the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State.

US believes Austin Tice still alive as FBI offers new $1 million reward

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Intel gathered over the past 18 months suggests that American journalist Austin Tice is still alive almost six years after he went missing in Syria, ABC News has learned.

Strong fundraising numbers boost Senate Democrats in battle to control upper chamber

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Most Democratic Senate candidates brought in strong fundraising hauls for the first quarter of 2018, the latest reports show, a positive sign for a party defending multiple seats and leaving some Republicans playing catch up in the race for campaign cash.

Democrats are defending more seats on the map in November than the GOP in their uphill battle to win control of the Senate. They need a treasure trove of dollars to defend their seats plus pick up the two they need to control the upper chamber.

Adding to the financial pressures are the number of seats the party is defending, meaning as the election gets closer, resources will get tighter and, if the candidates don’t have the cash to get themselves across the finish line, they may not be able to count on the party to bail them out.

But several Democratic contenders in competitive contests were in good financial shape in the first quarter of this year, especially those Democrats running for reelection in red states won by Donald Trump in 2016. There are, however, three quarters left to go.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Montana Sen. Jon Tester all outraised their GOP rivals.

And two Democratic challengers – Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Jacky Rosen in Nevada – outraised the GOP incumbents they are challenging.

“Senate Democrats’ strong fundraising reflects the wave of grassroots support and enthusiasm that will help propel our campaigns to victory in November,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Congressional Committee, in a statement.

Republicans acknowledge the political climate across the country makes it tougher on them to fundraise.

“Most of the incumbents that are running are Democrats and normally incumbents have a much easier time raising money,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “They have some natural advantages in terms of fundraising that way. Secondly, it’s no secret that there’s a lot of enthusiasm on the Democratic side and I think that’s reflected in fundraising numbers.”

He added: “The Democrats are raising a lot of money but they’re going to need a lot of money.”

But other Democrats didn’t do as well as some of their brethren, falling behind in the money race, in seats the party will need to put in the win column in November.

In West Virginia, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin was outraised by one of his GOP rivals – former coal industry executive Don Blankenship – by around half a million dollars. The other two Republican contenders haven’t released their fundraising data.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was outraised by GOP Rep. Jim Renacci by a little more than $1 million.

In Arizona, Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema was outraised by one of the Republican candidates – Martha McSally – by about $25,000.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson raised $3.2 million but his GOP rival, Gov. Rick Scott, entered the race on April 9 so he didn’t have to file a first-quarter fundraising report.

This could end up being a $100 million race given the state’s expensive media market and the fact Scott has the personal wealth to invest in the contest. He put $83 million of his own money into his two gubernatorial campaigns, according to local newspapers, meaning Democrats are going to need a lot of cash to stay competitive.

In other races, not all the fundraising information was available.

And not all Senate campaign data is available on the Federal Election Commission website at this time. Some campaigns have released their fundraising numbers and local media has reported on others.

Republicans have a two-vote advantage in the upper chamber. They are defending eight seats this year, while Democrats are defending 24 plus the two independents who caucus with them.

Here’s a look at where the numbers are at in some of key races that will decide which party controls the Senate.

Missouri: McCaskill outraised her GOP rival, state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Hawley raised $1.29 million in the first quarter of 2018, the Kansas City Star reported, with $2.12 million cash on hand.

McCaskill, in contrast, raised $3.9 million and has $11.5 million cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

Florida: Nelson raised $3.2 million and has $10.5 million cash on hand, according to his campaign. Scott did not have to file a report.

West Virginia: Manchin raised $949,000 in the first quarter and has $5.4 million in the bank, according to FEC reports.

GOP candidate Don Blankenship, raised $1.6 million and had $214,000 cash on hand. The other two GOP candidates haven’t released their first quarter numbers.

Pennsylvania: Casey raised $2.2 million and has $10 million cash on hand, according to his campaign. And Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, raised $1.26 million and has $1.63 million cash on hand, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

North Dakota: Heitkamp raised $1.6 million and $5.3 million cash on hand while her GOP rival Kevin Cramer raised $1.13 million and has $1.86 million cash on hand, according to a local newspaper.

Nevada: Heller reportedly raised about $1.1 million. Rosen raised $2.57 million and has $3.5 million cash on hand, according to her FEC report.

Indiana: Donnelly raised $1.6 million and $6.4 million cash on hand, according to his FEC report.

Republican Rep. Luke Messer raised $389,000 and has $1.867 million cash on hand while GOP Rep. Todd Rokita raised $426,000 and had $1.86 million cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

Arizona: Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema raised $2.5 million and has $6.69 cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

Republican candidate Martha McSally raised $2.75 million and has $3.18 million cash on hand, according to her campaign.

Of the other two GOP primary candidates, former state Sen. Kelli Ward raised $467,000 for her campaign and KelliPAC, an independent super PAC supporting her, raised another $500,000, according to her campaign.

And Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio raised more than $500,000 with $250,000 cash on hand, according to a local news report.

Texas: Cruz raised $3.2 million across three fundraising committees and has $8.2 million cash on hand, according to the Texas Tribune.

O’Rourke raised $6.7 million and has around $8 million in the bank, according to his campaign.

Wisconsin: Baldwin raised $3.7 million and has $7.8 million cash on hand. And in the GOP primary, Kevin Nicholson raised $1 million and has $800,000.00 cash on hand, while state Sen. Leah Vukmir raised nearly $600,000 and had around $650,000 cash on hand, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Montana: Tester raised $2 million and had $6.8 million cash on hand, according to FEC reports. He easily outraised his four GOP rivals, none of whom raised over 500,000, according to their FEC reports.

Ohio: Brown raised $3.3 million and had $11.8 million cash on hand, according to local reports.

Renacci raised about $4.5 million through his various fundraising committees and had $4.2 million in the bank, according to a campaign statement.

Tennessee:
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen reported $3.2 million in the first quarter, which included a $1.4 million loan from himself. He has $1.7 million cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn raised $2 million and has $6 million cash on hand, according to her FEC filings.

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DNC files federal lawsuit against Russia, Trump campaign and associates

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

The lawsuit cites the hacking of DNC documents and records by the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.

DNC files federal lawsuit against Russia, Trump campaign and associates

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — The Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against the Russian government, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and numerous others close to the president, alleging they were part of a broad attempt to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The lawsuit cites the hacking of DNC documents and records by the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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The Latest: It was Putin call that had Trump fuming at Flynn

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

President Donald Trump fumed at former national security adviser Michael Flynn over a delayed return call to Russian President Vladimir Putin

Rosenstein told Trump he’s not a target of investigation of his personal lawyer: Sources

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Embattled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Donald Trump a week ago that he is not a target of the investigation of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, two sources close to Trump told ABC News.

Rosenstein on his own brought up the probe of Cohen to the president during that meeting, sources said.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter.

The president has repeatedly threatened both publicly and privately to fire Rosenstein, as he has also done with both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to Trump associates.

However, on Wednesday, Trump seemed to take a different tack, responding to a reporter’s question about the fate of the three officials by saying “they’re still here.”

“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months,” Trump said while in Florida. “And they’re still here. We want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us. And we have to get back to business.”

At the same time, as ABC News has reported, the president has been “less inclined” to sit down for an interview with Mueller since an FBI raid on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on April 9, according to sources.

Trump’s legal team last met with Mueller’s office about a potential Trump interview on the same day as the Cohen raid.

Now with longtime Trump friend and surrogate Rudy Giuliani’s joining the Trump legal team, he will be part of all negotiations with Mueller’s office going forward.

The former New York City mayor and federal prosecutor says his job is to help Mueller get “what he needs to wrap it up” and to “try to negotiate a way to get this over with.”

Giuliani’s joining comes after the Trump team searched for several weeks to fill a void left by the abrupt departure of the president’s lead attorney, John Dowd. Dowd quit in part because he felt the President was taking less of his advice, sources told ABC News.

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In memos, Comey describes Trump’s reactions to dossier, concerns over Flynn

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — In newly released copies of memos written by James Comey, the former FBI Director describes what he says were Donald Trump’s strenuous and repeated objections to claims that prostitutes visited his Moscow hotel room in 2013 as well as the president’s “serious reservations” about his embattled National Security Adviser.

“There were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes,” Comey recalled Trump saying in one of the memos.

ABC News obtained copies of the memos, which are partially redacted, on Thursday after the Justice Department turned over 15 pages of declassified material to Congress. Top House Republicans had requested the documents and threatened to subpoena for them. DOJ plans to transmit unredacted copies of the memos on Friday.

The memos, which emerged as a flash point in the ongoing Trump-Russia probe, detail Comey’s recollections of exchanges with the president about Russian campaign interference and the broader Russia investigation. They include notes of conversations about the Trump Tower briefing on the Russia allegations, on a private White House dinner, and on controversial meetings during which Comey says Trump asked for his loyalty and for him to end the Flynn investigation. Trump has denied making those requests.

Some of Comey’s notes closely mirror the account of the interactions with Trump he has provided in congressional testimony, in his new book and in recent television interviews. But the newly released memos also feature previously unreported details and exchanges, including Trump’s complaints about Gen. Michael Flynn’s judgment. He expressed concern that Flynn, who served briefly as his National Security Adviser, did not alert him about a head of state’s congratulatory call. (The name of the head of state is redacted in the memos released Thursday.)

Comey said Trump pointed to his head when describing Flynn, and said, “The guy has serious judgment issues.”

“I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn,” Comey wrote.

In a meeting several days later, then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked Comey, “Do you have a FISA order on Michael Flynn?” according to Comey’s memo. The question from Priebus came after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House that Flynn was susceptible to blackmail regarding his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn later became one of the most senior Trump aides to cut a deal with prosecutors and agree to assist the Mueller investigation. He pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

Other memos from Comey shed light on Trump’s reactions to allegations, some of them salacious, in the so-called dossier –- an unverified, opposition-research document prepared by a former British intelligence officer, and paid for by Trump’s political rivals.

One memo describes a meeting in which Comey says Trump remarked that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him that Russia has “some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,” without explaining when the conversation took place, according to Comey’s notes.

In a joint statement, Reps. Devin Nunes, R-California, Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, the chairmen who requested declassified versions of the memos last week, described the documents as “Defense Exhibit A” in a criminal case for obstruction of justice, arguing that they show Comey was motivated by animus, and did not feel that Trump was attempting to obstruct the Russia investigation in real time.

“While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation,” they wrote.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the memos are “strong corroborating evidence” of Comey’s claims that Trump “wanted his personal loyalty, that he wanted to end the Russia investigation, and that he wanted Michael Flynn to walk.”

“President Trump’s interference was a blatant effort to deny justice, and Director Comey was right to document it as it happened — in real time,” Cummings said.

Comey said in a CNN interview Thursday he was “fine” with his memos being released to the public.

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In memos, Comey describes Trump’s reactions to dossier, concerns over Flynn

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

The former FBI director’s memos included Trump’s denials of Russian prostitutes.

Appeals court rules against Trump administration sanctuary city policy

Posted on: April 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A federal appeals court upheld a nationwide injunction that blocked the Trump administration from linking a federal grant program to cooperation with immigration enforcement Thursday.

The program, known as the Byrne JAG grant, is the “primary provider” of federal criminal justice funding to state and local governments, according to the court. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had tied the funds to grant recipient’s compliance with three conditions.

“From now on, the department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities,” Sessions wrote in a July statement.

The City of Chicago argued that it was “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

A lower court agreed to two of the three conditions, issuing a nationwide injunction. The appellate court upheld that decision Thursday.

“The attorney general in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement,” the court wrote in its opinion. “But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds.”

A DOJ spokesman, however, said that the department acted with proper authority.

“The Justice Department believes it exercised its authority, given by Congress, to attach conditions to Byrne JAG grants that promote cooperation with federal immigration authorities when the jurisdiction has an illegal alien who has committed a crime in their custody,” said DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley.

John Cohen, an ABC News consultant and former acting Homeland Security undersecretary, said that he has seen no lack of cooperation from state and local law enforcement officials in his experience.

“In speaking with law enforcement officials across the nation, I have found none that are unwilling to work with ICE and CBP to locate, arrest and detain those undocumented or unauthorized immigrants involved in criminal activity,” Cohen said.

The court went on to lay out the “sometimes-clashing interests” between federal law enforcement and local government. In this case, Chicago determined that people unlawfully in the U.S. might avoid contacting local police to report crimes if they fear it will bring the scrutiny of the federal immigration authorities.

Cohen said that the administration has overstated the threat of illegal immigration.

“While demonizing state and local officials and embellishing the threat posed by illegal immigrants may further the president’s political agenda, it is undermining the very operational relationships that are vital to protecting our communities from violence,” Cohen said.

In its decision, the court wrote that its role in this case was not to assess the “optimal immigration policies for our country,” but rather to protect one of its “bedrock principles,” the separation of powers.

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DOJ inspector general has sent McCabe case to prosecutors for possible charges

Posted on: April 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

The FBI’s former deputy now potentially faces federal criminal probe.