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Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Thursday slapped a full gag order on Roger Stone, just days after the longtime political operative and adviser to President Donald Trump posted an inflammatory image on Instagram that appeared to target her.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the posting had a "sinister message" and ordered Stone from speaking publicly about his case.

The image Stone posted to Stone's 45,000 Instagram followers featured a photograph of Jackson with what appeared to be crosshairs in the upper left corner. A caption characterized Jackson as “an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime."

At Thursday’s hearing, Stone, who has apologized both publicly and in court documents, sought to take responsibility for the content of the post but maintained he did not select the image.

"I am kicking myself over my own stupidity, though not more than my wife was kicking me. I offer no excuse for it, no justification,” Stone told the judge. "This is just a stupid lack of judgment."

Before issuing her order, Jackson laid into Stone for both his conduct and his apology, which she said “rings quite hollow.”

"So no Mr. Stone, I am not giving you another a chance. I have serious doubts about whether you have learned any lesson at all," the judge said. “From this moment on the defendant may not speak publicly about the case."

“The post had a more sinister message,” she said. "Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols, and there's nothing confusing about crosshairs.”

Earlier, Jackson grilled Stone about his decision to post the image, questioning why he could not have selected an image without crosshairs.

"It is your Instagram. So, it's fair to say you are 100 percent responsible for what gets posted on it and not anybody else,” she said. "Do you know how to do a Google search? And do the volunteers who work for you know how to do a Google search? How hard was it for you to select a photo that did not have a crosshairs in the corner?"

Stone fielded questions under oath from both prosecutors and the judge for more than 30 minutes, struggling to explain the logistics of who selected the image that appeared on his Instagram page. He insisted that what the judge and prosecutors perceived as crosshairs was actually a “Celtic symbol.”

Special counsel prosecutor Jonathan Kravis then encouraged the judge to issue a gag order on Stone and suggested his testimony Thursday was “not credible.”

Last week, Jackson issued a “narrowly-tailored” gag order on prosecutors and witnesses involved in Stone's case but left Stone to continue speaking publicly about the probe – as long as he refrained from doing so near the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

"Every time the defendant gave another one of those interviews he continued to amplify the media coverage and increase the risk to the jury pool," Kravis said.

Stone’s defense team counsel, Bruce Rogow, sought a second chance for his client.

"What [Stone] is really asking for is a second chance. It should not have been done. It is indefensible," Rogow said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Stone in January on five counts of lying to Congress, as well as witness tampering, and obstruction of justice as part of Mueller's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian meddlers in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Stone has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts.

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Yvette Gaytan(NEW YORK) -- The winding Rio Grande river is the natural dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico in southern Texas.

Yvette Gaytan’s family has owned land on the border's edge for generations. Her kids fish along the river banks in Starr County.

The Trump administration has asked to use Gaytan’s land to build sections of the wall approved in the newly passed budget.

“I’m not looking to sell. I’m not looking to move,” she told ABC News. “My father helped build this house with his own two hands.”

Not far from her home, President Donald Trump’s long-promised southern border wall continues to be a work in progress. Crews have now started preparing to build the first new miles. Further east, old barriers have been replaced with new ones.

Trump declared a national emergency last week to divert money from the Department of Defense. His battle with Congress, which resulted in the longest government shutdown in American history, left him with fewer funds to build the wall in places like Starr County.

The nonprofit group Public Citizen, which represents Gaytan and other residents in the area and filed its lawsuit last week, argues that using the national emergency as a way to fund the wall is entirely unconstitutional.

“We’re at the very beginning of what’s probably going to be a long, drawn-out process,” said Public Citizen lawyer Michael Kirkpatrick.

In order to stop the construction, Kirkpatrick will have to wait for the Trump administration to figure out how it will fund the planned sections of the wall. But he says it's clear that any wall would hurt all of his clients.

The Trump administration has plans to build as many as 12 miles of new border wall in Starr County. It’s a massive steel fence design, 20 to 30 feet high. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is involved in a variety of legal disputes over these projects.

In the meantime, Gaytan has been forced to confront the possibility of leaving the home passed down from her late parents. She understands the need for more border security and she’s not opposed to it.

“Put more people on the ground, put boots to the ground,” she said.

But from her land overlooking Mexico, she doesn’t see a national emergency, and leaving her family’s legacy behind would be a devastating outcome, she says, adding, "I’m not going to go down without a fight.”

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Michael Cohen, former personal attorney and long-time fixer to President Donald Trump, appeared on Capitol Hill Thursday for closed-door meetings with the Senate Intelligence Committee, ahead of hearings before various congressional committees next week.

Cohen is scheduled to give public testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday and closed testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. A source close to Cohen also confirmed he will testify behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear what Cohen discussed Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee members or its staff, but meetings like these are commonplace ahead of hearings. Cohen was accompanied by his legal counsel, Lanny Davis.

Cohen declined to comment to reporters, other than to say that the shoulder he recently had surgery on is still "sore."

When asked if Cohen will be coming back to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Davis said "I'm thinking about it."

That committee subpoenaed Cohen last year.

Cohen's testimony was delayed last month, "Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani," according to a statement from Davis, which included a reference to the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

But Cohen tweeted Wednesday his intention to testify, saying "The schedule has now been set. Looking forward to the #American people hearing my story in my voice!"

Wednesday's blockbuster public hearing comes at a sensitive time, as Trump will be in Vietnam on the same day meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The testimony and potential for negative comments about Trump could distract from the second meeting with Kim.

"He needs to tell his personal story to the American people," Davis said in a wide-ranging interview for an episode of "The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast focused on the probe that is led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"And when he does," Davis added, "you're going to hear personal, front-line experiences of memories, and incidents, and conduct, and comments that Donald Trump said over that 10-year time period behind closed doors that, to me when I first heard Michael tell me all this, even as much as I knew about Trump that was negative, was chilling."

Davis said that while Cohen cannot talk about subjects vital to the special counsel investigation, he can describe his life at Trump's side, where he spent years as a lawyer and fixer.

He said the issue Cohen "can speak to better than anyone" is Trump's character.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to six felonies associated with his personal business dealings, including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank, and two felony campaign finance violations in connection with his role in arranging non-disclosure agreements during Trump's campaign with two women who had claimed past affairs with the president.

In November, he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was securing the GOP nomination in 2016. Cohen has on repeated occasions scheduled, and then canceled, appearances before Congress in recent weeks.

Due to the recent shoulder surgery, and the appearances before Congress, a judge recently pushed back Cohen's prison report date from March 6 to May 6.

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David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- The day after his own son said he raised concerns about a "shady political operative," seeking to join his campaign, North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris testified Thursday that he believes there should be a new election.

"I believe a new election should be called," Harris said adding that his conclusion is based on the testimony he has heard over the last four days.

His comments come amidst on ongoing election fraud case that could end up triggering a brand new election.

"Sitting here four days into this meeting ... my son was a bit prophetic in his statement that day," Harris said of his son John's warning about McCrae Dowless, the political hand that is accused of running an illegal absentee ballot collecting scheme in the state's 9th Congressional District.

That warning was revealed in testimony on Wednesday and came in a phone conversation and later an e-mail in April 2017, after John Harris said he discovered abnormalities in absentee vote totals in one rural Bladen County, North Carolina.

Despite the warnings, Mark Harris eventually hired Dowless to do absentee ballot and other campaign work.

Harris won the 2018 election in the district by 905 votes, but after concerns were raised by the North Carolina State Board of Elections about potential election fraud, the result was not certified, leaving the seat vacant and hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians without representation in the U.S. House.

John Harris' surprise testimony on Wednesday sent another shock wave into an already confusing situation, as the board continues to weigh whether or not to order an entirely new election or certify Harris' victory and seat him in Congress.

"I expressed my concerns based on everything that I did know up to that point," John Harris said Wednesday evening. "Namely my belief that McCrae had engaged in collecting ballots in 2016. Now that belief was based on my review of the absentee voter data...and also just the sense of general reports that I was getting back that this guy was kind of a shady character."

In his closing statement, with his father looking on and fighting back tears, John Harris said that his parents "made mistakes," throughout the process.

"I love my dad and I love my mom. I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle," John Harris told the hearing room Wednesday evening. "I think that they made mistakes in this process and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them."

On Thursday, the fourth day of the board's hearing, Mark Harris took to the witness stand to say that while he respected and heard his son's opinion, he trusted Dowless and wanted him on his campaign in large part due to his relationships in the community.

Harris said that despite the warnings from his son, he trusted Dowless when he told him he was not engaged in any illegal handling of ballots.

"My son at the time that we were communicating here, was still my son. He was 27 years old, very sharp young man who I have a great deal of respect for him ... as an attorney. But he was looking simply at data that he was doing of a special election," Harris said, "He had never been to Bladen County, he had never met McCrae Dowless, he had never met any of these elected leaders. ... So no, I didn't go back any further. ... I did have a comfort level at that point."

Harris met Dowless at an April 2017 meeting arranged by a mutual friend, Judge Marion Warren.

"He seemed to have the relationships that I was gathering from the conversation that happened in that meeting that day," Harris said. "Absentee ballot request forms and getting people to fill that out and turn that in and even get an absentee ballot, does take a certain amount of trust for individuals to do it, and those relationships I felt like is what caused him to be successful."

Harris' testimony also comes after his attorneys were scolded Thursday for not producing, in a timely enough manner, a text message between himself and Warren asking her to connect him with a man that ran an absentee ballot program that "could have put me in the US House this term, had I known, and he had been helping us."

That man would turn out to be Dowless.

"The timing of your disclosure raises significant and material concerns regarding the Committee's compliance and candor prior to, and now during, the hearing," Josh Lawson, the general counsel for the board of elections, wrote to Harris' attorney John Branch on Wednesday evening.

Looming over Harris' testimony on Thursday is the possibility of a new election, which the North Carolina Board of Elections has the power to call if it deems that there was enough fraud in the election that it could have tainted the races ultimate outcome.

Democrat Dan McCready has not commented publicly on the proceedings but is being represented at the hearing by his attorney Mark Elias.

Elias called the failure to disclose the text message in question "gamesmanship," and characterized the exchange as "explosive."

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PatrickGorski/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In their latest clash over environmental issues, the White House announced on Thursday that talks with California had ended without an agreement on a controversial Trump administration proposal to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

The Trump administration has proposed lowering fuel efficiency rules -- put in place by the Obama administration to limit pollution that contributed to climate change. The rules, known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards, would have required all cars and trucks to meet higher fuel efficiency standards by 2025.

But the Trump administration said those standards would be too expensive for consumers and it would be better to get older cars off the road instead. The proposal clashed with California and several other states that have higher requirements than the administration proposal.

In a joint statement the White House, Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency said the administration ended talks with California's environmental agency.

"Despite the Administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative since the SAFE Vehicles Rule was proposed," the statement said. "Accordingly, the Administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles."

But California officials say they haven't spoken to anyone from the administration since before Christmas, when they said they got no response to suggestions for a compromise.

"We had several meetings with the administration, but they were highly non-substantive, and discussion never rose to the level where they could even be called or even ‘negotiations,'" a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board Stanley Young said in an email.

"The administration broke off communications before Christmas and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise -- or offered any compromise proposal at all. We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point."

The administration says it will move to finalize its proposed rule, which will likely face legal challenges from California and environmental groups.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) --  An act of necessity by a high-profile new female member of Congress has turned into an inspirational moment for women.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who in 2018 became the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, posted on Twitter that she ran out of contact lenses so she had to wear glasses.

The Democrat said she's had glasses since the second grade but she “never, ever” wears them in public.

She posted a selfie with her glasses after a request from a mom who said her 9-year-old daughter “hates her new glasses,” according to Pressley.

So. I ran out of lenses & had no choice but to wear these in public, something I never, ever do, although I've been rockin' bifocals since 2nd grade. Ran into a mom who asked me to post this pic for her 9yr old who hates her new glasses. Paging @LaurenUnderwood @RashidaTlaib @AOC pic.twitter.com/iyukzptL9t

— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) February 21, 2019

Pressley tagged some of her female colleagues who also wear glasses and were part of the wave of women elected to Congress in 2018.

"You look fab!" replied Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

So. I ran out of lenses & had no choice but to wear these in public, something I never, ever do, although I've been rockin' bifocals since 2nd grade. Ran into a mom who asked me to post this pic for her 9yr old who hates her new glasses. Paging @LaurenUnderwood @RashidaTlaib @AOC pic.twitter.com/iyukzptL9t

— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) February 21, 2019

The simple selfie led to an outpouring of support.

Women replied to her tweet with their own selfies showing their glasses. The photos were accompanied by comments like "smart girls wear glasses, "representation matters" and "Congressional girls that wear glasses are undefeated."

Congressional girls that wear glasses are undefeated 🤓#RepresentationMatters pic.twitter.com/cVhfS8NH8V

— Nads (@kitteNPants12) February 21, 2019

Um hello we STAN this look. 🙌🏻

— Jordan Meehan 🏳️‍🌈 (@JordanMeehan) February 21, 2019

Nothing wrong with rocking the glasses! pic.twitter.com/A7VwtFmdY1

— Emmy, the unpaid cat maid (@emeraldjaguar) February 21, 2019

I LOVE my glasses and can’t get used to myself without them on. 🤓 pic.twitter.com/Y58ogNmQXR

— Nishat (@nishatnguyen) February 21, 2019

Girls who wear glasses get...well, they get elected!

— Brasil For Bernie (@worldwidecouns1) February 21, 2019

Smart girls wear glasses. 🤓 pic.twitter.com/EdozZAY06l

— Monique Pressley (@MoniquePressley) February 21, 2019

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats' job security is on the line, according to one confidant of President Donald Trump.

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media and a Trump insider, told the ABC News "Powerhouse Politics" podcast that Coats might be dismissed since the president was disappointed with him.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Ruddy told Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks. "But I do think there's a view that maybe he's overstayed his welcome there in that job."

Ruddy told the podcast hosts that firing Coats likely would create backlash from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Coats served as a U.S. senator from Indiana for 16 years and is largely respected in the political sphere. Still, Ruddy said, Coats may not be the best fit for his current position.

"Dan Coats is good, but I would say he's not an expert," Ruddy said. "He's not a guy that comes out of the intelligence field. He was involved in oversight. There's a big difference."

He also pointed out that "openly criticizing" the president or "suggesting what he's doing is wrong" publicly is not the way to build morale.

Coats and other high-ranking intelligence officials have refuted claims the president has made. For example, after Trump publicly expressed confidence in his ability to make a denuclearization deal with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, Coats testified before Congress that North Korea "is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities." He added that the country's activities were inconsistent with full denuclearization.

On Jan. 30, a day later, Trump fired off two tweets, calling members of the intelligence community "extremely passive and naive." He added that "Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"

Less than 24 hours later, Trump changed course and said the media was fabricating a conflict, and that Coats and the other intelligence officials who testified, had been misquoted.

When asked about replacing Coats on Wednesday, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, "I haven't even thought about it.”

On the podcast, Ruddy also weighed in on the growing field of candidates looking to take on Trump in 2020.

Ruddy said Trump wasn't worried and described the high number of candidates as "becoming a circus."

"I don't think he thinks there's anyone serious that is going to really defeat him," Ruddy said. "I think he's very confident in his re-election."

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Central America this week where her message wasn't all that different from several Democrats'.

Their answer? More should be done to protect Central American families in the first place, so fewer seek refuge in the United States.

The comments in recent days by Nielsen and Democratic lawmakers suggests there's rare common ground on what's mostly been an explosive and divisive political issue. It's also in contrast to President Donald Trump's past reluctance to support foreign aid efforts and his insistence that only a border wall will do.

Speaking at a conference in San Salvador, El Salvador, Nielsen on Wednesday said she's reached an agreement with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address the "root causes" of migration. That would include better "information sharing, public messaging and security cooperation in order to ensure migrants receive protection closer to home rather than making the dangerous journey north," her office said in a statement.

The majority of migrants arriving at the border come from Guatemala, followed by Honduras and El Salvador.

Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who led a group of Democrats to visit the region in recent days, also said more could be done to collaborate with those countries to improve security for residents so they don't want to leave.

Carper said he was open to the administration's plan to make it easier for people to file a claim for amnesty or asylum from their home country, instead of at the border. He noted that he has shared notes with the administration, which, he said, seemed open to exchanging lessons learned.

"There's been a pretty good collaboration, and I'm encouraged by that," Carper told reporters in a call on Wednesday.

Overall, the number of people caught trying to cross the border illegally in recent years has plummeted -- from about 1.6 million in 2001 to less than 400,000 last year.

But apprehensions have crept higher in recent months. Since October, U.S. officials have apprehended more than 200,000 people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, an 85 percent increase from this time last year, according to data provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The types of people arriving at the border have changed too. Instead of young men from Mexico looking for work, most common during the George W. Bush administration, CBP said large groups of 200 to 300 people traveling together from Central America -- mostly families with young children -- are arriving at the same time to claim asylum. Often, the groups are coordinating via social media and only take a few days to reach the border by bus, officials said.

On Wednesday, Nielsen, who supports building a border wall, approached the issue diplomatically, meeting privately with Guatemalan Minister of Government Enrique Degenhart, Honduran Security Minister Julian Pacheco and Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Public Security Mauricio Landaverde.

"I thank my foreign counterparts for their determination to increase cooperation with the United States on stopping the formation and movement of caravans and the networks that facilitate them," she said in a statement afterward.

Democrats like Carper and Merkley are still balking at the administration's hard-line approach on immigration, which also has called for asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through the courts.

But calls to address the root cause of migration through diplomacy seems to suggest at least some common ground between the two sides, even as Trump's tweets focus solely on border wall construction and favor his "America First" agenda over diplomacy.

"What's driving people is hope -- hope for a better life," Merkley told reporters Wednesday. The question, he said, should be, "Are we doing enough?"

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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Wednesday granted Michael Cohen’s request to delay the start of his prison sentence, providing President Donald Trump’s former longtime fixer and personal attorney two more months of freedom before serving his three-year term.

“Given Mr. Cohen’s recent surgery and his health and recovery needs,” U.S. Judge William Pauley agreed to grant an “extension of his reporting date for sixty (60) days, from March 6, 2019, to May 6, 2019.”

In a letter to the judge, attorneys for Cohen said federal prosecutors in New York did not object to the extension.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to six felonies associated with his personal business dealings, including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank, and two felony campaign finance violations in connection with his role in arranging non-disclosure agreements during Trump's campaign with two women who had claimed past affairs with the president -- affairs Trump has denied.

Cohen’s legal team also cited their client’s prospective congressional testimony as rationale for a temporary delay in his sentencing.

“Mr. Cohen also anticipates being called to testify before three (3) Congressional committees at the end of the month,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote in a letter to Judge Pauley.

Since the beginning of the year, Cohen has delayed planned appearances before the House Intelligence Committee, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

His spokesman, Lanny Davis, has pledged that Cohen will appear before those panels before reporting to prison.

In an appearance on ABC News’ podcast, “The Investigation,” earlier this week, Davis said that while Cohen cannot talk about subjects vital to the special counsel investigation, he can describe his life at Trump's side, where he spent years as a lawyer and fixer.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued to demand that California return billions in federal funds it received to construct a high-speed rail project between San Francisco and California -- a demand now joined by his Transportation Department and one the state's Democratic governor is calling "political retribution."

The Transportation Department -- the agency that doled out the nearly $3.5 billion -- has threatened to seize it back after California led the charge on Monday to sue Trump over his national emergency declaration to get funding for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
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California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Tuesday that Trump's calls are retaliation for California's role in leading a 16-state coalition's lawsuit, pointing to a Trump tweet Tuesday that mentioned both the lawsuit and said "California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!"

"It's no coincidence that the administration's threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the president's farcical 'national emergency,'" Newsom said in a statement. "This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by. This is California's money, and we are going to fight for it."

A Trump tweet Wednesday referred to "cost overruns" and demanded: "Send the Federal Government back the Billions of Dollars WASTED!"

A change in the project's initial plan to have a high-speed rail stretch across the state was cited by both the president and the Transportation Department's insistence that the money be returned.

 In a letter Tuesday, the Transportation Department notified the California High-Speed Rail Authority that it intends to terminate its agreement and end the approximately $929 million California received for the project under the Obama administration.

The letter, signed by Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald L. Batory, cited multiple "failures" of the project, such as its inability to be completed by 2022 and Newsom's recent comments at his State of the State address last week where he announced a change in plans for the rail.

Newsom said efforts will be focused on finishing construction in the Central Valley, rather than the original plan that "would cost too much and take too long."

 In a separate statement Tuesday, the Transportation Department said it was also "actively exploring every legal option" to seize back $2.5 billion of federal funds the Federal Railroad Administration granted for the project.

"The agency reviewed options regarding funding for this project last week following the Governor's comments made during his State of the State address," a Transportation Department spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. "Governor Newsom's recent comments significantly alter the scope and objectives of the California High Speed Rail project, eliminating the objective for which Federal funding was originally awarded – end-to-end high speed rail service from San Francisco to Los Angeles."

The 16-state coalition's lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the president's emergency declaration is unconstitutional. Trump foresaw the blitz of legal challenges that have followed his national emergency declaration and he criticized California's "Fast Train project" on Twitter Tuesday for being "hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!"

 In a statement Tuesday, California GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, defended the Transportation Department's decision.

"It is time is to move on from the broken high-speed rail project and redirect our efforts to infrastructure projects that work for Californians," McCarthy said.

Last week, Newsom suggested in a tweet that Trump was trying to get money for his border wall.

"This is CA's money, allocated by Congress for this project. We're not giving it back. The train is leaving the station — better get on board! (Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??)," Newsom tweeted.

When asked specifically on Wednesday if any of the $3.5 billion in federal funds could be used toward Trump's border wall if returned, a Transportation Department spokesperson said: "Under existing appropriations, these funds could become available for other passenger rail projects."

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ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard defended her non-interventionist foreign policy stance in an interview on ABC's The View Wednesday, deflecting criticism painting her as an apologist of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by citing her own military service and the outcomes of those living in affected countries.

Gabbard, D-Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran who holds the rank of major in Hawaii's National Guard and is currently in her fourth term in the House of Representatives, argued further that the money spent on such conflicts could be better channeled towards domestic goals.

"It is those experiences of understanding and knowing first-hand the cost of war, both on our service members, on our veterans, as well as the cost on the people in the countries where we intervene, as well as the trillions of dollars, our taxpayer dollars, that are spent on waging these wars, dollars that are sorely needed to address the very real urgent needs of our families, our communities, our neighbors right here at home," she said.

Prior to her presidential campaign, the congresswoman was perhaps best known for a controversial 2017 trip to Syria to meet with Assad. She has since declined to label the leader an "enemy of the United States."

"An enemy of the United States is someone who threatens our safety and our security," Gabbard said on The View. "There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad and Syria is a brutal dictator. There's no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people… This is not something that I'm disputing, nor am I apologizing or defending these actions.

 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says "there's no disputing the fact" that Bashar Al-Assad is a "brutal dictator" who "has used chemical weapons" against his people, but adds that amid the US's "regime-change war," the "lives of the Syrian people have not been improved" https://t.co/5atF55nKl3 pic.twitter.com/lVVeJAKoHl

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 20, 2019

 

"My point is that the reality we are facing here is that, since the United States started waging a covert regime change war in Syria starting in 2011, the lives of the Syrian people have not been improved," she added, referencing U.S. funding of rebel groups to overthrow Assad under the Obama administration.

Long-rumored to be interested in a presidential run, Gabbard, who was one of the few Democratic members of Congress to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2016, surprised observers with a seemingly spur-of-the-moment campaign declaration during a CNN interview in January. She eventually followed that announcement with a formal launch event in Honolulu earlier this month, but her candidacy has already found itself embroiled in a number of controversies.

In addition to the continued questions about Syria, a January CNN report uncovered the congresswoman's past work for an organization run by her father that worked to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature," she told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as a 21-year-old state legislature candidate in 2002.

Gabbard apologized in the wake of the story, explaining that her views have since evolved and that she "regret[s] the positions [she] took in the past."

The congresswoman has additionally had to distance herself from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has long praised Gabbard, ranging back to the early days of the Trump administration, during which her non-interventionist views earned her consideration for the roles of secretary of state, secretary of defense and ambassador to the United Nations.

Expanding on her foreign policy approach on The View Wednesday, Gabbard was critical of U.S. involvement in the ongoing political unrest in Venezuela, where opposition leadership headed by Juan Guaidó -- and supported by the Trump administration -- is attempting to unseat President Nicolás Maduro.

 

The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don't want other countries to choose our leaders--so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.

— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 24, 2019

 

"Every time the United States, and particularly in Latin America, has gotten involved in regime change, using different tools to enact that regime change, there have been both short and long-term devastating impacts," Gabbard said. "If there are ways that we can work with surrounding countries to try to get humanitarian aid in to people there, then we should be doing that."

 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard tells @TheView she is against U.S. intervention in Venezuela because "every time the United States, and particularly in Latin America, has gotten involved in regime change ... there have been both short and longterm devastating impacts" https://t.co/5atF55nKl3 pic.twitter.com/YFtrFC3P7F

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 20, 2019

 

"But for the United States to go in and choose who should be the leader of Venezuela, that is not something that serves the interests of the Venezuelan people," she continued. "That's something that they need to determine themselves."

On domestic policy, where the crowded Democratic field has begun to fracture in recent weeks, Gabbard expressed strong support for environmental aims, but said she does not endorse the proposed "Green New Deal," explaining that she believed the legislation was too vague.

On free college tuition and universal health care, however, two tentpoles of Sanders' insurgent 2016 campaign, Gabbard said that both were achievable and downplayed concerns about the costs of the latter, saying that expenses would be lower for those in the system and that it could be achieved alongside private insurance.

"Making sure that we have this basic quality level of care for every American is what Medicare for all would do and that's what I support," she said.

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday cheered on Nick Sandmann after the parents of the Kentucky high school student filed a defamation suit against the Washington Post for its coverage of his encounter with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial last month.

The suit, filed Tuesday, seeks $250 million in damages.

Sandmann, who wore a red "Make America Great Again" hat as he stood in front of activist Nathan Phillips as Phillips beat a drum and a crowd of Sandmann's fellow students from Covington Catholic High School cheered him on, got public support from the president soon after the video of the encounter took off and again on Wednesday morning.

In a tweet, Trump knocked the Washington Post as "Fake News" and told Sandmann to "go get them."

“The Washington Post ignored basic journalistic standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump.” Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019

The complaint, filed by Ted Sandmann and Julie Sandmann, Nicholas' parents, in U.S. District Court in Covington, alleged the Post "ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump ('the President') by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President."

Sandmann has said he received death threats in the aftermath of the news stories and the lawsuit claims the newspaper falsely said the teenager "instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct" and "assaulted Phillips."

The lawsuit detailed seven articles published by the Washington Post after the encounter.

In the days after the incident, Sandmann released a lengthy statement defending his actions in the short video that went viral and explaining his side of the story.

For the lawsuit, Sandmann's attorneys used an investigation by a third-party investigative firm in Ohio to "formally determine what occurred" and confirm Sandmann's description, the complaint reads, and released a long YouTube video titled "Nick Sandmann: The Truth in 15 Minutes."

In its own coverage of the lawsuit, the Post said a spokeswoman from the paper responded, "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense."

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ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders touted an "unprecedented and historic grassroots campaign" in the launch of his presidential campaign. So far, so good.

Sanders' team announced just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday -- about 12 hours into his official campaign -- that over 330,000 people had donated a combined $4 million. The candidate's team also touted that the average donation was $27.

He put the full-court press on for donors throughout the first day of his campaign. He tweeted eight times asking for donations -- seven times in English and once in Spanish -- on Tuesday.

The senator blew past the early donation totals from the other candidates already involved in the 2020 race. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who announced her candidacy on ABC News' Good Morning America on Jan. 21, raised $1.5 million on her first day -- a total her staff happily touted showed "numbers [that] reveal a campaign powered by the people."

At least a dozen Democrats have already announced they are mounting a challenge to President Donald Trump next year, including Harris and fellow Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren; Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama, Julian Castro; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Other blockbuster names who could enter the race include former Vice President Joe Biden and billionaire ex-New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Sanders, I-Vt., earned a reputation as a populist candidate running a similar campaign in 2016 to what he is likely to run this time. He touted "Medicare-for-all," free college education and a $15 minimum wage both three years ago and Tuesday in announcing his second presidential run.

He readily identifies as a Democratic socialist in an era when political candidates like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., have been elected on the same platform.

Hillary Clinton beat out the 77-year-old for the Democratic nomination in 2016 before she eventually lost to Trump. At 79, he would be the oldest president ever elected in November 2020.

Trump had kind words for Sanders at an announcement about the Space Force on Tuesday, saying, "I think he was taken advantage of. He ran great four years ago and he was not treated with respect by Clinton."

Sanders is dealing with different circumstances than 2016. He has been criticized over his 2016 campaign's handling of sexual harassment claims made by women against senior members of his staff.

He apologized for "inadequate" standards and 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver told ABC News on Tuesday that the candidate would "forcefully" address the issue in his new campaign.

Sanders served as a congressman from 1991 to 2006 and then as senator the past 13 years.

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franckreporter/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made no secret of her intentions -- she wants Congress to wield just as much power as the president.

"You've heard me say over and over again, Article I, the legislative branch, the power of the purse, the power to declare war, many other powers listed in the Constitution, and, of course, the responsibility to have oversight," Pelosi said during a press conference last week.

One of those most responsible for insuring Congress is able to assert that power is the man she hired to serve as general counsel of the House of Representatives, Douglas Letter -- a veteran Justice Department lawyer who has spent years helping presidents argue just the opposite.

"He has a very deep understanding of the executive branch and how the Department of Justice argues to defend those interests," said John Bies, who was a colleague of Letter’s during eight years at the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama. "His new role will require him to shift his perspective, but I think he’s very capable of doing that."

Most recently, that has put Letter in charge of mapping out plans for a potential lawsuit over the president’s controversial national emergency declaration to free up money to build a border wall, and grab for Congress’ most potent tool -- the power of the purse.

But Congress and the White House could clash over an array of pivotal questions. Can Congress review copies of the president’s tax returns? Can they compel the attorney general to produce a copy of the special counsel report on meddling in the 2016 elections? Can they force the State Department interpreter who helped President Donald Trump converse with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell them what was discussed?

"He knows very well what arguments to anticipate from the other side," Bies said, "and I think he knows the strengths and weaknesses of those arguments."

Letter has been described by former colleagues as adept at navigating and troubleshooting the thorniest legal challenges under the administrations of both parties during his time at Justice.

"In the recent history of the Department of Justice, a few career officials have served with such sustained distinction through both Republican and Democratic administrations that they came to embody the essence of the department as an institution to personify its finest traditions," said David Laufman, the former head of DOJ’s counterintelligence and export control section who overlapped with Letter at DOJ. "Doug Letter is in that elite company."

The position of chief counsel is a nonpartisan one, but partisan clashes are all but inevitable. On the first day of the new Congress, the speaker directed Letter to start defending the Affordable Care Act, something Republicans and the current administration have spent years trying to tear down.

Still, those who know the position, and Letter, said he’s capable of offering legal advice to both parties without favor.

"It’s a unique and fascinating role for a lawyer, because the general counsel serves at the pleasure of the speaker but is responsible for providing confidential legal advice and representation to members and staff on both sides of the aisle," said Thomas Hungar, the previous general counsel in the Republican controlled House.

The Office of General Counsel is typically composed of 10 staff members -- attorneys, law clerks and administrative personnel, who represent the House of Representatives as an institution responsible for giving legal advice to leadership and staff on both sides of the aisle. In some ways, they assume the role of a managing partner of a law firm.

Letter, who did not respond to a request for an interview, said in December that he was looking forward to the experience.

"I am eager to apply my litigation experience as I take on the challenges and opportunities that come with the important position of House general counsel," he said in a prepared statement released by Pelosi’s office.

Democrats are already leaning on Letter as they begin to expand their oversight investigations.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in an interview that he is working "very closely" with the counsel’s office as his committee begins its new investigation into the Trump administration. Schiff has said the committee's new probe will "go beyond" the question of Russian influence.

"We have encouraged the other committees to do the same, and that means everything from vetting language for subpoenas or strategizing about how to get information, what predicate is necessary," Schiff said. "They’re a full partner."

Democrats have consulted with Letter on the subject of how to best obtain information on the president’s meetings with Putin from the translator who accompanied Trump.

Both Schiff and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have contemplated issuing a subpoena to the interpreter or to the State Department for any of her notes.

“That’s an issue I’ve discussed with the general counsel and my staff is also discussing within the office. It’s not one we’ve reached a resolution on but we’re going through the various legal issues and strategies,” Schiff told ABC News.

Letter will have to adjust to a more hurried time-table. Court challenges can sometimes take years, but Democratic lawmakers have acknowledged that they essentially have about a year to mount their collective fight ahead of a tumultuous 2020 presidential election.

Those who have worked with Letter say he is up to the task.

“Non-ideological, wise, diligent, brilliant, and deeply experienced -- there is literally no one better suited to the job,” said Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

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Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- 2020 presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a mother who knows the struggle of affordable child care from her own experience, unveiled a plan on Tuesday to guarantee child care and early learning programs to every child in the U.S. for free or for far less.

"It will be free for millions of American families, and affordable for everyone," Warren wrote in a 1,700-word description of the plan published in a post on Medium Tuesday.

Warren, a two-term senator from Massachusetts, is one of nearly a dozen Democrats running to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

The initiative, dubbed the Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan, would provide options for formal care and early education to every kid in the country, beginning at birth and continuing until school age, according to the plan. Families, based on certain income levels, would qualify for free care, while those who didn't would see prices capped at 7 percent of their annual income, Warren wrote.

An independent analysis found that around eight million kids would have access to the programs for free, according to Moody's Analytics.

The benefits of early child care have long been documented, even showing taxpayers can make money back when investing in high-quality early education.

"My plan gives every kid a fair shot," Warren wrote. "In the wealthiest country on the planet, access to affordable and high-quality child care and early education should be a right, not a privilege reserved for the rich."

Warren's plan intends to partner already-existing child care providers with resources provided by the federal government, which would "pick up a huge chunk of the cost of operating these new high-quality options," according to the plan.

The government would hold providers to new "high national standards" and child care providers would get a pay bump through the federal subsidy that would reflect what's expected of the guidelines -- which Warren described as comparable to the work and pay of public school teachers.

Any family making two times the federal poverty level, which varies depending on family size, would qualify for free child care. That would include, for example, any family of four making less than $50,200 a year, or any single parents making less than $32,920 a year.

If a family made more than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, they would be charged no more than 7 percent of their total income.

"My plan provides the kind of big, structural change we need transform child care from a privilege for the wealthy to a right for every child in America," Warren wrote.

Warren plans to pay for the child care initiative with another plan she's campaigning on: her Ultra-Millionaire Tax, which would tax families who have a net worth of more than $50 million.

The Ultra-Millionaire Tax would generate about four times more than what would be needed to pay for the Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan, according to Warren.

Warren's campaign estimated 12 million children would be able to take advantage of the new program.

"My Universal Child Care and Early Learning program is a win-win-win: it’s great for parents, for kids, and for the economy," Warren wrote Tuesday.

Warren's plan is of personal interest. She raised her two children while navigating her early career as a lawyer and law school professor. She had her daughter while attending law school at Rutgers University in New Jersey, often taking her to campus with her, and it wasn't long after she had her second child -- and divorced her husband, taking on the challenge of single motherhood -- that she was teaching law at the University of Houston.

She often speaks of the difficulties of affording care -- and the quality of care she wanted for her kids -- while working. In unveiling her plan, she described an incident in Houston, when she picked her son up from day care and found he had "been left in a dirty diaper for who knows how long."

"I was upset with the daycare but, more than anything, angry with myself for failing my baby," Warren wrote Tuesday.

Warren credits an elderly aunt from Oklahoma, who moved in with her soon after she moved to Texas, as the only reason she was able to take care of her children while holding onto her job.

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