• Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As several investigations into Russian interference into last year's presidential election remain ongoing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joked about his encounters with the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Friday, at the same location in which their paths crossed over a year ago.Sessions was beginning a speech to the Federalist Society 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., when he deviated from his prepared remarks to ask his audience a question."I just was thinking, I should want to ask you: Is Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak in the room?" he said, to laughter. "Before I get started here. Any Russians? Anybody been to Russia? Got a cousin in Russia or something?"The quip would seem to stem from the fact that the Mayflower Hotel was the site of a speech by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in April 2016 that was attended by both Sessions and Kislyak. The event faced scrutiny after Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his January 2017 confirmation hearing that he was unaware of any communication between Trump campaign officials and Russia. Sessions served as chairman of the campaign's national security advisory committee.The White House has said that the attorney general and Kislyak simply happened to attend the same speech and did not meet during the event."To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd," said a senior White House official in March.In the ensuing months since Sessions' confirmation and Trump's inauguration, inquiries into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians were launched by the FBI -- and later taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller -- and committees in both chambers of Congress.Sessions has further revealed that he took meetings with Kislyak on at least two occasions in 2016 as part of his duties as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His office has said the meetings were unrelated to the presidential campaign.
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  • U.S. Senate Photographic Studio(NEW YORK) -- Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden shared a letter Minnesota Sen. Al Franken sent her today after she accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006.Tweeden read the letter on ABC’s “The View,” where she was a guest:“It says, ‘Dear Leeann, I want to apologize to you personally. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently. But what's important is the impact on you and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry. Sincerely Al Franken.'”According to Tweeden, Franken also asked to meet with her personally.Tweeden claimed in a blog post Thursday that Franken, then a comedian, “forcibly kissed me without my consent” while rehearsing for a skit on a 2006 USO tour to entertain U.S. troops in Afghanistan. She also posted a photo in which she claims it shows Franken groping her while she was asleep on a military plane.Tweeden said earlier on “Good Morning America” that she came forward with her allegations about Sen. Franken so other victims would be empowered to share their stories.“Maybe I have a platform to speak out, because if he did this to somebody else or if anybody else has stayed silent or anybody else has been the victim of any kind of abuse, maybe they can speak out and feel like they can come forward in real time and not wait a decade or longer,” Tweeden said in the interview.Tweeden said she had immediately wanted to go public with her account but she stayed quiet because it was a “different time” and her now-husband had warned that she would be “victimized” and her career would be ruined.“So I stayed quiet, but I was angry,” Tweeden told “GMA.”Tweeden said she was inspired by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sharing her account of sexual assault as a young congressional aide.“That happened to me...that was my sign. I think if I don't speak up now, I'm going to forever hold that and keep it with me forever. That was my moment to speak up,” Tweeden said.She went on, “I didn't do this to have him step down. I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate. You know, I think that's for the people of Minnesota to decide. I’m not calling for him to step down. That was never my intention.”She added that using comedy as a guise for sexual harassment is “never funny” and hopes her experience will help change the national discourse on the issue.Franken apologized Thursday to Tweeden, writing in a statement, “While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”Franken said that he doesn’t know “what was in my head when I took that picture,” but said that “it doesn't matter.”"There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself,” Franken said.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an ethics investigation to look into the allegations. Franken welcomed the ethics investigation and said he will cooperate.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- African-American men serve longer sentences than white men for the same crime, a new study by the U.S Sentencing Commission shows.The commission's analysis of demographic prison data from 2012 to 2016 found that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.The racial disparity in sentencing can't be accounted for by whether an offender has a history of violence, according to the study by the commission, an independent bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary branch."Violence in an offender’s criminal history does not appear to contribute to the sentence imposed" except as it may factor into a score under sentencing guidelines, the study said.When accounting for violence in an offender's past, black men received sentences that were on average 20.4 percent longer than that of white men, according to the commission's analysis of fiscal year 2016 data, the only year for which such data is available.The new study updates an earlier commission report in 2012, known as the Booker report, that came after a Supreme Court decision in 2005, United States vs. Booker, which permitted judges to enhance an offender’s sentence based on “facts” determined by their own judgment. Before then, federal judges were only allowed to sentence an offender based on guidelines provided by the sentencing commissionAccording to the non-profit organization, The Sentencing Project, the U.S. is the world's leader in incarceration, with 2.2 million people in prison as of 2015, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.The Sentencing Project also found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day, according to 2015 data cited by the organization. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • DigitalVision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Democrats are seizing on big wins this November as a sign of hope for the future of their party. While it is true the big winners were overwhelmingly Democrats, the elections may have also introduced the country to a new brand of politician. They’re fueled by their rejection of Trumpism and inspired by their own ideas of what makes America great. Many have never run for office, or even ever considered themselves “political,” but they say they felt called to serve at this moment in history. They come from diverse backgrounds and have overcome adversity. One is a refugee who fled the civil war in Liberia in the 1990s. He didn’t meet his daughter in America until her second birthday while he waited out the lengthy refugee vetting process. Another candidate, a turban-wearing member of the Sikh community, says his daughter experienced racism for the first time as campaign flyers accused him of “terrorism.” A New Jersey woman, a political novice, decided to stand up and run against a Republican incumbent after he mocked women participating in the Women’s March. All three emerged from election night with new authority and a perceived mandate for change. They spoke with ABC’s Rick Klein and Mary Alice Parks for ABC’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. The refugee that won over Montana votersOn election night this November, Wilmot Collins became the mayor-elect of a majority-white community in Helena, Montana. “I looked at my wife -- both of us are refugees -- and we hugged,” Collins told “Powerhouse Politics.” “It was an emotional moment.” The people of Helena chose Collins in spite of attacks on his immigrant status. “I was reading the papers almost every day and people were talking about, ‘We can’t have an illegal immigrant running for mayor.’ They didn’t understand,” he said. Collins went through a lengthy refugee vetting process that took him two years and seven months in order to join his wife and daughter in the United States. He says “the only thing they didn’t do is [cut] me open and look inside of me. ... We’re already doing extreme vetting. The process works.” Collins has a message for President Donald Trump on immigration: “If I have the chance, I will tell him, ‘I think you got it wrong.’ I would try to explain to him why I think the process he’s using is not in the best interest of the country, rather to a few who don’t want to see this country move forward.” Collins, who will be the first black mayor of Helena, also advocated earlier this year for a Confederate fountain to be removed after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I don’t want this community to be the breeding ground for white nationalists and white supremacists,” said Collins. However, he says easing racial tension is not at the top of his political agenda. Working in human services, he’d observed increases in homelessness among teenagers and veterans, as well as short-staffed fire departments. “Those are the issues that resonated with my community,” said Collins. Standing up for the Women's MarchAshley Bennett ran and won against a New Jersey county official who mocked women participating in the Women’s March, sharing a sexist meme that read: “Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?” Bennett, a first-time candidate who works full-time as a crisis evaluator for a hospital, says she was first inspired to get active in politics after Hillary Clinton lost the race for the White House in the 2016 election. “I just knew that Hillary was going to win -- so much so that I went to sleep,” she said. Bennett said she woke up at 2:30 a.m. to a red map and a new reality. “I was so shocked, so confused, and that was the catalyst to really
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  • moodboard/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration's move to reverse a ban on elephant trophies has elicited strong reactions all over social media, including a number of celebrities invested in preservation. The government is likely to overturn a ban on hunters bringing trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S., reversing an Obama administration rule put in place in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News. Elephants are officially an endangered species, but the governments of those countries can allow hunting if there is evidence it benefits conservation of the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said the Trump administration has new evidence that has emerged to support reversing the ban. Elephant populations have declined 6 percent in Zimbabwe since 2001, according to the Great Elephant Census study published last year. Similar questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts arose after the controversial killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015. Ellen DeGeneres dedicated a portion of her show to speaking out against the move by the administration, starting a #BeKindtoElephants hashtag. "Basically by lifting this ban, he is encouraging Americans to kill elephants," Degeneres said. "Elephants show compassion, sympathy, social intelligence, self-awareness, they're excellent at learning abilities -- all the things I have yet to see in this president." Chelsea Clinton commented on a link to a Humane Society condemnation of the move, calling the lifting of the ban "infuriating." British comedian Ricky Gervais, who has previously tackled animal rights issues such as the Yulin Dog Festival, also condemned the Trump administration move. Oscar winner Russell Crowe echoed Gervais, saying "Dear people with no soul, stop shooting elephants." Actress Olivia Munn, actor Henry Winkler, actress Kristin Davis, actress and singer Daniella Monet, actor Carl Reiner and actor John Cusack were just a handful of the many celebrities weighing in on Twitter over the past two days. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, failed to disclose campaign emails regarding Russian overtures to the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to congressional investigators, top senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday.In a letter circulated to media outlets, chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Kushner failed to provide the committee with all the documents requested as part of their investigation into Russian election interference."We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete," they wrote in a letter to Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.On Thursday, Grassley and Feinstein referenced “several documents that are known to exist” that Kushner did not previously turn over to the committee.Those documents, they said, include an email to Kushner about Wikileaks that he forwarded to another campaign official, another regarding a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” Kushner also forwarded, and “communications” with Belorussian-American businessman Sergei Millian.Millian, a naturalized American citizen who led a Russian-American business group, is reported to be the source of some of the allegations in an uncorroborated intelligence dossier about Trump and Russians. He was in Moscow in 2013 at the time the dossier claimed Trump was involved with Russian prostitutes. Millian has said he was not the source.Keith Schiller, Trump’s former head of security who accompanied him to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, recently told House investigators he turned down an offer to provide Trump with women in Moscow, and that he thought the offer was a joke.Grassley and Feinstein also asked Kushner to turn over phone records and documents related to Kushner’s security clearance and President Trump.“You also raised concerns that certain documents might implicate the President’s Executive Privilege and declined to produce those documents,” they wrote. “We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested.”Lowell, Kushner's attorney, tells ABC News, "Mr. Kushner and we have been responsive to all requests. We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner's calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request.”“We also informed the committee we will be open to responding to any additional requests and that we will continue to work with White House Counsel for any responsive documents from after the inauguration. We have been in a dialogue with the committee and will continue to do so as part of Mr. Kushner's voluntary cooperation with relevant bi-partisan inquiries.The warning to Kushner’s team comes amid new developments regarding the Trump campaign and Russia.Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr. admitted to communicating with Wikileaks over Twitter’s direct messaging system. During the election the group released emails from Democrats that U.S. intelligence officials believe were hacked in an effort orchestrated by the Russian government.And on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned once again about his knowledge of campaign contacts with Russia. He initially said he was not aware of such contacts, a claim that was scrutinized after unsealed court documents and congressional testimony indicated that he was aware of campaign aides’ contacts with Russians.Kushner, who is of interest to investigators because of his proximity to Trump and his role in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, was questioned by House and Senate Intelligence Committee inve
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