• US Senate Photographic Studio(WASHINGTON) -- Top leaders in the Senate are calling for a Senate Ethics Committee review of Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., who was recently accused of forcibly kissing a woman and appearing to grope her while she slept.The committee has not announced whether it will pursue a preliminary inquiry into the alleged incidents, which took place before he joined the Senate when he was on an overseas USO tour, but Franken has welcomed an investigation, saying he’d “gladly cooperate.” Franken has also apologized to his accuser, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is "ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you."On Thursday, the committee announced it would resume its preliminary inquiry into misconduct by Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose federal bribery trial ended in a mistrial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also said if Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is elected in December to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' empty seat, he would likely face an ethics review given the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Moore has denied all the allegations. Here’s a look at how a Senate Ethics Committee review would unfold, if and when one occurs:Who serves on the committee?There are six members on the committee -- Chair Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Vice Chair Chris Coons, D-Del.; Sen. Jim Risch, R-Ind.; Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.Launching a preliminary inquiryUpon the receipt of a complaint or allegation of misconduct, the committee would first decide whether to conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a violation occurred.A preliminary inquiry is similar to grand jury proceedings and could include interviews, subpoenas and depositions. It could last as long or short as the committee needs to conduct its fact-finding.After receiving a final confidential report with the findings and recommendations, the committee would then vote to either dismiss the matter, issue a public or private letter of admonition, or to begin an adjudicatory review.Conducting an adjudicatory reviewAccording to the committee's Rules of Procedure, an adjudicatory review is conducted after finding “there is substantial cause for the committee to conclude that a violation within the jurisdiction of the committee has occurred.”An adjudicatory review can be performed by outside counsel or by the committee staff. It would consist of interviews and sworn statements and could include a public hearing.Upon completion of the review and following a final report, the committee would prepare a report for the Senate, which would include a recommendation if disciplinary action should be pursued. The final report and recommendation of the committee would then be made public, unless the committee votes to keep it confidential.Potential disciplinary actionPotential disciplinary action recommendations could include expulsion, censure and/or payment of restitution. Expulsion would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate.Does the committee have jurisdiction to look into pre-Senate allegations?The allegations against Franken occurred prior to his becoming a U.S. senator. Would the committee still have jurisdiction in a case predating someone's time in the Senate?The answer is yes - but it hasn’t happened in modern times, according to Robert Walker, who previously served as chief counsel and staff director on the Senate Ethics Committee from 2003 to 2008.Walker said he’s unaware of any modern ethics inquiry that stemmed from allegations predating a senator’s time in office but says the committee has left open its ability to consider cases prior to one’s service.“The committee has specifically left this an open issue such that in any given case it's up to the committee whether they want to look into pre-Senate conduct,” he said.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio.
    Read more...
  • petervician/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump will be presented with the recommendation to finance and sell anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian government — a move aimed at deterring aggression from pro-Russian separatists, a State Department official told ABC News.The National Security Council decided during a meeting on Tuesday to greenlight the presentation of a $47 million grant package to the Ukrainian government to purchase American defense arms, including the powerful Javelin anti-tank missiles.The president and Congress must approve the sale of anti-tank missiles. The Javelin, a portable missile with a steep price-tag, has been described as "The American Military's Anti-Tank Killer."If Trump approves the arms deal, it would be a major shift from the party platform on sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, which was amended when Trump was the party's nominee for president, from supporting "lethal defensive arms" to Ukraine to the more vague "appropriate assistance” -- language that ran counter to the perspective of many of the organization’s Republicans."They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved," Trump said of his campaign in an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos at the time, before adding, "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had worked for years for the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was expelled in a popular uprising in 2014.Russia invaded Crimea and sent troops and arms into eastern Ukraine shortly after his ouster, leading to a conflict that rages on to this day. The Obama administration never provided arms assistance to Ukraine in response.A former Trump White House official and adviser to the president expressed concern to ABC News that arming Ukraine would inflame tensions in the region and aggravate America’s fragile relationship with Russia.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis have been in discussions since June about how to best make the sale. They strongly recommended the decision to finance and sell anti-tank missiles to Ukraine above two other options that would aid in the arming of Ukraine.The State Department official added that, in the upcoming weeks, there will be a meeting to discuss the public messaging on the sale — feedback that will be included in the eventual decision.But a White House official cautioned that they are not ready to make their decision public."We have no announcement at this time," National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton told ABC News in an email.The State Department was equally non-committal. "The United States has neither provided defensive weapons nor ruled out the option of doing so," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News.Ukrainian officials have been publicly optimistic about relations with the United States."We are really satisfied with the acceleration of U.S.-Ukraine relations at the moment," Artur Gerasymov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and chairman of a military subcommittee, told the publication Foreign Policy in late October.Mattis stressed the administration's desire to strengthen ties with Ukraine in an August press conference in Kiev with President Petro Poroshenko."This permits me, better informed, to go back and advocate for what I believe you need, as brought to me by your minister of defense and, certainly, your president," Mattis said. "For example, we've just approved -- just very recently, last couple of weeks -- another $175 million worth of equipment, including some specialized equipment that can be used to help defend the country, bringing to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years."He added, at the time, that U.S. military leadership has been reviewing the American position on providing defensive lethal weapons."I would also point out that, on the defensive lethal weapons ... we a
    Read more...
  • MD WAZID HOSSAIN/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has announced that his administration's plan to reverse a ban on big game trophies has been put on hold so he can "review all conservation facts."On Wednesday, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News that the Trump administration had planned to allow hunters to bring trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States.However, Trump wrote on Twitter Friday evening that the decision had been placed on hold.The proposed reversal was met with widespread backlash, with celebrities and public figures taking to social media to criticize the president.The ban on big game trophies had been put in place by the Obama administration in 2014.Elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import such trophies if there is evidence that the hunting benefits conversation of the species.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
    Read more...
  • flySnow/iStock/thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are taxpayers footing the bill for workplace settlements on Capitol Hill?Earlier this week, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told MSNBC that Congress has paid out more than $15 million to settle harassment claims over the last 10 to 15 years.An aide to Speier -- who is leading the charge on Capitol Hill to reform anti-harassment training and the complaint process -- later clarified that the figure included all workplace complaint settlements. But the congresswoman’s comments raised questions about settlement payments in Congress.How much money has been paid out?Congress has paid $17.24 million for 264 settlements between 1997 and 2017, according to the congressional Office of Compliance, the legislative branch’s workplace administration office.An OOC official told ABC News that most of the complaints are not related to sexual harassment, but also include other workplace issues regarding racial discrimination, overtime, and family and medical leave, among others.In a fact sheet explaining the claims process released Thursday, the OOC said a “large portion” of the cases come from “employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate.”“The statistics on payments are not further broken down because settlements may involve cases that allege violations of more than one of the 13 statutes incorporated by the [Congressional Accountability Act],” the OCC wrote in the fact sheet.In short, it’s not clear how much of that $17 million has been used to settle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.Where does the money come from?The settlement payments come from the U.S. Treasury, according to the terms of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the marque congressional labor and accountability legislation governing work in the legislative branch.The CAA appropriates “such sums as may be necessary to pay such awards and settlements,” which are all approved by the executive director of the OCC.Speier, who has introduced the Me Too Congress Act with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would require lawmakers repay the U.S. Treasury for any sexual harassment settlements and make their names public."I think it's going to clean up a lot of people's acts," she told ABC News' Mary Bruce in an interview.Who approves the payment?Any payments regarding House employees must be approved by leaders of the House Administration Committee, according to a committee aide.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
    Read more...
  • f11photo/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, appeared in federal court on Wednesday to fight ongoing efforts to pry more information from his company.The firm, which produced the so-called “dossier” of unconfirmed and salacious allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump, including purported collusion between the Trump campaign officials and agents of the Russian government, is seeking to thwart efforts by House Republicans to compel the firm's bank to turn over the company's entire financial portfolio -- a move that could reveal its roster of confidential clients.The funders of the dossier have already been identified – a Republican-backed publication, The Washington Free Beacon, and a law firm for the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign both acknowledged hiring Fusion GPS to conduct research on Trump – but House Republicans nevertheless renewed subpoenas aimed at opening the firm’s financial records.Lawyers for the firm have argued that the move is “a poorly disguised effort to harm persons and a business” and filed a temporary restraining order against its bank to prevent them to turning over the records to the committee, while lawyers for the House Republicans argued that the committee’s interest “is not limited to the dossier.”
    Read more...
  • 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.
    Read more...