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How World Leaders Might Respond to Malaysia Plane Disaster

How World Leaders Might Respond to Malaysia Plane Disaster

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A day after a Malaysia Airlines jetliner carrying nearly 300 people went down over Eastern Ukraine, President Obama on Friday called the incident an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.”Obama, for the first time, disclosed that at least one American citizen was killed: Quinn Lucas Schansman. And the president, echoing what U.S. officials said earlier in the day, stated that Flight 17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.“This should snap everybody’s heads to attention,” Obama said, vowing to hold “accountable those who committed this outrage.”On Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain alluded to possible consequences Thursday if there is evidence of Russian involvement.”There’ll be hell to pay,” McCain told ABC News.But how will the world hold the perpetrators “accountable” and what “hell” might be paid? Here are the possible responses from the U.S. and world leaders:Increase Pressure for a Cease-FireThis is already happening. On Friday, Obama said: “Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire.”He added, “Evidence must not be tampered with.”The president also condemned Russia’s role in the border conflict.“The violence that’s taken place there is facilitated in part, in large part, because of Russian support. And they have the ability to move those separatists in a different direction,” he said.Push for an International InvestigationThe president called for an international investigation, saying the U.S. has already offered support of the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board.“Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who are lost [and] investigating exactly what happened,” Obama said.Other world leaders — including U.S. allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron — have echoed that call for an investigation.Impose More SanctionsObama did not close the door on imposing additional sanctions against Russia.“We will continue to make clear that as Russia engages in efforts that are supporting the separatists, that we have the capacity to increase the costs that we impose on them,” he said. “And we will do so not because we’re interested in hurting Russia for the sake of hurting Russia, but because we believe in standing up for the basic principle that a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be respected.”Any extra sanctions would come on the heels of a new wave of sanctions announced by Obama on Wednesday.“These sanctions are significant but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum effect on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies,” the president added. “The Russian leadership will see once again that its action has consequences.”The sanctions unveiled earlier this week targeted Russian banks and energy and defense firms.Get the U.S. Military InvolvedThis option is not likely — at least not right now. The president was clear in his remarks at the White House on Friday: “We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing.”But on Thursday, McCain did suggest the U.S. should provide arms to the Ukrainian military if Russian involvement is proved.Ask Europe to Take the LeadThe U.S. may encourage European leaders to respond in a stronger manner to any possible Russian involvement in the downing of the Malaysian plane.“This certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe,” Obama said.Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested on Thursday that European leaders should take the lead on responding to any Russian involvement.“The Europeans have to be the ones to take the lead on this,” Clinton said in an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose Thursday. “It was a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, over European territory. There should be outrage in European capitals.”European leaders will likely be asked to join the U.S. in imposing tougher sanctions against Russia. Additionally, Clinton said the European countries should increase their efforts to find alternatives to Gazprom, a Russian entity which provides 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas.Ratchet Up DiplomacyThis all depends on how the investigation unfolds and how Russian President Vladimir Putin responds.The U.S. is already in steady contact with Ukrainian officials, but there is a chance diplomatic channels could open up between Russia and Ukraine — if Putin is willing to come to the table.Prior to the plane incident, Obama said he told Putin the United States’ “preferred path is to resolve this diplomatically” and made clear that the Russian government needed to “make a strategic decision.”“Are they going to continue to support violent separatists whose intent is to undermine the government of Ukraine, or are they prepared to work with the government of Ukraine to arrive at a cease-fire and a peace that takes into account the interests of all Ukrainians?” Obama said.Do NothingSome believe the European Union may not do that much in response to the downed jetliner. European leaders might decide that any tough sanctions imposed against Russia might negatively affect Europe’s own economy.“Unless they discover a sanction that punishes Russia without punishing Europeans — and the answer is they can’t — I think the EU is going to show its mettle,” Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, told Politico.
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How World Leaders Might Respond to Malaysia Plane Disaster

How World Leaders Might Respond to Malaysia Plane Disaster

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A day after a Malaysia Airlines jetliner carrying nearly 300 people went down over Eastern Ukraine, President Obama on Friday called the incident an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.”Obama, for the first time, disclosed that at least one American citizen was killed: Quinn Lucas Schansman. And the president, echoing what U.S. officials said earlier in the day, stated that Flight 17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.“This should snap everybody’s heads to attention,” Obama said, vowing to hold “accountable those who committed this outrage.”On Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain alluded to possible consequences Thursday if there is evidence of Russian involvement.”There’ll be hell to pay,” McCain told ABC News.But how will the world hold the perpetrators “accountable” and what “hell” might be paid? Here are the possible responses from the U.S. and world leaders:Increase Pressure for a Cease-FireThis is already happening. On Friday, Obama said: “Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire.”He added, “Evidence must not be tampered with.”The president also condemned Russia’s role in the border conflict.“The violence that’s taken place there is facilitated in part, in large part, because of Russian support. And they have the ability to move those separatists in a different direction,” he said.Push for an International InvestigationThe president called for an international investigation, saying the U.S. has already offered support of the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board.“Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who are lost [and] investigating exactly what happened,” Obama said.Other world leaders — including U.S. allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron — have echoed that call for an investigation.Impose More SanctionsObama did not close the door on imposing additional sanctions against Russia.“We will continue to make clear that as Russia engages in efforts that are supporting the separatists, that we have the capacity to increase the costs that we impose on them,” he said. “And we will do so not because we’re interested in hurting Russia for the sake of hurting Russia, but because we believe in standing up for the basic principle that a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be respected.”Any extra sanctions would come on the heels of a new wave of sanctions announced by Obama on Wednesday.“These sanctions are significant but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum effect on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies,” the president added. “The Russian leadership will see once again that its action has consequences.”The sanctions unveiled earlier this week targeted Russian banks and energy and defense firms.Get the U.S. Military InvolvedThis option is not likely — at least not right now. The president was clear in his remarks at the White House on Friday: “We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing.”But on Thursday, McCain did suggest the U.S. should provide arms to the Ukrainian military if Russian involvement is proved.Ask Europe to Take the LeadThe U.S. may encourage European leaders to respond in a stronger manner to any possible Russian involvement in the downing of the Malaysian plane.“This certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe,” Obama said.Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested on Thursday that European leaders should take the lead on responding to any Russian involvement.“The Europeans have to be the ones to take the lead on this,” Clinton said in an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose Thursday. “It was a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, over European territory. There should be outrage in European capitals.”European leaders will likely be asked to join the U.S. in imposing tougher sanctions against Russia. Additionally, Clinton said the European countries should increase their efforts to find alternatives to Gazprom, a Russian entity which provides 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas.Ratchet Up DiplomacyThis all depends on how the investigation unfolds and how Russian President Vladimir Putin responds.The U.S. is already in steady contact with Ukrainian officials, but there is a chance diplomatic channels could open up between Russia and Ukraine — if Putin is willing to come to the table.Prior to the plane incident, Obama said he told Putin the United States’ “preferred path is to resolve this diplomatically” and made clear that the Russian government needed to “make a strategic decision.”“Are they going to continue to support violent separatists whose intent is to undermine the government of Ukraine, or are they prepared to work with the government of Ukraine to arrive at a cease-fire and a peace that takes into account the interests of all Ukrainians?” Obama said.Do NothingSome believe the European Union may not do that much in response to the downed jetliner. European leaders might decide that any tough sanctions imposed against Russia might negatively affect Europe’s own economy.“Unless they discover a sanction that punishes Russia without punishing Europeans — and the answer is they can’t — I think the EU is going to show its mettle,” Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, told Politico.
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Progressives Rally Around Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Progressives Rally Around Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Ann Heisenfelt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Murphy acknowledged he had the hardest job in Democratic politics on Wednesday: being the on-deck batter to Elizabeth Warren after she’d already cleared the bases at an all-day gathering of the progressive faithful.“One of the hardest jobs in this town is following Elizabeth Warren,” Murphy, D-Conn., announced as he sat down to discuss gun-control policy with two youth activists at the annual Make Progress Summit.He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The crowd was still recovering after giving Warren, D-Mass., a rousing ovation following her speech on student debt, delivered to over 1,000 young progressive activists at the JW Marriott in downtown Washington Wednesday.
The speech came a day after a new group, Ready for Warren, formally encouraged the senator to run for president in 2016, and before she delivered the keynote address at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Detroit Friday morning.
Warren’s speeches and their reception this week were indicative of the forces propelling her to an even more prominent stature in liberal circles: the activists in Washington and Detroit made clear their increasing urgency to make something more of her popularity.“She talks to you like an adult and she recognizes how much potential is untapped in our generation, that we’re ready to start working on issues,” said Luke Squire, co-founder and co-director of Launch Progress, an organization that supports young public office candidates locally and nationally. “We’re tired of waiting in line for our turn.”Warren’s focused, pointed speech Wednesday touched on the nuances of the debate over student loans and the debt that now ensnares upwards of 40 million across America. Warren proclaimed that she would think of student debt as “the tip of a spear,” raising her fist to rally the audience.“We can’t wait for change. You are the ones who know,” she said. “When there’s tens of billions of dollars on the table, will the money be used to protect tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires, or will it the used for people who are trying to get an education, trying to get a start in life?”The dichotomy Warren suggested went a long way with activists yearning for strongly-principled progressives in Congress.“She has maintained being this very fierce advocate on this issue that has appealed to us, so when young people see her, we actually know some things she stands for and has been working on for a long time,” Squire said.Erica Sagrans, campaign manager for Ready for Warren, believes that compared to establishment Democratic figures like Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, Warren has a different approach to core liberal issues.“I think the views she expresses are not necessarily accepted Washington views on things. There are different ways of being a fighter,” she said. “There are some people talking about similar policy positions, but the difference is the way she’s doing it.”Other young attendees at the Progress Summit, such as Gabriela De Golia of the People for the American Way Foundation, were drawn to Warren’s economic logic, something she emphasized when criticizing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his recent comment to debt-conscious parents that, “Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”Warren presented McConnell’s stance as antithetical to America’s entrepreneurial spirit.“We will never build a better future by telling the best and brightest among us to give up on their dreams. We are not that nation; we have never been that nation, and we will never be that nation,” she said.De Golia sees Warren’s doggedness as her defining quality.“Her tone and her language is a lot more accessible than a lot of other politicians. I think the fact that she’s a professor [means] she’s used to talking in terms that are very understandable. Young people really understand what she’s trying to convey,” she said. “I think young people read more about Sen. Warren and hear more from her on the issues they really care about.”The Netroots speech in Detroit Friday came a day after Biden delivered a progressive rallying cry there — a speech similar to the one he gave the same day as Warren at the Make Progress Summit, which touched on a his liberal credentials.That the two are vying for attention and validation from the same crowds across America should come as no surprise to Democrats gearing up for 2016. But Warren, on Wednesday and Friday morning in Detroit, received a more rapturous reception from activists, signaling once again her appeal among grassroots sections of her party.At the Netroots conference, Warren was welcomed and interrupted with signs and chants of, “Run Liz Run!” She made sure to clarify once more her idea of a modernized progressive party — one that includes equal rights for workers, more attention to climate change, tougher rules on Wall Street, raising the minimum wage, stronger retirement benefits and “real” net neutrality. She punctuated each idea with an emphatic, “We will fight for it!”“The tilt in the playing field is everywhere. …The game is rigged,” Warren added. “This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power. But deep down it’s a fight over values. These are progressive ideas; these are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.”The enthusiasm over Warren comes at a time when most Democrats assume Clinton won’t encounter any kind of challenge in 2015 and 2016 for the Democratic nomination for president, especially with Warren reiterating her commitment to stay out of the race.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll had her at just 7 percent support among Democratic presidential contenders, with Clinton at 69 percent.
The younger progressives at the Summit and in Detroit seemed to have other things in mind, as they did with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. After all, only 28 percent of Democrats in the ABC News poll want Clinton to run unopposed for the nomination.Ready for Warren looks to replicate the success Howard Dean and Obama had in rallying new voters behind campaigns.“I think we saw in 2007 and 2008 that Hillary seemed inevitable, and she wasn’t,” Sagrans said. “So this time, there’s a sense that if she runs it’s inevitable. She doesn’t have to be.”If Warren did run? “I think that would be great for our issues,” Squire said.
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Congressional Staffer Arrested with Gun on Capitol Hill

Congressional Staffer Arrested with Gun on Capitol Hill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Capitol Police arrested a Capitol Hill staffer who brought a handgun to a House of Representatives office building Friday morning.Ryan Shucard, press secretary to Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., was arrested around 9:15 a.m. after police discovered a Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun and magazine during an administrative search required to enter the Cannon House Office Building, Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, confirmed to ABC News.Shucard is charged with carrying a pistol without a license, which is a felony, and was processed at the Capitol Police headquarters, police said.Marino’s office has placed Shucard on indefinite unpaid leave while the investigation is ongoing, Marino’s chief of staff Bill Pighe told ABC News. Marino has been notified of the incident, he said.All indications from Capitol Police suggest Shucard accidentally brought the weapon onto Capitol grounds, Pighe said.
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White House Party Crasher Plans to Jump into Va. Congressional Race

White House Party Crasher Plans to Jump into Va. Congressional Race

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Notorious White House party crasher Tareq Salahi is back — and this time he’s found another high-profile event to barge into: the race for Virginia’s 7th congressional district.Salahi told ABC News that he is planning to jump into the race and face off against Republican candidate Dave Brat who won a surprise primary victory against former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.He’ll be running as a candidate of the Independent Green Party of Virginia, which describes itself as “fiscally conservative” and “socially responsible.” The Independent Green Party advocates for fewer cars on the road and more trains.Salahi said he turned in 3,000 signatures to the state board of elections two weeks ago and is waiting for the signatures to be validated, though his campaign is pushing forward in the meantime.After an unsuccessful write-in campaign for Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial race, Salahi said he “transitioned right away” into launching a congressional campaign for Virginia’s 10th District.“I had decided to run. Originally it was going to be in the 10th district,” Salahi told ABC News. “The Independent Green Party asked me to look at the 7th because they were doing a lot of researching — that Cantor wasn’t going to win it.”“My No. 1 platform is pro-jobs,” he told ABC News.Salahi and his ex-wife, Michaele, initially made headlines back in 2009 when they were accused of “crashing” a White House state dinner. The alleged “party crashing” was criticized as a publicity stunt for the Bravo TV show The Real Housewives of DC, but Salahi insisted that he and his wife were actually invited to the event, albeit informally.“You just can’t do it. It’s impossible to sneak into the White House,” Salahi said. “We always knew that we were going to be a last-minute guest….We never got the formal invitation. We never said we got a formal invitation in the mail. We were very clear and upfront about that.”The Salahis were invited via email by Pentagon official Michelle Jones, Salahi said. However, an email thread obtained by ABC News in 2009 revealed that may not have been the case.Salahi maintains that the negative publicity will actually benefit his campaign.“It’s helpful that I’m recognized when I’m out on the tour,” Salahi told ABC News. “It’s actually a positive thing — whether it was the party crashing or the Real Housewives. Because the young voters, they love it. They love it either way.”His campaign has even registered “crashthevote.com” as an official domain name for its website.Regardless of the election’s outcome, this likely will not be the last we hear from the infamous presidential party crasher.“I’m not gonna stop,” Salahi said. “I’m a huge supporter of Virginia. I love my home state of Virginia. Win or lose, I’m gonna keep running. I will run in the race again in 2016 if I don’t win this cycle.”
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Obama Tells GOP: Stop Suing, Start Doing

Obama Tells GOP: Stop Suing, Start Doing

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WILMINGTON, Del.) — President Obama attacked Republicans Thursday for trying to sue him while he attempts to do the work that he thinks they should be doing.The impending House lawsuit charges the president with misusing his executive authority by making unilateral changes to various laws.  Obama fired back that it’s nothing more than a political stunt.Using the I-495 bridge in Delaware as a backdrop, the president appealed to the GOP’s “sense of patriotism,” adding, “Let’s focus on our country, let’s focus on our people, a sense of common purpose. That’s how we built this country together, and that’s what Washington has to remember.”He pointed to the bridge as an example of how Congress can work together, since repairs are being paid for by a federal fund.However, the president has had less luck in getting Republicans to permanently fund the Highway Trust Fund, although House lawmakers did pass a $10.8 billion measure that would cover costs for building and repairs of the nation’s infrastructure through May 2015.House Speaker John Boehner maintains the bill is proof that Republicans will compromise on economic issues.Follow @ABCNewsRadio Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

White House: Critical There Be A ‘Full, Credible, Unimpeded International Investigation’ of Malaysia Crash

White House: Critical There Be A ‘Full, Credible, Unimpeded International Investigation’ of Malaysia Crash

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — The United States is calling for a, “full, credible, and unimpeded” international investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH317, with White House officials urging Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine to support an immediate cease-fire. The Obama administration addressed all parties involved, asking to, “ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains,” officials announced Thursday.The aircraft traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was carrying 298 people when it was struck by a surface-to-air missile in Ukraine, a U.S. official told ABC News. “While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, material, and training,” a statement from the Press Secretary reads. “This incident only highlights the urgency with which we continue to urge Russia to immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support a sustainable cease-fire and path toward peace that the Ukrainian government has consistently put forward.”The United States is prepared to contribute any immediate assistance to the investigation, officials said, including help from the National Transportation Safety Board and FBI.President Obama called Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday, assuring that U.S. experts will offer all possible assistance and also emphasizing that all evidence from the crash site must remain in place until examination is complete. He also placed a call to Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands, along with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to express his condolences and reaffirm, “the strength of the friendship” between the U.S. and the two countries.
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DOJ Official Testifies on IRS Probe of Lost Emails

DOJ Official Testifies on IRS Probe of Lost Emails

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Top Department of Justice official James Cole faced tough questions from a House Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday, addressing an investigation into the disappearance of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails. Cole, Deputy Attorney General, said no politics were involved in the DOJ’s probe of the Internal Revenue Service, and no decisions have been made on whether to criminally charge any employees.
Last month, the IRS revealed it lost two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails when her hard drive crashed in 2011. The vanished emails spanned January 2009 to April 2011 — exactly when the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups “was occurring regularly,” as two Republican lawmakers recently put it.
In January, the House Republicans leading the congressional probe into the IRS scandal sent a letter to Holder, questioning the “integrity of the DOJ/FBI investigation.”
Specifically, the letter from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, noted that a federal prosecutor who has donated nearly $7,000 to President Obama’s political campaigns and other Democratic causes was coordinating the Justice Department’s investigation.
Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Thursday, Cole defended the investigation, telling members that Congress will be given detailed information once the investigation has been completed. “We recognize the committee’s interest in this matter. We share that interest and are conducting a thorough and complete investigation and analysis of the allegations of targeting by the IRS,” Cole said. He also acknowledged that the IRS gave confidential taxpayer data to the FBI in 2010, an “inadvertent error” that affected only 33 of 12,000 forms. Aside from confirming the FBI’s dedication to the matter, Cole didn’t reveal much on the process but assured the committee that attorney’s involved in the investigation are unbiased. “They work to try and find out what the facts are, what the law is, apply the facts to the law and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
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Chris Christie Kicks Off Campaign Before the Campaign

Chris Christie Kicks Off Campaign Before the Campaign

New Jersey Governor’s Office(MARION, Iowa) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie returned to Iowa for the first time in two years Thursday, launching what looked like his campaign before the campaign in the state that gets the first crack at sizing up political candidates.He insisted he has made no decision about his political future and that although he appreciated the rousing reception, it wouldn’t factor into his decision to run for president.“The decision to seek the presidency or not is such a deeply personal one,” Christie told reporters. “While it’s wonderful to get as much encouragement as I got inside here and in other places in Iowa, to consider running I’ve said the same thing to everyone: I’ll decide at some point whether I’m going to or not, but that’s a really personal decision.”He stopped at a local diner and was greeted by a standing-room-only crowd of Iowans and reporters. Voters clamored to shake his hand, get an autograph, or pose for a photograph.Introducing himself as “Chris” to some of the patrons, he told them he was “happy to be back.” Another woman shook his hand and told him she was thrilled to “meet the next president.”A teenager asked Christie to sign a baseball and eagerly told him, “I will be 18 and a half in 2016 and you’ll get my vote.” Christie thanked him before taking a selfie with the boy.Afterwards, Christie spoke to reporters but stayed clear of the big issues, although when asked by a voter about the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby case he said he “supports” the decision. The ruling said for-profit businesses can opt out of the Obamacare requirement to provide contraceptives in their health plans if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. When asked about his views on the current immigration debate, he answered, “First off, I’m not going to discuss a complicated issue like immigration in a parking lot here in Marion.”He added that it, “deserves a much deeper and thoughtful conversation” and blamed both parties for inaction on the issue.On the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, he stayed vague, but said the president, “has not spoken up loudly, firmly, and clearly for Israel.”Christie came to Iowa for a day of fundraisers with politicos and every day Iowans. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie makes stops like these all over country, but his return to Iowa and what could be a testing of the 2016 waters may have given this trip greater significance, as well as scrutiny.He attended a high-dollar breakfast fundraiser in the morning for the Republican Governors Association. About 40 donors at the event in a Des Moines suburb paid between $25,000 and $100,000 per head. He then traveled to Cedar Rapids for a fundraiser with Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, followed by the campaign-style meet-and-greet in Marion that Iowa voters are used to every four years. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is running for re-election, was by his side the entire day, telling ABC News  he enjoyed the early attention.“I encourage people to come early and often and to spend a lot of time here,” Branstad said, noting it’s good for the state and its economy.
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Biden Speaks to Ukraine’s President, Offers ‘Help of Our Expertise’

Biden Speaks to Ukraine’s President, Offers ‘Help of Our Expertise’

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(DETROIT) — Vice President Joe Biden, who is traveling in Detroit Thursday, spoke with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on the phone, offering the United States’ assistance to help to determine the circumstances behind the downed Malaysia Airlines flight.
Biden said he and Poroshenko were on a call for abut 30 minutes, during which the vice president said he “offered Poroshenko the help of our expertise… he accepted that help and they will be on our way rapidly to see if we can get to the bottom of this.”
The Malaysia Airlines plane was carrying 295 people when it went down in Ukraine near the Russian border on Thursday.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 had been traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia with 280 passengers and 15 crew members. It is not known if there were any Americans on board.
“It’s important to get to the bottom of this because of the possible repercussions that can flow from this beyond the tragic loss of life,” Biden added. “My heart goes out to those families.”
President Poroshenko said in a statement, “we are not calling it an accident, or a disaster, but an act of terrorism.”
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Obama Stops at Burger Joint in Delaware

Obama Stops at Burger Joint in Delaware

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(WILMINGTON, Del.) — While in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday to make a speech on rebuilding infrastructure, President Obama stopped by a nearby burger joint for lunch.
Obama dined at the Charcoal Pit, known for its burgers and sundaes, with Tanei Benjamin, a single working mom who wrote to him a year ago about her financial struggles.
Obama, who declared “I’m starving!,” ordered a four-ounce burger with fries. He asked for it to be done medium well, and to have lettuce and tomato.
The president also took time to shake hands and mingle with diners.
Obama was in the First State visiting a damaged highway bridge that has been closed all summer after its supports were found to be tilting. While Congress debates federal money for road repairs, Obama used the Delaware bridge as a backdrop for his latest executive action on spending.
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Some Senators Demand Dismissal of Top GM Lawyer

Some Senators Demand Dismissal of Top GM Lawyer

General Motors(WASHINGTON) — Some U.S. senators Thursday called on General Motors CEO Mary Barra to fire the company’s top lawyer as executives testified on the ongoing investigation into the ignition switch malfunction in some GM vehicles.Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked Barra why she did not fire Michael Millikin, GM’s corporate counsel, who said he first heard about the problems with the ignition switches this year.
“This is either gross negligence or gross incompetence,” said McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation’s subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.
Barra, who appeared on Capitol Hill for the fourth time this year, defended her decision to not fire Millikin, saying she needed him on her team to help fix the company’s problems and enhance their products’ safety.
“I think there’s been a blind spot here. I really do,” McCaskill said in response. “I think the failure of this legal department is stunning.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Millikin and his staff “enabled a cover-up, concealment, deceit and even fraud.”
“Lawyers typically are supposed to be the corporate conscience. They’re supposed to be the ones that make sure the corporation complies with the law,” Blumenthal said.
Also testifying Thursday was Kenneth Feinberg, who is responsible for administering the company’s compensation fund. Both Feinberg and Barra said the compensation fund would be uncapped, and victims and families can begin filing claims next month. 
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NYC Mayor to Get Honorary Citizenship in Italian Town

NYC Mayor to Get Honorary Citizenship in Italian Town

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon be a citizen of a small town in Italy.
The mayor is taking a nine-day holiday in Italy next week, during which he’ll visit Grassano, a town in southern Italy, where he will be granted honorary citizenship.
De Blasio’s grandmother was reportedly born in Grassano before immigrating to the United States.
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White House Placed on Lockdown Due to Unattended Package

White House Placed on Lockdown Due to Unattended Package

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The White House was placed on lockdown Thursday afternoon as a result of an unattended package left by the North Lawn. The item, placed by the fence line of the North Lawn, closed down both Lafayette Park and Pennsylvania Avenue shortly before 4 p.m.
Officials provided no further details on the incident. An investigation is ongoing.
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Congressman Who Hired a Drone for His Wedding Faces Investigation

Congressman Who Hired a Drone for His Wedding Faces Investigation

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(NEW YORK) — As New York’s first openly gay congressman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney must have known his June 21 wedding to longtime partner Randy Florke would be a little controversial.
But he probably didn’t realize that video footage from the ceremony would spark a government investigation.
The video, which features stunning aerial footage of the church where the wedding took place in Cold Spring, New York, apparently was filmed using an unmanned commercial drone.
The video has attracted the interest of the Federal Aviation Administration, which bans the unauthorized commercial use of drones because of safety concerns.
In a statement provided to ABC News, the FAA did not mention the congressman by name but announced that it was investigating “a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions.”
The photographer who shot the video, Parker Gyokeres, confirmed that he knew the FAA was on his tail.
“I’m just a guy with a single multi-copter in the trunk of my car who was trying to do my job,” Gyokeres said in an interview with ABC News. “But this is a political event now. I’m being used as the stick to poke the skunk.”
Maloney’s office brushed off the matter.
“On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter,” communications director Stephanie Formas said in a statement.
In an interview, Gyokeres said it was the couple’s wedding videographer, not the congressman, who arranged for the drone, adding that Maloney didn’t request the video that caused the uproar.
“The wedding video that was put online was not done for the congressman. It was B-roll that I brought home after I gave my source material to the videographer,” he said. “This video, I feel horrible about, because it’s not the congressman’s video.”
But Maloney appeared to be pleased with the result. On July 9, he tweeted: “Check out ‘The Fireworks at Randy and Sean’s Wedding’ on Vimeo,” along with video of the footage.
Gyokeres, who maintains his crew was granted permission to film by the local sheriff’s department, said the Capitol Police — purportedly there to protect high-profile guests, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — was aware of his plans and even “vetted me into the area.”
“No one had a problem with me being there,” he said. “I gave out like 50 business cards.”
According to Gyokeres, who has since been contacted by Maloney’s office, he did not brief the congressman on his safety plan, but is “obsessive about safety.”
Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the FAA.
“Sean briefly spoke with the wedding photographer subcontractor, who assured Sean that there were no laws governing remote control helicopters and it would be done safely,” Formas said, noting that because of a paucity of “‘enforceable’ FAA rules…it’s no wonder that even a lawyer on the subcommittee didn’t grasp the surprising complexity of having wedding photographs taken with this technology.”
Gyokeres said he has not yet been contacted by the FAA. But he took issue with the agency’s ban, saying, “There are no laws that govern this.”
According to the FAA, drone operations “not for hobby or recreation” are authorized “on a case-by-case basis. Violators could face warning notices, letters of correction, and civil penalties.”
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Liberals Outline Goals for End of Obama’s Presidency

Liberals Outline Goals for End of Obama’s Presidency

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — From reducing student loan debt to expanding voter rights to dealing with the scourge of violent crime, liberals on Wednesday laid out an ambitious agenda for the waning years of the Obama presidency.At a day-long summit organized by Generation Progress, the youth division of the influential Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress, speakers such as Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi articulated their goals to an audience of more than 1,000.Here are five issues that came up again and again at the Make Progress National Summit, and the ones most likely to be focal points for Democrats in the next two years:1. Student Loan Debt:Catering to a crowd of millennials, members of Congress who spoke at the summit used the crisis as fuel for the liberal fire. Indeed, Warren, dedicated her entire speech to highlighting the crisis and had quite a few choice words for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. When discussing the failure of her “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” bill, Warren said that a filibuster of the bill was led by McConnell, prompting several boos from the crowd. She went on to say, “We are going to build a better country than the one Mitch McConnell envisions,” garnering applause. Toward the end of her speech, she told the crowd to challenge Republican senators and “ask them why they work for billionaires instead of for students trying to build a better future.”2. Campus Sexual Assault:The high rate of sexual assault on college campuses was also a huge talking point at the summit.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., expressed her frustration with the issue, acknowledging that female college students are more likely to be raped than women of the same age who are not in college. She went on to say, “We are failing our students. This isn’t just a date gone bad or a guy drinking too much. These are predators.” Biden also touched on the issue, ensuring that he is committed to a no-tolerance policy for violence against women on college campuses and that men who physically assault women should be punished.3. Paid Leave:Gillibrand also discussed the issue of paid leave, saying she believes it is time for America to compensate pregnant women and other citizens who take time off to care for family members. “We are the only industrial country in the world without paid leave,” she said. Pelosi, D-Calif., whose speech focused on unleashing the power of women in the work place, also called for paid leave.4. Gun Violence Prevention:Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke about gun violence prevention in urban, rural and residential areas. He called the inability of Congress to pass a bill supporting tougher background checks for gun purchases “a stunning failure of democracy.” He unconventionally suggested that the liberal audience could learn a lesson from the National Rifle Association, saying that the organization ultimately killed gun control legislation by taking decades to build up the powerful organization. He suggested that Democrats would have to be involved in a similarly lengthy drawn out fight to get gun control legislation to pass.5. Voting Rights:Biden also used his soapbox to speak about voting rights and the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to invalidate Section IV of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “I have to tell you, I never ever thought that I’d be standing here as a grown man in a battle for access to the ballot box in the year 2014,”  Biden said. He went on to say that the “single most precious right that an American possesses is unfettered access to the ballot box.”
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VA Seeks $17.6 Billion To Hire Additional Clinical Staff, Add Resources

VA Seeks $17.6 Billion To Hire Additional Clinical Staff, Add Resources

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking $17.6 billion in additional funding to hire 10,000 more clinical staff members and expand its resources following its recent scandal over prolonged wait times for patients. Speaking before a Senate committee Wednesday, Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the agency is looking to employ another 1,500 doctors to enhance its services for veterans. Extra medical staff would be divided between primary care, specialty care, and mental health care, and would consist of physicians, nurse practitioners, and other support employees. ‘We understand the seriousness of the problems we face. We own them,” Gibson said. “We’re taking decisive action to begin to resolve them. …I will not hold back for asking for resources because we have not been managing to requirements as a department,” he added. “This would never happen in the private sector. You’d never stand for it. You’d fail as a business if you did this.”In an update on the state of the VA, Gibson said the Veterans Health Administration has reached out to more than 160,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics.
Whistleblowers within the agency have revealed employees routinely falsified wait times and covered up treatment delays that were so long that dozens of veterans died while waiting to see doctors.  
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FBI Probing Lost IRS Emails as DOJ Sets to Defend Its Investigation

FBI Probing Lost IRS Emails as DOJ Sets to Defend Its Investigation

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Amid a flurry of Republican calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s alleged targeting of conservative groups, the Justice Department is set to defend its own probe of the matter as exhaustive and sufficient during a House hearing Thursday on the department’s response to the scandal.A top Justice Department official will tell the hearing that the department is now looking at how some of former senior IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails disappeared — a new area of inquiry, Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in an exclusive interview Friday.“We’ve expanded the scope of the IRS investigation to deal with these lost emails,” Holder told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas.Specifically, the Justice Department and FBI are looking into “the circumstances of the lost emails,” Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole will tell a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Thursday, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks provided to ABC News.Last month, the IRS revealed it lost two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails when her hard drive crashed in 2011. The vanished emails spanned January 2009 to April 2011 — exactly when the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups “was occurring regularly,” as two Republican lawmakers recently put it.Lerner’s attorney, William W. Taylor III, has dismissed the whole IRS controversy as “baseless” and not a “conspiracy.” But, in discussing the Justice Department probe, FBI Director James Comey has said there is, “a reasonable basis to believe that crimes may have been committed.”In his interview with ABC News on Friday, Holder said prosecutors and FBI agents — not political appointees — are “doing a good, professional job” investigating whether conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status from the IRS received undue scrutiny.“I’ve been briefed on the progress that they are making,” Holder said. “And I’m satisfied.”The Republican-led House passed a resolution in May calling on Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter, and many Republicans in the Senate have echoed that call.In January, the House Republicans leading the congressional probe into the IRS scandal sent a letter to Holder, questioning the “integrity of the DOJ/FBI investigation.”Specifically, the letter from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, noted that a federal prosecutor who has donated nearly $7,000 to President Obama’s political campaigns and other Democratic causes was coordinating the Justice Department’s investigation.That, “has created a startling conflict of interest … and has compromised the administration’s investigation of the IRS,” said the letter, which also cited, “indications that the [FBI] was not taking the investigation seriously.”Three weeks later, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told Holder that appointing a special prosecutor “is a no-brainer” because it would avoid even the appearance of bias.But Holder noted that even “career people” — government workers not politically-appointed — have the constitutional right to donate to political causes, and he has rebuffed efforts to appoint a special prosecutor.The House subcommittee’s hearing Thursday is focused solely on the Justice Department’s response to the IRS scandal, and Cole — the sole witness testifying — will continue to defend what Republicans say is the department’s, “refus[al] to address the bipartisan concerns of the House by appointing an independent prosecutor.”Cole, though, will not offer details about what the Justice Department’s investigation has found so far, according to the excerpts of his opening remarks.“While I understand that you are interested in learning about the results of the investigation, in order to protect the integrity and independence of this investigation, we cannot disclose non-public information about the investigation while it remains pending,” he is expected to tell the House panel. “This is consistent with the longstanding department policy, across both Democratic and Republican administrations, which is intended to protect the effectiveness and independence of the criminal justice process, as well as privacy interests of third parties.“While I know you are frustrated by the fact that I cannot at this time disclose any specifics about the investigation,”Cole is expected to add, “I do pledge to you that when our investigation is completed, we will provide Congress with detailed information about the facts that we uncovered and the conclusions we reached in this matter.”
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Lawyer: Ex-Taliban Captive Bowe Bergdahl Says Obama ‘Saved His Life’

Lawyer: Ex-Taliban Captive Bowe Bergdahl Says Obama ‘Saved His Life’

U.S. Army via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The new lawyer representing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said the former Taliban prisoner is “deeply grateful” to President Obama for his freedom.“He believes President Obama saved his life,” attorney Eugene Fidell told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on World News with Diane Sawyer.Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, said that he’s been tasked with leading Bergdahl’s legal team as the Army investigates the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his Afghan outpost and his capture by the Taliban in 2009. Military sources previously told ABC News Bergdahl may have simply walked off the Army base of his own volition, echoing the findings of an internal investigation completed in 2009, according to defense officials.“I think it’s important that people, particularly people who have been vilified, have proper representation, and every lawyer has a responsibility to represent even unpopular clients and that’s why I’m involved in this,” Fidell said in an earlier interview Wednesday with ABC News.“I think there are people that have been using Sgt. Bergdahl for target practice in the media. I think that’s extremely unfortunate,” Fidell added later. “People should resist the temptation to try this case in the media… just hold the phone.”Bergdahl was freed in a controversial swap earlier this year for five Taliban prisoners who had been held in the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.“I certainly hope that those people who are trying to score political points, having to do with the release of people from Guantanamo Bay, will calm down and certainly not let that issue cloud what people make of Sgt. Bergdahl’s situation. They’re separate in my opinion,” Fidell said.President Obama discussed Bergdahl’s release in May while standing in the White House Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents. “It’s a good day,” Obama said then. “Sgt. Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends, which all of us take for granted. But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten.”High-level critics, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, said that Obama had compromised the notion that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists” and bristled that Congress was not consulted about the exchange in advance, as some claim the law requires.Fidell, who said he’s working for Bergdahl pro bono, said he met with his client last week, but declined to comment on Bergdahl’s condition. The attorney also would not discuss whether he has spoken with Bergdahl’s parents. Since his return to the U.S. Bergdahl himself has declined to speak with his parents, defense officials said. Earlier this week the military said it put Bergdahl back on regular duty following a long reintegration process. He has been assigned a desk job at the headquarters of U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.The lawyer said that Bergdahl has not yet been interviewed by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl who is heading the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance. Fidell said he spoke with Dahl Tuesday and they had a “cordial and professional” conversation and he looks forward to meeting him. He doesn’t anticipate Dahl will conduct substantive interviews with Bergdahl for a couple of weeks, and he’ll be present for the interviews.Bergdahl has not been charged with any crimes and not been read his rights in anticipation of any charges, defense officials said this week. Fidell also told ABC News he expects Bergdahl to leave the military at some point – he’s currently on “hold” in the military bureaucracy – and believes his client wants to eventually become “just another face in the crowd.”The lawyer said he hopes Sgt. Bergdahl, “in recognition of the ordeal that he has experienced — remarkable ordeal — will be permitted to go his way… with the benefits that veterans are entitled to and without scars that would make it difficult for him to lead a normal life in the future.”
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Courtney Stodden Strips Down on Capitol Hill for Animal Rights

Courtney Stodden Strips Down on Capitol Hill for Animal Rights

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Wide-eyed interns and congressional staffers lined up on Capitol Hill Wednesday, awaiting the chance to sample a veggie dog served by animal activist and TV personality Courtney Stodden.In celebration of National Hot Dog Day, Stodden served up the soy-based frankfurters while wearing a bikini constructed of “nothing but strategically placed lettuce leaves,” according to a news release from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.PETA organized and sponsored Wednesday’s “annual congressional veggie dog giveaway” in hopes of sending a message about what goes into making meat-based hot dogs.“I think that most people would get kind of sick if they would see what the pigs go through,” Stodden told ABC News. “I don’t think it’s asking a lot to have people consider what they’re eating. I think it’s asking a lot of an animal to be abused and to satisfy your own appetite.”The veggie dogs contained only soy protein and spices, according to Lindsay Wright, PETA’s associate director of campaigns.“Meat-based hot dogs are not only full of artery clogging cholesterol and saturated animal fats, they’re also full of every imaginable part of a pig from the snout to the spleen,” Wright told ABC News. “The good news is that veggie dogs are good for you. They taste great and there are no disgusting mystery ingredients.”

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