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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow in Rep. Elijah Cummings, talks to the hosts of ABC's "The View," for Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 20, 2020. - (Lou Rocco/Walt Disney Television)(WASHINGTON) -- Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of late Maryland Rep. Elijiah Cummings, paid tribute to her husband on ABC's The View on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, lauding his lifelong battle to secure democracy and promote equality.

“He was a very empathetic man," Rockeymoore Cummings told the hosts. "He grew up in a segregated Baltimore, so he knew what it was like for Americans’ history of hatred to influence and depress the opportunities for a whole generation of people just because of skin color."

She added, "He was determined that he was going to live his life in a way that opens doors for everyone."

Cummings, who passed away on Oct. 17, represented the Baltimore area in Congress and was the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee. He was also a key player in the beginning stages of the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

His involvement in the House Democrats' impeachment probe attracted sharp criticism from Trump, who once attacked the congressman and Baltimore on Twitter, calling the city "a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess."

"It hurt him deeply. And it hurt him at his worst moment," Rockeymoore Cummings told The View hosts in response to the tweet. "Elijiah was already battling health issues, so to have the president come out and do this at that time, it really depressed him and it stressed him and I think it undermined his health."

Before his passing, Cummings' told his fellow lawmakers and the public that his support of impeachment wasn't about "disliking the president," but about "loving democracy." Co-host Whoopi Goldberg even said he was known as the conscience of Congress.

Rockeymoore Cummings reminded the hosts that she's working on her campaign to fill the vacant congressional seat left open by her husband. She stepped down from her position as chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party in November, after announcing her plans to run, saying it is now her job to continue his legacy for justice.

"People are rising up all across the country. They are saying that 'we will not be oppressed,'" Rockeymoore Cummings said, adding "We have hordes of women who are running to take office... I am a part of that vanguard of people who are seeking to build on the legacy left by Elijiah Cummings."

Co-host Meghan McCain called on Rockeymoore Cummings for her internal strength.

"I don't think I could have run for anything three months after my father died," said McCain, the daughter of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, adding "Was Elijah supportive?"

"Absolutely," Rockeymoore Cummings said, explaining that she and the vigorous congressman were a team from the start, fighting together for a long time.

"Elijiah met me on Capitol Hill, I was already in the fight," Rockeymoore Cummings told the hosts. "We fought together for a very long time, and he expected me to continue the fight. On several occasions he told me that he thought I should run for his seat."

At the time, she said she told him that she didn't want to think about that, because that would mean Cummings -- who began his fight for civil rights at just 11 years old -- would be gone.

The conversation then turned to her health and preventative measures she's taken to ensure she can continue to fight for his legacy.

She told the hosts that she got a double mastectomy to slow or delay breast cancer, which runs in their family -- and claimed her mother's life in 2015.

The Democratic field to fill Cummings' seat is a crowded one: 24 candidates are in the running thus far.

Rockeymoore Cummings’ step-daughters announced their endorsement of Harry Spikes, Cummings’ longtime aide on Capitol Hill, in early December.

Kweisi Mfume, the former president of the NAACP -- who previously held the seat -- also announced he would compete to return to Congress.

Cummings was the first African American to lie in state at the Capitol. His ceremony was attended by many, including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

The special primary election to fill his seat is slated for Feb. 4.

The special general election will be held on Apr. 28, the same day as Maryland’s 2020 primary election.

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NoDerog/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- American elections have long been awash in cash, but a decade after the Supreme Court eliminated limits on political spending by outside groups, watchdogs say the system is drowning in it.

Ten years ago this week, the court decided Citizens United v FEC, a landmark 5-4 ruling that unleashed billions of dollars from corporations, labor unions and other groups into American campaigns as a protected form of free speech.

"The decision stands for freedom and encourages participation in the political process," said Michael Boos, vice president and general counsel of Citizens United, the conservative nonprofit organization which successfully challenged federal caps on independent political spending. "Money is speech, and that is a reality. Without money you can’t get your message out."

The 2020 election is projected to be the most expensive in history, in large part due to the spending by groups the Citizens United decision made possible, analysts say.

“The system today is funded by influence-seekers,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog. “We’ve had problems all along, but Citizens United just magnified it tremendously.”

The 2010 case cleared the way for creation of Super PACs, the political entities which can raise and spend unlimited sums to influence elections, so long as they don’t explicitly coordinate with a candidate.

During the 2016 campaign, more than 2,300 Super PACs spent $1.1 billion -- nearly 17% the $6.5 billion amount spent by all parties involved in the election cycle at all levels. Most of that money came from just 100 donors, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

By comparison, in 2010, there were just 83 active Super PACs, spending a combined $63 million during the cycle, the group said.

Super PACs have spent more than $2.9 billion in federal elections between 2010 and 2018, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That's just over 11%.

All outside groups, including Super PACs, labor unions, trade associations, corporations and others, spent a combined $5.6 billion in federal elections between 2010 and 2018. That's just over 21% of all spending in federal elections over the same period.

Corporations, unions and many of the nation’s wealthiest donors -- reluctant to draw negative attention for direct contributions to candidates or campaigns -- have poured funds into Super PACs, which are less well known and harder for the public to track.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court majority in Citizens United, concluded that the spending is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be considered a corrupt quid pro quo.

“The fact that a corporation, or any other speaker, is willing to spend money to try to persuade voters presupposes that the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials,” Kennedy wrote.

Two months later, in a separate case, the justices took things even further, striking down limits on contributions to independent political groups altogether.

“Justice Kennedy was generally skeptical of government regulation of constitutional rights--including the freedom of speech. I think his Citizens United opinion reflected his preference for liberty, rather than control,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law. “Moreover, I think both Republicans and Democrats alike have benefited from Citizens United. This decision is our new normal.”

With each successive year since the case was decided, spending in American political campaigns has continued to climb. The 2016 federal elections cost $6.5 billion, up 3% from four years earlier, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total cost of the 2000 election, by contrast, was around $3 billion.

The growing involvement of outside political groups is largely responsible for the increase.

Spending by all political organizations -- other than the candidates' campaigns -- has increased from $1.3 billion in 2012 (a presidential year) to $1.6 billion in 2016 (another presidential year). Between those two contests, Super PAC spending increased as a share of all outside money, from 47% to 64%.

The efforts by independent organizations to influence voters is not limited to presidential elections. During the 2014 midterm campaign, Super PAC spending was $345 million. In 2018, another midterm year, that jumped to $822 million, the data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

“The thought that the Constitution requires this toxic state of affairs is astonishing,” wrote four prominent constitutional and campaign finance scholars in a 2017 University of Chicago Law School working paper.

“According to the Supreme Court, Congress many prohibit a $5500 contribution to an official campaign because this contribution is corruption or creates the appearance of corruption,” the authors, Albert Alschuler, Laurence Tribe, Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, wrote. “However, Congress may not prohibit a $20 million contribution to a Super PAC because this contribution does not corrupt or create even an appearance of corruption.”

The federal contribution limit direct to candidates was $5,400 during the 2016 campaign cycle.

"The reason Super PACs are necessary is because of the artificially low contribution limits for candidates," said Boos. "A standard political action committee (PAC) can only give $5000 to a candidate. That’s it, per election, and that’s the same limit that was in place in 1976. It hasn’t even kept up with inflation."

Millions of voters say they are dissatisfied with the status quo.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found 3 in 4 Americans -- including majorities of Republicans and Democrats -- believe there “should be limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations” can spend in political campaigns.

Nearly as many believe it’s important that major political donors do not have more influence than others, the poll found.

Dozens of states have tried to implement their own campaign finance reforms in the wake of Citizens United.
 
Thirty-nine states restrict the amount individual donors can contribute to state campaigns, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But those laws have had mixed success.

In November 2019, the Supreme Court struck down Alaska's campaign contribution limits of $500 per candidate, per year in state races, saying such a stringent cap could violate the First Amendment.

“A contribution limit that is too low can therefore prove an obstacle to the very electoral fairness it seeks to promote," they wrote.

Twenty states have endorsed amending the Constitution to authorize Congress and states to set limits on campaign fundraising and spending, according to American Promise, a nonprofit organization leading the nationwide effort.

"Amendments are rare, and they’re hard. But they do happen," said the group's CEO Jeff Clements. "We did four amendments between 1961 and 1971 -- in ten years -- and you think about how turbulent that period was. Those were difficult times. Americans know we have some big structural problems we have to fix. I see this happening within a decade."

"It’s about free speech," Clements added. "Real free speech means some limits on the megaphone so that all ideas are heard."

In Congress, the House passed Democrat-sponsored legislation in 2019 that would overhaul the nation’s campaign finance system and establish an optional 6-to-1 public matching system for political donations under $200. It has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Eventually Citizens United is either going to be overturned or we’re going to pass an amendment,” said Wertheimer. “But there is a more immediate solution, and we’re very close now. If you can create another way of financing elections, and we’re on the doorstep right now, you can give candidates the opportunity to be free from the flood of influence-buying money that they face every two years.”

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The historic third presidential impeachment trial resumes on Tuesday, placing senators in the unusual position of serving as both judge and jury as they close in on rendering a verdict in the case of President Donald Trump.

Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., disagreed whether the president's conduct, forming the basis of the charges against him in the Senate trial, was an impeachable offense in separate interviews on ABC's "This Week."

A brief filed Saturday, written by the seven House impeachment managers, asserts that President Donald Trump's scheme to withhold $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine in order to seek the announcement of a probe to benefit him politically was "the Framers' worst nightmare."

"I don't know that has been actually proven," Shelby told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

When pressed by Stephanopoulos whether it was OK for the president to publicly request the Ukrainian and Chinese governments to get involved in the 2020 election, Shelby said those comments from the president were "just statements -- political."

"The president of the United States is human," Shelby said Sunday. "He's going to make mistakes of judgment and everything else."

 Booker, a former 2020 presidential candidate, said the president had "openly been engaging with Russians and others ... to undermine our election," calling it "a real threat to this nation."

"This is preposterous that this would not be an impeachable offense, that this standard in America is now that presidents could abuse their power to help in elections," Booker said.

Trump's legal team filed its response to the House's brief on Saturday, echoing the president's oft-repeated defense that he "did nothing wrong" and arguing that the articles of impeachment were "constitutionally invalid."

"And the fact that we can't even get Republicans to answer your question directly -- is that behavior wrong -- it is absolutely wrong," Booker told Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

 Shelby and Booker were sworn in as jurors in Trump's impeachment trial last week. The trial is set to resume on Tuesday when arguments get underway in the Senate. Both senators have acknowledged the need for a fair trial, despite disagreeing on the procedural mechanisms to achieve one.

Booker said on "This Week" that he would "press for what every objective juror should press for ... relevant fact witnesses coming before the Senate."

He has previously called the idea of a trial without witnesses "insane," saying it "makes no sense" for jurors in a big trial to not hear from "firsthand witnesses that saw what happened."

"I believe that we shouldn't be afraid of any witnesses," Shelby said Sunday, without definitively answering whether witnesses with firsthand knowledge, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, should testify.

"If they're going to add something substantive, something substantial ... that's one thing. But if they're not going to add to what already we have, that's another question."

 This will not be Shelby's first appearance at the impeachment trial of a sitting president. He served as a juror during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, where the issue of witnesses was similarly contentious. There, senators ultimately agreed to hear testimony from three witnesses via video depositions after a vote of 56-44.

Shelby acknowledged on "This Week" that he did vote to have witnesses testify in the Clinton trial.

If the Senate votes to refuse witnesses in Trump's trial, it will be the first time in U.S. history an impeachment trial has not allowed witness testimony.


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ABC News(NEW YORK) --  Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard professor emeritus who recently joined President Donald Trump's defense team, made the constitutional case against impeachment in an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

It's an argument that he said was successfully argued in President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial.

"When you read the text of the Constitution, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, 'other' really means that crimes and misdemeanors must be akin -- akin to treason and bribery," he told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

In a separate interview on "This Week" the lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, called Dershowitz's argument "absurdist."

"You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument," Schiff told Stephanopoulos. "You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers."

Dershowitz said that calling the argument absurdist is "to insult one of the greatest jurists in American history," referring to Justice Benjamin Curtis, who first made the argument in Johnson's impeachment trial.

"The argument is a strong one, the Senate should hear it. I am privileged to be able to make it," he said. "I have a limited role in the case. I'm only in the case as of counsel on the constitutional criteria for impeachment."

 Dershowitz argued that the president should not be impeached, even if House managers prove their case for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. When Stephanopoulos pressed Dershowitz about whether it was okay for the president to solicit foreign interference in an election, he said that was not his concern.

"If the allegations are not impeachable, then this trial should result in an acquittal, regardless of whether the conduct is regarded as OK by you or by me or by voters," he said. "That's an issue for the voters."

Almost a month after the House voted for two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the Senate impeachment trial formally began on Thursday.

 House managers outlined their formal case against the president in an 111-page brief filed with the Senate on Saturday night. In the filing, House managers argue that "the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming" that the president abused his power by seeking foreign interference in an election and followed that action by obstructing a congressional investigation.

"Senators must accept and fulfill the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and the Oaths they have just taken to do impartial justice," the brief said. "They must conduct a fair trial -- fair to the President and fair to the American people.”

On "This Week," Schiff made the case for having witnesses in the trial.

"If the Senate decides -- if Senator McConnell prevails and there are no witnesses, it will be the first impeachment trial in history that goes to conclusion without witnesses," he said.

Dershowitz said that the Constitution doesn't speak to whether or not there need to be witnesses in an impeachment trial. However, he also said that if witnesses are allowed, it could cause a delay.

"The one thing that's very clear is that if witnesses are permitted on one side, they have to be permitted on both sides," Dershowitz said. "And if witnesses are permitted, it will delay the trial considerably, because the president will invoke executive privilege as to people like (former national security adviser) John Bolton that will have to go to the court and we'll have to have a resolution of that before the trial continues."

 Following the House Democrats' filing their brief on Saturday, the president's lawyers formally responded to the articles of impeachment by reiterating the president's assertion that he did nothing wrong.

"This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election -- now just months away," the response from lead counsels Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow said. "The highly partisan and reckless obsession with impeaching the President began the day he was inaugurated and continues to this day."

When asked about the brief on "This Week," Dershowitz did not comment on the merits of the claims made in the response.

"I did not read that brief or sign that brief," he told Stephanopoulos. "That's not part of my mandate. My mandate is to present the constitutional argument."

Schiff called the president's formal response to the articles "surprising" because it doesn't offer more than the "failed arguments we heard in the House."

The president's legal team will has until noon Monday to submit their full trial brief.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Democrats filed a brief on Saturday outlining their formal case against President Donald Trump, as the Senate impeachment trial is set to continue next week.

The brief -- written by the seven House managers -- asserts that Trump’s scheme to withhold $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine in order to seek the announcement of a probe to benefit him politically was "the Framers’ worst nightmare."

The managers lay out across 111 pages the argument they intend to make, outlining the two articles of impeachment that were approved by the House in December, before the Senate with supporting evidence as early as Tuesday.

It also makes several references to the recently-released report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found the withholding of Ukraine aid illegal.

 "An announcement of a Ukrainian investigation into one of his key political rivals would be enormously valuable to President Trump in his efforts to win reelection in 2020 -- just as the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails had helped him in 2016," the filing states.

The managers added, "Ukraine’s announcement of that investigation would bolster the perceived legitimacy of his Presidency and, therefore, his political standing going into the 2020 race."

Despite the articles of impeachment being held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a month in order to try to secure an agreement on witnesses at the Senate trial, the managers collectively argued in today’s filing that the president poses an urgent threat to democracy and his conduct in the Ukraine matter warrants removal now from office.

"Although his sweeping cover-up effort ultimately failed -- seventeen public officials courageously upheld their duty, testified, and provided documentary evidence of the President’s wrongdoing ... his obstruction will do long-lasting and potentially irreparable damage to our constitutional system of divided powers if it goes unchecked," the trial brief says.

The House managers maintain that the facts of the case are "indisputable and the evidence in overwhelming" that the president used his power of office to solicit foreign interference into the United States' presidential election.

 "When the President got caught, he tried to cover it up by obstructing the House’s investigation into his misconduct," the brief said. "Senators must accept and fulfill the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and the Oaths they have just taken to do impartial justice."

They added that the Senate "must conduct a fair trial -- fair to the president and fair to the American people."

Trump's trial brief is due by noon on Monday. The House will have until Tuesday afternoon to respond.

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National Archives/Twitter(WASHINGTON) --  The National Archives put out an apology on Saturday after admitting to digitally altering a photo with references they deemed inappropriate, including signs critical of President Donald Trump.

"We made a mistake," the National Archives, a facility of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), said in a statement on Saturday, adding "we are and have always been completely committed to preserving our archival holdings, without alteration."

The statement went further to say the alterations were done because it was not an "archival record," but one licensed to be used as a promotion.

The agency maintains that it does not alter images or documents that are displayed as artifacts.

"Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image," the statement said.

 The photo -- taken from the first Women's March in Washington back in 2017 -- was used to promote their exhibit "Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Right to Vote," that looks into the 19th Amendment and the women's suffrage movement.

During the president's first full day in office, more than 500,000 participants lined the streets to march for women's rights. The exhibit showed the 2017 image superimposed with another photo representing a women's protest in 1913.

 The fourth official Women's March took place on Saturday morning, again a place where participants took to the streets of the nation's capital to protest -- with words and signs often directed at the Trump administration and its perceived threats to women and civil rights.

The 2017 photo, taken by Getty Images' Mario Tama, shows the protesters standing in front of the Capitol building, some holding vulgar or condemnatory signs.

"As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President's name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy," the NARA said in a statement on Friday.

One specific example, first reported by the Washington Post, shows a sign that says "God hates Trump." His name was noticeably altered in the photo and was barely legible. The photo also blurred out several references to female genitalia.

"As a family-friendly museum which hosts many groups of students and young people each day, we also blurred some words that could be perceived by some museum visitors as inappropriate, so as not to distract from the graphic's intended purpose," NARA said. "The decision to do this was made during the exhibit development process by a group that included agency managers and museum staff members."

The National Archives said it has removed the display on Saturday afternoon, adding that it will be replaced with an unaltered image.

"We apologize, and will immediately start a thorough review of our exhibit policies and procedures so that this does not happen again," the statement said.

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Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas was in contact with at least two major Trump campaign donors-- one with an official role in the Republican National Committee-- during his efforts to pressure Ukraine into opening politically motivated investigations, documents released by the House Intelligence committee this week revealed.

Parnas' interactions with the two men, Harry Sargeant III and Tommy Hicks Jr. -- who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to fundraising vehicles for the president -- provides more fuel to assertions by the president’s critics that political motives – and not the nation’s foreign policy goals -- drove the efforts in Ukraine.

In an interview on CNN on Thursday, Parnas confirmed his work in Ukraine was all about ensuring President Trump remained in office.

“It was all about 2020, to make sure he had another four years,” Parnas said. “That was the way everybody viewed it. That was the most important thing, for him to stay on for another four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”

A friend with a jet

The identity of those financing the work by Guiliani and Parnas during the months they spent traveling to Ukraine, Austria, and elsewhere, has remained largely opaque. Giuliani at one point told Reuters that the president was not paying for any of their efforts to see Biden investigated in Ukraine.

“Nobody pays my expenses,” Giuliani said in a Reuters interview in September. “What does it matter if I’m getting paid for it. Isn’t the real story whether he (Biden) sold out the vice presidency of the United States, not whether I got paid for it?”

The messages released on Wednesday suggest that Parnas was receiving at least some support from Sargeant, a Florida-based oil executive and former state Republican Party’s finance chairman, who was funding at least some of Parnas' flights as he assisted Giuliani's efforts abroad.

In a message dated April 10, Parnas asks Sargeant about a trip that "just got canceled, adding that "we have people scheduled to meet on Saturday in Vienna."

"Just becoming expensive flying u guys everywhere LEV," Sargeant replied.

Parnas subsequently told Sargeant that "we" are paying him back for the flights and that he was “never expecting [Sargeant] to pay for it." According to House investigators, Parnas flew to Ukraine four days after this conversation.

In another message, Parnas asks Sargeant to “approve” for his associate named Dave “to pay for car service on cc [credit card],” saying he got a “deal” from “Rudy’s guys” on lodging and taxis. Sargeant – an ultra-wealthy energy mogul -- replies, “Don’t bother w this stuff pls.”

It also remains unclear how involved Sargeant was in directing Parnas’s efforts, though text messages between the two men suggest Sargeant was aware of Parnas’s activities. At one point, Parnas invited Sargeant to meet him in Ukraine, to which Sargeant responded, “I could leave Thur and be there Friday maybe.” Parnas then said, “I think first Vienna and than Ukraine.” At another point, Parnas sent Sargeant a photo he described as a “Team trump dinner celebration” and wrote: “I’m official part of team trump tomorrow big day my brother I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The two also exchanged articles about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and about the then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, with Parnas telling Sargeant he has some “juicy stuff” and that a “bomb is dropping.” When Yovanovitch is recalled to Washington in May, Sargeant texted Parnas with his reaction: "Perfect."

Sargeant's attorney Chris Kise told ABC News his client has not been to Ukraine in over a decade for any purpose. In a statement, Kise denied Sargeant had any involvement in any plan to remove Yovanovitch and said Sargeant loaned money for Parnas' air travel, but never offered to pay for it outright.

"As is evident from the texts, Mr. Sargeant loaned Lev Parnas small sums for travel expenses because Mr. Parnas claimed, perhaps falsely, he was broke, and promised to pay the funds back," Kise said. "But despite repeated requests by Mr. Sargeant, and continual promises of repayment by Lev Parnas, Mr. Parnas never repaid these expenses.”

Sargeant's name has also surfaced in news reports and impeachment inquiry witnesses' testimonies related to Parnas and Fruman’s to attempts to reshape the leadership of Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz in pursuit of natural gas business in Ukraine. Sargeant’s lawyer at that time denied his client’s involvement in any Ukraine energy ventures.

“Power Breakfast”

Other material released by the House this week shows Parnas in contact with several people who play prominent roles in the president’s fundraising and re-election effort. Those includes texts between Parnas and Hicks Jr., a friend of Donald Trump Jr., who is the co-chairman of the RNC and chairman of pro-Trump super PAC American First Action.

Parnas and Hicks were in contact for at least four months, messages show, as the scheme to oust then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yavnovotich and pressure Ukraine to announce political investigations unfolded. At times, Hicks and Parnas exchanged articles about the Biden campaign and Ukranian election meddling conspiracy theories. Hicks appeared to offer Parnas guidance.

"Editor and owner of Daily Caller is a friend," Hicks told Parnas in a message alongside an article about Nellie Ohr and Fusion GPS. "We should let him know what we know at the right time," he suggested.

"100%," Parnas replied.

The messages also suggest the two joined conference calls to discuss the efforts.

"Great job on the conference call!," Parnas praised Hicks in one exchange. "Thanks," Hicks replied. "Short and sweet!"

Hicks at times appeared to want to keep his distance from Parnas, stating he wanted to "keep [his] hands clean" when Parnas asked him to retweet a since-deleted Sean Hannity tweet.

But Parnas kept Hicks up to date on the status of his efforts in Ukraine, informing Hicks in March that something was going to "break tomorrow.” In May, Parnas told Hicks the ambassador "just got recalled."

Just a few weeks later, Parnas posted a photo on Facebook showing him at a breakfast with Hicks, alongside Donald Trump Jr. and fellow Giuliani associate Igor Fruman.

Parnas referred to the meeting as a "Power breakfast."

ABC News made attempts to reach Hicks by phone at his home and at the RNC but was not able to reach him for comment.

“Have jr retweeted it”?

Parnas also kept in touch with America First Action's director of development Joseph Ahearn, who kept Donald Trump Jr. updated on Ukraine matters, messages released by House committees this week show.

In a message dated March 20, 2019, Ahearn asks Parnas, "What should I send don to tweet" and Parnas sends a series of tweets and articles related to Ukraine officials' probe into U.S. elections. Parnas then asks Ahearn, "Have jr retweeted it" and Ahearn replies, "Sent."

Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of the articles Parnas sent to Ahearn around the same time.

In another series of messages, Parnas also sent Ahearn a New York Times article from May that links Parnas to Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine for the first time, to which Ahearn says, "They started naming you here. Are you okay?"

Shortly after Parnas and Fruman were named as part of the House impeachment inquiry, the two were indicted in a separate campaign finance violation case in the Southern District of New York on charges related to alleged illegal straw contributions and foreign contributions. They both pleaded not guilty. Among Parnas' donations mentioned in the indictment is a $325,000 contribution to America First Action. Prosecutors accuse Parnas and Fruman of falsely reporting the origin of the payment as under the name of “Global Energy Producers.”

Of numerous outside groups raising and spending money to support President Trump’s re-election bid, America First Action is the sole outside group the president has officially endorsed and approved as the “trusted supporter of President Trump’s policies and agendas.”

ABC News reached out to America First Action for comment but received no response.

Parnas’s expanded political outreach

As an ardent supporter of Trump since the early days of his 2016 campaign, Parnas’s contact with wealthy Trump donors stretched far beyond his activities in Ukraine this year. But his donation to America First Action in early 2018 afforded him a new level of access to exclusive high-dollar events.

 Parnas has since acquainted himself with a host of President Trump’s wealthy supporters at close-door donor events, and then touted those very connections to pursue his personal business interests as well as political interests. During an interview on CNN, Parnas said he had so many photos of himself with Trump-world insiders hanging in his house, his wife thought it looked like a “shrine” to the President.

In 2018, Parnas cultivated a relationship and secured a $500,000 loan from New York-based lawyer and Trump donor Charles Gucciardo, his attorney told ABC News. Gucciardo's lawyer Randy Zelin said his client then gave the money to Giuliani, which kicked off the business relationship between the two in the fall of 2018. No apparent connection has been made between Gucciardo’s loan and Parnas's specific efforts in Ukraine.

Zelin told ABC News that his client made the payment as a "passive investor" in Parnas and Fruman’s company, called Fraud Guarantee, and that he decided to invest in the company because of an endorsement from Giuliani.

"Mr. Gucciardo invested because he believed that Mr. Giuliani – the former Mayor of New York City; former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; and, the first name in cybersecurity -- was in front of, behind, and alongside the Company which would catapult the Company into the world of cybersecurity and investor protection," Zelin said in an email.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has scrambled the Democratic primary, forcing senators in the race to overhaul their schedules in the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

At a time when presidential candidates traditionally camp out in early voting states, the four senators will spend their afternoons at their desks in the Senate chamber, sitting in silence for six days a week, listening to evidence and debating over whether Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress in efforts to investigate the Ukraine affair.

“I would rather be in Iowa today, there’s a caucus there in two and a half weeks,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters Thursday at the U.S. Capitol amid impeachment proceedings. “But I swore a constitutional oath as a United States senator to do my job.”

 He is hosting a rally in Iowa Wednesday evening and his campaign has said he's willing to go back-and-forth to continue to squeeze in events during the trial.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has made face-to-face campaigning and selfie lines a signature part of her campaign, is expected to supplement her time in Washington with virtual town halls, and plans to return to the trail when possible throughout January.

With a four-way race emerging between Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the top of the field, the trial has obvious implications for the senators.

"It's a challenge. There's no doubt about it,” Matt Paul, a prominent Democratic strategist who led Hillary Clinton’s Iowa efforts in 2016, told ABC News. “From a campaign standpoint, it comes at a very difficult time for them.”


The race is still competitive and many voters haven’t settled behind a single candidate.

One recent poll of Iowans by Monmouth University showed Biden leading the pack, followed closely by Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren, while a CNN poll out days earlier showed Sanders in front, followed by Warren, Buttigieg and Biden. Both found that roughly 6 in 10 voters don’t have their minds firmly made up on a candidate.

President Trump and Republicans have hoped for a speedy trial that would conclude before the Feb. 4 State of the Union Address. But the push from Warren and other Democrats to seek additional witnesses and records could extend proceedings through Iowa and New Hampshire, and well into February.

“It is a tough time to be stuck in Washington,” said Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chair who ran for president in 2004 and came in third in the Iowa caucuses after being considered the front-runner. “And it’s going to be just as painful in New Hampshire and South Carolina as Iowa.”

“The fact that there are four [primaries] in a row and they can be taken out of all four primaries, that is some of concern,” he added.


Biden and Buttigieg will spend the next few weeks on the ground, engaging with local press and voters in churches, diners and town halls across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

 Sanders and Warren will be forced to lean heavily on key campaign surrogates to spread their message and keep them on voters’ minds on a day-to-day basis.

“I told her, sign me up,” former presidential candidate Julian Castro, now a key Warren supporter, told ABC News’ Rachel Scott in Iowa about helping the senator’s campaign. “Every minute counts, and I’m going to do whatever I’m asked between now and the Iowa caucus.”

For Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is staking her campaign on a strong performance in Iowa, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who is hoping to do the same in New Hampshire, the Senate trial could undermine plans for a late resurgence ahead of early voting.

“I’ve got to be there. At the same time, I’m going to get here. And I do things like get five hours sleep. I do things like I get on a plane like I did today at 6 a.m. I just keep going,” Klobuchar told ABC News’ Rachel Scott in Iowa last week.

“We're just going to have to adjust," she said. "We don't know what the schedule is going to be, but I just think we have to have as fair a trial as possible with the four witnesses that we've asked for, and the chips will fall where they may when they come to this campaign.”

 In 2016, when Clinton narrowly defeated Sanders and his stronger-than-expected campaign in the caucuses, the former secretary of state was able to adjust her schedule and spend more time in Iowa when it became clear that the result could be close, according to Paul, her 2016 Iowa state director.

“We added events in Iowa, and added her time in Iowa, and, you know, that was critically important to winning in Iowa,” he said.

The rules of the impeachment trial, which force senators to sit in silence and submit written questions to Supreme Court Justice Roberts, will also limit the opportunities for Democrats to seize the spotlight, as Klobuchar and Sen. Kamala Harris of California did in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

 But Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who served as Clinton’s rapid response director in 2016, argued that the historic nature of impeachment proceedings will play in the senators’ favor.

“All eyes are going to be on this impeachment hearing, especially amongst caucus-goers who are die-hard Democrats,” he said. “After the trial each day, they will be able to go on cable news and give their reactions and stay at the center of the conversation.”

The campaign operations, he added, won’t be dormant in the early voting states while the senators are on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not like them not being there means they’re going to vanish,” he said. “Candidates will be there every time they turn on the TV and radio.”

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Motortion/iStock(NEW YORK) --  Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s wife, Evelyn Yang, claims she was sexually assaulted by her OBGYN while she was pregnant with her first son, revelations she said she shared on CNN on Thursday to help other women.

In the interview, the candidate's wife said she faced months of abuse as a patient of Dr. Robert Hadden.

“It started with inappropriate questions around how intimate I was with my husband, sexual activity, just very inappropriate, probing questions that were unrelated to my health,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash. “The examinations became longer, more frequent, and I learned that they were unnecessary most of the time.”

Yang said the abuse escalated when she was seven months pregnant.

“I was in the exam room, and I was dressed and ready to go. And then at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about I think you might need a C-section. And he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved. And at first I was a little bit like what's going on here?” she said.

Evelyn said that the outpouring of support for her and Andrew Yang on the campaign trail has inspired her to speak up about the assault, but says that at first she didn’t even tell the presidential candidate what had happened.

“I certainly didn't want Andrew blaming himself not being able to go with me to these doctors visits because, honestly, if he was with me in the room, if anyone was with me in the room this, obviously, wouldn't have happened. And at the time, he was traveling a lot for his nonprofit,” she said.

Months after the abuse she said she learned that Hadden had been accused of assaulting other women after Googling him when she received a notice in the mail that he had left his practice. It was at that point that she told her husband about the abuse.

“He cried. And he wasn't bawling. There were tears. And he said it's because he remembered when I told -- when I came home one day ranting about pervy doctors I said something like, why do they let men be gynecologists? It makes no sense. And he remembered that I had made this comment and he felt so bad. He felt guilty that he didn't make the connection or ask anymore,” she said.

Yang says she joined the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s case against the doctor, along with 17 other women, accusing the doctor of sexual assault. The doctor pleaded guilty to two charges involving two of the women, but Yang wasn’t one of them, according to CNN.

According to court documents, Hadden pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two patients, one by “licking her vagina during a purported vaginal examination” and another by sexually abusing a female patient the doctor knew to be HIV positive, “with his ungloved hand.”

The district attorney agreed to a plea deal with Hadden and the doctor lost his medical license, registered as the lowest level sex offender, and avoided jail time, according to CNN.

In a statement provided to ABC News, District Attorney Vance said, "Dr. Hadden was a serial sexual predator who used access and power to take advantage of women in their most vulnerable states. We support all of his survivors, and applaud their strength and courage. Because a conviction is never a guaranteed outcome in a criminal trial, our primary concern was holding him accountable and making sure he could never do this again – which is why we insisted on a felony conviction and permanent surrender of his medical license. While we stand by our legal analysis and resulting disposition of this difficult case, we regret that this resolution has caused survivors pain.”

Six weeks before Yang says she was assaulted, police arrested the doctor after a patient told them he “sexually assaulted her and licked her vagina during an exam.” His arrest was voided and he continued seeing female patients, according to CNN.

There are now 32 women who accused Hadden of sexual assault.

“The allegations leading to Robert Hadden’s 2016 guilty plea and allegations contained in subsequent complaints are abhorrent, and we deeply apologize to those whose trust was violated,” the university told ABC News in a statement.

Attorney Isabelle Kirshner, who previously represented Hadden declined to comment when reached by ABC News.

As the story aired on CNN, Andrew Yang tweeted, “I love my wife very much.”

“I’m extraordinarily proud of Evelyn for telling her story, and my heart breaks every time I think of what she had to experience. She is my best friend and the bravest woman I know. No one deserves to be harmed and treated the way she and countless other women have been. When victims of abuse come forward, they deserve our belief, support, and protection. I hope that Evelyn’s story gives strength to those who have suffered and sends a clear message that our institutions must do more to protect and respond to women,” Andrew Yang said in a statement to ABC News.

Evelyn Yang, who previously fought to keep her name anonymous says she is speaking out now because she has a platform to talk about it.

“I need to use that voice. I feel like it’s something that’s an obligation but also a privilege and a gift that I get to share my story now and also help other women. The process of getting to this point is very hard. You know, like I haven't slept in days. This is very hard to come out,” she said.

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Scott Heins/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Election Commission on Friday granted Mike Bloomberg's campaign an additional 45 days to file his mandatory personal financial disclosure form.

That extended deadline, March 20, means the multibillionaire former mayor of New York City won't have to disclose additional details on his considerable private fortune until more than two weeks after Super Tuesday.

Millions already will have voted in states on which Bloomberg is staking his entire 2020 gambit -- slightly fewer than than half of the delegates in the race will be on the table.

Bloomberg's campaign cites his late entry into the Democratic primary as the reason, along with the intricacies of his paperwork.

"Mr. Bloomberg, who became a candidate for President of the United States on November 21, 2019, has made diligent efforts to prepare his report," Bloomberg's counsel wrote in requesting the extension. "Nevertheless, due to the complexity of his holdings and the need to obtain certain information from third parties, Mr. Bloomberg needs additional time to gather and review his financial information and complete and file his report."

The FEC's decision comes as Bloomberg has poured unprecedented sums into his bid for the White House, blanketing the airwaves with ads, and a staff swelling to more than 1,000 fanned out across 33 states, including every single one voting on Super Tuesday.

Pushed for additional details regarding what kind of "complexity" his holdings might have, his campaign declined to comment.

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Melissa Kopka/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration announced a set of proposals on Friday that will loosen school and summer meal guidelines, further weakening one of former first lady Michelle Obama's signature policy efforts.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue defended the new proposals in a statement Friday saying they will "empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide."

"Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA’s school meal programs," Perdue said in the statement.

The Trump administration in 2018 finalized its rollback of school lunch regulations under former President Barack Obama, which was later challenged in court by a group of states. ABC News previously reported that some of the changes finalized by the Trump administration included allowing schools to offer additional milk flavors and curbing Obama-era regulations on sodium limits.

Friday’s proposed rules build onto the 2018 regulation, according to the USDA statement.

"Under the school meals proposed rule, school nutrition professionals have more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste," the statement said.

The agency highlighted proposed new rules that would allow schools to "offer more vegetable varieties." In addition, schools would have the ability to "adjust fruit servings" and make it easier to "offer meats/meat alternatives," for breakfast, among other things.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) -- a group that has previously challenged the administration in court over previous school meal guideline changes -- weighed in on USDA's newest proposal.

Colin Schwartz, CSPI's deputy director of legislative affairs, in a statement called the rule an "assault on children’s health [that] continues today under the guise of ‘simplifying’ school meals."

"In practice, if finalized, this would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, French fries, and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day," Schwartz said.

Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America also responded, claiming the proposals "appear to be a step in the wrong direction."

"Putting politics aside, the science of the past few years suggests that we should be increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables at each meal," Roman said in a statement. "Young children especially need more exposure to unprocessed, easy-to-eat, fruits, vegetables, and greens."

The proposals were announced on the former first lady's birthday.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday denied having knowledge of any surveillance conducted on former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch -- whose ouster is now at the center of the impeachment process -- but he said the State Department will investigate whether any occurred.

“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” Pompeo said during an interview with conservative radio host Tony Katz. “I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as Secretary of State, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate.”

Ukrainian police had already announced earlier this week that they were investigating the alleged surveillance.

In the radio interview, Pompeo also denied being acquainted with Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudy Giuliani who handed over a trove of text messages and other materials to Congress that included revelations texts about a possible surveillance effort.

“I’ve not met this guy, Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him,” Pompeo said.

In text messages between Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde and Parnas that have been made public, Hyde appeared to suggest to Parnas that he had people following Yovanovitch's movements in Ukraine.

Beyond providing the new trove of documents, Parnas has also gone public with claims that he was involved in a scheme to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into the former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Parnas said on CNN Thursday night that he and Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine “was all about 2020, to make sure [Trump] had another four years.”

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Niyazz/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee announced the qualifying rules for the Democratic debate on Feb. 7, the first matchup after voting begins, which will be hosted by ABC News, ABC's New Hampshire affiliate WMUR-TV and Apple News.

The slightly modified criteria for the debate, which is sandwiched evenly between the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, includes the previous criteria of qualifying through the polling and grassroots thresholds but it also includes a new, second pathway to qualify. Any candidate who is awarded at least one pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention based on the results of the Iowa caucuses, as reported and calculated by the Iowa Democratic Party, will be able to participate.

On caucus night, 41 pledged delegates are up for grabs in Iowa.

To clinch a podium on the debate stage, candidates can also meet both the polling and grassroots fundraising requirements, with the same thresholds as the January debate. The polling requirement will no longer include Iowa polls because, as the DNC says in its news release, "a candidate’s support in Iowa will be reflected through the results of the Iowa caucus instead of Iowa-specific polling."

The first pathway of the polling requirement is the four-poll threshold: candidates must earn at least 5% support in four national or early state polls from New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina. In order to count as qualifying polls, the polls must be sponsored by different organizations, or if sponsored by the same organization, cover different geographical areas.

The second pathway is the early state polling threshold: Candidates must get at least 7% support in two early state polls, again from only New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina. Unlike the first path, these polls can be sponsored by the same organization and can also be conducted in the same geographical area.

The polls must be released between Dec. 13 through Feb.6, the day before the debate. Additionally, the polls must be sponsored by one of the organizations or pairs of organizations from the following list determined by the DNC: The Associated Press; ABC News/Washington Post; CBS News/YouGov; CNN; Fox News; Monmouth University; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist; NBC News/Wall Street Journal; NBC News/Marist; New York Times/Siena College; Nevada Independent/Mellman Group; Quinnipiac University; University of New Hampshire; USA Today/Suffolk University; Winthrop University.

The DNC said it could add another Nevada-specific and/or South Carolina-specific polling sponsor to this list.

To meet the grassroots fundraising threshold, candidates must accrue at least 225,000 individual donors and a minimum of 1,000 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.

Candidates have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 6 to hit this threshold.

With the donor requirement still intact, the rules appear to preclude presidential contender Michael Bloomberg from qualifying for the debate since he is self-funding his campaign and not soliciting any donations. He has met the polling threshold, according to an ABC News analysis.

"I hope the DNC change its rules – I’d gladly participate – but I’m not going to change my principles," Bloomberg wrote in a CNN op-ed. "So I’m traveling the country taking my message directly to voters – and as a result, President Trump is now finally facing opposition from a candidate in the battleground states."

The DNC outlined the new rules on Friday for the crowded field of 12. More details for this debate, including moderators, will be announced at a later date.

Under these new rules, the candidates who appear to have cleared the polling and grassroots fundraising thresholds, according to an ABC News analysis, are former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Andrew Yang, the political novice who missed the cut for the January debate but was the only candidate of color who participated in the December clash, has met the donor requirement but remains two polls shy of crossing the polling threshold, according to an ABC News analysis. None of the other candidates have a single qualifying poll.

The New Hampshire debate, which will be held at St. Anselm College in Manchester, will air across ABC, WMUR-TV, which is owned by Hearst Television, Apple News and on ABC News Live, ABC's streaming channel available on the ABC News site, app, and OTT media services.

The DNC previously announced two other debates that will held throughout the month of February. NBC News and MSNBC, in partnership with The Nevada Independent, hosts a Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas prior to Nevada's caucuses. CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute co-host the debate before South Carolina's primary on Feb. 25 at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina and Twitter will be a debate partner.

Qualifying criteria for those two debates have yet to be announced.

Throughout 2019, the party imposed more rigorous qualifying rules as the primary season deepened -- oftentimes putting the committee at odds with the presidential contenders, leading to lower-polling candidates being excluded from the stages.

This is the second debate hosted by ABC News following September's matchup at Texas Southern University, a public, historically black university in Houston, which was co-hosted with Univision. That debate featured a roster of 10 candidates, with Biden and Warren, the two polling front-runners at that point in the primary, tangling on the same stage for the first time. They have since stood shoulder-to-shoulder at center-stage in every matchup succeeding that debate.

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ablokhin/iStock(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- Virginia is slated to begin its five-day ban on weapons from Capitol grounds Friday night in anticipation of Monday's Lobby Day against pending gun control legislation.

Efforts by gun rights groups Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America to block Gov. Ralph Northam's order still were being debated in Virginia's Supreme Court as the ban was planned for 5 p.m.

Northam and state law enforcement leaders said they'd received credible threats that targeted Richmond Capitol Square and that the ban would help ensure there wasn't a repeat of the violence at 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, at which James Alex Fields drove into a crowd and killed Heather Heyer.

"I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence," Northam said in a statement Thursday.

Virginia's state legislature, which has its first Democratic majority in over 20 years, is considering several major gun control measures, including universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and a red-flag law that would give judges and cops the authority to remove guns from individuals believed to be threats.

Virginia gun rights activists are planning a rally at Capitol Square and have invited others who share their views from other states to join them.

"Without relief from this court, petitioners and thousands of other rally participants will be irreparably denied their right to bear arms," the Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America wrote in their filing to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Law enforcement authorities, however, stressed that the threats are real.

On Thursday, the FBI arrested three alleged members of a neo-Nazi group who had with them guns and ammunition.

Law enforcement sources told ABC News they were detained under suspicion that they would travel to Richmond "in anticipation of a possible race war."

The four-day ban lifts at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden earned the endorsement of Alabama's lone Democratic U.S. House member Friday morning, Rep. Terri Sewell, the 11th member of the Congressional Black Caucus to back Biden’s presidential bid and another sign of his strength with a key constituency needed to win the party’s nomination: African-American voters.

Sewell, the first African-American woman ever to represent Alabama in Congress, was courted by a number of 2020 Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who traveled to Selma with the congresswoman in April to promote her plan for affordable housing.

Sewell’s endorsement was timed with Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, where she will appear with the former Vice President at an event in South Carolina, and gives Biden a boost in a key Super Tuesday state.

“Donald Trump is the biggest threat to Dr. King’s legacy! I believe that Joe Biden is the best democratic candidate to beat Trump and, therefore, protect the causes central to the life’s work of Dr. King,” Sewell said in a statement announcing her support.

Biden currently leads the Democratic 2020 field with endorsements from the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, and was outmatched only by California Sen. Kamala Harris before she ended her presidential bid in early December.

The endorsement comes as a Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month showed Biden with an entrenched lead over his other Democratic rivals with African-American voters, a group whose support he will need to both earn the party’s nomination and defeat President Trump in November.

The poll showed nearly half, 48%, of black Democratic-leaning voters voters say they are siding with the former vice president, while 20% support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and 9% support Warren.

"For most Democrats, they are looking for a candidate that can be President Trump and Vice President Biden is perceived by most Democrats, and particularly African Americans, to be the candidate who could most beat Trump," said Fredrick Harris, a political science professor at Columbia University, with a focus on African American politics.

Advisers to Biden have consistently cited the former vice president’s ability to build a broad coalition of support as evidence he is the candidate best suited for the Democratic nomination, as no candidate has secured a position at the top of the ticket without gaining a majority of support from African American voters since 1992.

The struggle to chip away at Biden’s support among black voters in part led both Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, two of the party’s most prominent African-American competitors for its presidential nomination, to end their bids for the White House, and still plagues another top contender, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

In the Washington Post/Ipsos poll, only 2% of black Democratic-leaning voters are backing the former U.S. Navy Intelligence officer.

Earlier this month Buttigieg picked up his first endorsement from a member of the CBC, Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, who also now serves as the campaign’s first national co-chair.

With the departures of Harris and Booker from the 2020 race, only two other members of the CBC have endorsed candidates currently running: Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley is backing Warren, while Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar is backing Sanders.

While Biden’s record on race relations and civil rights has come under more intense scrutiny during the 2020 race, the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator often touts his experience as a former public defender and early advocate for voting rights, and names Dr. King and former Attorney General Robert Kennedy as his two political heroes.

“I'm extremely proud of my record on civil rights. That's why I have more people in the African-American community supporting me than anybody else. That's why the president picked me. I make no apologies for my record on civil rights. It’s been as good or better than anybody in politics,” Biden said during an education forum last month in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, referencing the fact that then-candidate Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, picked the then-senator to be his running mate.

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