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US Senate(CHARLESTON, W.Va) -- West Virginians, who attended a town hall Friday to discuss Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh with Sen. Joe Manchin, urged him to ask the judge about hot-button issues such as his past writings on prosecuting presidents and his views on government surveillance.

Manchin, a Democrat, who said he would meet with Kavanaugh within the next two weeks, held the roundtable discussion with about 25 local political activists and attorneys to solicit opinions on and questions for the president's nominee.

Kavanaugh has met with more than a dozen Republican senators since his nomination, resulting in a chorus of favorable reviews.

And while he has yet to meet with any Democrats, he is clearly in discussions about doing so.

“We can do it as random as you want to do it,” Manchin said as he kicked off the roundtable discussion, held at the West Virginia Lottery Headquarters building, urging participants to talk about whatever they wanted.

Jon Mani, a Charleston attorney, told Manchin he was concerned about Kavanaugh’s argument in a 2011 Minnesota Law Review article that sitting presidents should not be subject to prosecution while in office.

“You look at his writings, his opinions, he’s very very behind almost, an imperial executive theory,” Mani said. “The president is exempt from lawsuits while in office. Can’t be indicted while in office. This is terrifying,” he added.

“We’ve heard a lot about that,” Manchin said, pledging that his legal advisors were gathering all the information they could about Kavanaugh’s views on the topic and that he was sure to ask him about it.

Lee Javins, also a lawyer, expressed concerns about Kavanaugh’s opinion in a 2015 case involving the National Security Agency.

Kavanaugh wrote that the NSA’s collection of cell phone metadata was not subject to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures because it was data obtained from a third party private company with which consumers chose to engage.

Kavanaugh also argued a separate point, which alarms some surveillance skeptics even more, that even if the phone data collection was subject to Fourth Amendment protections, the protections wouldn't apply if the data collection was for national security purposes.

Javins asked Manchin to ask the nominee: “Where do you draw the line where it comes to privacy?”

During the hour-and-a-half conversation, Manchin lamented that Supreme Court nominees have become less candid during their meetings with senators who will approve or block their joining the high court.

“The thing I don’t like anymore is the judges ... right now everything’s become such a hot topic and they don’t want to talk about anything. They need to talk,” he said.

To that point, Jonathan Marshall, another attorney in the audience, urged Manchin to consider the entire breadth of Kavanaugh’s public documents, all of which Senate Democrats are trying to obtain. Kavanaugh had previously worked in the Bush administration, meaning all of his writings during that period are archived.

“We also understand there’s over potentially a million documents, perhaps, out there that may have all of his writings, opinions from the judge that have yet to be viewed,” Marshall said. “What do those things say? Are there other writings out there? It’s one thing to be on the court, with colleagues, being guarded ... Sometimes they don’t necessarily reflect the true opinions,” he added.

Manchin, who voted for President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is also facing a steep re-election challenge this year from the Republican state attorney general, Patrick Morrissey. Morrissey has previously said he thinks Manchin will vote for Kavanaugh for the senator's "political survival.”

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Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. is calling out China and Russia for helping North Korea violate United Nations sanctions as the regime smuggles in more oil than is allowed.

The illegal transfers are now disrupting the U.S. talks with North Korea and its push for the regime to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

But nearly six weeks after President Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un, it's unclear where those talks stand and how successful the U.S. diplomatic push has been or even could be.

Pompeo traveled to New York Friday to join Haley for a meeting with the U.N. Security Council representatives, including Chinese and Russian representatives, for what Haley called "frank talk."

"We put pressure today on China and Russia to abide and be good helpers through this situation and to help us continue with denuclearization," she said after the meetings.

Pompeo and Haley also met with the South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, both of whom have supported the Trump administration's negotiations with North Korea.

While Pompeo declared that the U.N. Security Council was "united on the need for final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim," he said, "Strict enforcement of sanctions is critical to achieving this goal."

But in what seemed like a warning if talks fell apart, he added, "When sanctions are not enforced, the prospects for the successful denuclearization of North Korea are diminished."

The U.S. and North Korea have met twice this week, but to discuss the return of remains of Americans who were prisoners of war or missing in action during the Korean War. After Pompeo's third trip to Pyongyang, North Korea released a scathing statement, saying the U.S. made "gangster-like" demands and calling the meetings "regrettable" and even "cancerous."

The administration has pushed back on those characterizations and said the talks between the two sides continue to move forward, with working groups established.

"The conversations continue ... We're working on it. We have teams in place that are working very hard on this issue every day," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Wednesday.

But North Korea has taken no demonstrable steps towards denuclearization, and now, according to Pompeo and Haley, it is violating those sanctions with Chinese and Russian help by illegally smuggling petroleum products into the country at levels higher than allowed by U.N. sanctions.

Pompeo said in the first five months of this year, there were at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers of oil -- an evasive practice where sanctioned products are exchanged in international waters by ships that often hide or obscure their identity. Haley added that the U.S. has "photographs of proof" of those transfers and that they continue to happen.

At the U.N. Thursday, the U.S. proposed a halt to all additional oil shipments because of these violations, but China and Russia blocked it, saying they needed more information.

"We don't need any more information," Haley said Friday. "The problem that we are encountering is that some of our friends have decided that they want to go around the rules."

Despite the sanctions violations, Pompeo said President Trump and he both remain "upbeat about the prospects of denuclearization."

"The path ahead is not easy, it will take time. But our hopes for a safer world for all of us and a brighter future for North Korea remains our objective, and that hope endures," he said.

If the path to get there is "not easy," it is "pretty straightforward," Pompeo said. The U.S. needs to "see Chairman Kim do what he promised the world he would do" and completely denuclearize, "the scope and scale of that is agreed to. The North Koreans understand what that means."

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Pompeo, Haley call out China, Russia for helping North Korea violate sanctions

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US Department of Justice(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe vowed on Thursday that politics “must play no role” in U.S. government efforts to stop foreign attacks and influence campaigns, but he also insisted that politics must play no role in how individual Americans assess and respond to those threats.

“We must address foreign national security threats patriotically as Americans, and not politically as Republicans and Democrats,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at the annual Aspen Security Forum.



Rosenstein’s comments come as President Donald Trump and many Republicans dismiss Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt” and hammer the FBI over anti-Trump sentiments captured in thousands of text messages sent between a then-FBI attorney and a senior agent who briefly worked on the probe.

“Heated debates and passionate disagreements about public policy and political leadership are essential to democracy,” but “foreign governments should not be secret participants, covertly spreading propaganda and fanning the flames of division,” Rosenstein said.

“I want to emphasize that covert propaganda disseminated by foreign adversaries is fundamentally different from domestic partisan wrangling,” and Americans must resolve their disagreements “at the ballot box,” Rosenstein noted.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department says it will do what it can through investigations and prosecutions to fight foreign influence operations and other threats.

“It is not the government’s job to determine whether political opinions are right or wrong, but that does not leave the government powerless to address the national security danger when a foreign government engages in covert information warfare,” according to Rosenstein.

Rosenstein said “in all cases” opened by the Justice Department and FBI, “partisan political considerations must play no role.”

“We cannot seek to benefit or harm any lawful group, individual or organization,” he said. “Our government does not take any official position on what people should believe or how they should vote, but it can and should protect them from fraud and deception perpetrated by foreign agents.”

As part of its effort to protect Americans from foreign influence, the Justice Department will seek to publicly expose “the nature” of foreign operations even more than it has in recent years, the department announced Thursday.

“Knowledge is power,” Rosenstein said alongside the announcement.

Rosenstein did not take questions while at the forum in Aspen, Colorado. But at the forum on Wednesday, FBI director Christopher Wray was asked to respond to Trump’s attacks on Mueller’s probe.

“I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt.” Wray said, describing Mueller as a “straight-shooter” who’s running a “professional” investigation.

Mueller's office has already charged more than two dozen Russian hackers and intelligence operatives for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. Several Americans associated with Trump's presidential campaign have been charged for allegedly lying to the FBI or financial-related crimes.

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Agromov/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Between 5,000 and 7,000 service members could march in President Donald Trump's military parade, according to a U.S. defense official familiar with parade planning documents.

The figures are according to a presentation briefed to local Department of Defense leadership earlier this month on the progress of the planning, said the official who was not present for that briefing.

ABC News has not viewed a copy of the plan.

Dozens of DoD personnel are currently supporting the planning of the parade and it is estimated that nearly 3,000 employees will work behind the scenes during the week it's scheduled to take place, the official said of the current plans.

About 50 individuals in the DC area are now supporting the planning of the parade, scheduled for Saturday, November 10. That number is expected to grow to 100 by the Labor Day holiday, and then to about 3,000 the week of the parade, the official said.

Those contributing to the parade's planning efforts are a mix of civilian and military employees. Some of the nearly 3,000 individuals who will likely support those efforts during the week of the parade will be security personnel.

In addition to the 5,000 to 7,000 individuals who could be marching, the parade, which is slated to begin at the U.S. Capitol and end at the White House, is currently expected to feature about 100 vehicles, 50 aircraft, and 100 horses, the official said.

A March memo from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said no tanks would be used in the parade, only wheeled vehicles in order to "minimize damage to local infrastructure." There was also a request to "include a heavy air component at the end of the parade, to include older aircraft as available."

The official confirmed that the latest planning presentation included a mix of current and vintage aircraft.

A spokesman for U.S. Northern Command did not confirm the exact numbers of U.S. personnel who could march in the parade but told ABC News that "several thousand" are anticipated to participate.

"It is anticipated that several thousand Armed Forces personnel will participate in the parade, as well as provide ceremonial support including musical units, marching bands, and color guards, to render appropriate ceremonial honors to our Nation's military members, Veterans and their Families," a spokesman for U.S. Northern Command told ABC News in a statement. "The parade will honor the contributions of veterans, the current force, and the future force. More details and specifics about the Veterans Day Military Parade will be announced at a later date."

Earlier this week, a separate U.S. defense official confirmed to ABC News that the parade was estimated to cost about $12 million. That number is a preliminary estimate, ultimately dependent on the actual size and scope of the parade. In February, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told the House Budget Committee that the cost could range between $10 and $30 million.

In comparison, the cost of the suspended U.S. and South Korean military exercises that were scheduled to take place in August was $14 million. Trump said after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that those "war games" were "provocative" and "very expensive."

Trump first mentioned the idea of a grand parade after attending France's Bastille Day parade last summer. Then, in February, he asked the Pentagon to begin planning for such a parade to take place in the U.S.

The date of November 10 is one day before Veteran's Day, that will also coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

"The intent for the parade is to be in conjunction with that celebration, so that will be the theme, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11," Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters earlier this month.

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Mark Makela/Corbis/Getty Images(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- The Republican National Committee (RNC) officially announced Friday that Charlotte, North Carolina, will play host to the party's 2020 convention.

"I am thrilled to announce Charlotte as the official host city for the 2020 Republican National Convention," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement released on Friday. "We look forward to seeing the Queen City take center stage as the Republican Party re-nominates President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to continue fighting for the American people."

The decision comes after the Charlotte City Council narrowly voted to approve hosting the 2020 convention, where President Trump is widely expected to be nominated for a second term.

The 6-5 vote by the Charlotte City Council was marked by fierce debate over Trump and some of his administration's more controversial policies, and whether the heavily Democratic city is endorsing those policies by hosting the convention.

According to the Charlotte Observer, more than 100 speakers gave their opinions throughout the debate over hosting the event.

Democrat Larken Egleston, who cast the deciding vote in favor of hosting the GOP, said “hosting the RNC in Charlotte in no way implies our endorsement of this president."

Justin Harlow, a Democratic council member who voted "no," said he'd "no sooner bring Donald Trump to Charlotte" than "welcome a Klan rally to Charlotte."

Vi Lyles, the Democratic mayor of Charlotte who championed the bid, tweeted Friday that she believes the city's decision to host the 2020 Republican convention "conveys a positive message supporting our city’s belief in acceptance and inclusion."

"Charlotte’s booming economy is a prime example of how President Trump’s agenda is improving lives, spurring growth and creating opportunity for millions of Americans," said Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for Trump's 2020 re-election effort. "We look forward to continuing our ‘America First’ momentum here in the Queen City and delivering four more years of historic victories and tremendous success."

Charlotte and Las Vegas were the only two cities mounting serious bids to host the pivotal event.

2020 will mark the second time in the last three presidential cycles that Charlotte has played host to a major political convention. In 2012, the city hosted the Democratic National Convention, where President Obama was nominated and ultimately won a second term.

North Carolina has cemented its status as a presidential battleground state in recent cycles. The state narrowly voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, the first time a Democratic candidate captured the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 2016, Republicans held their convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 2012, Mitt Romney narrowly defeated President Obama in North Carolina. In 2016, Trump won the state with just under 50 percent of the vote.

Democrats have not yet selected a location for their 2020 convention, but are reportedly considering three cities as finalists: Houston, Miami Beach and Milwaukee.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Investigators discovered recordings made by Michael Cohen, at least one of which includes then-candidate Donald Trump talking about making a payment related to a former Playboy model, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

The recording was found as part of the raid on Michael Cohen’s home office and hotel carried out earlier this year in New York, the sources told ABC News.

The New York Times first reported the news of the recording.

The Playboy model in question is reportedly Karen McDougal, who has previously claimed that she had an affair with Trump. The White House previously denied McDougal's claims.

Cohen is under criminal investigation by New York federal prosecutors in a case that’s separate from the one that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing.

Sources said that investigators were looking into Cohen’s personal business dealings as well as those with Trump’s alleged mistresses and media organizations as well as the 2016 campaign.

The April raid on Cohen’s home office and hotel – unusual for targeting an attorney – sparked outrage from the president, who called it “an attack on our country.”

Cohen, the president’s longtime fixer and personal attorney, was known for his loyalty to Trump, vowing to “take a bullet” for him. But he recently told ABC News’ chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos: “I put family and country first.”

Cohen has not been charged with a crime.

Rudy Giuliani, who is now Trump’s personal attorney, confirmed to ABC News Trump did have a discussion with Cohen before the election but he said that the payment to McDougal that was being discussed was never made. Giuliani also said the recording in question is less than two minutes long.

The payment, as ABC News has previously reported, was made to McDougal by AMI.

“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani said to ABC News.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” he said.

McDougal, who was Playmate of the Month in December 1997 and Playmate of the Year in 1998, alleges that she had a 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006. After being silent for more than a decade, McDougal started speaking about it earlier this year, first opening up in an interview with The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow in February.

McDougal told CNN's Anderson Cooper in March that her first intimate encounter with Trump came in June 2006, soon after she met the New York real-estate tycoon at the Playboy mansion during a taping there of his reality series, The Apprentice. At the time, Trump had recently married the now-first lady Melania Trump, and the couple had an infant son.

"I was attracted to him," McDougal said. "He's a nice looking man. I liked his charisma."

In March, McDougal filed a lawsuit in state court in California, seeking to invalidate a contract she signed with American Media, Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer. In August 2016, AMI purchased the rights to McDougal's story in exchange for $150,000 and a deal for her to write columns and appear on covers of fitness magazines owned by AMI. But AMI never published a story about her alleged affair with Trump.

She's alleging in court filings that AMI colluded with her former attorney and Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to purchase her story with the purpose of burying it in advance of the election. AMI has denied the allegations.

In the interview with CNN, McDougal claimed that she is a lifelong Republican who voted for Trump and that she has no financial motivation for speaking out. She said she would be willing to return the $150,000 she received from AMI. "I just want my rights back," she told CNN.

A White House spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News in February that Trump denies having an affair with the ex-Playboy model: "This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal."

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Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government said late Thursday that it has reunited about 14 percent of the migrant children aged 5-17 separated from their families at the border, as a court-ordered deadline looms less than a week away.

Of the 2,551 children stripped from their parents or family members, 364 have been reconnected, according to the latest statement provided to ABC News by the Department of Health and Human Services. Of the 103 children younger than 5, 57 have been reconnected.

The court-ordered deadline to reunite everyone, issued by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, is July 26.

The government said that, in the coming days, it will provide various lists of parents and children to plaintiffs in the case, but admitted they're "still determining" whether they can provide a list of parents in criminal custody.

More than 900 children are either "not eligible or not yet known to the eligible," with the vast majority undergoing evaluations to verify next of kin and therefore ensure child safety, according to official reports.

The judge on Monday put a temporary hold on deporting parents as the government worked on a response to a request from the ACLU that parents receive at least a week to consider applying for asylum in the U.S. after they get their children back.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was being interviewed on stage at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday when he was surprised to hear President Donald Trump was inviting Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall.

"Say that again?” Coats responded with laughter after being told the news. “OK, that’s going to be special.”

NBC News Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who was interviewing Coats, paused to inform him and the audience of the invitation, announced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a tweet posted while Coats was speaking at the Aspen Institute event.

"We have some breaking news," Mitchell said. "The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall."

Later, a reporter in the audience asked Coats whether he had been aware beforehand.

"I think based on my reaction I wasn't aware of that," he responded.

Mitchell then asked Coats whether he would recommend against another private, one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin without note takers as happened at their summit Monday in Helsinki, Finland.

"If I were asked that question, I would look for a different way of doing it," he said.

Thursday caps off a week in which Coats, who leads the United States intelligence community, has seemed at odds with Trump.

At his joint press conference with Putin on Monday, Trump appeared to cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin ordered the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others -- they said they think it's Russia," Trump said. "I have president Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be."

Before Trump on Tuesday said he misspoke, and meant to say he had no reason to believe "it wouldn't be Russia" behind the election interference, Coats responded in a same-day statement defending the work of the intelligence community.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," he wrote.

At the Aspen event Thursday, Mitchell asked Coats about his thoughts on the president's remarks in Helsinki.

“Obviously I wished he had made a different statement," he said. "But I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”

As Trump clarified his position Tuesday, he emphasized that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, and reaffirmed his "full faith and support" for America's intelligence agencies.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," the president said.

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Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has instructed National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall and “discussions are already underway,” according to a tweet from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The invitation comes just days after the president met the Russian leader in Helsinki and drew sharp bipartisan criticism for refusing to publicly confront Putin about Russian interference in the 2016 election during their press conference -- and for casting doubt on the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Putin had ordered it.

And it came just hours after Sanders issued a statement that the president, facing a political backlash from Republicans as well as Democrats, now "disagrees" with Putin's proposal that Russian investigators be allowed to questions Americans, including former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul.

Putin said that should be in exchange for special counsel Robert Mueller's team being allowed to work with Russian investigators to question the 12 Russians indicted in the election interference investigation. At the summit, Trump called it "an incredible offer."

Thursday's development was just the latest example of the president walking back comments related to the summit.

When ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked the President on Wednesday, “Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?” Trump replied, “Thank you very much, no” and confirmed his answer when Vega followed up.

Later on Wednesday, Sanders suggested an alternate meaning to the president’s “no,” suggesting he was refusing to take questions about the topic.

While the White House said nothing about the exact timing being discussed about a second meeting, the president, pushing back on criticism that he had looked weak compared to Putin at the Helsinki summit, said in a tweet Thursday morning that he was "looking forward" to another encounter.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement reflecting Democratic demands that lawmakers be told more about what happened during Trump's private meeting with Putin Monday.

“Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else,” Schumer said.

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Steffen Kugler /BPA via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After political backlash from Republicans and well as Democrats, the White House said Thursday President Donald Trump now "disagrees" with Russian President Putin's proposal that Russian investigators be allowed to question Americans, including a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

Putin had proposed the idea in exchange for allowing special counsel Robert Mueller's team to go to Russia to witness interrogations of 12 Russian military officers indicted in the U.S. -- what Trump then called "an incredible offer."

Thursday's development marks the third time the president has walked back a statement he made at Monday's summit in Helsinki.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday.

And in an apparent new twist, Sanders raised the prospect of Putin sending the accused Russians to the U.S, something Putin had nor publicly proposed at the summit news conference.

"Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt,” her statement continued.

The latest Trump walk back came as the Senate was about to vote on a resolution barring U.S. diplomats from being questioned by foreign countries. It passed 98-0.

Not long after Sanders issued her statement, she tweeted that Trump had asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to the U.S. this fall and that "discussions are underway."

Sanders statement Thursday stands in contrast to her response in Wednesday's press briefing, when she would not rule out the possibility that the U.S. could provide Russia access to a group of Americans they have accused of being involved in a criminal plot.

Asked whether the president would actually entertain the idea of having U.S. persons questioned by Russia including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Sanders said no agreement was made yet, but acknowledged that it was indeed a topic of the president's two-hour private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

"There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States," Sanders said. "And the president will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front."

However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was soon after asked about Sanders' comment and shot down the “assertions by the Russian government” that it could question 11 American citizens as “absurd."

“I can’t answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that,” Nauert said. “But what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd, the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens – we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.”

Thursday's statement represents the third straight day of walk-backs by the White House related to Russia. On Tuesday, the president sought to clarify that he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would" when he said on Monday that he didn't see any reason why it would have been Russia that meddled in the 2016 election in contradiction of his own intelligence agencies. Then on Wednesday, Sanders attempted to give a different meaning to the president's comments earlier in the day, when he said "no" to two questions about whether he believes Russia is still attacking the US. (Sanders said the president was saying no to taking questions, though he then went on to take a different question.)

Lawmakers and former intelligence officials have expressed outrage over the White House's previous suggestion that Putin's proposal from the Kremlin to potentially interrogate a group of Americans including a former U.S. ambassador was under consideration.

Putin first raised the idea of the Kremlin being provided access to question U.S. citizens in his press conference alongside Trump, where he openly accused American-born British financier Bill Browder of funneling illegal donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Browder is a long-time Putin critic and whistleblower on Russian tax fraud who is credited with helping push Congress to pass the 2012 Magnitsky Act that has resulted in sanctions against top members of Putin's inner circle.

Putin suggested in the Monday press conference that he would consider permitting Robert Mueller’s prosecutors in the Russia investigation to potentially interrogate the 12 Russian officials indicted last Friday for meddling in the 2016 election in exchange for Russia being able to question “some intelligence officers” who “accompanied and guided” Browder in his alleged transactions.

The Kremlin later named former ambassador McFaul, among other Americans, as on their list of specific persons of interest.

Even as his State Department has dismissed the charges, standing alongside Putin Trump did not push back on his claims and described the idea of connecting the Kremlin with Mueller’s investigators as “an incredible offer.”

Sanders has not responded to follow up questions from ABC News as to whether the proposal is indeed under serious consideration.

Lawmakers and former intelligence officials have so far been unsparing in their criticism of the idea.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., the ranking member of the CIA Subcommittee for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, went as far to say that Trump could be impeached if he sought to hand over any U.S. citizens to Russia.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi similarly slammed President Trump for offering up U.S. diplomats for interviews with Russian investigators.

“The outrageous suggestion of handing former Ambassador McFaul over for Russian questioning. What!?” Pelosi exclaimed incredulously in her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. “That the president would even entertain the idea of subjecting our diplomats to Putin's thuggery? That is an abuse of power.”

Pelosi demanded Trump apologize to the American people “for his disgraceful, dangerous and damaging behavior with Putin in Helsinki.”

A quintet of Democrats – Reps. Eliot Engel, Ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Anna Eshoo of California, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Gregory Meeks of New York -- wrote a letter to Trump on Thursday calling on him to reject Putin’s idea.

“You had the opportunity to denounce this outrageous idea when you stood next to Mr. Putin earlier this week; instead, you praised it,” the letter states. “Now you must make clear that you will not allow American citizens or anyone on American soil to endure interrogation or harassment at the hands of Putin’s thugs.”

Criticism was again not confined to Democrats. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a tweet called for the White House to "unequivocally rule it out."

Speaking on Good Morning America Thursday, President Trump's former Homeland Security Advisor and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert said he agreed with critics who have called the idea "appalling."

"In fact, it's galling really because having seen the evidence, especially that I've seen, there's no investigative benefit to that," Bossert said. "It just benefits Russia and clouds the matter a little bit.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog says that all levels of government -- federal, state, and local -- failed their oversight responsibilities to ensure that the residents of Flint, Michigan had clean water.

The report on the government response to the crisis in Flint, released Thursday, said there were "implementation and oversight lapses" from the city, Michigan environmental agency, and EPA, and calls for the federal government to take a bigger role in ensuring that state drinking water systems are safe.

The EPA inspector general found that the EPA did not effectively carry out its oversight role under the Safe Drinking Water Act, that the city did not adhere to rules intended to prevent lead exposure, and that the Michigan state environmental agency's delayed response exposed Flint residents to more lead.

"While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation," EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins said in a statement. "This report urges the EPA to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs now so that the agency can act quickly in times of emergency."

An EPA spokesman said they have reviewed a draft of the inspector general's report and that the agency has already moved to take action on several of the recommendations in the report.

"The Office of Water, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and Region 5 have already taken steps to implement several of those recommendations and will continue to expeditiously adopt the rest. EPA has provided the Office of the Inspector General with a detailed outline of its planned corrective actions and projected completion dates. The Agency is actively engaging with states to improve communications and compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to safeguard human health," the spokesman said in a statement.

City officials in Flint, Michigan changed the city's water supply in 2014 but the water wasn't treated properly, exposing city residents to elevated lead levels that are considered harmful to young children. The city and state declared a state of emergency in the city the next year after water still tested positive for lead even after the city switched to a different water source.

The EPA's inspector general previously found that situations like Flint should generate a "greater sense of urgency," partly because the agency let state officials attempt to deal with the crisis for too long before the federal government intervened.

The inspector general began looking into the EPA's response to the Flint water crisis in January 2016 and issued an interim finding that October that the EPA could have issued an emergency order seven months before it actually intervened, but the agency didn't because the EPA regional office did not believe they had the authority to overrule the state.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in his first remarks to EPA employees that Flint is an example of how the agency needs to improve the way it communicates with communities impacted by environmental events.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for updates.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The nation’s top Homeland Security official, charged with helping to stop foreign hackers from breaking into U.S. systems, says it’s still not clear whether President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week will produce any significant results, but Trump “continues to work on the relationship.”

“I think it’s too early to tell, ‘Was it good?’” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said of Trump's meeting with Putin.

Speaking Thursday at the annual Aspen Security Forum, Nielsen said Trump’s efforts to connect with Putin and establish “productive conversation” are “very important,” noting that Trump is “interested in continuing the engagement.”

“He’s continuing to think about strategies,” trying to determine “what is most important on the list to work with Vladimir Putin,” who Nielsen said has “a particular goal” to become a “strong power” and “counter American power.”

Nevertheless, in the wake of several controversial comments and clarifications by Trump, Nielsen became the latest senior U.S. official to publicly state that Russia definitely was behind the massive foreign campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign.

"I don’t think there's any question in the intelligence community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system,” Nielsen said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt they did it.”

On Monday, while standing next to Putin in Helsinki, Trump questioned the unanimous conclusions of his own intelligence agencies and suggested Russia was not responsible for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, a massive effort to spread “fake news” on social media, or other steps to interfere in American democracy.

After a political uproar, Trump posted a message on Twitter the next day insisting: “I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”

On Tuesday, the president said: "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that meddling took place," as he read from remarks. He added that it "could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there."

In Aspen, Colorado, on Thursday, Nielsen said Russia was solely responsible.

“We did not see other nation states involved in the election system meddling,” She said. “It was Russia."

And with only months way until midterm elections across the United States, Nielsen warned that Americans would “be foolish” to think Russia won’t launch another assault on U.S. democracy.

“I think we should all be prepared, given [their] capability and will, that they’ll do it again,” she said. “We should be absolutely prepared to assume that they will try to interfere in all 50 states.”

A top DHS official described the current threat from Russia as a “nuanced” one.

While DHS “right now” has not seen “the targeting of the state and local systems that we saw in 2016,” Russia is still engaged in trying to influence Americans and sow discord through social media and other means, Assistant Secretary Jeanette Manfra said Thursday.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans blocked an attempt Thursday morning to subpoena the interpreter who sat in on President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, joined with fellow California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell to make a motion to subpoena Marina Gross, a State Department official.

While the motion was made at a hearing titled, “China’s threat to American government and private sector research and innovation leadership,” Schiff justified his request by recounting that President Trump had a “disastrous summit with Vladimir in Helsinki.”

“One of the issues that’s come about as a result of the public comments he has made during that summit is what took place in the private two-hour meeting that the president had alone with Mr. Putin,” he said. “It appears there were commitments made in that meeting that affect American national security interests.”

Schiff’s motion specified that the interpreter would be subpoenaed to testify in closed session before the House Intelligence committee.

“I regret that we have to raise this at today’s hearing,” Schiff said, adding that his request for a business meeting was rejected.

“As you know, Mr. Schiff, this is a hearing, and the only motion you can make is a motion to adjourn,” Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., responded.

“This is an extraordinary remedy, I realize,” Schiff countered, repeating his motion. “But then it’s extraordinary for the president of the United States to ask all of his senior staff essentially to leave the room and have a private conversation with an adversary.”

“I think this remedy is warranted,” Schiff stressed.

After Nunes ruled that Schiff’s motion was out of order, Schiff repeatedly appealed the ruling of the chair – requesting a committee vote on the ruling. Nunes then recessed the hearing for about 15 minutes, when he recognized Schiff again to offer his motion.

Schiff once again repeated his motion, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, moved to table Schiff’s motion.

After a brief roll call vote down that fell along party lines, Schiff’s motion was successfully tabled 11-6, squashing the effort.

Senate Democrats are also exploring ways to hear from the interpreter and have demanded the Trump administration turn over all the "contemporaneous notes" taken during the meeting.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers and former intelligence officials are expressing outrage over the White House suggesting it is considering a proposal from the Kremlin to potentially interrogate a group of Americans including a former U.S. ambassador.

In an exchange during the White House briefing Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders would not rule out the possibility that the U.S. could provide Russia access to a group of Americans they have accused of being involved in a criminal plot.

Asked whether the president would actually entertain the idea of having U.S. persons questioned by Russia including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Sanders said no agreement was made yet, but acknowledged that it was indeed a topic of the president's two-hour private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

"There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States," Sanders said. "And the President will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front."

However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was soon after asked about Sanders' comment and shot down the “assertions by the Russian government” that it could question 11 American citizens as “absurd."

“I can’t answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that,” Nauert said. “But what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd, the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens – we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.”

Putin first raised the idea of the Kremlin being provided access to question U.S. citizens in his press conference alongside Trump, where he openly accused American-born British financier Bill Browder of funneling illegal donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Browder is a long-time Putin critic and whistleblower on Russian tax fraud who is credited with helping push Congress to pass the 2012 Magnitsky Act that has resulted in sanctions against top members of Putin's inner circle.

Putin suggested in the Monday press conference that he would consider permitting Robert Mueller’s prosecutors in the Russia investigation to potentially interrogate the 12 Russian officials indicted last Friday for meddling in the 2016 election in exchange for Russia being able to question “some intelligence officers” who “accompanied and guided” Browder in his alleged transactions.

The Kremlin later named former ambassador McFaul, among other Americans, as on their list of specific persons of interest.

Even as his State Department has dismissed the charges, standing alongside Putin Trump did not push back on his claims and described the idea of connecting the Kremlin with Mueller’s investigators as “an incredible offer.”

Sanders has not responded to follow up questions from ABC News as to whether the proposal is indeed under serious consideration.

Lawmakers and former intelligence officials have so far been unsparing in their criticism of the idea.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., the ranking member of the CIA Subcommittee for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, went as far to say that Trump could be impeached if he sought to hand over any U.S. citizens to Russia.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, in turn slammed the suggestion and called for the White House to "unequivocally rule it out."

Speaking on Good Morning America Thursday, President Trump's former Homeland Security Advisor and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert said he agreed with critics who have called the idea "appalling."

"In fact, it's galling really because having seen the evidence, especially that I've seen, there's no investigative benefit to that," Bossert said. "It just benefits Russia and clouds the matter a little bit.”

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his summit with President Donald Trump this week had generally been a success but "certain forces in the U.S. now want to prevent what was achieved there."

“On the whole the meeting was successful,” Putin said in a televised speech to Russian ambassadors in Moscow, adding that “several agreements" had resulted from the Monday meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

“We will see how events develop further, moreover, as certain forces are trying to disavow the results of the meeting in Helsinki,” Putin said. “We see that in the United States there are forces that are ready to easily sacrifice Russian-American relations to their ambitions.”

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