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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen met with House Republicans Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol to answer questions about the president’s new executive order ending immigrant family separation while also urging members to pass a legislative fix.

The president signed an executive order directing DHS to keep families together on Wednesday but Congress is still working through multiple bills aimed at a more long-term fix to the current immigration crisis.

Pressed on whether her recent comments that the president can’t solve the immigration problem with executive action, Nielsen emphasized that Congress must act to secure the border and codify law to keep immigrant families together to guard against potential legal rulings.

“They need to change the laws so I have the authority to secure the border for the American people,” she said. “We have court cases, right, that prohibit us from keeping families together. So only Congress can do that.”

But a Congressional fix may be easier said than done, as both chambers faced setbacks in their efforts to reach a compromise on Wednesday ahead of an expected votes on Thursday.

Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, was observed in a heated discussion with Speaker Paul Ryan on the House floor. Meadows cautioned that the bill created through a compromise among Republicans was not yet ready for a vote in its current form.

"The compromise bill is not ready for prime time and hopefully we'll be able to make it ready for prime time," he said.

"I was passionate, I was not yelling," Meadows said of his apparent disagreement with Ryan. “There are things that were supposed to be in the compromise bill that are not in the compromise bill that we had all agreed to.”

"I was told there were two things in there, that were not in there," he said of the bill, which he finished reading Wednesday. Meadows would not disclose whether he would oppose the measures as they’re currently crafted.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican who has negotiated for weeks with GOP leaders to craft compromise legislation, said the president’s executive order is “good news.” Curbelo said that Nielsen pledged to work to reunite children currently separated from their parents “as soon as possible.”

But Curbelo also accused some Republicans of working to "blow up" the GOP compromise bill.

"I don't think that anyone thought we would get this far and apparently that's causing some anxiety," he said. "We're also not going to let people step all over us and try to rearrange what was agreed to here at the eleventh hour.”

On the Senate side Wednesday evening a bipartisan group of about a dozen senators met in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., to start talking about possible longer-term legislative solutions to address the issues surrounding families being separated on the U.S. border.

As they left the meeting, it was clear that even among the most willing of senators to work together, political divisions on resolving this issue in the long term run deep and wouldn't be solved quickly or easily.

Most of the lawmakers who joined Collins said they agreed that any bill should only deal with this narrow issue and not broader problems related to immigration like DACA. But all other aspects of a more permanent deal broke down along party lines.

“Indefinite family detention is not a solution to the problem. There is no way that we can in my mind indefinitely detain families as they go through their asylum process,” Sen Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said it would not work to keep families out of detention either.

“The solution that some are pushing is to simply release illegal aliens who are detained. Simply return to catch-and-release. That's a mistake. That doesn't work,” Cruz said.

While all participants in the meeting also agreed that their meeting was just the start of what is likely to be a series of long discussions and possible congressional hearings, the consensus among Democrats and Republicans was that beyond ending family separation, there was little consensus on which to build.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump, under growing pressure to act unilaterally to address the immigration crisis, Wednesday signed an executive order that he said would keep immigrant families at the border together.

Trump said he didn't like the sight of families being separated, according to a pool report. He said the "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally would continue.

"It's about keeping families together," Trump said, "while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border."

"I think the word 'compassion' comes into it," he said. "My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way," he added.

"We have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don't stand for, that we don't want," Trump said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would be signing the order.

The president's surprise decision comes after images of children separated from their parents erupted into a political firestorm. The Trump administration consistently said it had no choice but to separate families because of the law. Just last Friday the president said, "You can't do it through an executive order."

The president's move comes amid growing outrage over the practice and on the eve of House votes Thursday to address the immigration problem.

"I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump said.

In the Cabinet Room, surrounded by Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump continued to falsely place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Democrats in Congress.

"We're having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't care about lack of security. They would like to have open borders where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East, from anybody, anywhere, they can just flow into our country," Trump said.

"I think it's very important that we protect our border. We cannot allow a child to be a get out of free card and get into the U.S.," said Sen. Cotton.

The president said he's facing a dilemma between being weak and strong on the issue of immigration, and that it's hard to have both heart and be strong.

"The dilemma is that if you're weak, if you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma," Trump said.

"Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma."

The president said images of children in detention “affect everyone” but said images from the Obama administration were worse.

“You have double standards,” Trump said. “This has been going on for 50 years.”

"We want to be strong at the border but we also want to be compassionate," Trump said.

First lady Melania Trump has been pushing behind the scenes for days to get her husband to end the child separation policy, according to a White House official.

The official said Mrs. Trump has been speaking with her husband often about this in recent days and has been encouraging him to do all he can to end the separations however he could.

Last night, Trump told lawmakers his daughter Ivanka had shown him images of children in detention facilities and urged him to end the separation practice. Trump's daughter stood in the back of the Cabinet Room as the president made his announcement.

While it's not clear exactly what the president will sign, it will not end the "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally, a source involved in the drafting told ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

The directive prepared for the president would instruct the Justice Department to allow children to be detained along with their family members while they await a hearing — even if that process takes more than 20 days.

Right now, under what's called the Flores consent decree, children can be detained for only 20 days. The president will instruct DOJ to challenge that decree and to not abide by it while it is being challenged, the source said.

This move will almost certainly be challenged in court.

Trump also announced that the White House congressional picnic -- a favorite summer social event for lawmakers on the Hill -- will be cancelled as the administration figures out its next steps.

"We have a congressional picnic tomorrow, and I was just walking over to the Oval Office and I said, you know, it doesn't feel right to have a picnic for Congress when we're working on doing something very important."

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House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- The Committee on Homeland Security Democrats hosted a congressional panel on Wednesday to answer questions regarding President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, a practice that has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The discussion titled “Immigration Policy Failures: from Family Separation to Detention Practices” covered topics including health, adoption and advocacy.

“I wish it was a panel we didn't have to convene,” Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist of Amnesty International USA, said.

Mace said the policy is a “flagrant violation” of human rights and called on Congress to end the detainment of asylum seekers.

“Families and children who are trying to get away from violence to somewhere they are safe and can seek asylum,” Mace said. “For most, asylum is not something they choose to do but something they must do.”

Advocacy Strategist of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First, Jennifer Quigley, also weighed in to say the U.S. government should not be prosecuting asylum seekers but should instead process their asylum claims.

The panelists also touched on the process of adopting the children in the centers. Sanjeev K. Sriram of Doctors for America says although it may seem like a good idea, it may actually negatively impact the child.

“[...] how traumatizing those good intentions are,” Sriram said. “You can have all the good intentions in the world and have a horrible impact.”

Sriram spoke on the mental health effect of removing children from their parents. He said that when asylum seekers first arrive at the border, mental health services should be readily available.

“Full mental health services [...] should be the thing we are working to litigate,” Sriram said. “Those are our basic duties and responsibilities that we owe to these vulnerable children.”

Advocacy groups mobilize supporters to end 'zero-tolerance' immigration policy

Closing remarks from the panelists called for constituents to donate to advocacy groups, register to vote, and raise their voice.

While the event was going on, President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to to keep immigrant families together.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As President Trump moved Wednesday to quell concerns over the ongoing crisis surrounding the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, Republicans vying for U.S. Senate seats across the country are digging in on their support for the president, and instead are trying to cast the blame for the situation on their Democratic opponents.

Republican candidates in competitive races around the country have mostly steered clear of direct criticism of the Trump White House, and are making congressional gridlock the proverbial boogeyman at the center of the growing political and humanitarian crisis at the border.

The strategy is yet another reminder of President Donald Trump's constant presence in some of the most contentious and important races in the first major election since his inauguration, where his party's majority in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are at risk.

President Trump, who met with congressional Republicans Tuesday night in an attempt to corral support for a legislative solution to the crisis, Wednesday signed an executive order he claims will address the problem of family separation at the border while maintaining aggressive border security.

"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," Trump said at the White House Wednesday.

"The dilemma is if you’re weak...the country is going to be overwhelmed with people...if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. Perhaps I’d like to be strong," the President said earlier Wednesday, injecting a dose of uncertainty into an already volatile political process, one that continues to see Congress struggle to find consensus on a legislative solution.

Sixty-six percent of Americans oppose the separation of families at the border according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. A partisan breakdown of opinion shows that 55 percent of Republicans support the policy, while 68 percent of independents and 91 percent of Democrats are opposed.

On Tuesday, Trump was more than willing to decry "Democrat-supported loopholes" as the root cause of the border crisis.

"As a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border cannot be detained together or removed together. Only released. These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation, which we don't want,” Trump said in pushing the blame onto Democrats.

Regardless of the confusion in Washington, Republican candidates are following Trump's lead in attempting to scapegoat their Democratic opponents.

Two Republican U.S. Senate candidates in states that Donald Trump captured on his way to the White House in 2016 -- Kevin Nicholson of Wisconsin and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia -- are attempting to shift the blame off of Trump and onto their Democratic opponents.

"As a father I feel great concern any time I see a child crying out of fear or desperation, anywhere in the world," Nicholson wrote in a statement Tuesday, "In this case, I'm also angry with the many entrenched Washington politicians – like Tammy Baldwin – who have worked mightily to encourage the 'catch and release' illegal immigration policies that put innocent children in this position in the first place."

Baldwin's campaign did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment on Nicholson's charge.

Morrisey released a statement Wednesday morning attacking his opponent, Democrat Joe Manchin, for supporting the "Keep Families Together Act" authored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that earlier this week garnered the support of the entire Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate.

"Joe Manchin is putting the interest of illegal immigrant criminals and the agenda of liberal Washington elites ahead of West Virginia families," Morrisey, the Attorney General of West Virginia, wrote in a statement, "Washington Democrats and Joe Manchin are offering drug cartels, gangs, and child traffickers a one-way ticket into our country with their open-borders legislation."

GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a stalwart ally of President Trump that is running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, says her "heart breaks for the families" but is attempting to shift the blame onto "liberals wouldn't pay to enforce immigration laws or build suitable facilities for asylum seekers."

"The Obama policies turned every state into a border state, every town into a border town," Blackburn added in an interview with Fox News Wednesday morning.

In condemning the family separations, Blackburn's likely Democratic opponent, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, noted the bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy and said it indicated the nation is on a "morally bankrupt path."

"This is no longer the President’s problem, or the Department of Homeland Security’s problem. It is America’s problem. Thankfully, we live in a strong nation, full of parents, faith leaders, and many others from all parts of the political spectrum who have condemned this policy," Bredesen wrote in a statement released Tuesday, "We have placed ourselves on a morally bankrupt path. Today, the real test of our strength as a nation is not whether we’ve made a mistake, it’s whether we recognize where we’ve failed and fix it. Now."

In Pennsylvania, another state Trump won in the 2016 election where a Democratic incumbent is battling an Trump-aligned challenger, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey attempted to turn the tables on criticism from his GOP opponent, Rep. Lou Barletta, over his support for the Feinstein bill.

"This is a fundamental moral question far beyond partisan politics. We must reject this inhumane, cruel practice of separating children from their parents," Casey wrote in a statement released by his re-election campaign Wednesday, "Rather than attacking me or blaming Democrats, Congressman Barletta should join his Republican colleagues in demanding the Trump administration immediately end this policy."

In North Dakota, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer's campaign went after his opponent, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, over her support for the Feinstein-authored legislation.

"Imagine a MS-13 gang member getting arrested in North Dakota on a federal drug or weapons charge getting off scot-free because he has children traveling with him,” Rasmussen said. “Worse yet, this bad legislation could actually encourage criminals to use children as shields to prevent arrest," Cramer's Communications Director Tim Rasmussen wrote in a statement released Wednesday, "Heitkamp’s support of this bad legislation demonstrates she is more interested in gaining political points than creating strong and effective legislation."

In the border state of Arizona, a field of three Republicans vying for the open seat left by prominent Trump-critic Sen. Jeff Flake has offered varying takes on the border crisis, but all have either stayed silent steered clear of directly criticizing the President and again are directing the blame squarely at Democrats.

Former State Sen. Kelli Ward, one GOP contender, slammed both her likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, and Republican Rep. Martha McSally.

"Congress has repeatedly failed to address border security, one of the top issues for voters in Arizona, while my opponents Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema have allowed this humanitarian crisis to persist for years – under several administrations – without making any effort to fix it."

In a statement provided to ABC News Monday, Sinema called for an end to the separation of families at the border and said Congress should "stop playing politics" and find a solution to the crisis.

"This is wrong. The administration is choosing to separate families at the border; they should stop immediately," Sinema wrote, "As always, I stand ready to work with anyone to fix our broken immigration system, secure our border, and protect our communities. I call on my colleagues and the administration to stop playing politics and work together."

McSally, who has been straddling the difficult political line between vociferous Trump-support and broadening her appeal beyond the GOP base, released a statement Monday saying that the U.S. should "enforce our laws in a consistent and humane manner and DHS should not have to choose between enforcing the law and keeping children with their parents."

She also trumpeted a bill she has authored that allows children to stay with their parents "as they undergo due process," and that she hopes "we can get a version of my bill out of the House this week and on the President's desk immediately to address many urgent issues like this."

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Trump last year after he was held in contempt of court for defying a court order to stop discriminatory immigration enforcement practices, voiced support for punishing the parents who chose to bring their children across the border.

"While Sheriff Arpaio understands and is sensitive to the issue of the children coming across and being separated from families, Arpaio asks the question; 'Why aren't we holding the parents of these kids responsible? They know there is an inherent risk when they make this journey to cross the border illegally.'" Arpaio's Communications Director Chris Hegstrom wrote in a response to an ABC News inquiry.

While the President continues to urge Congress to find a more permanent, legislative solution to the crisis, the issue remains top of mind for Republican candidates hoping to expand the party's slim 51 to 49 majority in the U.S. Senate.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime confidant and former personal attorney, has resigned from his post as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee's Finance Committee, sources close to the RNC told ABC News.

In his resignation letter to Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chair, Cohen cited the ongoing special counsel investigation as one reason for his departure.

“This important role requires the full-time attention and dedication of each member. Given the ongoing Mueller and [Southern District of New York] investigations, that simply is impossible for me to do,” he wrote.

Cohen also criticized the administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border, the first time he has distanced himself from the president.

"As the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart-wrenching,” Cohen wrote. “While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips."

Cohen on Tuesday hired New York lawyer Guy Petrillo to represent him in a federal investigation into his business dealings.

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(DENTON, Texas) -- As the immigration policy looms large in the national consciousness, border-state lawmakers are feeling the pressure from constituents who are outraged that children are being separated from their parents.

Under Trump's new "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, the children of men and women caught crossing the border illegally are placed in government custody while their parents await prosecution in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

Since the policy went into effect, more than 2,200 children have been isolated from their parents, and many are now housed in crowded shelters -- prompting fury from religious leaders, immigrant advocates and child health specialists alike.

It was a 6-year-old girl at Republican Rep. Michael Burgess' town hall in Denton, Texas, who articulated constituents' anxiety Monday evening:

"Why does Donald Trump think it's OK to leave kids from their moms?” she asked.

His academic response -- citing two bills working their way through the House -- didn't seem to pacify his audience.

"Tents and Walmarts?" a heckler yelled, referencing one shelter facility made of soft-sided tents and another recently converted from a Walmart. "They're babies!"

"You're responsible for what happens here!" screamed another.

"You're protecting Trump!" accused a third, amid a chorus of boos.

Trump has said he hates to see children suffering under this "horrible" policy, which he claims is law.

It's not law. No law mandates separating families. It's a policy Trump announced in April that went into effect in May.

But the president has also suggested using family separation as a negotiating tool, refusing to reverse the policy unless Democrats agree to his other immigration reform priorities such as funding his "big, beautiful wall" at the southern border.

At his town hall, Burgess promised he'd work with Congress to reform the immigration system.

"I think this is a very good chance that something, in fact, may be done," he told the 6-year-old, noting it would likely be a "quite historic" week on "border security."

In the meantime, some citizens said, undocumented children are being used as pawns.

"Would you describe what's currently happening on the border as a healthy environment for those children?" one woman asked.

"Well, no, of course you wouldn't," Burgess conceded, later adding, "When I have done these town halls previously, the sentiment has been, we want our laws on the border enforced."

"I haven't been sleeping because of what's going on," another woman said through tears at the town hall. "What are you going to do for these babies?"

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John Lamparski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is facing backlash after he mocked the story of an immigrant girl with Down syndrome in a Fox News interview about the current administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

Lewandowski, who was in charge of Donald Trump's presidential campaign from January 2015 to June 2016, made the disparaging comment on The Story With Martha MacCallum Tuesday evening. Fellow guest Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton aide, relayed a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother after they crossed the border illegally.

"I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage," Petkanas began. But before he could finish, Lewandowski merely replied, sarcastically: "Womp, womp."

Petkanas immediately took issue with Lewandowski, responding, "Did you just say 'womp, womp' to a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome being separated from her mother? How dare you, how absolutely dare you, sir? How dare you."

Lewandowski talked over Petkanas' response, saying, "What I said is you can pick anything you want, the bottom line is clear." Lewandowski had said prior to Petkanas relaying the story of the girl with Down syndrome that "as soon as you cross the border illegally, you have committed an act which is a disservice to all of the people who have stood in line and waited to get into this country legally."

Host Sandra Smith then cut off the argument and steered the conversation back to immigration policy in general.

Petkanas was relaying a story told earlier in the day Tuesday by Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who condemned the separation of families in a press conference.

He described recent cases involving Mexican children, including a 10-year-old Mexican girl with Down syndrome who last week was separated from her mother after they crossed the border. He said the girl is in McAllen, Texas, while the mother was taken to a center in Brownsville, Texas. The father is a legal resident in the United States and they are trying to get them reunited, Videgaray said.

"Our consulate in McAllen is doing the gestures so that, in an immediate fashion, the girl is taken out of the shelter and is reunified with her father, who has the status of a legal resident," Videgaray said. "Of course, this case in particular we have pointed it out to the American authorities at the highest levels."

Videgaray called the policy of separating children from their families "cruel and inhumane," and said Mexico had a "moral responsibility" to speak out.

Among those who immediately condemned Lewandowski's comments was former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who tweeted, "There is no low to which this coward Corey Lewandowski won’t sink."

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen -- a fierce defender of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy toward immigration -- was heckled by a group of protesters while eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant Tuesday evening.

A group calling itself the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America camped out next to Nielsen's table and chanted slogans and hurled loaded questions at Nielsen, who on Monday stood with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at a briefing and praised the administration's handling of undocumented immigrants coming into the country.

The president's "zero-tolerance" policy has generated impassioned arguments over the past few weeks, while support for ending the separation of children and parents has come from both sides of the aisle.

President Donald Trump, who met with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday night, has mostly deflected criticism -- either blaming Democrats in Congress or reportedly asking the GOP lawmakers to take care of the issue in Tuesday's get-together.

The group shouted, "You’re eating a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting tens of thousands of people separated from their parents," and chanted, "No borders, no walls, sanctuary for all," among other slogans.

Members also shouted "Have you listened to it? Have you heard the babies crying? Do you hear them crying?" -- in reference to the audio tape first leaked by ProPublica on Monday purporting to be a recording of immigrant children crying and begging for their parents. Nielsen was asked similar questions at the Monday briefing, and she deflected.

"I have not seen something that came out today, but I've been to detention centers and again I would reference you to our standards and reference you to the care provided not just by the Department of Homeland Security, but by the Department of Health and Human Services when they get to HHS," she said Monday.

Nielsen told attendees at a sheriffs conference the same day that children were treated well at detention facilities.

"It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of -- don't believe the press. They are very well taken care of. We know this because many of you have detention facilities of your own."

In a statement, the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America said members of the administration "will never be allowed to eat and drink in public again."

"We will not stand by and let Secretary Nielsen dine in peace while she is directing her employees to tear little girls away from their mothers and crying boys away from their fathers at our border," said Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the group's steering committee, in a statement. "Secretary Nielsen and everyone else who has carried out these brutal and cold-blooded orders to rip apart families should never be allowed to eat and drink in public again."

The video shot by the group had garnered over 380,000 views by midnight.

President Trump appeared to send a tweet of support to Nielsen at about 9 p.m., saying that Nielsen did a "fabulous job yesterday at the press conference explaining security at the border and for our country." The heckling incident was not specifically mentioned.

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Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his first remarks since the Justice Department's inspector general's report was released, former FBI Director Jim Comey said Tuesday he doesn't regret the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email case - despite the report's harsh criticism.

Comey initially responded in a New York Times op-ed last Thursday.

"I was strongly criticized in a report that came out last week - a report that I urged be done because I wasn't certain that I was right. When you're making hard decisions, anyone who's certain is a lunatic. I thought we had it right but I thought other people might see it differently. And the inspector general, the watchdog for the Department of Justice, sees it differently," Comey said while during an interview in Berlin with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

"He thinks I should've been quiet and I respect his work," Comey said, referring to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. "I praised his work, but I still think he's underweighting the damage to the institution and I say with a smile, I think if I had chosen that, to be quiet, he'd be writing a report about how I damaged the institution by that choice. And so I don't agree with his weighing even though I respect the criticism because I knew reasonable people could see it differently," he continued.

He later said he wanted to model what the rule of law looks like, despite getting what he described as "ripped" by Horowitz.

Comey was also asked if he should apologize to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after it was revealed that he was using a Gmail account to conduct FBI business.

"Again, I don't want to criticize her, but it shows that even at this late stage she doesn't understand what the investigation in her case was about," he said.

"It was not about a use of her personal email system and she didn't get that during the investigation because she used to say, well Colin Powell, when he was secretary of state, used AOL. That was not what it was about. It was about communicating about classified topics on that system when those topics have to be done on a classified system.." Comey continued.

Comey says he used his Gmail account to send speeches back and forth from his personal account to his work account because he had to write his own. He stressed that he never talked about anything "remotely classified."

He also touched on the texts between FBI Special Agent Peter Strozk and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Comey said he had no idea they were having an affair and, that to conceal the relationship from their spouses, they used their FBI phones.

"We archive the texts, so maybe it's a sign we don't have the brightest people working at our organization," he joked.

"I never saw any indication of bias and Peter Strozk did the first draft of my letter to Congress on October 28th that Hillary Clinton blames for her losing the election, so how exactly is he trying to get Donald Trump?" he said.

"I don't see any evidence of a conspiracy, if the president and his allies want to claim a conspiracy they have to encompass all the data, I don't see how you could approach this and conclude we were on Hillary Clinton's side or on Donald Trump's side and I never saw any indication from those two people," he said.

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Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Michael Cohen, the embattled former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, has hired a new lawyer as a federal investigation of him heads into a new phase, ABC News has learned.

According to multiple sources, Cohen has retained Guy Petrillo, an attorney with significant experience at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.

Petrillo's hiring was first reported Tuesday by Vanity Fair.

A partner at Petrillo Klein & Boxer LLP in New York, Petrillo is expected to take a lead role in negotiations with prosecutors if Cohen ultimately opts to negotiate a deal.

As ABC News reported last week, Cohen's current legal team –- Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of McDermott Will & Emery LLP -- will remain on the case until those attorneys complete a privilege review of materials seized during raids on Cohen's properties in New York on April 9. A federal judge has set a deadline of June 25 for that process to be wrapped up.

Cohen has not been charged with a crime, but he is under investigation for potential criminal violations surrounding his personal business dealings and his $130,000 payment to adult film star Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels. She said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied that.

For the past two months, Cohen's lawyers have been rushing to review more than 3.7 million items seized in searches of Cohen's home, office and hotel room. Under the supervision of a retired federal judge acting as a "special master," the files are being scrutinized by Cohen's attorneys for items potentially covered by attorney-client privilege.

Once that task is complete, Petrillo will assume the role of Cohen's lead counsel in connection with the investigation in New York.

Petrillo led the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York from January 2008 until October 2009, according to a biography on his firm's website. He established the firm in 2010 along with two other former federal prosecutors in New York, Joshua Klein and Nelson Boxer.

Previously, Petrillo was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the criminal division for seven years in the 1990s, including a stint as the chief prosecutor in the division's narcotics unit, according to the firm's website.

"His experience includes hundreds of client representations covering the broad spectrum of criminal prosecutions," his online biography reads, "from alleged financial industry and other fraud, to, among others, alleged money laundering, alleged violations of banking, FCPA and U.S. embargo and sanctions laws, as well as matters involving alleged breaches of public integrity, alleged violations of pharmaceutical marketing enactments, and alleged transgressions of government program and financial industry laws and regulations."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced Tuesday.

The decision to exit the U.N. body comes after more than a year of threatening to do so, calling for reform, and accusing it of an anti-Israel bias -- but it also follows one day after its High Commissioner criticized the U.S. over President Donald Trump's immigration policies, especially separating families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Haley blasted the U.N. body as a "hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights" and "is not worthy of its name," while Pompeo slammed it as "an exercise in shameless hypocrisy" and said it had become "an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change" by providing cover for repressive regimes.

After repeated warnings by the Trump administration, Haley said, "Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded."

The administration has argued that the body, which issues a report on Israel at every session, is inherently biased against the U.S. ally. But it's also criticized it for including repressive regimes among its ranks and not speaking out against member states. In her remarks Tuesday, Haley specifically cited countries like Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both of which are members of the body.

"When a so-called Human Rights Council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the Council ceases to be worthy of its name," she said.

She lamented that no country would publicly join U.S. efforts to reform the body, even while many expressed support, she said. Specifically, she called out Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt for blocking reform efforts, saying they'd done so to protect their own bad behavior.

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 after its precursor, the Human Rights Commission, was disbanded by then-Secretary General Kofi Annan because of a "credibility deficit." The body consists of 47 member states, with a specific number of seats given to each region of the world. Members are elected by the U.N. General Assembly for three-year terms and cannot serve more than two terms in a row.

When it began, President George W. Bush's administration boycotted it because its membership included countries with poor human rights records. It was only in 2009 that the U.S. joined the organization under President Barack Obama, whose administration argued that U.S. membership could better steer it.

But since Trump came into office, his administration has threatened to withdraw if it did not reform: "If the Human Rights Council is going to be an organization we entrust to protect and promote human rights, it must change. If it fails to change, then we must pursue the advancement of human rights outside of the Council," Haley said at a speech in Geneva last year.

The Human Rights Council opened its latest three-week session Monday, and the High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein blasted the U.S. in his opening remarks for its "unconscionable" immigration policy of separating migrant parents from their children at the border, calling it "government-sanctioned child abuse."

Neither Haley nor Pompeo referenced Al Hussein's remarks or answered a reporter's shouted question about them, but Haley accused the body of "attack[ing] countries that uphold human rights and shield[ing] countries that abuse human rights."

Pompeo also seemed to take a shot at Al Hussein's criticism, saying, "When organizations undermine our national interests and our allies, we will not be complicit. When they seek to infringe on our national sovereignty, we will not be silent."

A State Department official said prior to their address that the withdrawal was something long under consideration: "You don't make those decisions in reaction to one person's comments," they said.

Haley added that the U.S. would rejoin if the reforms it has called for were made, but the withdrawal is effective immediately.

The decision was criticized by human rights groups, who argued it was part of a pattern by the Trump administration of undermining human rights protections.

"Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the U.S. claims to uphold," said Amnesty International's Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement. The U.S. "is willfully choosing to undermine the human rights of all people everywhere and their struggles for justice."

Some even questioned whether the U.S. departure would negatively affect ongoing investigations into human rights abuses.

"A decision to withdraw from this vital body undermines the international community’s ability to take collective action against grave human rights abuses," said Dr. Home Venters, Physicians for Human Rights' director of programs. "With current investigations into alleged atrocities in Myanmar against the Rohingya, a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and assaults on health care and civilians in Syria, including chemical attacks, there is no time more pressing than the present for nations to redouble their efforts to unite in defending human rights around the world."

Foreign leaders, too, expressed disappointment with the move, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying through a spokesperson that he "would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council. The U.N.'s Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide."

But the administration did get one vocal and almost immediate response in support of its decision. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted just minutes after the announcement, "Israel thanks President Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Ambassador Haley for their decision against the hypocrisy and lies of the U.N. Human Rights Council. For years, the Council has proved itself to be a biased, hostile and anti-Israeli body that is betraying its mission to protect human rights."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  House Republicans leaving a meeting on with President Donald Trump Tuesday evening said he endorsed the more moderate of two immigration bills being voted on Thursday, although the White House was less definitive in its characterization of Trump’s support.

The president attended the strategy session with House Republicans as lawmakers struggle to respond to the national uproar over the administration's policy causing family separations at the border.

Trump told the group that he had seen images associated with family separations and told Republicans that they needed to "take care" of it in legislation, according to a source in the room.

“He endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal. He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100%,” White House deputy spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement following the meeting.

But House Republicans leaving the meeting said they came away thinking he was endorsing a compromise bill, crafted by leadership in consultation with both moderate and conservative members of the House Republican conference.

“The compromise bill is what I gathered. He didn't specify which bill but it was the contours that were laid out in the compromise bill,” Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., told reporters after the meeting.

Republican leadership crafted the compromise bill to placate moderates who threatened to force a vote on legal status for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action under President Obama.

The measure would provide $25 billion in border wall funding, eliminate several visa programs while restructuring others, and provide a pathway for six-year "indefinitely renewable" legal status for "Dreamers" who could later apply for citizenship. It is also expected to include a provision to prevent the government from separating young children from parents and guardians while in government custody.

A more conservative alternative to the compromise bill, written by McCaul and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Securing America’s Future Act, provides a pathway to legal status for Dreamers while limiting legal immigration levels. It isn't expected to pass the House with Republican votes given Democrats' opposition, as well as concerns from some moderates.

Even if Trump didn’t specify which of the two bills he preferred, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., indicated that the president endorsed the policies that comprise the more moderate bill.

“President Trump did a great job of explaining to our conference why he wants to see a bill get through the House that actually addresses the problem of border security, making sure the money's there to build the wall, making sure that parents are reunited with families, making sure that we solve the DACA problem, closing interior loopholes, ending catch and release,” Scalise said.

The president declined to answer shouted questions about the new practice as he entered and exited the Capitol but did make a statement about the immigration system in general.

"The system has been broken for many years, the immigration system. It's been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. We're going to try to see if we can fix it," he said as he arrived at House Speaker Paul Ryan's office.

The House is slated to vote on both the compromise bill and the Goodlatte/McCaul bill Thursday.

The more conservative bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to house families together while parents go through criminal proceedings for the misdemeanor of first-time illegal border crossing - a change from current practice requiring the Department of Justice to take criminal custody during criminal proceedings, thus leading to family separation.

The proposal would also eliminate the 20-day cap on DHS administrative custody for accompanied children, so families would be kept together in the custody of DHS throughout criminal proceedings. It also authorizes up to $7 billion for family residential centers, ensuring DHS has access to funds to house more families.

In the cases of repeat offenders or other serious criminals, children would be placed in the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The legislation is not finalized but an updated version was expected to have been circulated among lawmakers in advance of the conference meeting with the president.

Both bills have yet to be introduced, meaning they could still be tweaked after the meeting with Trump.

Republican leaders were gauging support for the compromise bill, in a process known as whipping the vote, following their meeting with the president.

While the political and policy conversation has revolved around the issue of family separation in recent days, lawmakers exiting the meeting said the president did not focus on the new practice of removing children from the custody of their parents while the parents await prosecution.

“It was not a situation where there was a lot of focus on the separate family separation issue,” Costello said.

In fact, some sources indicated it was more of Trump’s typical stream-of-consciousness style addresses, in which he touched on issues as varied as trade, North Korea, and the recent Republican congressional primary in South Carolina in which Republican Mark Sanford was ousted.

One source said he looked around the room to see if Sanford was there, saying he wanted to congratulate him on his race. Then he pointed out that Sanford had said “nasty things about him.”

Trump’s supportive remarks about the GOP compromise bill cap off a half-week of confusing, contradictory statements. Earlier Tuesday, Trump announced that he would make his own changes to the House immigration bill after he reviews the emerging text. His surprise comments come after a whirlwind Friday when Trump told reporters he wouldn't support the GOP compromise bill, only to be contradicted by the White House in a statement nine hours later pledging support for either option.

“We have a House that's getting ready to finalize an immigration package that they're going to brief me on later and then I'm going to make changes to,” Trump told the National Federation of Independent Businesses on Tuesday. “We have one chance to get it right.”

Trump has also maintained he does not have the power to take executive action and has repeatedly put the onus on Congress to fix the problem by creating legal authority he says the administration lacks to detain and properly remove families together as a unit.

As the issue draws continued disgust from Democrats and civil rights activists, the uncertainty underscores the difficulty Republican leaders face, particularly as the debate takes them off-message from their election-year agenda focusing on the economy.

Rev. Al Sharpton joined a group of high-profile civil rights activists Tuesday on Capitol Hill to decry the Trump administration’s practice of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents at the southern border.

“There is nothing moral or even acceptable of hearing children crying and screaming for their daddies and their mommies,” Sharpton cried, denouncing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a “Sunday school teacher” after he cited scripture last week defending the administration’s actions.

Sharpton also charged that the administration’s policy is racist, because the Trump administration would not implement the policy at the northern border with Canada against “white children.”

“There is the inference here that because these are children of color that there's a different policy for them and that [President Trump] is playing hardball with the futures of these young people but also with the image of the United States worldwide,” Sharpton contended. “This bigoted and insensitive policy should end today.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, appealed to Trump to take executive action, given the president has been eager to address other political controversies through executive order.

“He can do it. Do not be fooled by arguments that the law prevents the administration from taking action. For the last two years we have watched President Trump enjoy with relish affixing his signature to any number of executive orders, beginning with the Muslim ban. He has taken delight in acting unilaterally,” Ifill said. “He has said that he, and he alone, can solve the nation's immigration problems and yet when we ask him to step forward and take executive action as the leader of this country to protect country who are screaming for their parents, to remove America from this cloud of immorality, this embarrassment of the lack of humanity, suddenly he is unable to act?”

Responding to the backlash against the family separation policy, some Republicans have introduced narrow, stand-alone legislation meant to address the family separation policy.

Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has also floated an additional proposal that would remove the family separation dilemma from broader immigration reform proposals. His pitch would enact tougher scrutiny to asylum seekers while allowing children to be detained with their parents – rather than the administration’s current practice to hold them in separate detention facilities.

House Minority Nancy Pelosi joined several Democratic lawmakers on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego on Monday, calling the administration’s policy “barbaric” while demanding Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen resign.

“This is not an immigration issue, this is a humanitarian issue. It’s about the children.” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “We can have debates and the policy and the ‘this’ or the ‘that,’ which is wrong. But, the fundamental unifying principle for our country is this is about family and they cannot undermine the family as the American way and expect that it will have any regard for how we regard them. So, this is very, for us, it’s not political. It’s very prayerful as a matter of fact, but we do know that the answer lies with the stroke of a pen from the President of the United States.”

Democrats also assert that the GOP remedies allow indefinite detention of families.

All 49 Senate Democrats have signed onto Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill, the Keep Families Together Act, which prohibits officials from removing a child under the age of 18 from their parent or legal guardian at or near a port of entry within 100 miles of the border. No Republicans have cosponsored the legislation although one moderate House Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, tweeted support for her effort. House Democrats are working on a bill that could become a companion bill to Feinstein’s.
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Leon Neal/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump is digging in on a demonstrably false claim that the crime rate in Germany has risen as a result of refugees in that country, despite the fact that the government of Germany recently released data showing the exact opposite -- that the crime rate has actually decreased in Germany to the lowest levels since 1992.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, the president accused the government of Germany of concealing the truth of the crime rate in the country since accepting a surge of migrants into the country in recent years.

But that's simply not true, according to the most recently released German government data that showed that the crime rate in 2017 dropped by 5.1 percent compared to the previous year, excluding immigration offenses like illegal border crossings. And if immigration-related offenses are included, the crime rate has decreased even more – by 9.6 percent.

The White House has yet to provide ABC News with the source of the information the president cited in claiming that there is a 10 percent-plus crime increase in Germany.

President Trump first made his claim that the crime rate in Germany is "way up" in Germany in a tweet on Monday and also asserted that migrants have "strongly and violently changed their culture" in Europe.

The president has made the claim as he defends his administration's new "zero tolerance" policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of all adults apprehended attempting to cross the U.S. border illegally. The policy has resulted in the separation of some 2,300 children from their parents over a 6-week period and has led to a political backlash across the political spectrum.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- An informational State Department Facebook Live session Tuesday morning quickly prompted a barrage of mocking responses to two agency employees giving parents advice on obtaining passports for their children.

The live event, hosted by the Bureau of Consular Affairs to answer "your questions about traveling with kids," came amid the uproar over a Trump administration policy that has led to children being separated from parents apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The video, on what normally might have been a non-controversial topic, quickly generated backlash from social media users, who cast the online event as tone deaf and trolled the State Department in a series of posts. ABC News has reached out to the State Department for comment.

"do you guys just have terrible PR timing, or are you actively trolling the thousands of families who traveled to the US and had their children taken away?" one Twitter user wrote in response to a tweet promoting the session.

"This is perfect timing. Are you simulcasting in spanish?" another Twitter user wrote.

Audio of a so-called "orchestra" of young migrant children fighting through tears and crying "Mami" and "Papa," which was first obtained by ProPublica, was released on Monday, prompting emotional responses from Democrats and Republicans alike.

The recording was captured last week and given to Jennifer Harbury, a civil rights attorney who confirmed its authenticity to ABC News.

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Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Jeff Sessions' own church filed a formal complaint against the attorney general, accusing him of "child abuse," "immorality," and "racial discrimination" and the “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrines” of the United Methodist Church.

The letter, which was signed by more than 600 members of the United Methodist Church including clergy and church leaders, comes as the White House weathers a chorus of bipartisan condemnation over the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that has led to children getting separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions - as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position - is particularly accountable to us, his church," the letter reads. "He is ours, and we are his. As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the Discipline on the global stage.

Last week, Sessions cited the Bible in his defense of the administration's border policy separating children from their parents after they enter the U.S. illegally, which he issued last month.

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order," he said on Thursday. "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."

In the letter, church members took issue with this characterization, criticizing Sessions' "misuse of Romans 13 to indicate the necessity of obedience to secular law, which is in stark contrast to Disciplinary commitments to supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws."

A representative in the Justice Department's public affairs office told ABC News on Tuesday that DOJ has no comment and said that Sessions' scripture citation was not used to justify the policy.

As the White House remains defiant in blaming the policy on Democrats, Sessions did not repeat this claim but adamantly defended the administration's position.

"We're doing the right thing. We're taking care of these children," he told Fox News on Monday. "They are not being abused. The [Department of] Health and Human Services holds them in good conditions. They work hard at it."

According to the letter, Sessions is a member of the Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., and a member of the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Va. Those who signed the letter are members of the United Methodist Church across the country-- including some from the churches in Virginia and Alabama.

Members of the United Methodist Church are not the only religious body to speak out against the family separation policy.

Franklin Graham, who is a staunch Trump supporter called the practice “disgraceful," a group of evangelical groups — who have often been supportive of Trump — wrote a letter to the White House calling out the “traumatic effects” of separation.

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