Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy on Friday criticized Hillary Clinton, saying she had "unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server."
Last week, Gowdy called for Clinton to turn her email server to a third-party for analysis of her records. "After seeking and receiving a two-week extension from the committee," Gowdy said Friday, "Secretary Clinton failed to provide a single new document to the subpoena issued by the Committee and refused to provide her private server to the Inspector General for the State Department or any other independent arbiter for analysis."
Gowdy said that the committee learned on Friday that Clinton had wiped the server. "While it is not clear precisely when Secretary Clinton decided to permanently delete all emails from her server, it appears she made the decision after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the Secretary to return her public record to the Department," Gowdy wrote.
Gowdy further criticized Clinton, saying that "not only was the Secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest."
Terming Clinton's decision "unprecedented," Gowdy says that that action involves the Select Committee and Congress, "but also those of the American people and their right to the full record of her tenure as secretary of State."
Clinton has previously said that she deleted all private emails after turning over the records she and her team had identified as public record.
US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stirred fierce backlash from critics by signing a "religious freedom" law on Thursday, and he might have also shaken up the 2016 presidential race in the process.
The former congressman and potential 2016 presidential candidate signed into law a controversial state Senate bill that simply states the government can't interfere with people and businesses exercising their religious beliefs. Religious freedom is already protected under the U.S. Constitution, and Pence posed the new law as an innocuous affirmation of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, against the mandate for employer-provided birth-control coverage under Obamacare.
Known as a social conservative, Pence has said he's considering a White House run and will reportedly decide sometime this spring.
The bill has sparked intense backlash online, but it's won a very important fan for Pence: Bob Vander Plaats, the noted Iowa-caucus kingmaker who heads up the FAMiLY Leader, a socially conservative group that exercises notable political influence in the critical primary-campaign state.
"I think it definitely boosts his credibility, not just with a group like ours, but for any freedom-loving American who wants to have a full-spectrum conservative in the White House," Vander Plaats told ABC News.
Since Pence signed the bill, critics have lashed out at the governor online. Miley Cyrus posted a photo of Pence on Instagram, calling the governor an "a**hole." Businesses reportedly lobbied against the bill, and Yelp's CEO said it sets a "terrible precedent."
Pence defended the law at a press conference on Friday after he signed it, saying it is "not about discrimination" and pointing to similar laws in other states, and to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by president Bill Clinton. Pence said he thinks there has been a lot of "misunderstanding" surrounding the bill.
Critics see it differently. The bill "absolutely does" give a green light to discrimination, according to Jenny Pizer, national director of law and policy at Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal-defense and advocacy group.
"Many people take these bills as a message that the usual rules to not apply, and that other people should endure mistreatment if that is based on a religious motive," Pizer said.
At issue is whether businesses can discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual clients: for instance, wedding photographers, wedding-cake bakers, or florists who may see a gay wedding as contradicting religious beliefs against gay marriage. In some places, businesses already can refuse to serve gays and lesbians, Pizer said, with nondiscrimination laws on the books in fewer than half the states and a dozen counties in Indiana. For Pizer and other critics, the concern is that the bill will green-light discriminatory attitudes.
For Pence, the decision could bring embarrassment for his state -- the NCAA issued a strongly worded statement that it is "concerned" about the law's effects, as the men's basketball Final Four heads to Indianapolis next weekend -- but it could also provide a political windfall among activists like Vander Plaats in key primary states.
"This isn't about driving through McDonald's and saying you can't order a Big Mac 'cause you're gay," Vander Plaats, who says he's examining Pence along with other candidates, told ABC. The social-conservative vote will likely be sought by the likes of Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and a handful of others in the 2016 GOP race. Huckabee and Santorum each carried Iowa with Christian-conservative messages in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
"Gov. Pence, he did a great job signing that legislation, and I truly believe this will be a big issue in the 2016 race, the idea of religious freedom," Vander Plaats said.
State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry this week sent a letter to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick calling for the department to review its records preservation policies.
"It is critical for the State Department to preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy," Kerry writes, noting that "it is also important for the American public to have access to that record." While he praises the strides made by the department in terms of both preservation and transparency, Kerry says that more still must be done.
"We must adapt our systems and policies to keep pace with changes in technology and the way our personnel work," Kerry writes. He also highlights the "sizable Freedom of Information Act burden" that the department receives each year -- as many as 18,000 requests.
Kerry admits that "putting the principles of preservation and transparency into practice is an evolving challenge, often hampered by resource constraints," but that his department must increase its efforts to do so.
Kerry brings up a number of key questions that he hopes would be central to a potential review, including the ways the department can improve its tools and methods for complying with FOIA requests, the challenges posed by the department's international presence.
Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama praised Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's long career in the Senate on Friday, after the Nevada Democrat announced he will not seek re-election in 2016.
"Harry Reid is a fighter. In his five terms as a U.S. Senator, Harry has fought for good jobs, a safer environment for our kids, and affordable health care for all. He's never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy," Obama said in a statement.
"Time and time again, Harry stood up to special interests and made sure every one of his constituents had a voice in their nation's capital," the president added. "Above all else, Harry has fought for the people of his beloved state of Nevada."
Reid, 75, suffered a serious eye injury while exercising earlier this year, causing him to reconsider whether he would seek re-election.
"This accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think," Reid said in a YouTube video announcing his decision. "We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I'm not going to run for re-election."
Obama said he and the first lady wish Reid and his wife Landra "well in whatever the future holds."
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Secret Service is tightening its rules on drinking and driving -- even though evidence suggests a recent report of agents driving drunk near the White House was exaggerated.
The quasi-scandal started with an anonymous email saying two Secret Service agents drove drunk through a crime scene near the White House.
Secret Service employees "are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects credit on themselves, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Government, and the citizens we serve," said the new policy, which was distributed to all Secret Service employees via official email on Monday. "Effective immediately, employees may not operate a Government Owned, Leased, or Rented vehicle within 10 hours of consuming an alcoholic beverage," the email reads.
But, "the initial reports of a vehicle crash were inaccurate. There was no crash," Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said at a hearing this week.
Although sources tell ABC News there's no evidence the agents were drunk, the agency still announced a new rule: No driving government cars within 10 hours of drinking alcohol.
The old rule said simply, no driving if you're impaired.
The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama calls it one of the world's most pressing public health crises, and on Friday, his administration is announcing a long-awaited plan to tackle it, releasing the first ever White House strategy to counter superbugs and antibiotic resistance.
The 63-page national action plan released Friday outlines steps to strengthen surveillance and spur the development of new antibiotics and tests. The new guidelines would also put increased pressure on the agriculture industry to reduce its use of antibiotics on farm animals, though critics say the plan is weak on industry enforcement.
There are parts of the aggressive effort that the administration can act on now, but to get the whole job done, the president says he needs Congress to step up.
Bryant Avondoglio / Office of the Speaker(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — It’s not every day that the President openly applauds the Republican-led House of Representatives, much less House Speaker John Boehner. But that’s exactly what he did before a crowd in Birmingham Thursday night, praising Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for passing the Doc Fix.
“The good news is that today the House of Representatives passed a bill. No, no. You think I’m joking -- I’m not,” he said to some laughter at Lawson State Community College. “It was a bipartisan bill designed to make sure that doctors in our medicare system get paid on time.”
Boehner and Pelosi came together Thursday to strike a deal, repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate and replacing it with a long-term solution to Medicare repayment, as well as extending funding for community health centers for two years.
“I called the Speaker John Boehner and the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and I said congratulations,” said President Obama. “They did good work today and they deserve credit and the House of Representatives deserves credit.”
Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday he will not seek re-election in 2016, ending a Senate career that has spanned three decades.
Known for his feisty and combative style in the Senate, the 75-year-old Nevada Democrat made the announcement in a YouTube video earlier Friday morning.
Earlier this year, Reid suffered a serious eye injury while exercising at home, causing him to reconsider whether he would seek re-election in 2016.
"This accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think," Reid said. "We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I'm not going to run for re-election."
Reid has led Senate Democrats for the past eight years, first as Senate Majority Leader from 2007 until this year when Republicans took control of the Senate, bumping him to Senate Minority Leader.
Reid's departure will open up a battle for the top Democratic spot in the Senate as well as for his Nevada seat back home. Hours after announcing he would retire from the Senate, Reid threw his support behind Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to be the next Democratic leader.
"It's the caucus' decision but Senator Reid thinks Senator Schumer has earned it," Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, said.
Prior to joining the Senate in 1987, Reid, a Mormon, served two terms in the House of Representatives and as Nevada's Lieutenant Governor for four years.
Reid gained his first exposure to Capitol Hill as an officer for the Capitol Police while he attended Georgetown University Law School.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Having a parent who works at the White House is no longer a prerequisite for participating in “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The chance to spend a day “at work” at the White House used to be limited to the sons and daughters of staff who work there. But this year, on April 23, the president and first lady are also opening the White House gates to kids in the D.C. community who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.
“Every year, lots of kids are left out,” President Obama said in a web video, announcing the new twist to the long-held tradition of parents bringing their kids to work for a day. “Maybe they’re foster kids, or homeless, or struggling in school, or their parents don’t have jobs that allow them to bring their kids to work.”
The White House Council on Women and Girls and My Brother’s Keeper Initiative have teamed up with the local chapter of Boys and Girls Club and DC Child and Family Services to select candidates from some of Washington’s poorest and most at-risk communities, including foster kids and youth likely to drop out of high school.
Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington Vice President Michael McDonald said the day will be an “incredibly exciting” opportunity for some of the most at-need kids in the nation’s capital to dream big.
“The Boys and Girls Club is in the business of offering hope,” McDonald told ABC News. “What greater hope than to be president? And it’s that connection to these things you see on TV and on the nightly news -- these are real and real people who work there -- and I think that connection is going to be a really eye-opening opportunity for our kids.”
In years past, “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at the White House have included a question and answer session with first lady Michelle Obama and activities with key White House staff. This year will also feature a question and answer segment with a senior-level official, who has yet to be announced, as well as career panels and lunch with senior staff members.
President Obama is calling on businesses and local governments across the country to join in on the effort to open “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” to a larger community of kids.
“We’re asking employers across the country to reach out to young people in your community who don’t have a workplace to visit,” Obama said. “Invite them to spend the day with you. Show them what you do every day – and tell them that, with hard work and determination, they can do it too.”
Agencies across the federal government, including the Justice and Treasury Departments, as well as some city governments and private businesses, have already signed on to the White House-led initiative this year.
“Companies like Johnson & Johnson already do this, and the mayors of Philadelphia and Sacramento are joining us this year,” Obama said. “See if your employer will join us, too. ‘Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day’ is already a special day for millions of kids across the country. Together, we can help more kids participate -- so they, too, can dream bigger dreams about their futures.”
BackyardProduction/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- New documents obtained by ABC News reveal conflicting accounts by top Secret Service officials about whether two senior agents were drunk when they drove into the White House complex.
It all started with an allegation -- via anonymous email -- that Secret Service agents were “extremely intoxicated” as they drove through an active crime scene set up just outside the White House complex on the evening of March 4. But documents obtained by ABC News show that two senior Secret Service officials believed the two agents involved in the now infamous incident were not intoxicated, based on their interactions with the agents that evening. The agents, Marc Connolly and George Ogilvie, had been accused of driving through the crime scene near a White House gate while possibly under the influence of alcohol after attending a retirement party for a colleague.
The accusation of drunkenness was slow to move up the chain of command and word of the anonymous email only reached Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy five days later on March 9. Secret Service officials then gathered information on the allegations of agent misconduct to be passed on to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, in accordance with agency policy. The information was based in part on recollections of some of the supervisors involved in the incident five days earlier.
The documents were part of the material presented to the DHS Inspector General by the Secret Service. One of those documents details some of the recollections of Secret Service Deputy Chief Alfonso Dyson and Captain Michael Braun, both of the Uniformed Division.
“Deputy Chief Dyson advised that based on his conversation with DSAIC Connolly, it did not appear as though DSAIC Connolly [was] impaired,” according to Dyson’s account of his phone conversation with Connolly described in the document. Dyson called Connolly on the evening of March 4, after he was alerted to the incident. Connolly told Dyson that he had made a mistake, which Dyson believed to be referring to driving into the crime scene at that entrance caused by a suspicious package tossed at that location by a woman earlier that evening.
The document goes on to say, “Captain Braun advised that the driver of the [government vehicle] (ATSAIC Ogilvie) did not appear to be intoxicated.” And though Braun advised that Connolly’s eyes appeared glassy, he commented “that he did not believe that DSAIC Connolly or ATSAIC Ogilvie was intoxicated.”
According to documents, Deputy Chief Dyson had been briefed on the incident on the evening of March 4 by Uniformed Division Inspector Keith Williams. Citing an “unknown source,” Williams said he was told Connolly, a passenger in the car, “smelled of alcohol,” the document states.
According to congressional sources, no other evidence other than the anonymous email and the unknown source has been presented to suggest that either agent was drunk. Multiple sources who have reviewed video of the incident tell ABC News that it does not provide any conclusive evidence of impairment.
The documents also show that Connolly told Dyson that he and Ogilvie did not realize that the White House complex was under alert condition yellow due to the suspicious package investigation at that entrance. Only when they noticed that the security post was unoccupied did they check their BlackBerry devices and learn of the alert.
A detailed timeline of events obtained by ABC News shows that Director Clancy was called at 10:48 p.m. on the evening of March 4 to inform him of the suspicious package. The two agents arrived at the White House only 10 minutes later, at 10:58. Yet, records show, no one from the Secret Service bothered to call Clancy back that evening to inform him of alleged misconduct.
Video of the incident released Tuesday shows no drama, no collision and, at most, a low-speed vehicle maneuver which bumped a temporary traffic barrel out of the path of the entrance of the White House complex. The video has a limited view, but does not show indications of a particularly active crime scene.
The video also does not show that the agents flipped on their lights to go around the barrier, as they are accused of doing in the anonymous email. It does show a vehicle moving just behind the agents’ car followed closely by a police car that did have its rooftop light bar flashing.
Rep. Elijah Cummings was troubled by the email, telling Director Clancy at a Tuesday hearing, “It appears that we have an agency at war against itself. The idea that in an organization like this that somebody would create this kind of document to bring this kind of disruption when they are supposed to be guarding the president of the United States of America. We are better than that.”
It is now up to the inspector general to determine whether the allegations of misconduct have merit, why they were not communicated more quickly up the chain of command and what can be done to get the Secret Service can get back on track. That process, sources say, could take several weeks.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) -- Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday at the start of the next round of European Union-coordinated nuclear negotiations.
A senior State Department official told reporters en route to Switzerland that the schedule for Kerry's trip was "extremely fluid" and that meetings were to begin Thursday morning. "We are focused on getting a political framework that addresses all of the major elements of a comprehensive deal done by the end of March," the official said, according to a transcript released by the department.
"I think we would say we made more progress in the last round than we have made in the previous rounds," the official added, saying that "we can see a path forward here to get to an agreement."
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a controversial bill on Thursday that could allow business owners to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Pence said in a statement Thursday, "because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith."
While critics say the bill could allow for discrimination, Pence says it is not about that. "If I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it," he said.
Pence clarified that the bill "does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved."
Pence pointed to lawsuits filed by the University of Notre Dame and a private business against provisions within the Affordable Care Act. "The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion," Pence said. "But today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action."
Indiana state Sen. Tim Lanane took to Twitter to voice his disagreement with Pence. "Athough not unexpected, it is still extremely disappointing that Governor Pence endorses this out-of-touch, discriminatory legislation," Lanane wrote.
Although not unexpected, it is still extremely disappointing that Governor Pence endorses this out-of-touch, discriminatory legislation.
With the college basketball's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis next week, NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement Thursday expressing concern over "how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees." Emmert says the NCAA "will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill."
Emmert also said that the NCAA would "closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."
Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- With March Madness highlighting the billion-dollar enterprise that is NCAA athletics, pressure is building from prominent former athletes, state lawmakers, and even members of Congress to allow -- or even require -- colleges to pay the student-athletes who bring them so much revenue.
Speaking on the ESPN/ABC podcast Capital Games, Rep. Charlie Dent -- a leading congressional critic of the NCAA -- said the idea of providing student-athletes at least a stipend for their services is “very reasonable.”
“Big-time college football and college basketball are the minor leagues for the NFL and the NBA respectively – that’s what it is,” said Dent, R-Pa. “It’s professional athletics.”
You can listen to the full Capital Games podcast HERE on desktop and HERE on mobile devices, or download it for free via smartphone podcast apps.
Payments to student-athletes would be permissible under a broad reform bill Dent is pushing that’s aimed at requiring more concussion tests and preventing schools from cutting off scholarships for reasons that aren’t connected to academics.
“Our legislation does not prohibit stipends, and I think there’s an inevitability to it. A lot of people are getting very rich on the back of these student-athletes,” Dent said. “I suspect that the only people who aren’t getting paid are the players.”
Ralph Sampson, a college basketball hall of famer, said on the podcast that it’s only fair to find a way to compensate athletes, particularly because being a high-level college athlete is now a year-round commitment that doesn’t provide much extra time for part-time jobs.
“I think there’s got to be a creative way to get that done,” said Sampson, a three-time national college player of the year who was later an All-Star in the NBA. “They gotta eat, they gotta sleep. The meal plans at school are OK, but you’re talking about athletes -- they have to perform, and you want them to perform at a very high level.”
“It’s like taking a race car and putting in unleaded gas in it, and it needs octane gas, it needs high-level gas in it or it doesn’t work. So you got to find creative ways to get these kids to perform at a high level but also compensate as well.”
Sampson, who's had two sons play college basketball, is now working with a project called FanAngel, a crowdfunding system that allows fans to pay to keep players in school, with the money due to be disbursed to them after their college eligibility expires.
“It will be a creative way to stop all the under the table, unnecessary stuff that go on in college sports,” Sampson said.
If neither federal intervention nor the private sector wind up providing money to student-athletes, states may wind up taking the lead. South Carolina state Sen. Marlon Kimpson has filed a bill that would require the two biggest public universities in his state to pay some athletes weekly stipends, as well as larger payments that would come after graduation.
“People are starting to get on board,” said Kimpson, a Democrat from Charleston. “We need to make sure that our universities, who are making huge sums of money – again, this is no longer amateur business, we’re talking about major commercial enterprises....We need to make sure that there’s some economic justice on the field, and some of that revenue goes to the people that are largely responsible for generating those returns.”
Capital Games with Andy Katz and Rick Klein is a podcast program that explores the intersection of sports and politics, as part of the ESPN Perspectives audio series.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Actor Ben Affleck came to the Senate Thursday to talk about a philanthropic topic -- his Eastern Congo Initiative -- but he couldn’t escape the fame of his other job: Being "Batman."
Affleck himself kicked off the Batman talk when he gave a shout out to one of his senatorial co-stars in the upcoming film, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
“To Senator Leahy, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my co-star in Batman. The role is marginally smaller than mine but I understand you're quite good,” Affleck said to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on diplomacy and development Thursday morning.
Affleck’s comment essentially confirmed Leahy will make a cameo in the upcoming Batman film. The Vermont senator has appeared in four Batman movies, most famously standing up to Heath Ledger’s The Joker character in The Dark Knight.
Affleck testified alongside Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who Affleck described as the “greatest and most important philanthropist in the history of the world.” Another panelist, Scott Ford, CEO of the Westrock Group LLC, lauded the efforts of "Batman" in Congo.
“We had the United States ask us would you go to Congo and I said not without Batman,” Ford joked. “And when Batman showed up, we went to Eastern Congo.”
At least one senator -- Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. -- was star struck by being in the presence of Batman and snapped a photo of Affleck in the middle of the hearing.