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ABC (NEW YORK) -- After lackluster finishes in the first two presidential contests, Sen. Elizabeth Warren will get a last-minute boost of support ahead of the Nevada caucuses from a new super PAC called "Persist," which is scheduled to air nearly $800,000 in ads in support of the presidential hopeful who has grounded her campaign in rooting out the influence of money in politics.

The PAC is led by a group of progressive women, including DC-based Democratic strategist Karin Johanson and Kim Rogers, the former political director of Heartland, a PAC started by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack aimed at electing Democratic governors. Also on the board is Kristine Kippins, who is separately the policy director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, work unaffiliated with the PAC's efforts; prior to, she served as counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday afternoon, the new PAC released an ad the same night — just hours ahead of the democratic debate in Las Vegas and five days ahead of the caucuses.

According to a spokesperson for Persist, the PAC was founded within the last few weeks. Their aim, according to the spokesperson, is to push Warren’s message to more voters and caucus-goers.

There are seven figures behind the current ad in Nevada, though Persist said it expects to run more ads in primary states to come.

As of Wednesday morning, the PAC had at least $795,000 worth of air time in Las Vegas and Reno from Wednesday through Saturday, according to ad analysis firm CMAG/Kantar.

Not much else is known about the newly-formed group, including who's bankrolling the six-figure ad buys.

Throughout her presidential run, Warren has sought to distance herself from big-money groups, swearing off contributions from PACs and rejecting private high-dollar fundraisers. But the campaign cannot control outside groups' independent expenditures in support.

On Wednesday morning, the Warren campaign maintained their stance on the influence of super PAC support.

"Senator Warren’s position hasn’t changed," the campaign said in a statement to ABC News. "Since day one of this campaign, she has made clear that she thinks all of the candidates should lock arms together and say we don’t want super pacs and billionaires to be deciding our Democratic nominee."

For their part, a spokesperson for the Persist PAC said they support Warren’s goals to keep big money out of politics, but emphasized that it might not happen unless they play by the campaign rules that exist today.

The bolstered airtime in Nevada from Persist comes as Warren's standing in the race slides. She finished third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, despite having some of the strongest organizations on the ground in both states, and the potential home state advantage from neighboring Massachusetts.

Warren's campaign has since attempted to lower expectations for Warren in the early states and instead focus on victories in Super Tuesday states, where campaign manager Roger Lau predicted that Warren could finish in the top two in eight of the 14 states.

Persist PAC's name echoes one of Warren's taglines. "Nevertheless, she persisted" has long been a core mantra for the campaign's brand, following a contentious exchange with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor in 2017.

"When you don't grow up rich, you learn how to work," narrated a female voice in the PAC's first ad, released late Tuesday night.

"When the system is broken, you step up to fix it," the narrator said as the ad featured a photo of Warren, hands with "Stop Kavanaugh" penned in ink on the palm. "That's why Obama picked her."

"It's why she'll take him on — and win," the narrator said, quickly intercutting a shot of President Donald Trump.

In her previous Senate races, Warren has received the support of PACs and other outside groups. She is currently supported by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a PAC that has backed her since her first foray into electoral politics in 2012.

But just weeks ago during the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Warren called out her opponents on stage for receiving help from super PACS, pointing out that only her and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were exempt.

"Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending," Warren said.

"If you really want to live where you say, then put your money where your mouth is and say no to the PACS," Warren challenged onstage in New Hampshire. "I think the way we build a democracy going forward is not billionaires reaching in their own pockets or people sucking up to billionaires. The way we build it going forward is we have a grassroots movement funded from the grassroots up. That's the way I'm running this campaign."

Since then, a newly-formed pro-Klobuchar super PAC has also formed. Kitchen Table Conversations PAC formed last week and placed $284,000 of ads in Nevada on Monday.

The group hasn't filed donor disclosure records providing details on who's funding it.

Warren and Klobuchar are the latest in the list of 2020 Democrats contenders who now find themselves backed by super PACs as the primary season enters an increasingly aggressive phase, despite their appearance earlier last year to distance themselves from big-money groups.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is being backed by a super PAC funded by wealthy allies, while former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is being supported by a liberal pro-veterans group VoteVets. Both groups have already poured millions on behalf of the moderate Democrats.

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Samuel Corum/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy met with Iran’s foreign minister during a security conference in Germany over the weekend, prompting quick condemnation from conservatives including President Donald Trump -- who accused the Democratic senator of violating an arcane federal law that criminalizes unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments.

Murphy confirmed the meeting with Mohammed Javad Zarif in a Medium post on Tuesday.

"I have no delusions about Iran -- they are our adversary, responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans and unacceptable levels of support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East," Murphy wrote. "But I think it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies."

He added, "Discussions and negotiations are a way to ease tensions and reduce the chances for crisis. But Trump, of course, has no such interests."

Trump expressed confusion over the meeting as he boarded Air Force One on Tuesday.

"I saw Senator Murphy met with the Iranians, is that a fact?" Trump asked reporters, adding "I just saw that on the way over. Is there anything I should know? Because that sounds like, to me, a violation of the Logan Act."

"What happened with that?" Trump continued. "They ought to find out about if it’s true. I don’t know."

The law in question -- the Logan Act -- is an obscure statute that has received renewed attention in recent years. Signed into law in 1799, it penalizes private individuals for negotiating or collaborating with foreign governments on issues involving the United States without the federal government's permission. No one has ever been prosecuted under the law.

Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday, going after Murphy.

Kerry & Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly! https://t.co/RpTW9c09ZY

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2020

"Kerry & Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly!" Trump tweeted.

Murphy responded on Twitter, calling Trump out for his Iran policy, calling it a "disastrous failure."

Iran restarted their nuclear program, fired at our troops, upped support for proxies. Your Iran policy is a disastrous failure.

And FYI I’m the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East. It’s literally my job to meet with regional leaders. https://t.co/9z0wNvfxC5

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 19, 2020

"Iran restarted their nuclear program, fired at our troops, upped support for proxies. Your Iran policy is a disastrous failure," Murphy tweeted, adding that "It’s literally my job to meet with regional leaders."

Trump had previously gone after former Secretary of State John Kerry for taking meetings with Iran over the years, calling for the former senator and top U.S. diplomat to be prosecuted for meeting with Iranian leaders and "telling them what to do."

Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of Murphy’s meeting with Zarif.

"If they met, I don’t know what they said," Pompeo told reporters Tuesday. "I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own."

Pompeo also bashed Zarif: "This guy's been designated by the United States of America. He's the foreign minister for a country that shot down a commercial airliner and has yet to turn over the black boxes. This is the foreign minister of a country that killed an American on Dec. 27."

He added, "And he's the foreign minister of a country that's the world's largest sponsor of state terror and the world's largest sponsor of anti-Semitism."

Murphy acknowledged in his post that he can’t conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

"I don’t know whether my visit with Zarif will make a difference. I’m not the President or the Secretary of State -- I’m just a rank and file U.S. Senator," he wrote. "I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the U.S. government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so."

He continued, "If Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should."

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3dfoto/iStock(LAS VEGAS) -- The Democrats storming Nevada in the lead up to Saturday's caucuses are set to first face off in Wednesday night's debate, a matchup in a more diverse early state than the first two, with a new wrinkle in the form of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who will take the stage for the first time.

The debate, which will be hosted by NBC, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent in the state's epicenter of Las Vegas, brings the presidential contenders in front a different audience that far more reflects the makeup of the Democratic Party and the country as a whole. Nevada is nearly 30% Latino, over 10% black and encompasses one of the nation's fastest-growing Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations.

But once again absent from the Democratic debate stage, and from the primary's top tier, is a candidate of color -- a somewhat unexpected reality for a party that once touted its most diverse field, even with a still fluid race. Only six candidates are expected to square off in the matchup, which takes place only three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses.

The third nominating contest of the cycle is shaping up to be even more crucial after the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire failed to anoint a front-runner and left two other top campaigns faltering.

The Democratic National Committee announced the qualified candidates for the ninth Democratic debate Wednesday, including:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

For the contenders on stage who are not Sanders, the victor out of New Hampshire, or Buttigieg, the overall delegate leader so far, the debate in the Battle Born state brings an opportunity to deliver a final pitch to woo caucus-goers, who they hope will reset the Democratic primary race in the "first in the west" contest.

But since the New Hampshire primary earlier this month, most of the presidential hopefuls have set their sights squarely on targeting Bloomberg - for his wealth and self-funded campaign, his complicated record on race, particularly his since-retracted support for "stop-and-frisk," and his blurred ideological allegiance - despite the fact that he is not competing in the first four early states.

Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN Tuesday that if the senator were to become the nominee, he wouldn't accept a dime from Bloomberg, part of his "no billionaire donors" policy. Earlier in the week, Sanders chastised the multibillionaire, telling thousands of supporters in Richmond, Calif., "Now Mr. Bloomberg, like anybody else, has a right to run for president. He does not have a right to buy the presidency."

Invoking a similar refrain, Warren, who has also cultivated a brand of antagonizing billionaires, said of Bloomberg clinching a podium on the day of the deadline, "It's a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire."

Biden, too, unleashed on the former mayor, telling MSNBC on Monday, "He can buy every ad he wants, but he wants but he can't, in fact, wipe away his record including stop-and-frisk and policy assertions and the like. So, I'm looking forward to debating Michael Bloomberg." Over the weekend, Klobuchar conceded that she might not be able to go toe-to-toe with Bloomberg's deep pockets, but she also signaled an eagerness to confront him: "I think he should be on the debate stage, because I can't beat him on the airwaves. But I can beat him on the debate stage."

Bloomberg's last-minute entry has long roiled the rest of the field, but the sharpened attacks in recent days reflect the anxiety over his steady rise in the Democratic primary -- even as he spends his time carving out his own parallel race to the Democratic convention. He plans to make a formal entrance on the ballot on Super Tuesday, the single-biggest day of voting in the presidential primary. But on Wednesday, Bloomberg will have to come out from behind the curtain and face the competitors keen to take him on.

Beyond the Bloomberg factor, for both Biden and Warren, the debate will be a critical turn for each of their quests to overcome Sanders' massive army of supporters and Buttigieg's delegate edge.

Warren spent the weekend on the trail battling a cold, with barely any voice, but nonetheless, she continued from campaign stop to campaign stop to make her case before caucusgoers.

"So, people told me when they heard me, early this morning, they said 'you gotta cancel your day in Reno,'" she told supporters. "And I said, "Reno's been left out of way too many conversations for way too long. That's not gonna happen."

For his part, Biden has been leaning into his advantage among minority voters, who comprise of the bedrock of his support, spending the weekend arguing that "99% of the African American vote hasn't spoken yet and 99% of Latino vote hasn't spoken yet."

"There can be no Democratic nominee, none without the voice of Latinos and African American voters being heard and heard loudly," he said in Las Vegas on Sunday.

The debate will also be a key opportunity for Buttigieg, who despite his position at the top of the delegate race, has long struggled to make inroads with some of the most diverse blocs within the Democratic Party.

With minorities making up a large portion of the electorate in the last two early states before March 3rd's 15 contests, he is set to likely face a tougher road ahead. But on Tuesday, brushing off any concerns about his two rivals at the top of national polls, Sanders and Bloomberg, Buttigieg signaled a readiness to get on stage.

"I don't think most Democratic voters would be happy if their only choices were between somebody saying you only fit in if you're for a revolution, or somebody who is trying to buy the election from a position of being a billionaire," he said in an interview with ABC News' Eva Pilgrim in Las Vegas. "You have to actually be willing to look voters in the eye to take questions. At some point you've got to be ready to be challenged. That's what we have been doing on the campaign trail for the last year."

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Ivan Cholakov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon's number three official resigned on Wednesday at the request of President Donald Trump, but it was unclear why.

Neither the Pentagon nor the White House offered a public explanation.

John Rood served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, assuming the position under former defense secretary James Mattis in January 2018. While he was a key player in the military aid to Ukraine that was ultimately withheld by the president and led to the impeachment inquiry, a defense official told ABC News that Rood's role in the aid process was not related to his firing.

In his resignation letter addressed to the president and dated Feb. 19, Rood wrote, "It’s my understanding from Secretary Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Senior administration officials appointed by the President serve at the pleasure of the President, and therefore, as you have requested, I am providing my resignation effective February 28, 2020.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump thanked Rood for service to the country and wished him well in future endeavors.

Rood became linked to the impeachment inquiry into the president in part because he was the senior defense official who certified in a letter to Congress in May that Ukraine had made "sufficient progress" towards defense and corruption reform that allowed the $250 million in security assistance funding to flow.

The next month, that aid was withheld by the White House in violation of the law, according to the Government Accountability Office, with Trump administration officials testifying during the impeachment hearings that it was part of a quid pro quo at Trump's request where aid would only be released if the Ukrainian government agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Rood told reporters in December that he became aware that military aid to Ukraine had been held up "significantly after May" but "never received a very clear explanation" as to why.

Asked by ABC News if there was a link between Rood's resignation and his role in certifying the aid to Ukraine, Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said during a news conference on Wednesday that sounded "speculative."

"I have no information that would lead me to that conclusion," Hoffman said.

He could not say whether Esper recommended to the president that Rood be removed and referred back to the resignation letter.

A defense official told ABC News that Rood's resignation should not be linked to the impeachment inquiry. A former official said the departure is more likely because of Rood's policy disagreements over issues like Syria, North Korea, Iran and Ukraine.

However, Rood's divisive leadership style has been reported as a source of frustration within the department. In December, Foreign Policy reported that many current and former defense officials blamed Rood for creating a toxic work environment and identified him as a reason the Pentagon saw an exodus of top officials and was struggling to fill posts.

"I would like to thank John Rood for his service to the Department," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in statement released by the department. "John has played a critical role on a wide range of DoD issues including modernizing our nuclear deterrence capability, efforts to increase burden sharing by our NATO allies, our Missile Defense Review and implementing the National Defense Strategy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

In that statement, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah announced that James Anderson, the current senior official performing the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, will take over Rood's responsibilities until a permanent replacement is appointed by the president and confirmed.

Rood wrote in his resignation letter that he was drawn to public service beginning with his time with the Central Intelligence Agency in 1988. He later served at the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council and as a staffer on Capitol Hill before working in the private sector at two large defense companies, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

"I thank you for giving me the privilege of again contributing in service to our Nation," Rood told the president.

"I leave with the utmost admiration for the outstanding team with which I worked at the Defense Department," he concluded.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate -- announced her campaign on last February, she immediately distanced herself from political action committees.

"I don't come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit," she said in the tweet, where she announced she would steer clear from big money.

A year later, that rhetoric changed when novel super PAC Kitchen Table Conversations announced last week that they would back the Minnesota senator.

With the Nevada caucuses coming up on Feb. 22, the super PAC committed to launch "six figure buys" in a "new effort" to introduce the senator to voters in Nevada, South Carolina and the 14 Super Tuesday states.

"We believe Amy Klobuchar is the only candidate that can unite Independents, Democrats and even moderate Republicans," a spokesperson for Kitchen Table Conversations told ABC News.

Kitchen Table Conversations, which filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday, listed Minnesotan political fundraisers Richard Carlbom and Kristen McMullen as the individuals who spearheaded it.

As of Wednesday morning, the super PAC has invested over $726,000 in TV, cable and digital ads in Nevada and South Carolina, according to the ad analysis firm CMAG.

A spokesperson for the Klobuchar campaign told ABC News that they stand by their statement of not wanting help from super PACs.

But the campaign cannot control the independent actions of any super PACs.

"Our investment to introduce Amy to voters is just to make sure voters know the same Amy that we know," said a spokesperson from Kitchen Table Conversations.

The support from her first super PAC comes after Klobuchar’s unexpected success in recent Democratic debates.

Following the last debate in New Hampshire, Klobuchar won six delegates, coming in third place behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was the top performer, and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Klobuchar has been recognized for her debate performance, most recently going after Buttigieg in the last debate -- co-hosted by ABC News and partner WMUR. Klobuchar’s campaign announced they brought in $2 million in less than 24 hours following the debate -- and $12 million within a week after it.

During the same debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren positioned herself and Klobuchar as the only two candidates not receiving help from super PACs.

"Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending," Warren said.

Since that statement, Warren too has been backed by a super PAC -- called "Persist" -- airing nearly $800,000 in ads to support her.

Kitchen Table Conversations has put two pro-Klobuchar ads on the airwaves thus far. Rolled out across Nevada in English and Spanish on Tuesday, one advertisement focuses on the senator's personal experience after her daughter Abigail was born.

In the storyline, Klobuchar advocates for a bipartisan state law passed in Minnesota guaranteeing mothers and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay.

"That’s what Amy Klobuchar does -- sees a problem, fixes it and wins when it matters," a female narrator says in the ad.

A second ad lists the senator's campaign promises if elected president, including rejoining the climate agreement, lowering prescription drug costs and expanding benefits for veterans.

Klobuchar will take the stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday night for the next Democratic primary debate, co-hosted by NBC, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent.

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Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- Bernie Kerik was in Florida Tuesday when his cellphone rang at 11:57 a.m.

"Somebody got on the phone and said, 'Standby for the president,'" Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, told ABC News.

"He got on the phone and [said], 'As I'm talking to you I'm signing a full presidential pardon on your behalf,'" Kerik said President Donald Trump told him.

Kerik said he had no advanced notice.

"I had heard rumors – but I hear rumors all the time – that it could happen, might happen. I've always blown them off," Kerik said in a phone conversation with ABC News.

Kerik recalled the president telling him, "'This will expunge your record.'"

"He thanked me for my service, told me to move on with my life," Kerik said.

Kerik pleaded guilty in 2009 to tax fraud and charges that he lied to Bush administration officials who were vetting him to be the Homeland Security secretary. He served three years of a four-year sentence before he was released in 2013.

Kerik was one of several high-profile, white-collar criminals who were pardoned by Trump on Tuesday, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Following the presidential pardon, Kerik said he was "pretty emotional, kind of stunned."

Trump announced the pardon while on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews. He called Kerik "a man who had many recommendations from a lot of good people."

The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is among those who advocated for Kerik. Giuliani had appointed him as corrections commissioner and then police commissioner in the city of New York during his tenure as mayor. Kerik also served as Giuliani's body guard during Giuliani's 1993 mayoral campaign.

"I've had a bunch of supporters, Rudy being one of them, but I've had a lot," Kerik said.

Kerik told ABC News he had no immediate plans for his future. In the past, Kerik has been a frequent defender of Trump on Fox News.

"For me this is more about being returned as a full and whole citizen," Kerik said. "When you stand before a judge and plead guilty or you're convicted, you lose constitutional rights you don't even know you had."

He said he would continue to advocate for reforming a criminal justice that creates "a permanent underclass of American citizen," fully aware of the irony of such a statement from a former corrections and police commissioner.

"You have to protect society from some but we're using prison as a punishment for regulatory violations, civil violations. As a cop, as a correction officer you have no idea. Unless you've been through it or had a family member go through it you can't. If the American people knew what I knew they would be outraged and there would be change." Kerik said.

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Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich expressed his "profound and everlasting gratitude for President Trump" in public comments made outside his Chicago home Wednesday, the day after Trump commuted his federal prison sentence.

"He didn't have to do this, he's a Republican president I was a Democratic governor," Blajgojevich said of Trump. "Doing this does nothing to help his politics. President Trump is a man who is tough and outspoken but he also has a kind heart and this is an act of kindness -- and I also believe its the beginning of the process to actual turn an injustice into a justice."

He thanked him for giving him back what he called the "freedom that was stolen from you."

"From beginning to end this was persecution masquerading as prosecution," he said.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury in Chicago on 17 counts, including an attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. As governor, he was empowered to appoint a temporary successor.

Blagojevich served eight years of his 14-year prison sentence. He had been serving his prison time at a federal prison in Engelwood, Colorado, since 2012, and was released Tuesday evening, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Blagojevich's comments Wednesday echo the gratitude he expressed for President Donald Trump Tuesday evening, telling NBC News he considers himself a "Trump-o-crat" when asked about his party affiliation.

During his public comments Tuesday, Trump said he did not know the former governor, who appeared on Trump's reality television show The Apprentice, very well but that he believed Blagovjevich's sentence was too severe, based in part on what he heard his wife say on Fox News.

"He served eight years in jail, that's a long time, and I watched his wife on television, I don't know him very well, I met him a couple of times, he was on for a short time on The Apprentice years ago, seemed like a very nice person, don't know him, but he served eight years in jail, there's a long time to go," Trump said Tuesday. "He'll be able to go home to his family after serving eight years in jail, that was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others."

But some Illinois lawmakers have been critical of the president's decision to commute Blagojevich's sentence.

“Former Governor Blagojevich betrayed the people of Illinois and engaged in a pattern of corrupt behavior for which he was held accountable and which cost him more than seven years of freedom," Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement which called on lawmakers to pass stricter ethics requirements.

The commutation for Blajoveich was issued as part of a sweeping round of pardons and commutations announced by the president. The White House announced Tuesday that Trump had signed an executive order pardoning former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and later Tuesday, Trump said he would pardon New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik. Trump also pardoned Mihael Milken, the former investment banker who became known for his involvement in an insider trading scandal.

In total, Trump granted seven pardons and four commutations.

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ABC News(LAS VEGAS) -- Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign’s push to expose the Minnesota senator to the diverse slate of Nevada voters in the critical days before the caucuses will get a boost with the release of two more 15-second TV ads in the “Silver State” focusing on health care and lowering prescription drug prices.

The two fairly short ads are part of what the campaign told ABC News Saturday is a seven-figure ad investment in just Nevada alone, and includes one Spanish-language ad released two days ago.

This brings her to five total ads in this state since the day after the New Hampshire primaries.

The push on the airwaves comes just days after Klobuchar herself announced on ABC News' This Week that her campaign had fundraised $12 million in the week. The money flowed in following her standout performance on the ABC News debate stage in Manchester, New Hampshire, and since her surprising third place finish in New Hampshire.

Klobuchar called her race for the White House a “happy, scrappy campaign,” at her New Hampshire primary night party. Since then, she has experienced a surge in fundraising.

However, her momentum could be tested in Nevada which is nearly 30% Latino, over 10% black and encompasses one of the nation's fastest-growing Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations. She is at 0% among black voters in a recent national poll from Quinnipiac University. And she is at 1% among black, Latino and Asian American voters according to a recent Monmouth University poll.

By contrast, she fared solidly in similar polls leading up to the first-in-the-nation states of Iowa and New Hampshire where more than 90 percent of Democratic voters are white.

Her campaign has 50 paid staffers and two field offices in the entire state of Nevada.

Klobuchar told a crowd in Henderson, Nevada, Saturday that an increase in money would allow her to run ads in places her opponents have been in for some time.

“We were not able to put TV ads like some of my more well-funded opponents until just recently, and the reason we were able to start big time running ads in Nevada is because after that first -- that last debate, we started to literally get in, I think in two days, from regular people online,” Klobuchar said.

And yet, Klobuchar’s record might be her biggest hurdle once voters, specifically voters of color, get to know her.

Interviewed by ABC News’ Rachel Scott this past weekend, Klobuchar said she regrets voting for a bill that included an amendment to make English the official language of the U.S more than a decade ago.

“I think I once took a vote on English as the official language, that I wouldn't take that vote again,” Klobuchar said.

Looking beyond Nevada and into a number of other diverse states, Klobuchar said of voters of color who might be skeptical of her record, including her time as a former prosecutor who sought to project a tough on crime image, that it’s on her to share her record.

“I need to get to know them because my name ID wasn't very high -- my bank account, not as big. And so it's on me now to share with people my record,” Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar’s blitzing of the Nevada airwaves also comes as she, along with four of her Democratic opponents, will finally face multi-billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a debate stage in Las Vegas, Nevada Wednesday night.

In recent days, and since Bloomberg made the debate stage, Klobuchar has been saying she would still not be able to compete against Bloomberg’s ad buys, but would push to compete on the debate stage itself.

“I actually welcome the mayor to that stage because I think it's really important that someone not just be out there on the TV because I'm not going to be able to compete with that with the billions that he has, but that he's got to be on the debate stage, and I do and I also I mean, honestly, the way I look at it I don't think people look at the guy in the White House and sink thing to themselves. We need someone richer,” Klobuchar said at a Las Vegas event Tuesday.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined ABC's The View on Wednesday, promoting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as a fighter for the working class, for "people like us."

Ocasio-Cortez, who served as a volunteer for Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, announced her endorsement of the senator's 2020 presidential campaign last fall. She first appeared alongside Sanders at his first rally following his heart attack in October, when the pair attracted an estimated 26,000 people to a rally in Queens, New York -- the largest event held by any member of the Democratic field this cycle.

Despite criticism, Ocasio-Cortez said Sanders' campaign intrigued her even before she ran for office herself, especially as progressive become more "en vogue."

When asked by the hosts on why she chose to endorse Sanders, the freshman lawmaker didn't hesitate.

"What makes Sen. Sanders so distinct in this field, is that he has been fighting for working families. His platform fights for working families," she said. "But he hasn't just come to this fight. He has been fighting for these issues his entire life."

"He did this when it was least convenient. He fought for those things before I was born. He paid the highest political cost," she said, adding he did this by "expanding the electorate."

"He wants a political revolution at the ballot box," said Ocasio-Cortez, or more affectionately known as AOC.
 
When pressed on why Sanders is running on the Democratic ticket when he's labeled as an independent, AOC implied that most of the electorate -- 30-40% according to the congresswoman -- would also consider themselves independent.

"The largest plurality of voters consider themselves as not wanting to be a part of this labeling ... they don't feel like there's a home for them at the Republican party or Democrat party," she said. "That doesn't mean they're in the middle ... they don't want to consent to be governed."

Questioned by co-host Joy Behar on why some people love her and why some others are triggered, she said it's because the political system isn't designed for "people like us."

"It is not welcoming, historically, to have someone ascend." she said, adding that it's not a conducive environment for the working class, minorities or women. "Our entire political system revolves around rich men, rich men are not the center of my universe, working people are."

Co-host Meghan McCain said Sanders wants people to "buy into radical ideas." AOC responded that it's not about the policy.

"When you pull abstract ideas its one thing, but a majority of American people would vote for Bernie Sanders," she said.

The congresswoman has made two trips to Iowa on behalf of Sanders' campaign, including one solo trip that began while Sanders remained sidelined in Washington, D.C. amid the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. She has additionally appeared in Los Angeles and Las Vegas with the senator, assisting with the campaign's Latino outrage in the latter city when she participated in a Spanish language event in late December.

From the stump, Sanders frequently describes Ocasio-Cortez as one of the most impactful freshman legislators in United States history, specifically citing her promotion of the "Green New Deal" that has become a centerpiece of his own campaign's environmental agenda.

In the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll, results show Sanders advancing to 32% support among Democrat and Democrat-leaning independents, up 8 percentage points from late January. Ahead of the Nevada debate, the senator is soaring, with a 15 point lead over former Vice President Joe Biden.

Still, the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary helped to clear some running room for one candidate who's not yet been on the ballot: former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg -- who joined the race late in the game -- has become popular as a largely self-funded candidate. Many of his Democratic rivals, including Sanders, have questioned his strategy, even accusing him of "buying his way" into the election.

Co-host Sunny Hostin asked Ocasio-Cortez if she agreed with that assessment -- and she said, "Yes, I do."

"I don't think when 60% of Americans make $40,000 a year, that the presence of a billionaire should exist," she added.

When asked by McCain if she would vote for Bloomberg if he was the last standing Democrat, AOC laughed.

"We won't get to that point, because Sen. Sanders will be the democratic nominee," she said confidently.

AOC is up for reelection in November -- where currently eight Republicans and four Democrats have announced plans to challenge the progressive icon for her New York seat.

Among those challengers are: New York City councilman Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat who joined the race for AOC's seat last October; Democrat Badrun Khan, a first-generation immigrant and political activist; Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC correspondent and a critic of socialism; Republican Scherie Murray, a businesswoman from Queens and Republican Jineea Butler, a social worker who has often criticized AOC for her more progressive policies.

The hosts asked her why so many want to run against her, and she said while some were just looking for "attention," others wanted to ensure their ideas are part of the conversation.

"I would never close the door behind me," she said. "I welcome it because we should remind ourselves every two years of what we value."

AOC added, "I've done exactly what I told my community I said I would do."

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natasaadzic/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has soared and former Vice President Joe Biden has crashed in national preference for the Democratic nomination for president, while the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary helped to clear some running room for a candidate who's not yet been on the ballot: former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Sanders advanced to 32% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, up 8 percentage points from late January. Biden fell to 17%, down 11 points to his lowest of the campaign. And Bloomberg, who takes the stage for the first time in Wednesday night's debate in Nevada, now has 14% support, up 6 points.

See PDF for full results, charts, and tables.


By contrast, there's been little if any movement for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a strong finisher in both early contests; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, third in New Hampshire; or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who fell short in both. Warren has 11% support nationally, unchanged; Buttigieg, 7%; and Klobuchar, 6%.

Sanders' newfound 15-point lead over Biden nearly doubles Biden's biggest lead of the campaign, 8 points over Sanders in early September. That said, the most dramatic shifts aren’t in vote preferences but in views of who has the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump in November. Electability's been a cornerstone of Biden's campaign, yet just 19% now say he's likeliest to win, sliced in half from 38% in January.

Instead, 30% of leaned Democrats now see Sanders as most electable, up 12 points, and 18% say this about Bloomberg, up 10 points. The rest of the field is in single digits on the question.

Among groups, Biden's support among blacks has declined from 51% last month to 32% now; he's been looking for support from blacks as a boost to his campaign in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29. He lags with just 11% among whites. Sanders, meanwhile, is prevailing among Hispanics, potentially an influential group in the Nevada caucuses this Saturday. Nonwhites overall – who account for half of all Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents – have gone from 35-28 percent, Biden-Sanders, last month, to 35-22 percent, Sanders-Biden, now.

General election matchups have changed little from January in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Sanders, Bloomberg and Biden lead Trump by 8 to 11 points among all adults, but it's close among those who are registered to vote. Biden holds a slight 7-point edge over Trump among those who are registered to vote, while Sanders' 6 and Bloomberg's 5 fall short of statistically significant leads. All these extend January's contraction after sizable Democratic leads in the fall, with Trump boosted by the economy.

Trump

Trump's job approval rating is mostly steady at 43%, a point off his career-high, 44% last July and again last month. His approval rating for handling the economy is higher, 52%, after peaking at 56% last month.

On the economy, 53% of Americans say they're holding steady financially, 29% getting ahead and 16% falling behind. It's a key measure; a huge advantage for Trump among those who say they're getting ahead financially largely compensates for his trailing position among those who are holding steady or falling behind.

Trump's support in general election matchups is very consistent – 42 to 45% among all adults and 45 to 47% among registered voters, regardless of the six potential Democratic opponents tested. That's associated, naturally, with his job approval rating; 91 to 94% of his approvers support him for re-election. With re-election campaigns constituting a referendum on the incumbent, it's the reason to watch Trump's approval score – and the economy, which influences it – closely in the months ahead.

Trump retains two dubious distinctions: He's the first president in modern polling never to have achieved majority approval, and his career average rating is the lowest on record. He's at a new low in approval among Democrats (4%) and a high among Republicans (88% up 14 points from late October), for the widest partisan gap since he took office. He's got 46% approval among independents, often a swing group in national politics.

Another measure also marks the partisan divisions on Trump: Twenty-six percent of Americans say his behavior as president has "changed for the worse" since his acquittal on impeachment charges last month. That rises to 50% among Democrats, vs. 3% of Republicans, with independents between the two.

The Democrats


Defeating Trump in November is the party's prime motivation, and a potential limiting factor for Sanders despite his gains on the electability question. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents by 58-38% say they'd prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over one who agrees with them on major issues. Sanders wins 46% support among those chiefly focused on issues, a margin that's largely responsible for his lead overall. That drops to 21% among the majority that cares more about defeating Trump, with Biden and Bloomberg competitive in this group.

At the same time, Sanders is boosted within the party by his support for a government-run, single-payer health care system to replace private insurance. Leaned Democrats back this approach by 62-34%. Among the majority who are single-payer supporters, Sanders has 44% support; among opponents of that system, just 12%.

On another front, Sanders doesn't face trouble within the Democratic ranks based on his self-definition as a Democratic socialist or socialist. (He's used both terms.) Given the "Democratic socialist" label, 20% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they're more likely to support him, vs. 8% less likely – a net positive. (Liberals are especially accepting of the term.) Using "socialist," it's a wash – 12% more likely, 13% less so. Two-thirds or more say it doesn't matter to them.

Both the label and Sanders' position on health care may be less helpful, though, in a general election. Americans overall are more apt to oppose than to support single-payer government health care, 52-41%. And Sanders' calling himself a democratic socialist or a socialist turns into a net negative in vote intention among all adults; they're less likely rather than more likely to support Sanders by 31-11% given the democratic socialist label and by 38-8% as a socialist. The share saying it makes no difference drops closer to half.

Similarly, about a third of all adults call Sanders "too liberal," compared with about a quarter who say the same of Biden or Bloomberg. That said, 20% call Sanders too conservative.

Within the Democratic primaries, the competing forces of electability and views on health care are key for Sanders. So too, potentially, is the fate of the now-lagging Warren. Were she not in the race, a plurality of her supporters say they'd shift to Sanders (based on aggregated results from the last two ABC/Post polls for an adequate sample size). That said, were Biden to go, a quarter of his support could be Sanders-bound.

Among demographic groups, Sanders' support remains focused among liberal (and especially very liberal) leaned Democrats and young adults. He has a vast 56% support among 18- to 39-year-olds, diving to 13% among those age 65 and older. Among seniors, by contrast, Bloomberg reaches 24 percent; Biden, 20%.

Sanders' 41% among liberals falls to 25% among moderates, who account for more than four in 10 leaned Democrats (44%). Biden wins 24% of moderates, Bloomberg 17%. At the same time, relatively few leaned Democrats call Sanders "too liberal," 17%; indeed, as many call him too conservative. The only significant ideological objections to any of the other leading candidates are to Klobuchar, seen as too conservative rather than too liberal by a 9-point margin, and Biden, the same by 6 points.

For his part, Bloomberg, despite controversies over "stop and frisk" policing in New York during his mayoralty, has about as much support from blacks (14%) and nonwhites generally (12%) as among whites (16%). Further, though he's been accused of sexism, his support is slightly higher among women (17%) than men (10%).

In a general election matchup among registered voters against Trump, moreover, Bloomberg is supported by 60% of women (vs. 39% of men) and by 71% of nonwhites (including 91% of blacks). Results among other leading Democrats are similar.

A final result finds some apprehension among leaned Democrats about their chances in November. About seven in 10 think Sanders, Biden or Bloomberg would beat Trump; that leaves about a quarter who think Trump would win these matchups. More – four in 10 – think Trump would beat either Warren or Buttigieg, and nearly half think he'd defeat Klobuchar.

Methodology


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Feb. 14-17, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,066 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 29-25-37 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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peterschreiber.media/iStock(LAS VEGAS) -- As the next contest pivots to Nevada, a racially diverse state where minority voters will play a significant role, a progressive group with a $50 million investment in the 2020 election cycle is pouring money and resources into state organizations to mobilize voters ahead of caucuses.

“We have to scale up to make sure we can take the big prize which is those electoral votes,” Tory Gavito, the president of Way to Win said.

The progressive group, Way to Win plans to spend $50 million in ten key battleground states, moving roughly $1 million into Nevada including half a million in the last six weeks ahead of the "first in the West" contest focused on turning out communities of color, tribal communities and former felons who are able to vote in the state's caucuses this election cycle.

With investments trickling in year round to progressive organizations, groups like PLAN Action are using the funds to power their grassroots organization, aggressively canvassing, holding caucus trainings for minorities and caucus volunteer trainings for DREAMERS who are unable to vote but want to stay politically engaged.

“We need long term investments to run a culturally competent campaign to earn people's trust, to be seen as a validator in the community… I definitely see the tide is turning,” Laura Martin, Plan Action Executive Director said.

While 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, black voter turnout rate dropped to 59.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But progressive groups are hoping to build off the 2018 midterms, where voter engagement among racial and ethnic groups increased with the number of Latino voters nearly doubling from the previous midterm elections, according to Pew Research.

Nevada will be a test of which candidate can appeal to minority voters.

“Nevada reflects the Democratic voting profile going forward,” Robert Lang, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said.

“The share of white, non-college educated voters is contracting so fast, relative to other voters in the state,” Lang told ABC News. Adding, “the leading new and enfranchised citizen here is somebody of diverse background, who was born within the United States, who upon their 18th birthday is enfranchised.”

The state has also restored the voting rights of former felons, an opportunity for an estimated 77,000 to vote in the the Nevada caucuses.

For Jovan Jackson, a 27-year-old convicted of conspiracy of robbery — the law is a second chance.

“It feels like I have my own independence day…That's like one of the biggest things that makes you a citizen,” Jackson said.

Jackson, a Las Vegas native not only plans to caucus but signed up to volunteer as a caucus site leader, taking advantage of the seminars offered through PLAN Action.

“Just gives us more of an equal playing field. We all make mistakes. And I feel like you know we should be able to overcome those mistakes and be a part of society again,” Jackson said.

Way to Win moved $22 million during the midterms and over $27 million in 2019. Major donor groups like Women Donors Network, Solidaire, and the Movement Voter Project have rallied behind the organization.

Other progressive donors are investing heavily in the 2020 election in an effort to mobilize and register voters. Progressive Turnout Project plans on spending $45 million with an investment toward a data-driven canvassing program in 2020 across 16 target states, aiming to knock on over 7 million doors between May and Election Day.

“This is the biggest election of our lives. We've got existential threats in front of us with climate change-- the increase in polarization between the haves and have nots,” Martin said.

Despite the changing demographics and the boost in funds, Lang believes the Democratic Party will be vying to unseat President Donald Trump as he makes the economy a central part of his re-election pitch.

“I think the hurdle they face is that they're running against an incumbent and if the economy looks like it's intact. That's usually a recipe for re-election,” Lang said.

President Trump’s approval rating for handling the economy is at 52%, after peaking at 56% last month, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Just hours after President Donald Trump openly defied his public pleas to stop tweeting about criminal matters in the Justice Department, Attorney General Bill Barr told people close to Trump Tuesday that he is considering resigning over the tweets that Barr had previously said make it “impossible” to do his job, sources tell ABC News.

A resignation by Barr would amount stunning rebuke by a cabinet official long believed to be among the most loyal to Trump, and would indicate an uncertain future for the DOJ as officials have sought to grapple with the president’s increasingly emboldened attempts to intervene in the justice system.

News of Barr's discussions with people close to Trump was first reported by the Washington Post.

In response, DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said on Twitter: "Addressing Beltway rumors: The Attorney General has no plans to resign."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News last week, Barr had warned Trump that his tweets about the DOJ, in particular the sentencing process of his former long-time advisor Roger Stone, were disrupting his ability to manage the department.

"To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity," Barr said.

“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he added. “Whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president. I’m gonna do what I think is right. And, you know, the, I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

The interview followed a week of turmoil for the DOJ after Barr ordered prosecutors to reverse their recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison, following his conviction last year on seven separate counts that included lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction.

The reversal came only hours after President Trump had tweeted calling the recommendation “horrible and very unfair,” adding, “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Four line prosecutors who had been in charge of the case withdrew in protest over the intervention, including one who resigned from the DOJ altogether.

In his interview with ABC News, Barr repeatedly insisted he had made the decision to reverse the recommendation prior to the tweet, adding Trump had “never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.”

Just a day after the interview, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., said it would not be prosecuting former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after a two-year investigation. The announcement followed repeated public calls by President Trump that McCabe and other former officials involved in the start of the Russia investigation be thrown in jail.

That did little to alleviate the public pressure on Barr, however, when just hours later on Friday it was revealed that he had ordered a separate review of the criminal case against another long-time Trump ally, former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Citing what they described as unprecedented interference in a criminal inquiry, a group of more than 2,000 former DOJ officials signed onto a petition Sunday calling for Barr’s resignation.

While the White House said following Barr’s interview that Trump continued to have confidence in him, the attorney general’s warnings failed to blunt Trump’s attacks on the Stone case and the prosecutors who resigned.

“These were Mueller prosecutors, and the whole Mueller investigation was illegally set up based on a phony and now fully discredited Fake Dossier, lying and forging documents to the FISA Court, and many other things,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out.”

Later in the day, DOJ lawyers filed a motion in court in opposition to Stone’s lawyers who had called for the trial to be thrown out altogether.

A department official told reporters that Barr personally supported the motion, echoing his previous statements to ABC News in which he described Stone’s trial as a “righteous prosecution” and agreed that Stone deserved some time in prison.

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury in Chicago on 17 counts, including an attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and had been serving his prison time at a Colorado federal prison since 2012. His date for expected release was 2024, factoring in two years of credit for good behavior. Late Tuesday, the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that Blagojevich had been released from the federal prison in Englewood, Colorado.

"He served eight years in jail, that's a long time, and I watched his wife on television, I don't know him very well, I met him a couple of times, he was on for a short time on 'The Apprentice' years ago, seemed like a very nice person, don't know him, but he served eight years in jail, there's a long time to go," Trump said Tuesday. "He'll be able to go home to his family after serving eight years in jail, that was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion."

At Denver's airport, Blagojevich said he had "no warning" that he'd be walking free Tuesday.

"My first thought was 'I wonder if I'll have time to get a run in' believe it or not. Because you get programmed, you have routines and I found that it helps through this time when you discipline yourself every day and you have something to work for, it helps you do it," he told reporters Tuesday before boarding a plane. "And so I had a run planned and I think I wonder if I'll get that in before I go. And there was this helicopter over the prison so I thought well, maybe I won't run so I went and did pushups."

Trump has long floated the idea of commuting his sentence and said that he thinks Blagojevich had served enough time and been mistreated.

"I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years," Trump said in August of last year. "You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they've killed 25 people. They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it's very unfair."

In January, Blagojevich penned a column on Newsmax titled, "House Democrats Would Have Impeached Lincoln" amid the now-wrapped congressional impeachment efforts against Trump. While Blagojevich didn't mention Trump's name in the column, his wife Patti Blagojevich tagged the president's name as she retweeted the piece.

Blagojevich appears to defend Trump in the column against House Democrats' efforts, comparing the impeachment proceedings with his own criminal case, and calling the House impeachment vote an "abuse of the Constitution."

"No president is safe if a majority of hyperpartisan House members from the opposition party are willing to abuse the Constitution and vote to impeach," Blagojevich wrote. "And the worst part of it is, that should this happen, those politicians are taking from the people their right to choose their own leaders through free elections."

While in prison, the disgraced governor rose to fame in part because of his penchant for sartorial flamboyance, larger-than-life persona and an apparent eagerness to perform for the camera. He became known through tabloids by the mononym "Blago," and the Chicago Tribune reported that inmates inside of the prison refer to him simply as "Gov."

In 2009, he appeared on NBC's The Apprentice, a reality TV show hosted by Trump.

Blagojevich also fronted a prison band called "The Jailhouse Rockers," which his defense team used as an example of his good behavior during his appeal to no avail.

"I followed the law every step of the way," he told reporters Tuesday. "I've said that all along and that's absolutely the case and they're the ones who did wrong and eventually I think the truth will win out and the Bible teaches that."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg touted support from African American comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key last week, his campaign was forced just hours later to clarify that the actor had not officially endorsed the former South Bend mayor, telling reporters he only sought to "encourage early voting and voter registration."

Key appeared with Buttigieg on Saturday to drum up voter support at his Henderson, Nevada field office.

The gaffe did not attract much attention. However, it was not the first time the Buttigieg campaign overstated having a tie with a prominent African American figure, or black business.

In several instances reviewed by ABC News, the Buttigieg campaign identified people as supporters who later said their interactions had either been misunderstood or misconstrued.

The mix-ups have come at a crucial moment for Buttigieg's campaign -- which has made a concerted effort to promote his desire for inclusivity, even as polls show he faces an ongoing challenge finding support from voters of color.

Nationally, Buttigieg has support from 4% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning African-American voters, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll released on Feb 10. That's more than Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who poll at less than 1% with the same demographic of voters, but substantially less than candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who poll at 27% and 22% with Democratic and Democratic-leaning black voters, respectively.

A key test of that support is in South Carolina, which hosts its Democratic primary next week. Black voters there make up nearly 30% of the state's population and more than 60% of the Democratic primary electorate.

The first indications there was confusion about some of Buttigieg's claims of support came in October, when the campaign issued a press release in South Carolina that identified Rehoboth Baptist pastor and state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, and Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus, as prominent backers of the candidate's "Douglass Plan for Black America."

The comprehensive proposal, named after abolitionist leader and author Frederick Douglass, which aims to tackle racial inequality and improve the lives of black Americans, had support-- just not an official endorsement from those politicians named in the headline of the release.

"I never endorsed the Douglass Plan and it's not necessarily that it was a bad plan, but people have got to understand, you can't talk for black people, we're very capable of speaking for ourselves," Cordero told ABC News, adding that he was given no explanation as to why or how the mix-up occurred.

Then last week, Buttigieg wrote an op-ed in a major South Carolina newspaper saying his campaign has "proudly partnered with local businesses," citing Diane's Kitchen in Chester and Atlantis Restaurant in Moncks Corner. But when ABC News reached out to the entrepreneurs about these new partnerships, they only remembered welcoming Buttigieg's campaign as customers, not forging any sort of partnership with the candidate.

"I stand for what I stand for and I didn't say I had a partnership," Diane Cole, the owner of Diane's Kitchen, told ABC News on Friday, Feb. 14.

After being asked by ABC News about Cole's reaction, the campaign sent a series of messages to Cole trying to persuade her to change her position so it would more closely match the language Buttigieg used in his op-ed.

One version misspelled her name.

Cole told ABC News she rejected the initial requests, telling the campaign: "It sounds like you're saying that I am your business partner. I'm only going to accept that you all stopped in while you were campaigning in South Carolina and I welcomed you all."

The Democratic primary contender's efforts to demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and overcome his struggles to find support with voters of color has also included a promotional campaign in which he has touted support from well-known figures in the black community. Some of that support is genuine.

Buttigieg's top African American surrogates include, Rep. Anthony Brown, Reggie Love -- former body man to President Barack Obama -- and Miss Black America Ryann Richardson.

Buttigieg's campaign said the partnership language in the op-ed was intended to refer to efforts to frequent minority-owned businesses and that the candidate has been open about its efforts to seek a broad base of support for its initiatives, including the Douglass Plan.

"We're proud to live our values as a campaign by holding events and spending money at Black-owned businesses in South Carolina and across the country, something we will continue to do throughout the campaign," said Sean Savett, a campaign spokesman.

While there have occasionally been misunderstandings, campaign officials said there have been no attempts to overstate Buttigieg's support from specific individuals or businesses. The language used on the campaign trail can be tough to calibrate, they said.

The campaign pointed out to ABC News, for instance, that Key's choice of words introducing Buttigieg at a recent rally sounded very close to an endorsement.

"He's left me so inspired and empowered that I came down here to Nevada to see all of you," Key told the crowd, adding that Buttigieg "has actually inspired me, ladies and gentlemen." What he had not done, Key later clarified, was give a formal endorsement.

The Douglass Plan press release

In October, the Buttigieg campaign released his "Douglass Plan", and in a press release touted a headline from the HBCU Times saying that "More than 400 South Carolinians endorse Mayor Pete Buttigieg's Douglass plan for black America."

A backlash ensued almost immediately.

The online publication The Intercept was first to discover that three prominent African American state leaders in South Carolina -- whose names were highlighted at the top of the campaign's announcement -- had said their position had been misinterpreted.

Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine said though she has been asked by the campaign to review the plan she had not yet publicly weighed in. So, when she saw her name used to promote the plan, she was worried the press release may have created the misimpression that she endorsed the candidate since the word "endorse" was used.

She called the press release "intentionally vague" in an interview with The Intercept. She turned to social media to clarify her stance, tweeting, "Although I have not endorsed a candidate for President yet, I do support the Douglass Plan by Presidential Candidate @PeteButtigieg. This is a comprehensive plan to address economic inequities."

Thigpen, the state representative, told ABC News that he considered the episode even more unsettling than Devine. Thigpen said he told the Buttigieg campaign he is a Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders surrogate when he was approached by the former South Bend, Indiana mayor's campaign staffer to review the Douglass Plan and give his feedback. After reading the content of the plan, he agreed to commend the Buttigieg campaign for attempting to tackle such important issues as the wealth gap.

But he said he made it clear he could not publicly endorse the plan or the candidate.

"I thought using the word endorsement would be confusing," Thigpen recalled, saying that he told the campaign he thought the plan was an important and positive step and would consider making a statement. Though he never sent one, he said a campaign staffer wrote him back requesting approval of quotes they had drafted on his behalf.

"They sent an email basically saying, if individuals want to opt-out of being listed as an endorser, then they needed to respond to the email by 4 p.m.," Thigpen said of the message. "I didn't see the email and so, of course, I didn't respond to it. So they moved forward with my name."

ABC News has seen a forwarded version of the email.

When the press release came out, Thigpen said he was stunned. He said the public affiliation with the Buttigieg campaign would directly conflict with his work on the Sanders campaign.

So he called and asked them to correct the release. He said the campaign was contrite, attributing it to a miscommunication.

"When it comes to politics and elections, and lending my name, whether it is issuing a quote of support or even an endorsement -- that has value, obviously, or this wouldn't have been a big deal," Thigpen said.

After his name was removed from the press release about the plan's support, the state lawmaker said he never heard from Buttigieg.

"I thought maybe some contact should have been made by the candidate," Thigpen said. "I have not had the opportunity to speak him with in person, or over the phone."

Cordero, the chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus, also was surprised to see his name on the release, even though he has an amicable relationship with Buttigieg.

The chairman recently endorsed Tom Steyer, but at the time of the incident he was not affiliated with any candidate and had been advising all the 2020 campaigns. So, when the campaign reached out to Cordero for a possible endorsement of the Douglass Plan, Cordero said he had been open to considering it but wanted to know whether African Americans helped to draft it. Cordero said the campaign never got back to him.

"I could not endorse the plan until those questions were answered and the reason is that -- and I said this to (the campaign) -- it is presumptuous for anyone to think they can develop a black agenda for Black America without talking to African Americans," Cordero said.

After Cordero notified the campaign of the error, they removed his name from their list of endorsements. Cordero said he does not blame Buttigieg for the incident.

"I know that candidates are not always knowledgeable of what their campaigns are doing," he said.

The campaign tells ABC News that of the eight people who authored the Douglass Plan, five were African American, one was of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent and two were white. The campaigns adds that the plan was reviewed by more than 40 black advocates, academics, and community leaders before its release.

Black business "partners"


Diane Cole, the owner of Diane's Kitchen, said she remembers when a Buttigieg staffer asked her if they could hold a small meeting at her restaurant. Eight people including campaign surrogate Ryann Richardson, Miss Black America, met privately at her small black-owned restaurant in Chester, South Carolina, and spent about $90 on lunch.

To Cole, the campaign was simply another customer. But as South Carolina geared up for the first-in-the-South primary, Cole received a call from the Buttigieg campaign asking if they could mention publicly that they had visited her business. Cole said it was fine, but said she made it clear she did not agree to partnerships with the candidate, or his campaign.

One of the emails the campaign sent misspelled her name calling her "Diana".

She said that she had never met or spoke with the South Bend Indiana mayor and as a voter she had been trying to decide between two other candidates -- Biden and Bloomberg.

Then on Friday, she saw her name listed in Buttigieg's op-ed -- identifying her restaurant as a partner of his campaign.

Buttigieg campaign officials said they viewed the op-ed as a chance to promote the fact that they were frequenting minority-owned businesses -- not that they had forged a formal relationship Cole's restaurant.

Cole said she did not read it that way, and said she had not consented to the listing. But she brushed it off.

"It really doesn't bother me, because I know the truth," Cole said. "I don't get mad. I don't stress over stuff like that."

The exchange that occurred after ABC News asked the Buttigieg campaign about the discrepancy only seemed to make matters worse, as Cole rejected a series of statements the campaign wanted her to release, emails Cole shared with ABC News show, including the one that misspelled her name.

After four attempts, the emails show they finally agreed on this: "Diane's Kitchen greatly appreciates, Pete Buttigieg and his campaign for visiting and supporting my business. We are thankful for their willingness to choose Black owned businesses here in Chester, South Carolina."

Another business Buttigieg identified in his op-ed as a partner was the Atlantis Restaurant and Lounge, the site where he held a campaign town hall with radio host and T.V. personality Charlemagne tha God on Jan 23.

Christian Dubois, who does public relations with Atlantis, said the restaurant did send a note to Buttigieg's South Carolina press secretary in which they thanked the candidate for selecting the business for its January event.

"Atlantis restaurant was honored to be selected as the site to host Mayor Pete and Charlemagne for a much-needed conversation on why the next president must invest and not only black business but black people," the note read.

Still, owner Wendell Varner said he never expected to be identified as being a partner of the Buttigieg campaign. Varner said he only learned of the newspaper mention when ABC News contacted him to verify his affiliation with the campaign.

"It's a little disheartening to say that -- that they would say that we have a partnership with them when we don't," Varner said. "We actually don't support any presidential candidate and we try to stay out of politics as a business entity."

After ABC News asked the Buttigieg campaign about the Atlantis statement, the campaign contacted ABC News to say the establishment had agreed to say publicly that they were "proud to partner with Mayor Pete in January."

But the restaurant owner followed up with ABC News again, a few hours later, to make clear he was "not in any type of partnership with the Buttigieg campaign." Varner said he would have allowed any campaign to visit.

"When you say 'partner,' in a sense they paid us to have an event at our restaurant," Varner said.

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Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced pardons for several high-profile individuals in addition to commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The White House announced that he had signed an executive order pardoning former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and later Tuesday, Trump said he would pardon New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik.

During comments to reporters at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday afternoon, Trump acknowledged that he relies on recommendations from those around him in deciding how to apply his pardon power.

Speaking of Kerik, who is a good friend of Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the president said that Kerik "had many good recommendations from a lot of good people."

President Trump says he has pardoned former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik, "who had many recommendations from a lot of good people." https://t.co/mLRJtrTu9x pic.twitter.com/pITKJYZ7Ma

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 18, 2020

Kerik, a former New York police commissioner, was sentenced to 48 months in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty on multiple charges of tax fraud and lying to officials.

He served as Giuliani's body guard during Giuliani's 1993 mayoral campaign and was later appointed to serve as the New York City police commissioner in 2000. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in December 2004 to be the secretary of Homeland Security but withdrew his nomination due to potential tax violations.

Kerik was released from prison in 2013 after serving three years for good behavior. In recent years he's been a frequent defender of Trump's on Fox News. Kerik did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley -- flanked by football legends Jim Brown and Jerry Rice -- announced to reporters earlier Tuesday that the president had signed an executive order pardoning DeBartolo.

Debartolo pleaded guilty in 1998 to concealing an alleged extortion plot by former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, involving the licensing of a casino.

"I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did," Rice told reporters outside of the White House.

In total, Trump granted seven pardons and four commutations on Tuesday.

Michael Milken, the former investment banker who became known for his involvement in an insider trading scandal, was among those who received a pardon.

He pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1990 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, of which he ultimately served two.

During his remarks at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday, Trump praised Milken's philanthropic work, particularly in medical research. The pardon was supported by Giuliani and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He's also known to have a personal relationship with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Trump also issued pardons to Ariel Friedler, a former technology entrepreneur who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to access a protected computer; Paul Pogue, a former construction company owner who underpaid his taxes; David Safavian; a former government official who served one year on perjury charges; and Angela Stanton, a television personality who served six months of home confinement for activities related to a stolen vehicle ring.

In addition to Blagojevich, sentences were commuted for Tynice Nichole Hall, a mother who was sentenced for possession and intent to distribute drugs; Judith Negron, who was serving time on charges related to a scheme to defraud the government, and Crystal Munoz, who was convicted for her role in a marijuana ring.

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