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Donald Trump's lawsuit against former fixer Michael Cohen scheduled for trial in August 2024

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump's lawsuit against his one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is set for trial in August 2024, according to an order Friday by a federal judge in Florida.

Trump has accused Cohen of breaching his fiduciary duty and his lawsuit seeks at least a half-billion dollars in damages.

Cohen has sought to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it vindictive, frivolous and scattershot.

"This suit combines the worst of Mr. Trump's vindictive impulses. The Complaint, frivolous and scattershot, is an abusive act of pure retaliation and witness intimidation, albeit a ham-fisted one," Cohen's attorneys Benjamin Brodsky and Danya Perry said in the motion to dismiss filed in May.

The judge has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss but set a trial date of Aug. 26, 2024, about a month after the Republican National Convention.

Trump accused Cohen of "egregious breaches of fiduciary duty and contract" in connection with the publication of books and the production of a podcast that "are intended to be embarrassing or detrimental" to Trump.

"Despite Cohen's arguments to the contrary, the Complaint alleges that Cohen was conferred substantial benefits during his representation of the Plaintiff and utilized such benefits for purposes of obtaining selfish, financial profit at the expense of Plaintiff," Trump's attorney, Alejandro Britto, said in a statement earlier this month.

The civil trial would require neither Trump nor Cohen to be present, but it represents yet another legal entanglement for the former president as he again seeks the White House.

Judge Darrin Gayles also ordered Trump and Cohen to try and mediate their dispute prior to trial, setting a mediation deadline of May 2024.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'This is secret information': Trump on audio recording talks about not declassifying documents

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump said on an audio recording in 2021 that he had taken classified information with him to his Florida home after leaving the White House, ABC News has confirmed.

Trump is heard on the audio recording saying, as described to ABC News, "As president I could have declassified, but now I can't."

The recording, first reported Friday morning by CNN, was made as part of an interview Trump gave for a book and was obtained by the special counsel’s team.

According to a portion of the transcript of the call obtained by ABC News, Trump is heard acknowledging that the document he claims to have is "highly confidential" and "secret."

"Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me," a transcript of the audio obtained by ABC News says.

The transcript appears to suggest that Trump is showing the document in question to those in the room.

"Well, with Milley -- uh, let me see that, I'll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn't that amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him. They presented me this -- this is off the record, but -- they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him," the transcript said. "We looked at some. This was him. This wasn't done by me, this was him. All sorts of stuff -- pages long, look. Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, initially assigned to oversee his case: Sources

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(FORT PIERCE, Fla.) -- The summons sent to former President Donald Trump and his legal team late Thursday indicates that U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon will be assigned to oversee his case, at least initially, according to sources briefed on the matter.

Cannon's apparent assignment would add yet another unprecedented wrinkle to a case involving the first federal charges against a former president: Trump appointed Cannon to the federal bench in 2019, meaning that, if Trump is ultimately convicted, she would be responsible for determining the sentence – which may include prison time – for the man who elevated her to the role.

A federal grand jury voted to indict Trump on at least seven federal charges late Thursday as part of an investigation into his handling of classified documents, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News. The indictment comes after more than 100 documents with classified markings were found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in August 2022.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claimed again late Thursday that he was innocent.

Cannon is no stranger to the case. The 42-year-old judge was appointed last year as a "special master" to review those materials seized from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Legal experts accused Cannon of handing Trump a series of head-scratching victories over the course of those proceedings.

ABC News left a voicemail with Judge Cannon’s chambers Friday morning seeking comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

In one instance, Cannon restricted the FBI from using the seized classified documents as part of their ongoing probe until she completed her review. Cannon's order was ultimately thrown out in its entirety by an 11th Circuit Court of appeals panel, which found she overstepped in exercising her jurisdiction in the probe.

In addition to Cannon, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart's name also appeared on the summons sent to Trump on Thursday, the sources said.

Reinhart, who was sworn in as a magistrate judge in 2018, is also familiar with the proceedings against Trump: he signed off on the initial search warrant of Mar-a-Lago last year and later ruled to unseal the search affidavit – decisions that made him the target of antisemitic jabs on the internet.

Judges in most federal cases are assigned at random. But the apparent nods to Cannon and Reinhart on the summons for Trump might actually reflect the fact that both have already played roles in the proceedings, experts said.

"If the case is being overseen by the same district and magistrate judges, that means the court likely considered the indictment to be 'related' to the search warrant and intentionally assigned it to those judges," former senior Justice Department national security official Brandon Van Grack told ABC News.

ABC News was provided a case number that was part of the written summons and according to the federal court filing system PACER, that case number matches a docket under "Judge AMC." Cannon's full name is Aileen Mercedes Cannon.

Apart from her own previous involvement in the investigation of Trump, Cannon's assignment would put her at the center of one of what is likely to be one of the most consequential and scrutinized criminal cases in American history.

Her rulings on everything from procedural motions to Trump's planned efforts to have the case thrown out before trial will have vast implications for the course of the case leading into an election year where Trump currently holds the status of the Republican party's front runner.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden condemns 'hysterical' and 'ugly' anti-LGBTQ measures

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled new initiatives to support LGBTQ Americans and called recent anti-trans efforts "thoroughly unjustified" and "ugly."

Biden was set to host the White House's largest-ever Pride celebration but had to postpone due to the heavy smoke that inundated Washington, as well as other major U.S. cities, from raging Canadian wildfires.

Instead, he discussed the initiatives during a press conference with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when asked about his message to families who no longer feel safe amid increasing legislative onslaughts in Republican-led states.

Biden, who first touted his administration's work to reverse the transgender military ban and his signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, slammed the effort to rollback such protections.

"Our fight is far, far from over because we have some hysterical, and I would argue prejudiced, people who are engaged in all you what see going on around the country," he said. "It's an appeal to fear and an appeal that is totally, thoroughly unjustified, ugly."

Biden continued, "It's wrong that extreme officials are pushing hateful bills targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors. These are our kids. These are our neighbors. It's cruel and callous."

The president then turned to the administration's new measures aimed at protecting the LGBTQ community, which are being rolled out during Pride Month. They include appointing a coordinator to take on book bans around the country, security training for LGBTQ community groups and health care providers, a new advisory to help mental health providers and new resources to address youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community.

"LGBTQ Americans, especially children, you're loved, you're heard, and this administration has your back," Biden said Thursday. "And I mean it. We are not relenting one single second to make sure that they're protected."

The announcement comes just days after the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ people in the United States. More than 75 bills have been signed into law this year that restrict the community in some way, according to the organization.

Log Cabin Republicans, the self-described "largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies" in the United States, accused the HRC of "destructively redefining support for the LGBT community around trans surgeries for minors, biological men competing in women's sports, and sex and gender identity lessons in kindergarten."

"The HRC's latest PR stunt is so ignorantly detached from the incredible LGBT progress over the past decade that we'd be shocked if their donors even buy it," the statement said. "Bipartisan legislation codifying gay marriage was signed into law just last year, public support for equal rights for LGBT Americans has never been higher, and LGBT Americans are increasingly visible and respected throughout our culture."

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security also warned threats against LGBTQ individuals were on the rise.

The White House Pride event, which hundreds of LGBTQ families and children were slated to attend, will now take place this coming Saturday.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Donald Trump indicted for second time, in classified documents investigation: Sources

Scott Olson/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump has been indicted for a second time, this time on federal charges in relation to his handling of classified information while out of office, sources familiar confirm to ABC News.

The former president faces at least seven charges, sources tell ABC News, which include willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal, and false statements and representations.

Maximum sentences for the respective charges, per their statutes, range from five up to 20 years, although any eventual sentence should Trump be convicted would likely be much lower.

Trump is set to be arraigned in federal court in Miami on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET, sources said.

In a statement on social media, Trump wrote Thursday he had been told of the indictment and insisted the case was a "hoax."

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Trump wrote he is "INNOCENT" and it was a "DARK DAY" for the U.S.

Trump also claimed he is innocent in a video posted to Truth Social, saying: "I am innocent. We will prove that very, very soundly and hopefully very quickly. Thank you very much."

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and special counsel Jack Smith's office declined to comment on Trump's statement.

The unprecedented federal indictment of a former president -- who already faces a criminal case in New York City that he denies and who is the current front-runner for the Republican Party's nomination for the White House in 2024 -- further underlines what are potentially the most consequential prosecutions in U.S. history, with both global and domestic implications.

Experts say a current U.S. government criminally prosecuting its former leader and current leading opposition party candidate upends long-held norms and could test the nation's democratic system in a manner that stretches far beyond the merits of the case itself.

The federal probe has been led by Smith, who was tapped by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November to oversee the Department of Justice's investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents when his presidency ended.

Smith is also overseeing the investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Central to Smith's efforts in the classified documents probe is determining whether lawyers who represented the former president falsely certified in response to a grand jury subpoena that Trump had returned all classified records to the government, or whether Trump himself sought to conceal records he might have unlawfully retained.

As ABC News previously reported, prosecutors in the special counsel's office have presented compelling preliminary evidence that Trump knowingly and deliberately misled his own attorneys about his retention of classified material after leaving office in early 2021, according to sources who described the contents of a sealed filing from a top federal judge.

In early 2022, sources told ABC News, National Archives officials asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump's handling of White House records after the National Archives in January retrieved 15 boxes of records from Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that had been improperly taken in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

The DOJ probe hit a critical point on Aug. 8, 2022, when Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was searched by FBI agents.

Federal investigators seized more than 100 documents with classified markings during the search, according to an unsealed detailed inventory list. From Trump's office alone, there were 43 empty folders seized with classified banners.

The property inventory list also showed that agents gathered more than 11,000 documents or photographs without classification markings, all of which were described as property of the U.S. government.

Since the August search, Trump and his legal team have found additional classified documents and have received additional subpoenas for information the government believes could still be in Trump's possession.

The former president, who in April pleaded not guilty to unrelated criminal charges that he falsified business records in connection with a hush money payment made in the days before the 2016 election, has said he will stay in the 2024 presidential race despite any indictments.

In addition to Smith's probes, Trump is also under investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in that state.

ABC News' John Santucci and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

GOP candidate who backed strict abortion ban in his state says he wouldn't outlaw it nationwide

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(WASHINGTON) -- Republican presidential candidate and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Thursday that while he backed a strict abortion ban in his own state, he would not support a similar, nationwide law if he is elected to the White House.

"I think the decision that was made returning the power to the states was the right one. And I think we're going to have -- we have a lot of division on this issue in America. And what's right for North Dakota may not be right for another state ... the best decisions are made locally," Burgum said on CNN This Morning.

The governor, who launched his 2024 campaign from Fargo on Wednesday with a message focused on the economy, energy and national security, had been asked about his views on the importance of giving power to states.

"Does that mean as president you would not sign a federal abortion ban?" anchor Poppy Harlow asked.

"That's correct," Burgum said.

In April, North Dakota adopted one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, banning abortion with very limited exceptions -- some of which only apply up to six weeks' gestation, before many women know they are pregnant.

The exceptions up to six weeks' gestation allow abortion in cases of rape or incest. Exceptions for medical emergencies are allowed throughout pregnancy.

On CNN, Burgum framed his different views on abortion legislation as meant to accommodate different kinds of government power.

"One of the most important things a CEO can do is really prioritize what that organization should focus on," Burgum, a former tech company CEO, said. "And the federal government's got a limited set of powers that they're supposed to focus on."

Abortion bans have emerged as a divisive issue among Republicans since the Supreme Court's 2022 decision reversing Roe v. Wade's nationwide guarantee to access the procedure.

Some, like former vice president and 2024 candidate Mike Pence, have called for a national abortion ban.

Others, like Burgum, say the issue should be decided on a state-by-state level.

In his 2024 kickoff speech, Pence chided those in the GOP who he said were "retreating" from an issue that "has been our party's calling for a half a century." He specifically criticized Donald Trump, claiming Trump had softened his position after leaving office. (Pence did not mention abortion in a related 2024 announcement video, however.)

The battle over abortion rights is likely to also shape the 2024 election season.

Currently, at least 15 states have ceased nearly all abortions due to legal restrictions.

Protecting abortion access can be a motivating factor for voters in swing states like Michigan and New Hampshire, as seen in exit polls of the 2022 midterm elections.

Other conservatives have taken a different view from Pence and Burgum.

"We're going to lose huge if we continue down this path of extremities," Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina said on ABC's This Week in April.

She pointed to "some sort of gestational limits" on abortion as well as key exceptions: "These are all very commonsense positions that we can take and still be pro-life."

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Trump attorneys argue former president deserves reconsideration of damages in E. Jean Carroll case

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump deserves a reconsideration of the damages a Manhattan, New York jury awarded because it did not find Trump raped E. Jean Carroll, as she long alleged, defense attorneys argued Thursday in a new court filing.

"The Court should order a new trial on damages or grant remittitur because contrary to Plaintiff's claim of rape, the Jury found that she was not raped but was sexually abused by Defendant during the 1995/1996 Bergdorf Goodman incident. Such abuse could have included groping of Plaintiffs breasts through clothing or similar conduct, which is a far cry from rape. Therefore, an award of $2 million for such conduct, which admittedly did not cause any diagnosed mental injury to Plaintiff, is grossly excessive under the applicable case law," the defense said.

The jury held Trump liable for battering E. Jean Carroll. The jury did not find that he raped her in a department store dressing room as alleged but held him liable for a lesser form of battery, sexual assault.

Trump has already signaled he intends to appeal the verdict. His filing Thursday sought to challenge the $5 million damage award.

"The $2.7 million compensatory damages award for Plaintiffs defamation claim for the October 12, 2022 Truth Social statement was based upon pure speculation," the filing said. "Plaintiffs estimate of how many times the October 12, 2022 Statement was viewed on Truth Social and Twitter was totally unreliable because it incredibly ranged from 1.5 million to 5.7 million times, which is an error rate of 74%."

Carroll's legal team said the Trump lawyers' arguments are "frivolous."

“Over four weeks ago, a unanimous jury found that Donald Trump sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman and then defamed her by lying about her with hatred, ill-will, or spite," Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said in a statement to ABC News. "Trump now argues that, even if he did those things, Ms. Carroll doesn’t deserve the $5 million in damages that the jury awarded. But Trump’s arguments are frivolous -- the jury carefully considered the evidence that Ms. Carroll presented, and Trump did not put on a single witness of his own. This time, Trump will not be able to escape the consequences of his actions.”

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump indictment live updates: Trump facing federal charges in classified docs investigation

Scott Olson/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on federal charges in an investigation into his handling of classified documents, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The indictment of Trump, who has repeatedly denied any allegations of impropriety, is unprecedented for a former president.

The indictment comes after more than 100 documents with classified markings were found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in August 2022.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern.

Jun 08, 9:19 PM EDT
What 2nd Trump indictment could mean for GOP White House race: Analysis

With former President Donald Trump now facing a second indictment, this time on federal charges, according to sources, it's a turn of events that could shake up the Republican primary field as Trump makes a third run for the White House.

The aftermath of Trump's first indictment in New York connection to an alleged hush money scheme could be an indication of what is to come. Before his first indictment, Trump pledged to continue on with his presidential bid despite charges and even argued that cases could give his campaign a boost. Trump wasn't wrong.

In fact, he still outpaces his GOP rivals in recent polling.

Another boon to his campaign, the fact that Republicans by and large rallied around him after his first indictment -- even most of those challenging him in the Republican presidential primary.

But the field of candidates is more crowded now, comprised of more candidates willing to clearly criticize Trump.

-ABC News' Averi Harper

Jun 08, 9:07 PM EDT
Federal indictment expected to be 'speaking indictment': Sources

The federal indictment against former President Donald Trump is expected to be a "speaking indictment" that will lay out chapter and verse the government's case to the public, according to sources.

-ABC News' Ivan Pereira

Jun 08, 8:56 PM EDT
Trump team anticipated indictment for several days: Sources

Former President Donald Trump's team has been anticipating a federal indictment for the past several days, sources said.

Sources said his team is already planning a trip down to Miami and is thinking of holding a campaign event around this indictment.

-ABC News' John Santucci

Jun 08, 8:49 PM EDT
DOJ, White House decline to comment

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and Special Counsel Jack Smith's office declined to comment Thursday evening on Trump's announcement he was informed of his indictment.

White House Spokesperson Ian Sams also declined to comment on Trump saying his attorneys have been informed he has been indicted in the classified documents investigation.

Sams referred ABC News to the DOJ, which he said "conducts its criminal investigations independently."

-ABC News' Molly Nagle and Alexander Mallin

Jun 08, 8:37 PM EDT
Trump charged in 'rocket docket' court -- and why that could matter

Former President Donald Trump will face charges in the Southern District of Florida, a venue whose reputation for swift proceedings has earned it "rocket docket" status -- a colloquialism that reflects its strict adherence to the speedy trial clock.

Walter Norkin, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida, explains why that might be notable.

"The Southern District of Florida is one of the few districts in the country that operates under a 'rocket docket' and, in distinction from the District of Columbia, you can expect a criminal case to be resolved within six months of an indictment issuing," Norkin told ABC News. "The judges in the Southern District of Florida adhere very strictly to the Speedy Trial clock, which, with limited exceptions, requires trial or conviction to occur within 70 days."

As a strategic matter, according to Norkin, the special counsel may have chosen this particular venue as a means to circumvent that inclination as prosecutors face the prospect of "certain policy considerations that take effect as an election nears."

"To the extent a defense strategy would be to delay trial," Norkin continued, "they will have a heavier burden executing that plan in Southern District of Florida than they would in another district."

-ABC News' Lucien Bruggeman

Jun 08, 8:19 PM EDT
What an indictment means for Trump's presidential bid

Former President Donald Trump can still be elected president again -- even if he is convicted -- experts tell ABC News.

But there are practical reasons that could make it a challenge, the experts told ABC News after Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in March.

Jun 08, 8:12 PM EDT
Who is special counsel Jack Smith?

Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped Jack Smith in November 2022 as special counsel to oversee the DOJ's investigation into former President Donald Trump's handling of classified materials after leaving office.

Former colleagues have characterized Smith, a longtime federal prosecutor and former head of the Justice Department's public integrity section, as an aggressive prosecutor who would not shy away from taking on difficult prosecutorial judgments, with the background and temperament that make him a strong selection for the high-profile role.

Jun 08, 7:57 PM EDT
What to expect at Tuesday's arraignment

When the former president arrives at Miami federal court on Tuesday, it will mark an extraordinary moment for the country: Trump will be formally placed under arrest by the very government he was once elected to lead.

Once he is arrested, Trump will be booked and processed as a federal defendant and then appear before a judge for an arraignment.

Trump, or one of his attorneys, will enter a not guilty plea, touching off the prosecution of the former president.

The courthouse has spent the last several days preparing for Trump's arrival, but there is no outward sign Thursday night that he is days away from appearing.

Prior to news of the indictment, members of the special counsel's team were seen going into and out of court and the room where a grand jury has been hearing evidence.

-ABC News' Aaron Katersky

Jun 08, 7:51 PM EDT
Trump calls investigation a 'hoax'

Former President Donald Trump posted on his social network Truth Social Thursday evening that his lawyers have been informed he's been indicted.

He called the investigation a "hoax" and said he's an "innocent man."

Trump said he has been summoned to appear at the Miami federal courthouse on Tuesday.

Trump's campaign sent out a fundraising email following news of the indictment.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Supreme Court rules Alabama's congressional maps violate Voting Rights Act

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Alabama's congressional maps, redrawn after the 2020 census, violate Section 2 of the landmark Voting Rights Act by diluting the influence of the state's Black voters.

The 5-4 decision, which effectively strikes down Alabama's GOP-drawn election map as illegal, came as a surprise to most court watchers after a series of rulings in recent years sharply rolled back protections against race discrimination under the law.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, affirmed a lower court ruling that found the existence of only a single majority-black congressional district denied roughly a quarter of the state's electorate an equal opportunity to select political candidates of their choosing.

Section 2, enacted in 1965 and later amended by Congress, says states cannot draw maps that "result in a denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color."

"We find Alabama's new approach to Section 2 compelling neither in theory nor in practice," Roberts wrote in an opinion joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Roberts acknowledged concerns raised by Alabama Republicans that consideration of race in the drawing of election maps may itself "elevate race in the allocation of political power" but concluded "a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here."

The decision means Alabama will have to redraw its election maps ahead of the next election, likely to include a second majority-Black district as mandated by a lower court. The new maps will likely mean greater minority representation in the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett dissented in the case.

"The question presented is whether Section 2 of the Act, as amended, requires the State of Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State's population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it," Thomas wrote in his dissent.

Justice Kavanaugh, who has emerged as a key swing vote on the current court, emphasized the importance of stare decisis -- or precedent -- in his vote to strike down Alabama's map.

He said the Supreme Court has long endorsed a standard that judges voting laws and election maps on their effects, not on the intent of the legislators. That requires, he said, "that courts account for the race of voters so as to prevent the cracking or packing -- whether intentional or not -- of large and geographically compact minority populations."

The plaintiffs in the case, a group of Alabama minority voters, and leading civil rights organizations all hailed the Court's ruling.

"This decision is a crucial win against the continued onslaught of attacks on voting rights," said Deuel Ross, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who argued the case before the court in October.

"Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race had no place in redistricting. But because of the state's sordid and well-documented history of racial discrimination, race must be used to remedy that past and ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process," Ross said in a statement.

Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy, said the Supreme Court had more broadly rejuvenated the power of federal anti-discrimination protections.

"The Voting Rights Act is one of the country's most effective civil rights laws. This decision will ensure that voters of color can continue to use Section 2 to assure their equal opportunity to participate in elections, in Alabama and around the country," Waldman said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland also praised the decision and said the Justice Department would continue to challenge state laws that infringe on the right to vote.

"We will continue to use every authority we have left to defend voting rights. But that is not enough. We urge Congress to act to provide the Department with important authorities it needs to protect the voting rights of every American," Garland said in a statement.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

House Oversight plans UFO hearing after unconfirmed claims of crashed alien spacecraft

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(WASHINGTON) -- The powerful House Oversight Committee is in the "early stages" of preparing a hearing on UFOs in the wake of unconfirmed claims from a former intelligence official that the U.S. has allegedly found crashed alien spacecraft -- an account the Pentagon says is unsubstantiated.

Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., was first asked about these claims by a NewsNation reporter on Tuesday and said, "I've heard about it, I don't know anything about it. ... We plan on having a hearing."

In a subsequent statement to ABC News on Wednesday, Oversight Committee spokesman Austin Hacker said: "In addition to recent claims by a whistleblower, reports continue to surface regarding unidentified anomalous phenomena. The House Oversight Committee is following these UAP reports and is in the early stages of planning a hearing."

Republican Reps. Anna Paulina Luna and Tim Burchett confirmed on Twitter that they will lead the committee's investigation into UFOs, officially referred to as unidentified anomalous phenomena or UAPs.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon said that the Department of Defense's UAP task force, reorganized since 2022 as the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), "has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate" the claims about crashed alien craft.

"To date, AARO has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently," Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough told ABC News on Monday night.

The former intelligence official, David Grusch, had alleged on Monday that the U.S. government has a covert program focused on recovering debris from crashed, non-human origin spacecraft and is attempting to reverse-engineer the technology, the online tech outlet The Debrief reported.

There has been no public confirmation of Grusch's account, and a leading House Republican, intelligence chairman Mike Turner, also expressed skepticism about the idea that the U.S. government has recovered alien spacecraft.

Grusch has said he gave evidence of such a program to Congress and the Office of the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community, according to The Debrief.

Grusch said that for a little more than six months, until July 2022, he was assigned to a UAP task force that was a predecessor of AARO. He acknowledged to The Debrief that his task force did not have access to the alleged program related to crashed spacecraft but said he became aware of it through his work.

"Every decade there's been individuals who've said the United States has such pieces of unidentified flying objects that are from outer space," Rep. Turner of Ohio said when asked on Fox News about Grusch's claims. "There's no evidence of this and certainly it would be quite a conspiracy for this to be maintained, especially at this level."

In an April hearing, Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of AARO, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his agency was reviewing 650 incidents dating back decades but "found no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology, or objects that defy the known laws of physics."

Last week, Kirkpatrick said that the total number of incidents had grown to "well over 800 cases."

"The majority of unidentified objects reported to AARO demonstrate mundane characteristics of balloons, unmanned aerial systems, clutter, natural phenomena, or other readily explainable sources," Kirkpatrick told lawmakers in April.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump informed that he is target of special counsel investigation over classified docs: Sources

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump received a letter from special counsel Jack Smith's office in recent weeks informing him that he is the target of an ongoing investigation related to his handling of classified information while out of office, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

The point of a target letter is to put the subject on notice that they are facing the prospect of indictment.

Department of Justice guidelines state that "the prosecutor, in appropriate cases, is encouraged to notify such person a reasonable time before seeking an indictment in order to afford him or her an opportunity to testify before the grand jury."

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and argues he is being singled out by enemies.

"I've done NOTHING wrong, but I have assumed for years that I am a Target of the WEAPONIZED DOJ & FBI," he wrote on social media this week.

Lawyers for Trump on Monday met with officials at the DOJ, sources previously said.

That meeting included Smith and a career justice official but neither Attorney General Merrick Garland nor Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, sources said.

Last month, Trump's lawyers requested a meeting with Garland amid fears that the coming weeks could bring a possible indictment regarding Trump's alleged efforts to retain materials after leaving office and obstruct the government's attempts to retrieve them.

The lawyers said they had questions surrounding the integrity of the grand juries investigating the former president.

Smith, the special counsel, was named by Garland in November after Trump launched his third White House bid.

Smith is also investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump is separately charged in New York City with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential race.

He pleaded not guilty in that case.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum joins 2024 presidential race against Trump, DeSantis

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(WASHINGTON) -- North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday jumped into the 2024 presidential race -- becoming the 12th Republican candidate on the list, with a pitch to voters focused on lessons he learned out West.

"We need new leadership for the changing economy. We need a leader who understands the real work that Americans do every day," Burgum said at a campaign kickoff event in Fargo, North Dakota on Wednesday.

"Someone who's worked alongside our farmers, our ranchers and our small business owners; someone who's held jobs where you shower at the end of the day, not at the beginning," he said.

To cheers, he said, "We need a leader who's clearly focused on three things: economy, energy and national security."

He tied energy to both of the other topics. "It takes energy to get things done in America. Clean, reliable, low-cost energy brings manufacturing back to the U.S. and reduces our supply chain risks," Burgum said. "U.S. energy policy can not be separated from either our economy or from our national security. Energy policy directly underpins both, and we need to stop buying energy from our enemies and start selling energy to our friends and allies."

And Burgum harkened back to his roots when discussing national security: "Growing up in a small town, you learn quickly: The enemy isn't each other. Our enemies aren't our neighbors down the street. Our enemies are countries that want to see our way of life destroyed. … We should all be fighting to unite the country against our common enemies like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and the drug cartels."

During his remarks, Burgum criticized President Joe Biden on various issues, including taxes, an "out of control border ignored by the White House" and economic struggles. However, neither Burgum nor other speakers ever referenced any other Republican candidates for president.

Burgum also blamed Biden for ongoing high inflation, saying, "Every small business owner and every family in our country is feeling the corrosive hidden tax on their lives driven by the Biden-induced inflation. Inflation is the worst; it hurts those the most who can afford it the least."

Calling innovation the "driver of America," Burgum also knocked the Biden administration for being "obsessed with creating mountains of federal red tape" and for actions that increased gas prices.

"Where we come from when something isn't working, you stop and you try something new. That's common sense. Joe Biden has got to go," Burgum said to cheers and applause.

But he concluded his remarks on an optimistic note: "When we take the time to look, we can see that we are surrounded by the best of America. Working together, we will unlock the best of America in all of us."

Burgum, a former software CEO elected in 2016, had teased his announcement with a video released on Monday.

Titled "Change," Burgum's teaser video shows him tracing his biographical roots: "I started a shoeshine business, worked at the grain elevator and as the chimney sweep, paid my way through college then earned an MBA from Stanford. I ignored those who said North Dakota was too small, too cold and too remote to build a world-class software company."

A native of Arthur, North Dakota, Burgum founded Great Plains Software in 1983 and it was ultimately acquired by Microsoft in 2001; Burgum remained active in the company until 2007.

"I literally bet the farm to help turn a small startup into a billion dollar company in North Dakota. People thought I was crazy. A software company in North Dakota? But we ignored those who said North Dakota was too small, too cold, and too distant to build a world class software company. We did it anyway," Burgum said during his campaign kickoff event.

Following Great Plains Software, Burgum went on to start the Kibourne Group, focused on real estate development, in 2006. He co-founded Arthurs Ventures, an investment firm, in 2008.

As a politician, Burgum successfully ran against the Republican Party's preferred candidate in the 2016 gubernatorial primary and overwhelmingly won reelection in 2020. At his campaign kickoff on Wednesday, he said that he and his administration strengthened cybersecurity in the state, bolstered relations with tribal nations, made "record investments" in education and balanced the budget.

Still, he has acknowledged how his small-state background complicates his path on the national stage even though "there's a value to being underestimated all the time," he told The Forum newspaper in May.

At the time, he appealed to what he called the "silent majority" in the country who don't sit on the extremes of any issue.

He seems set to approach the crowded GOP field, which includes former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others, as a small-town conservative focused on issues such as jobs, the economy and national security, while shrinking the government.

"Today, America is facing new challenges and how we respond will define our future," he said in his teaser video. "We need new leadership for our changing economy. Innovation over regulation. Instead of shutting down American oil and gas, we should unleash energy production and start selling energy to our allies instead of buying it from our enemies. High taxes, red tape and inflation are choking every American."

Burgum also invoked the power, he said, of a more moderate tone.

"In North Dakota, we've listened with respect and we talk things out," he said in his video. "That's how we can get America back on track. It worked in that tiny town where I grew up."

Burgum is anticipated to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, which will hold Republicans' first two nominating contests early next year.

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Republicans launch new effort to boost early voting, breaking with Trump's past criticism

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Republican National Committee on Wednesday launched an effort to increase early-vote turnout in 2024, seeking to curtail a Democratic advantage and to put more distance between the GOP and former President Donald Trump's past criticism of mail and early ballots.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced "Bank Your Vote," which the party said in a news release will "encourage, educate, and activate Republican voters on when, where, and how to lock in their votes as early as possible, through in-person early voting, absentee voting, and ballot harvesting where legal."

The effort will have voters sign up at, triggering digital reminders from the RNC on early voting options. The party will also activate its volunteer network -- which the RNC said has made more than 300 million volunteer door knocks and phone calls in the last two election cycles -- to activate "neighbor-to-neighbor contact to inform and mobilize Republicans."

"To beat Joe Biden and the Democrats in 2024, we must ensure that Republicans bank as many pre-Election Day votes as possible," McDaniel said in a statement. "The RNC is proud to build on our historic efforts from last cycle and work with the entire Republican ecosystem to reach every state. Banking votes early needs to be the focus of every single Republican campaign in the country, and the Republican National Committee will lead the charge."

Early and mail voting have become increasingly prevalent since the onset of COVID-19 but haven't been embraced equally by both major political parties.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Election Project, 33.8% of the early vote in the 2022 midterms came from Republicans, while 42.5% came from Democrats.

In a show of support for the new initiative across the GOP, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, the chair of House Republicans' campaign arm, and Steve Daines of Montana, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, appointed Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., to co-chair the effort.

"To take back the White House and Senate and strengthen our House majority in 2024, Republicans must play the game by today's rules, which means maximizing our efforts to bank votes before Election Day," Hagerty said in his own statement. "We cannot afford to sacrifice most of the opportunities to bank votes in key states while Democrats run up the score. Encouraging Republicans to securely 'Bank Your Vote' is the only way to protect the vote and reclaim our out-of-control government."

The new effort, as the lawmakers noted, is an attempt to build up enthusiasm for early voting among Republicans.

Trump throughout his presidency and after he lost the 2020 race railed against unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud -- including baseless allegations that early and mail-in voting is particularly ripe for abuse. Republicans are even changing their stance on third-party ballot collection, which is legal in some states.

The GOP's underperformance in the 2022 midterms, in which they lost a seat in the Senate and only barely flipped the House after predicting massive gains in light of economic issues and President Joe Biden's unpopularity, sparked widespread alarm from Republican operatives and activists, leading many to reluctantly press voters to vote via all methods legally available to them.

"One of the first lessons we have to take from the midterms is the power of early voting," activist Charlie Kirk tweeted after the midterms.

Kirk wrote in 2020 that rule changes to early voting in 2020, reflecting public health concerns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, amounted to "nothing more than a blatant political power play."

The RNC said Wednesday that they will deploy staff and lawyers on the ground and have poll watchers "observe every step of the election process." But McDaniel suggested on a call with reporters that having party figures continue to sound off on concerns over fraud is unhelpful.

"It's simple math: You want to get as many votes in before Election Day," she said. "But that certainly is a challenge if you have people in your ecosystem saying 'don't vote early' or 'don't vote by mail.' And those cross messages do have an impact. I don't think you're seeing that heading into 2024. I think you're seeing all of us singing from the same song."

"We need voters to know that if they vote early, their vote will be protected," McDaniel said on the press call.

Republicans said they hope the RNC initiative will help undo some of the reluctance to early voting that spread during the Trump years.

"Trump led Republicans to give up one of its key advantages over Democrats -- mail-in voting and the absentee ballot chase -- effectively making Republicans fight with one arm behind their electoral back," said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former RNC aide. "This decision takes the cuffs off and allows Republicans to re-use a tactic it had used so well."

ABC News' Caroline Curran contributed to this report.

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Standoff between McCarthy, hardline Republicans continues as House remains in recess

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(WASHINGTON) -- House business has been brought to a halt as the standoff continues between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and hard-line conservatives over McCarthy's handling of the debt ceiling deal.

McCarthy, who said he was surprised by the House Freedom Caucus revolt Tuesday on a procedural move to prevent gas stove bans, said it's his intention to hold more votes Wednesday, but none have been scheduled.

"We're talking through it. I think we'll get ... through it," McCarthy said.

The speaker added, "We can't hold up the work for the American people. I can't believe someone would want to hold up not allowing people to pick their own oven or stove they'd like to have."

Several members of the House Freedom Caucus joined 208 Democrats in voting down a rule to take up legislation to prohibit the federal government from banning gas stoves. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission said in January it had no plans to ban gas stoves, similar efforts have advanced at the state level, such as a law in New York banning natural gas stoves and furnaces in most new buildings.

"I feel blindsided. ... Yesterday was started on something else, " McCarthy said, referring to a heated conversation between Rep. Andrew Clyde and Majority Leader Steve Scalise last week during the debt ceiling vote. McCarthy said it was a "miscalculation or misinterpretation."

Members of the House Freedom Caucus were critical in holding up McCarthy's speakership in January in exchange for concessions on House rules, including a stipulation that a single member could force a floor vote of no confidence in the speaker.

Last month, they came out adamantly opposed to the agreement between McCarthy and President Joe Biden to lift the debt ceiling and avert default and warned of a "reckoning" over the issue.

Tuesday's vote was the first opportunity for the conference to express its dismay with the speaker, successfully blocking procedural step H.R. 463, which would have provided for the consideration of two resolutions aimed at staving off hypothetical federal gas stove bans.

McCarthy, though, offered a different take -- branding the first rule vote failure in nearly 21 years as an opportunity to strengthen his speakership.

"I don't think it [the rule] going down is a bad thing. ... You all think that's terrible; everything has to be perfect. I actually like to change things on its head," he said, at one point comparing himself to Goldilocks in that he gets pushed on all sides.

McCarthy reiterated that he is not "worried" about his speakership as hardline conservatives continue to disrupt the GOP House agenda this week over the debt limit deal.

"We've been through this before. You know, we're in a small majority. I didn't take this job because it's easy," he said.

McCarthy said meetings are ongoing to find "a way that we come together."

"The other thing too, I think a lot of you were beginning to not underestimate us when we had such a good victory last week. So, I think this kind of helps lower it again, so you'll underestimate us, so we'll have more victories. So, in the end, when I look back, this may be a very big positive thing," he said.

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.

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Onetime Trump loyalists Pence and Christie sharpen their challenges on campaign trail: ANALYSIS

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(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump might never have become president without them. And his quest to regain the presidency might depend on what they do now to stop him.

With back-to-back announcements this week, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined a swelling roster of Republicans challenging Trump for the 2024 nomination.

They are embracing disparate but perhaps equally impactful strategies to defeat the man they were once so loyal to. Pence is seeking a more delicate way around Trump, paired with an effort to reclaim core tenets of the GOP, while Christie charts a path he describes as straight through Trump.

"Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States," Pence said Wednesday at his campaign launch in Iowa. "And anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president again."

"There's only one lane to the Republican nomination for president and Donald Trump is at the head of it," Christie said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "And you have to go right through him and make the case against him."

Both men know well how a scattered field contributed to Trump's rise in late 2015 and early 2016. The Trump campaign greeted their candidacies as fueling a "race for second place," in a reminder of how far they are behind not just Trump but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in early primary polls.

But Pence and Christie also know Trump himself well enough to identify possible vulnerabilities. Pence's case is both more subtle and more radical -- an attempt to reclaim the conservative movement from the man he saw hijack it eight years ago.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page summed his candidacy up in a way Pence could barely improve upon: "Meet Mike Pence, a tested conservative, heir to the Trump economy and the Reagan foreign policy, an evangelical Christian who cites the Word without seeming like a faker."

Christie is taking a more combative and blunt approach that appeals more to political practicalities than ideology. He is pointing out that the GOP lost ground with Trump at the top of the ticket or indirectly on the ballot in 2018, 2020 and 2022 -- and casting him as a policy failure who failed to tame government spending or even complete his signature southern border wall project.

"Eight years ago, you were entertained. I forgive you," Christie said in New Hampshire Tuesday at his kickoff town hall event. "It's not funny anymore. It's not amusing anymore. It's not entertaining anymore."

Christie is speaking from a particular experience that's unique in the field of more than a dozen GOP contenders. He's the only one running against Trump now who already did that once before, and he carries reminders of how the non-Trump candidates largely ignoring him made him impossible to defeat.

Shortly after his own campaign fizzled seven years ago, Christie saw Trump's nomination coming and endorsed him back in February 2016, making him the first major former rival to fall into line. Pence put his hopes behind Sen. Ted Cruz two months after Christie backed Trump publicly, though Pence notably refrained from attacking Trump.

Both would become fierce and powerful Trump loyalists. Pence, of course, joined the ticket, where he helped consolidate evangelical and other conservative voters behind Trump. Christie was a key sounding board and outside adviser who was particularly helpful to Trump on debate prep in both 2016 and 2020.

Christie broke publicly with Trump on election night 2020, when Trump began a torrent of misstatements that would carry through the infamous events of Jan. 6. That was the day that sparked the fateful fissure between Trump and Pence, with Pence refusing Trump's entreaties to seek to overturn the election's certification in Congress.

"President Trump's reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol," Pence said on Wednesday.

There are signs that the whiplash around Trump has hurt both men in their standing inside the Republican Party. A recent Monmouth University poll found Trump as the far and away front-runner and Pence and Christie viewed more negatively than any other major contenders, with 35% of Republicans viewing Pence unfavorably and 47% saying they have an unfavorable view of Christie.

There could be paths -- albeit narrow ones -- for both of the newest contenders, in different early-voting states. Pence is putting his chips on Iowa, the only early nominating battleground Trump didn't capture in 2016. Christie is going all-in on New Hampshire, where GOP Gov. Chris Sununu's decision to forego a race of his own leaves things wide open.

In its broad contours, the race is starting resemble 2016. A wide range of contenders are challenging Trump, who happens to be more popular inside the GOP than he was at the same point in that election cycle, in a dynamic that could carve up the non-Trump wing of a party that has changed substantially over the past decade.

But the entrance of Pence and Christie to the race points to one big difference this cycle. While Trump was largely ignored early on when he first got in, there's no danger of that happening again. Some of those who know Trump best will be making sure of that.

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