Vacclav/iStockBY: ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Newly unsealed documents reveal the Justice Department is looking into allegations that lobbyists may have tried to bribe White House officials or a related political committee in exchange for a presidential pardon.
The partially redacted documents, unsealed Tuesday by the chief judge on the D.C. district court, show that government investigators have seized communications related to an investigation into unidentified individuals who may have engaged in a "secret lobbying scheme" to contact senior White House officials to secure "a pardon or reprieve of sentence" for another unidentified individual.
The filing notes that some communications in question seized by the government were taken from the office of an unidentified lawyer near the end of this past summer.
According to the documents, the government in August sought a court order "so that the investigative team (could) access" certain communications and confront individuals in the case in order to take "investigative steps needed to complete its investigation."
The White House has declined to comment on the investigation.
ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Caroline Purser/iStockBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is slated to hand over control of the White House to President-elect Joe Biden in 50 days.
Here is how the transition is unfolding. All times Eastern:
Dec 01, 6:28 pm
Georgia election official calls on Trump to condemn supporters' threats: 'Someone's gonna get killed'
Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting system implementation manager in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office, unleashed on the president from Atlanta Tuesday afternoon, as well as GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, chastising them for not forcefully condemning threats of violence against election officials, making several direct pleas to Trump in his remarks.
"Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We're investigating, there's always a possibility, I get it, and you have the rights to go through the course. What you don't have the ability to do -- and need to step up and say this -- is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's gonna get hurt. Someone's gonna get shot. Someone's gonna get killed," Sterling said.
"Everything we're seeing right now, there's not a path. Be the bigger man here, and stop -- step in, tell your supporters, don't be violent, don't intimidate. All that's wrong. It's un-American," he continued.
Sterling said that Trump calling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger "an enemy of the people" on Thanksgiving "helped opened the floodgates to this kind of crap."
"You have to be responsible in your rhetoric," he said. "That shouldn't be too much to ask for people who asked for us to give them responsibility."
Explaining his anger, Sterling said that the "straw that broke the camel's back" was when someone took a video of a 20-year-old contractor working for Dominion in Gwinnett County claiming it showed him manipulating election data, but that was not was he was doing. He said the man is getting death threats -- that there's been "a noose put out saying he should be hung for treason" -- and since he has a unique name, people have tracked down his family, too and they're also being harassed.
"Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you're gonna take a position of leadership, show some," Sterling said. "All of you who’ve not said a damn word are complicit in this."
-ABC News' Quinn Scanlan
Dec 01, 4:22 pm
Biden in contact with Fauci, Birx as transition focuses on pandemic
Biden's team has made contact with two of most prominent leaders on the White House coronavirus task force -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease, and Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, as his transition team maintains its focus on the ongoing pandemic and the federal response they will inherit in 50 days.
Biden has held separate conversations with the two White House coronavirus task force officials, according to a transition official. Birx, whose colleagues told ABC News she would like to continue serving in a Biden administration, met with members of Biden's team on Monday.
A global health expert who was tapped from running the federal government’s program combating HIV/AIDS to serve on the task force in the February, Birx told CBS on Sunday that she was preparing to brief Biden's team on the nation's coronavirus response.
In an interview with McClatchy last week, Fauci said he assumes he will stay in his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post he has held for 36 years, but that he would also "seriously consider" serving in another capacity if Biden asked.
"I’m perfectly comfortable with the role that I’m in, but certainly if the president of the United States wants me to do something else, I’d seriously consider it," Fauci said. "Quite frankly, I don’t anticipate that I’m going to be doing anything other than what I’m doing now. But then again, we have a president-elect who may have other plans. I don’t know."
Ahead of Election Day, Biden promised he would "hire Fauci" and "fire Trump" if elected, amid Trump knocking Fauci's credibility and public health guidance.
-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel and Ben Gittleson
Dec 01, 4:18 pm
Trump campaign petitions Wisconsin high court in another quest to toss out ballots
Trump’s reelection campaign filed a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday, challenging the outcome of the presidential election that was certified on Monday with the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, among those filing.
The legal action comes after the Trump campaign demanded recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties, only to see that effort turn up 87 additional votes for his opponent, Biden. It also comes as Attorney General William Barr said in an [interview] () Tuesday that the Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would tip election results.
This latest petition alleges that poll workers illegally altered ballot envelopes, added missing information on voters’ behalf, counted ballots submitted early without sufficient voter identification, or collected ballots at unauthorized locations. In all, the Trump campaign claims that more than 211,000 votes were improperly counted. Trump lost the state to Biden by more than 20,600 votes.
Normally, this lawsuit would be filed with a circuit court but given the urgency the Trump campaign directly petitioned the state’s conservative-leaning high court. The court has not indicated if it will hear the case, or respond before the Dec. 8 “safe harbor” deadline, after which the election results are considered conclusive.
Democrats have not responded to the petition, but broadly have characterized the Trump campaign’s legal efforts as a “sideshow” that show no prospect of changing the outcome of the 2020 election. A series of court rulings to date have found no evidence of fraud or improper actions by elections officials in the states where the campaign has brought legal action.
-ABC News' Soo Rin Kim and Cheyenne Haslett
Dec 01, 4:16 pm
Attorney General Barr says Justice Department has not uncovered widespread voting fraud
Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that the Justice Department has not uncovered widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election," Barr told the AP.
The attorney general’s comments come into contrast with claims from the president and his lawyers that the election was stolen. Trump has still refused to concede to Biden.
"Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. They are not systemic allegations and. And those have been run down; they are being run down," Barr said.
"Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on."
Dec 01, 2:44 pm
Tanden shares story growing up on social programs amid resistance from GOP
Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Budget and Management, Neera Tanden, would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American in the role if confirmed, but she is already facing resistance from some Senate Republicans who have signaled her nomination wouldn’t pass the Senate’s current GOP majority.
Tanden did not directly fire back against those attacks in remarks Tuesday but shared a personal story behind why she believes she’s in the position to fulfill the critical economic role which has sometimes served as a check within the executive branch on any far-fetched spending plans fancied by other Cabinet members.
"Like the vice president-elect’s mother, my mother, Mamala, was born in India. Like so many millions suppressed every generation she came to America to pursue a better life," Tanden said, going on to detail how after her parent’s divorce, their family relief on food stamps and public housing to survive. "We relied on a safety net to get back on her feet."
"I'm here today because of social programs, because of budgetary choices, because of a government that saw my mother's dignity and gave her a chance. Now it is my profound honor to help shape those budgets and programs to keep lifting Americans up," she said.
Tanden is currently the president and CEO of Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, and a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton.
Dec 01, 2:03 pm
Yellen warns inaction on pandemic relief will bring 'more devastation'
Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department, and the first person to have served as Treasury Secretary, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Chair of the Federal Reserve, has already received bipartisan support on Capitol Hill ahead of Biden introducing her as his nominee in-person Tuesday.
Yellen opened on a personal note, saying she saw her own father’s story and that of her working neighborhood growing up -- reflected in Biden’s story, which she said inspired her to become an economist.
"When you reflect on what your father taught you about how a job is much more than a paycheck, I hear my own father who raised our family in working-class Brooklyn," Yellen began.
"I became an economist because I was concerned about the toll of unemployment on people, families and communities, and I've spent my career trying to make sure people can work and achieve the dignity and self-worth that comes with it," Yellen said. "Mr. President-elect, I know you've done the same."
Yellen said the economic damage from coronavirus pandemic has "had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable among us" and promised to address that with immediate action, arguing "inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation."
She also said she’d work together with the national security and foreign policy team Biden announced last week to help "restore America's global leadership" -- in contrast to the largely isolationist approach Trump took for four years.
"I look forward to working ... to rebuild the public trust to the American people," she said in closing. "We will be an institution that wakes up every morning thinking about you, your jobs, your paychecks, your struggles, your hopes, your dignity and your limitless potential."
Dec 01, 1:34 pm
Biden introduces 'first-rate team' of economic nominees, says 'help is on the way'
Introducing his economic team nominees, Biden said they will lead the country’s economy out of the downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and reiterated his slogan they’ll "build back better" than before through job creation and addressing structural inequities.
"A team tested and experienced, it includes ground-breaking Americans who come from different backgrounds but who share my core vision for economic relief here in the United States of America. And given a fair shot and equal chance, there's nothing -- we all believe, there's nothing beyond the capacity of the American people," Biden began.
Biden also called on Congress to pass another round of COVID-19 relief legislation now but vowed to continue that effort when he’s inaugurated in 50 days, saying his transition team is already working on a proposal.
“The full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs, but any package passed in a lame-duck session is likely to be, at best, likely a start,” Biden said. “Our message to everybody struggling right now is this: Help is on the way."
Biden then turned over the lectern to his nominee for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department if confirmed by the Senate.
He joked moments earlier he might have to ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical "Hamilton" about the nation's first Treasury secretary, to write another musical about Yellen's history-making role.
"So, that’s what I’m working on right now, Janet," Biden said with a smile.
Dec 01, 1:08 pm
Biden debuts walking boot ahead of economic nominees
With 50 days until the inauguration, Biden is debuting a slew of nominees to key economic policy posts at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, but before Biden entered The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware, for the announcement, he also debuted his new walking boot to reporters.
After Biden sustained hairline fractures to his right foot while playing with his dog, Major, over the weekend, asked how his foot felt Tuesday, Biden replied, “Good. Thank you for asking!” and pointed to the accessory he's expected to sport for several weeks.
Biden’s economic announcement comes as he readies his first stimulus push to salvage the economy damaged from the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden nominated former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department if confirmed.
For deputy treasury secretary, Biden nominated Wally Adeyemo, a former Obama administration official on economic and national security concerns, who would be the first African American in the position if confirmed.
For director of the Office of Budget and Management, Biden nominated Neera Tanden, currently the head of the Center for American Progress, who, if confirmed, would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to oversee the OMB.
To serve as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Biden nominated Cecilia Rouse, an economist and current dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, who would be the first woman of color to lead the CEA if confirmed.
To serve as members on the council with Rouse, Biden has nominated Jared Bernstein, who worked as Biden’s chief economist in the first years of the Obama administration, and Heather Boushey, president and co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
-ABC News' Molly Nagle
Dec 01, 11:52 am
Schumer comes to defense of Biden nominee Tanden: 'Spare me the hyperbole'
Senate Minority Leader Schumer defended Neera Tanden, Biden's pick to head the Office of Budget and Management Tuesday, ahead of her formal introduction with Biden in the afternoon and following some Senate Republicans criticizing her nomination.
"Spare me the hyperbole," Schumer said in a Senate floor speech. "After spending four years pretending they didn’t see the latest insane tweet from President Trump, Senate Republicans seem to have found a newfound interest in the Twitter feeds of Biden’s Cabinet selections."
Tanden, a former policy director for the first Obama-Biden campaign, serves as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, a role in which she has frequently clashed with Republicans, though she evidently has attempted to clean up her Twitter account in recent weeks -- deleting hundreds of tweets, a point which Republicans like Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn have seized on.
Schumer slammed what he has called hypocrisy among Republicans for objecting to Tanden but "lining up" to approve a nominee like Trump’s current OMB head, Russell Vought -- whom Schumer called "a partisan warrior."
Vought served for seven years as a top official at the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Schumer reminded GOP senators of Vought’s highly controversial writings disparaging Muslims which nearly derailed his nomination.
-ABC News' Trish Turner and John Parkinson
Dec 01, 11:02 am
Georgia secretary of state slams Fulton County over issue with recount
With nearly 50 of the Georgia's 159 counties having finished the third count of votes in the presidential race, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a news conference Tuesday morning criticized the state's largest county, Fulton, for what he said is a mistake made by one election worker that required them to rescan more than 300,000 ballots.
In a statement issued Monday, Fulton County said that a Dominion server, that was "operated in accordance with the Secretary of State's published guidelines" crashed, which "delayed work" over the weekend.
However, Raffensperger said the county "only told part of the story," and that the "real issue" was one employee making "several compounding errors," including not following established protocol. The secretary said the employee backed up the election project on the server instead of on an external backup, which he said then led to the county being unable to "upload hundreds of thousands of scanned ballots."
"Processes and procedures exist for a reason. The reason is to take into account the unexpected," Raffensperger told reporters.
"I think us in our office, and I think really the rest of the state is getting a little tired of always having to wait on Fulton County, and having to put up with their dysfunction," Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager, later added.
Officials still defended the general election as the most secure in Georgia's history.
While noting there will have been instances of illegal voting, as they've acknowledged before, Sterling said, "The problem is there hasn't been direct evidence of a conspiracy. There's no evidence of some cabal over the top of this trying to switch the elections up."
-ABC News' Quinn Scanlan
Dec 01, 10:03 am
Trump allies ask US Supreme Court to reverse Pa. election certification
Trump allies have asked the United States Supreme Court to reconsider a case the Pennsylvania high court rejected and reverse the state’s certification of the 2020 presidential election.
The case, brought by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, along with another GOP candidate for Congress, alleges that the state legislature did not legally pass the measure allowing for universal mail-in voting. The plaintiffs initially asked the courts to cancel all mail-in ballots or, if not, to empower the state legislature to appoint new electors.
The filing asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the case comes just days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the GOP cannot bring it back.
"Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof," Justice David N. Wecht wrote in a concurring opinion. "Petitioners cannot carry their enormous burden. They have failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted."
The justices have still yet to respond to the president's earlier request to join a long-pending Pennsylvania Republican challenge to that state’s tabulation of late-arriving mail ballots. The High Court has also not said if they would formally consider an earlier petition asking the court to toss the late-arriving ballots.
-ABC News' Matthew Mosk and Devin Dwyer
Dec 01, 9:50 am
Overview: Trump blasts GOP governors, Biden to introduce economic team
With all six states where Trump has contested election results now having certified Biden’s win -- with the battlegrounds of Arizona and Wisconsin making it official Monday, Trump is lashing out at Republican governors for certifying the votes in his ongoing effort to undermine the election.
Trump has targeted GOP Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia for meeting the deadlines to certify votes in their states, but as he publicly questions the credibility of the Republican Party and its leaders -- ahead of runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate -- some Republicans worry he is also undermining the GOP’s majority in the upper chamber.
Trump called on Kemp Tuesday morning in a tweet to "call off election," adding "it won't be needed," if Kemp allows his state to be "scammed" without checking signatures against ballots -- which the state already does. (Signatures were already matched twice in Georgia: first when a voter applies for a ballot and then again when the voter returned their absentee ballot. Once the signature accompanying the returned ballot is verified, the ballots are separated from the envelopes and there is no way to re-match them under the Georgia state Constitution.)
Near the end of an all-day unofficial "hearing" GOP lawmakers held at a hotel in Phoenix Monday, the president phoned in and called the election the "greatest scam ever perpetrated upon our country,” despite elected officials across the country praising the 2020 election as the most secure in American history.
"We're taking it all the way," Trump said, vowing his team would file additional legal action in Wisconsin -- where a recount netted Biden 87 more votes -- and Georgia -- where the Trump campaign has paid for votes to be counted for a third time.
Despite Trump’s unprecedented attacks on the electoral process, Biden is pressing forward with his transition with 50 days until the inauguration. He’s slated to introduce his incoming economic team Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. in Wilmington, Delaware, which includes former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as his Treasury secretary nominee who, if confirmed, would be the first woman in the position.
While Yellen has drawn bipartisan support in initial reactions on Capitol Hill, Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Budget and Management, Neera Tanden, who would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American in the role, has drawn the ire of Senate Republicans with Texas Sen. John Cornyn calling her “radioactive.” Democrats have rallied to Tanden's defense.
Tuesday also brings the first time Biden will publicly appear in a walking boot after fracturing bones in his right foot over the weekend, and the second day he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will receive the latest intelligence in the President's Daily Brief, following a 16-day standoff with the Trump administration.
Dec 01, 1:39 am
Arizona governor defends state's election system
Following criticism from President Donald Trump on Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey defended Arizona's election system and its security, saying, "I’ve been pretty outspoken about Arizona’s election system, and bragged about it quite a bit, including in the Oval Office. And for good reason," he tweeted Monday night.
"We’ve been doing early voting since 1992. Arizona didn’t explore or experiment this year. We didn’t cancel election day voting as some pushed for -- we weren’t going to disenfranchise any voter. In Arizona, we have some of the strongest election laws in the country, laws that prioritize accountability and clearly lay out procedures for conducting, canvassing, and even contesting the results of an election," Ducey continued.
Ducey, a Republican and ardent supporter of the president, directly responded to claims made Monday in the hearing that absentee and early ballots sent in Maricopa County did not undergo signature verification.
"We’ve got ID at the polls. We review EVERY signature (every single one) on early ballots -- by hand -- unlike other states that use computers. Prohibitions on ballot harvesting. Bipartisan poll observers. Clear deadlines, including no ballots allowed after Election Day," he said.
He broke down the state's law surrounding election certification and the selection of electors -- refuting claims from the Trump team and others asking state legislatures to bypass election results and select electors themselves.
"The problems that exist in other states simply don’t apply here. I’ve also said all along, I’m going to follow the law. So here’s what the law says… It requires the Secretary of State, in the presence of the Governor and the Attorney General, to canvass the election on the fourth Monday following the general election. That was today."
-ABC News' Meg Cunningham
Nov 30, 9:53 pm
Pennsylvania legislative session to end at midnight
Pennsylvania's legislative session officially ends at midnight, which means that state lawmakers are expected to adjourn without Republicans taking any action to replace the state's voter-awarded electors with a slate of ones chosen by the state's legislators.
Prior to Monday's deadline, the Republican Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bryan Cutler, along with Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff issued a joint statement saying they did not have enough time to consider the resolution before the end of the session.
"We are physically unable to consider any new legislation before the end of session. A simple resolution takes three legislative days for consideration and a concurrent resolution takes five legislative days to move through both chambers, which means we do not have the time needed to address any new resolutions in our current session," the statement read.
However, the pair also indicated that this year's election would still be a topic that lawmakers plan to address in the future.
"It is obvious Pennsylvania's election processes are in dire need of repair. Our work to ensure the chaos and confusion of the 2020 election are not repeated will continue in the next legislative session," they added, while also noting that they plan to see the process of a "complete audit of the election...completed into the next session as well."
-ABC News' Alisa Wiersema and Alex Hosenball
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBY: WILL STEAKIN AND SOO RIN KIM, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Since Election Day, President Donald Trump’s campaign has raised over $170 million through relentlessly pushing baseless allegations that the 2020 election was stolen and rigged, multiple sources confirmed to ABC News.
The massive figure is in part the result of a surge in small-dollar donations post-election as the team bombards supporters with messaging that pushes false and unfounded claims that the election was rigged, a source familiar told ABC News.
Under the name of "Election Defense Fund," the president's joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party has been raking in millions of dollars since the election, but much of that money, according to the fine print on donations pages, has actually gone to help pay down campaign debt or to fund a new political action committee launched by the president to continue to exert his reach over the Republican Party.
A recent fundraising plea from Trump's team noted that "75% of each contribution” goes first to Save America, a leadership PAC launched by the president just days after the election. The leadership PAC, commonly formed by current and former political figures often with the purpose of advancing their political influence, could be used to fuel Trump's post-presidency political activities ahead of a potential 2024 run. That includes potentially paying for fundraising or other political events that could continue to take place at Trump's hotels and resorts, as well as potentially funding fellow Republicans in Congress.
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee did not respond to ABC News' request for comment, and Save America's treasurer Brad Crate, who also serves as treasurer to the Trump campaign, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment either.
The sum is an astonishing fundraising haul following the election and for a campaign that’s retained only a skeleton staff and has mostly halted operations beyond numerous frivolous lawsuits across the country challenging the election results that have nearly all been thrown out of court.
After the election, the campaign launched a relentless effort through email and text messages to raise funds by claiming that the election was "rigged" or "stolen" and urging millions of supporters to donate to the "Election Defense Fund.”
Since after Election Day, the Trump campaign has sent more than 425 emails and more than 125 text messages urging supporters to donate.
"Our critical End-of-Month Deadline is TONIGHT," a recent Trump campaign email urged supporters, weeks after the election. "This is our most IMPORTANT deadline EVER, but I noticed you haven’t stepped up to help us CRUSH it."
A portion of the Trump campaign's post-election activities are expected to be disclosed later this week. On Dec. 3, the Trump campaign is scheduled to file its post-general election report to the Federal Election Commission, which would disclose its fundraising and expenditures through Nov. 23, three weeks after the election.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBY: LUKE BARR AND ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — A Department of Justice inspector general report released last year determined the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election was launched with an authorized purpose, despite significant allegations of wrongdoing in how agents handled the counterintelligence probe of President Donald Trump's first presidential campaign.
"In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a Special Counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election," Barr wrote, adding that he appointed Durham with "the powers and authority of a Special Counsel.”
Barr said that due to the pandemic and other information uncovered, Durham could not complete his investigation by summer of 2020, as the attorney general had hoped.
During an interview with The Associated Press, Barr noted that the scope of Durham's investigation has "narrowed considerably" and is focused almost solely on the actions of FBI agents involved in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
The most recent special counsel, Robert Mueller, was tasked with investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election and his investigation extended on the work of the Crossfire Hurricane investigative team.
"I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they'd be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election," Barr told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
YinYang/iStockBY: ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC NEWS
Attorney General William Barr said in an interview Tuesday that the Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would tip the results of the presidential election, a comment directly undercutting allegations being made by President Donald Trump and his legal team.
"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election," Barr told the Associated Press.
The comments are likely to infuriate President Trump and members of his legal team, who have increasingly turned their ire towards the Justice Department and FBI in recent days over the agencies' refusal to investigate baseless conspiracies of widespread voter fraud.
"You would think, if you're in the FBI or Department of Justice, this is -- this is the biggest thing you could be looking at," Trump said in a Sunday interview with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. "Where are they? I have not seen anything. I mean, I just -- they just keep moving along, and they go on to the next president.”
Barr specifically singled out one theory peddled by Trump and his allies that vote tabulation machines had been tampered with in a way to skew the election towards President-elect Joe Biden.
"There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven't seen anything to substantiate that," Barr said.
Separately, Barr appointed Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham as special counsel to investigate the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Durham was previously appointed to investigate any criminal wrongdoing in the way top leaders at the Justice Department and FBI handled the investigation, but Barr's decision to elevate him as a special counsel, done two weeks prior to the election, gives Durham an extra layer of protection -- he can't easily be fired in a Justice Department under a new administration.
"I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they'd be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election," Barr told the AP on Tuesday.
Barr was seen arriving at the White House shortly after the interview was published but a spokesperson said it was for a "previously scheduled meeting" and not with the president. The attorney general left at about 5 p.m.
The Trump campaign immediately released a statement from President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump campaign senior adviser Jenna Ellis saying Barr's "opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud."
They added, "With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn't been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation."
In the days after Biden was officially projected as the winner of the election, Barr provoked outrage from current and former prosecutors when he issued a memo reversing longstanding DOJ policy intended to prevent announcements of election fraud investigations prior to states moving to certify their votes.
Barr said prosecutors were authorized "to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities" in the event there are "clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State."
At the same time, Barr urged investigators to be vigilant against "specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims" that he said "should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries."
The memo led a top career official in the DOJ's elections crimes division to resign from his position, and a group of current federal prosecutors later sent a letter to Barr asking he rescind the policy reversal, calling it "not based in fact."
Sources close to Barr at the time who defended his decision to pen the memo described the elections policy as "antiquated," while saying that if no such investigation announcement was made as a result then it would, in the end, bolster arguments that the election was conducted securely and without massive fraud.
More than three weeks later, the DOJ and FBI have announced no such investigations relevant to the parameters of Barr's memo as an increasing number of states have moved forward with certifying their vote tabulations.
Barr told the AP that, to date, the department's investigations have been more isolated instances of potential fraud rather than anything indicating a systemic failure in how the election was carried out.
"Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct," Barr said. "They are not systemic allegations and. And those have been run down; they are being run down," Barr said. "Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on."
Trump, who initially celebrated news of Barr's memo with a retweet, on Sunday went as far to suggest that the FBI and DOJ might be "involved" in an unspecified fraud conspiracy to elect Biden.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger criticized the comment in a tweet accusing the president of peddling "baseless conspiracies."
Other Trump allies have expressed similar exasperation at the FBI's unwillingness to involve itself, amid their ongoing campaign to convince Republican electors that they should refuse to validate their state's votes over incremental allegations of fraud.
"I don't know where the FBI has been for the last three years," Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a Nov. 19 news conference. "What do we have to do to get the FBI to wake up? Maybe we need a new agency to protect us."
Prior to his interview, Barr had gone more than a month without holding a public event and avoided giving any media interviews.
It was a notable contrast from his relatively frequent public appearances throughout the summer, including interviews where he repeatedly stoked conspiracies about foreign countries being able to flood the country with fraudulent mail-in ballots.
"This is playing with fire," Barr told CNN in a September interview. "We're very closely divided country here. And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government."
Barr's claim, however, was disputed by statements from top intelligence officials including the head of DHS' cyber division Christopher Krebs and National Counterintelligence and Security Center director William Evanina, who argued mail-in ballot systems were too complex for a foreign country to be able to successfully mount such a scheme. No evidence has thus far surfaced of any foreign countries successfully tampering with the election by mailing ballots into the U.S.
ABC News' Will Steakin contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
dkfielding/iStockBY: KENDALL KARSON, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Democrats in the House might still have a majority to wield over the GOP next year, but their advantage is growing narrower as Republicans take minuscule leads, currently under 400 votes, in some of the final races of the season.
The drama surrounding the House contests has largely been eclipsed by President Donald Trump's relentless assailment of the country's electoral system, including his efforts to cast doubt over the integrity of the election and his campaign's string of unsuccessful lawsuits to challenge the results.
Despite President-elect Joe Biden clinching the White House, Republicans trimmed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 35-seat majority to just 12. With an additional two races outstanding in Iowa and New York and a runoff in Louisiana, current ABC News projections put the partisan breakdown at 222-210 -- leaving Democrats with one of the smallest majorities in two decades.
On Monday evening, Republicans scored another victory when Christy Smith, the Democratic assemblywoman in California, conceded to Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in the 25th Congressional District -- in what was one of the last remaining House races along with contests in Iowa and New York.
The margin separating the two rivals was 333 votes, which was far closer than the May special election earlier this year when Garcia first won the seat that formerly belonged to Democratic Rep. Katie Hill.
"Though I'm humbled by every vote we earned, the results show our district is deeply divided," Smith said in a statement.
Smith's concession closes out a contentious campaign, in which both candidates took the lead in turns over the nearly four weeks since Election Day.
Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, has now earned the seat outright for a two-year term -- returning it to reliably red after voters in the longtime GOP-held district, which covers northern Los Angeles County, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Hill in 2018.
In the outstanding Iowa and New York races, the margins are razor-thin, while Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District is headed to a runoff on Dec. 5 between two Republicans, Luke Letlow and state Rep. Lance Harris, to replace outgoing GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham.
Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks holds a six-vote lead at the end of a recount in Iowa. The state canvassing board certified the results on Monday after all 24 counties in the 2nd Congressional District completed the recount.
The official tallies put Miller-Meeks ahead of Democrat Rita Hart by one of the closest margins in history, 196,964-196,958.
"This race reinforces that every single vote can make a difference," said Secretary of State Paul Pate in a statement announcing the certification of the results.
There have been seven races throughout the country's history where candidates were separated by just one vote. The Iowa race is the closest race for the House since 1984, when Democrat Frank McCloskey prevailed in Indiana's 8th Congressional District by just four votes over Republican Rick McIntyre after several recounts.
But the race for the southeastern Iowa district is far from over.
Hart could either concede the race or further contest the election in the courts. She is required to take legal action within two days of Monday's certification, according to the Des Moines Register.
Her campaign manager Zach Meunier suggested after certification that they will continue their challenge.
"Over the next few days, we will outline our next steps in this process to ensure that all Iowans' voices are heard," he said.
If Miller-Meeks is declared the winner, she will replace Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is retiring after seven terms in the chamber and her victory would further slash Democrats' majority in the House.
The party could also potentially lose a seat in upstate New York, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi is currently trailing his Republican challenger Claudia Tenney by 12 votes in a messy post-election.
The first official tallies from all eight counties in the district were submitted to a state Supreme Court judge on Monday. New York state's certification deadline is not until Dec. 7, one day before the "safe harbor" date, a deadline for states to certify results in order for their electoral votes to be insulated from challenges when presented to Congress.
As the race makes its way through the courts, it could be months before this contest, along with the one in Iowa, are resolved.
These nail-biters are expected to hold significant influence over Democrats' effectiveness over the next two years, with leadership facing an increasingly tougher road ahead to enact their agenda in the next Congress.
"The margins are infinitesimal but could make a huge difference in how the House operates," Dave Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook Political Report, wrote on Monday before Smith conceded in California. "These two races will likely decide whether Democrats have a 222 or 224 seat majority and whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford four, five or six defections and still pass legislation."
ABC News' John Parkinson contributed reporting.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty ImagesBY: ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — In a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats grilled Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over his decision to end several Federal Reserve emergency loan programs financed through the CARES Act.
In his opening statement, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, excoriated Mnuchin, claiming it would further damage the staggering economy.
“As far as I can tell, Secretary Mnuchin, you are leaving the country worse off that you found it,” Brown said. “Other than using your final months in office to work for the people who you have sworn to serve, you appear to be trying to sabotage our economy on the way out the door.”
Democrats have called for the central bank to maintain control of the more than $400 billion unspent CARES Act dollars, paving the way for the incoming Biden administration to restart lending facilities in 2021.
The Fed publicly broke with Mnuchin last month, signaling disappointment in his decision. But Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who testified alongside Mnuchin, indicated he would return the money to the Treasury Department, where it can then be reappropriated by Congress.
“Non-CARES Act funds are available to support emergency lending facilities if they are needed,” Powell said. “We are committed to using our full range of tools.”
Mnuchin argued that the programs in question -- the Fed's corporate credit facilities, municipal lending facility and the Main Street Lending program for small and mid-size businesses -- have served their purpose and are no longer necessary.
Beyond that, he argued that a Dec. 31 end date is mandated by law.
“I personally negotiated many of these provisions. Matter of fact, I brought the CARES Act with me because I reference it and keep it next to my desk,” Mnuchin said. “The statute was very clear.”
But Democrats see it differently. They say the deadline limits the Treasury from providing more funding to the Fed programs after the end of the year, but it doesn’t stop the Fed from retaining the already earmarked money to run the programs.
Republicans have been broadly supportive of Mnuchin’s move, arguing that Congress should pass new measures to address future challenges.
“If some terrible thing were to happen to threaten the viability of our financial markets, then the Treasury and the Fed should come back to Congress and ask for appropriate facilities at that time,” Sen. Toomey, R-Pa., said.
But months of stalled negotiations over another relief bill have stoked concerns that even if the economic situation in the country worsens, legislators still won’t be able to compromise to allocate additional aid even if lawmakers from both parties call for legislative action.
“President Trump in October tweeted out 'Go big or home' to Congress,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said. “We do need to get this done. We cannot go home before the end of December without addressing the urgent needs and the pain that American households and small businesses are facing.”
But Mnuchin said he had conferred with top Republicans on the Hill and the president, and they remained in favor of a targeted relief measures, while Democrats have pushed for a broader spending package with a higher price tag. A bipartisan group of lawmakers also unveiled a proposal Tuesday.
Powell testified that now is not the time for frugality.
“I think the risk of overdoing it is less than the risk of underdoing it,” Powell said. “That is the record of pandemics and crises. You always think -- people are worried about doing too much, and you look back in hindsight and say, we might have done a little more and done it a little sooner.”
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Douglas Rissing/iStockBy ALLISON PECORIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a compromise COVID-19 relief proposal Tuesday that would provide $908 billion in funds focused on state and local aid, unemployment insurance and small business loans.
The $908 billion figure aims to bridge the persisting gap between leadership of both parties who want vastly different things in a COVID-19 relief package, though it's unlikely the proposal will satisfy either side.
"This is emergency relief. This is designed to get us through this next quarter," Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a member of the bipartisan group, said. "We know that we have more to do but we cannot leave, we cannot abandon the American people, the families who are suffering at this time and waiting and begging for Congress to act."
The framework proposed Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators and supported by the House Problem Solvers Caucus is over 1 trillion dollars less than Democrats are seeking in the House-passed HEROES Act. It is over $400 billion more than Republicans sought in their most recent proposal.
It is unclear when the proposal would be ready for a vote on the House or Senate floor, or if either leader would commit to calling it up, but Senate Majority Whip John Thune said Tuesday he thinks there's "a path" forward with the current framework.
"The elements are there for a deal," Thune said. "It's just whether the will to get there is."
Still, sources caution ABC that getting any sort of relief hammered out in the remaining days before the holiday break will be an uphill battle. Time is running out in the session, and there remain other priorities, including government funding and the National Defense Authorization Act that must be tackled.
During congressional testimony, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he had spoken to President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about it and they had all agreed on the idea of "targeted fiscal response.”
But at a Tuesday press conference, McConnell suggested he'd pursue a different path forward on a relief bill after speaking to Mnuchin and Meadows about "what the president would actually sign into law.”
McConnell said he shared outlines of this path with Republican members during a conference call Tuesday afternoon and that members would soon receive a copy of a proposal they could provide feedback on.
"We'll let you know later whether we think there's any way forward," McConnell said. "I hope that this is something that would be signed into law by the president, be done quickly, deal with the things that we can agree on now."
"I think we all know that after the first of the year there's likely to be a discussion about some additional package of some size next year depending on what the new administration wants to pursue," he added.
The McConnell proposal is expected to be fairly similar to the $500 billion proposal that failed to pass the Senate earlier this year.
While the McConnell effort could bring trouble for the bipartisan effort, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who worked on the bipartisan proposal, said she believes that has a better chance of crossing the finish line.
"The advantage of this bill is it has bipartisan, bicameral support, and we'll see what the leader introduces, but if it's identical to what he brought forth this summer, then it's going to be a partisan bill, and that's not going to become law.”
Senators at Tuesday's reveal of the bipartisan proposal said they had spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McConnell, Mnuchin and others about their work but so far have not received an indication of whether they'll get crucial support from leadership. Mnuchin said he will speak with Pelosi Tuesday afternoon, though their conversation is expected to be focused more on government funding.
Schumer and Pelosi, meanwhile, confirmed that they had sent a separate proposal to GOP leadership Monday evening. Details of that proposal are unknown, and Schumer declined to share them when pressed.
The bipartisan framework is the product of growing frustration among moderates in both parties eager to reach a deal on relief before the end of the calendar year, when key protections secured by the $2.2 trillion CARES act, passed in March, expire.
Come January, deferments of student loan payments, the federal eviction moratorium, increases in the number of weeks Americans can remain on unemployment, extended family leave and other provisions will expire. Some of the legislation's flagships, like expansion of the small business loan program and $600 per week in unemployment benefits have already ended.
"It would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim package as a bridge," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who worked on the package, said.
The bipartisan framework allocates funds for some key Democratic sticking points at a lower price tag while securing several key priorities for Republican leadership.
The proposal allocates $160 billion to state and local aid, something Democrats have said is an absolute necessity. Previous GOP proposals haven't included this money, and Thune said Tuesday that including it will make the bill tough for some Republicans to support.
"That's a non-starter for a lot of our members," Thune said.
The framework also includes $180 billion for additional unemployment insurance and funds for housing and child care, all Democratic priorities.
Another $288 billion is allocated to small businesses, including funding the popular paycheck protection program, a win for Republicans. Short-term liability protections for schools, hospitals and businesses, an absolute must for McConnell, are also included.
"Republicans and Democrats, neither of us got everything we wanted," said. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., "Both of us got much of what we wanted."
Disagreement over the top-line cost of a COVID-19 relief bill has stymied negotiations for months. While the price tag on this bill is higher than what Republicans have gotten behind so far, over half of the funds for the $908 billion proposal are repurposed from the allocations for the CARES Act in March, according to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
The total is more palatable to some members of the conference.
“I think $900 billion would do a lot more good right now than $2 trillion will do in March," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, though he criticized Democrats for having taken an all-or-nothing approach on relief previously.
"It’s pretty late to decide you’d rather have something than nothing," Blunt said. "The whole idea of not being willing to negotiate until you’re down to the last week of negotiating time usually doesn’t produce a very good result."
Still, there are members of the Republican conference who say they will not support any additional spending on COVID-19 relief.
"We don't have any money out there. I mean there's no rainy day fund, there’s no savings account, money would have to be borrowed," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said. "I'm not for borrowing any more money."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for a sweeping bill that "meets the needs" of the country. McConnell has called this a "liberal wish list." McConnell, meanwhile, has proposed targeted relief legislation that Schumer has dismissed as "emaciated."
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Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBY: JOHN SANTUCCI, KATHERINE FAULDERS, AND OLIVIA RUBIN, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — As White House aides come to terms with the election results and turn their focus to the remaining weeks of President Trump's administration, multiple sources tell ABC News that various Trump allies and other lawyers have begun a campaign to petition the West Wing in hopes of securing pardons for those who might receive a sympathetic reception from the president.
Those in the mix for a potential pardon have ranged from family members and associates all the way to the Tiger King, according to sources.
The growing list is divided into two groups: those being pushed by Trump allies and friends, and requests from individuals serving sentences who aren't necessarily familiar to the president.
The process is not unique to the Trump administration, but some sources say that Trump is prone to subvert the normal procedures when it comes to pardoning, and could announce one-offs as he sees fit rather than waiting until the very end of his term as past presidents have done.
Trump has not fully turned his attention to the growing list of requests, but vetting has already commenced in some cases by White House lawyers, sources say.
One idea that has been floated among Trump allies is the possibility of preemptive pardons for members of the Trump family and close allies of the president.
"The president out the door needs to pardon his whole family and himself because they want this witch hunt to go on in perpetuity, they're so full of rage and insanity against the president," Trump ally and Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his radio program Monday.
White House sources, who describe the talks as preliminary and fluid, say the push for preemptive pardons began early this year around the time of the president's impeachment trial. At that time, the informal conversations -- described by sources as a "series of hypotheticals" -- focused specifically on whether the president could pardon himself. But in recent weeks the idea of preemptive pardons has returned to the Trump orbit, this time including allies and members of his family.
It's not clear how a this kind of preemptive pardon would work, given that no member of the Trump family has been accused of a federal crime. However sources pushing for this action say the argument is an "insurance policy" against concerns that the incoming Biden administration could undertake politically motivated investigations. As evidence, sources point to investigations currently being pursued by New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, both of whom are Democrats.
"The kids have been through enough," said one top adviser who is pushing for the president to issue preemptive pardons for his children.
But sources say Trump has not to this point embraced the idea of preemptive pardons, with some aides concerned that a preemptive pardon could be seen as an admission of guilt of some kind.
The conversations surrounding preemptive pardons have also included Trump allies like the president's personal attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose former associates have been charged by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Giuliani, according to sources, has asked the president directly for a preemptive pardon in recent weeks. News of a potential preemptive pardon for Giuliani was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times, after which Giuliani responded on Twitter by calling the story "#fakenews."
The president is well within his authority to issue preemptive pardons, according to legal experts. H. Jefferson Powell, a Duke law professor who previously worked in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, told ABC News that the White House has "consistently" taken the position for decades that "the president may pardon even though there has been no conviction."
"A Supreme Court case in 1866 established this," said Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "Two noteworthy examples: President Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft dodgers in 1977 before most had been charged. And of course, President Ford pardoned President Nixon before he was charged" for his actions during the Watergate scandal.
Powell, however, said that preemptive pardons for which the crime is not clear can be "tricky," because they must be specific enough about the conduct in question that a court down the line can determine its scope.
"There is no entire get out of jail free card," Powell said.
There are also no restrictions preventing Trump from pardoning family members, constitutional experts told ABC News, and it has been done before. President Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, though it was done after a conviction.
"It might be unseemly, might be a conflict of interest, but I don't know that it would be unconstitutional," said Louis Seidman, a professor at Georgetown who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The president's first postelection pardon, of his first national security adviser, former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has been described by sources as the beginning of a trend. The president is expected to announce more pardons over the coming weeks and will not necessarily wait until his last days in office as former presidents have typically done, sources involved in the deliberations say.
"We've heard from the Tiger King," said one source, who added, "You wouldn't believe the amount of calls, some insane, we've gotten."
"We are waiting on the pen to hit the paper, we think we are very, very close," Eric Love, an attorney for Joseph Maldano-Passage, aka Tiger King Joe Exotic, said about a potential presidential pardon.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Tom Williams-Pool/Getty ImagesBy LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- With no clear recourse to immediately remove him, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is widely expected to remain in his role after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in next month, leaving in place one of the most controversial figures of the Trump era as Biden seeks to reshape the federal government in his image.
A former logistics company executive and Republican donor with close ties to President Donald Trump, DeJoy imposed sweeping changes at the agency that slowed mail service over the summer, prompting accusations that his efforts could undermine the presidential vote. Few leaders in the Trump administration garnered as much scrutiny in recent months -- and few are as inextricably linked to the president for whom they served -- as DeJoy.
Biden himself once derided DeJoy as "the president's guy," and congressional Democrats have repeatedly called on DeJoy to resign or be removed, citing allegations of mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and possible campaign finance violations.
But the postmaster general cannot be removed by a president. That power lies with the Postal Service's governing board -- whose six sitting members were appointed as a result of a Republican-controlled Senate blocking a slate of President Barack Obama's nominees.
"If DeJoy leaves on his own, that's his choice," said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union. "But if he doesn't leave on his own, that becomes a decision for the [Postal Service] Board of Governors -- not a decision for the president of the United States."
In recent public remarks, DeJoy -- who has donated millions of dollars to Republican causes and whom Trump once called "a friend of mine" -- has repeatedly indicated that he has no intention of stepping down, pledging before the election to see his cost-cutting initiatives through "no matter who is president," and laying out plans for the future of the beleaguered mail agency at a Postal Service board meeting earlier this month.
Many of the Postal Service's board members have also publicly endorsed DeJoy's performance -- an indication that his job is safe for the foreseeable future.
John Barger, a member of the board, praised DeJoy in September as a "tremendously gifted" leader who "is doing a tremendous job" as postmaster general.
"The board is tickled pink -- every single board member -- with the impact he's having," Barger told lawmakers.
The Biden transition team did not respond to inquiries about DeJoy's future, and a Postal Service spokesperson declined to say whether DeJoy planned to stay on, instead providing a statement that read, "The Postmaster General is not a political appointee, and his term is not affected by a Presidential transition."
Sources familiar with the Biden transition team's planning acknowledged that DeJoy will almost certainly remain as postmaster general -- at least until Biden can appoint new members to the Board of Governors, which could take months or years.
The board is currently comprised of six members, all of whom were nominated by Trump and approved by the Republican-controlled Senate. By law, the group must remain bipartisan, and the current slate includes two Democrats and four Republicans -- including Robert Duncan, the board's current chair and a longtime friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Board of Governors can have up to nine members. However a dispute between McConnell and Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2015 and 2016 left the board vacant, with a slate of President Obama's nominees left without a confirmation hearing.
The McConnell-Sanders standoff, which industry experts chalked up to rising partisan tides in the Senate and long-simmering union disputes, left Trump with the unprecedented opportunity to stack the board with his preferred nominees, who in turn appointed DeJoy as postmaster general in June 2020.
Biden will come into office with the option to fill the remaining three seats on the board. Congressional aides and industry leaders said that if Biden can quickly appoint politically aligned governors to the board, they could tip the scale and remove DeJoy.
Another option, a Democratic Senate aide suggested, would be for Biden to immediately fire all or some of the six governors "for cause," as a 2006 law allows, and appoint an entirely new board.
But with a slew of foreign and domestic policy priorities welcoming Biden into office -- not the least of which is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic -- industry experts and congressional aides said quick executive action remains unlikely.
In Congress, where DeJoy has drawn some of the more withering verbal critiques in recent months, aides to Senate Democrats have acknowledged that their hands are also tied.
Ahead of the election, several high-profile Democrats called on the Board of Governors to "reverse any and all changes put in place by Mr. DeJoy that degrade or delay postal operations and the delivery of the mail."
"Should [DeJoy] not cooperate with these efforts, you have the authority, under the Postal Reorganization Act, to remove the Postmaster General," the coalition of Democrats wrote in a letter to the Board of Governors.
Congressional Democrats and outside government watchdog groups have also highlighted potential conflicts of interest related to DeJoy's private finances -- including at least a $30 million stake in his former company, XPO Logistics, and other investments in Postal Service competitors, like Amazon and UPS.
The Postal Service inspector general confirmed in August that her office would investigate whether DeJoy's holdings amounted to a breach of ethics laws, but in October determined that DeJoy had met "requirements related to disclosure, recusal, and divestment." The inspector general's office noted that DeJoy initially opted to recuse himself from matters that might conflict with his financial stakes, but ultimately agreed to divest from certain holdings -- a process that remains ongoing and that will "take an undetermined amount of time" to complete, the agency watchdog wrote.
After the board refuted lawmakers' calls for DeJoy's removal, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused board members of a "dereliction of duty," and characterized DeJoy's tenure at the mail agency as "defined by conflict, sabotage, incompetence and politicization."
Michael Plunkett, the CEO of the Association of Postal Commerce, a trade group for commercial mailers, explained that politicization of the mail agency is exactly why removing a postmaster general is so difficult. A 1970 overhaul of the agency sought, in part, to better insulate its leadership "from political pressure," Plunkett said.
"The intent was to depoliticize the agency and to make it function more like a business enterprise," he added. "That's the underlying reason why it's not easy for a postmaster general to be taken out by a change in an election."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
vladans/iStockBy BEN GITTLESON, KATHERINE FAULDERS and JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Food and Drug Administration was summoned to the White House Tuesday amid President Donald Trump's frustration that his agency hasn’t moved faster to authorize Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, officials familiar with the meeting told ABC News.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn spent about an hour and a half at the White House Tuesday morning for a scheduled meeting with chief of staff Mark Meadows.
The meeting, first reported by Axios, comes as the FDA is in the painstaking and high-stakes process of evaluating multiple coronavirus vaccine candidates for emergency authorization before they are allowed to be distributed among the general public.
The encounter served as an indication that the White House is applying pressure on the FDA to speed up its authorization process, even as the agency is moving at an accelerated pace in reviewing thousands upon thousands of pages of data.
"Completion of these reviews involves such things as ensuring that the manufacturing process and the controls on manufacturing are appropriate, checking statistical analyses performed to ensure that they were done properly and doing additional analyses, as necessary, to look at the effect of the vaccine on subsets of individuals who might be at greater risk of adverse effects," an agency spokesman said in a statement.
It was unclear whether Trump would participate in the meeting -- the White House did not respond when asked if he would -- but it comes as he has otherwise demonstrated little evidence of governing on the raging pandemic in the days since his election loss. Vice President Mike Pence has continued to meet with the White House's coronavirus task force and brief governors.
Before the meeting, Hahn said in a statement that his agency was balancing speed with making "an appropriate decision."
“Let me be clear -- our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision," Hahn said. "We want to move quickly because this is a national emergency, but we will make sure that our scientists take the time they need to make an appropriate decision. It is our job to get this right and make the correct decision regarding vaccine safety and efficacy."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to downplay the appearance of tension, telling Fox News Tuesday morning “the FDA is working around the clock” but also saying “this president will never apologize for putting the fire under these agencies to say yes we want a safe vaccine, absolutely. We also want a fast one because lives are at stake.”
In recent days, Trump has lamented that President-elect Joe Biden would get credit for the vaccines.
"They will try and say that Biden came up with the vaccines," he said in a Sunday interview with Fox News.
The White House said Tuesday that Trump and Pence planned to host several governors and executives from the private sector for a "COVID-19 Vaccine Summit" on Dec. 8, two days before a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee was scheduled to consider an application by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the emergency use authorization of a coronavirus vaccine -- the first in the United States.
White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said Trump "looks forward to convening leaders from the federal government, state governments, private sector, military, and scientific community for a comprehensive discussion with the American people," adding on Twitter, "This is about SAVING LIVES, not politics!"
STAT first reported on the gathering.
Trump has for weeks alleged -- without evidence -- that pharmaceutical companies and regulatory officials have slow-rolled the production and approval processes for coronavirus vaccine candidates in order to hurt him politically.
In reality, the development of COVID-19 vaccines has moved at record speed, and top Trump administration public health officials have insisted that political motivations are not playing any role along the way.
Hahn's summoning marked just the latest time Trump and the White House have attempted to exert political pressure on the federal public health agency he leads.
In August, Hahn apologized for exaggerating the benefits of a treatment being used on COVID-19 patients, convalescent plasma, after appearing alongside Trump at a White House news conference.
Trump had trotted out the commissioner to announce the treatment's emergency authorization; the president called it "powerful" and said it "had an incredible rate of success," and Hahn said the expedited approval was the result of the administration's work to "cut back red tape."
But the treatment's effectiveness had not actually been proven, and experts warned that rushing the authorization would make it harder for them to study it.
The FDA commissioner's visit to the White House came as a top White House adviser on coronavirus, Dr. Scott Atlas, said he was resigning this week.
Trump gave Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious disease experience, a paid advisory role on the COVID-19 response after Atlas caught his attention during appearances on Fox News.
Atlas espoused controversial views at odds with longtime public health experts on the White House's coronavirus task force and drew widespread criticism from infectious disease scientists outside the federal government.
A White House official said Atlas was resigning because his 130-day term as a "special government employee" had come to an end.
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Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesBy LUKE BARR, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- A lawyer for President Donald Trump's campaign has attacked the former top cyber official at DHS, after he spoke out against the president's claims that the election was fraudulent.
Joe diGenova said that former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Chris Krebs "should be drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot."
DiGenova, speaking on the conservative outlet Newsmax, said that Krebs was an "idiot."
"Mail in balloting is inherently corrupt and this election proved it," diGenova told host Howie Carr. "This was not a coincidence, this was all planned. Anybody who thinks that this election went well like that idiot Krebs," he said. "That guy is a Class A moron," diGenova said. "He should be drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot."
Krebs was fired by the president last month after repeatedly speaking out against the president's various claims, saying the election had been the most secure in U.S. history.
"The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud," Trump said in a tweet.
"Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency."
Krebs, on NBC's Today program Tuesday morning, said that diGenova's comments were examples of "more dangerous language, more dangerous behavior."
"We're a nation of laws, and I plan to take advantage of those laws," Krebs said. "I've got an exceptional team of lawyers that win in court and I think they're going to be busy." Adding that his team is exploring all options, but warning that "they can know that there are things coming."
On the CBS program 60 Minutes over the weekend, Krebs defended his work leading the agency in securing the 2020 election saying, “I did it right, we did it right. This was a secure election” and “there was no indication or evidence that there was any sort of hacking or compromise of election systems on, before or after November 3.”
Adding that the Trump campaign claims of hacking into voting machines, for example, is “nonsense.”
Trump fired back on Twitter.
"@60Minutes never asked us for a comment about their ridiculous, one sided story on election security, which is an international joke. Our 2020 Election, from poorly rated Dominion to a Country FLOODED with unaccounted for Mail-In ballots, was probably our least secure EVER!" the president said Sunday.
Krebs was on thin ice with the president for the entire month of November, especially after the election when he repeatedly tweeted from his official CISA account, correcting falsehoods purported by the president's campaign.
The former CISA chief said on NBC Tuesday that he was "thankful" for the president for giving him the opportunity to serve but that when one enters federal service, they pledge an oath to the Constitution.
Krebs and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.
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Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy OLIVIA RUBIN and MATTHEW MOSK, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- Sidney Powell may no longer be part of President Donald Trump's officially sanctioned legal team, but the veteran litigator who has become a champion of unfounded global conspiracy theories has not slowed in her effort to persuade the federal court system to reverse the outcome of the 2020 elections.
"We will prevail," Powell wrote on Twitter this week. "Patriots are united like never before to shine the light of Truth across our land."
Since filing a suit in Georgia last week, Powell has added a federal lawsuit in Michigan and plans another in Wisconsin, according to another lawyer on the team. Each case alleges a complex plot involving shadowy foreign interests, the company that sells electronic voting machines, Republican elected officials, and Democratic poll workers -- all allegedly in cahoots to steal the election from Trump.
The effort has garnered Powell public praise from Trump and turned her into a heroine in the conspiratorial corners of the internet. It has also garnered ridicule from officials in both parties, with longtime Trump ally Chris Christie calling the legal effort a "national embarrassment." Aides to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden called it a "sideshow."
The company at the center of Powell's claims, Dominion Voting Systems, issued a statement last week saying it intends to hold Powell "and those aiding and abetting her fraudulent actions, accountable for any harm that may occur as a result." And election law advocates from both parties said that even if her cases are swiftly dismissed, as they expect them to be, they are no laughing matter.
"These tactics are not comical," said Daniel I. Weiner, deputy director of the Election Reform Program at the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. "They are doing real damage to the integrity of our democracy because they are sowing doubts in the electoral process."
Asked by ABC News about the suggestion by critics that she is undermining democracy and pushing conspiracies, Powell replied, "Balderdash and horsefeathers."
It's too soon to say how the cases will be handled by the federal courts. Cases that have relied on similar claims have been swiftly and emphatically dismissed by state and federal judges as lacking in evidence. However a judge in Georgia over the weekend gave a nod to the Powell case, ruling that state elections officials could not alter electronic voting machines while the court hears arguments over whether to allow Powell's team to have them analyzed.
"You can call it a win in that they asked for the court to let them live another day, but it's not as much of a win as it is a standstill," said Myrna Perez, the director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program.
Democrats on Monday asked the same judge to dismiss the case outright, arguing the suit merely "doubles down" on conspiracy theories previously tried and failed.
"Despite widespread acknowledgment that no fraud occurred, various lawsuits have been filed around the country and in Georgia in an attempt to sow confusion and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election," the Democrats wrote in their court filing. "Plaintiffs seek to revive these rejected claims in this case ... [their] claims have been further embellished, however, with an even grander alleged conspiracy spanning the globe from all corners of the United States."
In Michigan, a judge has yet to act on the suit that, like in Georgia, asks for a number of long-shot remedies. Among them: that the court decertify the election results and instead certify Trump as the winner -- based on conspiratorial allegations they say amount to a "scheme" of "fraudulently manipulating the vote count to elect Joe Biden as President of the United States."
Similar to the case Powell brought in Georgia, the allegations in Michigan rest on dozens of affidavits from eyewitnesses who claim -- without corroborating evidence -- that they witnessed fraudulent activity in various aspects of the counting process and that the campaign was denied meaningful access to observe the process. The suit also relies on affidavits from self-described "expert analysts" who claim they found "statistical anomalies and mathematical impossibilities" in the results.
Many of these affidavits are recycled from other cases brought in Michigan that have since been denied or withdrawn.
A lawyer on the case alongside Powell told ABC News they "feel good" about their chances in Michigan, though none of the election lawsuits filed by Trump or his allies has seen success in the state. At least four others have been filed and subsequently denied or withdrawn.
Perez, from the Brennan Center, said the cases have almost no shot of going anywhere, and they raise more questions than answers about who is truly pushing the effort.
"It's very, very damaging, but who is the one encouraging this to happen? And what is the endgame?" said Perez. "It is, at this point, a fundraising strategy, and it's sowing discord."
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Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn Political ActionBy JOHN PARKINSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- As President-elect Joe Biden reveals his economic team, one nominee already is facing stiff resistance from Senate Republicans, leading Democrats to rally in her defense ahead of what could prove to be a rough and tumble confirmation process.
Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, is celebrated by the president-elect’s team for her career pursuing policies in support of working families and what they call "broad-based" economic growth.
She is also the former policy director for the first Obama-Biden campaign and now serves as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, a role in which she has frequently clashed with Republicans, though she evidently has attempted to clean up her Twitter account in recent weeks -- deleting hundreds of tweets.
"As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever," Biden stated in his announcement naming Tanden and the other members of his economic team. “This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America. They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans."
If confirmed, Tanden, 50, would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to lead the OMB.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget, while not a marquee Cabinet post in the presidential line of succession, is a critical economic adviser who has sometimes doubled as the president’s fiscal disciplinarian, serving as a check within the executive branch on any far-fetched spending plans fancied by other Cabinet members.
Known as a frequent political commentator on cable television, Tanden has been criticized for her past tweets blasting Republican lawmakers, as well as perpetuating a conspiracy that Russians hacked voter rolls in 2016 to take votes away from Hillary Clinton in favor of Donald Trump -- though she denied that was the intent of her tweet at the time. Republicans also point out that she’s signaled support to cut Social Security benefits following the 2010 midterm elections when the Tea Party swept Republicans into the House majority.
After news broke Sunday that Biden was poised to announce Tanden as his selection for the role, one Republican senator sent a warning shot, calling her "radioactive" and suggesting she is Biden’s "worst nominee so far" -- a signal that her confirmation may be impossible.
“In light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “I've noted that she’s apparently deleted a lot of our previous tweets in the last couple of weeks, which … seems pretty juvenile, and I mean it’s as if people don't have access to it.”
Additional Republicans have highlighted her policy views as justification to oppose her nomination.
Republicans currently have locked up 50 seats in the Senate for the next session of Congress, as two other GOP incumbents fight to win run-offs in early January. If Sens. Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue win, then the Senate will remain in Republican hands and Biden’s nominees would have to win bipartisan support in order to earn confirmation. If both lose, then the Senate power would be split and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast potential tie-breaking votes to shift control to Democrats.
Tanden will also need to win initial approval from the Senate Budget Committee, led on the Democratic side by Sen. Bernie Sanders, someone she has clashed with since the 2016 presidential campaign.
While Sanders has remained muted in the wake of Biden’s announcement naming the Clinton loyalist as his nominee for OMB director, other Democrats have publicly rallied to her defense.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Monday that Biden's Cabinet nominations should receive hearings in January "immediately" after the Georgia runoff elections, adding that Republicans are "grasping at straws" to explain their opposition to Biden's nominees, including Tanden.
"I fully expect to see some crocodile tears spilled on the other side of the aisle over President-elect Biden's Cabinet nominees, but it will be very tough to take those crocodile tears seriously," Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "Our Republican colleagues are on the record supporting some of the least qualified most unethical and downright sycophantic nominees in recent memory."
Given the uphill climb that many of his nominees will face in their confirmation battles, Biden’s selection of a political lightning rod like Tanden signals that the future president will not shy away from choosing nominees who are no strangers to controversy.
“In Neera Tanden, the President-elect’s team gets another deeply experienced and historic nomination,” stated Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, the future chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. "Tanden would be the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and her policy experience and devotion to strengthening the middle class are beyond question."
The Biden transition team trumpets Tanden as a policy veteran of multiple presidential administrations who has advocated for policies designed to support working families, citing her experience as a child relying on food stamps and Section 8 housing.
Aside from her tenure at the Center for American Progress, Tanden serves on the New Jersey Restart and Recovery Commission, and previously served as senior adviser for health reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developing policies and provisions of the Affordable Care Act, as director of domestic policy for the first Obama-Biden presidential campaign.
A native of Bedford, Massachusetts, she received her bachelor of science degree from UCLA and her law degree from Yale Law School.
“I’ve known @neeratanden for over 2 decades,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted. “She's brilliant and laser-focused on making our country a fairer place for all.”
“I've worked closely with Neera Tanden for a number of years, and I know that she will be a tremendous asset to President-elect Biden as he works with Congress to invest in a stronger economy for all Americans,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added.
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sabthai/iStockBY: AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — Two former associates of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty Monday to charges contained in a superseding indictment returned in September.
“Not guilty, your honor,” Lev Parnas said when questioned by Judge Paul Oetken.
“Not guilty,” Igor Fruman said under similar questioning.
A third defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, also pleaded not guilty to charges that the three men conspired to commit fraud using a company called Fraud Guarantee, which purported to insure investors against corporate fraud. Federal prosecutors said the trio misled investors about the strength of the company and what would be done with their money.
Parnas had hired Giuliani to consult with Fraud Guarantee for $500,000.
Parnas, Fruman and Kukushkin previously pleaded not guilty to separate charges that they made illegal campaign donations to local and federal politicians in New York, Nevada and other states to try to win support for a new recreational marijuana business.
Parnas and Fruman had also been involved in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump since they and Giuliani tried to persuade Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and allegedly helped set up meetings between Giuliani and former and current Ukrainian officials. They also tried to dig up damaging information on then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, according to the initial indictment.
The charges against Parnas and Fruman brought scrutiny on Giuliani’s business activities. The status of that investigation is not clear, but court records have indicated it is ongoing.
The judge pushed back the trial date for Parnas and Fruman, which had already been delayed to March, until later in 2021.
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