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Rick Diamond/Getty Images(LYNCHBURG, Va.) -- Former President Jimmy Carter took a sly dig at President Donald Trump Saturday as he hyped the size of the crowd listening to his commencement speech at the Liberty University a year after Trump spoke at the school's graduation.

"This is a wonderful crowd," Carter mused. "It's even bigger -- and I hate to say this -- than it was last year."

Several in the crowd of graduates and parents chuckled and clapped.

"I don't know if President Trump will admit that or not," he said, a joking reference to the Trump administration's assertion that the crowd for his 2017 inauguration was the largest ever.

The university estimated that 8,000 graduated participated in the rain-soaked ceremonies on the school's campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Carter, a devout Christian, mostly spoke about his faith during the speech. But he also confronted numerous crises in the world, most notably the distribution of wealth and human rights.

The former president said that one of the greatest human rights problems is "discrimination against women and girls in the world."

Carter said he hoped Christians and all religions would "come together to promote the word of the gospel" as nuclear threats and divisions continue to be sown by politicians and the public.

Carter was the third commencement speaker at Liberty University to have held the office of president, the university said on its website: Trump (in 2017) and George H.W. Bush (in 1990) spoke at the school's graduation while still in office.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The war of words between Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti is heating up again -- with the president’s long-time fixer accusing Avenatti of violating ethical and professional rules of conduct, and seeking to preclude him from participating in Cohen’s court case.

“Mr. Avenatti appears to be primarily focused on smearing Mr. Cohen publicly in his efforts to further his own interest in garnering as much media attention as possible,” wrote Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, in a court filing late Friday.

The former personal attorney for President Donald Trump is asking U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood to take the rare step of denying Avenatti’s application to be heard in the case, which is focused on materials seized in the April 9 raids on Cohen’s New York properties.

Avenatti -- who represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels -- is not licensed to practice in federal court in Manhattan, so he must first seek court approval before he can appear in the case. He has argued he has a right to take part in order to protect Daniels’ interests in potentially privileged communications about her nondisclosure agreement that may have been swept up in the raids.

Such applications are routinely granted for attorneys in good standing in their home states, but Cohen’s attorneys assert that this is an "exceptional case."

Daniels -- whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford -- alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump denies the allegations.

Much of Cohen’s argument centers on the public release by Avenatti of information from confidential banking records, which revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting payments to Cohen, including some from blue-chip corporations that began around the time Trump was assuming the White House.

Avenatti described some of the transactions as “suspicious” and possibly “fraudulent and illegal.”

While most of the details in the records were confirmed publicly by the companies, the report also contained some errors, including transactions that appear to be related to other people with the same name as Cohen's.

“When confronted with his reckless publishing of inaccurate allegations and the improper release of the private banking information of completely unrelated individuals, Mr. Avenatti did not apologize for, correct or retract the incorrect information he had published,” Cohen’s court filing states, calling Avenatti's conduct "inappropriate" and "intended to unfairly prejudice Mr. Cohen."

Cohen’s filing also alleges that Avenatti had “failed to disclose” a pending California Bar Association investigation into his conduct. The claim is based on a complaint filed with the state bar in a matter unrelated to Avenatti’s work for Daniels, and on a FOX News report that cites a letter “verifying the existence of the investigation.”

Within hours of that allegation being filed with the court on Friday, Avenatti fired back, disputing the claim.

“I am not aware of the State Bar having made any determination that any pending complaint has any sufficient basis warranting inquiry of me or investigation, let alone disciplinary proceedings,” Avenatti wrote in a court filing. “Mr. Cohen appears to rely on a form letter referenced in a FOX news article to support his allegations. This is not evidence.”

Avenatti -- who has been a near-ubiquitous presence on cable news programs over the last two months -- has dismissed the mistakes in the banking records as inconsequential. He told ABC News last week that “about 99.35 percent of the information that we released is right. You know what? I’ll take that.”

And he has countered in court filings that he should not be prevented from representing Daniels’ interests in the case “based on Mr. Cohen’s embarrassment resulting from discomforting information being made public.”

“Mr. Cohen cites no legal authority that overrides Mr. Avenatti’s First Amendment rights to make public information about a public figure like Mr. Cohen regarding matters that are, without dispute, of the utmost public concern,” Avenatti wrote in a court filing on Monday.

But Cohen’s lawyers argue that Avenatti had no legal right to possess the banking records. And they cite a report in the New Yorker on Wednesday that revealed that the records, which appear to be sourced from confidential Suspicious Activity Reports -- or SARs -- were leaked by a current law enforcement official.

Cohen’s attorneys implored Wood to question Avenatti about how he came to possess the information.

“We believe that it is vital that the Court inquire as to where Mr. Avenatti obtained the SARs report(s) and related nonpublic bank records of Mr. Cohen,” Cohen’s filing states. “They were purloined from protected federal agency files and made public by Mr. Avenatti. If he fails to answer, he should not be admitted."  

Avenatti claimed on Friday that Cohen had failed to produce any evidence that he ever possessed the confidential records or that he purposely released information from those reports related to Cohen.

Wood has not indicated when she will rule on Avenatti’s application. A hearing is scheduled in Cohen’s case for May 24.

If Cohen’s lawyers get their way, Avenatti will not be permitted to be a participant.

“To our knowledge, this Court has never been presented with clearer evidence of the deliberate creation of a carnival atmosphere and inappropriate conduct while an attorney’s application for admission was pending,” Cohen’s filing states. “Moreover, this is an unprecedented attack on an individual who has not been charged with any crime.”

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Melania Trump returned home to the White House Saturday morning following a days-long stay in the hospital, her office said.

"She is resting comfortably and remains in high spirits," the first lady's communications director Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Trump underwent a medical procedure on Monday for what her office said was a "benign" kidney condition. The White House has declined to offer additional details about the specifics of the condition.

Grisham also expressed thanks for the thousands of calls and emails she said the first lady's office received during Trump's stay in the hospital.

The president, too, tweeted Saturday afternoon, saying: "Great to have our incredible First Lady back home in the White House."

"Melania is feeling and doing really well," President Trump tweeted. "Thank you for all of your prayers and best wishes."

He initially misspelled his wife's name but quickly deleted and replaced the tweet with the misspelling.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is amplifying a chorus of conservative voices alleging that the Department of Justice planted a spy inside his presidential campaign, a claim his top lawyer has said, if true, would undermine the legitimacy of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

In a pair of tweets Friday morning, his latest on the subject, Trump appeared to refer to right-leaning news outlets that have questioned whether the FBI had actually planted a source in the Trump campaign in order to gather information about it, but he left unclear exactly what story or sourcing backed those claims.

On Thursday, Trump made a similar allegation in a tweet seemingly appearing to reference a National Review columnist.

DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores offered no comment when reached by ABC News about the president's claims on Twitter.

The claims from the president and his allies come as The Washington Post has reported that top White House officials agreed to back the DOJ’s efforts to resist turning over certain documents to Congress so as not to reveal the identity of a U.S. citizen -- who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI --because doing so might put lives at risk.

The New York Times also reported that a government informant met with former Trump foreign policy campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadapolous.

On Thursday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, when asked to respond to the Times report, said it raised more concerns about the legitimacy of the Special counsel’s investigation

“I think we’re going to have to look into whether we can challenge the legitimacy of this entire investigation,” he said on Fox News. “Maybe the special counsel never should have been appointed.”

But on Friday morning, amid Trump's tweets, the former New York City mayor told CNN that the president didn't know "for sure" if there was a spy on his campaign.

“I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one,” he said.

The claims from some conservatives and the president appear to be based, in part, on testimony that Glenn Simpson, the former journalist and co-founder of political research firm Fusion GPS, gave to congressional investigators in August of 2017. Simpson's firm was hired by a Republican client to investigate Trump in early 2016, an effort that Democrats began funding around the time Trump clinched the GOP presidential nomination.

Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Christopher Steele -- the former British spy employed by Fusion GPS to research Trump -- told him that the FBI had information from an “internal Trump campaign source” that corroborated some of the information that Steele had shared with the FBI, but he declined to identify the source.

“They believed Chris' information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization,” Simpson said.

He later clarified that he wasn’t sure whether the source was part of the Trump campaign or organization, according to a transcript released by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. has been locked in a battle with DOJ leadership over classified documents "regarding a specific individual," according to a letter the Justice Department sent to Nunes rejecting his demand for the information earlier this month.

"Disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities," assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd said in the letter, which also claimed that the White House supported the Justice Department's decision to withhold the information.

“What we’re trying to do is get the documents to figure out, did they actually have, what methods were used to open this counterintelligence investigation,” Nunes said on Fox and Friends this week.

Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and top law enforcement officials last week at the Department of Justice about the request.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and Trump confidant who has discussed the investigation and the Department of Justice with Trump, is demanding the disclosure of a DOJ memo describing the scope of the Mueller investigation, something congressional Republicans have been seeking for months.

Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, recently met with White House chief of staff John Kelly over concerns about the pace of DOJ disclosures to Congress.

“I can tell you that the president has been consistent about wanting greater transparency and so I don’t know that this would be at odds with what he’s been espousing for a number of months,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, told ABC News on Thursday. The Justice Department has repeatedly resisted requests to turn over information regarding the source, citing national security concerns.

FBI Director Chris Wray, speaking at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, defended the agency’s approach to congressional oversight requests, amid the tension with House Republicans.

“As anybody in the intelligence community knows, human sources in particular who put themselves at great risk to work with us and with our foreign partners have to be able trust that we're going to protect their identities and, in many cases, their lives and lives of their families,” he said. “The day that we can't protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton acknowledged Friday that Democratic candidates around the country still face basic questions about what they stand for and which policies their party supports.

Speaking at a Democrat Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., Clinton urged party leaders to return to the basics and lay out the party’s values for voters.

Fair wages, the “absolute promise of universal health care,” public school funding, gun safety reform and equal pay were at the top of the former first lady’s agenda items that she thought should stay central to the Democratic Party’s platform.

Hours before the event kicked off, the Trump administration announced it would move to formally cut off federal funding to family health care clinics that share the same medical facilities as abortion providers. Experts said the decision could dramatically impact Planned Parenthood facilities specifically.

The administration said the new rule would impose “a bright line” of physical and financial separation between family planning programs and “any program or facility where abortion is performed, supported, or referred.”

While Clinton did not directly address the issue during her remarks, both she and Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said Democrats stand for a women’s right to choose. “And if you believe that you have to vote for Democrats,” Clinton told the crowd.

While working her list of Democratic principles as she sees them, Clinton took a sarcastic and not-so-veiled jab at President Trump and congressional Republicans. “We stand for truth for evidence and facts,” she told the ballroom full of female members of Congress, activists and candidates. “What an incredible thing…We have kind of an affection for evidence.”

Clinton has largely stayed out of election politics since losing in 2016. Since then the Democratic Party has dealt with some tough and bitter infighting and struggled, at times, to define itself on the national stage.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ former presidential campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told ABC News this week that he too thought Democrats were having a hard time spelling out their mission to voters. He argued the answer was for Democrats to embrace a more progressive, populist economic agenda.

In the months after the presidential election, many Democrats blamed Clinton’s defeat, in part, on a lack of a clear campaign agenda and an over-emphasis on President Trump, and in the run-up to the midterm elections this spring, Democrats have been divided about how much they should go on the attack against Trump in their message to voters.

Neither Clinton, nor Perez who introduced her, mentioned President Trump directly. Perez told the room they needed to be “pissed off with purpose,” and spent the majority of his speech also ticking through a basic list of Democratic values as he saw them.

But, Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who took the stage at Friday’s form shortly after Clinton, took a different tack. “He must be impeached,” she said referring to the president.

The idea of whether it would be appropriate to start impeachment proceedings should Democrats take back the House in November has come in several Democratic primaries, especially in deep blue strongholds.

Many in the party disagree with Waters and say unless widespread, popular support for impeachment develops, the party should stay clear.

The focus of the DNC forum this week was support for women in leadership roles. The party committee made a point of appointing women to 70 percent of leadership positions over the last year, and, across the country, Democrats have celebrated the record number of women running for office at all levels of government.

Female candidates, running in new numbers since President Trump took office, have had a number of successes, too, in special elections, statehouse races and primaries.

In Ohio alone this month, 10 Democratic women secured Democratic Party nominations for the state’s 16 congressional races this fall. More than half of the state’s primary winners in the state senate races there were also women.

In Pennsylvania on Tuesday, seven Democratic women advanced to the general election after winning their primaries. That state has had an all-male congressional delegation, making it the largest state in the country without female representation in Washington.

“One day, hopefully very soon, we will remember this president as the best thing that ever happened to our party,” DNC Vice Chair, Congresswomen Grace Meng, New York- 06, told the DNC crowd. “Because of him, over 400 women are running for Congress just this year.”

Clinton finished her remarks saying, “I will be there every step of the way because we are going to take back the country we love.”

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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House senior advisor Jared Kushner hosted a forum with stakeholders on the need for prison reform, an issue that has personal meaning to the president’s son-in-law given his father’s own time behind bars.

In 2005, Kushner’s father Charles was sentenced to two years in prison for making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering.

“This is an issue I had personal experience with so I spent some time thinking, from the White House, what can be done?” the younger Kushner said during a panel discussion held in the East Room of the White House, hosted by CNN personality and criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones.

Kushner stressed the need for programs inmates can access while serving their sentences that can help reduce their risk of recidivism when they are released, like mental health and drug addiction services, job training and mentorship.

He also said the chief mission of his work on prison reform, which is part of Kushner’s ambitious portfolio of policy priorities, is to help define the purpose of a prison.

“Is the purpose to punish, is the purpose to warehouse, or is the purpose to rehabilitate?” he asked.

Many advocates would prefer that the Trump administration were taking a more holistic view and addressing the broader issues of criminal justice and sentencing reform, not focus more narrowly on only prison reform.

But Kushner said the administration can build credibility on the issue if they accumulate smaller successes first.

“If we can start showing we can make the prisons more purposeful and more effective at lowering the recidivism rate over time, that may help the people who are trying to make the argument for sentencing reform,” he said.



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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Legislation that would have moved forward a long-term deal for nutritional and agricultural programs was defeated in the House of Representatives on Friday, after a group of Republicans voted against it.

The farm bill failed, in part due to opposition from the House Freedom Caucus, by a vote of 198-213.

The White House expressed disappointment at the result in a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters, saying the president "hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our Nation's agricultural community."

The statement also says President Trump will "continue to work with Congress to pass a Farm bill on time."

Democrats had opposed the legislation, pointing to $23 billion in cuts from the supplemental nutritional assistance program -- the food stamp program known as SNAP. House MInority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that passing the bill would mean "endangering a lifeline for hungry children, seniors, students."

"Republicans should scrap this bill," she said. "They should scrap this bill and come to the table. We have done this before in a bipartisan way. We can do that again."

One main element of the bill as presented was a change to work requirements that would have mandated adult beneficiaries spend 20 hours per week working or participating in a state-run training program.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that current policy will bring about a $10 billion reduction in SNAP benefits over the next decade due to economic growth. Republicans say any savings from the proposed program would be reinvested in SNAP and other nutritional assistance programs.

The House Freedom Caucus held out their support, hoping to extract a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on an immigration bill. That bill does not appear to have sufficient support to pass the House.

"We had enough members that were willing to vote for the farm bill, that like the farm bill," said Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Patrick McHenry. "But a small group that wanted to extract some direct pledge on immigration that we could not simply fulfill under their timeframe, which is really a great disappointment that they would vote against a policy that they professed to support in order to get something immediate that was not in our legislative capacity."

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has named Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as his next nominee to lead the department.

"Acting Secretary Wilkie, who by the way has done an incredible job at the VA - and I'll be informing him in a little while, he doesn't know this yet - that we are going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the veteran's administration," Trump said Friday.

Wilkie has served as acting secretary since Trump fired David Shulkin in late March amid accusations of unethical spending and disputes about how to run the organization.

The president's first pick to replace Shulkin was his former personal physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew his name from consideration amid accusations of misconduct, including accusations of improperly dispensing medication and drinking on the job.

On Thursday, Wilkie signed a multi-billion dollar, multi-year contract with IT giant Cerner that will replace the VA's outdated electronic health records system. It's one of the largest IT contracts in the federal government, Wilkie said.

The contract was awarded by Shulkin last year, but its fate became uncertain after Shulkin was fired in March and the VA's chief information officer resigned in April.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, backed Wilkie's nomination.

“I congratulate Undersecretary Wilkie on his nomination and look forward to learning more about his long-term views for the VA, including how he plans to implement the VA MISSION Act when it becomes law, as we work through the confirmation process," Isakson said in a statement.

At Thursday's White House press briefing, Wilkie accepted a check from President Trump donating his first-quarter 2018 salary to support the VA's caregiver programs.

"The President's gift underscores his promise to do all that he can for veterans, which includes supporting those who care for our veterans – not just those of us at VA, but the husbands, the wives, the families, and the community caregivers who are out there day in and day out making life easier for those who have borne the battle," Wilkie said.

"I am deeply grateful to President Trump for providing me the opportunity to serve America's veterans and for his generosity in supporting them," he added.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump called it a "very sad day" in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Texas this morning.

Speaking at an event at the White House, Trump said that he wanted to start by "expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting."

Multiple fatalities were reported at Santa Fe High School in southern Texas. The investigation is ongoing.

"We're closely monitoring the situation and federal authorities are coordinating with local officials. This has been going on for too long in this country, too many decades," Trump said.

He called it an "absolutely horrific attack" and told the families of the victims and the injured "we're with you in this tragic hour and we will be with you forever."

"Everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe. May God heal the injured and may God comfort the wounded," Trump said.

His statements came after he first tweeted about the shooting, writing, "School shooting in Texas. Early reports not looking good. God bless all!"

Vice President Mike Pence, who was at the same event with Trump, also offered his condolences to the community impacted by the shooting.

"We're with you. You are in our prayers and I know you are in the prayers of the American people," he said.

First lady Melania Trump, who has spent the week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center being treated for a kidney issue, posted a tweet saying that her "heart goes out to Santa Fe and all of Texas today."

Some of the student activists from Parkland High School, who gained national prominence for their gun reform work in the wake of a deadly shooting at their school in February, also tweeted their support.

Delaney Tarr, one of the Parkland students, wrote: "I should be celebrating my last day of high school, but instead my heart is broken to hear of the tragedy at Santa Fe. We cannot let this continue to be the norm. We cannot."

Emma Gonzalez, another well-known student activist, addressed her tweet directly to the students at the school.

"Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this. You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices," Gonzalez wrote.

Without directly mentioning the shooting, David Hogg wrote: "We are fighting for you."

He also seemed to reference his own experience in the wake of his school's shooting.

"Get ready for two weeks of media coverage of politicians acting like they give a s--- when in reality they just want to boost their approval ratings before midterms," he wrote in a second tweet.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo penned an open letter to President Donald Trump and federal lawmakers in the wake of a high school shooting in Texas that left multiple people dead.

 "Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Las Vegas. Orlando. Parkland," Cuomo wrote in the letter Friday, ticking off locations of recent mass shootings. "And now, Santa Fe."

"When is enough enough? How many more innocent people have to die before you act?" he added.

At least eight people, mostly students, died Friday after a student allegedly opened fire at Santa Fe High School, which is located between Houston and Galveston, Texas, authorities said. The investigation is ongoing.

The massacre comes just three months after 17 people were killed on Valentine's Day in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

 Trump called the Texas school shooting an "absolutely horrific attack." He told the victims and their families, "We're here with you in this tragic hour and we will be with you forever."

"We're closely monitoring the situation and federal authorities are coordinating with local officials. This has been going on for too long in this country, too many decades," the president said Friday during an event at the White House. "Everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe."

In his open letter to Trump and members of Congress, Cuomo urged them to "do something" about gun violence.

"You were elected to lead -- do something," the Democratic governor wrote. "Your first responsibility is to the people of this country, not the NRA -- do something. My heart breaks for the families who have to grieve from this needless violence -- DO SOMETHING."

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Michael Thomas/Getty Images(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) -- The scandal-plagued saga that has surrounded Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ tenure is about to enter a new chapter.

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, legislators at the state capitol in Jefferson City will call to order a special 30-day session to begin impeachment proceedings against the embattled head of the Show-Me State. But expect the impeachment process to be slow, complicated and meticulous.

After Friday night’s official beginning, state house members will meet next week for a series of hearings expected to last several days.

A special investigative committee in the house has already released two ruinous reports against Greitens. The first details accusations made by a woman with whom he was having an affair. She said he threatened and mistreated her. The second report focuses on allegations that Greitens wrongfully obtained a charity donor list to fundraise for political purposes.

If articles of impeachment are approved in the house, the measure then moves to the state Senate. Legislators there will be charged with appointing a panel of seven judges to preside over an impeachment trial. That panel of judges is to be appointed before the end of the 30-day special session, but once seated, the panel can set its own timeframe for moving forward with the trial. At least five judges would have to find the governor guilty for him to be removed from office.

Article VII, Section 1 of the Missouri state constitution lays out the guidelines for impeachment: “All elective executive officials of the state, and judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals and circuit courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”

Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge and Chief Justice Michael Wolff, who is now dean emeritus at the St. Louis University School of Law, has been closely following the avalanche of complex problems that Greitens is facing.

“If there is an impeachment trial, it may well focus on the dark money issues, and misleading statements allegedly made to the state ethics commission since he’s been governor," Wolff said. "I assume he would testify, but I could be very wrong.”

Greitens has so far declined all invitations from state leaders to testify under oath.

He entered Jefferson City an outsider and rose to the position of governor promising reform while accusing politicians of corruption.

Now, the former Navy SEAL who was once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party has come to be defined by his political and legal woes.

Prosecutors in St. Louis this week dropped a felony invasion of privacy charge against Greitens just two days before opening arguments in the trial were set to begin.

In that case, a woman Greitens was having an affair with described a sexual encounter where she said he blindfolded and bound her, and then allegedly took a partially nude photo of her. She also claimed he threatened to release the photo if she told anyone.

Greitens admitted to having the affair with the woman, his former hairdresser, in 2015 before becoming governor, but maintained he did not commit any crimes.

Investigators never discovered the alleged picture, and when the judge handling the case approved a defense motion to call St. Louis County Attorney Kim Gardner as a witness during the trial, after allegations her office mishandled evidence, the case collapsed. Gardner vowed the charges would be refiled in the future and will be seeking a special prosecutor.

In a statement after the charge was dropped, a jubilant Greitens said in part, “This is a great victory and it has been a long time coming.”

But even if Greitens is never tried on the invasion of privacy charge, Wolff believes it has already left the governor with some deep, irreparable, political wounds.

“The invasion of privacy indictment was very damaging," Wolff said. "When the house special investigation committee gathered evidence and released this report on the invasion of privacy charge on April 11, the governor lost most of his support among Republicans in the legislature.”

Shortly after Greitens’ statement on the charge being dropped, the former chairman of the Missouri GOP responded in a tweet, “If you win Game 1 of the World Series because your opponent commits 5 errors, I would not recommend ordering Championship rings from the jeweler just yet…”

In fact, Greitens' legal battles are far from over. In a separate criminal case, Greitens has been charged with felony computer tampering for allegedly improperly obtaining a list of donors from his former charity to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.

Greitens is also accused in a lawsuit of using the encrypted messaging app Confide -- which erases messages after they are read -- to discuss state business, possibly circumventing the state’s open records laws.

Impeachment of governors is rare -- just three in the last 90 years -- but not unprecedented. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in 2009, Arizona’s Gov. Evan Meacham in 1988 and Oklahoma’s Gov. Henry S. Johnston in 1929.

As Missouri legislators now turn the page to begin the impeachment process, taking the next steps to remove Greitens, it remains unclear how this real-life political suspense novel will end.

“I am one of the few who believes that he might survive this ordeal and remain governor,” Wolff said.

The blaring calls for his resignation are only growing louder, but Greitens remains defiant.

Soon, he may not have a choice in the matter.

 

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(WASHINGTON) -- It was just over a week ago that President Donald Trump and his legal team in their eyes got vindication -- a federal judge that questioned the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's now one-year-old probe. The judge, T.S. Ellis, questioned the scope of the probe as he presided over a second case involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces a 32-count indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia in addition to another mountain of charges in a D.C. federal court. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

During the often-contentious proceeding, the judge -- hearing arguments over a defense motion to throw out the indictment -- said that "nobody has unfettered power," referring to the special counsel's investigation. “These allegations clearly pre-date the appointment of the special counsel,” the 30-year veteran of the bench said just two minutes into the hearing speaking about the charges against Manafort. “None of it had any relation to the campaign.”

The motion to dismiss the Virginia indictment against the veteran GOP lobbyist was filed by the Manafort legal team earlier this month and awaits a ruling from Ellis.

All of this came as prosecutors on Thursday turned over what is likely the last piece of evidence before Ellis makes his final decision on the motion -- an unredacted copy of the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo from last year setting out the scope of the federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ellis, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, caught the attention of many in that early May hearing after he poked, prodded and even appeared to question the motives of the prosecutor arguing against the effort to have the case thrown out.

Trump, who has openly bashed federal judges in the past, pounced on the possible turn of events for his former top adviser, saying in a speech to the National Rifle Association that evening, “Just when I’m walking on the stage, a highly respected judge in Virginia made statements.”

Trump then read some of the judge’s quotes in media reports and fawned further, “He is really something very special, I hear, from many standpoints.”

Since then, many have tried to predict how Ellis will rule. Those with experience trying cases before the judge described him as unrelenting with an unprepared attorney, exacting on those who attempt to delay his court and prone to pepper lawyers with pointed questions and barbed commentaries, a particular trademark of the 78-year old jurist.

“Don’t read very much into it. He will, in the end, follow the law, and the law is pretty clear. It happens. I wouldn’t read much in this,” one former federal prosecutor, who has appeared many times before Ellis, told ABC News.

Another attorney who also appeared regularly before a sometimes cantankerous Ellis, a former trial lawyer, said the judge does not look warmly upon prosecutors from the Justice Department or from outside the Eastern District of Virginia.

This point was hammered home repeatedly on that May day in court, as the judge had previously dressed down the Mueller team for appearing without “a local attorney” -- meaning one from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Ellis’ own district. He smiled broadly when he looked out and saw that the prosecution had done just that.

“You didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad you did,” the judge said, asking that attorney, Uzo Asonye, an assistant district attorney, to stand and be recognized.

One anonymous poster in The Robing Room -- a blog for lawyers to rate and review judges -- summed up a view of Ellis shared by two other attorneys who have appeared before the judge, writing, “When Friday motion day comes in his courtroom, it is obvious that Judge Ellis is the smartest man in the room. Unfortunately, he will frequently make it plain that he knows he's the smartest man in the room, and act accordingly. Few judges have his encyclopedic knowledge of case law, and fewer still will show his level of familiarity with the pleadings you submit to him -- so you can't usually slip a fast one by him. ... This is one judge you want to avoid angering, because his temper can sometimes be volcanic.”

That signature volcanic anger spilled out in the Manafort case, aimed at Michael Dreeben, the prosecutor from the special counsel team known widely in the legal community to be among its top criminal law experts.

“You’re running away from my question!” Ellis shouted, cutting off Dreeben as he attempted to explain that the federal probe’s scope was legally sound and set out properly in the detailed memo signed by Rosenstein.

The judge pounced, immediately holding up and waving his own heavily redacted copy and demanding to see the classified, unredacted version, noting his vast experience with sensitive national security cases. Rather than let the prosecutor explain the memo, Ellis said, “As they say, I’ll be the judge.”

 “He is a judge who is assertive in the courtroom and not shy about challenging, but I would not use his line of questioning to predict how he is going to rule on a matter," the former federal prosecutor said.

At a proceeding just before Manafort’s in May, a young defense attorney attempted to parry repeated challenges from Ellis about her neonatologist client, and when she asked for a delay to allow the doctor’s hospital to find a replacement on the day of the next hearing, the judge, without skipping a beat, said, “They’ll have to make other arrangements. This court doesn’t sit for the convenience of physicians.”

When Reagan nominated the Harvard-trained lawyer to the federal bench in 1987, Ellis had no experience as a judge. He had spent the better part of two decades as a trial lawyer primarily in civil litigation from nuclear waste concerns to state tax matters and personal injury cases -- on both the federal and state level -- in one of Virginia’s largest law firms.

When senators asked about this lack of experience at his confirmation hearing, Ellis said his “principal challenge” would be “maintaining impartiality and the appearance of impartiality. ... Trial lawyers always and everywhere are enthusiastic advocates for one or another cause. This zealous advocacy is the antithesis of judicial behavior.” He added, “I am also specially mindful of a judge's responsibility to decide cases based on the facts and laws, not on the skills or brilliance of the lawyers arguing the cases.”

At the hearing, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who had recommended his fellow Virginian for the post, introduced Ellis, referring to him as “Tim,” as he said his friends do, and calling the nominee a “fine, outstanding American who is eminently well qualified.”

Warner, a former secretary of the Navy, commended Ellis’ service and noted that he was well-known in the Richmond, Virginia, area -- his hometown -- for his assistance to Vietnamese refugees who resettled there. Ellis described that work -- which he did with his wife -- to the senators as “my most significant pro bono work.”

In 2008, Ellis, an immigrant born in Colombia, South America, held the first naturalization ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, giving “an emotional tribute,” according to an account from The Washington Post. He had regularly held similar ceremonies in his own courtroom, but -- according to the Post -- he wanted to do something special. He also refused to have politicians at the event, according to the paper.

One white-collar defense attorney with experience in the Virginia federal court said Ellis seemed to relish high-profile cases, like John Walker Lindh -- the American who pleaded guilty to reduced charges after fighting for the Taliban -- and Rep. William Jefferson -- convicted of corruption after stashing some of his ill-gotten money in his freezer.

For those looking for clues as to how he will rule and how he will run a trial -- which, for Manafort, is set to begin July 10, he offered guidance more than 30 years ago in his own confirmation hearing that some think still holds today.

Ellis repeatedly expounded on the need for moving a proceeding along without delay. “My experience in trying complex cases has led me to conclude that it is vitally important that judges act purposefully and firmly to manage these cases,” he told the senators. “Complex litigation must be carefully planned. It is not enough simply to permit the parties to move the litigation at the pace they choose and in directions they choose, for there is invariably no agreement on pace or direction.”

Already the Manafort case is unusual, as noted by the D.C.-based federal judge who is also poised to hold her own Manafort trial months after Ellis. Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in one court proceeding, said the outcome in Virginia could present legal complications if a decision by her is different. In fact, she recently ruled against a similar motion by Manafort to dismiss the case.

But for now, Ellis is the focus, and how he will rule is anyone’s guess.

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump White House is hardly alone in having to deal with a high-profile and distracting investigation. The Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton administrations all faced pressure from an independent or special counsel during the Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater investigations, respectively.

One year into the special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, the Mueller investigation – like White House investigations of the past – has frustrated the Trump administration and transfixed the public. While new persons of interest and storylines are introduced almost daily, there are some familiar threads.

Take the following scene – fair or not – painted about President Donald Trump: Alone at the White House, Trump fumes about negative television coverage, rants about political enemies and leaks to the press in paranoid conversations with advisors and friends, and calls the investigation a “witch hunt” in Twitter tirades.

With the exception of early morning tweeting – those were all ways former advisors and friends described presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton behind the scenes.

A presidential distraction

White Houses under investigation maintain it's not a distraction but the swirling accusations and constant legal pressure often take a public toll.

In private – and on Twitter – Trump has slammed the work of his own FBI as a ‘witch hunt’ and has raised concerns about how his own friends and associates could be implicated.

On the one year anniversary of the Mueller investigation, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History...and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!”

Trump friend and confidant Chris Ruddy said the president's tweets about the investigation are often in reaction to what stories he sees on television.

"I think he sees a lot of tv and there's a hyper-focus on the investigation and the tweets are a reaction to that," Ruddy told ABC. "But when he's with friends, he's often touting poll numbers, or talking about things he's been doing."

As Nixon faced the one-year anniversary of the Watergate scandal, he urged the special prosecutor to end the investigation he privately called a ‘witch hunt’ during his televised 1974 State of the Union speech.

“As you know, I have provided to the Special Prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent,” Nixon said. “I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.”

One year into the Mueller investigation the Trump White House has similarly claimed it's been fully cooperative, and the probe into possible collusion with Russia has only been a distraction.

Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview with NBC News that he encourages Mueller’s team to wrap up their investigation soon.

“What I think is that it’s been a year since this investigation began, our administration has provided over a million documents, we’ve fully cooperated in it, and in the interest of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up. And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion,” Pence said.

The Watergate investigation continued to loom over the Nixon White House for another seven months when the “smoking gun” tapes confirmed Nixon knew about the DNC break-in and he ultimately faced almost-certain impeachment and removal from office.

Investigations take on a 'life of their own'

Like the Watergate scandal and Whitewater, the Mueller probe has gone on to encompass far more than what the investigation initially was designed to discover.

“Each investigation I think has shown us that they will take on a life if their own in a different way,” said Professor Luke Nichter, a Nixon scholar at Texas A&M University. “Watergate started as a simple matter and became a complex national security investigation. The Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinsky – 20 years later it never ends. And with Trump, it’s all so action-packed.”

Mueller’s mandate allows his team of investigators to follow threads even if not directly related to Russia and it’s uncertain where it will lead as it enters its second year.

Watergate began as an investigation into the break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices but soon spread to revelations of more widespread corruption at the White House. The Whitewater scandal began as an investigation into the real estate dealings of the Clintons but then evolved into questions about the suicide of a White House attorney and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Potential political ramifications


The Watergate and Lewinsky scandals didn't affect the Nixon or Clinton presidencies until their second terms in office. But for Trump, the Mueller investigation has hung over his head since day one.

"We don’t know whether Trump is a game-changing president in American politics or the fluke beneficiary of an off-beat election," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said.

"If it wasn’t for the Mueller he would be able to clear the air but right now it’s obfuscated."

Brinkley notes that after one year, the Mueller investigation creates a "conundrum" for Trump and Republicans ahead of the midterm election.

"At any moment, he could be charged with felony or obstruction of justice-- it creates a kind of hesitancy for Republicans wanting to fully embrace his persona," Brinkley said.

Eventually, Nixon resigned and Clinton faced impeachment. One year into the special investigation, Trump does not face any charges of wrongdoing. However, Nichter notes that the scandal has created a potential political problem for Trump and Republicans in the upcoming election.

“Control of Congress is everything,” Nichter said. “When it’s your own party you’re able to contain it.”

“You look at Clinton facing a Republican Congress, Nixon facing a Democratic Congress – if the House flips – what’s going to be the first or second thing they do is pass articles of impeachment,” he said.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tells ABC News he has been “encouraged by recent communications with the special counsel” as the two parties continue conversations about a potential interview with the president.

Giuliani says no one from the special counsel’s office has contacted him or the president’s legal team to disagree with his public statements over the last 24 hours that Robert Mueller’s prosecutors have told the president’s lawyers they do not believe they have the authority to indict the president.

Mueller's team, which is notoriously tight-lipped, has not responded to a request for comment.

“They can’t indict,” Giuliani repeated to ABC News after first telling the New York Times the same on Wednesday.

Giuliani, along with Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Marty and Jane Raskin, say they have had only one in-person meeting with Mueller since Giuliani joined the president’s team. Giuliani believes another meeting will happen once the two parties get closer to agreeing on some sort of interview.

Giuliani also repeated Trump wants to sit down for an interview but no final decision has been made.

For his part, President Trump said earlier this month he would “love to” talk to Mueller.

"Nobody wants to speak more than me — in fact, against my lawyers. Because most lawyers say, 'Never speak with anybody.' I would love to speak, because we've done nothing wrong," Trump said May 4.

"I have to find that we're going to be treated fairly,” Trump added. “Because everybody sees it now and it's a pure witch hunt."

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Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump Thursday offered "protections" to Kim Jong Un if the North Korean dictator agrees to strike a deal with the U.S. whereby Kim would give up his nuclear weapons but also warned about potentially severe consequences if such a deal cannot be reached.

“He will get protections that are very strong,” President Trump said from the Oval Office in an apparent attempt to lure the North Korean leader to the negotiating table after reports that Pyongyang is threatening to withdraw from a planned summit in June.

The president offered direct assurances that the U.S. would not seek to overthrow Kim if a deal is hatched and further promised that a potential deal would include major economic sweeteners for Kim and his country.

“This would be with Kim Jong Un something where he'd be there. He'd be in his country. He'd be running his country,” Trump said. “His country would be very rich. His people are tremendously industrious.”

Addressing the so-called Libya model, Trump contradicted his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who invoked it over the weekend and has since been cited by North Korea as a reason why it might withdraw from the planned Trump-Kim summit scheduled for June 12, Trump said it “isn't a model that we have at all.”

“The Libyan model was a much different model,” Trump said. “We decimated that country. We never said to Gadhafi: 'Oh, we're going to give you protection, we're going to give you military strength, we're going to give you all of these things; we went in and decimated him.”

But the president followed up by warning that the Libya model may come into play if no deal can be reached.

“Now that model would take place if we don't make a deal, most likely,” he said, again referring to the Libya model. “But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy. I really believe he's going to very happy.”

Taking a nonchalant tone to whether his planned summit with Kim in fact occurs, the president said the U.S. is currently moving forward as if the meeting is happening but said his attitude is “whatever happens, happens. Either way, we’ll be in great shape.”

While the president said that he wants to make a deal, and believes Kim Jong Un does as well, he suggested that China may be playing a role in North Korea showing signs of getting cold feet ahead of the summit.

“With deals, that's what I do, is deals,” the president said, “and with deals, you have to have two parties that want to do it. He absolutely wanted to do it. Perhaps he doesn't want to do it. Perhaps he spoke with China. That could be right.”

“The best thing he could ever do is to make a deal,” Trump continued. “I have a feeling, however, that for various reasons, maybe including trade, because they've never had this problem before -- China has never had this problem with us -- it could very well be that he's influencing Kim Jong Un,” referring to China's President Xi.

“We'll see what happens,” he said in conclusion.

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