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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not say whether he believes calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" is fair game on the campaign trail.

Speaking at an event Tuesday night sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation to discuss the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, McConnell invoked the nickname, favored by President Donald Trump, and considered racially offensive, to refer to Warren.

"I understand you just got to hear from Lindsey Graham,” McConnell said at the event, referring to the South Carolina senator who had spoken before him at the event. “You know how the president likes to give nicknames to people. Elizabeth Warren is 'Pocahontas.' You noticed that Lindsey said he's going to have his DNA tested, did he mention that to you? The president will probably soon be calling him 'Sitting Bull'."

Sitting Bull was a Native American chief who helped unite the Sioux in their efforts to defend themselves in the nation's Great Plains region. Pocahontas was a historical figure often revered for her role as a Colonial-era emissary.

McConnell was referencing Graham’s quip on Fox News earlier that day about hypothetically taking his own DNA test.

Graham said it would be “like, terrible” if he took a DNA test and found out he was “Iranian.” Graham is a frequent critic of the Iranian regime.

Asked during a roundtable Wednesday with TV network reporters if his use of “Pocahontas” meant it was fair game for candidates to use such racially-tinged words to describe Democrats, he responded, “I don’t have a comment on that.”

Native American groups have previously criticized Trump’s invocation of “Pocahontas” to refer to the Massachusetts Democrat.

After he used the name at an event honoring Native American veterans in November of last year, the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, an association of American Indian nations, released a statement saying “the name becomes a derogatory racial reference when used as an insult.”

Warren herself has also referred to her being called “Pocahontas” as a “racial slur.” She has defended herself against her critics by claiming she was told of her Native American ancestry by family members and that the registry entry was for meeting persons with similar backgrounds, rather than to advance her career.

A spokeswoman for Warren did not respond to a request for comment about McConnell’s statement.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. released a statement Monday criticizing Warren’s use of a DNA test to bolster her campaign argument.

“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens... Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage,” Hoskin said.

During Wednesday’s reporter roundtable, McConnell also weighed in on the upcoming midterm elections, saying he believes the Kavanaugh confirmation was a shot in the arm for Republican enthusiasm which will pay bigger dividends “the redder the state is.”

As he has in the past, McConnell also named the Senate races he believes are the closest, most of which are states Trump won in 2016 but which have Democratic incumbents. Democrats are defending ten such seats this year.

“It’s pretty obvious that we have very competitive races in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida,” he said.

But he said he would rather be in Republicans’ position, in control of the Senate with 51 seats, than in Democrats’, with 49 seats and facing an uphill climb to defend all ten states and make net gains in order to regain control of the chamber.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office have been asking former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — their newest cooperating witness — about his friend and former business associate Roger Stone, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Stone, a longtime political adviser to President Donald Trump and onetime partner of Manafort’s at the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, has come under increasing scrutiny from the special counsel in recent months. Nearly a dozen individuals close to Stone have been brought in for interviews with the Mueller team, and many of those same individuals have also appeared before a federal grand jury.

Mueller’s interest in Stone appears to be focused on whether Stone or his associates communicated with Julian Assange or WikiLeaks about the release of damaging emails allegedly hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign by Russian intelligence officers masquerading as hacker persona “Guccifer 2.0.”

Some of Stone’s public statements from that time appeared to indicate that he knew in advance that WikiLeaks was preparing to publish information damaging to Clinton’s campaign.

The special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Manafort declined to comment.

When asked what questions Mueller’s team might be asking Manafort — who recently pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in Washington, D.C. and is awaiting sentencing on 18 counts of financial crimes in Virginia — Stone told ABC News that it “certainly wouldn’t be surprising” that his investigators would question Manafort about him since he and Manafort “have been friends since childhood.”

"I am highly confident Mr. Manafort is aware of no wrong doing on my part during the 2016 campaign, or at any other time, and therefore there is no wrongdoing to know about,” Stone said. “Narratives to the contrary by some in the media are false and defamatory."

Manafort and Stone’s ties indeed run deep. In the early 1970s, Manafort and Stone both frequented the same circles of young GOP operatives working on national political campaigns. In 1977, when Stone was 24, he was elected president of the Young Republicans. Paul Manafort was his campaign manager.

And both men had tumultuous tenures at the Trump campaign. Stone, who has taken credit for persuading President Trump to get into politics, served as an adviser to Trump’s campaign before leaving amid controversy in 2015. Manafort served as Trump campaign chairman before resigning suddenly just a few months before Election Day.

Stone, meanwhile, appears to have steeled himself for the possibility that he could be one of Mueller’s next targets.

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility,” Stone previously told ABC News, “that [Mueller] may consider bringing some offense against me.”

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on the members of his Cabinet to draw up proposals to cut spending for their respective agency budgets by 5 percent, and although he didn't make a direct connection, his call came after news earlier this week that the federal government ran up its largest annual deficit in six years.

“I’m going to ask each of you to come back with a 5 percent cut for our next meeting, I think you’ll all be able to do it,” President Trump told his assembled Cabinet, reserving the possibility that there could be a “special exemption” for a department or two but that others may be able to make more dramatic cuts than 5 percent.

“I think you can do it, so I'd like to have everyone sitting around the table, your incredible domains you preside over, in some cases very well, in some cases brilliantly, I would like you to come back with a 5 percent cut,” Trump said. “Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste. ... It will have a huge impact.”

Dubbing it the “one-year nickel plan,” President Trump expressed a belief that the government could make significant progress toward bringing down government spending by making modest cuts to each executive department.

Seemingly offering a defense of having signed a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package back in March, which included $700 billion for the military that Trump argued was necessary as a matter of national defense, Trump said the federal government is now in a position to tighten its belt.

“Now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things we weren't into in a position to do when I first came,” Trump said.

But while the president can call on his Cabinet secretaries to propose spending cuts, ultimately it’s up to Congress to approve the federal budget.

The Treasury Department said Monday that the government ran up a $779 billion deficit this past fiscal year – a 17 percent increase from the $666 billion deficit the fiscal year prior.

The news of the deficit flew in the face of the Trump administration’s previous declarations that the GOP trillion-dollar-plus tax cut plan, passed late last year, would pay for itself by generating economic growth.

"Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt," Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said at the time.

"You will see faster economic growth result from this bill. You will see higher wages, more jobs, bigger paychecks, bigger GDP, and if you see a bigger economy, that means you get more revenue," House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the time.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, declared at the time that it will be "beyond revenue neutral," even as multiple outside economic analyses said otherwise.

On Wednesday, McConnell defended the 17 percent increase in the deficit this year. While he said Tuesday that it was because of bipartisan refusal to touch entitlements, he added Wednesday that it also had to do with increases in domestic spending that Republicans had to agree to in order to get their desired defense spending boost.

“I think we ended up spending more because of the contingencies that we were facing,” he said.

Democrats were quick to pounce on the news of the deficit increase earlier this week.

"Republicans passed a tax scam for the rich that is adding $2 trillion to the deficit in order to give massive tax breaks to Big Pharma, big banks, big corporations shipping jobs overseas and the wealthiest 1 percent," Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Under the Republican agenda, the rich get richer, and everyone else is stuck paying the bill.

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Courtesy Sgt. Major John Canley(WASHINGTON) -- Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on Wednesday, 50 years after the heroism he displayed during the bloody "Battle of Hue" in the Vietnam War.

Normally, a recipient must be presented the medal within five years of his gallantry. But as time passed, and even though Canley had received other high honors, his fellow Marines, remembering how he risked his life repeatedly to rescue his wounded comrades, thought he deserved more, and campaigned for his case to be reviewed.

Now, because of that effort, Canley has made history: becoming the 300th Marine to receive the nation's highest award for valor.

In presenting the Medal of Honor to Canley President Trump called Canley "truly larger than life."

On January 31, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks to seize cities and towns throughout South Vietnam, including Hue. What followed in Hue was an almost month-long battle by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces to retake the city in fierce urban combat.

On the first day of the battle, then-Gunnery Sgt. Canley assumed command of Company A, First Battalion, First Marines after the captain in command was severely wounded in the early fighting.

Canley led his company's men through intense fighting over the course of the next week fending off multiple enemy attacks and leading attacks on enemy targets.

At the time, Canley's company was moving along a highway toward Hue City to help relieve friendly forces surrounded in the surprise attack on the city. Over the course of the next week, the company of 150 men would see heavy combat and take a high number of casualties.

"In the days that followed John led his company through the fog and rain, and in house-to-house, very vicious, very hard combat," said President Trump.

"He assaulted enemy strongholds, killed enemy fighters, and with deadly accuracy did everything you had to do," said Trump. "He raced into heavy machine gun fire on many occasions, all to save his fellow Marines."

"In one harrowing engagement after another John risked his own life to save the lives of those under his command," said Trump.

Trump said Canley was personally responsible for having saved the lives of 20 Marines under his command.

On Feb. 4, Canley led his company in taking over an enemy occupied school building, personally dropping a large explosive charge that led to heavy Viet Cong casualties and led the remainder to flee the building.

Two days later, he led a successful attack to retake a hospital compound from Viet Cong fighters. During that effort he exposed himself to direct enemy fire as he twice scaled a wall to aid wounded Marines and carry them to safety.

Fifty years later, a humble Canley downplays the heroism and leadership he displayed during that week of fierce fighting.

"It's about taking care of subordinates," Canley said in a Marine Corps video interview. "As a leader, as long as subordinate unit leaders take care of their people, you don't really have to worry about the mission."

"I think if a Marine comes to you with a problem, you must do whatever within your power to alleviate that problem," he added.

For his heroism in Hue, in 1970, Canley was awarded the Navy Cross, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. The Navy Cross is the second highest award for valor that a Marine or Sailor can receive.

But his fellow Marines in Alpha Company led an effort to have his actions reviewed to see if they merited the Medal of Honor.

After a review lasting nearly four years, Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed that Canley's heroism merited the Medal of Honor.

Rep. Julia Brownley, who represents Canley's congressional district in Oxnard, California, sponsored legislation that would waive the five-year time limit on presenting the award.

"Sgt. Maj. Canley and his heroism really brought Congress together when we needed to pass this bill," Brownley told ABC News. "As we all know we’ve been in hyperpartisan times, but we all came together, leadership on both sides of the aisle, hopefully, because of our patriotism, but motivated by Sgt. Major Canley.”

“He is an extraordinarily humble man and he never talks about his role," Brownley said. "He always talks about his Marines, his Marines that he loved then and he loved now, and when they speak of him, some have called him a giant of a man, that he was invincible, that he was a Marine’s Marine.”

Canley retired from the Marine Corps in 1981 after serving 28 years as a Marine. Trump said he had enlisted at the age of 15, using his older brother's paperwork to join the Marine Corps.

Today, Canley is in remarkable physical condition considering he's 80 years old, leading President Trump to remark he looked fit enough to serve in the Marine Corps. "Nobody would know the difference" he joked.

A recent video provided by the Marine Corps shows him holding his own while working out with young Marines nearly a quarter of his age.

"I think physical training is something you should put on the top of your list, whether you're a Marine or a civilian," said Canley. " All I can say is keep it up, I think it'll pay dividends."

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Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his recent comments about Saudi Arabia's denials of any involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi were not an attempt to give the oil-rich ally cover.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what's happening,” Trump told reporters.

He added that he expects to know who is at fault for Khashoggi’s alleged murder “by the end of the week.”

His comments came amid swirling speculation that Turkey may have audio tapes that reveal what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and royal insider who has been missing for over two weeks after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu Wednesday but refused to express any doubt or skepticism about the legitimacy of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I keep hearing we’re giving them some benefit of the doubt. They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out, we’ll evaluate it, it’s not about benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane before departing Turkey. “It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it, so they get it right so that it’s thorough and complete… We’ll evaluate this on a factual, straight up basis.”

Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S., visited the consulate to file paperwork for his wedding and has not been seen since. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, who has written critically about the Saudi government, was killed, which the Saudis have fiercely denied.

Turkish officials say that a hit squad of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul for just hours surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance, and they reportedly claim to have audio recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered.

Trump told reporters Wednesday the U.S. has asked for the recordings “if it exists.”

“We don't know if it exists yet. We'll have a full report when Mike [Pompeo] comes back, that's going to be one of the first questions I ask him,” he said in the Oval Office.

But Pompeo declined to say anything about the tapes, initially telling reporters, “I don't have anything to say about that.” His spokesperson later clarified he has not heard any tapes. It's unclear if Turkey offered him the chance to hear any such recordings.

Pompeo also said the U.S. must wait for the investigations to be completed before responding, casting doubt on the Turkish claims and underscoring the importance of U.S.-Saudi ties.

“We need to know the facts before we begin to formulate what the appropriate response for this would be,” Pompeo said. “I do think its important everyone keep in their mind we have lots of important relationships, financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, government relationships, things we work on together all across the world,” saying these relationships are in Americans’ best interests.

President Trump echoed Pompeo on the importance of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia in an interview with Fox Business News this morning. Asked if he was going to walk away from Saudi Arabia if the investigations reveal a hit job on Khashoggi, Trump said “I don’t want to do that,” citing a $110 billion weapons deal with the Kingdom.

“I hope that the King and the crown prince didn't know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes. I hope they haven't,” Trump said, referring to King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Trump said he planned to see Pompeo either Wednesday night or Thursday morning to get a readout of his meetings with the Saudis and Turks.

Pompeo’s tone on the Saudi-led investigation is stronger than last week when he released a statement calling for Saudi Arabia to “support a thorough investigation” and “to be transparent about the results of that investigation.”

The Turks are leading the investigation and have at times faced some difficulties with the Saudis, who did not grant them entry to the consulate until Monday and stalled Turkish police looking to inspect the Saudi consul general's residence until Wednesday.

Despite that, Pompeo reported that President Erdogan felt the Saudis have been cooperative, and the two countries will share information. Erdogan said there had been “a couple of delays,” according to Pompeo, but the Turks feel confident now the Saudis will admit them to the consulate to perform their investigation.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A plane carrying first lady Melania Trump was forced to turn around shortly after takeoff Wednesday after reports of a "burning smell" by members of the press on board the flight.

One reporter said there was “a thin haze of smoke and smell something burning.”

The smell quickly became stronger about 10 minutes after takeoff, she added.

A crew member said the smell was from “a malfunctioning comms unit” on board. A source described it as a "minor technical issue" and that the first lady was "fine."

This is a developing story.

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ABC News(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) -- With just three weeks until voters decide a surprisingly pivotal U.S. Senate race in the state of Texas, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke faced off in an at-times-testy debate in San Antonio Tuesday evening, as both men sought to paint their opponent as the wrong choice to represent the nation's third-largest state.

Both candidates lobbed attacks throughout, taking more aggressive stances as the race enters the final stretch and Democrats try to keep their fledgling hopes of re-taking the Senate alive despite a difficult host of races in many states President Donald Trump won handily in 2016.

Cruz consistently sought to portray O'Rourke as an "extremist" on issues ranging from health care to abortion to illegal immigration, saying the El Paso Democrat is running a campaign that appeals to "left-wing national activists," and not the state of Texas.

O'Rourke, whose energetic bid to unseat Cruz has garnered a crush of national media attention and historic fundraising numbers, pushed back against Cruz more aggressively than at any other point in the campaign, even reprising the nickname bestowed on the GOP candidate by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"Sen. Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He’s going to make up positions and votes that I’ve never held or have ever taken," O'Rourke said, "He’s dishonest, it’s why the president called him 'Lyin' Ted,' and it’s why the nickname stuck — because it’s true."

Cruz, who recent polls show is maintaining a high single-digits lead in the race against O'Rourke, shot back at his Democratic challenger.

"Well it’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack, so if he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine," Cruz snapped.

O'Rourke also reprised his attack on Cruz for focusing on his presidential ambitions so soon after he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and criticized the tone of his Republican opponent's campaign.

"Look all you’ve heard from Sen. Cruz is what we should be afraid of. It’s a campaign based on fear," O'Rourke said, "It’s the same person who shut down the government of the United States of America for sixteen days, perhaps because he though too many people had too much healthcare."

The two also clashed over the issue of border security, and on whether or not building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is the best way to reduce illegal immigration.

"Congressman O'Rourke doesn't want to build the wall," Cruz said, again calling his opponent's views on the issue "extreme."

O'Rourke said there needed to be a greater focus on screening methods for people entering the country, and hit Cruz for his vote against a permanent solution for Dreamers, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The two also sparred over the issue of judicial appointments, and Cruz said he was "proud" to help confirm both of Trump's nominees to the Supreme Court -- Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The conservative firebrand who has made a career out of rankling member of both parties, bemoaned a lack of civility in today's politics, something he again blamed on the "anger" and "rage" from a far-left "mob," evoking rhetoric that has been used by the president recently on the campaign trail.

"There is a loss of civility, there is an anger, there is a rage on the far-left that is really frightening," Cruz said, "The images of a left-wing mob beating on the doors of the Supreme Court, that’s not good for our country. We can disagree while treating each other with respect, while treating each other with civility."

In his attempts to paint O'Rourke as a figurehead of the liberal "resistance" movement, Cruz said the Democrat would not be able to work with Trump as a member of the Senate and would instead incite a "partisan circus," by supporting impeachment proceedings against him.

"Really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the U.S. Senate," O'Rourke said to laughter in the audience. "Listen if you have this special relationship with President Trump, then where is the result of that? You were all talk and no action. The tariffs that the president has levied, the trade wars that he has led us into, is hurting no state more than it’s hurting Texas."

Cruz cited his work helping to pass the Republican tax reform bill last year as an area where he has delivered for the state of Texas.

At the conclusion of the debate, O'Rourke offered a closing statement in the same vein of the soaring rhetoric that has earned him comparisons to former President Barack Obama and the late Robert Kennedy, comparisons his Republican detractors say are overblown.

"The bitterness, the partisanship, the pettiness, the dishonesty that defines so much of the national conversation: We are in desperate need right now of inspiration," he said. "But I’ll tell you what, traveling the state of Texas, meeting people regardless of their walk of life, their background, their party affiliation, you have inspired me."

Cruz closed by again highlighting his policy differences with O'Rourke on immigration, health care and a host of issues, saying he is also offering a positive vision for the state of Texas.

"Elections are about who we are. Do we choose fear, or do we choose hope? I believe in hope," Cruz said.

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Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump lashed out at adult-film star Stormy Daniels and her attorney Tuesday morning, vowing to “go after” the pair, who he referred to as “Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer.”

The tweet from Trump comes a day after a federal judge in California handed the president a rare legal victory in his ongoing legal battles with Daniels.

Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti – who has been teasing a possible run for president against Trump in 2020 - wasted little time in responding in kind to the insults, calling Trump a “disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States.”

“Bring everything you have,” Avenatti crowed, “because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are.”

Also firing back on her (usually) not-safe-for-work Twitter feed, Daniels wrote, “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your president.”

“[H]e has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control on Twitter AGAIN!” Daniels wrote.

The barrage of Twitter barbs follows a ruling Monday by US District Court Judge S. James Otero that dismissed Daniels’ defamation claim, one of two lawsuits she filed against the president.

Otero ruled that a tweet Trump sent earlier this year mocking Daniels’ credibility was free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The judge noted that Daniels had "sought to publicly present herself as an adversary" to Trump, and that to deny him the ability to engage in responding to her allegations "would significantly hamper the office of the President."

An attorney for the president, Charles Harder, characterized that ruling in a statement as "a total victory for President Trump and a total defeat for Stormy Daniels."

The court also ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s legal fees and costs associated with defending the lawsuit. The amount has yet to be determined.

Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti quickly filed a notice of an intention to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The dismissal of the defamation claim has no bearing on Daniels’ separate lawsuit challenging the validity of the non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about her allegations of a sexual tryst with Trump in 2006.

Trump has denied her allegations.

The defamation claim from Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, was originally filed in New York federal court earlier this year. The lawsuit claimed Trump acted with "actual malice" and "reckless disregard for the truth" when he posted a tweet mocking her claim that she was threatened by an unknown man to stay silent. The case was later transferred to federal court in California.

In an April appearance on ABC’s "The View," Daniels and Avenatti released a sketch of the man she claims menaced her and her toddler daughter in 2011 in a Las Vegas parking lot shortly after she granted an interview to In Touch magazine about her alleged relationship with Trump, then a real estate mogul and reality-TV star.

Daniels alleges the man told her to "leave Trump alone" and to "forget the story."

The magazine didn’t publish its story about Daniels claims until January of 2018 - after the Wall Street Journal published the first accounts of a non-disclosure agreement signed just weeks before the 2016 election.

In interviews with The View and on CBS’ 60 Minutes earlier this year, Daniels intimated that either Trump or his then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen, must have been behind the alleged threat.

To date, no evidence has emerged to support the claim.

One day after Daniels revealed the sketch - Trump ridiculed the claim on Twitter as "a sketch years later about a non-existent man." He called it a "total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools."

In deciding in favor of the president, Judge Otero - who is also overseeing Daniels' pending lawsuit over her non-disclosure agreement - ruled that Trump's tweet "constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States."

"Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation," Otero wrote in his opinion. "This would deprive the country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process."

"Such a holding would violate the First Amendment," Otero ruled.

Otero also denied Daniels' efforts to engage in what he called a "fishing expedition" to seek evidence that Trump was aware of the alleged threat.

Otero has scheduled a hearing for early December on Trump and Cohen’s motions to dismiss Daniels’ other lawsuit, which seeks a court ruling that the $130,000 non-disclosure agreement she signed in late October 2016 in invalid. Those proceedings have been on hold for months, following the April law-enforcement raids on Cohen’s law office and residences in New York.

Trump initially denied having any knowledge of where the money to pay Daniels came from, referring reporters’ questions in April to Cohen.

He subsequently acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the costs of the deal but has maintained he learned about the arrangement only after the fact.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including one count of violating campaign finance laws in connection with the deal with Daniels. At a plea hearing in federal court in Manhattan, Cohen told the court that he had acted “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

“I participated in this conduct for the principal purpose” of influencing the election, Cohen said.

Cohen is due to be sentenced in December.

Last month ABC News reported that Cohen is cooperating with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, sitting for multiple interview sessions that were also attended by prosecutors for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen and Trump have recently abandoned their opposition to Daniels’ lawsuit, effectively conceding that the non-disclosure contract is void, and they have each asked Judge Otero to dismiss the claim.

Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, has countered that the case should continue because the public deserves to know why a candidate for president and his attorney were so determined to silence his client.

"I have been practicing law for nearly twenty years," Avenatti tweeted last month.

"Never before have I seen a defendant so frightened to be deposed as Donald Trump, especially for a guy who talks so tough," Avenatti wrote. "He is desperate and doing all he can to avoid having to answer my questions. He is all hat and no cattle."

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Department of Housing and Urban Development(WASHINGTON) -- Even as ethical inquiries into Ryan Zinke's actions as Interior Secretary continue, the Trump administration is expected to nominate a political appointee from another agency to take over as the department's internal watchdog.

Democrats and oversight groups say they are concerned a political nominee with no specific experience in oversight could quash investigations into Zinke.

The move involving the expected nominee, Suzanne Israel Tufts, was first revealed in an email, obtained by ABC News and other organizations, sent from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to staff announcing that Tufts was leaving HUD to take the position as acting inspector general at Interior.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking member of the committee with oversight of Interior, said the move "stinks to high heaven."

“Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG. After looking around, the best person they could find is a Trump political operative at HUD who turned a blind eye to Secretary Carson’s $31,000 dining set. President Trump keeps warning people that if Democrats get control of Congress, all you’ll see is investigations and subpoenas. Well, somebody’s got to do it,” Grijalva said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee with oversight of Interior said the committee and Chairman Rob Bishop plan to learn more about the nomination as the Interior Department makes information available.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the nomination.

Tufts, originally a lawyer from New York, led the office of administration at HUD where she was "tasked with delivering administrative support and customer service to HUD employees nationwide."

Public information about Tufts does not specifically list any experience in government oversight but the law establishing inspectors general specifies that nominees for permanent positions should be made regardless of political affiliation and based on a demonstrated record of work with auditing or investigations. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The former head of HUD's office of administration, Helen Foster, filed a whistleblower complaint in November 2017 alleging that she was pushed out of a role with similar responsibilities in part because she raised concerns about exorbitant spending at the department. Foster has since left government service, citing retaliation against her complaint.

The Interior Department has not had a confirmed inspector general for years; the office is currently run by Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall. Kendall has been deputy inspector general at Interior since 1999 and previously worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. President Barack Obama nominated her to become the inspector general in 2015 but the nomination stalled in the Senate after Republicans said Kendall was too close with administration officials.

"The position of the Inspector General has been vacant for about ten years. This is a providentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House," Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the inspector general's office said they haven't been given any official information about the change.

The inspector general's office is still looking into whether Zinke was improperly involved in a real estate deal as secretary and has been looking into whether any taxpayer funds were improperly spent on Zinke's travel.

Zinke has said while he met with Halliburton officials connected to the real estate deal in his hometown they only discussed the history of the project. He has also pushed back against allegations that there was anything improper about the cost of his travel.

The internal watchdog's office has released an interim report on Zinke's travel that said Interior could improve procedures but cleared Zinke of wrongdoing. Another report found that the department did not keep sufficient records to explain controversial re-assignments that at least one employee alleged was in retaliation for work on climate change.

Liz Hempowicz, public policy director at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the administration shouldn't change who is in charge of Interior's internal watchdog while active investigations are ongoing.

"Replacing one acting inspector general with another who has no significant government oversight experience, and at a time when there are several ongoing investigations involving Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s activities, is politically suspect. They shouldn’t be changing hats right now, when there are numerous investigations left to be completed. The prolonged tenure of an acting inspector general at the Interior Department is a larger problem, but this move does nothing to address that," Hempowicz said in a statement.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The private investigator behind the now-infamous dossier of unverified allegations linking members of the Trump campaign to Russian officials invoked his constitutional rights not to testify on Tuesday after being subpoenaed to appear before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Glenn Simpson, the former Wall Street Journal reporter who cofounded the research firm Fusion GPS, which was hired first by Republicans and later by Democrats to explore then-candidate Donald Trump’s past, has already spent hours testifying before Congress about his work. But House Republicans called him to appear on Tuesday to answer questions on another topic — political bias at the Justice Department.

Trump’s allies have zeroed in on Simpson’s relationship with former British spy Christopher Steele, who gathered much of the raw intelligence contained in the dossier, and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who provided the dossier to high-ranking officials in the FBI. Republicans lawmakers have suggested those relationships improperly informed and ultimately tainted the FBI’s broader investigation of Russian meddling in the election.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, said Simpson’s decision was “disappointing,” and that the committees were prepared to ask him questions “that have not been explored by other congressional committees.”

“The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees sought testimony from Mr. Simpson because he is uniquely qualified to answer questions regarding the dossier collected by Christopher Steele that was then used by the FBI to form an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application,” Goodlatte said. “Today we expected Mr. Simpson to answer questions that have not been explored by other congressional committees to help advance our joint investigation. Instead, Mr. Simpson has refused to cooperate with our investigative team and has denied the American people answers to important questions.”

Simpson’s attorney Josh Levy accused Republican of using Simpson to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Rather than participate any further in this charade, Mr. Simpson today stood on his constitutional rights,” Levy said in a statement. “Regrettably—in keeping with the worst practices of past congressional investigations— the Committee required him to walk before these cameras and tell them in person what he already clearly and unequivocally communicated through counsel – that he is invoking his right not to testify.”

House Republican aides say the committees are scheduled to interview Bruce Ohr's wife Nellie, a Russian linguist who once worked for Fusion GPS, on Friday.

President Trump picked up on the episode himself on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to hurl fresh criticism at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he has blamed for the ongoing fallout from the special counsel investigation because of his decision to recuse himself from supervising the probe.

“‘Conflict between Glen Simpson’s testimony to another House Panel about his contact with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. Ohr was used by Simpson and Steele as a Back Channel to get (FAKE) Dossier to FBI. Simpson pleading Fifth.’ Catherine Herridge. Where is Jeff Sessions?” Trump tweeted.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- What will special counsel Robert Mueller find when his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is finally complete?

The American public might never get to see the full picture.

Under the current special counsel regulation, Mueller is required to provide the attorney general with a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel,” but it will be up to the attorney general — or, at the moment, his deputy — whether to release that report to the public.

But President Donald Trump has publicly considered removing both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who inherited supervision of the investigation after Sessions’ recusal, at various points in the first two years of his administration, stoking concerns from Democrats that their potential replacements could order an end to the investigation or attempt to bury its findings.

Any attempt to withhold Mueller’s report from public view would surely spark a fierce partisan battle, particularly if Democrats take control of the House in the midterms, putting themselves in position to subpoena documents from the Justice Department pertaining to Mueller’s investigation even if its findings aren’t publicly released.

“We expect—and the rule of law demands—that the Special Counsel be permitted to complete his investigation, wherever it may lead, free from political interference, and that the facts be presented for public review so that the American people can know the full truth,” said New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler during a press conference earlier this year. Nadler would serve as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee if Democrats retake the House.

The Department of Justice declined to comment for this report. President Trump has vehemently denied any coordination between his campaign and Russian agents working to influence the election.

Under the current regulations, which were written to shift power to the Justice Department, giving the agency more oversight of future special counsels, in the wake of Kenneth Starr’s years-long investigation of President Bill Clinton, Mueller would be required to provide his final report to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the acting attorney general for this matter.

Rosenstein is required by regulation to notify the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of the investigation and provide them with an explanation of any instance where he blocked a proposed action by Mueller’s team.

He could also release Mueller’s report to the public if he determines that the release “would be in the public interest,” according to the regulation, but considering Trump’s tumultuous relationship with the Justice Department and its leaders, Rosenstein might not be in a position to make those decisions when Mueller finishes his work.

While Trump recently appeared to reach a détente with Rosenstein, the embattled deputy attorney general traveled to the White House late last month with the expectation that he would be fired, following reports that Rosenstein had suggested recording conversations with the president in connection to possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Rosenstein said in a statement at the time that he had never "pursued or authorized recording" Trump or advocated for Trump's removal.

And Trump has repeatedly criticized Sessions, stemming from his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe — “I don’t have an attorney general,” Trump told Hill.TV in September — and has reportedly discussed replacing Sessions with his chief of staff Matt Whitaker, according to the Washington Post.

In a recent interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Trump said he had “no intention” of shutting down the investigation but stopped well short of a guarantee.

“I don’t pledge anything,” he said. “But I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that.”

Democrats and some Republicans have called for the passage of legislation to protect Mueller’s investigation from political interference. Lawmakers have introduced proposals to limit the attorney general’s ability to remove a special counsel and preserve staff, documents and materials if an investigation is shuttered, and have also suggested proposals that would allow Mueller to appeal his removal.

And Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general of the United States during the Obama administration who also served in the Clinton administration and helped draft the regulations, has also called for Rosenstein to transmit “interim reports” to Congress to memorialize Mueller’s investigation and inoculate it from any potential interference in the future.

“Rosenstein could, right now, tell Congress (or even a small group of members, with appropriate safeguards, including secrecy) what has happened — what Mueller has learned so far, whether Rosenstein has ever said “no” to Mueller and where the investigation is headed now,” he wrote in the Washington Post. “Such a move would be unusual, to say the least. But it is a way for Rosenstein to safeguard his legacy. And it could also safeguard the very principle that no one is above the law. Not even the president — and not even this president.”

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LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary James Mattis says President Donald Trump has told him "I'm with you 100 percent" following the president's comments on CBS's "60 Minutes" that he might leave the administration and suspects he is a Democrat.

When asked on "60 Minutes" if Mattis might leave the administration, Trump said he had "a very good relationship with him. It could be that he is. I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth."

"But Gen. Mattis is a good guy," said Trump. "We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington."

Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Vietnam that he and Trump had spoken on Monday while the president was en route to Florida.

In their first conversation since the 60 Minutes interview was taped, Mattis told reporters that Trump had told him, “I’m a hundred percent with you” and “I’m with you a hundred percent.”

Mattis' comments were a clarification of his earlier comments to reporters that he had not spoken with the president since the interview had aired on Sunday.

Asked earlier what he had thought about Trump's comments, Mattis told reporters "Nothing at all."

"I’m on his team," Mattis said. "We have never talked about me leaving. And as you can see right here, we're on our way. We just continue doing our job."

Mattis said he had not seen the interview with the President and only seen reporting about it in the press.

Reporters also asked Mattis if he had ever registered as either a Democrat or Republican.

"I’ve never registered for any political party," said Mattis, who is registered to vote in his home state of Washington, which does not require political affiliations to be disclosed.

When asked earlier if he was a Democrat, Mattis had replied with a lengthy statement that having served a lifetime in the U.S. military, "we are proudly apolitical."

"By that, I mean that in our duties, we were brought up to obey the elected commander in chief, whoever that is," said Mattis.

"Where am I today? I'm a member of the president's administration," said Mattis.

"You can see that my portfolio is bipartisan by its very basis, and that is the protection of the United States," he added.

"That's what President Trump has told me to do, and I eagerly carry that out, alongside probably the most selfless young men and women -- not all young; some old men and women, too -- civilian and military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines working together," he said. "So that's where I stand. That defines me."

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iStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- The only debate in the Arizona Senate race ended with fireworks as Republican nominee Rep. Martha McSally accused her Democratic opponent Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of treason Monday night.

The slam came in reference to a 2003 video clip that was unearthed wherein Sinema said that she wouldn't care if an American joined the Taliban.

"That's treason!" McSally nearly screamed, looking directly at Sinema.

"This is the definition of treason, saying it’s OK for Americans to join our enemy!" she added.

Sinema deflected, saying McSally is "just trying to cut, cut, cut and not share the whole picture."

"Martha’s trying to make this Senate campaign about me," Sinema said on stage. In a gaggle with reporters afterward, Sinema called the claims "ridiculous."

That capped off a debate that was filled with a lot of she-said, she-saids, with the two candidates saying that their opponent was miscasting their stance on any number of issues, including health care, Medicare, social security, military cuts, tax cuts and cuts to coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Both candidates needed to be pressed for answers at different points in the debate.

For Sinema, that came early on, when she had to be asked three times how she would have voted if she were in the Senate for the Kavanaugh confirmation vote. She eventually said that she would have voted "no."

For McSally, she was pressed to be direct in whether or not she supports the Trump administration's implementation of the separation of families at the border. She said that no one wants to see families separated but we need to enforce the laws, so Congress should change the laws.

"The reality is the cartels know right now if you show up with a kid, you’re going to be let go," McSally said.

One interesting point of comparison came when they addressed how they would dealt with President Donald Trump.

McSally, who spent much of the primary aligning herself with Trump and noted in her opening Monday night that she's looking forward to "hosting" Trump when he comes to Mesa on Friday as part of his western swing, was asked if she was proud of the president and his behavior.

"President Trump ran for president one time and won, and he’s a disrupter ... we’re seeing the results form that. ... He’s disrupting things for sure in Washington, D.C., but providing more opportunities for Americans," she said.

"I am proud that he has gone to the White House and he is leading the country in the right direction," she said, adding, "He didn't need to be doing this. I've gotten to know him over the past year and a half and he loves America."

Sinema, who has been casting herself as a moderate and has voted with the administration 62 percent of the time, according to ABC News partner FiveThirtyEight, said that she would vote according to how his laws impact Arizonans and not based on party lines.

"When the president is doing something right, support him, when he's doing something wrong, oppose it," Sinema said.

Many Arizonans see this race -- and their support for either candidate -- as a referendum on the president and his agenda.

George Bingham is a Republican from Arizona who was handing out McSally posters at a rally held for her with Mitt Romney in Gilbert on Friday. Bingham said that he sees this as a “huge, huge election” that has implications that extend far beyond Arizona.

“We have a president that needs all the Republican support that he can get in the Senate,” Bingham said.

“If he wants to get his agenda done, he’s going to need every Republican senator,” he said.

Pam Potter, a college professor who was knocking on doors over the weekend in Peoria on behalf of Democratic candidates, including Sinema, said she thinks this Senate race is one of the “really important” ones this cycle.

“Right now, we have a president unchecked. Right now they [Republicans] have all the houses,” Potter said.

“Kyrsten specifically is a moderate Democrat. She is ready to work on the issues rather than a partisan stance,” she added.

Monday's debate comes five days after early voting started in Arizona, as the state votes in a tight race to fill the seat being left open by Sen. Jeff Flake.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(BANGOR, Maine) -- A threatening letter that the writer claimed was contaminated with ricin was sent to the Bangor, Maine, residence of Sen. Susan Collins early Monday afternoon, the senator's communications director, Annie Clark said.

Bangor Police responded to the incident at approximately 1:39 p.m. to investigate the suspicious letter, officials said at a press conference Monday.

The letter was received by Collins' husband, Tom Daffron, according to Clark.

"Currently, we have no information that would suggest the public at large is in any danger whatsoever," said Sgt. Wade Betters of Bangor Police.

The local fire department and a HAZMAT team from Orono were called in to assist in the investigation, Sgt. Betters stated.

Bangor Police have not disclosed the contents of the letter, however Clark said that the writer claimed to contaminate the letter with ricin in a series of tweets posted on Monday evening.

"The affected areas have now been cleared, and Senator Collins and Mr. Daffron will be able to remain at home tonight," said Clark, while noting, "The testing of the letter, as well as the investigation into its origins, remain ongoing."

Collins has received criticism from her decision to vote for the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court on October 6. The senator was widely considered as one of the crucial votes in the confirmation process, and her support of Kavanaugh resulted in being the target of numerous protests.

"He [Kavanaugh] has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband, and father," Collins wrote in a statement Oct. 5, revealing her decision to vote for the newly-appointed associate justice, stating that she hoped Kavanaugh would, "lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court."

Police have not revealed the motive of the writer who sent the suspicious letter to the Collins' home.

"We are very grateful for the immediate and professional assistance that we received from the Bangor Police Department, the Maine Crime Lab, the Maine State Police Department, the Capitol Police, the FBI, the Orono Hazmat Unit, the Bangor Fire Department, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service," Sen. Collins said in a statement issued Monday evening. "We feel blessed to live in such a supportive community."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump told reporters that "rogue killers" may be involved in the disappearance of independent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who has been living in the U.S.

The president's comments Monday morning came after he spoke to Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who, Trump said, "denies any knowledge" about Khashoggi's disappearance.

"The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” Trump said to the press after his phone call with the Saudi king. “He didn't really know, maybe, I don't want to get into his mind but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows?”

Pressed on whether he believed King Salman’s denials, the president wouldn’t say.

“All I can do is report what he told me. He told me in a very firm way that they had no knowledge of it. He said it very strongly,” Trump said. “His denial to me could not have been stronger, that he had no knowledge. It sounded like he and also the crown prince [Mohanmmed bin Salman] had no knowledge.”

Trump also said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is leaving "literally within an hour" for Saudi Arabia, and possibly other countries.

Khashoggi, a self-exiled Saudi journalist and prominent critic of the Saudi crown prince, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2 to obtain documents he needed to get married. Turkish authorities have claimed he was murdered in the consulate by Saudi operatives, an allegation the Saudi government has consistently denied.

Tensions grew over the weekend between Washington, Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was a contributor to The Washington Post.

President Trump in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired over the weekend said of the alleged murder, “There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that were the case. So we’re going to have to see. We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment” if the Turkish claims are true.

In an apparent response to Trump’s comments, a Saudi official said that if any moves were taken against the kingdom, “it will respond with greater action ... The Kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy,” Reuters reported.

Trump's comments Monday came as Saudi officials and Turkish investigators were conducting a joint inspection of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for clues to Khashoggi's whereabouts, The Associated Press reported.

Saudi officials arrived in Turkey on Friday after the two governments agreed to a joint investigation into the case, with Saudi officials granting Turkish investigator access to the consulate building, Reuters reported.

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