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Pentagon: Evacuation of Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar in Iraq ‘Far Less Likely’

Pentagon: Evacuation of Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar in Iraq ‘Far Less Likely’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — An evacuation of thousands of refugees who were forced onto Mt. Sinjar in Iraq is “far less likely” after an assessment by United States Marines, Special Forces and the USAID disaster assistance relief team, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Less than 20 personnel briefly landed on the mountain, where thousands of Yazidis are trapped and facing a humanitarian crisis.

“The team has assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of humanitarian airdrops, airstrikes on ISIL targets, the efforts of the Peshmerga and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. “The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Tuesday that the United States sent a 130-member military assessment team to Erbil in the autonomous Iraqi province of Kurdistan to determine what further assistance the U.S. can provide to the Yazidis.

Thousands of members of the Yazidi minority group fled to the mountain in order to escape from ISIS in northern Iraq.

The Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq, have been targeted by the Islamic army for being what they call “devil worshipers” and were threatened with execution if they didn’t agree to convert to Islam.

Addressing a group of Marines during a visit to Camp Pendleton in California, Hagel said the team had arrived in northern Iraq “to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.”

The new team is in addition to the 40 U.S. military personnel already in Erbil, who for several weeks have been manning a Joint Operations Center with Kurdish military forces.

Hagel said the team would soon provide an assessment to Centcom that would make its way to the Pentagon “very shortly.”

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Slain General Remembered at Pentagon Memorial Service

Slain General Remembered at Pentagon Memorial Service

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Major General Harold J. Greene was remembered Tuesday at a somber Pentagon ceremony that focused on his leadership and love for his family. There as almost no mention of last week’s insider attack in Afghanistan that made Greene the highest-ranking officer to be killed in combat during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An overflow crowd gathered at the Pentagon Auditorium for a poignant memorial service to hear from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Greene’s co-workers.

At the foot of the stage a photo of Greene had been placed before a helmet, rifle and boots that formed the “battle cross” that is symbolic of a soldier slain in battle.

Greene was a career acquisitions officer and engineer for much of his 34-year career and was serving in Afghanistan as the deputy commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, which is responsible for the training of Afghan security forces.

The attack by an Afghan soldier that took Greene’s life was barely mentioned in a ceremony that focused on his strong character and leadership.

Noting the crowd gathered for the ceremony, Odierno said, “My guess is, we probably could have done this in a 10,000-seat stadium and filled the stadium today because there are so many people that cared for Harry Greene.”

Odierno said he had recommended Greene for that job because “I knew Harry was the right man” and knew that in serving that post “he personally made an incredible difference in improving the Afghan institution.”

Odierno praised Greene as being “more than a soldier, he was a great man, caring father, a devoted husband and a loyal friend, he had a passion for his family.”

But Odierno said Greene would be most remembered for his leadership and the lives of those he touched as he served as “the epitome of what we hope and expect from our senior leaders.”

He added, “Harry Greene is a representative of the sacrifice of the men and women who have given so much and are not afraid to give their lives for this nation.”

Heidi Shyu, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, described Greene as being “passionate about our responsibility to provide the soldiers with the best equipment in this world.”

She recalled a trip to Afghanistan earlier this year where she met with Greene and asked him how he was facing the challenges of his job.

To laughter, she quoted his response, “He told me in no uncertain terms, it got me out of the Pentagon!”  She added, “And there’s no other place that he would rather be because he’s surrounded by soldiers. He truly loved what he was doing.”

Shyu recalled Greene’s jovial personality, noting that he lightened up any meeting with jokes while still being “a dedicated professional who put countless hours in.”

She noted it might be “tempting to think that this loss leaves behind an unfulfilled promise or an incomplete career. However, if he were here, I know that Harry would remind us that he lived his life to the fullest in service to his country in support of those he cared for.”

Greene will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday afternoon.

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Rep. Colleen Hanabusa Files Lawsuit to Delay Friday Voting in Hawaii Senate Election

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa Files Lawsuit to Delay Friday Voting in Hawaii Senate Election

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) — The Democratic Senate primary in Hawaii is still too close to call, with the race hinging on two precincts that were unable to vote Saturday amid Tropical Storm Iselle. The election has been rescheduled for Friday, but Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who trails incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz by just more than 1,700 votes, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to delay Friday’s voting.

The affected precincts are on Hawaii’s Big Island, and Hanabusa’s campaign manager, John Salsbury, said people are still suffering from the clobbering the island got from recent storms.

“People are struggling to get water, to get power. There are limited ways to notify the public and, for the most part, people are still clearing out their homes and driveways and trying to get food, water, ice and generators, just basic necessities.” Salsbury told ABC News. “The last thing they care about right now is trying to get to the polls on Friday.”

The state has up to 21 days to delay an election, and they say that’s exactly what the Hanabusa camp wants, Salsbury said, concerned that without power some may not even know about the election being rescheduled for Friday.

“There are still a lot of votes left to be cast and there are still a lot of votes to be counted,” Salsbury said. “We are focused on that.…We need to slow down these elections to give people time to recover first.”

Salsbury said it’s possible the court could rule later Wednesday, and Hanabusa has been on the Big Island handing out supplies since Sunday.

Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for chief elections officer Scott Nago, said as far as officials are concerned, the election is set for Friday. He was not aware of the lawsuit being filed and said he could not comment on it.

There are 8,000 voters in the two districts, and about a fifth of them already cast votes via early voting or absentee balloting. The election is slated to be held at the Keonepoko Elementary School from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. They expect the results to be released the same evening. That’s if it goes on as scheduled.

Unlike other states, Hawaii has no automatic recount or run-off trigger if the vote between Schatz and Hanabusa becomes even closer. Quidilla said a campaign could choose to file an appeal or contest the results with Hawaii’s State Supreme Court and a recount could be one of the remedies that are prescribed. But, it’s “not a guarantee.” They must “prove the results should have been different,” in order for the court to allow a recount.

Meaghan Smith, spokeswoman for the Schatz campaign, said the senator’s focus is helping people in the Puna area “recover” and the “campaign will be committed and respectful whenever the election is held.”

“The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Sen. Schatz believes that the voters in Puna and across Hawaii must be given fair access to voting,” Smith said. “The senator’s priority is to help the people of Puna get back on their feet.”

The race has been a bruising intra-party brawl. It all started in December 2012, when Sen. Daniel Inouye, who had represented Hawaii for 50 years, passed away. His dying wish was that Gov. Neil Abercrombie appoint his political protégé, Hanabusa, to his seat after he died. That didn’t happen. Instead, he appointed his own No. 2, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Abercrombie maintained Inouye said it was ultimately his decision, but Inouye’s widow is backing Hanabusa. Hanabusa decided to challenge Schatz for the Senate and Abercrombie lost his job by a massive margin last Saturday. It was the first time an incumbent ever lost re-election in a primary in the Aloha State.

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New York Mayor Joins with Big Donors in Bid for 2016 Convention

New York Mayor Joins with Big Donors in Bid for 2016 Convention

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It may only be 2014, but big corporate money and politics are already at work in a bid to secure the 2016 Democratic convention for Brooklyn, with New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio literally rolling out a red carpet for DNC officials at New York’s Penn Station.

Republicans have already chosen Cleveland as their 2016 site, but Democratic party officials are still making the rounds of competing cities, spending two days this week being lavishly wined and dined in New York. Traffic slowed as DNC officials traveled through the city on dedicated lanes that will be in effect if the convention comes to Brooklyn. They were also treated to a barbecue at Gracie Mansion and a rooftop party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Empire State Building was lit up in blue in honor of the visit, and banners on Brooklyn’s Barclays Center read “DNC 2016 NYC.”

A host committee of 70 prominent New Yorkers have pledged to raise $100 million to support the convention and parties that surround it, including JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, and celebrities like Cynthia Nixon.

“We have a lot of people in this town who provide a lot of support for the Democratic Party, and the resources will be there,” de Blasio told reporters Wednesday.

The mayor’s office believes the city would surpass the $255 million Republicans brought in when they held their convention in Manhattan in 2004. De Blasio said that amount of money will be recouped “many times over” because of the financial impact of the convention.

“You are talking about people coming in from all over the country, all over the world…tens of thousands of people coming to the city, many for the first time,” de Blasio said.

Longtime Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf noted the “business” of the convention is not what gets done inside the hall, but “after hours at the parties and private meetings,” and with a four-day convention there will be plenty of party time and no lack of venues.

“It will be a terrific economic boost,” Sheinkopf said. But how much the city makes, he added, will need to be considered with “how much does it cost for additional security, traffic, additional city workers” and other costs related to events.

Sheila Krumholz, campaign finance watchdog and executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the real question for conventions is whether it is “money well spent.”

“Historically there have been a lot of resources invested and not a lot of money recouped,” Krumholz said. “Often those who make out best are the corporate and in kind sponsors who will have the gratitude of the party, but are less valuable to the public and more so to the corporations that have a chit to call in when they need a favor returned.”

The two-day wooing included lots of wining and dining at spots in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as the business of the scouting trip, which included the DNC’s technical advisory committee visiting the Barclays Center to examine issues like hotel space and security.

Sheinkopf said with or without the convention New York City is a “power place no matter what,” but it will add “prestige to the mayor and adds to the city’s coffers,” as well as a likely political bump for de Blasio if all goes smoothly.

“He can run for re-election and say, ‘Look what I did for New York,’” Sheinkopf said, adding that the money it will bring in is something de Blasio can also run on, saying a successful convention, especially a financially successful one, could be an “overriding argument” for re-election.

New York is up against Birmingham, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; and Philadelphia, where the 15-member DNC team led by DNC CEO Amy Dacey are scouting next. Philadelphia is thought to have an edge because it’s still viewed as a swing state, where conventions are traditionally held.

A decision from the Democratic National Committee is expected in late 2014 or early 2015.

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President Obama Declines Ice Bucket Challenge

President Obama Declines Ice Bucket Challenge

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — Despite spending his vacation in the summer heat of Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama has declined an offer to partake in the Internet’s favorite charitable wet T-shirt contest.

Obama was nominated to take the challenge Sunday by Ethel Kennedy, the widow of former Sen. Bobby Kennedy. On Facebook, the 86-year-old challenged the president to join her in the #StrikeOutALS challenge by dumping a bucket of ice water on his head.

“Welcome to Cape Cod, President Obama. I nominate you,” Kennedy declared on the social media site.

The challenge has gone viral in recent weeks as Internet users have soaked themselves with ice water in support of the ALS Association, a charitable organization committed to eradicating Lou Gehrig’s Disease. An alternative to the challenge – make a donation in support of the ALS Association.

It looks like President Obama will be taking the high road this time around. In a statement Wednesday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, “The president appreciates Mrs. Kennedy thinking of him for the challenge – though his contribution to this effort will be monetary.”

Several other politicians, however, have been more than willing to join in.

On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accepted the challenge, posting a video to YouTube. In the video, Jindal nominated Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was also more than willing to get drenched on the Internet. Nominating some pretty big names in his Facebook post, Christie called out Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, posted a video of herself jumping into the frigid Alaskan waters in support of the ALS Association. Ditching the bucket altogether, Murkowski jumped into the 30-degree ocean from aboard a fishing boat. Her nomination? The entire United States Senate.

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Obama Still Counts Hillary Clinton as ‘Close Friend’ Despite Criticism

Obama Still Counts Hillary Clinton as ‘Close Friend’ Despite Criticism

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama takes no offense to Hillary Clinton’s recent criticism of his foreign policy, the White House told ABC News, as the two prepare to meet face-to-face at a friend’s party in Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday night.

“She remains a close friend of the president’s and I think the point is that their friendship extends well beyond any differences or anything that is spun up in the public sphere,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl Tuesday.

Clinton had suggested in an interview with The Atlantic that Obama’s failure to support moderate rebels in Syria fueled the rise of the terrorist group the United States is now bombing in Iraq.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.

But Rhodes said Clinton and Obama have had a “long relationship. They understand that they agree on the broad majority of issues involving America’s role in the world. They’ve had occasional differences. This is not a new one as it relates to Syria. She wrote about it in her book.”

“They are in agreement as it relates to a broad majority of things that we’re engaged in around the world, including our effort to protect our people and provide humanitarian aid in Iraq right now,” he added.

Clinton later called the president to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies, or his leadership,” according to her spokesman, Nick Merrill.

The former secretary of state and possible 2016 presidential candidate “looks forward to hugging it out when they see each other,” Merrill said.

The Obamas, who are on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and Clinton, who has a book signing on the island Wednesday, are attending a birthday party for a mutual friend Wednesday night.

“They’ll have a good chance to see each other,” Rhodes said, “have a laugh about this, move on.”

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White House Says Team Sent to Iraq Will Not Be in Combat Role

White House Says Team Sent to Iraq Will Not Be in Combat Role

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The White House stressed on Wednesday that the 129-member military assessment team that has been sent to northern Iraq is “not going to be in a combat role.”

“They’re there on a temporary basis to make assessments about how to get the population off that mountain. This would be a humanitarian effort, again, to get them to a safe space,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters Wednesday. “There are a range of ways for doing that. We haven’t made decisions about how to carry out that vision because we want to get the readout from this assessment team first.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Tuesday that the team was being sent to Erbil to determine what further assistance the U.S. can provide in easing the humanitarian crisis of thousands of Yazidis trapped at Mount Sinjar.

Rhodes said there are a range of options, including creating a safe corridor for the refugees to get off the mountain.

“You look at corridors, you look at airlifts, you look at different ways to move people who are in a very dangerous place on that mountain to a safer position. And that’s exactly what our team is doing on the ground now in Iraq,” he told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl.

While President Obama has repeatedly ruled out sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq, Rhodes was adamant that “the role of U.S. forces is not one of re-entering combat on the ground. It’s how to provide humanitarian assistance to this affected population.”

Rhodes did, however, admit the danger in such a mission, saying “in any effort, there are always dangers involved.”

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Mary Landrieu Takes Heat for Spending Public Money on Private Flight

Mary Landrieu Takes Heat for Spending Public Money on Private Flight

US Senate(WASHINGTON) — Republican Louisiana Senate hopeful Rep. Bill Cassidy is calling on Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize and return all taxpayer money she has spent on charter flights after a media report revealed the Democratic incumbent violated federal law by using taxpayer dollars to charter a private flight to a campaign event.

“Senator Landrieu’s disregard and abuse of taxpayer money is unacceptable and, reportedly, illegal,” Rep. Cassidy said in a statement. “She should return all the taxpayer money she has spent on charter flights, open up her travel logs for further review to ensure there are not more violations, and apologize to American taxpayers immediately.”

Landrieu spent $3,200 on a round-trip flight from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she attended a $40-per-person fundraiser with women supporters Nov. 8, the same day President Obama was in Landrieu’s hometown of New Orleans for another event, which she did not attend.

The flight should have been paid for by Landrieu’s campaign but was instead paid for by her Senate office. Landrieu campaign communications director Fabien Levy told ABC News it was a mistake that taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the flight and that the campaign has since corrected the error.

“We take our finances very seriously and are glad we caught the vendor’s mistake and were able to rectify the matter as soon as possible,” Levy said in a statement.

The campaign discovered the improperly billed flight on July 29, at which point Levy said the campaign “immediately contacted the vendor,” which Landrieu uses for both official Senate business and campaign flights, to correct the mistake. The Landrieu campaign cut a check on Aug. 4 for the corrected invoice from the charter company, and the Senate funds were reimbursed.

Though the Landrieu campaign has corrected the error, which it blamed on the charter company, Cassidy says the senator needs to take direct responsibility.

“Louisiana taxpayers entrusted Senator Landrieu with public dollars,” Cassidy said in a statement. “She has a responsibility to use those dollars legally and to uphold the public trust. …This is her budget and in the words of Harry Truman: ‘the buck stops here.’”

The Landrieu campaign counters that it’s Cassidy who needs to be more transparent with voters.

“If Congressman Cassidy was really concerned about this matter, he’d at least agree to one of the four debates Senator Landrieu has agreed to so they can discuss this in person,” Levy said in a statement to ABC News. “I’m sure voters would also like to hear about the numerous issues Congressman Cassidy has refused to give his opinion on, like the cost of education, taxes and whether Louisiana businesses have the resources they need to stay opened.”

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Stars Come Out for Al Franken: How He’s Cashing In on Hollywood

Stars Come Out for Al Franken: How He’s Cashing In on Hollywood

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Al Franken eked out a victory in his high-spending 2008 Senate race with Hollywood’s help.

Now, as the Minnesota Democrat and former comedian faces reelection, entertainers are once again pitching in on his behalf in his contest with Republican challenger, Mike McFadden.

Hollywood has helped Franken’s campaign raise more than $19 million, dwarfing McFadden’s $3 million in the cycle, according to recent Federal Election Commission filings and data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Franken has built a $4 million reserve, compared to McFadden, who had $2.7 million cash on hand through late July.

The former Saturday Night Live writer’s celebrity donors are a mix of Hollywood’s high-spending Democratic boosters (such as directors JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg ), friends and former SNL colleagues, including Mike Myers and Dan Aykroyd. And Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on Seinfeld, has contributed $4,200 to Franken this cycle.

“Al is a friend…he’s got what it takes to do the hard-thinking, hard work of being a politician,” Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman on AMC’s Breaking Bad and worked with Franken on SNL, told ABC News by email.

Franken’s campaign has downplayed the support from entertainers. A campaign spokeswoman, Alexandra Fetissoff, said that 97 percent of his contributions have come from donations of $100 or less.

Celebrities bring name recognition to Franken’s campaign, said University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs.

“When voters hear about well-known stars supporting a candidate, it can give them some luster,” Jacobs said.

But Hollywood’s deep pockets might be even more valuable than a chance to meet Amy Poehler, Jon Hamm or Conan O’Brien.

In 2008, when Franken defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by just 312 votes, both candidates spent a combined $46 million.

Franken has already spent about $15 million on reelection through late July, according to his campaign’s most recent filings.

After securing the GOP nomination on Tuesday, McFadden, an investment banker, will likely receive national support from fundraisers and outside groups, forcing Franken to enlist Hollywood’s help to keep his spending advantage.

So far, the industry has donated $400,000 to Franken’s efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The race is still pretty sleepy,” Jacobs said. “If Franken finds himself in trouble, I expect him to go back to his friends.”

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Protecting Hillary Clinton ‘a Form of Punishment,’ New Book Alleges

Protecting Hillary Clinton ‘a Form of Punishment,’ New Book Alleges

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — There’s no worse assignment for a Secret Service agent than protecting Hillary Clinton, if claims in a controversial new book are to be believed.

Ronald Kessler’s book, First Family Detail, is filled with salacious revelations about the secret personal lives of the nation’s most high-profile political leaders. But the authenticity of those revelations has been called into question over factual inaccuracies in the book, as well as its reliance on anonymous Secret Service agents.

“She is so nasty to agents that being assigned to her detail is considered a form of punishment,” Kessler told ABC News of Clinton, who continues to receive Secret Service protection as a former first lady.

“It shines a light on her character,” Kessler said. “She claims to be a champion of the little people, and she’s going to help the middle class. And, in fact, she treats these people around her, [who] would lay down their lives for her like sub-humans; and I think voters need to consider that.”

The second-worst Secret Service assignment is Vice President Joe Biden, Kessler said. Though Biden is reportedly “very nice to agents,” Kessler said, his security detail is exhausted from frequent last-minute trips to his home in Delaware, and some are offended by what Kessler writes is a “habit of swimming in his pool nude.”

“He likes to skinny-dip both at the pool at his vice president residence in Washington and his home in Wilmington, and female agents are very offended by that,” Kessler said. “And, in fact, you could make a case that it’s almost sexual harassment.”

While most of the allegations contained in Kessler’s book relate to the personal lives of the high-profile individuals whom the Secret Service protects, there is also criticism of the Secret Service itself.

Kessler said that the president’s life has been put at risk by what his anonymous sources tell him are serious security shortfalls within the agency.

“Agents tell me that it’s a miracle there has not been an assassination, given all this corner-cutting,” Kessler said.

“[An] example in the book is that, when Bradley Cooper went to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a high-ranking Secret Service official told the detail at the Washington Hilton, ‘Just let him in with his SUV’ — in this secure area where only Secret Service cars are allowed, and even they have to be screened for explosives. He was not screened; someone could have put explosives in,” he said.

But the Secret Service is firing back at Kessler’s claims, with spokesman Ed Donovan calling the book “intellectually lazy and riddled with inaccuracies.”

“We currently dedicate more personnel, funding and technical assets to our protective mission than at any time in our history and our protective measures and methods continue to increase in scope and complexity, not diminish,” Donovan said in a written statement. “Comments attributed to our personnel, current or former, regarding their personal perceptions of Secret Service protectees, are just that — their personal perceptions — and should not be discussed in any forum.”

The book’s accuracy has also been called into question by reviewers outside of the government.

Marc Ambinder, an editor at This Week news magazine, wrote a post admonishing Kessler’s book for “weird inaccuracies” that he says “should lead Kessler to question the judgment of some of his own sources.” Asked for a response to Ambinder’s negative review, Kessler rebutted that “every claim that he made was totally wrong.”

Neither the vice president’s office nor Clinton provided a comment when contacted by ABC News. However, the Clintons recently provided a joint-statement to POLITICO to address a slew of new books that are critical of Hillary Clinton.

“With Klein, Halper and [author Ronald] Kessler, we now have a hat trick of despicable actors concocting trashy nonsense for a quick buck, at the expense of anything even remotely resembling the truth,” a joint statement from spokesmen for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton read, according to POLITICO.

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Hillary Tries Smoothing Out Differences with Obama

Hillary Tries Smoothing Out Differences with Obama

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama along with Bill and Hillary Clinton are apparently in the mood to party but will recent statements critical of the administration’s Syria policy made by the former secretary of state put a damper on the get-together on Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday?

Clinton, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, said Obama’s “failure” to arm moderate Syrian rebels created a vacuum that allowed the rise of the al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State.

According to an aide for Clinton, she has since called the president to assert that her comments were not a personal attack and that she “continues to share his deep commitment to a smart and principled foreign policy that uses all the tools at our disposal to achieve our goals.”

The aide said Clinton and the president see eye-to-eye on “most issues.”

In fact, Clinton “looks forward to hugging it out when she they see each other” at the 80th birthday party for Ann Jordan, hosted by Mrs. Jordan’s husband, long-time Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan.

Just the same, political pundits see Clinton’s comment as a way to distance herself from the White House as she prepares a likely campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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President Obama Calls Shooting of Missouri Teen ‘Heartbreaking’

President Obama Calls Shooting of Missouri Teen ‘Heartbreaking’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama said Tuesday that the police shooting death of unarmed Missouri teen Michael Brown was “heartbreaking,” while urging those who are upset over the incident to remain calm.

Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man, was shot multiple times and killed Saturday by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer. The days since the shooting have been marked by tense standoffs between Brown’s supporters and heavily-armed police officers, along with riots and looting of stores on Sunday night.

“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time,” Obama said.

“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” the president said in a statement. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”

Obama emphasized that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice will be investigating the shooting, as well as local police in St. Louis County, Missouri.

Earlier on Tuesday, local authorities confirmed that the cause of Michael Brown’s death was the multiple gunshot wounds he sustained, though the larger part of the investigation remains to determine the manner of his death — the circumstances that led to the gunshots being fired.

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Biden Calls Iraqi Speaker, Kurdistan President, Continues Push for Inclusive Government

Biden Calls Iraqi Speaker, Kurdistan President, Continues Push for Inclusive Government

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Salim al-Jabouri, and Iraqi Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani on Tuesday, hoping to reaffirm support for a new Iraqi government and urge all sides to work to form a new, inclusive government.

According to readouts of the calls, both Barzani and al-Jabouri expressed their support of newly selected Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi. Biden expressed President Obama’s interest in working closely with Iraq’s next government to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and to ensure the organization can no longer pose a threat to the Iraqi people.

Biden agreed to continue regular communication with both leaders, while also keeping them abreast of the latest humanitarian aid provided by the U.S. to refugees on Mount Sinjar.

Biden called for all sides to work with Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi as he attempts to build a diverse and inclusive government to represent all Iraqis.

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State Department Says Nothing Illegal About Kerry’s Stay in Myanmar Hotel

State Department Says Nothing Illegal About Kerry’s Stay in Myanmar Hotel

US Department of State(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that there was nothing illegal about the decision for Secretary of State John Kerry to stay in a hotel owned by an individual who has been blacklisted by U.S. sanctions.

According to State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, the decision to stay in the hotel abided by both the letter and the spirit of U.S. law, as the hotel itself was not subject to sanctions, even if its owner and the holding company he runs are. “If we wanted to sanction the hotel,” Harf said, “we could have done that too.”

During a recent trip to Myanmar for the ASEAN Ministerial Forum, attended by Kerry, the U.S. delegation stayed at the Lake Garden Hotel. That hotel is owned by Max Myanmar Holdings, a company on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list. The owner of Max Myanmar Holdings, Zaw Zaw, is also blacklisted individually for links to the country’s former military regime.

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After Syria Flap, Hillary Clinton Plans on ‘Hugging It Out’ with Obama

After Syria Flap, Hillary Clinton Plans on ‘Hugging It Out’ with Obama

State Department photo(WASHINGTON) — Well, this is bound to be awkward.

President Obama and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are slated to appear together at a private party in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday. But when she took a swipe at his oft-repeated foreign policy slogan in a recent interview, the night probably got a little more complicated.

Not to worry though. According to Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill, the former secretary of state looks forward to “hugging it out” with the president at the party.

In an interview with The Atlantic published Monday, Clinton said, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

In the same interview, she also asserted that the Obama administration’s “failure” to help Syrian rebels has led to the current rise of ISIS, the militant group aiming to establish a religious caliphate in Iraq.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.

In a statement to ABC News, Merrill said, “While they’ve had honest differences on some issues, including aspects of the wicked challenge Syria presents, she has explained those differences.…Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, she looks forward to hugging it out when they see each other tomorrow night.”

Clinton, a longtime proponent of early intervention in Syria, “suggested the she finds [the president's] approach to foreign policy overly cautious,” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote. Many saw this critique as an attempt to distance herself from an increasingly unpopular president in case she decides to make a bid for the White House in 2016.

Clinton called President Obama Tuesday morning to let him know she hadn’t intended her comments as an attack, Merrill told ABC News.

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Obama Briefed on Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza While on Vacation

Obama Briefed on Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza While on Vacation

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — While on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday, President Obama was briefed by National Security advisor Susan Rice on ongoing national security developments.

The briefing included the latest military and political updates in Iraq, and the situations in Ukraine and Gaza, among other issues.

The president also spoke separately with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

According to the White House’s readout of Obama’s call with Harper, the two leaders spoke about the situation in Iraq and “agreed to work with other partners in the international community to provide additional, immediate humanitarian assistance, and to continue developing options to secure the safety of the civilians on Mount Sinjar.”

The two also discussed efforts to counter the threat posed by ISIS and “agreed on the need for Iraqi political leaders from all factions to put aside their differences and to form an inclusive government capable of pulling the country together,” the White House said.

Obama called Erdogan, meanwhile, to congratulate him on being elected Turkey’s next president. The two also discussed cease-fire efforts in Gaza, the terrorist threat emanating from Iraq and Syria, and Iraq’s government.

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National Portrait Gallery Commemorates Robin Williams

National Portrait Gallery Commemorates Robin Williams

Kevin Winter/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The National Portrait Gallery hung a portrait of Robin Williams Tuesday to commemorate the actor’s death.

It’s a relatively common occurrence for the historical gallery, located in downtown Washington, D.C., which seeks to honor not only the deaths but also major awards and achievements of both historical political figures and American cultural icons, the gallery’s senior historian said.

Near the gallery’s lobby now hangs a print of the photo used in Williams’s March 12, 1979 Time magazine cover, under a plaque reading, “In Memoriam.”

“We’d like people to remember the entirety of that career, the joy and laughter he brought to millions of people,” National Gallery Senior Historian David Ward told ABC News.

The gallery has already displayed portraits of Williams before his death; he was voted into the gallery’s collection based on his iconic status as an actor and comedian, Ward said.

The gallery retrieved the photo, which it already owned, from a storage facility in Maryland Tuesday morning and hung it around midday, Ward said.

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Will Closed-Door Benghazi Hearings Keep the ‘Circus’ Away?

Will Closed-Door Benghazi Hearings Keep the ‘Circus’ Away?

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Trey Gowdy was bombarded with requests from fellow Republicans, eager to take part in the latest congressional investigation of the Benghazi, Libya attack. But when it became clear that he intended to lead the inquiry behind closed doors, far from the spotlight, the requests soon fell silent.

“If you want to get on the news, then go rob a bank,” Gowdy, R-S.C., said, recounting his message to several Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill, dashing their hopes of being featured in what they assumed would be high-profile televised hearings.

“It’s going to be a professional investigation, despite folks who may want to see it be something else,” Gowdy told ABC News. “They’re going to be disappointed.”

The blunt talk from Gowdy, appointed by House Speaker John Boehner to lead the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Libya, helps explain why the investigation hasn’t generated politically explosive headlines that were anticipated at the beginning of summer.

The committee has been quietly interviewing family members, witnesses and poring over documents from the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission, but lawmakers have been doing nearly all of their work in private.

When Republicans voted in May to create a new committee to investigate the attack, Democrats bristled and several Republicans were hoping to play at least some role in any hearings during the summer and fall. But Gowdy said he had no interest in letting the process “become a circus.”

Instead, he has approached the investigation like the work he did as a prosecutor before being elected to Congress in 2010 as one of the rising stars in the tea party wave. He said he has placed a vow of silence over the details of the investigation, with the hope of being fair and “respectful of the four people who were killed.”

He and the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, have sought to work together as partners — albeit adversarial ones — absent the public clashes and feuds that have become the soundtrack of this deeply divided Congress.

“I know folks hate the fact that Mr. Cummings and I aren’t fighting — aren’t at each other’s throats,” Gowdy said. “But I like Mr. Cummings and we’re doing fantastic. We’re just doing most of it privately as opposed to publicly.”

The attack in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has become one of the most stinging foreign policy flashpoints of the Obama administration. It has also created an opening for Republicans to challenge the credentials of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected to testify before the committee.

But it remains an open question how much of the testimony from Clinton and other top administration officials will be done in public.

“I can get more information in a five-hour deposition than I can in five minutes of listening to a colleague ask questions in committee hearings,” Gowdy said. “If it’s about getting the information, then you want to use the investigatory tool that is most calculated and gets you the most amount of information and that’s not five minutes in a committee hearing.”

The committee, which is comprised of seven Republicans and five Democrats, is scheduled to resume its work in September, but Congress is in session for only part of the month. Gowdy said he expected to call at least a few hearings, particularly to air out both sides of an argument.

“If there’s a factual discrepancy, then the jury or our fellow citizens need to hear both sides and they can determine where the greater weight or credibility is,” Gowdy said. “But if there’s a consensus on a point, there’s really not a reason to litigate that in public.”

Asked whether the committee’s work would be finished by the midterm elections in November, Gowdy replied: “No, heavens no.”

“I’ve decided that I’d rather be right than first,” he said. “So we’re going to do it methodically, professionally and there is no timeline.”

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Obamas and Clintons Will Party Together on Martha’s Vineyard

Obamas and Clintons Will Party Together on Martha’s Vineyard

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton are apparently in the mood to party.

The foursome is expected to attend an event at the Farm Neck Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard this Wednesday. The Obamas are renting a vacation home on the island while the Clintons have landed in the Hamptons for some R&R.

The 80th birthday party for Ann Jordan is being hosted by Mrs. Jordan’s husband, long-time Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan. It’s the same day Hillary Clinton is scheduled to do a book signing at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven.

“The president and first lady have accepted an offer to attend a social gathering at the home of Vernon Jordan on Wednesday evening,” a White House official confirmed to ABC News. “The president and first lady are very much looking forward to the occasion and seeing former secretary Clinton.”

So, this week we will see a rare occurrence: An event attended by both the Clintons and the Obamas.

The timing is interesting too: It comes right after Hillary Clinton, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, offered her first real criticism of President Obama when she said Obama’s “failure” to arm moderate Syrian rebels created a vacuum that allowed the rise of the al Qaeda offshoot ISIS.

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The Primary Primer: Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin Vote

The Primary Primer: Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin Vote

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — WHO’S ON THE BALLOT? Voters cast ballots Tuesday in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We will find out who will take on Sen. Al Franken, as well as the candidate who could go on to succeed Rep. Michele Bachmann. There’s even a challenger running against Rep. Paul Ryan with the same last name, and two gubernatorial GOP showdowns in Connecticut and Minnesota, and much more.

Here’s seven races to watch Tuesday:

GOP SHOWDOWN IN CONNECTICUT: While Connecticut’s congressional nominees are chosen through state nominating conventions, there is still a contested Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday. Connecticut state senate minority leader John McKinney is squaring off against former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and businessman Tom Foley for a chance to run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in November. WHY IT MATTERS? Foley definitely has the edge with the backing of both the Connecticut Republican Party and an endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. The RGA itself has not backed Foley as they do not get involved in primaries and they have not spent any money on Foley’s behalf. Instead Christie made the decision to get involved on his own after Foley was endorsed by the GOP convention in May. Foley, 62, also ran in 2010 and just barely lost to Malloy besting him by about 6,500 votes. McKinney, 50, isn’t a no-name challenger, having served 15 years in the state legislature and he’s also the son of former Rep. Stewart McKinney, who represented Fairfield County in Congress for eight terms. One issue that has become prominent in the campaign is gun control. McKinney voted for the 2013 ban on large-capacity gun magazines that Connecticut passed in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting. Foley — who has been trying to run as an outsider and calls McKinney a “career politician” — says the legislation didn’t do enough to combat mental health issues and he’s become a favorite of gun rights supporters across the state. Besides that he hasn’t  taken a position on the law and has been vague preferring just to say his legislation would be different. It may look good for Foley, but with a likely low turn-out primary there could be a surprise. No matter who wins it will be a tight general election, and if it’s Foley it will be a November re-match against Malloy.

WILL THE GOP PICK WIN IN MINN? Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has been endorsed by the Minnesota GOP to challenge Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in November, but he still has a primary. If he loses it won’t just be a personal loss, but the state GOP will take a knock as well. WHY IT MATTERS? The Minnesota gubernatorial GOP primary is hotly contested with three other challengers on the ballot including former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, businessman Scott Honour, and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert. Some establishment Republicans believe the party’s endorsing process favors the tea party wing of the party and that’s why you see others challenging their choice. Seifert narrowly lose the GOP endorsement for governor in 2010. Dayton is favored in November and in state polls he is leading his challengers, but expect whoever wins to try and take what looks like will be a good year for Republicans nationally to Minnesota.

AL FRANKEN’S OPPONENT:  Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken is currently favored to win re-election in November, but in 2008 he just barely beat incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman in a race that included both a recount and a legal challenge that took eight months. Franken is already taking nothing for granted running positive television ads in the state stressing his work in the senate. On Tuesday he will find out who will challenge him in November as a group of Republicans are battling it out in the Minnesota senate primary. WHY IT MATTERS?  Investment banker Mike McFadden is favored in the race and already has the backing of the state GOP and has raised over $3.4 million. He’s already running positive ads in the state that stress his opposition to Obamacare, as well as being both a father and a football coach.  He’s up against state Rep. Jim Abeler who has been backed by the Minnesota Star Tribune and former Sen. Dave Durenberger. McFadden and Abeler are also up against three lesser known challengers.

AFTER MICHELE BACHMANN: Rep. Michele Bachmann is retiring after four terms in the House, one presidential bid, and plenty of eyebrow raising comments. The founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, her 2012 presidential campaign is still under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations, but Tuesday we will find out the GOP nominee that will run to succeed her in Minnesota’s sixth district. WHY IT MATTERS?  Conservative radio host and former state Rep. Tom Emmer is the favorite. He barely lost to Gov. Mark Dayton in 2010. The race went to a recount, which showed him trailing Dayton by nearly 9,000 votes. Emmer has been backed by the state GOP and Bachmann, but he’s still up against Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah who he has badly out raised five to one. He’s brought in over $1.1 million to Sivarajah’s $256, 925 and $174,337 she donated to her campaign, according to federal filings. In this heavily conservative district, the winner is favored in the general election against the Democratic candidate, Sartell Mayor Joe Perske.

AFTER 35 YEARS, A BATTLE TO SUCCEED: Four GOP candidates are looking to replace Republican Rep. Tom Petri, who after serving 35 years in Congress, is retiring. The GOP primary for Wisconsin’s sixth district is the most closely watched race in the state Tuesday and several of the contenders are members of the Wisconsin state legislature. WHY IT MATTERS? State Sen. Glenn Grothman, state Sen. Joe Leibham, and state Rep. Duey Stroebel are all vying for the nomination, as well as Tom Denow, a political newcomer and former instructor at a state technical school. Grothman has supported conservative causes over the years including proposing a bill that would target single parents saying it would formally consider single parenthood a contributing factor to child abuse.  Stroebhel has stressed his business background and Leibham says he works to bring people together. This district leans Republican, but the winner will go up against Democratic candidate Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris.


DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY FOR WISCONSIN’S FOURTH DISTRICT:  Five-term incumbent Rep. Gwen Moore, the first African-American congresswoman to represent Wisconsin is being challenged by Gary George, a former state senator turned convicted felon who after 23 years in the state legislature spent four years in prison for conspiring to defraud the government. His law license has been re-instated and as a felon he can’t run for state or local office, but is not barred from running for federal office. While George obviously has name recognition, though not necessarily the favorable kind, he lacks significant cash flow. While Moore has raised more than $765,000 and is heavily favored to hold on to her seat, George has not filed federal campaign financial statements, indicating he may have raised less than the $5,000 required to file. On the GOP side, car repair shop owner Dan Sebring is up against David King, a pastor. Sebring considers himself a tea party Republican and has run unsuccessfully against Moore three other times and King has ran for several other offices in past campaigns.

WISCONSIN’S FIRST DISTRICT: Rep. Paul Ryan is seeking a ninth term and is heavily favored, but he does have a GOP challenger and while they share a last name they are not related. Jeremy Ryan is actually a liberal activist who doesn’t live in the district and according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the state GOP filed a complaint saying he did not have the required numbers of signatures to get on the ballot as a Republican. The complaint said Jeremy Ryan told people they were signing a petition to legalize marijuana, but the Government Accountability Board found that the state party did not prove its claim. The former GOP vice presidential nominee is favored not only in the primary, but also the general election, but he will find out his Democratic opponent today as well. Former Kenosha County supervisor Rob Zerban, who lost to Ryan in 2012, is up against filmmaker Amardeep Kaleka, whose father Sikh Temple President Satwant Singh Kaleka was murdered by a white supremacist at the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting two years ago. Keleka has said his father’s murder inspired him to run for Congress.

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