(WASHINGTON) -- As Republicans around the country continue to rally around false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, two of former President Donald Trump's closest allies who helped push those false claims appeared in court Thursday for the first time as part of a pair of defamation lawsuits filed against them.
Former Trump legal team member Sidney Powell and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell appeared in court in Washington, D.C., for a hearing in the billion-dollar defamation lawsuits brought by Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine company at the center of numerous conspiracy theories related to the election.
Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is also being sued by Dominion, but did not appear in court Thursday and was represented by counsel.
All three have filed motions asking a judge to throw out Dominion's suits against them, which Dominion has opposed. There was no word Thursday on when the court would issue a decision on those motions.
The hearing comes as many Trump supporters across the country have reignited their push to challenge the results of the 2020 election -- and as both parties continue to battle over voting reforms.
Dominion Voting Systems, based in Denver, has filed four defamation suits in the wake of the 2020 election against those it says helped pushed the false narrative that it had a hand in rigging the election.
One of Powell's attorneys, Howard Kleinhendler, told ABC News on Wednesday that they "feel good" about their motion to dismiss. In a motion that has since gone viral, Powell and her attorneys argued in March that the case should be dismissed in part because "no reasonable person" should have believed that her election theories were "truly statements of fact."
Lindell on Wednesday told ABC News that he felt today would be a "great day for America." Giuliani and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
"The defendants are asking the judge to rule that even if everything Dominion's complaint says is true, the company has no legal remedy because the complaint does not adequately allege the factual elements of a defamation claim," said Stephen Gillers, an expert in law and ethics at New York University Law School.
But experts believe it will be challenging to convince a judge to throw out the suits at this early stage.
"I'm not saying they're going win at trial, but at this stage, where the allegations are supposed to be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, it seems to me this is an uphill battle," said David Greenberger, a New York-based defamation and employment lawyer at Bailey Duquette.
(BUFFALO, N.Y.) -- India Walton became a full-time working mom at just 14 years old.
A high school dropout, she earned her GED at 19 while pregnant with twins, who were later born prematurely. Carless, she took the bus with her children to follow-up medical appointments for her babies, who were less than 2 pounds at birth. Inspired, she decided to become a nurse and later, a union representative and community activist.
Now, after defeating the four-term Democratic mayor of Buffalo in Tuesday's primary, 38-year-old Walton is poised to become not only the first woman mayor of New York's second largest city, but the first socialist mayor of a major U.S. city in decades.
"This victory is not mine alone. It's a win for working people in every corner of Buffalo. Now we know what's possible when we stand up to corporate Democrats and machine politics," Walton said in a statement to ABC News. She was unavailable for an interview.
With his first presidential campaign in 2016, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders thrust "democratic socialism" into the mainstream political conversation. Since then, the progressive movement overall has taken off, and more narrowly, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have scored some high-profile wins, with endorsed candidates successfully challenging longtime incumbents tied to the establishment wing of the Democratic Party: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, Reps. Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman in 2020 and now Walton this year.
"We've had this explosive growth period going on five years now and it's kind of not a secret -- it's riding the Bernie wave," said Chris Kutalik Cauthern, DSA's communications director.
Kutalik Cauthern estimated that around the end of Sanders' 2016 campaign, the DSA had about 12,000 members and the average age of members was just north of 60. Fast forward to 2021 and the organization has chapters in every state and around 96,000 members whose average age is just 28.
In many ways, the national organization's policy vision mirrors the Sanders' campaign: "Medicare for All," a Green New Deal and a commitment to the resurgent labor movement. Many members are also "strongly involved" in the "defund-the-police" efforts, Kutalik Cauthern added.
DSA only officially endorses candidates who self-identify as a democratic socialist. It's why, according to Kutalik Cauthern, DSA hasn't backed one of Sanders' most prominent campaign surrogates, former state Sen. Nina Turner, who is running in Ohio's 11th Congressional District special election this year. Turner has been endorsed the local Akron DSA and by other major progressive organizations, including Our Revolution, Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party, a critical supporter of Walton's campaign.
And the DSA doesn't do "paper endorsements," Kutalik Cauthern said. "If we endorse someone, we go in ... we mobilize. Our main strength is our ground forces."
Republicans nationally seek to weaponize the "socialist" label against all Democrats, regardless of how progressive their policies are, but while the win-rate for DSA-backed candidates and referendums is good given how new the movement is, overall, it's pretty low and the wins garnering the most national attention have been in solidly blue jurisdictions.
"The very fact that people who are openly identifying with democratic socialism are winning elections is relatively new for the recent period in the United States. So in that sense, it is significant," said Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College with expertise in the history of the left.
In many cases, Berman added, these candidates are not just running against an establishment candidate, but are making anti-establishment arguments central to their campaigns. But when the areas they are running in are reliably Democratic, like Ocasio-Cortez in the Bronx, the question, according to Berman, is, "Is this something that has an appeal or an impact outside of areas that were going to be run by relatively progressive Democrats anyway?"
"Thus far, that's not what we've seen," she said.
But while Berman told ABC News there hasn't been a "major realignment in the electorate," she said that the more democratic socialists are elected to office, "the more the Democratic Party has to take account of that."
"We've seen that already ... Sanders clearly was part of the reason why the Democratic Party moved to the left in 2020. We can see the influence of further left candidates in pressuring the Democrats to advocate for certain kinds of policies," she said.
Down-ballot, DSA-backed candidates are also making inroads.
In Montana last November, a DSA-endorsed Democrat won a seat in the State House. In runoff elections earlier this month, two DSA-backed candidates ousted two members of the San Antonio City Council. In Rochester, New York, Tuesday, two local DSA-backed candidates won at-large seats on the five-person City Council, leading the organization to declare, "Rochester is part of tonight's socialist wave!"
And in Somerville, Massachusetts, a progressive city that backed Sanders for president in 2016 and home-state Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2020, the Boston DSA endorsed seven candidates for city council, including two democratic socialists who are already on the council.
Spencer Brown, co-chair of the Boston DSA, said that at the local level, voters are passionate about issues DSA-backed candidates advocate for, like affordable housing and working public transportation. He said that electing more democratic socialists to local office helps ignite the debates about these issues.
"It's obviously much easier for -- for lack of a better term -- an insurgent movement or movement outside of the traditional establishment to begin to capture power at the local level. ... That's the place where a small but significant group of activists can make the biggest difference," Berman, the Barnard professor, said, comparing it to the conservative tea party movement years ago.
While Berman believes that candidates openly identifying as democratic socialists, as opposed to just advocating for the policies without attaching oneself to that label, gives Republicans "something concrete" to point to to say that balance of power in the Democratic Party is far-left.
Brown sees it differently, telling ABC News that he thinks the GOP's yearslong focus on branding "everything socialist," has made the label less scary to most Americans but also led to a lot of confusion -- and therein lies the opportunity for democratic socialists.
"It creates the space for us actual democratic socialists who believe, not just that we need to expand democracy in the political sphere, but that we need to bring those same principles into the economic sphere. It's allowing us to really put forward our kind of bold ideas for how we can make this a better country for working people," Brown said. "They're being taken seriously. ... These are ideas are popular."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of candidates endorsed by the Boston DSA for Somerville City Council and the number of democratic socialists already elected to the council.
(NEW YORK) -- A New York court has suspended the law license of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, citing in part his work as counsel to former President Donald Trump.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court said Thursday it was "immediately suspending" Giuliani's license -- although it is an interim suspension, so he will have an opportunity for reinstatement.
The ruling was made in response to a complaint filed by the New York Bar Association seeking Giuliani's suspension.
The New York Bar Association "has sustained its burden of proving that respondent made knowing false and misleading factual statements to support his claim that the presidential election was stolen from his client," the court's decision said. "There is uncontroverted evidence that respondent communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump's failed effort at reelection in 2020."
"These false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent's narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client," the Appellate Division wrote. "We conclude that respondent's conduct immediately threatens the public interest and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law, pending further proceedings before the Attorney Grievance Committee."
Responding Thursday afternoon on his WABC-AM New York City radio show, an emotional Giuliani said, "I'm going to tell you unequivocally: I did not commit any crimes or anything close to them."
"I defended an unpopular client," he said. "I've been threatened with death for it. I've had a good deal of my income taken away. I've lost friends over it. Isn't that what a lawyer is supposed to do?"
"This is not even close to a fair decision," Giuliani said, his voice cracking.
In a statement, Trump said Giuliani was being punished for "fighting what has already been proven to be a Fraudulent Election."
"The greatest Mayor in the history of New York City, the Eliot Ness of his generation, one of the greatest crime fighters our Country has ever known, and this is what the Radical Left does to him," Trump's statement said. "It's nothing but a Witch Hunt, and they should be ashamed of themselves."
Giuliani's lawyers, retired Judges John Leventhal and Barry Kamins of Aidala, Bertuna and Kamins, said their client poses no danger.
"We are disappointed with the Appellate Division, First Department's decision suspending Mayor Giuliani prior to being afforded a hearing on the issues that are alleged," Giuliani's counsel said in a statement. "This is unprecedented as we believe that our client does not pose a present danger to the public interest. We believe that once the issues are fully explored at a hearing Mr. Giuliani will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years."
In its ruling, the court said it could not overstate the "seriousness" of Giuliani's "uncontroverted misconduct."
"False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society. When those false statements are made by an attorney, it also erodes the public's confidence in the integrity of attorneys admitted to our bar and damages the profession's role as a crucial source of reliable information," the court wrote. "One only has to look at the ongoing present public discord over the 2020 election, which erupted into violence, insurrection and death on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol, to understand the extent of the damage that can be done when the public is misled by false information about the elections."
Federal investigators carried out a search warrant at Giuliani's home and office earlier this year as part of an ongoing probe led by federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York regarding Giuliani's alleged lobbying efforts abroad during the Trump presidency, which was a key focus of the first impeachment case against then-President Trump.
Giuliani has maintained that he did nothing wrong.
ABC News' Olivia Rubin contributed to this report.
(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday announced they had reached a framework $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal after a White House meeting just before Congress was about to leave town for a two-week recess.
Speaking in the White House driveway, surrounded by smiling senators from both parties, Biden said, "They have my word, and I'll stick with what they proposed, and they've given me their word as well -- and where I come from, that's good enough for me."
"We made serious compromises on both ends," Biden said.
"They did not -- and I understand their position -- the Republicans did not want to go along with the human infrastructure that I talk about, and we'll see what happens in the reconciliation bill and the budget process," he said. "If we get some compromise there and if we can't, see if I can attract all Democrats to the position where they can move it on the dual track."
The White House said Biden would make more formal remarks before leaving Thursday afternoon on a trip to North Carolina.
The proposed deal would include $579 billion in new spending.
The senators, saying all sides had compromised and no one got everything they wanted, said they needed to head back to Capitol Hill to work out details.
"Today we are announcing the framework for a historic investment in infrastructure," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the lead negotiators. "This is roads and bridges but also lots of other kinds of infrastructure including broadband, including our water system and rail system."
He praised the bipartisan effort.
"I'm pleased to see us come together on a core infrastructure package. This is not non-infrastructure items, without new taxes, and with the commitment from Republicans and Democrats alike that we're going to get this across the finish line," Portman said.
"No one got everything they wanted in the package. We all gave some to get some -- because what we did was put first the needs of our country," said Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. "We are delighted to go back to the Hill and begin earning more support from both Republicans and Democrats to get this bill across the finish line."
GOP Sen. Susan Collins called it the largest infrastructure package in U.S. history.
She said the Senate has worked for decades to reach an infrastructure deal, so it's "important" to show on the world stage that bipartisanship is possible in the U.S.
"We've agreed on the price tag, the scope, and how to pay for it. It was not easy to get agreement on all three, but it was essential," she said. "It was essential to show the American people that the Senate can function, that we can work in a bipartisan way, and it sends an important message to the world as well, that America can function, can get things done."
Once the bill's language is nailed down, it will have to pass through both chambers of Congress before Biden can sign the legislation -- which Democrats warn will only come if a separate, reconciliation bill focused on "human infrastructure" is also approved.
Earlier Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told Capitol Hill reporters that 21 senators and Biden's White House negotiators had reached an agreement on the plan's "framework," the same language other other senators used late Wednesday.
Asked what areas still need to be worked out, Manchin said, "That's why we're going to go talk to President Biden."
"President Biden is the ultimate person that will have to sign off on this, to make sure he's comfortable, and he wants a bipartisan deal," Manchin said. "It's a matter now, was the president comfortable."
Biden has been hoping for a bipartisan plan that can serve as landmark legislation for his presidency.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday there "ain't" going to be an infrastructure bill in the House unless the Senate passes a broader reconciliation bill that includes progressive priorities.
"We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill. If there is no bipartisan bill, then we'll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill," Pelosi said.
"Plain and simple," she said. "In fact, I used the word 'ain't."
"There ain't going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate," she said, but she added she's "hopeful" for bipartisanship.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders support a "dual-track" approach to infrastructure that would include a separate bill passed using reconciliation, which wouldn't require GOP support, that includes Democratic priorities, such as health care, child care, climate change and education.
Late Wednesday, negotiators, including Republicans Collins of Maine, Ohio's Portman and Montana Democrat Jon Tester, also said that they had reached a "framework" for an infrastructure deal but were still working out some key details, including how to pay for the package.
Senators have been at odds for weeks over how to pay for the package, with Republicans refusing any tax cuts and the White House rejecting any fees or tax increases for Americans making under $400,000 annually.
But while the possible deal appears to have substantial momentum, it remains to be seen how progressive Democrats will receive the plan, which is far less than they had hoped for.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's position on the package is also unclear.
Democrats are also simultaneously crafting a sweeping, filibuster-proof plan via budget reconciliation to wrap in as much as $6 trillion in spending on "human infrastructure," which includes elder and childcare, climate change, Medicare changes and immigration reforms. That package would, in part, be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy.
Though Democratic leadership not signed off on the smaller, bipartisan package being presented to Biden, they are already clearing a path for floor consideration in July.
As with Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that Democrats must continue their alternative route even as senators head to strike a deal with Biden.
“One can’t be done without the other. All of us agree to that. We can’t get the bipartisan bill done unless we’re sure of getting the budget reconciliation bill done. We can’t get the budget reconciliation bill done unless we’re sure of the bipartisan [bill]. I think our members across the spectrum realize that. Our Democrat members," he said.
When Manchin was asked Thursday morning what would say to progressives who say this package isn't enough, he said, "please don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We're doing so much good in this piece of legislation."
(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday the House of Representatives will create a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol after Republicans blocked a bipartisan proposal for an independent, bipartisan commission.
"This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I'm announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection," Pelosi announced at her weekly news conference.
"A temple of our democracy was attacked by insurrectionists," she said. "It is imperative that we seek the truth as to what happened."
She said, "The select committee is about our democracy, about ensuring that the Capitol dome remain a symbol of freedom."
"January 6 was one of the darkest days in our nation's history...It is imperative that we establish the truth of that day, and ensure that an attack of that kind cannot happen and that we root out the causes of it all. The select committee will investigate and report on the facts and the causes of the attack and it will make report recommendations for the prevention of any future attack," Pelosi said.
She has not yet named a chair for the committee, though aides and lawmakers have rallied around House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson as the best candidate.
Pelosi said details of the committee, which would include Republican members, will be released in the coming days. She said she hopes House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will appoint "responsible" GOP members to the committee.
She did not say whether or not the committee will call on McCarthy to testify about the events of the day and his phone call with former President Donald Trump. She said that's for the panel to decide, but added, "It is clear the Republicans are afraid of the truth."
Pelosi has long insisted that she wanted an outside bipartisan commission to investigate the attack but legislation to establish the commission was blocked by Senate Republicans last month. Pelosi said she will keep trying to establish a commission and noted that the 9/11 commission took 14 months to launch.
Pelosi said the select committee will take "as long as it takes" until it reaches a final report.
The committee will require a majority vote in the House to be established.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
(HARTFORD, Conn.) -- After Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed the state legislature's bill legalizing recreational marijuana on Tuesday, eyes are now on Rhode Island and New Hampshire as the final holdouts in New England to legalize cannabis.
Some marijuana rights advocates told ABC News it's only a matter of time before the two states join their neighbors, given the millions in extra revenue from marijuana sales and the calls for criminal justice reform from their constituents.
"I think the pressure will be there, being islands of prohibition in the Northeast," DeVaughn Ward, the senior legislative counsel for the non-profit group the Marijuana Policy Project, told ABC News.
While a vote on a legalization bill in Rhode Island is gaining strength following a passage in its state Senate, advocates on the ground in New Hampshire told ABC News that their state needs extra work.
Still, the marijuana proponents contend, the Connecticut victory greased the wheels in their favor.
Connecticut became the 19th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21 on Tuesday.
Under Connecticut's law, which goes into effect July 1, residents over 21 will be able to possess and consume marijuana and state sales are slated to begin next year after the state comes up with its regulation policies. Previous lower-level cannabis records will be expunged as part of the new policy.
Revenue from sales taxes on the substance, expected to be over $100 million annually, will be placed in a "Social Equity and Innovation Fund, which will be used to promote a diverse cannabis industry and reinvest in hard-hit communities," the Marijuana Policy Project said.
Ward said Connecticut's law came following years of lobbying and changing views on drug laws by state lawmakers. The successful legalization movements in nearby New Jersey and New York in the last year played the biggest factor, he said.
"You cannot cross state lines with different cannabis laws," he said. "It would be too complicated and hurt [Connecticut's] economy."
Ward said that Connecticut's passage is what spurred Rhode Island's legislature to vote on its bill that legalized recreational use. The Rhode Island State Senate passed its version of the bill, which would allow use for adults over 21 and charge a 20% tax, Tuesday night.
Rhode Island's House of Representatives version of the bill, however, won't be coming up for a vote before the session ends next week due to a disagreement between lawmakers and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee over one technical detail over regulation. The bill currently calls for the creation of an independent Cannabis Control Commission to regulate it, but the governor told reporters Tuesday he wants the state's Department of Business Regulation to regulate sales.
Nevertheless, Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi told ABC News in a statement that it's possible the House could hold a special session in the summer or fall to address the bill.
"We will take our time and make sure all proposals are carefully vetted and are in the best interest of the State of Rhode Island," he said in a statement.
Despite the governor's comments, Ward predicted a "domino effect" brought on by the border states' successes in regulated cannabis will take place this year.
When it comes to New Hampshire, local marijuana legalization advocates contended the conservative state legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu's vocal opposition to legalization will make it harder to join their neighbors.
"Connecticut doesn't do enough for New Hampshire because we have one person holding it back," Daryl Eames, the founder of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, an advocacy group, told ABC News.
Representatives for Gov. Sununu's office didn't immediately return ABC News' requests for comment.
Eames said an attempt to pass legislation for recreational marijuana in 2019 couldn't get past a veto-proof majority in the state Senate. Arguments over the lost tax revenue and, more importantly, loss business to neighboring states haven't been enough to sway the more conservative members of the government, Eames contended.
"It's just something that's not in their short-term plans," he said.
The political roadblocks are not discouraging Eames and state leaders who support legalization. He noted that more legislators on both sides of the aisle have formed cannabis caucuses and are mustering support for legalization efforts.
New Hampshire House Representative Timothy Egan, who chairs the Democratic House Cannabis Caucus, told ABC News that legalizing cannabis was critical for the state's post-pandemic future.
"New Hampshire prides itself with independent thought and touts a state motto of Live Free or Die. Legal access to adult use cannabis grown and marketed in New Hampshire without extensive government oversight is more than a right to create small businesses, it's seeing personal cultivation and possession as a civil right," he said in a statement.
Eames predicted that if other states across the country continue to legalize marijuana and, most importantly, if the federal government begins discussion to reschedule the substance, the governor and state house will have no choice but to reconsider.
"It does feel bad that we could be the only state in the region to not offer it, but it's probably going to be more of a question of when than if," he said.
(WASHINGTON) -- Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the right of West Point students to discuss race after some Republican congressmen complained that one class at the academy was recognizing critical race theory.
During a congressional budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday with Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Minn., raised his concerns to the nation's top defense officials about a seminar class at the school entitled "Understanding Whiteness and White Rage."
Waltz alleged that the class was "taught by a woman who described the Republican Party platform as a platform of white supremacy."
"This is going on at West Point, as we speak, to our future military leaders," he said.
Austin said he needed more information to adequately respond to Waltz's question but said this was "not something that the United States military is embracing and pushing and causing people to subscribe to."
Later, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., offered Milley a chance to respond to Waltz, an Army colonel in the National Guard. Milley acknowledged that he needed to learn more about the issue of critical race theory, but did not hesitate in emphasizing the need for students to learn about different opinions and viewpoints.
"I do think it's important actually for those of us in uniform to be open minded and be widely read and the United States Military Academy is a university," he said. "It is important that we train and we understand -- and I want to understand white rage, and I'm white, and I want to understand it."
He then brought up the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol.
"So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that?" Milley asked. "I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here and I do want to analyze it."
"It's important that we understand that because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians, they come from the American people," he added. "So, it is important that the leaders, now and in the future, do understand it."
"What is wrong with understanding...the country which we are here to defend?”
Milley also said that it is important for students to be informed by subject matter that may be controversial.
"I've read Mao Tse-tung. I've read -- I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin. That doesn't make me a communist," he said. "So, what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?"
"And, I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commission -- non-commissioned officers of being 'woke' or something else because we're studying some theories that are out there," he continued.
Milley said he respected Waltz's service as a Green Beret but added, "I want to know and it matters to our military and the discipline and cohesion of this military, and I thank you for the opportunity to make a comment on that."
A televised video feed of Milley's comments showed Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., shaking his head at Milley's comments.
Gaetz had earlier raised the issue of critical race theory with Austin, asking how the Defense Department should think about critical race theory.
Austin dismissed the notion that it is being officially being supported by the Pentagon or that the stand down focusing on extremism had been counterproductive.
"I don't know what the issue of critical race theory is and what the relevance here in -- with the department," said Austin. "We do not teach critical race theory."
"We don't embrace critical race theory and I think -- I think that's a spurious conversation," he added. "And, so we are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology, not people's thoughts, not people's political orientation. Behaviors is what we're focused on."
(WASHINGTON) -- A grandmother from Indiana who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation for her participation in the riot, making her the first person sentenced in the attack.
Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a 49-year-old hair salon owner, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a capitol building, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Washington, D.C., District Judge Royce Lamberth also ordered her to complete 40 hours of community service and pay $500 in restitution.
The sentence is what the defense had asked for, and the government supported.
Morgan-Lloyd, who prosecutors said did not participate in any of the violence at the Capitol, posted on Facebook after the attack that it was the "best ... day ever," adding a curse word to the description.
Prior to sentencing, prosecutors said they found the sentence "appropriate," despite what they called Morgan-Lloyd's initial "ill-considered and misguided commentary," in part because there was no evidence that she preplanned her attack or incited others, and because she worked with investigators, admitted to her actions, and expressed contrition.
Before receiving her sentence, Morgan-Lloyd tearfully apologized to the court for participating in what she called a "disgraceful" day.
"I went there to show support for President Trump peacefully, and I'm ashamed that it became a savage display of violence that day," Morgan-Lloyd said.
She did not face any major charges for her role.
The sentencing marks a milestone in the Jan. 6 investigation, which enters a new phase after its first seven months. Dozens of accused rioters are in early plea discussions, according to prosecutors, with nearly a dozen rioters having pleaded guilty to charges so far.
To date, roughly 500 individuals have been arrested for participating in the riot in what has become one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the Department of Justice.
Morgan-Lloyd first came to the attention of authorities in January when she applied for a gun permit just weeks after the riot, and an employee at the local sheriff's office recognized her while processing the application. A client at her hair salon told FBI investigators that she "regularly spoke supportively of QAnon and other conspiracy theories," according to court documents.
A friend who accompanied Lloyd to the Capitol later posted multiple photos on Facebook, with one caption reading, "Inside Capitol Building."
"Best ... day ever!! I'll never forget. We got into the Capitol Building," Morgan-Lloyd responded in the comments accompanying the photo, according to prosecutors.
In a letter written to the judge in support of probation, Morgan-Lloyd said she "felt ashamed" that the riot had turned violent and apologized for the chaos that day. Morgan-Lloyd said that she is a registered Democrat who "found [herself] supporting Trump" in the 2016 election, which she "found hard to believe because we didn't like him at all before."
"But he was standing up for what we believe in. We couldn't argue with it," Morgan-Lloyd said in the letter.
"Probation comes once in a lifetime," Judge Lamberth told Morgan-Lloyd Wednesday in court. "This is your once."
(WASHINGTON) -- A member of the Oath Keepers charged in the Justice Department's sprawling conspiracy case targeting the group for its alleged coordination during the Jan. 6 insurrection pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding for his participation in the Capitol riot with other members of the far-right militia group.
Graydon Young of Florida was among the first members of the Oath Keepers charged following the insurrection and was accused of being part of that military-style "stack" formation the militia members formed as they walked up the Capitol steps before breaching the building.
According to D.C. District Judge Amit Mehta, Young's deal with the government includes a promise to provide cooperation in the government's conspiracy case against 15 fellow members of the Oath Keepers, including testimony before a grand jury and at trial, in addition to an agreement to sit for interviews with law enforcement in their investigation into the group's activities.
Judge Mehta told Young during the hearing that the estimated sentencing guidelines for his plea range from 63 to 78 months in prison, but that those figures don't include any potential reductions he could get if the government were to recommend a lighter sentence following his cooperation.
Young is the first Oath Keeper to plead guilty of the 16 charged in what is so far the most extensive conspiracy case brought by the Justice Department in relation to the Jan. 6 insurrection. In April, Oath Keeper and heavy metal guitarist Jon Schaffer pleaded guilty for his participation in the Capitol riot, but was not charged as part of the government's broader conspiracy case.
Young, 54, previously served in the U.S. Army Reserve and U.S. Navy Reserve. Prosecutors say he appears to have first expressed interest in joining the Oath Keepers in early December of last year when he allegedly emailed the Florida chapter of the militia group a membership application.
Later that month, according to charging documents, Young emailed a Florida company that conducts firearms and combat training, and expressed interest in scheduling a rifle training session for himself and other members of the group.
Prosecutors say that after arriving in D.C., Young and others "prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets and goggles."
After breaching the building, Young joined other members of the group in the Capitol rotunda. He is not accused of bringing in weapons or attacking members of law enforcement who were protecting the building.
In a separate case, accused Capitol rioter Robert Reeder on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge as part of an agreement with the government. Reeder, 55, pleaded guilty to one charge of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a capitol building, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
Reeder, who said during the hearing that he was "very appreciative" that he was offered a plea deal, will be sentenced on August 18.
(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a range of actions targeting rising gun violence, according to the White House, as homicide rates jump heading into the summer months -- and Republicans blame him for it.
He began his remarks by saying the rise in violent crime dates back to last year, before he took office.
"It has spiked since the start of the pandemic over a year ago. Crime historically rises during the summer. And as we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may even be more pronounced than it usually would be," he said.
He laid out a "comprehensive strategy" that will target law-breaking gun dealers, provide federal resources to police departments for gun-crime enforcement and allow communities to repurpose millions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief funding for programs proven to prevent gun violence.
In doing so, Biden is seeking to establish his footing amid GOP attacks over increased violent crime in American cities, many of which are run by Democrats.
Gun violence has driven much of that increase recently and Biden framed the issue through that prism -- unlike Republicans, who blame high homicide rates on Democrats who called for police funding to be cut last year.
In reality, demands to "defund the police" amid last year's racial justice protests amounted to modest funding reductions in some cities, while homicides have risen across the country, according to the Associated Press.
"This shouldn't be a red or blue issue," Biden said. "It's an American issue."
Before Biden pushed back against relentless Republican attacks that he's to blame, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted Tuesday that violent crime has gone up not just "over the last 18 months" but "over the last five years or so."
The president intends to "give state and local officials a number of tools" to help them reduce gun crime, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.
The administration will allow communities to spend some of the funding they received as part of this spring's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill funding to combat gun crime, such as investing in summer jobs programs for youths; hiring more police officers and court personnel; spending on gun-violence enforcement; and paying for more nurses, counselors and social workers.
The money could come from the $350 billion in state and local funding included in the relief bill signed into law in March, and in some cases from the $122 billion the bill set aside for schools, according to senior Biden administration officials.
Other measures include establishing a "zero-tolerance" policy for gun dealers who break the law; embedding federal law enforcement officials with local police departments; and hiring more formerly incarcerated people for jobs in the federal government, according to the White House.
Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with several mayors, advocates and a police chief on Wednesday before making remarks.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department also announced it was launching gun trafficking "strike forces" to five U.S. cities experiencing rising violent crime levels where law enforcement officials hope to crack down on stolen and illegally purchased firearms.
But the White House has struggled to explain what prompted the president to focus on crime this week in particular -- with Psaki presenting his remarks, instead, as a continuation of his previous support for gun control measures and community policing.
Even as the White House touts the limited steps Biden has taken to regulate hard-to-track "ghost guns" and accessories that make pistols more like rifles, gun-control advocates maintain that real action needs to take place in Congress.
On Capitol Hill, the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed two bills that would expand and strengthen the use of background checks for firearms purchases. But the measures have stalled amid Republican opposition in the Senate.
The president, meanwhile, has used his bully pulpit to advocate for legislative progress on guns, but he has prioritized other issues: the coronavirus pandemic, rebuilding the economy and passing a major infrastructure package.
On the campaign trail, Biden made bigger promises on guns on which he has yet to follow through, including banning the importation of assault weapons.
Guns are at the center of rising homicide rates nationwide. The number of killings has jumped even as other types of crime are becoming less common.
Homicides spiked by 30% in 2020 compared to the year before, according to a study released earlier this year by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
And in the first three months of 2021, the number of homicides increased by 24% compared to the same period in 2020 and by 49% compared to the start of 2019, the researchers said.
While other violent crimes, like aggravated assaults and gun assaults, saw modest increases in 2020 compared to 2019, the number of non-violent crimes like residential burglaries dropped, the study found.
Last year also presented a unique variety of circumstances that could have impacted the shifting rates, such as police officers pulling back over fears of contracting COVID-19 or criminals taking advantage of protests over police killings.
(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in a major free speech case involving when schools can enforce rules of conduct on social media.
The case involves Brandi Levy, who didn't make the varsity cut as a freshman cheerleader for her school, posting a vulgar message to the social media app Snapchat, saying, "'F*** school, F*** cheer, F*** softball, F*** everything,'" she recounted to ABC News Live.
Days later, Levy’s school accused her of breaching a code of conduct and suspended her from cheerleading for an entire year.
Her Snapchat post and the punishment that followed were at the center of a major case that tested the boundaries of school discipline and the rights of students to free speech.
In an 8-1 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said schools' authority to regulate student speech is highly limited in off-campus settings, including on social media.
But the court rejected a sweeping lower court standard -- loudly criticized by educators, administrators, and some parents -- that categorically banned schools from any ability to police student speech outside the schoolhouse gate.
"We do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus," Breyer wrote. "The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances."
Breyer cited cyberbullying, threats to teachers or students and online cheating as examples of when schools may be able to crack down.
But Breyer said the specifics of those circumstances would need to be sorted out in future cases.
"We hesitate to determine precisely which of many school-related off-campus activities belong on such a list," Breyer wrote. "Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as 'off campus' speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus to a school’s special need to prevent, e.g., substantial disruption of learning-related activities."
Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter.
The court, in a famous 1969 decision, said that students don't surrender their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate, but that educators can limit speech on school property when it's materially disruptive. It has not addressed how school-related speech expressed off-campus can be handled until now.
Levy, the teenage former cheerleader who took on her high school at the Supreme Court and won, told ABC News Wednesday she's having a pizza party to celebrate and is proud her fight is a victory of students across the country.
Her father said it's also a victory for parents. "I hope the school sees that, you know, they aren't the parents. On the weekends, they aren't the parents. In the summer, you know that -- if they're given a handout a punishment for something that they would sit down and think about what they're doing and all avenues and aspects of it before they make a harsh decision like they did in this situation," Larry Levy said.
ACLU attorney Sara Rose calls this the "most significant decision for young people's free speech rights in 50 years."
Mahanoy Area School District lost at every level in the federal free speech lawsuit, but the district's attorney, Michael Levin, called Justice Breyer's opinion a "major victory" for school authority even if the ruling was a disappointment "on the surface."
"It makes clear that school districts have the power and authority [to regulate off-campus speech], and it's not restricted by the First Amendment to control certain conduct outside of school. That's exactly what we were arguing," Levin told ABC News. "The Third Circuit [US Court of Appeals] said districts do not have power outside the school gates. The Supreme Court confirmed that we do."
"I'm not sure I'd call it a win-win," Levin added, but "It is clear that the school district won on the important issues of being able in the appropriate circumstances to control student expression where it meets the standards that the Supreme Court articulated."
(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to El Paso, Texas on Friday with Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, making it her first trip to the border after growing pressure from Republicans, and some border Democrats, to view the migrant crisis firsthand.
Harris was tapped by President Joe Biden on March 24 to lead the administration’s efforts to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America and challenges at the US/Mexico border.
But even though Harris is headed to the border, she’ll be visiting El Paso, not the Rio Grande Valley, where a temporary U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility in Donna is located and was overwhelmed for months earlier this year with the amount of unaccompanied minors arriving in record levels. Border crossings are also more prevalent in the RGV than El Paso.
Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, has been a friendlier lawmaker to the administration, compared to Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who's district represents part of the Rio Grande Valley, and has publicly and continuously urged both Biden and Harris to visit the border.
Her trip also comes ahead of a visit from former President Donald Trump to the southern border on June 30.
This is developing story. Please check back for updates.
(WASHINGTON) -- Among the most hotly anticipated decisions as the U.S. Supreme Court closes out the term this month is whether its oldest member and most senior liberal will call it quits.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who is still in apparent good health and showing passion for the job, has given no indication he will retire this year, but he faces extraordinary outside pressure from Democratic activists to step down.
Last week, a group of 18 progressive legal scholars published a full-page ad in the New York Times saying "it is best for the country" if Breyer retires immediately, while a coalition of left-wing advocacy organizations warned in Politico of a dire threat to "our democracy and the rights of marginalized communities" if he remains.
Democratic firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for Breyer's retirement on CNN, while the liberal legal group Demand Justice put the message "Breyer, retire" on a billboard truck driving loops around the Supreme Court building last month.
Many Democrats fear shifting political winds could cost them control of the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, imperiling their ability to confirm a liberal replacement to Breyer at a time when the court is already the most conservative in a generation.
Last week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to potentially hold up any Supreme Court nomination by Democratic President Joe Biden made in 2023 or 2024, well ahead of the next presidential election.
Top Democrats are still reeling from McConnell's blockade of President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 and the rushed confirmation of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett days before the 2020 presidential election following the sudden death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
There's no reason to believe Breyer is paying close attention to any of the campaigning or that he would give much weight to the arguments.
"It is wrong to think of the court as another political institution," Breyer said in a speech at Harvard Law School in April. "And it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians."
Supreme Court justices are appointed for life tenure and retirement is entirely at the discretion of each individual justice. The Constitution states that justices "shall hold their offices during good behavior" and can only be removed from office by impeachment.
Breyer, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate 87-9 in 1994, has long advocated that justices are not politicians beholden to the parties of the presidents who appoint them. He has argued that public confidence in the court hinges on the appearance of independence, and many court analysts note that Breyer would likely want to avoid any appearance of bowing to political pressure in deciding to step down.
With days left before the court breaks for summer recess, Breyer is as active as ever in cases, authoring the major 7-2 decision upholding Obamacare for a third time. He has hired a full slate of four clerks for next term and is preparing to promote a new book set for release in September, the Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics.
The court's next term, which begins in October, features a blockbuster lineup of cases including gun rights and abortion -- issues on which Breyer has been passionately engaged and may wish to participate in further.
Some commentators suggest McConnell's recent public statements -- that critics say threaten hyper-politicization of the confirmation process if a court vacancy occurs in the next few years -- could convince Breyer to retire sooner rather than later.
"The question he faces is, what is the best way to protect the court's power?" Washington Post columnist and Supreme Court analyst Ruth Marcus wrote this month. "Blocking another nomination would not only threaten to shift an already-conservative court even further to the right if Democrats lose the White House in 2024 -- it would also trigger yet another cycle of partisan retribution in the never-ending confirmation wars."
Publicly, Breyer has professed to never embrace a political strategy in his decision-making since being confirmed, vowing to insulate himself from the partisan firestorms that often engulf the court from the outside.
Last month, in a virtual Q&A with high school civics students, Breyer said the biggest lesson he's learned in nearly three decades as one of the nine justices is "don't let up."
"As you get older, you think that's a very big virtue, a very big virtue," he said, "because what we have, all of us, whatever it is -- everybody has 'something,' and to be in a situation where you have to use that 'something' really you hope for the benefit of other people, that is a privilege."
(WASHINGTON) -- After months of speculation, former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez announced his candidacy in the race for Maryland Governor on Wednesday.
In a video announcing his run, Perez highlights his early life and ties to the Obama administration, including a clip of former President Barack Obama calling him "one of the best secretaries of labor in our history."
"My parents came here as immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I never would have dreamed in a million years that the president of the United States would have given me opportunity to make such a difference. We did get a lot done, but there's so much more to do," Perez says in the video.
In addition to serving as labor secretary, Perez also worked in the Obama administration as part of the Justice Department, leading the Civil Rights Division. Most recently, he chaired the Democratic National Committee through the 2018 midterms and the 2020 general election.
Perez, who lives in Maryland's Montgomery County, draws his professional connection to the state through his past in community organizing. In 2002, he became the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council. He also served as the board president of CASA de Maryland, a Latino and immigration advocacy and assistance group and frequently touts his tenure having led to the organization's rapid growth.
With the primary matchup still more than a year away, Perez joins a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls that already includes several high-profile figures in Maryland politics.
His primary opponents include the state's former Attorney General Douglas Gansler, former Education Secretary John B. King Jr., Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, former Montgomery County Council candidate Ashwani Jain, Baltimore businessman Mike Rosenbaum, author and nonprofit executive Wes Moore, and, as of Monday, nonprofit leader Jon Baron.
Maryland's current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, is term limited and cannot seek reelection. His absence from the contest opens the race to new leadership regardless of which party eventually comes out on top.
The state's politically divided branches of government -- where Democrats currently hold a majority in the legislature and Hogan serves as the executive -- is likely to put a spotlight on the race next year as Democrats hope to expand their national reach.
The primary election is scheduled for June 28, 2022.
(NEW YORK) -- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads in the preliminary count of first-choice in-person New York City Democratic mayoral primary votes, with about 30% of that vote. The city’s count offers an incomplete picture of the primary’s outcome.
“We know that this is going to be layers. This is the first early voting count,” Adams said.
He later added, “But there's something else we know that New York City said, ‘Our first choice is Eric Adams.’”
Adams, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio Maya Wiley hold top spots in the pack of 13 Democratic mayoral hopefuls who appeared on the Democratic ballot. Ranked choice votes, which add a layer of unpredictability to the race, have yet to be tabulated and the wait for a winner is only beginning.
New York City Board of Elections officials have long warned that the first tabulation of ranked choice voting would begin a week after election night and final results may not be available until July.
Often, the first-round winner in a ranked choice race ultimately wins the election. But according to FairVote, a nonpartisan group that advocates election reform, a come-from-behind win is still possible.
“One tricky aspect of this is that the totals we're seeing tonight won't include absentee ballots, and there were quite a few sent out, potentially as much as a fourth of all votes cast in this contest. So we're just going to need to be patient, I think, although Adams' advantage is clear,” FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie told ABC News.
According to the city’s Board of Elections, more than 221,000 absentee ballots were sent out and only about 90,000 had been returned on primary day.
This is the first big test of ranked choice voting in the Big Apple. New Yorkers who cast their ballots before polls closed listed up to five choices for the city’s chief executive instead of checking only one box. Because no one candidate got more than 50% of the votes, as expected, ranked choice votes have come into play.
Ranked choice vote counts take place in rounds via software approved by the New York State Board of Elections, with the last-place candidate eliminated in each round. It allows supporters of losing candidates to shift their support to their other choices. Rounds continue until a candidate has more than 50% of the vote.
At the center of the debate over who should be the next mayor to lead the nation's largest city is the uptick in crime and policing. Progressive candidates, including Wiley, have called for reallocating funds away from the New York City Police Department. Relatively moderate candidates, such as Adams, stated their opposition to the notion of defunding the police and have instead called for more investment in law enforcement.
Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa came out on top of the Republican mayoral primary campaigning as a tough-on-crime candidate.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang conceded defeat before all the first-choice votes came in.
“I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City based upon the numbers that have come in,” Yang said. “Tonight, I am conceding this race, though we're not sure, ultimately who the next mayor is going to be. But whoever that person is, I will be very happy to work with them.”
If Adams maintains his lead in the Democratic primary, he could be the second Black mayor of New York City.