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Zach Gibson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Two prominent House Republicans met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this week over the pace of DOJ document production to Congress, the latest example of friction between congressional Republicans and senior Justice Department officials.

Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio -- members of the House Freedom Caucus and the House Oversight Committee, and allies of President Donald Trump -- met with Rosenstein on Monday to express concern over the "slow pace" and "excessive redactions" of documents turned over to Congress, according to an aide.

The meeting, first reported by the Washington Post, comes as the GOP chairmen of the House Oversight, Intelligence and Judiciary committees have demanded that DOJ turn over copies of James Comey's memos detailing his encounters with Trump to Congress.

Republicans on all three committees are investigating the FBI's handling of the Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations, and have been sharply critical of the pace of DOJ's document production to Congress.

Rosenstein, in a letter to the chairmen earlier this week, asked for a few more days to comply with the request for both unredacted and declassified copies of Comey's memos, citing concerns about releasing any documents related to ongoing investigations or that may contain classified information.

"None of us would want the FBI to release sensitive government records without careful and appropriate review," Rosenstein wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by ABC News.

The meetings with Rosenstein and related DOJ document requests come as Trump expressed frustration with the Russia investigation, the recent FBI raid on his personal lawyer Michael Cohen's home and office, and the ongoing legal proceedings in New York.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told him that he plans to issue a subpoena to force DOJ to turn over the memos.

Citing DOJ regulations preventing the department from turning over materials related to an ongoing criminal investigation to Congress, Nadler accused Republicans of attempting to discredit Rosenstein, who supervises special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"If House Republicans refuse any accommodation short of the Department of Justice handing over custody of these documents -- which it cannot do -- I fear the majority will have manufactured an excuse to hold the deputy attorney general in contempt of Congress," he wrote. "If they succeed in tarnishing the deputy attorney general, perhaps they will have given President Trump the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the special counsel’s investigation."

Asked about the possible firing of Rosenstein or Mueller on Wednesday, Trump dismissed the speculation.

"They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last four five months, but they're still here," Trump said.

A spokesperson for Goodlatte did not return a request for comment.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- President Donald Trump, who is preparing for a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks, said Wednesday that while he will remain "flexible," if he feels the meeting will not be "fruitful" he will leave.

"We’ve never been in a position like this with that regime, whether it’s father grandfather or son," Trump said. "I hope to have a very successful meeting. I few don’t think it will be successful, we won’t have it. If it’s a meeting I don’t think will be fruitful I won't go. If when I’m there, and I don’t think it’s fruitful, I will leave.

"We'll remain flexible here. I’ve gotten it to this point," the president said.

Trump made the comments in a joint press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., at the end of a two-day summit between the leaders.

Asked whether the release of three Americans held prisoner by North Korea is a necessary concession ahead of any summit with Kim, Trump did not reply directly but said his administration is currently working to get the Americans freed.

"We're fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back," Trump said. "There's a chance of having good dialogue. We'll keep you informed. We are in there and we're working very hard on that. We have come a long way with North Korea."

Trump declared that on North Korea, he will not repeat the mistakes of previous administrations and will “continue a campaign of maximum pressure until North Korea denuclearizes.”

“Hopefully that meeting will be a great success and we're looking forward to it. It will be a tremendous thing for North Korea and a tremendous thing for the world. We will be doing everything possible to make it a worldwide success,” Trump said.

Conversations between Trump and Abe have focused on trade and working towards denuclearizing North Korea. On Wednesday morning, Trump confirmed in a tweet that his nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, took a secret trip to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet with Kim and begin laying the groundwork for the upcoming summit.

“I think Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great secretaries of state. And, by the way, he just left North Korea. Had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un, and got along with him really well, really great,” Trump said to reporters during a working lunch with Abe and advisers.

Trump began the Wednesday evening press conference by offering his condolences to the Bush family. First Lady Barbara Bush died Tuesday at her home in Houston, Texas.

“Melania and I send our prayers to Barbara’s husband of 73 years – I’ll never beat that record,” Trump said.

Trump and Abe -- both golf enthusiasts -- played a round at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach Wednesday afternoon.

“Prime Minister @AbeShinzo of Japan and myself this morning building an even deeper and better relationship while playing a quick round of golf at Trump International Golf Club,” tweeted Trump.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- President Donald Trump didn't directly answer on Wednesday when asked whether he's determined it's not worth the political fallout to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein but he noted that both men are still in their jobs.

"They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last four, five months, but they’re still here," Trump said in response to a reporter's question on the topic during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday.

Trump has publicly voiced his frustrations with Mueller and Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation, which Trump has repeatedly described as a "witch hunt." Trump has previously said that many people have advised him that he should fire Mueller.

"I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens," Trump said last week when asked about whether he would consider firing Mueller. "But I think it's really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, 'You should fire him.'"

The president Wednesday again denied broadly that there was any collusion between his campaign and the Russians, which is one of the questions that Mueller's team is investigating.

"There's no collusion," Trump said, going on to dismiss the notion as a Democrat-created hoax.

"This was a really a hoax created largely by the Democrats as a way of softening the blow of a loss which is a loss that frankly, they shouldn't have had from the standpoint that it's very easy for them," Trump said. "They have a tremendous advantage in the electoral college in is what it is and this is where it came from."

Even as he sought to discredit the basis for an investigation, the president made a point to insist that his cooperation has been complete and comprehensive.

"As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been as transparent as I have. I have instructed our lawyers: Be totally transparent," Trump said. "We have given them 1.4 million pages of documents, and haven’t used – as I know of for the most part – presidential powers or privilege.

The president also expressed his hope that "we’re coming to the end" of the investigation. "We want to get the investigation over with, done with. Put it behind us," Trump said.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic co-sponsor of White House-backed prison reform legislation is threatening to walk away from the effort after legislative attempts to attach a concealed carry expansion to the bill, multiple sources familiar with the draft legislation tell ABC News.

“We will walk away [and] have no problem doing so," a source close to House Judiciary Democrats' strategy said. "We're saying put up or shut up. Prove you're serious."

The Prison Reform and Redemption Act, which Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' is co-sponsoring along with Republican Rep. Doug Collins, has the support of the White House in an effort that has been led by the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

But an apparent attempt to tack on an expansion of concealed carry to the bill now has Jeffries reconsidering his position. The draft language is not public and ABC News has not reviewed updates to the bill.

“They’re full of it," a person close to Jeffries said in reference to House Republicans. "We will only support a bill that ensures that currently incarcerated individuals are job ready upon release and respect and protects the dignity of women. This bill fails to meet that standard and is loaded with poison pills. In the aftermath of the Florida school shooting when a country is moving toward gun safety, they try to expand concealed carry, which is a nonstarter."

"This bill fails to meet that standard and is loaded with poison pills. In the aftermath of the Florida school shooting when a country is moving toward gun safety, they try to expand concealed carry, which is a nonstarter," the source said.

Kushner was on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a meeting on the legislation and had expected to meet with Jeffries along with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Collins, among members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, according to a list of expected participants provided by the White House.

Jeffries, however, did not attend the meeting. His office declined to comment on his absence.

But a White House official said that Kushner and Jeffries now plan to have a call on Thursday to go over the language of the legislation. The official also would not elaborate on Jeffries' absence from the meeting earlier in the day.

The White House also did not elaborate on the addition of the concealed carry element to the legislation and did not take a position on the change.

Mark Holden, who leads a Koch brothers-backed prison reform group and has worked in close partnership with Kushner's team on the issue, says he hasn't heard from anyone who favors the change either at the White House or among conservative groups collaborating on the issue.

"We’ve been talking for months about a clean prison reform, this is not a clean reform bill," Holden said.

Democratic prison reform advocate Van Jones was at the meeting with Kushner this morning. While his group #Cut50 remains engaged in the process, Jones has described the concealed carry addition to the legislation as being "bird poop in the cool aid" and of serious concern.

"We believe strongly that we should be at the table helping negotiate, but there are some things need to be changed," #cut 50 co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan said.

Jeffries continues to view Kushner, as well as his Republican co-sponsor Rep. Collins, as serious partners in the legislative effort to address prison reform, a person familiar with the effort said and added that the reason for the current impasse appears to be other Congressional Republicans who have since gotten involved in the effort.

Rep. Jeffries' office declined to comment for this story. Rep. Collins office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Collins-Jeffries bill had been on track to be considered at the committee level in the House this month.



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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Senate — a body steeped in tradition that rarely changes its ways — has passed a rule change proposed by Sen. Tammy Duckworth that will allow her to breastfeed her newborn daughter on the Senate floor.

The resolution, passed by unanimous consent, will allow all senators, men and women, to bring their children under the age of one onto the floor.

In a statement, Duckworth thanked her Democratic and Republican colleagues for “helping bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work.”

Last week, Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, became the first sitting senator to give birth while in office — and with that, she’s experiencing for the first time in history how a new mother might try to balance the needs of a newborn with her duties in the Senate. Before the rule change, no children were allowed on the Senate floor, which could pose a host of problems for a senator with a newborn to take care of and feed, an aide to Duckworth said.

“By ensuring that no Senator will be prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities simply because they have a young child, the Senate is leading by example and sending the important message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies,” Duckworth said after the resolution passed.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, is the ranking member on the Senate Rules Committee, which passed the rule change Tuesday night.

“The Senate doesn’t change a lot of things but I think it's time to join the real world with family-friendly policies,” Klobuchar said in an interview with ABC News before the resolution passed. “We have to be an example for the rest of the country and that's why we’re doing this, in addition to — we’d like more women in the Senate,” she said.

“Tammy is the ultimate working mom. She served our country in the military, she lost her legs, she had a baby at age 50 — it’s kind of hard to say no to her,” Klobuchar said of Duckworth, who lost her legs in 2004 when the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

With the rule change, Duckworth will be able to remain on the Senate floor if she needs to breastfeed her baby during a series of votes, which can take hours, or bring her daughter if she’s called in for a late-night, last-minute vote, an aide to Duckworth said.

And, Klobuchar joked, the Rules committee has made a “unilateral decision” that there will be no dress code for the baby. “The various rules that apply to senators like not wearing tennis shoes or flip-flops will not apply to the baby,” Klobuchar said. The baby will also not have to wear an official United States Senate lapel pin, and onesies will be allowed, she said.

Duckworth began negotiating the resolution over the course of her pregnancy with senators on both sides of the aisle. Her office was cautiously optimistic, bolstered by bipartisan support from the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and Klobuchar, a Duckworth aide said.

“These policies aren’t just a women’s issue, they are a common-sense economic issue,” Duckworth said in her statement after the resolution passed.

A few months ago, Duckworth predicted that her pregnancy would force some family-friendly policy changes in the Senate.

“Number one, it's going to change some Senate rules because I’m going to make sure it changes some Senate rules. The more women we get into office the more family-friendly legislation we’re going to have,” Duckworth said in February in an interview with Politico.

While Duckworth welcomed her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, on April 9, she isn’t technically taking maternity leave, which would bar her from sponsoring legislation or voting for as long as she was out.

Instead, Duckworth will stay in Washington on an unofficial leave rather than heading home to Illinois. “She’s taking much of the next 12 weeks to bond with her new daughter and with family but she is available to come in for close votes as needed,” Duckworth’s press secretary Sean Savett said.

The current resolution doesn’t tackle parental leave for senators, which doesn’t exist because of the complexities of working that into a representative body, but it alleviates one problem parents might run into. Other fixes could be subsidized daycare, or not scheduling votes around specific time reserved for family, said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics and assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“Those are all different ways to better accommodate the multifaceted lives of members without necessarily trying to find a way to take an extended leave, not because they aren't entitled to it, but because of complications that would raise in terms of our representative system,” Dittmar told ABC News.

Rachel Pike-Norton, a constituent who voted for Duckworth in Chicago, had a baby just 12 weeks before the senator. With the non-profit organization PL US, or Paid Leave for the United States, she started a petition asking that Duckworth be able to bring her baby onto the Senate floor. The petition now has over 20,000 signatures.

“As her constituent, it's great to see her in this position, really dedicated to her job and to being a mom, but hard to see the rules keeping her back at the same time,” she said in an interview before the resolution passed.

Though she’s dealing with her own challenges as a working mother with a newborn, Pike-Norton said she wanted to start the petition for Duckworth, and future senators, because it encompasses what it means to be a working mom.

“I do think some of these policy changes will make that a little easier,” she said. “We’re not asking for special treatment — it’s just that we also have this other huge title, being a mom,” Pike-Norton said. “At its core what the conflict is is that you need to be accessible to the baby,” she said.

And it’s a conflict that will come up more and more often as more women are elected to the Senate, said Pike-Norton, who used to work as a Senate staffer.

"It’s the ultimate conflict as a working mom. You feel a sense of duty to your work and to your family and you feel conflicted all the time. Am I doing a good job being a mom? Am I doing a good job being an employee? I feel that way today,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Illinois, where she was home with her 13-week-old son.

“I think it's time for this change, it’s an easy change, it makes sense, she's a working mom — we should allow her to be a working mom and make things a little bit easier for her,” Pike-Norton said.

The Senate changed its rules in 1977 to allow service dogs, wheelchairs and interpreters on the floor. While Duckworth was just nine years old at the time, it is a change that now affects her life greatly given her disability.

Klobuchar said it's well past time for the Senate to change its rules once again.

"The truth is, too many American moms aren't in positions of power to change the rules, which is why it's so important for those of us who are in positions of power to be champions of change, not just here in the Senate but in workplaces across the country," Klobuchar on the Senate floor Tuesday night.



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Heidi Gutman/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Stormy Daniels released a sketch of a man she says threatened her seven years ago. Even though the artist responsible for the sketch has the Guinness World Record for most identifications by a forensic artist, this case isn’t going to join those ranks, law enforcement experts say.

The adult film star, who has accused the unidentified man of threatening her to stay quiet about an alleged affair she had with President Donald Trump, claims the alleged incident happened in 2011. This means that when she sat down with a sketch artist recently, the incident would have been nearly a decade old.

David Brown, the former chief of the Dallas Police Department, said that composite sketches aren't always accurate even in the best of circumstances when the details of a suspect or person of interest are at the top of one's mind.

“Normally, when you’re putting out a composite sketch to the public it’s a little bit of a Hail Mary pass because you don’t have any other leads or suspect information and you’re soliciting the public’s help in finding a suspect,” said Brown, who is now an ABC News consultant.

While composite sketches are a commonly accepted tool and are used by the FBI and some of the country’s top police departments, they aren’t widely seen as an extremely accurate tool.

“In the world of sketch artists, the estimates are that less than 10 percent appear to be effective,” said Brad Garrett, a former FBI profiler, and current ABC News consultant.

How sketches are made

The talent of sketch artists extends beyond their work on the page, Garrett explained.

“The really good ones are terrific interviewers because that’s what you need to be,” he said, noting how artists will spend hours with a witness or victim, sometimes almost immediately after the crime occurs, meaning that they may have to spend time “consoling and calming” the individual down.

Many begin by asking the person to start recalling details before the alleged incident, he said, with questions about what time they woke up, or what they had for breakfast, or what their children wore to school that morning.

“[They] walk them through until they feel comfortable,” he said.

Once the attention turns to describing the attacker or suspect, the sketch artist will ask the individual to “try to focus on a particular aspect” of the suspect’s face, and then go into details on that before expanding outward. For example, Garrett said if the artist started by asking about the suspect’s eyes, they would ask about their eye color, if their pupils were large or small, if they saw the whites in their eyes, and then they would expand out to their eyebrows and their nose and then the rest of their face.

After that thorough questioning, many sketch artists have a copy or a version of something called the FBI picture book, which is filled with “photos of non-suspects,” Garrett said. The individual then pieces different parts together, looking at different features from the different photos that match those descriptions.

Even in the best of circumstances, when details of the person of interest or suspect are plentiful, it’s not expected to be identical.

“Good sketch artists would tell you the following: ‘I’m trying to get you a resemblance of the person you saw, it’s not like a photograph,’” Garrett said.

The sketch released by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer

As for the sketch that Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti released on “The View” on Tuesday, law enforcement experts were not optimistic about the chances of finding the alleged perpetrator.

John Cohen, a former acting Homeland Security undersecretary who has 32 years of law enforcement experience, said that the passage of time will undoubtedly impact the accuracy of the sketch.

“It’s difficult for me to believe that there wasn’t at least some fading of memory or the image you have in your mind being conflated with other images that you have in your mind,” said Cohen, who is now an ABC News consultant. “On the other hand, if this occurred as she described, it probably was a very horrifying event and in situations such as that I’ve seen witnesses or victims maintain a very clear image in their mind.”

For Brown, the bigger concerns stem from the lack of memorable or unique characteristics of the alleged perpetrator’s face.

“I don’t know how helpful this will be -- I think there’s zero chance this will help identify the person,” Brown said.

“This is a pretty generic sketch. There's no tattoos or unique markings or distinctions on the person that would single them out, so it would be tough for the public to say they know who that person is,” he said, adding. “It’s not helpful without some unique identifiers in the composite sketch.”



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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(NEW YORK)-- On Friday afternoon, as lawyers for Michael Cohen gathered in a downtown Manhattan courtroom to dispute federal prosecutors’ right to access records seized during a raid on their client’s home and office, a different sort of gathering was underway in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

This one featured cigars, cameras – and Michael Cohen.

Among those photographed sharing cigars with Cohen outside his Upper East Side hotel on Friday were two men who appeared to be Rotem Rosen and Jerry Rotonda as identified by ABC News. Rosen and Rotonda are co-founders of a Manhattan-based real estate group called MRR Development.

ABC News was not able to identify the other men surrounding Cohen in these images.

MRR Development did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment on this story. ABC was not able to contact Rosen on Monday after repeated attempts to contact him at phone numbers attributed to him. ABC News was not able to reach Rotonda at multiple phone numbers attributed to him, his former office, and his apartment on Monday either.

The two men have surfaced repeatedly on the periphery of Donald Trump’s social and business circles and have been recurring characters in the cast that surrounded the future president before he moved to the White House.

In 2007, Rosen, an Israeli-American businessman, married the daughter of Alex Sapir, who developed the Trump SoHo building in Manhattan, at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to reports from the time. A year later, an invitation to their son’s bris ceremony included Donald Trump and Jared Kushner on the guest list.

In 2013, Rosen attended the infamous Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. A photograph taken at the pageant shows Rosen alongside Trump.

A real estate developer by trade, Rosen reportedly took part in discussions about breaking ground on a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to various news outlets. ABC News has reported that conversations about a Trump Tower in Moscow did take place, but that the project never moved beyond preliminary talks.

Rosen also worked for the American branch of a holdings firm called Africa Israel Investments Ltd., a company owned by Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev, who has business ties with Jared Kushner and personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2007, Leviev told The New York Times that he considers Putin a “true friend”. In 2015, Kushner’s family company, Kuchner Cos., purchased part of the old New York Times building from Leviev’s firm, Africa Israel.

Jerry Rotonda is a former Deutsche Bank executive who served as CFO for the company’s wealth management division.

Though it is unclear whether Rotonda had any direct involvement in business deals with Trump, Deutsche Bank has backed Trump development projects. Deutsche Bank lent the Trump Organization more than $300 million for real estate transactions before Trump became president, ABC News has previously reported. The bank helped finance a number of Trump’s high-profile developments, including the renovation of the Old Post Office in Washington, the purchase of the Doral golf course in Florida and the construction of an office building in Chicago.

In December of 2017, ABC News reported that the special counsel Robert Mueller had sent a subpoena to Deutsche seeking records.

“Deutsche Bank takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations into this matter,” a company statement said at the time. Trump’s legal team disputed reports the subpoena is related to the president.

According to public records and confirmed by a source close to him, Rotonda lives in Trump World Tower in Manhattan – where Michael Cohen has served on the Board of Directors.

Cohen, who served as President Trump’s personal attorney for over a decade, has been under criminal investigation for months, federal prosecutors in New York said in court documents obtained by ABC News.

The investigation is largely focused on his personal business dealings, though prosecutors did say in those court documents that they have already secretly obtained search warrants for various email accounts associated with Cohen and found no messages between him and the president.

On Monday, a federal judge rejected efforts by President Trump and his personal attorney to keep law enforcement from accessing records seized in the Cohen raids last week.

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Jason Andrew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Newly released calendars for one of the most controversial trips of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure were largely blacked out before being shared with ABC News.

The 47-hour journey in Morocco was already drawing congressional scrutiny and criticism from outside groups because of the lack transparency over why Pruitt was in the country and what he was doing while he was there.

In Morocco, he spent at least a portion of his time promoting exports for U.S. energy firms. Conservative congressional estimates put the cost of the trip at more than $40,000, and because of travel snags, Pruitt and his aides spent two days in Paris at high-end hotels.

Pruitt did not publicly announce he was going ahead of time, did not bring reporters along, and when he finally released copies of his itinerary in response to Freedom of Information requests from ABC News and other news organizations, the bulk of the schedule was blacked out.
“The substantial redaction of calendars from his trip to Morocco, in which he apparently spent substantial taxpayer money to work on an issue that could benefit donors and those with ties to him, seems like just the latest example of the inappropriate secrecy he has brought to every aspect of his job.,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.

What is known about Pruitt’s trip to Morocco last December comes from a press statement he released as he departed to fly back to D.C. According to the EPA press release, he discussed U.S. environmental priorities and the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement with Moroccan leaders and, to the surprise of some, promoted benefit of liquid natural gas imports in Morocco.

At the time of the trip, the only U.S. company that exported liquid natural gas was represented by a top Washington lobbyist who arranged $50-a-night housing for Pruitt when he first moved to town. The company, Cheniere, and the lobbyist, Steven Hart, both told ABC News they did not ask Pruitt to promote the exports in Morocco.

A spokesman for Hart told ABC News that he did not lobby the EPA in 2017, but federal lobbying records show that he was registered as a lobbyist for Cheniere at the time Pruitt lived in the condo co-owned by his wife, also a prominent DC lobbyist.

The EPA's inspector general is looking into Pruitt's travel as part of its audit of whether all the agency's travel decisions followed the proper procedure. That inquiry was expanded to include the Morocco trip after a letter from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking member of the Senate committee with oversight of EPA, expressed concern about the cost. Pruitt's first-class flight alone cost $17,000 and at least one of his aides and members of his security detail also flew first class.

Most agency heads are authorized to travel first class on trans Atlantic flights, but the cost of the trip concerned members of Congress who were already looking at his high domestic and international travel costs.

The time Pruitt spent discussing Liquid Natural Gas raised the most questions about the trip.

Carper specifically noted that gas exports are not part of EPA's mission.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also wrote to Pruitt directly about the trip earlier this month. Whitehouse voiced concern that Pruitt's decision to visit Morocco was influenced by companies and lobbying groups that have business interests in natural gas exports.

"For a trip The Washington Post estimated cost $17,000 for you, and that included at least 10 EPA staff, your official business consisted of one full working day, and two days each with one, one-hour meeting," Whitehouse wrote in the letter.

Four Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee also asked the EPA to provide information on the trip. A spokesman said they have not received any response from the agency.

A copy of Pruitt's schedule during the trip obtained by ABC News through a Freedom of Information Act request confirms that Pruitt met with Moroccan government officials on environmental matters, toured a green energy facility and met with the chairman of Morocco's state-owned mining company, all meetings that were also listed on his public schedule.

But four pages of the of the six-page schedule are redacted in the publicly released documents. Other than Pruitt's meeting with the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy CEO Mustapha Bakkoury on December 11, no other events from that day are identified. A large block of the schedule is redacted citing the "deliberative process privilege" allowed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Typically, that’s an exception used to avoid releasing the details of internal policy discussions before they are finalized, so as to prevent confusing the public, according to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press website.

The EPA cites the exemption repeatedly to justify deletions throughout the 350 pages of schedules the EPA released this week, including his activities on New Year's Day.

Whitehouse wrote in a letter earlier this month that he has reviewed copies of Pruitt's schedule that show he traveled with his family to the Rose Bowl and Disneyland during that time.

Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said the use of the Deliberative Process Privilege is problematic in this case because previous court cases have said it can't be used to redact purely factual information like the date, time, or who attended a meeting.

Marshall called it the "withhold it because you want to" exemption because agencies routinely overuse it.

"We know from past experiences that [the exemption is] used to withhold embarrassing and politically inconvenient information from the public," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Bookbinder said EPA has for months, systematically withheld records about Pruitt's meetings and work at the agency that are necessary for basic oversight. Multiple news organizations and watchdog groups have sued EPA for documents related to Pruitt's schedule, which the EPA refuses to release in advance of his events citing security reasons.

Marshall also said that agencies should proactively release calendars and other documents that they know reporters and members of the public will be interested in.

"I think the public interest in agency heads in general and the EPA, in particular, is enormous. It's obvious that there's an incredible amount of desire for this information and the agencies in general and EPA, in particular, should be proactively releasing this information," he said.

The EPA has not yet responded to questions about redactions in his calendar.



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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- President Donald Trump is expressing confidence that CIA director Mike Pompeo will be confirmed as secretary of state, following a stern warning from the White House Wednesday that opposition to his nomination could imperil efforts to negotiate a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"He’s a great gentleman and I think he’ll go down as a great secretary of state," Trump said when asked by reporters at Mar-a-Lago whether he was concerned that Pompeo's nomination could be derailed.

Trump then praised Pompeo over the news that broke Tuesday evening of his secret trip to North Korea on Easter weekend to meet directly with Kim.

“He just left North Korea," Trump said. "Had a great meeting with Kim Jong Un and got along with him really well, really great.”

Trump added, "I have a feeling it's going to work out very well and I think our country really needs him."

Democrats who oppose Pompeo's confirmation have said they are skeptical of his diplomatic skills and some have cited concerns with his previous statements that they said were discriminatory towards LGBT people and Muslims.

With Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul a 'no' on his confirmation and Arizona Sen. John McCain absent from the Senate, Pompeo would need all other Republicans plus at least one Democrat to achieve the 51 votes needed to be confirmed.

But Trump said Wednesday that he believed Sen. Paul, whom the president said he considers a close friend, would potentially come around.

"I will say this about Rand Paul, he’s never let me down," Trump said. "And I don’t think he’ll let us down again."

Paul has described Pompeo among the "crazy neoconservatives" President Trump originally built his campaign in opposition to, and said shortly after Pompeo and CIA director nominee Gina Haspel were announced that he would "do everything I can to block them."

Following the president's comments Wednesday, Paul said he had talked with Trump on the phone and would meet with Pompeo "out of respect for the president," but that it would take a lot to change his mind.

Earlier Wednesday, the White House warned simmering Senate opposition to Pompeo's nomination could pose consequences for national security – and potentially undermine the high-stakes negotiations with North Korea he is personally overseeing.

"The trust that President Trump has in Director Pompeo, including having him represent the president and country in those initial talks with North Korea – that tells you how the president is already viewing Director Pompeo as the nation's chief diplomat - in what we expect will be his next role, confident will be his next role - as secretary of state," said counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway on a conference call with reporters.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and a top Trump foreign policy ally, said a Senate failure to give Pompeo a strong bipartisan endorsement could undercut diplomatic efforts on the heels of his trip to Pyongyang.

"He's already invested deeply in the upcoming summit between the president and Kim Jong Un. It would be a very bad sign and I think set back the preparation and perhaps even results of that upcoming summit for Senate Democrats to oppose as a bloc Mike Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state," Cotton said on the call.

Even some Democrats who have expressed opposition to Pompeo were encouraged by news of his secret meeting earlier this month with Kim.

"I think this is the kind of discussion that has no downside and may have an upside," Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, who has already announced his no-vote for Pompeo, said Wednesday.

Of multiple Democrats interviewed by ABC News Wednesday, only Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez was sour about the fact that Pompeo didn't brief the committee during his hearing proceedings.

"If truth and being forthcoming as the secretary of state nominee is one of the standards we like to see for the next secretary of state, I think he failed that," Menendez said.

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Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Former FBI Director James Comey today defended himself against critiques of his new book and criticism of his remarks about the Republican Party during his promotional tour, though admitting he would leave out a paragraph about President Trump if he had to write it all over again.

“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” which went on sale Wednesday, is not a “tell-all,” he said on ABC’s “The View” Wednesday morning.

“I don't think of it as a tell-all. It’s a whole lot more than the stories that are in the last few chapters in the book,” he said. “It’s about mistakes I made, things I’m very much ashamed of [that] I did when I was younger.”

He also pushed back on “The View” co-host Meghan McCain’s comment that J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, would be “rolling in his grave” over Comey’s book.

“It has no classified information in it, no sensitive investigative information in it, and I know that because I wrote it and the FBI reviewed it, so I think J. Edgar Hoover would say you followed the rules and you were transparent,” Comey said.

“J. Edgar Hoover had a number of flaws. One of them was he wasn’t a transparent person; he was all about secret files,” he said, referencing the files Hoover kept on political leaders.

Transparency “has to be a huge part of the FBI,” he said, adding, “we have to show people our work when we can.”

To that point, he agreed with the U.S. Inspector General office’s investigation into Andrew McCabe, Comey’s successor at the FBI. The report, released last Friday, accused McCabe of “lacking candor” on multiple occasions and violating FBI policy when he authorized the disclosure of sensitive investigative information to a reporter.

On “The View” Wednesday morning, Comey said he stands by his earlier statements that he believes McCabe is a good man but notes that good men can lie.

“The McCabe case illustrates what an organization that’s committed to the truth looks like. ... I ordered the investigation. We investigate and hold people accountable,” Comey said.

“I still believe Andrew McCabe is a good person but the Inspector General found that he lied but there are severe consequences in the Justice Department for lying, as there should be throughout the government,” he said.

As for the discussion of his views on the political parties, including the Republican Party, of which he was a registered member for much of his adult life before becoming FBI director with no party affiliation who abstained from voting in 2016, Comey doesn't see a problem in his pointing out what he feels are values issues.

"I don't think of it as my politics,” he said. “I think of it as my values.

"I don't care whether people support a Republican or a Democrat because I'm not either. I don't care who they support. I hope the conversation will start with values and come to policy second because we're always going to fight about guns and taxes and immigration, but all we are as this country are a collection of values and that's what connects Republicans and Democrats," he said.

Comey said there has been one piece of criticism about the book that has caused him to reconsider what he included. It comes in response to critics who have pointed to certain details about President Trump’s appearance that some say reduce the credibility of the book, including mention of the color of the then-president-elect’s skin, the likelihood that he used tanning beds, the styling of his hair and the size of his hands.

“If I had to do over again,” Comey said, “I wouldn’t put that paragraph in.

“I really wasn’t trying to pick on Donald Trump,” he said, adding that he thinks people have “seized on to [the descriptions] as a distraction.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the nation’s top counterintelligence officials said Wednesday he knows "there are still a handful” of Russian intelligence officers operating undercover on U.S. soil, even after the Trump and Obama administrations kicked out nearly 100 such operatives over the past two years.

Nevertheless, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina, said the ousting of those known intelligence officers had a “decipherable, measurable” impact on the Russian government’s ability to collect intelligence inside the United States.

In March, after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom, the Trump administration expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers from the United States.

“I think there are still a handful left. I know there are,” Evanina said. “And I think the White House is holding them out as potential sanctions in the future if activity continues.”

Speaking at the Aspen Institute in Washington on Wednesday, Evanina suggested that Russian aggression is unlikely to recede anytime soon, and he warned that Russian intelligence services are likely plotting future campaigns to interfere with the 2018 midterm elections and the presidential race in 2020 – a repeat of what they allegedly were able to accomplish in 2016.

“I think they exceeded their expectations of success,” Evanina said of the election meddling. “They extremely succeeded.”

According to Evanina, Americans have yet to appreciate the extent to which Russian operatives are “utilizing our society against us.”

He pointed to how Russian operatives used social media platforms like Facebook to spread false information and inflame tensions across America.

“I don’t think anybody really realized the capabilities that we saw,” especially as outlined in a recent federal indictment charging 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for their roles a massive campaign to conduct what authorities described as “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

One of the companies, the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, employed hundreds of people – from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support – for its online operations, according to the Justice Department.

“After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the President-elect while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election,” the Justice Department said in a press release. “For example, the defendants organized one rally to support the President-elect and another rally to oppose him—both in New York, on the same day.”

On Wednesday, Evanina said the U.S. government and public didn’t recognize how far Russian officials were willing to go to “influence” the U.S. democratic process.

“The mindset to say, ‘We’re going to utilize a purely American part of our fabric – Facebook – to facilitate this discord,’ is not only creative, but it’s a mindset that we in the U.S. don’t clearly take stock in,” Evanina said.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- That two top Trump administration officials got into a spat over Russia sanctions is a sign of potential White House confusion over its own foreign policy.

And a key reason appears to be the president himself - who officials say decided at the last minute to hold off on any sanctions in his continued hopes of having a "good relationship" with Vladimir Putin.

Questions about where U.S. foreign policy stands and is being communicated were highlighted when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley famously pushed back Tuesday on the suggestion that she was confused about possible new sanctions for Russian military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But that suggestion came from a top White House official – Larry Kudlow.

Kudlow, the conservative television personality turned director of the National Economic Council, had told reporters that Haley "got ahead of the curve... there might have been some momentary confusion about that."

Kudlow was referring to Haley's comments over the weekend, when she told CBS's "Face the Nation" that, "Russian sanctions will be coming down. [Treasury] Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already. And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons used."

But Monday came and went with no sanctions because President Trump had decided to put off a decision imposing additional sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Syrian chemical attack, administration officials told ABC News.

The White House issued only a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders that said, "We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future."

But Kudlow made it seem like Haley had made a mistake – and Haley defended herself strongly.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," she said in a phone call with Fox News's Dana Perino, that Perino read on air and a U.S. mission spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

Hours later, Kudlow apologized, telling ABC News, "There was a process mistake and I shouldn't have said what I said, but I was wrong. She wasn't confused."

He declined to elaborate on what that "process mistake" was, but he told the New York Times, "The policy was changed and she wasn’t told about it, so she was in a box," according to the paper.

That confirmed what multiple outlets had reported, that the administration was preparing to sanction Russia over Syria, but backed down last minute.

Administration officials have told ABC News that the president decided to hold off for now in part to see how Russia reacts to the joint U.S.-U.K.-French airstrikes launched on Syria over the weekend before deciding whether further punitive actions are necessary. Trump remains interested in improved relations with Russia and is still open to sitting down with President Vladimir Putin, potentially even at the White House, they added.

"The president still would like to sit down with him," Sanders said Monday. "Again, he feels like it's better for the world if they have a good relationship. But that's going to depend on the actions of Russia. We've been very clear, in our actions, what we expect. And we hope that they'll have a change in their behavior."



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Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After his interview with former FBI director James Comey that aired in an ABC special Sunday, ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos shared his impressions with Powerhouse Politics hosts Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein.

“It was one of the longest and most intense interviews of my career,” Stephanopoulos said.

And the stakes were high.

Although Comey wants to sell books, Stephanopoulos said Comey realized he would and should face tough questions.

“He wanted to be pressed and that would help him. It wouldn’t do him any good if he got “fluff ball treatment” on his book tour,” Stephanopoulos said.

And Stephanopoulos said overriding all of Comey's comments was his sharply negative view of the man who fired him.

“He has nothing but disdain for President Trump,” Stephanopoulos said, adding, “And it clearly pains him to think he had a big role in electing Donald Trump. I don’t think he can admit that.”

But Stephanopoulos said one thing became clear.

“Whatever you want to say about him, James Comey is not a liar,” he said, adding “That doesn’t mean that all of his answers are satisfactory.”

Klein, Karl and Stephanopoulos agreed that one big question remains as Comey continues on his book tour: Where would we be if the president had not fired James Comey?



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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen has suggested four former federal prosecutors serve as special master to review material seized from his properties in an FBI raid.
The recommendations came in a letter to Judge Kimba Wood, who had requested candidates from the parties involved in deciding what records are covered by the attorney-client privilege.

Wood did not commit to appointing a special master but said during a Monday hearing “In terms of the perception of fairness a special master might have a role.”

Cohen’s attorneys suggested Bart Schwartz of Guidepost Solutions, Joan McPhee of Ropes & Gray LLP, Tai Park of Park Jensen Bennett LLP or George S. Canellos of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

Canellos is a former enforcement director for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Park defended Ng Lap Seng in a United Nation’s bribery case. All four are former prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the same office that has been investigating Cohen for months over what they’ve called “personal business matters.”

Prosecutors put forth their recommendations for a special master in a court filing Wednesday though reiterated they would prefer to have their internal “taint team” weed out potentially privileged files.

“The Government continues to believe, for the reasons articulated at Monday’s conference, that a Special Master is not warranted,” prosecutors wrote.

They suggested three former federal magistrate judges as a potential third party referee: Frank Maas, James Francis IV, and Theodore Katz.

Maas spent 17 years on the federal bench and was appointed as an arbitrator to resolve disputes arising out of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Francis spent more than 30 years as a federal magistrate and was, for a time, the Chief Magistrate in the Southern District of New York. He oversaw the settlements of hundreds of lawsuits over mass arrests by the NYPD during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Katz served 21 years as a federal magistrate in New York and became known as a thoughtful settlement judge. In one notable case, he presided over the settlement of a breach of advertising contract involving actress Charlize Theron.

Cohen has asked the judge to appoint an independent third party to review the material. President Trump did not agree.

“The president objects to anyone other than himself making the initial assessment of what’s privileged,” his attorney Joanna Hendon said.

On Monday Wood declined to issue a temporary restraining order but she did not rule on how the review would proceed. Prosecutors agreed to provide copies of everything seized – including 10 boxes of documents and about a dozen electronic devices – to the legal teams of Cohen and Trump and promised not to read anything until the judge decides.

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Pete Marovich/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the office is opening a probe into Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's spending since he took over the helm of the agency.

The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday that the EPA violated a federal funding law by spending $43,000 on a secure phone booth for Pruitt's office without notifying Congress first.

"We take the anti-deficiency statute very, very seriously, and if they've been broken, we'll follow the rules, we will enforce the law, and we'll do so in a transparent fashion," Mulvaney told a congressional committee on Tuesday, adding that "we're not interested in covering for anyone else."

Pruitt and the EPA have been under intense scrutiny for the cost of Pruitt's security detail and his travel, which included first-class flights recommended by his security detail.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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