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'So appalled': What witnesses told special counsel about Trump's handling of classified info while still president

Yuki Iwamura-Pool/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- In the summer of 2019, only hours after an Iranian rocket accidentally exploded at one of Iran's own launch sites, senior U.S. officials met with then-president Donald Trump and shared a sharply detailed, highly classified image of the blast's catastrophic aftermath.

The image was captured by a U.S. satellite whose true capabilities were a tightly guarded secret. But Trump wanted to share it with the world -- he thought it was especially "sexy" because it was marked classified, one of his former advisers later recalled to special counsel Jack Smith's investigators, according to sources familiar with the former adviser's statements.

Worried that the image becoming public could hurt national security efforts, intelligence officials urged Trump to hold off until more knowledgeable experts were able to weigh in, the sources said. But less than an hour later, while at least one of those intelligence officials was in another building scrambling to get more information, Trump posted the image to Twitter.

"It was so upsetting, and people were really angry," one of Trump's former advisers told investigators, sources said.

The public pushback to Trump's post was immediate: Intelligence experts and even international media questioned whether U.S. interests had just been endangered by what Trump did. When pressed about it at the White House, Trump insisted he hadn't released classified information because he had an "absolute right to do" it.

While much of Smith's sprawling classified documents investigation has focused on how Trump handled classified materials after leaving the White House, a wide array of former aides and advisers -- including personal valets, press assistants, senior national security officials, and even Trump's briefers from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- have provided Smith with firsthand accounts about how Trump allegedly handled and used intelligence while still in office.

Those firsthand accounts, as relayed to ABC News by sources, underscore what could be at stake as Trump seeks a return to the White House, and they are coming to light as he is likely on the verge of receiving formal government briefings again as the Republican Party's official nominee in the 2024 presidential election.

In interviews with investigators last year, former aides and national security officials who were close to Trump in the White House described a president who could erupt in anger when presented with intelligence he didn't want to hear, who routinely reviewed and stored classified information in unsecured locations, and who had what some former officials described as "a cavalier attitude" toward the damage that could be done by its disclosure, according to sources.

A book published on the CIA's website, describing the intelligence community's experience with Trump during his transition to the presidency and then his time in the White House, said that while Trump was "suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process," he still "engaged with it," even as he publicly attacked it.

The book also noted that Trump was "unique" among presidents in that, before taking over the White House, "he had no experience handling classified information or working with military, diplomatic, or intelligence programs and operations."

'Hand in the woodchipper'

As former officials described meetings with Trump to Smith's team, Trump only wanted to listen to new information about certain parts of the world, according to sources.

In particular, the sources said, Smith's team was told that Trump was uninterested in hearing about Latin America or countries that he similarly thought were not essential. The sources said witnesses confirmed previous public reporting that Trump referred to such places as "s---hole countries" and suggested the United States should stop welcoming migrants from them.

Today, on the presidential campaign trail, Trump continues to rail against migrants from Latin American countries and others who reached the southern border through parts of Latin America.

Sources said former officials also told Smith's team that Trump refused to listen to certain briefings related to Russia, saying Trump "absolutely" didn't want to hear about Russian influence operations, and he couldn't be convinced that Russian troops were already operating inside Ukraine -- even as his own administration was publicly calling out their routine incursions into the country's eastern region to support Russian-backed separatists.

On the campaign trail, Trump recently insisted that he would have prevented Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 if he were still commander-in-chief.

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According to the sources, one of Trump's former advisers joked with Smith's team last year that bringing up Russia during a meeting with Trump was like "stick[ing] my hand in the woodchipper again."

In its most recent worldwide assessment, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Russia continues to pose a significant threat to U.S. national security and, more broadly, to "rules-based international order."

As he has done in public, Trump often privately disagreed with conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community, especially related to Russia and Ukraine, choosing instead to rely on unverified claims from other people, sources said that Smith's investigators were told.

And sources said former aides confirmed to Smith's investigators previous media reports that Trump almost never read the President's Daily Brief, a report summarizing classified intelligence and analysis on the day's most pressing issues.

Trump preferred to receive such summaries verbally, according to sources.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Trump referred ABC News to a statement by the former president in which he called the classified documents case a "two-tiered system of justice and unconstitutional selective prosecution."

A spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment to ABC News.

'Like a junk drawer'

Throughout Trump's presidency, many of those who interacted with Trump every day saw him bring classified documents to unsecured locations, raising concerns among some of them, several witnesses told Smith's team, the sources said.

As early as 2018, the Office of the Staff Secretary, which manages the documents flowing to the Oval Office, began asking personnel in the White House about documents that had gone missing, including some classified ones, one of Trump's personal valets told investigators, sources said.

And at one point, sources said the valet recalled, he even warned the staff secretary's office that classified documents were being taken out of secure locations in white boxes and ending up in all sorts of potentially concerning places.

According to the sources, several witnesses told Smith's team that they routinely saw classified documents or classified folders in Trump's White House residence, and that Trump would sometimes store as many as 30 boxes in his bedroom, which one valet said Trump treated "like a junk drawer."

While it's not clear how many boxes at any given time in Trump's residence contained documents with classification markings, witnesses said they frequently observed boxes and papers traveling from the Oval Office to his residence that contained classified documents, according to sources familiar with what witnesses have told the special counsel.

"I did not think that he respected what classified information was," sources quoted one former official as telling investigators.

In Trump's first year in office, several media reports described how Trump had allegedly exposed sensitive information: In February 2017, he and Japan's then-prime minister reportedly discussed a response to North Korea's latest ballistic missile test over dinner in a crowded dining room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, and then two months later Trump told the Philippines president on a phone call that the U.S. military had positioned two nuclear submarines near North Korea.

The following month, Trump reportedly shared highly-sensitive intelligence about ISIS with Russian officials visiting the White House.

Some witnesses who spoke with Smith's team, however, said they were not concerned by what they saw while Trump was president.

Robert O'Brien, who served as Trump's national security adviser at the end of his presidency, told Smith's team that Trump "consistently" handled classified information appropriately, sources said.

'The Hunger Games'

As some former officials described it to Smith's investigators, discussing the latest intelligence with Trump could be an unpredictable task, sources said.

At times he would become so upset over what senior national security or intelligence officials were telling him that it would derail entire meetings, according to sources familiar with what witnesses told investigators.

In one series of meetings, ahead of an international summit in Europe, Trump met with then-CIA director Gina Haspel, then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and others to help plan for the summit. But when Trump was told positive things about one of the people he would likely meet at the summit, Trump "lost it," insisting that he didn't care, then he "lost it" again when he was being updated on a tax-related negotiation involving Mnuchin, sources said.

The sources said Trump then pitted one of his top aides against Mnuchin in front of everyone else, escalating the tension so much that it reminded one of those present of the movie "The Hunger Games," with its dystopian death match broadcast live on national TV.

The book published on the CIA's website quoted former President Barack Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, as saying that Trump was prone to "fly off on tangents; there might be eight or nine minutes of real intelligence in an hour's discussion."

And while the intelligence community worked with evidence, Trump "was 'fact-free' -- evidence doesn't cut it with him," according to Clapper.

Still, Clapper said Trump could be "courteous, affable, and complimentary" when he engaged with or referred to members of the U.S. intelligence community.

'People were really angry'

Sources said that, as one former official described it to Smith's team, Trump's posting of the image from Iran's failed rocket launch revealed how the then-president "just didn't care" about protecting classified information.

In 2021, Yahoo! News described how, during his briefing with intelligence officials, Trump thought the image "was very neat, and asked if he could keep it," which made some of the intelligence officials nervous, according to an administration official. But that news report didn't offer the same detailed account provided to Smith by witnesses last year.

Sources told ABC News that while speaking with Smith's team, former aides and officials said Trump was specifically warned at the time that while he had the authority to declassify the image of Iran's botched launch, there were also potential risks associated with doing that.

Trump initially agreed to wait while intelligence officials were then consulted, sources said, but the intelligence officials apparently took too long; about an hour later, Trump posted the image online.

"I was so appalled," one former national security official told Smith's team, according to the sources.

The former official noted that Trump may have believed it wasn't a big deal -- but only an expert would know if releasing such classified information could reveal "how we got it" it and whether it could "compromise our ability to get [it] in the future," the former official explained to Smith's team, according to the sources.

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A provocative question in Trump's immunity fight: Ordering rivals assassinated?

Yuki Iwamura-Pool/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- It was maybe the most memorable moment so far in Donald Trump's case for "absolute presidential immunity" -- and it could come up again at the U.S. Supreme Court in historic arguments on Thursday.

The arresting question: Could a commander in chief order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival and not face criminal prosecution?

His lawyer suggested he could, under certain circumstances.

The exchange took place at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington in January, where Trump took his immunity fight after the theory was flatly rejected by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing his federal election subversion case.

"I asked you a yes-or-no question," Judge Florence Pan said during the arguments. "Could a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival [and] who was not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?"

"If he were impeached and convicted first," Trump attorney John Sauer responded.

"So your answer is no," Pan said.

Sauer, attempting to avoid a straight yes or no, said his answer was a "qualified yes" as he maintained a House impeachment and Senate conviction needed to occur before criminal liability can come into play. He also predicted that if a president did order an assassination, he would be "speedily" impeached.

Special counsel attorney James Pearce, arguing for the government, called such a theory "frightening."

"I mean, what kind of world are we living in?" Pearce argued. "If, as I understood my friend on the other side to say here, a president orders SEAL team to assassinate a political rival and resigned, for example before an impeachment, it's not a criminal act ... I think that is extraordinarily frightening future."

The three-judge panel went on to strike down Trump's immunity argument in a unanimous decision, stating they could not accept his assertion that a president has "unbounded authority to commit crimes." Such a stance, they warned, would "collapse our system of separated powers."

The former president appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fallout from Sauer's response was swift, and continues to feature predominately in amicus briefs filed to the high court as it weighs the case. When justices hear arguments in the case on Thursday, Sauer will again be representing Trump.

In a filing in support of Trump, a trio of former military leaders said regardless of the question of immunity, a president has no authority to order the military to kill a political rival and even if he did, the military would not carry it out.

But other national security experts, in a brief in support of special counsel Jack Smith, were less certain subordinates would refuse a presidential order.

"The rule of law will be threatened unless federal courts have protection against intimidation by a criminal president in command of Seal Team 6 or any other unit of the U.S. Armed Forces," the brief read.

The immunity question presents an unprecedented constitutional quandary for the Supreme Court. Trump is the first ever president -- current or former -- to face criminal charges.

The Supreme Court's decision will determine whether Trump stands trial before the November election on four felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy against rights, for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to the counts.

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Arizona Democrats vote to repeal controversial 1864 abortion ban, with help of 3 Republicans

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

(PHOENIX) -- Three Republicans on Wednesday joined Democrats in the Arizona House to vote to repeal the state's controversial 1864 ban on nearly all abortions, which was revived by a court ruling earlier this month and which only includes exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman.

The final vote was 32-28.

The repeal bill, pushed by Democrats, next heads to the state Senate where it could be taken up next week.

The chamber on Wednesday separately conducted a second read of its own abortion ban repeal bill, without objection, setting up a parallel vote -- though that is likely moot now because the House bill has been approved.

Two Republican senators have already said they will support the repeal effort, signaling the House bill should pass that chamber and then head to Gov. Katie Hobbs' desk to be signed into law.

The repeal of the ban would then take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which must be before June 30.

"This is a stain on history that this ban even exists -- from a time when the age of consent was 10, from a time when women didn't have the right to vote," Arizona state Sen. Eva Burch, a Democrat, told ABC News' Elizabeth Schulze amid an earlier, failed effort to approve the repeal bill in the state House.

Many Republicans sharply objected on Wednesday to the push to undo the Civil War-era ban that has roiled the politics of the state after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that it is enforceable.

Leading conservatives like Trump, former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Senate candidate Kari Lake have touted their general support for abortion restrictions but said the 1864 ban goes too far.

"This total ban on abortion that the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled on is out of line with where the people of this state are," Lake said in a video statement on social media earlier this month.

House Speaker Ben Toma rose to object to the vote on the House floor on Wednesday. The leader has been a vocal opponent of “rushing” any repeal legislation.

GOP Rep. Alexander Kolodin likewise accused the body, including the Republicans joining with Democrats, of moving forward because of political pressures and likened abortion to the killing of "infants."

"At the end of the day, your politics is important but it is not worth our souls," he said.

The issue is likely to be put directly before voters in November's election.

The Arizona for Abortion Access campaign has been working to get a potential constitutional amendment on the state's ballot to enshrine abortion access. Democrats believe that could boost voter enthusiasm and turnout for their candidates, given how abortion access has succeeded in previous elections since Roe v. Wade's nationwide protections were overruled in 2022.

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The campaign has said that they have gathered more than 500,000 signatures -- surpassing the necessary threshold, but will continue to gather signatures “until the wheels fall off,” a spokesperson told ABC News.

ABC News' Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

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Biden needles Trump over his hair and 'Mar-a-Lago values' as he addresses union

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday needled rival Donald Trump, laying into the former president as he welcomed the North America's Building Trades Union's endorsement.

"You're the best in the world," Biden said while addressing the NABTU's legislative conference in Washington, D.C. "You know, you had my back in 2020 and because of you, I'm standing here as president of the United States of America. … Because of you, in 2024 we're going to make Donald Trump a loser again! Are you ready?"

"So, it's either Scranton values or Mar-a-Lago values," Biden went on to say, drawing a contrast between his background and Trump's as he repeated an economic argument rolled out during campaign stops in Pennsylvania last week. "These are competing visions of the economy at the heart of this election."

Polling shows that economic issues are top of mind for many voters in what is expected to be a close race, though surveys have found Trump getting more favorable marks than Biden on the economy.

The president doubled down on his differences with Trump later in his speech on Wednesday and said working-class voters are probably familiar with the kind of elites that Biden argued Trump represents.

"Folks, the choice is clear: Donald Trump's vision of America is one of revenge and retribution, a defeated former president who sees the world from Mar-a-Lago and bows down to billionaires, who looks down on American union workers," Biden said.

"Think about the guys you grew up with [that] you'd like to get into the corner and just give them a straight left," Biden said. "I'm not suggesting we hit the president."

Biden -- who has been hammered by Trump and Republicans over high inflation and cost of living issues -- said Trump repeatedly promised to focus on so-called infrastructure week when he was president but in four years "he never built a damn thing," compared with the Biden White House's successful push for new infrastructure investment.

Biden also slammed his predecessor for Trump's alleged treatment, as a businessman, of contractors: "He didn't keep his word."

"The guy has never worked a day in working man's boots," he said of Trump.

Biden also sarcastically took shots at Trump's history of outlandish comments -- reversing a frequent attack from Trump on Biden's own well-known habit of verbal gaffes and misstatements.

"Donald Trump still thinks windmills cause cancer," Biden said to laughter as he made the sign of the cross. "That's what he said. And by the way, remember when he was trying to deal with COVID, he suggested just inject a little bleach in your veins? He missed it -- it all went to his hair. Look, I shouldn't have said that."

In the audience, many members wore T-shirts that read "Joe walks the line," with a depiction of the president wearing his signature aviator sunglasses.

NABTU President Sean McGarvey praised Biden in a statement on Wednesday announcing the union's endorsement, which adds to the list of labor groups backing Biden.

NABTU also endorsed Biden over Trump in the 2020 election. Trump has been supported by some other high-profile unions, including those representing Border Patrol agents and police.

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"Joe Biden has proven to be the perfect leader at the perfect time for this country and the working men and women who have built it," McGarvey said in his statement.

He said NABTU, a coalition of unions that boasts 3 million members, plans to mobilize its members to vote for Biden in the fall.

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Trump, Giuliani, Meadows are unindicted co-conspirators in Michigan fake elector case, hearing reveals

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Rudy Giuliani are unindicted co-conspirators in the Michigan attorney general's case against the state's so-called "fake electors" in the 2020 election, a state investigator revealed in court on Wednesday.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged 16 Republicans last year with forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery for allegedly attempting to replace Michigan's electoral votes for Joe Biden with electoral votes for Trump at the certification of the vote on Jan. 6, 2021.

During Wednesday's hearing, which was part of preliminary examinations for the so-called fake electors, Howard Shock, a special agent for the attorney general's office, also testified that former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis is also an unindicted co-conspirator.

Shock's revelation was in response to questions from Duane Silverthorn, an attorney for Michele Lundgren, one of the so-called fake electors.

"Finally, former President Donald Trump?" asked Silverthorn.

"Yes," Shock testified.

Ted Goodman, Giuliani's political adviser, said in a statement that the former New York City mayor is "proud to stand up for the countless Americans who raised legitimate concerns surrounding the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election."

"He won't be bullied or pressured into silence by highly partisan actors," the statement said.

Nessel dismissed the charges against one of the alleged fake electors in October in exchange for cooperating with the case. The state is still pursuing charges against the other 15 defendants.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

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Biden says US to begin sending military equipment to Ukraine within 'hours'

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. will begin sending military equipment to Ukraine within "a few hours" after the passage of a long-stalled foreign aid package, President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday.

In remarks from the White House, Biden said he had just signed the $95 billion package. He said it will make both America and the world "safer."

"It was a difficult path [to my desk] and it should have been easier, and it should have gotten there sooner," Biden said of the legislation, which was first requested by the administration last fall and seemed all but dead due to GOP-led opposition in the House before the sudden reversal of Speaker Mike Johnson.

"But in the end, we did what America always does: we rose to the moment, came together and we got it done," the president continued. "Now we need to move fast, and we are."

The package provides roughly $61 billion for Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders, marking the first time in over a year Congress has approved new aid for the war-torn ally. The war has intensified in recent weeks, as more Russian strikes break through with Ukraine's air defenses running low.

In anticipation of the legislation passing, the Biden administration worked up a roughly $1 billion military assistance package for Ukraine, a U.S. official told ABC News on Tuesday.

President Biden said the supplies being immediately sent to Ukraine includes desperately needed air defense munitions, artillery for rocket systems and armored vehicles. He said the supplies will come from U.S. stockpiles that will be replenished by products made by American companies.

Last month, the United States provided Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles at Biden's direction, a senior administration official confirmed to ABC News. The missiles were first used last week in an attack on Crimea and another on Tuesday near Berdyansk, a United States official confirmed to ABC News.

ATACM missiles can generally can reach distances between 70 to 300 kilometers.

"America stands with our friends," Biden said. "We stand up against dictators. We bow to no one, to no one, certainly not Vladimir Putin."

Still, he swiped at "MAGA Republicans" for blocking aid for months while Ukrainian supplies ran low and Russia received help from Iran, North Korea and China.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Congress for the approval of the "vital aid," and emphasized how urgent the issue is.

"The key now is speed," he wrote in a statement posted to X. "The speed of implementing agreements with partners on the supply of weapons for our warriors. The speed of eliminating all Russian schemes to circumvent sanctions. The speed of finding political solutions to protect lives from Russian terror. Every leader who does not waste time is a life saver."

The foreign aid package also includes $26 billion for Israel, currently at war with Hamas in Gaza, as well as $8 billion for allies in the Indo-Pacific. Plus, it includes sanctions on Russia, China and Iran as well as a provision to seize Russian assets to assist Ukraine in rebuilding after the war.

Also tucked into the package is a measure to force a U.S. ban of TikTok if its Chinese parent company doesn't divest from the app within a year, though the company is likely to sue to try to block the law.

Speaking on the Israel aid, Biden said his commitment to the defense of the Jewish state remained "ironclad" while also emphasizing the law includes $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza. He said Israel must ensure the aid, including food, water and medicine, reaches Palestinian civilians "without delay."

However, Biden lamented one thing not being included in the law: border security.

Republican hard-liners and Johnson had initially insisted foreign aid be tied to border policy changes, arguing more resources shouldn't be sent overseas without addressing domestic issues such as immigration. But then Johnson rejected a bipartisan deal that would have changed asylum laws, hired more immigration judges and more. After the compromise fell apart, the Senate passed its own foreign aid bill that languished in the House before Johnson last week forged ahead with individual votes on foreign aid with the help of Democrats.

"It was bipartisan. It should have been included in this bill and I'm determined to get it done for the American people," Biden said on Wednesday of the immigration proposal.

Closing his remarks, Biden thanked the top congressional leaders -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Johnson and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries -- for eventually uniting on this issue.

"History will remember this moment for all the talk about how dysfunctional things are in Washington, when you look over the past three years, we see that time and again on the critical issues we've actually come together," he said.

ABC News' Selina Wang and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court weighs scope of Idaho abortion ban in first post-Roe test

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, for the first time since overruling Roe v. Wade, considered the scope of a state abortion ban and whether a federal law governing emergency care protects access to abortion at hospitals when a woman's health is at risk.

Idaho's Defense of Life Act, which took effect in August 2022, prohibits nearly all abortions, with exceptions for reported cases of rape or incest or when "necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman."

The Biden administration sued the state, claiming its law conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986, which requires emergency room physicians at hospitals that receive Medicare funds to offer "stabilizing treatment" to all patients whose health is in jeopardy.

The justices will decide whether EMTALA, which does not specifically address abortion, preempts Idaho's abortion ban and similar measures in 20 other states, protecting a doctor's ability to terminate a pregnancy in an emergency situation if care requires it.

Abortion rights advocates say critical health care for a narrow category of pregnant women facing tragic and potentially life-altering conditions hangs in the balance in more than a dozen states that have strict abortion bans with limited exceptions.

Several Republican-led states, backed by anti-abortion groups, say the case could have sweeping implications for their regulation of medical practices and the ability of legislators to set policy on abortion that reflects the view of their communities.

The justices – who did not appear to break cleanly along ideological lines – grappled with a series of overlapping factual and legal disputes surrounding Idaho’s Defense of Life Act and its exceptions.

The court’s liberal wing – Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson – vigorously suggested that the state law conflicts with the EMTALA, which requires emergency room physicians at hospitals nationwide that receive Medicare funds to offer "stabilizing treatment."

Several of the court’s conservatives – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – voiced support for Idaho’s law and each state’s ability to set its own medical regulations, including what types of treatments should be allowed. EMTALA makes no explicit mention of abortion.

Much of the debate during oral arguments, which stretched two hours, centered on whether there is truly any conflict on the ground in Idaho between state law and EMTALA in practice.

Idaho argues there is no conflict and that women facing emergency situations can receive the care they need, including abortions, if medically necessary.

The Biden administration insists women are having to be transferred out of state in precarious health conditions in order to get a medically-necessary abortion.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett appeared more conflicted about how to resolve the dispute. Each expressed concern about the ability of doctors to perform an abortion if critically needed to protect a woman from serious harm but also wrestled with Idaho’s assertion that such options are already in place.

The administration argues the federal law explicitly makes clear that state laws are overridden to the extent they "directly conflict with a requirement" of EMTALA.

"EMTALA requires us as physicians to act in an emergency to preserve health – even the health of an organ system, like the reproductive system, as one example," said Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician executive at Idaho's St. Luke's Health System. "Idaho's law only allows action to save life, not preserve health."

Idaho contends that Congress enacted EMTALA solely to prevent hospitals from turning away indigent patients or otherwise discriminating against patients on the basis of their condition or status.

"EMTALA leaves the question of specific treatments for stabilizing care to state law," Idaho told the court in its brief. "Indeed, EMTALA treats medical emergencies faced by the unborn child of a pregnant woman no differently than emergencies faced by the mother herself."

The state also argues that the Supreme Court's 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health – overturning constitutional protection for abortion – explicitly returned the issue to the states. It accuses the Administration of trying to "reimpose a federal abortion requirement."

"The purpose of the law is to protect the life of mothers and their unborn children," said Dr. Ingrid Skop, a Texas-based OBGYN and vice president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion group. "All states allow doctors to use reasonable and good faith judgment on when to intervene. Abortion is rare, if ever, necessary" in an emergency.

The stakes in the case are significant.

"If the court sides with Biden, it would be incredibly troubling and a sweeping precedent for them to set," said Katie Daniel, state policy director for SBA Pro-Life America.

Major American medical organizations have warned that state abortion bans without exceptions for a pregnant woman's health could lead some women to experience lasting harm.

"Before the law, we practiced medicine to preserve the mom's health and future reproductive capability. Since then, there's been a lot of second-guessing and hand wringing," said Souza, "Is she sick enough? Is she bleeding enough? Is she septic enough for me to do an abortion and not go to jail or lose my license?"

Hospital groups have reported increased difficulty hiring OBGYNs and emergency room physicians in states like Idaho because of potential liability from strict abortion laws with few exceptions.

"This case could radically alter how emergency medicine is practiced in this country," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an ACLU attorney supportive of abortion rights.

"For nearly 40 years, EMTALA has required every hospital with an emergency department that takes Medicaid funds to provide stabilizing treatment to any individual who needs it regardless of where they live," she said. "No state law can force hospitals to provide a lesser standard of care. But now the court is deciding whether states can override that."

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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont pushes for more financial literacy education in schools

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. Via ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Half of the country now has state laws that require financial literacy for high schoolers, teaching them the ins and outs of balancing a checkbook, opening a bank account and more.

Some educators and elected officials, like Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, are calling for such programs to be taught nationwide.

Lamont, who pushed for the program in his state last year, spoke with ABC News Live's Linsey Davis Tuesday about the issue.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So give us a sense, one year later: Has the requirement made a big difference?

GOV. NED LAMONT: We're just getting started, but it's going to be a requirement in all of our high schools to have the credit. You and I took economics maybe some years ago. Me, back in the Ming Dynasty, was microeconomics. [It was] not very relevant. Today we want people to have the basic skills they need to live, be it take out a bank loan or a mortgage, balancing the checkbook, credit card overpayment, draft fees, [and] basics of life.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So our government could probably benefit from this. Balancing the checkbook, not over-drafting. All of that. What do you say to those who argue that this is important but shouldn't be a requirement?

LAMONT: I think what is necessary to live in the 21st century should be a requirement. And we've been teaching economics, as I joked, [in] a variety of different ways over the last 100 years. But making it relevant to people's lives makes education come to life, and that's what we're trying to do.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Congress just hosted its annual bipartisan financial literacy fair on Capitol Hill. So there's an obvious eagerness for this in Washington. Is there a push for a national adoption of this as a requirement for high schoolers, and do you think there should be?

LAMONT: I think it makes pretty good sense. If you want to give us another year to see how it works out and how we're really making things happen, then come to Connecticut. We'll tell you what we got right and what we got to work on.

ABC NEWS LIVE: As governor of a state, you've pushed for regulation of social media in our classrooms, talking about the distraction it poses to children. You brought up TikTok, in particular in your last State of the State address, and the app could very well be banned soon due to legislation on Capitol Hill, as you well know. You've said a national ban would be a "slippery slope." How so?

LAMONT: I think when you start telling people what they can watch or what they can't watch, that could be a slippery slope. I would be very careful about that. But Linsey, what we've done in Connecticut, I recommend it to all of our superintendents. Let's get the smartphones out of the schools, or at least out of the classrooms. And we're coming up with a policy there that superintendents can act on, where you maybe drop your iPhone into a Yondr pouch on your way into the school, and you pick it up at the end of the day. In the meantime, you listen and actually interact with your fellow students.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Interaction with fellow students. What a novel idea there. But I am curious, do you think that TikTok poses a security threat?

LAMONT: I think potentially it does. And it's not necessarily by a foreign government, but ByteDance, which has major American investors in it, as you probably know. You know, there is a risk there. I rely upon the intelligence community. I just say I want to be very careful before you abridge people's First Amendment rights, [and] what they can say and what they can do. We do that carefully.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Understood. I am curious, would you disagree with the president if he were to sign legislation banning it?

LAMONT: No, I think I'd follow his lead on that. He has more of the intelligence briefings than I do. I would just say be careful. Our freedoms are often abridged in the name of national security. Be careful.

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Supreme Court takes up Trump's claim of 'absolute immunity' from criminal prosecution

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the press during his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Apr. 22, 2024. (Angela Weiss/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Against the backdrop of a divisive 2024 presidential campaign, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday will take up the monumental question of whether a former president turned presumptive GOP nominee can be criminally prosecuted for his efforts to stay in power after the last election.

The case, Donald J. Trump v. United States, presents an unprecedented constitutional quandary for the court brought about by equally unprecedented actions by former President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden by a margin of seven million popular votes.

The outcome could determine whether Trump faces a federal trial this year on four felony counts pressed by special counsel Jack Smith, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of an official proceeding, for his attempts to overturn the electoral vote count certifying Biden's victory.

Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, is seeking to quash the case on the claim that as a former president he enjoys "absolute immunity" from criminal prosecution for any "official acts" during his tenure. He is the first American president -- current or former -- to ever face criminal charges.

"The President cannot function, and the Presidency itself cannot retain its vital independence, if the President faces criminal prosecution for official acts once he leaves office," Trump's attorneys wrote in their opening brief to the high court.

"Denial of criminal immunity would incapacitate every future President with de facto blackmail and extortion while in office, and condemn him to years of post-office trauma at the hands of political opponents," they argued.

Two courts have resoundingly rejected the former president's immunity arguments, including a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

"Former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant," the panel wrote. "Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct."

The appeals court warned that if Trump's constitutional theory were accepted, it would "collapse our system of separated powers" by putting a president above the law.

Smith, the special counsel, argues in his brief to the high court that Trump's assertion lacks any historical precedent and undermines the founders' vision of a presidency restrained in power.

"The effective functioning of the presidency does not require that a former president be immune from accountability for these alleged violations of federal criminal law," he wrote the justices. "To the contrary, a bedrock principle of our constitutional order is that no person is above the law -- including the President."

A trial date in Smith's federal election case against Trump was initially set for March 4 in U.S. District Court but was delayed awaiting a final decision by the Supreme Court. A ruling on the immunity claim is expected before July, as soon as mid-May.

The justices could uphold the appeals court decision in its entirety, clearing the way for a trial this summer, or they could take a middle-road approach, spelling out what actions qualify for immunity and which do not, sending the case back to lower courts for further proceedings. Such an outcome could rule out a trial before the November election.

Most legal analysts say it's highly unlikely the Supreme Court -- with its conservative majority and three Trump appointees -- will endorse Trump's sweeping assertion of "absolute immunity." In a 2020 decision, the same court rejected a similar immunity claim by Trump in his attempt to reject a grand jury subpoena for his tax returns.

A majority of Americans (51%) think the federal indictment of Trump related to Jan. 6 and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election is very serious, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll from late last year.

Just over half of respondents -- 52% -- think Trump should have been charged with a crime in this case, while 32% said he should not have been. At the same time, 46% think the charges against Trump are politically motivated, while 40% do not, per the poll conducted using Ipsos' KnowledgePanel.

Trump's legal team has argued that the impeachment process is the only check on a president's conduct allowed by the Constitution, even as they concede that a president who is impeached, convicted and removed from office could subsequently face criminal prosecution for the same acts.

Trump was impeached by the House in 2021 over his efforts to overturn results of the 2020 election but later acquitted by the Senate after he had left office. The former president argues that his actions were part of a legally legitimate effort to ensure election integrity.

Smith insists former presidents have never been immune from prosecution and have always been aware of the potential for prosecution. He cites in court briefs the case of former President Richard Nixon accepting a pardon from President Gerald Ford as evidence that Nixon believed prosecution was possible after he had resigned.

While Supreme Court precedent has limited civil litigation against presidents, the special counsel contends criminal matters are different -- and that there are layers of legal safeguards in the system to prevent partisan harassment and protect due process.

"Even if liability could not be premised on official acts," Smith wrote the justices in his brief, "the case should be remanded for trial, with the district court to make evidentiary and instructional rulings in accordance with this Court's decision. Petitioner [Trump] could seek appellate review of those rulings, if necessary, following final judgment."

After oral arguments on Thursday, the justices will vote during their weekly private conference and begin drafting opinions. They are expected to be released before the court's term ends in June.

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How the Supreme Court stepping into the Trump immunity fray could affect a Jan. 6 trial

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- When the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would decide whether former President Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution in the federal government's election subversion case, many court experts considered it a major win for his team -- because it means a trial could be substantially delayed again or even not happen at all.

The timing of a decision is critical. For example: What if it doesn't allow a trial to start until just before the November election, in the heat of the 2024 campaign? What happens if Trump wins the presidency before any verdict is reached?

The justices will hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday. The central question before the court is "whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy Presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office."

In taking up the case, the court moved faster than it typically does, experts told ABC News, but history shows it could have acted an even more expedited basis -- as it has in other high-stakes cases.

"The court's decision to take the appeal and not move as quickly as it could have surprised and disappointed many court watchers," Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional expert at the University of North Carolina, told ABC News. "Its decision obviously helps to delay at least one criminal case against former President Trump."

Experts point to how the court handled Bush v. Gore, when the justices intervened to end a ballot recount and effectively hand George W. Bush the presidency in the 2000 election. That case was argued and decided within four days, and they note that, while it's possible the court could act in a similar way in Trump's case, they say that's not likely.

It's more likely, they say, that a decision will come when the court's term ends in late June or early July.

"The longer it takes for the court to decide, the more it helps Trump," Gerhardt said. "If it says he is immune to the prosecution, that will be the end of it. Otherwise, it will be a race to get the trial started if not finished before the election."

In United States v. Nixon, the Watergate scandal tapes case, the Supreme Court heard arguments July 8, 1974, and issued its opinion rejecting his claim of executive privilege 16 days later.

If the justices acted on a similar timeline in Trump's case -- and rejected his immunity claim -- a trial could likely still happen before Election Day, according to Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.

"A 16-day window is ample time for the case," Eisen said on a call with reporters in late February. "Even if they take a little longer, this case can still be litigated. Judge Chutkan has said she will treat Donald Trump like any other criminal defendant."

Trump's election subversion trial was originally set to begin March 4 by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan but she has frozen the case while Trump appeals the immunity question. Two lower courts have rejected his claim, including a unanimous decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Anticipating Trump's strategy to try to delay, Smith asked the Supreme Court in December to immediately take up the case. The justices rejected his request, allowing the federal appeals court to hear the matter first.

After eventually agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allowed almost two months before hearing oral arguments.

"There is a sense in which this feels like a very middle of the road position," said Jessica Roth, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and a former federal prosecutor. "What I read between the lines is some compromise among the justices about the need to take the case, the urgency of the case and what they see as being necessary or how broadly they think they need to weigh in."

"If this trial does not come to pass, it will be on the Supreme Court and all of the Supreme Court if they capitulate to the MAGA-wing of the court," Eisen said.

What happens next?

After the Supreme Court hears from both sides, the key question becomes how quickly it hands down a decision and its scope.

When Judge Chutkan first paused the trial due to Trump's appeals on immunity, there were 88 days left until it was scheduled to begin. She previously indicated that if she is allowed to resume the case, she would give Trump's team the same length of time to prepare.

So, if the Supreme Court waits until the end of its term make a decision, a trial might not begin until early fall when the campaign is in full swing -- or possibly even after the election.

Trump already is claiming election interference and political prosecution, accusing Smith of bringing the case to get him off the campaign trail. He and his allies are likely to ramp up those attacks if the trial begins after the GOP convention in July.

In a court filing in February, Smith told the justices there is a "national interest" in seeing the charges against Trump "resolved promptly" because they "strike at the heart of our democracy," although he didn't mention the November election.

Roth, the Cardozo Law School professor, said if Trump wins the election and takes office in January -- and the trial has not yet concluded -- he could direct his attorney general to end the prosecution. If he wins and takes office after already being convicted, he could in theory pardon himself -- something unprecedented, and, experts say, would likely be challenged.

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Senate passes $95B foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan: What's next?

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Tuesday night passed a package to deliver $95 billion in foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan -- a bipartisan win months in the making.

The package was approved 79-18.

Thirty-one Republicans joined with 48 Democrats to pass the legislation. That's nine more Republicans than supported the aid package when the Senate last considered it in February.

Two Democrats -- Sens. Merkley and Welch -- as well as independent Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the legislation along with 15 Republicans.

The legislation includes four bills that passed in the House over the weekend with bipartisan support.

The package now heads to President Joe Biden's desk where he said in a statement he expects to sign on Wednesday.

"[A] bipartisan majority in the Senate joined the House to answer history’s call at this critical inflection point," Biden said in a statement. "Congress has passed my legislation to strengthen our national security and send a message to the world about the power of American leadership: we stand resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression."

"I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week," his statement continued. "The need is urgent: for Ukraine, facing unrelenting bombardment from Russia; for Israel, which just faced unprecedented attacks from Iran; for refugees and those impacted by conflicts and natural disasters around the world, including in Gaza, Sudan, and Haiti; and for our partners seeking security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. I want to thank Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, and all of the bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate who voted for this bill. This critical legislation will make our nation and world more secure as we support our friends who are defending themselves against terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin."

The package provides roughly $26 billion for Israel, currently at war with Hamas in Gaza; as well as $61 billion for Ukraine and $8 billion for allies in the Indo-Pacific. A fourth bill would force a U.S. ban of TikTok if its Chinese parent company doesn't sell it; impose sanctions on Russia, China and Iran; and seize Russian assets to help Ukraine rebuild from the war's damage.

"A lot of people inside and outside the Congress wanted this package to fail. But today, those in Congress who stand on the side of democracy are winning the day," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the Senate voted to pass procedural votes on Tuesday afternoon. "To our friends in Ukraine, to our allies in NATO, to our allies in Israel, and to civilians around the world in need of help -- help is on the way."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, during a fulsome press conference after the procedural vote, said he believes his party is beginning to beat back the trends of isolationism he has fought against. He conceded that the isolationist streak in his party is not gone, but he said he believes progress has been made.

"If you're looking for a trend I think it's a trend in the direction that I would like to see us go, which is America steps up to its leadership role in the world and does what it needs to do," McConnell said.

He counted the groundswell of GOP support a win.

"I think we've turned the corner on this argument," he said, adding, "I think we've turned the corner on the isolationist movement. I've noticed how uncomfortable proponents of that are when you call them isolationists. I think we've made some progress and I think it's going to have to continue."

Schumer applauded the bipartisan approach to pass this legislation -- including his work with McConnell.

"Leader McConnell and I, who don't always agree, worked hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder to get this bill done. Together we were bipartisan and persistent," Schumer said.

What's next?

Congress' passage helps provide aid to ally countries -- including Ukraine, which can't win its fight against Russia without the funding, America's top general in Europe said earlier this month.

"They are now being out shot by the Russian side five to one. So Russians fire five times as many artillery shells at the Ukrainians then the Ukrainians are able to fire back," U.S. European Command's Gen. Christopher Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee. "That will immediately go to 10 to one in a matter of weeks. We're not talking about months."

The outcome of the war could hang in the balance, according to Cavoli.

"The severity of this moment cannot be overstated. If we do not continue to support Ukraine, Ukraine could lose," he said.

In anticipation of the bill passing, the Biden administration has worked up a roughly $1 billion military assistance package for Ukraine with the first shipment arriving within days of approval, a U.S. official told ABC News on Tuesday.

The package will include desperately needed artillery rounds, air defense ammunition and armored vehicles, according to the official. The weapons and equipment will be drawn from existing U.S. stockpiles under presidential drawdown authority (PDA).

It has been more than a year since Congress approved new aid for Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders. The war has intensified in recent weeks, as more Russian strikes break through with Ukraine's air defenses running low.

President Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday to reiterate U.S. support for the nation. Zelenskyy said he was "grateful" to Biden "for his unwavering support for Ukraine and for his true global leadership."

The Ukrainian leader commended House Speaker Mike Johnson -- whose position on Ukraine aid evolved from also requiring changes to border and immigration policy to working with Democrats to pass the latest bills -- and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Biden first requested more assistance for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific last fall. The Senate passed a $95 billion bill in February, but the legislation faced a logjam in the House as a coalition of Republican hard-liners grew opposed to sending more resources overseas without addressing domestic issues like immigration.

At the same time, GOP leaders like Johnson echoed those concerns and had pushed for major changes to immigration policy, though a sweeping deal in the Senate to tie foreign aid to such changes was opposed by former President Donald Trump and rejected by conservatives as insufficient.

Then, pressure increased on lawmakers to pass aid to overseas allies after Iran's unprecedented attacks on Israel earlier this month, in retaliation for a strike on an Iranian consular complex in Syria, and as Russian forces continue to make offensive gains.

Speaker Johnson, once opposed to more aid for Ukraine, said last week he was "willing" to stake his job on the issue as an ouster threat looms from fellow Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Thomas Massie and Paul Gosar.

Johnson earned bipartisan praise for the reversal.

"He tried to do what the, you know, say the Freedom Caucus wanted him to do. It wasn't going to work in the Senate or the White House," Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, said on ABC's This Week Sunday. "At the end of the day, we were running out of time. Ukraine's getting ready to fall."

Johnson, McCaul said, "went through a transformation" on the issue.

After the procedural votes' passing, Schumer even praised Johnson.

"I thank Speaker Johnson, who rose to the occasion, in his own words, said he had to do the right thing despite the enormous political pressure on him" Schumer said.

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George Santos ends long shot comeback bid for Congress after being expelled

Rep. George Santos is surrounded by journalists as he leaves the Capitol after his fellow members of Congress voted to expel him from the House of Representatives, Dec. 1, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Disgraced former Rep. George Santos has suspended a long shot comeback bid to represent New York's 1st Congressional District, he said on Tuesday, insisting that his challenge to incumbent Republican Rep. Nick LaLota would "all but guarantee" a Democrat takes the seat in November.

"I don't want my run to be portrayed as reprisal against Nick Lalota… Although Nick and I don't have the same voting record and I remain critical of his abysmal record, I don't want to split the ticket and be responsible for handing the house to Dems," Santos, who has said he was switching his party affiliation from Republican to independent, said in a statement on X.

LaLota has been dismissive of Santos but not of Santos' challenge itself, previously calling his former colleague an "embarrassment" and "one of the most bizarre people I have ever met" but saying he would take the race "seriously."

Santos was removed from the House in a historic vote in early December -- after an internal campaign led in part by LaLota -- and he has pleaded not guilty to pending charges that include wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The former congressman's time in office was also marred by scandal surrounding his background, parts of which he admitted to lying about or distorting, though he insisted some details amounted to more routine resume embellishments.

Santos suggested on Tuesday that this isn't the end of his political aspirations, and his account as a digital content creator on Cameo, selling personalized videos, remains active.

"I have [met] with leaders and with constituents and I have made the decision to hang it up here and stop perusing this race, THIS YEAR!" he said in his statement.

"The future holds countless possibilities and I am ready willing and able to step up to the plate and go fight for my country at anytime," he said. "I will continue to participate in the public policy discussion and will do my part… I will always strive to stand on the right side of history. It's only goodbye for now, I'll be back."

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FTC bans noncompete agreements for many Americans but legal battle looms that would delay change

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission narrowly voted on Tuesday to ban noncompete agreements in a move that could affect up to 30 million Americans -- one out of every five workers -- in jobs ranging from executives to minimum wage earners.

While the ban was celebrated by labor unions, pro-business groups have staunchly opposed it and threatened legal action.

Noncompete agreements are clauses in employment contracts that bar an employee from working at a rival company, usually within a certain geographic area or for a certain amount of time.

FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement after Tuesday's vote that the noncompete ban, first proposed last year, would "ensure Americans have the freedom to pursue a new job, start a new business, or bring a new idea to market."

"Noncompete clauses keep wages low, suppress new ideas, and rob the American economy of dynamism, including from the more than 8,500 new startups that would be created a year once noncompetes are banned," Khan said.

The FTC rule would take effect in 120 days. But that timeline will likely be delayed by a high-stakes legal battle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce told ABC News it plans to sue the FTC within the next day.

"The Federal Trade Commission's decision to ban employer noncompete agreements across the economy is not only unlawful but also a blatant power grab that will undermine American businesses' ability to remain competitive," the chamber's CEO, Suzanne Clark, said in a statement.

But the AFL-CIO, the country's largest union organization, in a statement lauded the FTC's "strong" ban and said "[n]oncompete agreements trap workers from finding better jobs, drive down wages, and stifle competition."

The FTC said the ban, should it survive court scrutiny, would apply to all workers entering into new employment agreements as they accept new jobs.

For workers with existing agreements, noncompetes would no longer be enforceable, so companies could no longer stop their employees from taking jobs with competitors.

One exception is carved out for "senior executives" with existing noncompetes who earn more than $151,164 per year, which is fewer than 1% of workers, according to the FTC.

The FTC says it expects the ban would increase workers' combined wages by up to $488 billion over the next decade, with the average worker's earnings rising an estimated $524 per year.

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Trump 'ripped away' abortion rights nationwide, Biden argues as he urges women to back him

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to commemorate Earth Day at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Va., April 22, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday called out rival Donald Trump by name, blaming the former president in a high-profile speech in Florida for the spread of abortion bans since the end of Roe v. Wade as he encouraged women voters to back him in November -- and rebuke those he called opponents of reproductive freedom.

"Let's be real clear: There's one person responsible for this nightmare, and he's acknowledged and he brags about it: Donald Trump," Biden said in a speech from Hillsborough Community College outside Tampa, speaking one week before the state's six-week ban, with narrow exceptions, goes into effect.

It was Trump, Biden argued, who had "ripped away" women's freedom around the country by naming three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled against Roe. But it was women who hold the political power to push back, Biden said.

"When you do that, it will teach Donald Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans a valuable lesson: Don't mess with the women of America," he said.

Biden's appearance, which spurred jeers for Trump and cheers for his defense of abortion access, was the latest high-profile effort by his campaign to spotlight the issue as the general election fight gears up.

Ahead of the event, aides had said Biden's remarks would tie access to contraception, to in vitro fertilization and to abortion to the results of the looming 2024 election, painting a picture of what's at stake this cycle.

In his speech, the president invoked women forced to travel far from home for needed abortions or who have been unable to get emergency care under their states' restrictions.

He slammed Trump's position celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court decision overruling Roe in 2022 and returning the issue to the local level.

Since then, 21 states have enacted restrictions or bans on abortion.

Sarcastically quoting a previous Trump comment -- "the states are working very brilliantly, in some cases conservative, in some cases not conservative, but they're working" -- Biden said on Tuesday, "It's a six-week ban in Florida, it's really brilliant, isn't it? Even before women know they're pregnant, is that brilliant?"

Biden also tied Trump to a recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling reviving a strict, Civil War-era ban on nearly all abortions in the state, which could go into effect as soon as June.

Trump has said that ban goes too far and should be undone but Biden insisted in his remarks that "Trump is literally taking us back 160 years."

Abortion is not a state issue, Biden said. He was backed by a "Restore Roe" sign as he repeated a frequent promise that if enough Democratic lawmakers are elected and he stays in the White House, he will push to codify Roe's protections through Congress.

"He's [Trump is] wrong, the Supreme Court is was wrong. It should be a constitutional right in the federal Constitution, a federal right, and it shouldn't matter where in America you live," Biden said. "This isn't about states' rights, this is about women's rights."

The Biden campaign has increasingly attacked Trump over the issue of abortion, including his new stance that it should remain with local officials and voters.

Trump has stressed his support for three key exceptions of rape, incest and the pregnant woman's life and also says that he will not sign a national abortion ban if elected, reversing an earlier promise.

"We gave it back to the states .... And it's working the way it's supposed to," he said earlier this month.

Biden assailed that position in his Tuesday speech, contending that Trump is "worried that voters will hold him accountable" for the "cruelty and chaos" of state-level restrictions.

"The bad news for Trump is we are going to hold him accountable," Biden said.

He also said voters should not believe Trump's rhetoric on abortion now, given his history: "How many times does he have to prove [he] can't be trusted?"

"He describes the Dobbs decision [overruling Roe] as a miracle," Biden went on to say.

"Maybe it's coming from that Bible he's trying to sell," Biden added, referring to a recent piece of Trump merchandise. "Whoa, I almost wanted to buy one just to see what the hell's in it."

Voters speak

June Johns, a registered Democrat in St. Petersburg, Florida, told ABC News she's concerned about women's reproductive rights in the country.

"I don't see how you can be pro-life and not be concerned about what's happening to women," Johns said. "Also, I'm here because I think Joe Biden is one of our best chances to preserve our democracy."

Another Democrat, Mary Hanrahan from Gulfport, Florida, applauded Biden for coming to the state ahead of the six-week abortion ban going into effect next week. Hanrahan singled out a ballot measure to expand abortion access that abortion advocates in Florida successfully added to the November ballot.

"I think we need everybody in Florida to vote yes on Amendment Four and get rid of the six-week abortion ban," Hanrahan said. "I think it's a bad idea. I think that people need to be in charge of their own bodies."

Abortion 'will decide this election,' Dems say

Democrats have seized on the issue of abortion access, seeing success in both battleground and red states when it's on the ballot since 2022 -- which Biden's campaign noted this week in previewing his trip on Tuesday.

"Abortion bans are now a voting issue in battleground states across the country. That will decide this election," said Jen Cox, a Biden campaign adviser in Arizona.

Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler joined Cox on a call with reporters ahead of Biden's trip to Florida and said that "whenever abortion rights have been on the ballot, they've won."

"In November, Florida will have a referendum on the ballot and Arizona and Nevada are likely to as well," Tyler said then. "The last time there was an abortion referendum on the ballot in 2012, President [Barack] Obama won the state. So, with our enormous financial advantage, the Biden-Harris campaign can afford to invest in many paths to victory and that includes Florida."

As proposed abortion initiatives to expand or protect access are set to appear on several state ballots this November, including in Arizona, Florida and Nevada, the Biden campaign has emphasized what they see as the threat Republicans pose to allowing abortions. Democrats believe the issue is galvanizing to their base and crucial swing voters.

Tuesday's remarks from Biden in Florida were also notable, however, given his complicated relationship with the issue of abortion because of his personal faith as a devout Catholic.

"I'm not big on abortion," he acknowledged last year. "But guess what? Roe v. Wade got it right. Roe v. Wade [generally allowing abortions through the second trimester] cut in a place where the vast majority of religions have reached agreement."

Other Democrats have urged Biden to be more full-throated.

During an interview in January on CBS' "Face The Nation," when asked if Biden needs to talk about abortion more, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, "I think it would be good if he did."

Instead, the president has leaned heavily on Vice President Kamala Harris to be the campaign's primary messenger.

She launched a "Reproductive Freedom Tour" in January and quickly traveled to Arizona this month after the state's Supreme Court ruling upholding the 160-year-old, near-total abortion ban.

Biden's trip to Florida on Tuesday also underscores Democrats' tentative optimism that they could retake the state this November after being defeated in 2020 and 2016 -- at the same time that Republicans have seen a slew of notable wins there, including the rise of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Republicans who spoke with ABC News have played down Democratic zeal, pointing to the many local races the GOP has been winning and Democrats' past messaging on abortion in elections they lost.

Referring to the six-week ban, Evan Power, the chair of the Florida GOP, said that "this is what the voters sent their legislators to Tallahassee to deliver on and they did deliver on it. So I don't think there's a backlash coming in at all."

But the Biden campaign insists they see opportunity.

"I don't think the president coming to the state tomorrow to talk about the fundamental stakes in this election for women in Florida and across the country is 'window dressing.' We take Florida very seriously," Tyler told reporters earlier this week. "The idea that Donald Trump has the state in the bag could not be further from the truth."

ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Mary Bruce, Libby Cathey, Fritz Farrow, Molly Nagle and Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

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DOJ announces $138M settlement with Larry Nassar's victims over claims of FBI misconduct

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced it has reached a $138.7 million settlement deal with victims of the disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to resolve their claims of wrongdoing against the FBI in its failures to investigate allegations of sexual abuse.

“For decades, Lawrence Nassar abused his position, betraying the trust of those under his care and medical supervision while skirting accountability,” Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said in a statement. “These allegations should have been taken seriously from the outset. While these settlements won’t undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will help give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing.”

Once finalized, the settlement will resolve 139 tort claims filed against the DOJ and the FBI in 2022 by the long list of athletes and patients who reported abuse by Nassar, including Maggie Nichols, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.

The claims, which in total sought roughly $1 billion in damages, were filed after the department said it was declining to pursue criminal charges against agents whom the DOJ's inspector general found failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse by Nassar.

The watchdog report found the FBI was notified of Nassar's behavior but failed to act for more than 14 months, a period where Nassar is alleged to have abused at least 40 more girls and women.

Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 in connection with crimes against several victims and was sentenced to 60 years behind bars for child pornography and other charges. He again pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to an additional 40 to 175 years for multiple counts of sexual assault of minors.

Attorneys for many of those who brought claims against the government celebrated the agreement on Tuesday but said "the FBI fundamentally failed to protect hundreds of women and girls from sexual abuse through inaction and total mishandling of their Larry Nassar investigation."

"We are proud to have achieved a monumental settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, that not only secures the recovery the survivors deserve but also holds the DOJ and FBI accountable for their failures," Megan Bonanni and Michael L. Pitt said in a statement. "We hope this serves as a lesson for federal law enforcement and they make the changes necessary to prevent anything like this from happening again."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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