• United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Last week's shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead and 14 wounded has once again brought the debate over gun control to the forefront. This time, the school's students are taking the lead in demanding change at both the local level and in Washington.Critics, however, argue that pro-gun campaign money has more influence in the gun policy debate than victims of gun violence.The National Rifle Association continues to be a huge force in American politics. It's made more than $11 million in direct contributions to federal lawmakers and candidates over the past 20 years. In 2017, the group's lobbying expenditures included $5 million spent pushing Second Amendment rights.But the NRA’s real power shows up in independent expenditures. It can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates - as long as it doesn't coordinate with the candidates.During just the 2016 election cycle, the NRA spent $54 million in the presidential and congressional races, nearly $20 million of which went to attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton and more than $11 million to support Republican Donald Trump. IN 2008 and 2012, the group had spent $18 million opposing Democrat Barack Obama and $10 million supporting Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney.A NRA spokesperson said the group spends money in elections on behalf of its five million members across America to defend their constitutional right to own guns.In the past 15 years, the pro-gun group has spent a total of more than $132 million on ads supporting or opposing presidential or congressional candidates.Here are the three U.S. senators and House members who have benefited the most from the NRA’s ad buys, according to Federal Election Commission records:SENATESen. Richard Burr: $6.9 millionIn 2016, the NRA was determined to keep North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s seat. The group spent $5.6 million on ads attacking his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross. Over the years, the group has spent $1.4 million on ads supporting Burr and donated $40,150 to his House and Senate campaign committees.Sen. Roy Blunt: $4.5 millionSen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has long been one of the biggest beneficiaries of NRA money. Not only has the group donated $56,500 to Blunt’s campaign committee over the years, the group has also spent $1.4 million bankrolling ads supporting him. The NRA also spent $2.5 million in 2016 opposing Democrat Jason Kander’s bid against the Missouri Republican.Sen. Thom Tillis: $4.4 millionThe NRA was one of many outside groups that helped unseat North Carolina's Democratic incumbent senator, Kay Hagan, and elect Republican Sen. Thom Tilllis in 2014. The NRA spent $2.45 million against Hagan and nearly $2 million in support of Tillis.HOUSERep. French Hill: $1.1 millionThe NRA was one of the biggest spenders in a competitive Arkansas House race in 2014. The group spent more than half a million dollars supporting Republican French Hill and another half million attacking Democrat Patrick Hays.Rep. Ken Buck: $829,377In 2010, the NRA spent nearly $830,000 in an unsuccessful effort to replace Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet with Republican Ken Buck in Colorado. Buck, however, was able to win the seat only after Bennet left office to run for the Senate in 2012. The NRA didn’t get involved in the 2014 race, but Buck was backed by another pro-gun group called Gun Owners of America.Rep. David Young: $697,778The NRA helped elect Republican David Young in an open House race in Iowa in 2014 by spending nearly $700,000 on ads in support of Young and against Democratic opponent Staci Appel. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has walked back President Donald Trump's tweet from last weekend suggesting the FBI could have prevented the Parkland high school shooting if it hadn't been so focused on the Russia investigation.On Friday, the FBI said it failed to follow up on a tip about the Parkland shooter. And Tuesday, when asked if Trump believes the FBI missed warning signs because of the time it's spending on the Russia investigation, Sanders said that was "not necessarily" the cause."I think he was speaking - not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter certainly not the responsibility of anybody else," Sanders said.Sanders tried to clarify when asked if the tweet Trump sent late Saturday night from his private Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was a "mistweet.""I think he's making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms getting the Trump campaign and its involvement," Sanders said.Trump's tweet outraged some survivors of the school shooting that killed 17 last week.Over the weekend, Trump fumed about Friday's indictment from the special counsel's investigation that accused 13 Russians of interfering in the 2016 election. Trump pointed at the Obama administration for not intervening earlier. "The 'Russian hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!" he tweeted.Sanders, asked Tuesday if the president believes Russia meddled in the election, gave the strongest acknowledgement yet from the White House."Absolutely," said Sanders. "It's very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It's also very clear that it didn't have an impact on the election. And it's also very clear that the Trump campaign didn't collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place."Sanders also defended the administration's response to that Russian interference."President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference in our elections will have consequences and we're going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyber attacks. Just last week, we called out Russia by name. It was one of the first times that you've seen something like that take place. We're going to continue doing things like that," Sanders said.Asked why Trump hasn't condemned Russia, Sanders said, "He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions; he's taken away properties; he's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia."Sanders cryptically made reference to a new, unreported incident in which Trump came down on Russia."Last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days in another way that this president was tough on Russia," said Sanders.The White House has not revealed any details about that incident.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While the White House has said President Donald Trump is “supportive of efforts” to update the nation’s background check system in the wake of the Florida high school shooting last week, the president's proposed budget for 2019 would actually roll back federal grants to help states in reporting to the national background check system.Under the proposed FY 2019 budget, which the administration rolled out just two days before the deadly Parkland, Fla. shooting that left 17 people dead, proposed federal spending for the grants that help states improve the completeness of the records they report to the federal database would be reduced from $73 million to $61 million — a $12 million decrease.But an administration official insists that the president's budget fully funds the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and said the decrease in proposed funding is designed to match the level of spending requested by states that qualify for the grants."The FY 2019 President's Budget proposes to reduce funding for this program because the number of states eligible for NICS Act Record Improvement Program funding is not expected to increase and the $10.0 million request is sufficient to sustain the existing level of activity under this program," the official said, noting that the government only funded the states that were eligible and that some states have failed to produce required compliance plans related to reporting mental health records.President Trump, who sources tell ABC News has repeatedly said “we have to do something” in the wake of the Florida tragedy, announced on Tuesday that he directed his Justice Department to look into banning bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas shooting last year.The president has also expressed support for a bill introduced last year by Sen. John Cornyn, R–Texas, to update the background check system to ensure that states and federal agencies have up-to-date and accurate information on individuals prohibited from buying firearms.Cornyn introduced the bill, called the Fix NICS Act, last year following the Sutherland Springs mass shooting in his home state. The bill is co-sponsored by leading gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy, D–Conn., who saw 20 children killed in his home state in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.The bill, referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Press secretary Sarah Sanders has said that “discussions are ongoing” but that “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system."While any action the administration takes in the wake of Florida is expected to stop short of any proposal that would amount to gun restrictions, Principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said late last week that “mental health and school safety” would be at the forefront of any policy prescriptions the administration may pursue.“The president wants to take leadership and actually fix this problem and create best practices across the country,” Shah said on FOX News late last week.On Wednesday, the president is set to host a “listening session” with high school students and community members impacted by the school shootings Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine communities.On Thursday, he will meet with state and local officials on the issue. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he has signed a memorandum directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose new regulations that would ban devices that can effectively turn legal weapons into machine guns.The news comes four months after the Las Vegas concert mass shooting, in which the gunman was found to have used 'bump stocks' that significantly increased the rate of fire for the multiple assault weapons he used from his perch on an upper floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel."I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon," Trump said during a ceremony in the White House for Medal of Valor recipients. "The key in all of these efforts, as I said the day after shooting, is that we must not take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference - we must take actions that actually make a difference."Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement underscoring her contention that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not have authority to ban bump stocks, and that "legislation is the only answer.""The agency made this clear in a 2013 letter to Congress, writing that ‘stocks of this type are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes,’" Feinstein said.“If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years," Feinstein said, "and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold."Trump's announcement comes as the administration faces new pressure over accusations of inaction in the wake of multiple deadly shootings, most recently last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.President Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues.""You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.Sanders did not answer definitively, however, when asked whether the president would oppose reinstating a ban on assault weapons.“We haven't closed the door on any front,” Sanders said. “That's what the next several days and weeks will be, to have conversations and see what this process looks like.”The briefing is Sanders' first in a week, after the White House cancelled a Valentine's Day briefing, citing the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump will host individuals impacted by some of the country's worst school shootings for a listening session at the White House on Wednesday, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders.Sanders told reporters Tuesday that community members and victims from last week's Parkland, Fla. school shooting, as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, have been invited to meet at the White House.Sanders said the listening session would focus on a "wide range of issues.""You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through horrific tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week as well as some that hope they never have to go through that," Sanders said. "This is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns of the students are, what they would like to see."After the shooting in Parkland, a number of students have called for marches across the country to promote new gun restrictions. The White House has so far only stated support for a bill that would seek to improve the national background check system.
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  • ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to making false statements to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team in the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.Van Der Zwaan, a 33-year old Dutch citizen, allegedly made the false statements to officials with the special counsel and FBI agents in an interview on Nov. 3, 2017.The felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated that a finding of guilt could result in Van Der Zwaan’s deportation.The judge indicated both sides have agreed to recommend a reduced prison sentence of up to six months and a reduced fine of between $500 and $9,500, saying Van Der Zwaan has no criminal history.The special counsel’s office said in their court filing that Van Der Zwaan, who worked for a law firm that did work in Ukraine in 2012, made false statements about communications in 2016 with Gates and an unnamed person.While Gates was never a client of Van Der Zwann’s according to a source with knowledge of the relationship, the two were connected because of Gates’ past work representing the Ukraine government on behalf of his former boss Paul Manafort.The communication, prosecutors allege, took place when Gates was still a member of the Trump campaign team.Manafort left the campaign in mid-August, Gates stayed on through the election.Gates is currently facing criminal charges from the special counsel over his lobbying work in Ukraine.Van der Zwaan's father-in-law is German Khan, a Ukrainian-Russian who is one of the three owners of Russia's Alfa Bank and who is mentioned in an infamous dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele was employed by opposition research firm Fusion GPS which received funding for its efforts, in part, from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.Khan is also mentioned in court filings and congressional records request of Paul Manafort for their past work together.In a statement to ABC News, Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom, which employed Van Der Zwaan as an associate in its London office, said they terminated his employment last year and have been "cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter."
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