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Chris Kleponis/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump is brushing off concerns that the GOP's final tax bill will unfairly benefit wealthy Americans over the middle class.

"I think the greatest benefit is going to be for jobs and the middle class," Trump told reporters Saturday on the South Lawn prior to his departure for Camp David.

His comments followed congressional Republicans' release Friday evening of a thousand-page tax bill that includes deep tax cuts for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy while offering what most economists say are more limited benefits for middle-class Americans.

When asked Saturday why tax cuts for individuals are temporary while those for corporations are permanent in the bill, the president said it would be up to the next administration whether to extend the individual tax cuts.

"What will happen is, at the end, whichever the administration is in years from now, they'll make it and maybe can even make it more generous if we can get the economy like it should be," Trump said.

Asked by ABC News whether he believes passing the tax bill is a "done deal," the president was optimistic and slammed Democrats for what he called "standard soundbites" against the GOP plan.

"The Democrats have their soundbites -- their standard soundbites -- before they even know what the bill is all about; they talk about for the wealthy," Trump said. "This is going to be one of the great gifts to middle-income people of this country they have ever gotten for Christmas."

After Trump spoke on the phone Friday with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who had both expressed doubts about key components of the tax bill, the two senators announced their support, clearing the way for the president's first major legislative victory since taking office.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) has announced his decision not to seek reelection in 2018.

“The allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign,” Kihuen said in a statement Saturday. “Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection.”

On Friday the House Ethics committee announced their intention to launch an investigation into allegations made against Kihuen. The freshman Democrat has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct.

"I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question. I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and I look forward to clearing my name,” Kihuen said.

In the statement, Kihuen, 37, says he will serve the duration of his term.

A former Kihuen campaign aide, known only as “Samantha,” told a mid-level aide at the DCCC she had quit her job because then-candidate Kihuen made her “uncomfortable,” BuzzFeed reported. On Saturday, the Nevada Independent reported that a 24-year-old lobbyist says Kihuen “made unwanted overtures and asked overly personal questions of her this fall while his campaign was a client of her firm.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Omarosa Manigault Newman's dramatic exit from the White House has brought renewed scrutiny to allegations of a lack of diversity within the Trump administration, specifically those politically appointed to positions by President Donald Trump.

In her Good Morning America appearance on Thursday, Manigault referred to herself multiple times as "the only African-American woman in this White House" and later said "there is a lack of diversity that I will acknowledge" among Trump's senior staff.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked in Thursday's daily briefing if she knew how many senior staffers currently in the White House are African-American.

"I don't have a number directly in front of me, specifically African-American," Sanders said. "But I can say, again, we have a very diverse team at the White House, certainly a very diverse team in the press office. And something we strive for every day is to add and grow to be more diverse and be more representative of the country at large."

Sanders added that "a number of people" will be involved in the process of replacing Manigault Newman in her role as director of outreach to the African-American community.

The White House has not responded to follow-up questions from ABC News asking for clarity on the number of African-American senior staffers in the White House.

According to Robert C. Smith, author and professor of political science at San Francisco State University, that lack of diversity in the White House could have a broader trickle-down effect on the makeup of the rest of the administration. Smith provided ABC News with research he published in 2016 showing the percentage of African-American political appointees dating back to the Kennedy-Johnson administrations.

  •     Kennedy-Johnson*- 2 percent
  •     Nixon-Ford*- 4 percent
  •     Carter - 12 percent
  •     Reagan - 5 percent
  •     Bush - 6 percent
  •     Clinton - 13 percent
  •     George W. Bush - 10 percent
  •     Obama - 14 percent

(*Treated as one administration for purposes of data collection)

Smith said he planned to begin compiling similar data for the Trump administration later next year, which he expects to be "akin to the Nixon record."

"Both symbolically and in terms of public policy, this is a significant departure from the recent past," Smith said. "This disadvantages the administration in policy-making."

Max Stier, the chairman of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which advocates for greater government accountability, pointed to public data from the Office of Personnel Management's "FedScope" showing the divide between the number of minorities and non-minorities appointed to the administration thus far.

"It's predominantly white, and it's predominantly male," Stier said. "There are no requirements, so it's not in terms of if this is a legal issue of the choices that are being made, but I think there are legitimate questions that can be asked about whether the makeup of the leadership of any administration reflects the people that it's representing, the broader country."

But Stier also noted that the shortfall is not entirely unique to the Trump team.

"Obama had a much more diverse workforce in the political ranks than President Bush did," Stier said. "President Trump so far looks more similar to President Bush's."

In the Thursday briefing, Sanders cited President Trump's close personal relationship with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina -- both of whom are African-Americans -- as examples of his personal outreach to African-Americans.

Manigault Newman did not serve in the type of leadership role that former top African-American staffers in recent administrations flourished in, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Valerie Jarrett.

"I don't think she was given much latitude to go out and try and build relationships with the African-American community," Smith said. "It's caused great skepticism about the administration from African-Americans and about her as well."

Trump's highly controversial handling of the Charlottesville protests and his repeated attacks against his predecessor Barack Obama and his legacy could additionally contribute to hesitation among prominent African-Americans to want to join the administration, Smith said.

"Not just a black face, but recruiting a black person of substantive knowledge and responsibility," Smith said. "Even among some black conservatives, you've probably got some reluctance to serve in a Trump administration."

Reflecting on her own personal experience, Manigault told Good Morning America that she was "very unhappy" with some of what she observed in Trump's White House during his first year regarding race issues.

"I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people," Manigault said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With the confirmation of a 12th Circuit Court judge on Thursday, President Donald Trump set a record for the most appellate judges confirmed in a president’s first year in office.

The latest confirmation was former Texas Solicitor General James Ho, whom the Senate confirmed 53-43 to serve the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ho's confirmation brings Trump's total number of confirmed federal judges to 19, including conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Here's the breakdown of Trump's judicial nominees:

  • 19 federal judges confirmed (one Supreme Court justice, 12 Circuit Court judges, six District Court judges)
  • 142 vacancies
  • 41 nominees pending

An analysis found that of Trump's nominees, about three-fourths are white men.

This week, Trump’s judicial nominees hit some road bumps.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana grilled one of President Donald Trump's nominees for a federal judgeship for several minutes on Wednesday, highlighting the nominee's apparent inability to answer questions about basic legal procedure.

For five minutes during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Kennedy probed Matthew Spencer Petersen, Trump’s nominee for U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., about his experience working on trials.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island tweeted the video Thursday night, which has garnered over 5 million views as of Friday night.

Of the five nominees that appeared before the committee, Petersen raised his hand as the only one who has not tried a case to verdict.

Kennedy then zeroed in on Petersen, a federal election commissioner who practiced election law at Wiley Rein & Fielding in D.C.

During his testimony, Petersen acknowledged that he has never tried a jury trial, a civil or criminal trial, bench trial, or state or federal court trial. He was involved in fewer than five depositions as an associate fresh out of law school and never any by himself. He has never argued a motion in state or federal court.

"When's the last time you read the federal civil rules of procedure?" Kennedy asked, one of a series of questions he lobbed at Petersen.

"In my current position, I obviously don't need to stay as invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to stay up to speed," Petersen replied, defending his inability to answer questions by saying his "background was not in litigation," though that is what his role as a district judge will require.

He failed to explain the “Daubert standard,” a rule for using expert witnesses in court. “I don’t have that readily at my disposal, but I would be happy to take a closer look at that,” he said.

Petersen's testimony came on the heels of another Trump judicial nominee, Leonard Grasz, whom the Senate narrowly confirmed on Tuesday to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, despite a "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association (ABA). Grasz is one of four Trump nominees the ABA deemed “not qualified." The others were Charles Goodwin for the Western District of Oklahoma, who was also at Wednesday's hearing alongside Petersen; Holly Teeter for the District of Kansas; and Brett Talley for the Middle District of Alabama.

The White House withdrew Talley from consideration for a district judge position in Alabama on Wednesday.

Talley had never tried a case on top of being found unqualified by the ABA. He also did not disclose that he was married to the chief of staff to White House counsel Don McGahn, The New York Times reported. He also appeared to have defended “the first KKK” in an online post he wrote in 2011, Slate reported.

Along with Talley, the White House also withdrew the nomination of Jeff Mateer, who was tapped to be a district judge in Texas. A CNN report unearthed a speech Mateer gave in 2015 in which he refers to transgender children as evidence of “Satan’s plan."

"I've advised the White House they ought to reconsider. I would advise the White House not to proceed," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNN on Tuesday before their nominations were pulled.

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that the “speed at which these judges are being rammed through the process is stunning.”

She argued that the administration may have not had to withdraw Talley’s and Mateer’s nominations “if we had sufficient time and cooperation to fully review these nominees.”

After the revelations about Talley’s past, Kennedy argued that Trump is getting “some very, very bad advice” on judicial nominees, according to The Advocate. Only a first-term senator, Kennedy has stuck out as a Republican who’s been tough on Trump’s judicial picks.

In response to his tough questioning of Petersen, Kennedy said in a statement that he’s “just doing his job” in asking questions he expects nominees to be able to answer.

“I enthusiastically supported President Trump for president, and I still do. In the past year, I have supported nearly every one of President Trump’s picks, but I don’t blindly support them,” Kennedy said in a statement provided to ABC News. “I ask questions that I expect them to be able to answer. In doing so, I’m just doing my job. That’s why we have a Madisonian-inspired separation of powers. We need checks and balances so that we can serve the American people well.”

The exchange was notable, legal experts said.

"It's quite unusual for the president to encounter this sort of pushback on lower court nominees from members of his own party," said ABC Supreme Court contributor and former Obama White House lawyer Kate Shaw. "That said, some of these nominees do break the mold in terms of the thinness of their relevant experience."

The White House on Friday said they continue to have confidence in Petersen.

"Peterson has spent nearly a decade as a commissioner of an important regulatory agency overseeing regulatory issues -- the very kinds of issues the district court in D.C. decides," White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said. "It's not surprising that the president's political opponents and some members of the media keep trying to distract from the record-setting success that the president has had on judicial nominations."

Kennedy has been the only GOP senator to vote against confirming one of Trump’s nominees -- Greg Katsas, who previously served as deputy White House counsel.

Kennedy’s main qualm with Katsas sitting as a U.S. circuit judge for Washington, D.C., was an “appearance of a conflict if on one day he’s representing the president and the next day he’s on the D.C. Circuit deciding cases in which the president is a party,” he told The Advocate.

In November, Kennedy had told Politico he would vote against Talley in a heartbeat.

Kennedy also hesitated to support Kyle Duncan, a nominee to be a U.S. circuit judge for the 5th Circuit, and faced pressure from conservative groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund as a result.

“Sen. Kennedy should immediately let the people of Louisiana know whether he joins them in supporting President Trump and his exceptional judicial nominees, or if he stands with liberal Democrats doing everything they can to resist the president,” Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Chairman Jenny Beth Martin said in Nov. 29 statement.

After Duncan’s nomination hearing, Kennedy eventually decided he would vote in favor of confirming Duncan.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House and Senate negotiators released their thousand-page tax bill Friday evening, getting one step closer to passing sweeping legislation that would provide deep tax cuts for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy, while offering what most economists say are more limited benefits for middle-class Americans.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 would lower the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax which ensures corporations pay at least some tax on their income, lower the top individual income tax rate and raise the threshold for inheritances to be subject to the estate tax.

It lowers tax rates overall within seven brackets, and keeps popular deductions including on student loans, medical expenses and charitable giving, and curtails the mortgage interest deduction and deductions people take on state and local taxes if they choose not to take the standard tax deduction.

Individuals may see some relief in the form of a doubled standard deduction, but at least two independent analyses have found that people making less than $75,000 would actually pay more in taxes in the next ten years.

Congress is expected to begin voting on the bill early next week.

Two key Republican holdouts did a 180-degree turn on Friday and now support the GOP tax bill: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

While several Republicans say they are still waiting to see the final bill, right now, it does not appear a single Republican is on the record as a "no" vote.

Rubio, who on Thursday was a "no' vote, now appears on board after Republicans expanded the child tax credit.

Corker, who was the sole Republican to oppose the original Senate bill over concerns about the deficit, is also now a yes.

“After great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss," Corker said in a statement.

“In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the question becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation. I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make." he concludes.

Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, also shared the same concerns with Rubio about the child tax credit. On Friday, Lee signaled he might be coming around in support of the bill in a statement to ABC News.

“Sens. Rubio, Heller, and Scott have done a tremendous job fighting for working families this week and they have secured a big win,” Sen. Lee said. “I look forward to reading the full text of the bill and, hopefully, supporting it.”

On Thursday, there were concerns the potential absence of Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., could complicate the bill's chances.

McCain, who is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, was not at work Thursday in the U.S. Senate. His office reported that he is "receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center for normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that considerations of absences in the Senate could impact which chamber takes the first votes.

“There is discussion about this," Ryan said. "It's all about timing and managing absences in the Senate.”

GOP leaders are optimistic that they will get this done.

Asked if he’s confident this will pass, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, responded with just one word: “yes.”

Here is what ABC News has learned will be included in that bill:

FOR BUSINESS

-- Corporate rate to 21%, down from 35% under current law. Takes effect in 2018.

--- Eliminates Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax - Had been “rolled back” but not repealed in previous versions, according to Sen. John Cornyn.

--- Pass-through deduction rate set at 20% for first $315,000 of joint income

FOR THE WEALTHY

-- Top individual rate to 37%, down from 39.6% under current law.

-- Individual Alternative Minimum Tax exemption increased to $500k for individuals, $1 million for couples filing jointly.

FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS

-- Standard deduction increased from $12,700 to $24,000 (had been previously reported as $24,400) for joint returns and from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals. According to the Tax Policy Center, more than two-thirds of Americans take the standard deduction when filing taxes.

-- Tax brackets: 7 brackets a 0% rate 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, 37%

-- Doubles the amount of the current exemption from the Estate Tax (currently $5.5 million)

For those who ITEMIZE instead of take the standard deduction

-- State and local tax deduction capped at $10,000 combined from any/all categories (property/income/sales taxes). Current law caps property tax deduction at $1 million. There are no current caps on state/local income tax deduction.

-- Mortgage interest deduction capped at $750k, down from $1 million under current law.

-- Graduate school stipend deduction (tax-free tuition waivers) preserved.

-- Student loan interest deduction preserved.

--- Medical expense deduction is preserved. It allows Americans to deduct medical expenses not covered by insurance that exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income.

-- Child Tax Credit preserved. Expanded from $1,000 to $2,000 and refundable up to $1,400 – had previously been refundable up to $1,100 but Rubio got it raised

--- Adoption tax credit is preserved

--- Charitable giving tax deduction is preserved

--- Repeal of individual mandate requiring health insurance. According to CBO, repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate insurance could lead to 13 million more Americans without health insurance, while saving the government $338 billion in federal health insurance subsidy payments over the next decade.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Before she resigned from the White House earlier this week, Omarosa Manigault Newman, the firebrand antagonist from reality television's "The Apprentice," was serving as the most senior African American staffer in the White House and was tasked, in part, with fostering positive working relationships between the administration and leadership in the black community.

However, multiple sources within the White House and outside of the administration with firsthand knowledge of her relationships with the black community tell ABC News they feel Manigault Newman, during her tumultuous 11-month tenure, turned off many of the constituencies with whom she'd promised to build bridges.

"There was nothing on substance that she would add,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told ABC News. "There was nothing she could deliver other than photo ops. Clearly no one really knew what she was doing in the first place." Meeks said.

Several sources within the administration and others hailing from high profile black organizations say Manigault Newman failed on one of her first big outreach efforts when she confronted, cursed and scolded six key members of the Congressional Black Congress following a high-profile cabinet room meeting with the President on March 22.

Manigault Newman had arranged the meeting with the powerful lawmakers as part of her role as the communications director for the Office of Public Liaison – a position created for her.

The meeting had just concluded when the lawmakers asked for privacy in the West Wing lobby discuss what they planned to tell the media waiting outside, according to sources familiar with the incident, including one senior White House official who directly witnessed the incident.

“You don’t get to come into our house and demand to have f------ privacy,” Manigault Newman said, according to the source.

The source added Manigault Newman had to be convinced by a member of the White House staff to leave them alone and would not walk away.

“She had pointlessly alienated them after what was a really positive meeting,” the White House official said. “She didn’t serve her boss well in that situation.”

A source familiar with the incident and who is close to Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond countered that Manigault Newman didn’t cross the line, but was defending a White House staffer. Richmond attended the meeting.

“She was within her right to do that because a CBC person was being a bit rude,” the source said.

The meeting with the president was expected to be contentious due to the so-called "birther" controversy Trump had perpetuated during President Barack Obama's term, but instead of a terse conversation, both sides showed a sincere desire to hear each other and work together, according to several attendees.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Manigault Newman did not return ABC News’ multiple requests for comment.

Strained relationships with some black groups

The CBC declined a follow-up meeting with Trump in June, saying their concerns “fell on deaf ears.”

As the most prominent African American in the White House and self-professed advocated for African American issues, Manigault Newman took the blame for this inaction.

Multiple CBC members told ABC News they were particularly put off when Manigault Newman referred to herself as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” in the invite for the meeting.

“It definitely didn’t go over well,” said a former senior Congressional Black Caucus official.

Early in the administration, Manigault Newman organized Trump’s visit to the African American Museum in D.C.

She also encouraged him to meet with leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Many of them were present when he signed an executive order that vowed to support the institutions earlier this year.

However, at least one of the university leaders present at that meeting expressed disappointment with the outcome of that meeting.

Former Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson later wrote a letter to his school’s community saying despite “high hopes” about the meeting and promises of additional funding for historically black colleges and universities, he left feeling “the meetings were a troubling beginning to what must be a productive relationship.”

On the campaign trail, “Omarosa insisted that [Trump] talk and show empathy toward their plight,” according to one source, speaking of the African American community.

But at a National Association of Black Journalists' annual convention in August, Manigault Newman sparred with panel host Ed Gordon on stage, leading to an uncomfortable confrontation that spiraled into a screaming match.

Omarosa called Gordon “too aggressive” when he asked how she could “sit in a White House” that didn’t condone police brutality. She threatened multiple times to walk off stage.

A spokesperson for the NABJ did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Very lonely’ as a black woman in Trump’s White House


Trump praised Manigault Newman Thursday when asked about her departure, saying "I like Omarosa. Omarosa's a good person."

But some others in the White House said they didn't see it the same way.

While Manigault Newman was a confidante of the president, she failed to forge other close allies in the White House, according to two White House officials.

Manigault Newman described her experience in Trump’s White House as “very lonely” to ABC News’ “Nightline” and detailed an environment in which it was tough working alongside Trump’s other senior advisers – most of them white and who “had never worked with minorities, didn't know how to interact with them.”

“It has been very, very challenging being the only African-American woman in the senior staff,” she said.

She was also troubled by the president’s much criticized remarks in response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to a source familiar with Manigault Newman’s perspective.

A redefined role

When General John Kelly became chief of staff, he sought to redefine her role, sources told ABC News. She complained of isolation after he cut off her open access to the Oval Office, as he did with other senior staff, according to the officials. She and Kelly had what she described as a "candid conversation" in the White House Situation Room.

"[Chief of staff] John Kelly and I had a very straightforward discussion about concerns that I had, issues that I raised, and as a result, I resigned," Manigault said on ABC News' "Good Morning America."

Even though she had a communications director title, the press team stopped inviting her to the prep sessions for the briefing because she would bring up unrelated topics, according to a senior White House official.

Since Manigault resigned on Tuesday, emails to her White House account bounce back and she no longer has access to parts of the White House grounds, sources say.

The White House says she’s technically employed until January 20.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's legal team is expected to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team next week, sources with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to ABC News.

The meeting, first reported by CNN, was described as a chance for Trump's attorneys to receive an update from Mueller and his team on the status of the investigation into Russian election interference and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

The sources with knowledge of the summit indicated that it would come as the special counsel's office has completed its interviews with members of the White House with whom it has previously requested meetings.

All documents requested by Mueller and his team have further been turned over by the White House, according to sources.

Jay Sekulow, a member of the President’s legal team, said “we do not and will not discuss our periodic communications with the Special Counsel.”

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- The House Ethics committee is opening an investigation into embattled Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Kihuen, 37, denies the allegations and pledges to cooperate with the committee’s probe.

“As I’ve said previously, I intend to fully cooperate, and I welcome an opportunity to clear my name,” Kihuen said.

The freshman lawmaker is accused of making repeated unwanted sexual advances towards a campaign aide. Earlier this week, a second woman said Kihuen sexually harassed her during his time in the Nevada State Senate.

Kihuen has told ABC News he will not resign, despite calls from Democratic leaders that he step aside.

Instead, Kihuen has taken aim at the leaders of his own party, who he contends knew last year about a former campaign staffer’s allegations of misconduct and continued to stand by his campaign. Kihuen has questioned why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan are calling for his resignation now - more than a year later.

“I do find it interesting that the DCCC, Leader Pelosi and Chairman Ben Ray Lujan - they knew about these allegations last year,” Kihuen, D-Nevada, said in an interview with ABC News earlier this month. “They looked into them. They didn't find anything, and they continued investing millions of dollars in my campaign. They went out and campaigned for me.”

Pelosi and Lujan, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have both demanded Kihuen step down and have adamantly denied knowing about the allegations before BuzzFeed published an investigation early this month.

A former Kihuen campaign aide, known only as “Samantha,” told a mid-level aide at the DCCC she had quit her job because then-candidate Kihuen made her “uncomfortable,” BuzzFeed reported.

While the DCCC brought the matter to Kihuen’s campaign manager, it did not launch an investigation at the time, sources indicate, because the victim initially did not provide the level of detail exposed in the BuzzFeed investigation.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With Thursday's announcement that Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas will not seek re-election in 2018, eight congressional seats in Texas will have a different representative come January 2019.

That's the biggest turnover in the state's congressional delegation since 2005, according to data from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The departure of six Republicans and two Democrats thus far, which represents over 20 percent of Texas’ congressional delegation, has sparked speculation about whether the state could play a key role in the Democratic Party’s quest to retake the House of Representatives in 2018.

In addition to Farenthold’s announcement, prompted in part by a former staffer's sexual harassment allegations against him that he denies, Representatives Jeb Hensarling, Lamar Smith, Ted Poe, Joe Barton and Sam Johnson are the other Republicans who have said they too will not seek re-election in 2018.

Those names include some of the most senior and powerful members of the Texas delegation. Barton is the eighth most senior member in the U.S. House and most senior member of the Texas congressional delegation. Hensarling chairs the House Financial Services Committee and Smith chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Representatives Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green are the two Texas Democrats not seeking to hold their seats next year. O’Rourke is instead mounting a bid for the U.S. Senate, challenging Republican Ted Cruz.

National Democrats are cautiously optimistic they can compete in some districts now that their candidates no longer face the disadvantages that come with running against an incumbent.

“The bottom line is that people across our country are looking for a change from Republicans in Washington putting corporations and millionaires ahead of the middle class, and their energy can be felt in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston, down to the Rio Grande, and all across Texas,” Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) told ABC News. “We’re still a long way off from Election Day, but running authentic, grassroots campaigns in every single district in Texas is how we finally give all Texans a real choice next November.”

Despite the talk of Democrats competing in some districts with retiring incumbents, including suburbs of cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Republicans are confident they can hold off challengers despite a national political environment colored by the chronically low approval ratings of a Republican president.

“These are Republican districts with strong GOP candidates in the field. The Texas delegation will be welcoming a big crop of talented new Republicans in 2019,” Jack Pandol, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) told ABC News.

But Texas has long been eyed by Democrats as a state with great political potential, and some experts in the state say that indeed the party seems to be poised to make a run at some of the state’s more Republican-leaning districts.

“Overall we're seeing a real uptick in Democratic candidates,” said James Henson, Director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Even if it's a 'heavily Republican-favored seat’ one would rather run for an open seat than run against an incumbent.”

While Democrats may be seeing increased enthusiasm nationally, bolstered by wins last month in Virginia and New Jersey, and just this week in deep red Alabama, Texas remains a political environment ripe with difficulty.

“Democrats go into this with a significant baseline disadvantage in party identification throughout the state,” Henson said. “This varies from district to district in congressional and legislative races and that's why you're seeing a lot of action there. But you still start at a disadvantage.”

Henson also said Democrats should be wary of attempting to nationalize races in districts where President Trump, who won the state of Texas by just under 10 points in 2016, remains popular.

“Republican consultants and Republican candidates here will have no problem pushing back against 'outside influences' trying to interfere in races in the state,” Henson said.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, a House conservative who has led the charge against the Russia investigation and calls for a second special counsel, said Friday morning he wants Robert Mueller fired — and wants more Republicans to join in his cause.

“Congress has an obligation to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation and I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in firing Bob Mueller,” Gaetz, R-Fla. said in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo this morning. “It’s time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there’s evidence of collusion with Russia, let’s see it.”

Gaetz is among of a handful of congressional Republicans who have called for ending the Mueller probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.

President Donald Trump has not publicly indicated he's considering firing Mueller.

However, the White House has indicated it has not ruled it out as a possible move the president could make.

“There is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in October.

A dismissal of Mueller would technically have to be made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who serves as acting attorney general in all matters related to the 2016 election. President Trump could direct Rosenstein to fire the special counsel.

Rosenstein, who appointed Muller to handle the investigation, offered a strong defense of the special counsel during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

“I think it would be very difficult... for anybody to find somebody better qualified for this job,” Rosenstein said. “Director Mueller has throughout his lifetime been a dedicated and respected and heroic public servant.”

Gaetz has had the president's ear — traveling aboard Air Force One last Friday on his way to a Pensacola, Fla., campaign rally. Gaetz, who was joined on board by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., has spent weeks — including prior to that trip — pushing efforts to fire Mueller.

Gaetz has argued that the special counsel's team has been "infected" with "intractable bias" against Trump.

In a phone interview with ABC News earlier this week, Gaetz said during that flight, Trump encouraged his oversight of the Department of Justice.

"I did let him know that we had Mr. Rosenstein come before the Judiciary Committee this week," he recalled to ABC News on Tuesday, ahead of Rosenstein’s Wednesday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. "He simply encouraged Mr. DeSantis and I in very broad terms to continue exercise our oversight functions."

When asked about Robert Mueller being a Republican, Gaetz said Trump's "movement is a very unique coalition, and there are a lot of Republicans that aren’t a member of it."

Gaetz has also led the charge in Congress pushing Attorney General Sessions to appoint another special counsel to probe Uranium One and the Obama Justice Department.

Democrats and a number of prominent Republicans in Congress have publicly advised the against firing Mueller — some even supporting proposed legislation to protect the special counsel and ensure the investigation is completed.

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Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump on Friday morning said people are "very, very angry" with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice about what he sees as revelations of political bias in its ranks, just before he boarded a helicopter headed for Quantico.

"It's very sad when you look at the documents, and how they have done that is really disgraceful," the president said, apparently referring to a batch of text messages critical of Trump between a former agent and FBI lawyer involved with the Mueller investigation released this week.

"You have a lot of angry people seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that. I am going today on behalf of the FBI, their new building, and when everybody — not me, everybody, the level of anger, and what they have been witnessing with respect to the FBI, it's certainly very sad," Trump said.

"I can say this, when you look at what has gone on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry," Trump told reporters.

Trump's visit to the academy comes amid heightened tensions with the bureau, whose reputation he recently described as "in tatters," and its standing as the "worst in history."

"It's a shame what happened with the FBI, but we are going to rebuild the FBI and it will be bigger and better than ever," Trump said.

But the president took on a more supportive tone when delivering remarks to law enforcement officers from other agencies in Quantico. He pledged: "The president of the United States has your back 100 percent."

"I will fight for you and I will never let you down, ever," he said.

The academy, according to the FBI's website, is a "professional course of study" open to U.S. and international law enforcement managers of all stripes.

In May, Trump was expected to visit the FBI headquarters in Quantico but the trip was notably scrapped following mounting backlash over his controversial firing of then-FBI Director Jim Comey.

Since then, the president has taken to publicly deriding the FBI's reputation amid its investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and its interference in the 2016 election.

He has vented on Twitter about whether its investigation is politically motivated, and whether his former opponent Hillary Clinton escaped conviction in the investigation of her use of a private email server because of agency's political bias.

Just last week, Trump said the FBI's reputation was "in Tatters - worst in History!"

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Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(WASHIGNTON) -- Days after creating confusion over the Trump administration's North Korea policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked back his comments that the U.S. was ready to meet Kim Jong Un's regime for talks "without precondition," telling the United Nations Security Council Friday that there must first be "a sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior... before talks can begin."

"North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson said. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open."

Questions about just where the U.S. stands on talks highlight what have been sharp differences voiced by Tillerson and President Trump on North Korea --and come amid reports the White House wants him out. Tillerson's comments today come after the White House and State Department had been vociferously denying any change in policy.

Tillerson was addressing a special Security Council meeting on the North Korean threat called by the chair country Japan after the North Korea fired its third intercontinental ballistic missile on November 28 -- a missile capable of reaching the entire continental United States, it said.

The North Korean ambassador to the U.N. sat mere feet away while Tillerson spoke.

The latest questions on what the administration's policy is began when Tillerson told a Washington audience Tuesday that demanding North Korea give up its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities before engaging in talks was "not realistic... They have too much invested in it."

"The President is very realistic about that as well," he added.

That's at odds with previously-stated Trump administration policy that had demanded that North Korea agree to give up its nuclear and ballistic weapons before the U.S. would agree to talks.

As Tillerson himself told reporters on August 1, "A condition of those talks is there is no future where North Korea holds nuclear weapons or the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons to anyone in the region much less to the homeland."

President Trump has been even more vocal, railing against negotiations with North Korea for months.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid," he tweeted on Oct. 7. "[It] hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

Trump even tweeted at Tillerson that he was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," a derogatory nickname the president uses for the North Korean leader. "Save your energy Rex," he added.

It is unclear if Tillerson has been trying to signal a shift this week -- or perhaps misspoke or went too far on Tuesday.

The White House has denied any change, with spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying in a statement Tuesday, "The president's views on North Korea have not changed."

Nauert said repeatedly Wednesday that the policy has not changed -- and even contradicted what Tillerson said Tuesday about denuclearization. When asked whether it was no longer a precondition, she said, "If they’re not willing to denuclearize? No. That remains our goal. Our overall goal is denuclearization."

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Win McNamee / Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Trump is not ruling out a pardon for his disgraced former National Security Adviser and retired general Michael Flynn.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked the president on Friday morning if he'd consider a pardon for Flynn. Trump left the door open, and said "we'll see what happens."

“I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. Let's see. I can say this, when you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”

When asked whether he knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he fired him, Trump said: “You know the answer.”

Earlier this month, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his back-channel negotiations with the Russian ambassador – talks that occurred before Trump took office.

Trump made the comments just before boarding Marine One headed for Quantico, where he is expected to deliver remarks at the FBI National Academy — a training program for law enforcement officers from other agencies.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With ten days left until Christmas, the Trumps and Pences released on Thursday their official Christmas portraits -- their first such photos since taking office.

First lady Melania Trump tweeted the photo, in which she and President Donald Trump are standing in the Cross Hall of the White House, surrounded by Christmas trees covered in fake snow.

"Merry Christmas from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump," reads Mrs. Trump's tweet.

And less than two hours later, second lady Karen Pence tweeted the Pences' portrait, photographed at the Vice President's Residence at the Naval Observatory, in which they're surrounded by an ornament-laden Christmas tree with wrapped gifts at its base, and a mantle decorated with a garland.

"Our official Christmas portrait has been released!" Mrs. Pence tweeted.

Mrs. Trump has been actively spreading holiday cheer in recent weeks, particularly with children.

On Wednesday she visited a holiday toy drive sponsored by the military.

"On a personal note, as my first year as first lady comes to an end, I have had the privilege to witness the spirit and resilience of so many people in our country," she said at the drive for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. "After this year's devastating hurricane season, I hope everyone watching at home will consider giving back through programs like Toys for Tots."

She continued, "It is my hope that during this holiday season people will remember it is not about gifts. It is about family service and gratitude. We must continue to look out for and help each other."

At the toy drive, she invited children from military families to help her sort toys.

She also sat with kids and made construction-paper cards to go with the gifts that will be distributed throughout the nation's capital.

Last week Mrs. Trump visited with patients and staff at Children's National hospital Washington, D.C., continuing a tradition begun by first lady Bess Truman.

At the hospital, she met privately with some patients, and was escorted by Santa Claus to the facility's atrium where she answered questions from children.

When asked what she wants for Christmas, she said, "I asked Santa for Christmas, peace on the world, health love and kindness."

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Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump will visit the FBI National Academy on Friday amid heightened tensions with the bureau whose reputation he recently described as "in tatters," and its standing as the "worst in history."

According to the White House, Trump will deliver remarks to graduates of the 10-week national academy program. The academy, according to the FBI's website, is a "professional course of study" open to U.S. and international law enforcement managers of all stripes.

In May, President Trump was expected to visit the FBI headquarters, but the trip was notably scrapped following mounting backlash over his controversial firing of then-FBI Director Jim Comey.

Since then, the president has publicly derided the FBI's reputation amid its investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the 2016 election.

He has vented on Twitter about whether the FBI's investigation is politically motivated, and whether his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, escaped conviction in the investigation of her use of a private email server because of agency's political bias.

Just last week Trump said the FBI's reputation was "in Tatters - worst in History!"

Asked a week ago about the president's tweets in front of the House Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the reputation of the bureau was "quite good."

"The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women working as hard as they can to keep people they will never know safe from harm," Wray said.

But Wray was also grilled about reports of political bias influencing the investigations into Clinton and Russian election interference.

Specifically, lawmakers pressed Wray over anti-Trump texts sent by a senior agent on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, who was removed over the summer. The texts, recently revealed, repeatedly called President Donald Trump "an idiot," and said the Republican Party "needs to pull their head out of their" rear-ends.

The revelations led members of Trump's legal team this week to call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel charged with investigating allegations of political bias and conflicts of interest in the Department of Justice.

Trump's war of words with the FBI dates back well before his election win, when he publicly scolded Comey's announcement that Clinton would not face criminal charges in her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

But the feud reached its pinnacle following Trump's sudden firing of Comey in May, and subsequent comments from his administration denouncing Comey's leadership of the bureau.

Several weeks later in his testimony to Congress, Comey emotionally rebuked those comments as "lies, plain and simple."

"The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader," Comey said.

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