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  • United States Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- The indictment Friday of 13 Russians accused of waging "information warfare" in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is raising new questions about why the Trump administration still has not imposed sanctions designed to punish Russia and deter it from interfering in the 2018 midterms.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked on the CBS program "60 Minutes" why the administration has not done what Congress directed when it overwhelmingly passed legislation last summer calling for new sanctions.“We have and we are,” he responded. “We've taken steps that have already prevented a number of Russian military sales as a result of the legislation, and we are evaluating additional individuals for possible sanctioning."But while the administration argues that the threat of sanctions has met the intended effect of the law, there have been no new sanctions on Russia since its passage, leading Democrats to express outrage.Trump begrudgingly signed the law in August, but warned it was unconstitutional in parts. Since then, there have been questions about whether he would fully enforce the law designed to tie his hands and force him to clamp down on Russia, especially because he's also repeatedly declined to even criticize Russia's actions.In October, the administration missed a deadline by weeks to publish a list of Russian entities and individuals in the defense and intelligence sectors. Those groups are already under sanctions, but anyone doing business with them would face American sanctions starting January 29.But when that day came, the State and Treasury departments did not impose any sanctions, instead saying the threat of sanctions had achieved the goal of disrupting and ending billions of dollars worth of such deals."Since the enactment of the CAATSA legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement at the time, using an acronym for the law - Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.The administration has not published any evidence or details of the allegedly disrupted deals, citing private diplomatic conversations. Trump administration officials did, however, brief members of Congress about their efforts, which at least satisfied even Democrats initially.Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., then the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “welcomed” the briefing and said he “appreciate[d] the administration’s engagement with Congress on this issue.” Cardin was one of the authors of the sanctions law, officially called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.Since then, the pressure for more sanctions has escalated. Last Thursday, the White House released a statement blaming Russia for a massive cyber attack last year known as the “NotPetya” that overwhelmed Ukraine and hit some businesses, banks, and media organizations in other countries. The following day, special counsel Robert Mueller announced indictments against 13 Russian citizens, laying out in great detail Russia’s intricate plot to interfere and disrupt the U.S. presidential election.Together, the two underscored the seriousness of the cyber threat from Russia, renewing calls for sanctions — and criticism of Trump for not taking seriously enough the danger, especially after his top administration officials like Tillerson and CIA director Mike Pompeo have warned Russia is looking to interfere again in the 2018 congressional elections.“Since coming into office, President Trump has failed to address the ongoing threat to our security posed by Russia’s international assault on the democratic process,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., now the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Friday
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Students from the Washington, D.C. area protested outside the White House Monday, calling for lawmakers to reform gun laws after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. last week."The most important thing is that the government knows that kids in our generation are getting involved with this issue," said Hollis Cutler, 17, a Washington, D.C.-area high school junior.During the protest, organized by a group called Teens for Gun Reform, 17 students laid on the ground for three minutes in front of the White House to symbolize the 17 people killed last week and how long it takes to purchase a firearm, according to one of the student organizers, high school junior Eleanor Nuechterlein."My friend Whitney and I decided that we wanted to take action because politicians haven't done anything really since ten years ago. There's been so many school shootings since then and nothing's really been done and we wanted to intact change and because we're under 18, we can't vote," said Nuechterlein.Last Friday, Nuechterlein, 16, and her classmate and friend, Whitney Bowen, 16, began organizing the White House protest and formed "Teens for Gun Reform" with the premise that it would be students speaking out for other students."We as teenagers want something to be done. It's not our parents, it's not adults. It's something that we truly believe needs to change," said Nuechterlein.The student organizers felt that a protest was the best way to have their voices heard.Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were shot and killed by a former student last week, have called for a national march on Washington, D.C. on March 24 to call on lawmakers to take action to prevent future mass shootings.Nuechterlein said she would like to see background checks required for all gun sales. She said that the students weren't partisan, but rather asking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to listen."Both political parties should come together and change something because at the end of the day there are kids in school that are worried about their safety and that's not okay," she said.Congressman Don Beyer, D-Va., who joined the protest Monday, said he hoped these young people would "finally" give Congress the motivation it needs to address gun violence."When I was growing up, sometimes we had to hide under our desk in case there was a nuclear attack, but these guys have to hide under their desks all the time -- school shooting after school shooting," he said.Beyer said he would like Congress to pass federal laws that allow families and law enforcement to put mentally ill people on the background check list, but acknowledged that it might not get done this year.Protesters on Monday held signs that read "Protect Kids, Not Guns" and "How about our children's rights?" while someone read the names of a decade's worth of school shooting victims over a bullhorn.The 17 students who laid on the ground - arms crossed on their chests and American flags across their bodies - were joined by what appeared to be nearly 100 other young people and supporters on the ground with them."I was sitting there and thinking about all of the families and all of the friends and all of the people who have been so hurt or killed by school shootings and the politicians are the voice of the people and we are the people," said Bowen about what went through her mind during the "lie-in."After getting up, Bowen and Nuechterlein said they wanted people to recognize that there are young voices calling for change and although they aren't old enough to vote, "we are the ones in the classrooms" and "we're not okay with what's happening around us."After most of the young people stood up, a crowd clashed with what appeared to be the lone counter-protester, who was holding a sign that read, "Many armed staff behind us here, why not schools." People yelled and circled around the counter-protester.At one point a Secret Service officer stepped in a
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  • United States Environmental Protection Agency (WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has canceled a scheduled trip to Israel amid scrutiny over his high travel costs.Documents released last week showed that Administrator Scott Pruitt racked up nearly $200,000 in travel expenses for him and his staff, including some chartered flights and upgraded tickets to first or business class.EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said Sunday that the agency decided to postpone a planned trip to Israel, though she did not give a specific reason. The Washington Post reported that Pruitt was scheduled to meet with the country's environmental minister and tour infrastructure sites like a water recycling plant.“We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future,” Bowman said in a statement.The EPA said last week that the administrator flies first class for security reasons. Pruitt explained then he had experienced multiple unfriendly encounters while he was traveling in his first few months as administrator."There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator as I've flown and I spent time of interaction that's not been the best and so ingress and egress off the plane, the security aspect, those are decision all made by our detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don't make any of those decisions," Pruitt told ABC affiliate WMUR in New Hampshire last week.Pruitt has more security than previous administrators because there have been more threats against him, according to EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who said last week Pruitt has a waiver to fly first or business class because of those security concerns.Multiple other administration officials have been under fire for their high travel spending, most recently Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. A VA Office of Inspector General report Shulkin said inappropriately accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and used agency funds to bring his wife on a European trip. Last year, the president asked then-HHS Secretary Tom Price to resign after criticism of his use of expensive private and military flights.The documents showing travel costs at EPA were obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog group, through a FOIA request and lawsuit filed by the group after EPA did not respond to previous FOIA requests.Those travel vouchers and other documents provide details about some of the administrator's travel. They show that the EPA spent thousands of dollars for the administrator to fly first class on domestic flights. For example, in May of last year, the EPA paid more than $1,900 for Pruitt to fly from Washington, D.C., to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and back for a tour of a chemical company. Pruitt also spent more than $1,500 for a flight from D.C. to New York for media interviews in June, while a staffer that traveled to assist Pruitt on the trip only paid $238 for his ticket.In yet another example, the EPA got approval for a $5,700 charter flight to take Pruitt and his staff from Denver to Durango, Colorado, because his commercial flight was delayed. Pruitt could have traveled with on the Colorado governor's plane or on a different flight but there were no extra seats available for his security detail, according to a memo approving the trip.The EPA also spent more than $90,000 for Pruitt and his staff to fly to Italy to attend one day of the G7 environmental summit. The administrator paid about $7,000 for his trip, which took him from New York to Rome and then back to D.C. from Milan. Flights for staffers and other EPA officials on the trip cost around $2,000. That trip also included a $36,000 military flight from Cincinnati to New York, which was approved so Pruitt could join President Donald Trump at an event there and still make his flight to Rome.Information on the use of some charter flights was first reported in September when the EPA released information on the trips i
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a new congressional map for the state, in a decision that could have major ramifications for the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.The court issued the map after Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state legislature, were unable to submit a map satisfying both parties by the court-ordered Thursday night deadline.Numerous map submissions from both sides of the aisle were presented to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the state’s congressional boundaries redrawn late last month. But after Wolf vetoed a map submitted Republican leaders in the statehouse last Tuesday, it became clear both sides were not going to reach an agreement by the February 16 deadline.Republicans in the state harshly criticized Wolf for rejecting the map they submitted, saying his decision “sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance.”“This entire exercise, while cloaked in ‘litigation,’ is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander – one brought about by the Democrat Chief Executive of the Commonwealth acting in concert with politically-connected litigants in order to divest the General Assembly of its Constitutional authority to enact Congressional districts,” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement last Tuesday.Wolf submitted his own map last week that he claimed “combined features of legislative submissions” and was “statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.”“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.”Republicans currently hold 12 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, while Democrats control just five. One seat is currently vacant but will be filled following the March 13 special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who resigned over a sex scandal last year.The new congressional map, expected to be announced in an order by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sometime today, could allow Democrats to pick up between 2 to 3 seats in the 2018 midterm elections.“If the Pennsylvania map changes, it’s hard to imagine how the Republicans hold control of the House so maybe that’s why we’re seeing the desperation we’re seeing,” Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute, told ABC News.The suburban districts around the city of Philadelphia were heavily redrawn, which could affect the seats currently represented by Republican congressmen Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello.Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in both Meehan and Costello’s districts in the 2016 presidential election. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Over the weekend, President Donald Trump suggested that the FBI’s Russia investigation had caused the agency to divert resources or attention that could have prevented last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” Trump tweeted Saturday.His message came just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians for their alleged roles in a complex operation to sway the 2016 presidential election.Federal law enforcement officials say Trump’s posting misstates how the FBI actually works.The FBI has a broad mandate and spends every day focusing on multiple threats at once – terrorists, bank robbers, child predators, cyber criminals, corrupt politicians, gun traffickers, foreign spies, and many more.There are about 35,000 people working for the FBI, including about 12,000 agents, according to FBI statistics.The FBI has “a lot of people,” one federal law enforcement official told ABC News. “They’re not all working on Russia, I can tell you that. There’s a lot of other stuff going on.”On Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people and injuring many others. Two days later, the FBI acknowledged that last month, “a person close to Nicolas Cruz” contacted an FBI tip line “to report concerns about him,” but “protocols were not followed” and the information was never passed on to authorities in Florida.When the FBI receives a call like that from the public, the call goes to a center in West Virginia run by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division. The call center is supposed to assess the information, and if it is deemed a potential threat the information should be sent to the appropriate FBI field office. In the Cruz case, the information should have been deemed a potential threat to life and should have been sent to the Miami field office for further investigation, but the information was never deemed a threat to begin with, so it was never passed on, the federal law enforcement official said.Nevertheless, personnel at the FBI’s call center would “absolutely not” ever be working on the Russia case, the official said.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump felt liberated Friday afternoon, sources close to him told ABC News, when the news broke that the special counsel probing interference in the 2016 presidential election unveiled a grand jury indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups accused of meddling “with U.S. elections and political processes.”“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” the president tweeted as he boarded Air Force One in Washington where the televisions were tuned into Fox News.Over the next 45 hours, the president would go on to tweet 11 times - blasting the Russia investigation and blaming Democrats for failing to stop Russian interference, which he once denied.Then came the bombshell at 11:08 p.m. Saturday. The president connected one of the deadliest mass school shootings in history to the Russia investigation.“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russia collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” Trump tweeted, following dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club.For some context, there are about 35,000 people working for the FBI, including about 12,000 agents, according to FBI statistics. The FBI has “a lot of people,” and, “They’re not all working on Russia, I can tell you that. There’s a lot of other stuff going on,” one federal law enforcement official told ABC News.Aides have long cautioned Trump against tweeting about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, with one senior White House official conceding the weekend tweets were not helpful to the president.Even the presence of chief of staff John Kelly – known to bring some order to a chaotic White House but who has said his role isn't to stop the president from tweeting – didn’t seem to help contain what soon turned into a twitter tirade.“Trying to convince him not to tweet? People have been trying for three years – from his family to friends to aides. What makes them think this time would be any different?” said another White House official who expected Trump would ultimately link the deadly shooting to the Russia investigation.There was bi-partisan backlash. Members of his own party even said he went too far.“So many folks in the FBI are doing all they can to keep us safe, the reality of it is that they are two separate issues,” Republican Senator Tim Scott said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”“This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN.One survivor of the Florida high school shooting tweeted to the president: “Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of you fake and meaningless “thoughts and prayers.”On Friday, shortly after arriving in Florida, Trump traveled to Broward County to visit first responders and victim’s families after last week's shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – a visit that appeared to have a more congratulatory feel focused on praising law enforcement officials.The Saturday Twitter barrage was just the beginning.President Trump then took another swipe at the ongoing Russia probes early Sunday morning, tweeting “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption, and chaos within the U.S. they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”Trump, who has been hesitant to enforce sanctions on Russia for c
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