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Thousands of women participate in sit-in at Colorado Capitol against gun violence

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(DENVER) -- Thousands of women participate in a sit-in at the Colorado state Capitol Monday, calling on Gov. Jared Polis to sign an executive order to ban guns and implement a system to buy them back.

The Here 4 the Kids movement, which advocates to end gun violence, is behind the event. Organizers said roughly 2,000 people were among the first to gather. They are also calling on white women specifically, to participate in the demonstration.

Tina Strawn, the movement’s cofounder, told ABC News that Black people have always been on the frontlines for social justice.

“So, it's time for white women to show up. It's time for white women to put their bodies, their privilege and their power on the line to save our kids,” she said. “And it is something that they are recognizing that they need to be doing. That's why they're showing up.”

On the importance of the sit-in, cofounder Saira Rao said “We have lost our imagination to dream bigger and envision a life where our kids are safe wherever they go. This is not a way to live. It is not a way to live. Bulletproof backpacks [are] not normal, and we've gotten used to this as if it's normal.”

“It's got to stop, and nothing has worked since … the 24 years since Columbine,” she said, referring to the 1999 high school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, which left 15 dead.

Organizers said the mood of the sit-in is solemn, and the names of people who have died from gun violence since the start of the Here 4 the Kids organization in April are read at the beginning of each hour.

Actress and director Lake Bell is one of the thousands of women participating in the sit-in.

She told ABC News “This is the thing to do -- which is to show up, to make the effort, to participate in the action of really advocating and demanding for change.”

Bell, who is a mother of two, said “I don't think there is a child in America that goes to school that doesn't live with anxiety and fear around the idea of an active shooter, or a lockdown scenario. They are not blind to that.”

“My daughter was very nervous of my coming here,” she continued, noting how common guns are. “So, I think it affects the mental wellness and the mental health of our children.”

Other celebrities, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Niecy Nash and Amanda Seales, also voiced their support for the movement.

In response to the sit-in, the governor’s office released a statement Monday, writing that Polis supports the right to bear arms and is also concerned “about improving public safety including reducing gun violence.”

The statement added that his “staff has met with the organizers and have expressed concerns that the requests being made are either unconstitutional or require legislative action. The Governor takes the weighty responsibility of executive action and the trust Coloradans placed in him to govern responsibly seriously, and will not issue an unconstitutional order that will be struck down in court simply to make a public relations statement — he will continue to focus on real solutions to help make Colorado one of the 10 safest states.”

The organizers said they plan to continue the sit-in until an executive order is signed, and they expressed optimism that it will be.

“We have to believe that any decent human being with the power to end children's pain and suffering will absolutely choose their right to live over the right to bear arms,” Rao said. “We believe [Polis] will do it because what decent human being wouldn't do it?”

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Judge who once did legal work for Trump can continue in criminal case

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(NEW YORK) -- Neither former President Trump nor Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg object to Judge Alvin Hellerstein presiding over a matter related to Trump's criminal prosecution, the two sides indicated Monday in separate letters to the court.

Hellerstein revealed last week that he had once performed legal work for a Trump entity in the 1990s while in private practice but said he did not believe that would affect his impartiality. He retired from the firm in 1998.

"After considering Your Honor’s letter, and consulting with our client, we agree with Your Honor’s conclusion that the prior work does not provide any basis for a recusal in this matter," defense attorney Todd Blanche wrote.

"The People believe that the circumstances identified by the Court do not present any appearance of impropriety, reason to question the Court’s impartiality, or other basis for recusal," assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo wrote.

On June 27 Hellerstein will hear oral arguments to decide whether to move Trump’s criminal prosecution to federal court, where he has argued it belongs since the alleged crimes occurred while he was president.

Prosecutors oppose the move, arguing the charged conduct had nothing to do with the presidency.

In his letter to Trump’s attorneys and the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Hellerstein said he once performed legal work for Trump Equitable Fifth Ave as a partner at a Stroock Stroock Lavan.

"In my opinion, my impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned and no appearance of impropriety exists," Hellerstein wrote.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection to a hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pence files paperwork for presidential campaign

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Mike Pence filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Monday to launch his presidential campaign.

The paperwork marks the start of a long-anticipated 2024 bid for Pence, which will put him in the middle of a crowded GOP primary field that also features Donald Trump, the former president Pence served under, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered by most to be Trump's most serious Republican challenger.

Other contenders include former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and more.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are also anticipated to launch campaigns this week, but New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Monday that he'll stay out of the race after saying for months he was thinking about joining.

Pence has long teased that he could enter the 2024 field, and in hints that a campaign is coming, has been traveling to key early primary states and had a super PAC set up by allies that will likely support his campaign as it gets off the ground.

Pence is anticipated to have an official campaign launch on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa, followed by a CNN town hall later that night.

The former vice president has yet to break double digits in statewide and national polling.

Pence is anticipated to have a muscular campaign presence in Iowa, where his hardline social policies and devout religious appeals could win over support from the state's influential evangelical voters. He also hails from Indiana, a nearby state.

Pence largely remained loyal to Trump during their four years in the White House, but the two had a falling out after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, before which Trump pressured his No. 2 to use his ceremonial role overseeing the certification of the Electoral College results to overturn their loss.

Pence has since said "there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president" and hinted that he believes the party is ready to move on from Trump's bombast and return to a party more defined by Ronald Reagan-era policies.

"I believe we have to resist the politics of personality and the siren song of populism for more timeless conservative principles, and we need to stand firm on the conservative agenda of life and liberty and a commitment to freedom that has always led us to victory," he said last weekend in Iowa.

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Trump lawyers meet with Justice Department officials

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(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for former President Donald Trump met with officials at the Department of Justice Monday, according to sources familiar with the matter.

It was not immediately clear who Trump's lawyers met with at DOJ.

Spokespeople for the special counsel and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the meeting. Trump's attorneys declined to answer questions about the officials who they met with or whether they were informed that a charging decision over Trump's handling of classified documents was made.

Trump's lawyers requested a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland last month amid fears that the coming weeks could bring a possible indictment of Trump regarding his alleged efforts to retain materials after leaving office and obstruct the government's attempts to retrieve them.

The lawyers have said they have questions surrounding the integrity of the grand juries impaneled that are investigating the former president.

In their meeting request last month, the Trump attorneys wrote that they wanted to discuss what they described as the "ongoing injustice that is being perpetrated" by special counsel Jack Smith and said that no president has been "baselessly investigated" in such an "unlawful fashion."

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NH man allegedly threatened senator over military promotion block: 'Coming to get you'

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(WASHINGTON) -- A New Hampshire man was arrested last week and charged with threatening to kill a U.S. senator, federal prosecutors said.

Brian Landry, a 66-year-old from Franklin, New Hampshire, allegedly left a threatening voicemail at the senator's district office on May 17, which was referred to U.S. Capitol Police, investigators said in an affidavit along with Landry's criminal complaint.

"Hey stupid I'm a veteran sniper. And unless you change your ways, I got my scope pointed in your direction and I'm coming to get you. You're a dead man walking you piece of f------ s---," Landry is accused of saying, according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors did not identify the senator whom Landry allegedly targeted beyond stating that the lawmaker took office on Jan. 3, 2021.

When questioned by authorities after being identified through phone records, Landry said he was "extremely angry with certain politicians over their handling of important entitlement programs for veterans," the affidavit states.

He also "said he saw on the news that [the senator] is blocking military promotions" and called the senator's office "because he was angry about what he saw on the news," according to the affidavit.

Authorities said in the criminal complaint affidavit that while talking with Landry, he "initially stated that he did not recall exactly what he said in the voicemail he left." Later, he "acknowledged he may have said those things, but denied any intentions or desire to commit violence."

Landry is charged with threatening to assault, kidnap or murder a member of Congress and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

He made his first court appearance on Friday afternoon, according to prosecutors. His next hearing is set for July 12.

He does not have a lawyer listed who could comment on his behalf. He has not yet entered a plea.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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US must 'stand strong' in face of 'unbelievable aggression from China': Turner

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Mike Turner, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday lambasted what he called increased military hostility by China and insisted the U.S. "stand strong" after recent close calls near American ships and planes and the suspected spy balloon that was shot down off the East Coast.

"What we're seeing is an unbelievable aggression by China," Turner, R-Ohio, told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz. "If you look at the balloon that flew over the United States, the Chinese police stations, the aggressiveness against our both planes and ships and international water, it goes right to the heart of what President Xi [Jinping] said when he stood next to [President Vladimir] Putin in Russia where he said they are trying to make change that has not happened in 100 years."

"They're trying to flex their muscles and advance authoritarianism. We need to stand strong," Turner said, "and this administration needs to stand strong against this type of coercion."

The tough rhetoric from Turner comes as relations between Washington and Beijing have become frayed over issues including Taiwan, trade and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though President Joe Biden has said he seeks "competition, not conflict."

U.S. officials believe China has been coordinating an increasing campaign of harassment, including two incidents in recent days between U.S. and Chinese planes and ships.

When pressed by Raddatz on Sunday on what would be a sufficient response, Turner said President Biden should make it clear that the government views China as an "adversary."

"I think it means calling them out. I mean, this is unacceptable," Turner said. "I think the administration needs to step up and make clear that China has identified itself as an adversary, and we're going to treat it as such."

On Friday in Singapore, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin both reaffirmed a commitment to the Indo-Pacific region and called for more communication after being refused a sit-down with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu.

"The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict," Austin said. On Saturday, he said, "We will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion."

Shangfu recently blamed "bullying" and "double standards" by "some country" and said, "A cold war mentality is now resurgent."

In his "This Week" appearance, Turner said the U.S. should also bolster its defense capabilities against North Korea, which continues to develop a nuclear program and gets much of its aid from China.

"The concept of deterrence -- we have weapons, they have weapons -- is dead. We need to go to deterrence plus defense," he said. "That means an aggressive missile defense system."

Turner singled out a need for more robust protection around New York City, pointing to efforts by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik and others to increase missile defense capabilities at Fort Drum, in upstate New York.

"We need to build out that system and we need to hold China accountable for North Korea," he said.

He also praised efforts to arm the Ukrainian military ahead of an expected counteroffensive against Russia, saying it was "amazing to see the ingenuity" with which troops there have used U.S.-supplied munitions, including by taking out a key Russian Kinzhal missile.

However, Turner said the U.S. weaponry should not be used to launch attacks inside of Russia -- as Russian border towns have experienced a sharp spike in violence fueled by paramilitary groups who maintain they're fighting for Ukraine.

"I don't know who's behind those," Turner acknowledged on "This Week."

The Biden administration has said it's investigating.

"Certainly, we have to understand that Ukraine needs to be able to defend its territory, they need to defend themselves from Russian aggression," Turner said. "President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy made a commitment that he would not use U.S. weapon systems in [Russia] and he's made that commitment to me when I saw him last."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ukraine must make 'major concessions' to Russia so US can focus on China: Vivek Ramaswamy

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Vivek Ramaswamy, the youngest 2024 Republican presidential candidate and self-proclaimed political outsider, on Sunday made his "America first" pitch for the White House while defending his view that the U.S. must force "major concessions" from Ukraine in order to end Russia's invasion and allow a sharper focus on facing China.

"The job of the U.S. president is to look after American interests," he told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, arguing that militarily backing Ukraine's continued resistance to Russia's invasion is a less compelling goal than dealing with Beijing.

Ramaswamy's position on Ukraine and Russia puts him in the minority among politicians, with leading Republicans and Democrats saying Russia's invasion must not be successful in order to preserve stability in Europe.

"You said in a speech in New Hampshire on Friday that you would not spend another dime of American money on a war that does not affect our interests. You don't think the possibility of Russia taking over Ukraine is in our interest?" Raddatz asked him on "This Week."

"I don't think that's a top foreign policy priority," Ramaswamy said, later adding, "I don't think it is preferable for Russia to be able to invade a sovereign country that is its neighbor. But ... I think the No. 1 threat to the U.S. military is right now, our top military threat, is the China-Russian alliance. I think that by fighting further in Russia, by further arming Ukraine, we are driving Russia into China's hands."

Instead, he said, he would "end this war" as long as Putin ended his country's alliance with China.

"No one tells Vladimir Putin what to do. That has not worked yet," Raddatz pressed. "And you said you would want to give them the Donbas [a region of Ukraine currently occupied by Russia]. ... That would be rewarding Putin, wouldn't it?"

"I don't trust Putin, but I do trust Putin to follow his self-interest," Ramaswamy maintained.

"What I think we need to do is end the Ukraine war on peaceful terms that, yes, do make some major concessions to Russia, including freezing those current lines of control in a Korean-war style armistice agreement. ... Which Ukraine wouldn't want to do," he continued. "And also a permanent commitment not to allow Ukraine to enter NATO. But in return, Russia has to leave its treaty and its joint military agreement with China."

Ramaswamy raised concerns of a future invasion of Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.

Stopping a war there "is a much higher priority," he said.

"China's bet is that they're going to go for Taiwan, the U.S. won't want to be in simultaneous conflict with two nuclear superpowers at the same time. But if Russia's no longer at China's back and vice versa, we're in a stronger position," he said.

Early in Ramaswamy's "This Week" interview, Raddatz noted that he is polling in the back of the pack of GOP hopefuls and asked him on how he would walk the "fine line" of appealing to former President Donald Trump's base, who make up a large number of Republican primary voters.

"America first does not belong to Trump. It doesn't belong to me," said Ramaswamy, a former biotech entrepreneur. "It belongs to the people of this country. And I think we take that agenda even further if we're doing it based on first principles and moral authority, as [Ronald] Reagan did, rather than on vengeance and grievance."

No revival of Trump's trans military ban

In light of his criticism of "woke" policies around identity, diversity and historical oppression, Ramaswamy was asked by Raddatz if, as president, he would revive a controversial Trump-era ban on transgender military members that was reversed under President Joe Biden.

"I would not reinstate a ban on transgender members," Ramaswamy said. "I would, however, be very clear that for kids, that's where my policies are very focused."

Conservatives have increasingly called out policies around transgender children that they view as concerning, including pushing for limits on the health care that those kids can receive related to their gender, arguing they are extreme, which advocates and many doctors reject.

"We should not be forcing this ideology onto children," Ramaswamy said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden signs bipartisan debt ceiling deal


(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- President Joe Biden addressed the nation in a prime-time speech Friday after Congress averted an economically disastrous default with just days to spare by passing legislation to raise the nation's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.

The president, speaking from behind the Resolute Desk in his first Oval Office address, stressed that "unity" had made it possible.

"When I ran for president, I was told the days of bipartisanship were over," he said. "That Democrats, Republicans could no longer work together. I refused to believe that because America can never give into that way of thinking."

Biden signed the bill into law Saturday.

"I just signed into law a bipartisan budget agreement that prevents a first-ever default while reducing the deficit, safeguarding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and fulfilling our scared obligation to our veterans. Now, we continue the work of building the strongest economy in the world," Biden tweeted Saturday.

Biden touted the deal he made with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as a win for American families and proof of his ability to compromise to keep the nation on track -- themes he's using in his 2024 reelection campaign.

"Essential to all the progress we've made in the last few years is keeping the full, faith, and credit of the United States and passing a budget that continues to grow our economy and reflects our values as a nation," he said. "That's why I'm speaking to you tonight. To report on a crisis averted and what we are doing to protect America's future. Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher."

In noting how the deal came together, he said no one got everything they wanted but still acted to stave off the worst-case scenario: a default that would have likely triggered a recession and caused millions of jobs to be lost.

"I know bipartisanship is hard, and unity is hard," he said. "But we can never stop trying. Because in the moments like this one, the ones we just faced, where the American economy the world economy is at risk of collapsing, there's no other way, no matter how tough our politics gets, we must see each other not as adversaries but as fellow Americans."

Reiterating one of his key lines from his inaugural address, he urged Americans to "stop shouting, lower the temperature and work together to pursue progress."

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the result of months of back-and-forth between Biden and McCarthy. It lifts the debt ceiling through Jan. 1, 2025, in exchange for some cuts to federal spending.

Biden's signing of the bill Saturday puts an end to weeks of anxiety that the nation would nose-dive into economic turmoil by not being able to pay all its bills, including Social Security or Medicaid benefits, on time and in full for the first time in history.

In his Oval Office address, Biden notably commended McCarthy and the GOP and White House negotiating teams for being "completely honest and respectful with one another," as well as praising the work of other top congressional leaders.

"They acted responsibly to put the good of the country ahead of politics," Biden said, adding that "both sides kept their word."

Earlier, when asked by ABC News' Elizabeth Schulze why Biden chose the Oval Office for the speech, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he wanted to meet the "gravity" of the moment.

As Biden worked behind-the-scenes to hammer out the deal, he at times frustrated Democrats -- members of the party's progressive wing, especially -- who worried he was giving in too much to Republican demands.

At one point, several in his party urged him to go it alone and use the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, an idea Biden ultimately rejected in this situation, but one he said he would study.

"I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties," he said earlier this week. "This agreement meets that test."

The final product did give both Democrats and Republicans something to celebrate: the White House touted the protection of key priorities and legislative accomplishments while McCarthy sold it to his caucus as much-needed reining in of government spending.

"I wanted to make history," McCarthy said as he took a victory lap after the House passed the bill. "I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship and for the first time in quite some time, we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history."

Moderates from both parties gave the bill its necessary stamp of approval in the House and Senate, but in the end more congressional Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans.

"Democrats are feeling very good tonight," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., triumphantly said after Thursday's vote. "We've saved the country from the scourge of default."

Schumer contended Democrats "beat back the worst of the Republican agenda" including deeper spending cuts that would've dismantled parts of the Inflation Reduction Act, taken people off federal aid and blocked Biden's student loan forgiveness plan.

Biden on Friday also celebrated that the bill leaves Social Security, Medicaid, veterans benefits and other priorities untouched before turning to a list of other priorities he wants to get done next, including more deficit reduction and raising revenues by making wealthy Americans "pay their fair share."

"I'm gonna be coming back and with your help, I'm going to win," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump's attorneys unable to locate sensitive military document he discussed in recording

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(NEW YORK) -- Attorneys for former President Donald Trump have been unable to locate the sensitive military document that Trump discussed on tape during a July 2021 meeting at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.

Federal investigators have the audio recording, on which Trump acknowledges he held onto a sensitive military document after leaving office, sources previously told ABC News.

On the recording, which ABC News has not listened to nor obtained, Trump is heard attacking Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and referencing one document in particular that Trump claimed Milley had compiled, according to sources. Trump, who said on the recording that he still had the document in his possession, said the document was about attacking Iran, sources said.

Trump's lawyers turned over documents in response to a March subpoena seeking all documents and materials related to Milley and Iran, including any materials containing invasion plans or maps, the sources told ABC News.

In their dealings with Trump's lawyers, special counsel Jack Smith's investigators said they specifically wanted the document that Trump referenced on the recording, sources familiar with the matter said. But they were unable to locate it.

It's also not clear whether Trump had the specific document with him during the July 2021 meeting while he was discussing it. Trump indicated during the recording that he knew the document in question was secret, sources said.

The special counsel's office declined to comment to ABC News.

The recording was made during a meeting that Trump held with people who were helping former chief of staff Mark Meadows with his memoir, according to sources.

Contacted earlier this week about the recording, a Trump spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News, "Leaks from radical partisans behind this political persecution are designed to inflame tensions and continue the media's harassment of President Trump and his supporters."

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Trump asks judge in criminal case to step aside due to his daughter's Democratic ties

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump on Friday asked the judge overseeing his criminal prosecution in New York City to step aside, citing the judge's daughter's ties to a Democratic organization.

Judge Juan Merchan is presiding over the case, in which Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection to a hush payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Merchan himself will decide whether he is impartial.

The defense said he can't be, because his daughter is an executive at Authentic Campaigns, a Democratic consulting firm that worked on President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign.

There is a "need to assure the public that the judge who presides over this historic case is actually impartial," Trump's attorneys said in their motion for recusal. "This role cannot be fulfilled by Your Honor."

"Authentic is a company which has both publicly taken positions against President Trump and has reported raising over $74 million in campaign contributions for clients since 2018 (mostly in 2020 and 2022) to Democrats," the motion said.

Trump attorneys Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles also cited Merchan's oversight of a prior criminal case involving the Trump Organization, which was convicted of tax fraud. They said Merchan encouraged then-chief financial adviser Allen Weisselberg to plead guilty and cooperate against the company.

"At a June 17th meeting in the Court's Chambers, the Court informed Mr. Weisselberg's attorneys that unless Mr. Weisselberg cooperated with the People against Donald Trump and his interests, the Court would only offer Mr. Weisselberg a state prison sentence of at least one to three years imprisonment, even if Mr. Weisselberg pleaded guilty," the defense motion said.

The Manhattan district attorney's office has not formally responded, but was expected to oppose Trump's effort to replace the judge. A spokesperson for the DA's office declined to comment.

The motion for recusal is the second attempt by Trump to move his criminal case out of Merchan's courtroom. He is also seeking to remove the case to federal court, a move that's opposed by the district attorney's office.

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DOJ tells Pence it won't seek criminal charges against him in documents probe

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice has notified former Vice President Mike Pence that no criminal charges will be sought in their investigation into his handling of classified documents after leaving office, according to a letter sent to Pence's attorneys by the DOJ that ABC News has reviewed.

A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the letter to ABC News, but declined to comment further.

The letter from DOJ's National Security Division comes the week before Pence is expected to announce his candidacy for president in 2024.

Earlier this year, lawyers for Pence informed the Justice Department that a small number of classified documents had been found at his home in Indiana.

The discovery came after representatives for President Joe Biden similarly found classified materials from his time as vice president and dating back to his time as a senator in several locations.

A special counsel is still investigating Biden's potential mishandling of classified materials, and the status of that probe remains unclear.

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Senate passes debt ceiling deal, staving off default

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Thursday night passed legislation to lift the nation's debt ceiling and stave off what would've been an economically disastrous default days before Monday's deadline.

The final vote was 63-36.

The bill will now go to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

Biden heralded the Senate vote passing the budget agreement as a "big win" for the economy.

Noting the bipartisan nature of the vote, Biden said, "Together, they demonstrated once more that America is a nation that pays its bills and meets its obligations -- and always will be. I want to thank Leader [Chuck] Schumer and Leader [Mitch] McConnell for quickly passing the bill."

"No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people," the president added.

Biden said he looks forward to signing the bill as soon as possible, and that he will address the American people directly Friday.

Schumer painted the debt limit deal as a broad victory for Democrats late Thursday night during a press conference just after the legislation passed.

"Default was a giant sword hanging over America's head," Schumer said. "But because of the good work of President Biden, as well as Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate, we are not defaulting."

Schumer's comments come after an aggressive effort by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to cast the bill as a GOP victory. But Schumer pointed to the vote margins in the House and Senate, noting that the bill enjoyed more support from Democrats than it did from Republicans in both chambers.

"We got more votes because the bill beat back the worst of the Republican agenda," Schumer said. "This was an exercise in where the American people are at, and they are much closer to where we are than where they are."

The Fiscal Responsibility Act, the product of weeks of contentious negotiation between Biden and McCarthy, will raise the $31.4 trillion debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025, while also implementing some caps on government spending and policy changes.

Republicans are touting its spending cuts while the White House argues it was able to protect major Democratic priorities like Medicare and Social Security, among other Biden-backed initiatives.

The compromise legislation was met with opposition from wings of both parties -- hard-line Republicans and progressive Democrats -- but has now passed both chambers with bipartisan support in the face of the alternative: an unprecedented default on the nation's bills that would've likely cost millions of jobs and triggered a recession.

The House passed the bill on Wednesday in a 314-117 vote, a win for McCarthy in his first major test as speaker.

"I wanted to make history," McCarthy said as he took a victory lap after the bill's passage. "I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship, that for the first time in quite some time we'd spend less than we spent the year before."

Lawmakers have raced to get the bill across the finish line ahead of Monday, the date Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the U.S. could run out of money to pay all its bills on time and in full.

The Senate avoided a filibuster and the passage of any amendments to get the bill across the finish line before the weekend.

Overall, the Fiscal Responsibility Act will keep non-defense spending flat in fiscal year 2024 and increase spending by 1% in 2025, which ultimately amounts to a cut in light of inflation, while slightly raising military spending.

It imposes new work requirements for older Americans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, and other federal assistance, a key Republican demand, though the Congressional Budget Office estimated it could increase spending and the number of people who qualify for aid. Medicaid and Medicare programs were left untouched.

The legislation also paves the way for a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, claws back some funding for the Internal Revenue Service and ends the three-year pause on federal student loan payments.

According to the CBO, the bill will reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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Trump pushes back on his inability to serve 8 more years in White House: 'You need 6 months'

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(URBANDALE, Iowa) -- Former President Donald Trump returned to Iowa on Thursday for a full day of campaign events, taking multiple jabs at 2024 primary rival Ron DeSantis and defending people imprisoned in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

In particular, Trump took issue with a comment the Florida governor has used on the campaign trail in recent days, when DeSantis has said he's gunning for "eight years" in office in order to deliver on a myriad of conservative promises -- an implicit contrast with Trump, who can only serve one more term.

"You don't need eight years, you need six months," Trump said Thursday morning during a breakfast with the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale.

"We can turn this thing around so quickly. If you need eight years -- who the hell wants to wait eight years? You don't need eight years," he said to laughter and a few claps.

"He'll stop saying that -- watch," Trump added during his speech. "Every time I hear, I wince because if it takes eight years to turn around, you don't want him as president," to which someone in the crowd yelled, "You're hired!"

Trump made similar comments earlier Thursday morning as he entered the Machine Shed restaurant for the breakfast, saying, "We only need five months."

As part of his "eight years" argument, DeSantis has pointed to things like the Supreme Court.

Speaking last month in Florida, he said that the next "two terms" could be especially relevant for whoever is in the White House, because the president may be able to further cement the Supreme Court's conservative majority in light of some justices' advancing ages.

"I think if you look over the next two presidential terms, there is a good chance that you could be called upon to seek replacements for Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito and the issue with that is, you can't really do better than those two," DeSantis said then, adding that there may also be a chance to "make improvements with those others, and if you were able to do that, you would have a 7-2 conservative majority on the Supreme Court that would last a quarter century."

Such comments come as DeSantis has become sharply critical of Trump, a former ally. The governor officially entered the 2024 race last week and is traveling through three early nominating states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, this week.

"[Trump] used to say how great Florida was. Hell, his whole family moved to Florida under my governorship. Are you kidding me?" DeSantis told reporters after a campaign kickoff outside Des Moines on Tuesday.

During his own campaign events Thursday, Trump sometimes answered questions from the crowd, including from one girl who said she just graduated from high school.

When a person at one event called for "justice for people that have been in prison since Jan. 6," Trump repeated his rhetoric of defending the rioters and said the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot one of them, Ashli Babbitt, was a "rogue cop" and a "thug."

Authorities have said the officer acted lawfully in shooting Babbitt and a federal investigation found that Babbitt and others were trying to break through barricaded entrances near the Speaker's Lobby that leads to the Chamber of the U.S. House, from which members of Congress were being evacuated.

In Iowa, however, Trump tried to cast the events of Jan. 6 differently, saying those arrested around the riot were being treated worse than in past protests like those related to racial inequality demonstrations.

"You look at what they've done to the Jan. 6 people, they've destroyed them and destroyed their lives," he insisted. "And a lot of them didn't even go into the building. It was a disgrace what's going on."

The Department of Justice reports that more than 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the government's Jan. 6 investigation.

More than 300 people have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees that day, the DOJ has said, and more than 100 defendants have been accused of using deadly weapons.

Trump was impeached by the House and accused of inciting the events of Jan. 6, but he was acquitted by the Senate. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Elsewhere in Iowa on Thursday, Trump pointed to his experience in Washington as a reason he should earn Iowan votes -- a stark pivot from what he's used as a selling point in the past: his background as a political outsider.

"I'm very experienced now, you know, it's not like I'm going in and saying, 'Oh, this nice office, is this the Oval Office?'" he said, adding, "I think within six months you're gonna see a major part of the comeback."

Trump attended three total events ahead of a town hall on Thursday night with Fox News' Sean Hannity.

ABC News' Luke Barr, Chris Boccia, Hannah Demissie and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

More Oath Keeper defendants sentenced for Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Brent Stirton/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge sentenced two Oath Keeper defendants Thursday for their roles in disrupting the certification of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.

Edward Vallejo was sentenced to three years in prison while Roberto Minuta received a term of four years and six months. Both sentences were a significant departure from the 17 years the government requested for each defendant after the two were convicted earlier this year of sedition and conspiracy to derail Joe Biden's election victory.

Prosecutors argued Minuta was a key leader of the "second wave" of Oath Keepers who stormed the Capitol. He was joined by Joshua James, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last year.

As part of his guilty plea, James admitted he and fellow members brought weapons, including a rifle, shotgun, semi-automatic handgun and ammunition to the greater Washington, D.C., area. James acknowledged he breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, intending to stop the electoral college certification, with Minuta by his side.

At his sentencing, Minuta flatly denied any knowledge of plans between Oath Keepers, including the stockpile some had amassed at a Virginia hotel.

"I did not know about any guns in Virginia whatsoever," Minuta said.

Minuta continued to insist he went into the Capitol to help police officers in distress. He apologized to the judge for entering the building.

"I shouldn't have and I'm sorry that I did," he said. "I was presented with an opportunity to help police and I blew it."

"I did not want to advance into the building, and I left James in there as soon as I could get out," he added.

Judge Amit Mehta said he found no evidence that Minuta entered the building to help police.

"You and I will have to agree to disagree about that," Mehta said.

Mehta also found no evidence that Minuta himself brought a weapon into the district or served as a critical leader of the group. However, Mehta did apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentence that was ultimately handed down.

Vallejo himself wasn't accused of taking any violent actions on Jan. 6, but prosecutors argued his position as a leader of the "quick reaction force" was even more serious. Oath Keepers amassed a cache of weapons at a Virginia hotel where Vallejo awaited orders from those in Washington, D.C., prosecutors alleged.

Defense attorney Matthew Peed argued that Vallejo was influenced by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and then-President Donald Trump to think what he was doing was patriotic. As an example of his respect for the democratic process, Peed said Vallejo had been a major supporter of former Rep. Ron Paul, even attending a national political convention on his behalf.

"He just thought that something different (on Jan. 6) was happening because the President had told him," Peed said.

Vallejo was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his prison term, including time on home confinement.

"He has had an impeccable pre-trial record," Mehta said, before allowing Vallejo to walk out of court and self-surrender.

Last week, Rhodes received the longest sentence of any Jan. 6 defendant to date at 18 years, a decision that was also handed down by Mehta.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Are US arms sent to Ukraine being tracked so they can't be used to attack Russia?

Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Paramilitary organizations making the largest cross-border attack inside Russia since the war began have maintained they're fighting for Ukraine and reportedly claimed to have conducted another operation Thursday.

But more than a week after verified images appeared to show that the fighters were equipped with U.S.-supplied military vehicles in their initial incursion, the Biden administration has yet to say whether the groups are formally fighting in coordination with Kyiv.

The incidents raise questions about whether they put at risk the main U.S. strategic goal of avoiding escalation with Moscow -- "World War III" as the White House has warned -- and they come just when the conflict appears poised to intensity with Ukraine's long-awaited spring offensive.

And, they raise practical concerns about whether that goal could be undermined given questions about how well the U.S. keeps track of the billions in arms and equipment it has sent to Ukraine.

Any assessment from Washington on whether the groups are operating within the Ukrainian government's chain of command could have significant impact in determining whether any end-use violation or breach of agreement occurred if the fighters were given access to the equipment or pave the way for Kyiv to openly outfit the fighters with donated weaponry, while the persisting lack of clarity raises questions about how effectively these arms are monitored.

Gaps in monitoring, potential for escalation

When pictures surfaced appearing to show U.S.-manufactured Humvees and MRAP armored vehicles used in the Belgorod incursion, the administration initially showed strong skepticism. But after the photographic evidence was vetted by various major media organizations, officials promised to investigate.

"We're looking into those reports that the U.S. equipment and vehicles could have been involved," White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Asked on Thursday about the status of that investigation, a State Department spokesperson said there were no updates to share.

The Ukrainian government has denied playing any part in the first wave of raids on Belgorod, which were carried out by groups made up of anti-Kremlin Russian nationals known as the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, the latter of which has been linked to neo-Nazi sentiments.

On Thursday, the pro-Ukrainian militants appeared to shell towns in Belgorod, prompting a partial evacuation of civilians from the area. While the groups seemed to be heavily armed with sophisticated weaponry, there were no immediate signs that American arms were used in the attacks.

Although U.S. officials have not publicly characterized Ukraine’s role in the incursions, they have repeatedly said that the U.S. does not support attacks on Russian territory.

"We have been very clear with the Ukrainians privately, we certainly have been clear publicly, that we do not support attacks inside Russia," Kirby said on Wednesday, after announcing the latest drawdown of equipment for Ukraine in the White House briefing room. "We certainly don't want to see attacks inside Russia that are, that are being propagated, that are being conducted, using US-supplied equipment."

Kirby said that stance was rooted in the president's goal to "avoid World War III."

"I think we can all agree that a war that escalates beyond that -- that actually does suck in the West and NATO and the United States is not only not good for our national security interest, it is not good for the Ukrainian people," he said.

Beyond close coordination with the Ukrainian government, U.S. officials have touted close monitoring of military aid shipped to Ukraine. But their flip-flopping on the possibility that some of the armored fighting vehicles used in Belgorod could have been supplied to Ukraine by Washington and their inability to provide any conclusions after a week has opened the Biden administration up to criticism.

Republicans have zeroed in on accountability but have largely centered their focus on avoiding waste rather than preventing escalation.

"I do not conduct this oversight to undermine or question the importance of support for Ukraine, but rather -- to the contrary -- oversight should incentivize the administration and Ukraine to use funds from Congress with the highest degree of efficiency and effectiveness," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said at a hearing in late March.

While the Department of Defense's top watchdog testified during that hearing that he had not seen any illicit diversion of the over $20 billion worth of American weapons and other military equipment provided to Ukraine, previous reports have indicated that only around 10% of high-risk munitions have been inspected by U.S. monitors and only a handful of the weapons are legally subject to enhanced end-use tracking.

Defense officials have also noted that carrying out oversight in an active war zone with a very limited American footprint comes with challenges and potential blind spots. Ukraine's history of past corruption has also stoked some unease across Washington.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked last Thursday whether the time that had elapsed in the investigation into the incident raised red flags for the administration regarding the effectiveness of its tracking measures.

"No, I think it raises the fact that we are looking into it and haven't yet reached a conclusion," he responded.

One way that the U.S. tracks sensitive items to Ukraine is by the placement of barcodes on each item that contain unique identifying information, such as serial numbers, and by providing Ukraine with ways to track the equipment it has been given by the U.S.

Ukraine keeps stock of its Humvees and MRAP armored vehicles, and regularly reports battlefield losses to American officials.

ABC News reached out to Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of Ukraine's parliament seated on a committee charged with monitoring weapons supplied by foreign governments but did not receive a response.

A shortfall in tracking weapons

Despite the administration's apparent hesitancy to draw firm conclusions, experts closely studying the conflict say some key answers are obvious.

"It is a shortfall in tracking of weapons and munitions," Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies' International Security Program, said. "War is complicated -- there is no guarantee that weapons will not be used in ways that we don't approve, and this is clearly one of them."

"It would strain credulity to me to think there is not command control here from Kyiv—or at least from Ukrainian military intelligence," said John Hardie, the director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Russia program.

Cancian echoed that conclusion, adding that any disconnects within Ukraine's military could present serious problems.

"It's not impossible that there are fractures within the Ukrainian government. If that's the case, it is quite disturbing -- because that means that the Ukrainians are not in full control of military forces on their territory," he said. "It opens the possibility of what we're seeing in Russia, where you have militias that are acting independently and confronting even in some ways undermining the central government."

Cancian says that repeated incidents of American military gear surfacing in the hands of paramilitary groups would be telling.

"If this happens again, then it's not just happenstance -- it's a pattern. And that would indicate that they have not been able to get control," he said.

Or, Hardie posited, the Biden administration could seek to allow Ukraine to leverage ambiguous attacks on Russia while publicly standing by its policy against such actions.

"Perhaps U.S. officials look the other way," Hardie said.

Beyond Belgorod, apartment buildings in the heart of Russia's capital were the target of a drone strike on Tuesday. Though Ukrainian authorities did not take responsibility, the country's officials have not masked their pleasure.

"If the Russians can make Kyiv a nightmare, why do the people of Moscow rest?" Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, said in a televised address following the strike.

While the spike in attacks waged by Ukraine on Russia drastically pales in comparison to those waged on Ukraine by Russia through the course its 15-monthlong invasion, Kyiv has much more to lose in terms of public opinion since its war efforts depend on support from dozens of allies who largely see the country as a besieged victim rather than a tit-for-tat combatant.

Conversely, by bringing the war full circle, strikes into Russia might erode its population's support for the Kremlin -- something some indicators show has already been happening in recent weeks.

So far, the Biden administration appears to be sticking to an increasingly familiar strategy.

"We're still trying to get information here and develop some sort of sense of what happened," Kirby said when asked about the Moscow drone strikes on Wednesday.

ABC's Matthew Seyler and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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