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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Republican-affiliated campaigns, committees and outside groups have spent more than $3 million at various Trump properties since just after the 2016 election through last month, with roughly $924,000 coming from the Republican National Committee, according to an ABC News analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.

The Trump campaign accounts for about $1.46 million of the money paid to Trump properties.

Just last month alone, the Republican National Committee spent more than $271,000 at several properties and venues owned by President Trump, according to recent documents filed with the FEC.

The RNC did not respond to a request for comment.

The Trump National Doral Miami resort in Florida and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., were the party committee’s go-to places for events last month.

The RNC reported spending most of the money at the two Trump properties, which accounted for more than 85 percent of all RNC’s venue rental and catering expenditures in February.

These latest payments by the RNC to the Trump Organization for hotel space is a dramatic increase from any previous payments.

In January, the RNC spent a little less than $79,000 at Trump-owned hotels and venues.

The Center for Responsive Politics nonprofits investigator Robert Maguire tweeted, "To put that single $270k payment in perspective: All PACs, super PACs and party committees, combined, paid $237k to Trump properties over the 8yr period from Jan 2007 to Dec 2014."

This includes the RNC’s $37,541.67 monthly rent payments, totaling $225,250, to Trump Tower on behalf of the Trump presidential campaign’s New York office between September 2017 and January 2018. The RNC started paying for the office space after the Trump campaign stopped paying the rent in August.

The latest FEC report, however, shows that the RNC did not pay any additional rent for Trump’s New York office in February, though it has continued to pay monthly salaries of about $7,000 to John Pence, the Trump campaign’s deputy executive director and Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew.

The report also shows that the RNC has continued to spend money on consultants tied to President Trump.

The RNC paid Parscale Strategy LLC, founded by Trump’s former digital director and current campaign manager Brad Parscale, a total of $531,213 for fundraising services in February.

As ABC News previously reported, Parscale has made more than $100 million since he first joined Trump's team. The payments came from various contracts he has with the Trump campaign and Trump's joint fundraising committee, along with the RNC and pro-Trump super PAC going back to since 2015.

Trump’s former bodyguard Keith Schiller’s firm, KS Global Group LLC, also received an additional $15,000 from the RNC in February. The RNC has paid a total of $90,000 to the security firm since October 2017, with the most recent payment just last month.

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(NEW YORK) -- “Good evening, unqualified lesbians!”

That was how “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon opened her launch party for her campaign for governor of New York, quickly embracing an oddly phrased comment from erstwhile mayoral candidate Christine Quinn -- who decried Nixon's lack of experience in an interview with The New York Post Tuesday -- and turning it into the night’s biggest applause line.

“She was technically right,” Nixon told a packed and enthusiastic crowd at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn. “I don’t have my certificate from the 'Department of Lesbian Affairs.' But in my defense, there is a lot of paperwork involved.”

Nixon is looking to convert star power and years of advocacy into an unlikely primary challenge to New York’s reigning Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo is loathed by progressives in Empire State and beyond -- and by New Yorkers who have suffered a declining subway system. Sure enough, Nixon thanked the crowd not only for braving the region’s fourth recent nor’easter to come out but also for braving the MTA.

Cuomo, in fact, was Nixon’s main foil for the night. That “orange man in the White House” was invoked twice -- including for what she called discriminatory policies pursued with “brutality” -- but never named. Cuomo, meanwhile, racked up a dozen direct mentions.

She pushed the Democratic Party to lean further leftward in a state that votes blue nationally but is hobbled by less-than-blue politics in Albany.

“We need to elect not just more Democrats, but better Democrats,” Nixon said, another big line as Democrats nationally battle for the direction of the party.

Better Democrats mean, to Nixon, fighting for increased school funding, a reference that earned not one clap; advancing LGBTQ rights; and improved income inequality. Nixon’s campaign has been quick to stress those themes, announcing her run Tuesday in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and launching tonight at the Stonewall Inn, a literal landmark in the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

Not mentioned at all was Nixon’s thin political resumé, which presents an immediate challenge to her attempt to pick off a former Housing and Urban Development secretary and two-term governor with one of the most familiar names in the state.

Nixon’s answer to that: small donors, of which she claims Cuomo, rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, has none. He may boast a multimillion-dollar war chest, she said, “but we have the people power.”

It was unclear Wednesday night whether that would be enough. But whether or not Nixon can take down Cuomo’s brand of centrism, she found at least one boisterous crowd ready for her to try.

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United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- With the midterm elections around the corner, lawmakers Wednesday warned in stark terms of the dire need to harden U.S. election system against attacks from foreign adversaries, warning that, even after Russia’s brazen attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election, the country is still woefully unprepared.

“If we start to fix this system tomorrow, we still might not be in time,” chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, warned about the midterm elections, which could affect the balance of power in Washington.

“The threat is real, the need to act is urgent,” vice chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, agreed. “We need the administration to accelerate its efforts. Perhaps most of all, we need a president who will acknowledge the gravity of this threat. The fact that the president did not even bring up the topic of our election security when he called Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his ‘victory’ in a pre-cooked election, is extremely troubling.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that now that the Russian threat is known, more bad actors will seek to get in on the act, warning, “It’s not just Russia. We think the threat remains high. We think vigilance is needed.”

Nielsen noted that vulnerabilities exist through the entire election system — from the registration of voters through the validations of votes and the certification of voting when all is said and done.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, urged Nielsen to “go back with your hair on fire” and consider creating “a red team in DHS – a group of really serious hackers and hack some of these states. I don’t think they’ll believe it until you show them,” saying “this country has to wake up.”

The secretary said she would consider the suggestion.

National elections are decided by a small number of votes in just a few precincts, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said, adding, “The outcome may dance on the head of a pin” and that “writers for a ‘House of Cards’ can figure that out, so can others.”

Johnson defended the Obama Administration response to cyber attacks ahead of the 2016 election, saying officials were “beating the drum pretty hard.” But he also admitted, “as we look back - and have a much fuller picture of what the Russians were doing — there could’ve been additional steps made.”

But Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said the warnings from the feds, particularly in August 2016, were too technical in nature and did not reach the right people.

A visibly frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the Obama administration failed to sufficiently warn the public that the American voting system was being targeted. She said she and a small handful of Congressional leaders had been warned of the specifics in a classified setting but were sworn to secrecy.

Johnson said their warnings were overshadowed by other campaign news, saying they sounded the alarm just before the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was made public.

“I don't believe that it got the attention that it deserved. Because the public and the press were focused on other things about the campaign at the time,” Johnson said.

For her part, Nielsen said even now states are reluctant to publicize potential attacks for fear of undermining public trust.

“America was the victim…America was attacked,” Feinstein shot back. “I think states have to know that it’s going to be known by the public.”

The secretary tried to allay Feinstein’s concerns by saying DHS was developing “a baseline” that will be “very transparent” laying out states that are not complying with federal recommendations.”

But Feinstein was not having it. “I’m through with this,” the senator said, indicating she was prepared to out states that do not make attacks known to the American public.

The committee has recommended that state election officials receive security clearances that will enable them to be briefed by federal officials on sensitive information.

Nielsen said DHS intended to issue clearances to three election officials per state, but – to date – only 20 of 150 had gotten such clearances, though, she added, “If we have intelligence, we will read appropriate state officials that day, not waiting for clearances.”

Several senators also pushed for all states to have a backup paper ballot system, so an auditable trail is left in the event of a system failure or breach.

Sen. Warner warned, “Someone needs to highlight those states and localities who choose not to move to a paper trail…I believe the public has a right to know…if their state or communities are basically ignoring the problem.”

A recent report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group, found 14 states use paperless electronic voting machines in at least some jurisdictions with five states relying exclusively on these machines which produce no paper trail.

As Congress grapples with what to do next, members made clear they want the administration to release a cyber-retaliation doctrine focusing on offensive measures and deterrence, with a number of members decrying the fact that the Administration did not already have one in place.

Nielsen said she would go to her colleagues and to the President and “sit down” to discuss the matter.

The committee, Burr said, expects to release a full election security report to the public by week’s end, closing the book on one of four parts of their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The omnibus spending bill currently making its way through Congress will stipulate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can study gun violence, Democratic and Republican sources confirm to ABC News -- research the agency has steered clear of since the so-called "Dickey Amendment" was passed in 1996.

Dickey, which first surfaced inside an appropriations bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton, warns that "none of the funds made available to injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to promote gun control." A similar provision was included in the Appropriations Act of 2012.

Named for Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas -- a self-proclaimed "point man for the NRA" on the Hill who later regretted his role in crafting the legislation -- the Dickey amendment does not explicitly ban CDC research on gun violence. But employees were so concerned about risking funding, almost all dodged the issue, and haven't allocated money to it since.

In the days after the Parkland, Florida, massacre -- where a shooter killed 17 people at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School -- lawmakers pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the CDC, to commit to researching gun violence safety.

"We certainly will," Azar answered. "We're in the science business."

Critics of the amendment argue that data is by nature apolitical.

"Facts are facts," Amalia Corby, the American Psychological Association's senior legislative and federal affairs officer, told ABC News. "The end game is not to take away guns."

The news of the CDC provision comes as students across the country prepare to descend on Washington, D.C., on Saturday for the "March for Our Lives," a gun control rally organized by Parkland survivors.

Congress is currently pondering other measures aimed at curbing gun violence, including the Fix NICS background checks bill, which Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled Republicans are ready to attach.

Other measures offered up by gun control advocates -- such as raising the minimum rifle purchase age or banning assault-style weapons -- appear to have stalled.

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Sean Gardner/Getty Images(NEW ORLEANS) -- New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is speaking out about his controversial decision to remove four Confederate monuments from his southern city, which sparked a debate about race and history in the United States.

On ABC's "Powerhouse Politics" podcast, Landrieu tells ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein that after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city, “We did a lot of soul-searching in this city about what history we wanted to remember, what history we wanted to just identify as not being really part of who we were.”

During the interview, Landrieu says it was his friend – New Orleans native, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis – who first suggested to him that a way for the city to move forward was to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.

"It came into really clear focus as we were completely rebuilding the city. My friend Wynton Marsalis was the one who slapped me in the head and said: 'You have to think about that.'"

The second-term mayor is promoting his new book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History” which chronicles his decision to remove the monuments and the controversy that followed.

Landrieu writes that Marsalis asked him to “'Let me help you see it through my eyes. Who is he? What does he represent? And in that most prominent space in the city of New Orleans, does that space reflect who were, who we want to be or who we are?'” Landrieu continued, “Suddenly, I was listening.”

After that conversation in 2014, Landrieu said he knew that it would be a “big political fight” to change the city landscape.

Landrieu tells ABC News that early in his decision-making process he reached out to his father, Moon Landrieu, a former New Orleans mayor and a leading civil rights pioneer. He says his father initially “expressed reservations” because he “felt the sting of having his life threatened and his family’s life threatened.”

He recalled that his father “knew this was going to be a very emotional thing and very hard because he had lived through.” Landrieu said he recently asked his father if he also would have called for the removal of the statues if he was “in his shoes” and he said that his father responded, “Absolutely.”

The statues of Lee, President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and the Battle of Liberty Place Monument were erected between 1884 and 1915. “Although the Lee icon has a commanding presence, Lee himself had virtually no ties to the city. Some records reflect that he visited New Orleans once, very briefly before the war,” Landrieu wrote.

Landrieu writes that he “doubled down” in his conviction to remove the statues in June 2015 after a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

“We cannot change the past, but we are not obligated to cave in to some nostalgia-coated idea that a statue is good because it’s old. Symbols matter. And these were symbols of white supremacy put up for a particular reason.”

Later that year, New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 in favor of dismantling the four prominent Confederate-era monuments which Landrieu says became symbols of “racism and white supremacy.”

But the decision to remove the statues sparked controversy and even some violence. A Baton Rouge, Louisiana company that was hired to remove the statues backed out after the “owner and his wife received death threats and his expensive sports car was set afire in the driveway of his business.”

Landrieu writes that “one of the most startling experiences” for him was being yelled at consistently be a woman while he was riding his bike in a park. And then to his surprise, he saw her when he was attending Mass with his wife and he saw that woman “giving out Communion - she was a Eucharistic minister. It was surreal.”

By May 2017, the statues in New Orleans were removed. Confederate statues and monuments were soon removed from cities across the U.S.

Although Landrieu supported removing the statues, he said on the podcast that the decision to remove his name from buildings should be on a case by case basis.

“I don't really have any problem with the University of Washington and Lee being named after Robert E. Lee because what they are remembering him for and thanking him for his commitment that he had made to an educational institution that was a good thing,” Landrieu said, “But when you use him, right, for the purpose for sending a message of terrorism to African American officials and revere him for the bad thing that he did – which was tearing the United States of America apart, we have to distinguish between reverence and remembrance.”

Landrieu is leaving office after his term expires in May. When asked about the future for southern Democrats and conservative Democrats, he said “Certainly if you were living in the moment, you would say it’s pretty bleak. It’s a downward trajectory. “

Landrieu, who served two terms as lieutenant governor of Louisiana, said he “probably couldn’t get elected statewide right now.”

His book has sparked speculation that he will run in 2020. But when Landrieu was asked on “Powerhouse Politics” if he's thinking about a presidential run, he said, “It’s not my intention to run.”

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Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Advocacy groups for the LGBTQ community are calling Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Ben Carson’s remarks about transgender people discriminatory and inaccurate.

“There are some women who said they were not comfortable with the idea of being in a shelter, being in a shower, and somebody who had a very different anatomy,” Carson told a House Appropriations subcommittee during testimony on Tuesday.

Carson’s comments came in response to an inquiry posed by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, about the removal of materials designed to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ individuals from HUD’s website. Progressive advocacy group People for the American Way says it has filed a lawsuit against HUD for removing those materials from its site.

“Remember, it is complex,” Carson said, adding, “we obviously believe in equal rights for everybody including the LGBT community but we also believe in equal rights for the women in the shelters and shelters where there are men and their equal rights.”

 LGBTQ advocacy groups fired back, calling Carson’s remarks discriminatory toward transgender people.

"Ben Carson’s comments about people being made uncomfortable by transgender people is more evidence of the discriminatory stance against the LGBTQ community and marginalized communities from Trump administration HUD officials,” People For the American Way’s executive vice president Marge Baker said in a statement. “This is a disturbing move away from the department’s original purpose to administer fair housing and help the homeless.”

GLAAD, an organization focused on LGBTQ representation in media, pushed back on Carson’s remarks, calling them “blatant and factually inaccurate anti-transgender rhetoric.”

“It is because of derogatory myths like this, which have been debunked time and time again, that the transgender community faces disproportionate levels of discrimination and homelessness,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD.

A HUD spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Carson faced scrutiny earlier this month for proposing alterations to anti-discrimination language in the HUD mission statement.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the country continues to look for answers and young people prepare to demand a response on gun legislation, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama wrote to the Parkland, Fla. students whose activism has galvanized a nation.

“You’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation,” the couple wrote earlier this month in a letter of encouragement to the survivors of the deadly mass shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which left 17 dead and 14 injured.

“We wanted to let you know how inspired we have been by the resilience, resolve and solidarity that you have all shown in the wake of unspeakable tragedy,” they wrote in the letter.

News of the Obama's letter, first reported by Mic, comes on the eve of a national march to mark the deaths of those killed in the shooting at the Parkland, Fla. high school. Survivors and their supporters are gearing up for the March for Our Lives slated for Saturday and will march in Washington D.C. and all across the nation.

 The Obamas praised the students for taking vocal, gallant stances in demanding lawmakers to evaluate solutions for gun control legislation.

“Throughout our history, young people like you have led the way in making America better,” the letter stated.

The former president and first lady then went on to encourage students to continue to strive and push for change despite the lengthy process it may take.

“There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you,” they wrote.

The Obamas have previously voiced support for the Parkland survivors.

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Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  One of the nation’s largest banks said a loan made to Kushner Companies last year was “completely appropriate” despite questions about the timing.

March 31, 2017, less than a month after Citigroup chief Michael Corbat met at the White House with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has faced questions about potential conflicts between his government role as a senior adviser to the president and his loyalty to his family’s real estate firm.

The 2017 meeting was first reported by the New York Times in Feb. 2018.

In a letter obtained by ABC News and addressed to Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Thomas Carper and Gary Peters – as well as to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings – who had requested additional information, Citi general counsel Rohan Weerasinghe sought to assure the lawmakers “This transaction was done in the normal course of Citi’s commercial real estate lending business.”

The lawmakers’ March 8, 2018 letter to Corbat questioning the loans said: "Federal ethics laws prohibit federal employees from profiting from their government service, and Mr. Kushner's refusal to fully divest from his financial holdings raises questions about his behavior as a Senior Adviser to President Trump."

 “It would be a serious matter if the loan provided to Kushner companies by Citigroup resulted in a violation of federal ethics laws,” the letter continued.

Citi’s letter in response said “The Kushner family has been a client of Citi for decades” and played down the timing of the loan and Corbat’s meeting with Kushner.

“Transactions of this nature take a long time to come to fruition and Citi had begun exploring this loan in late 2016,” the letter said.

The bank’s general counsel added that Corbat “was unaware of the transaction” until a report in The New York Times. By the time Corbat and Kushner met “the loan was far along the standard process,” the letter said.

Corbat had requested a meeting with Kushner to discuss U.S. trade policy and NAFTA, the bank said.

Citi provided $325 million for a property in the Brooklyn neighborhood known by the acronym DUMBO for down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

“Nothing related to the DUMBO loan or any other personal business with Mr. Kushner or the Kushner Companies was discussed,” the bank said.

The remaining financing for the property was provided by Apollo Global Management, a firm that has also faced questions about loans to Kushner Companies after the Times reported Joshua Harris, one of its founders, met at the White House with Kushner. The Times cited an Apollo spokesman as saying Harris was not involved in the decision to loan money to Kushner Companies and that the loan “went through the firm’s standard approval process.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney told ABC News:

“Mr. Kushner has met with hundreds of business people during the campaign, transition and in the Administration to hear ideas about improving the American economy. Mr. Kushner has had no role in the Kushner Companies since joining the government and has taken no part of any business, loans, or projects with or for the Companies after that.”

The lawmakers also sent Apollo a letter questioning its loans but its response to the congressional inquiry was not immediately available.

Other lenders face an inquiry from the New York State Department of Financial Services which is exploring their relationships with Kushner and his family business.

Late Wednesday, Carper, one of the Democratic senators who had questioned the loans, said the Citi response was being reviewed, “but these questions regarding potential conflicts of interest have plagued this Administration ever since then-President-elect Trump refused to divest from his business interests.”

“The Trump Administration should require all senior White House officials to fully divest from all personal business interests. Anything less will only ensure that members of Congress continue to raise questions as part of their constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight of the executive branch," Carper said in a statement

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Mississippi will send its first female lawmaker to Congress in April, a candidate whose Democratic background could make her vulnerable to attacks from conservatives in the November special election to fill out Republican Sen. Thad Cochran’s term.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced Wednesday he was appointing state Agricultural Secretary Cindy Hyde-Smith to Cochran’s seat.

Cochran, 80, is suffering from poor health and announced earlier this month he would retire effective April 1.

Hyde-Smith will serve in the seat until the Nov. 6 special election to fill out the rest of Cochran's term, which expires in January 2020.

The appointment means Vermont is the only state not to send a woman to Congress.

Hyde-Smith will become the 23rd woman serving in the Senate this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The announcement was made in the 58-year old’s hometown of Brookhaven, Miss. 

In his remarks, Bryant emphasized her conservative credentials, calling her “a rock-solid conservative.”

Hyde-Smith is a beef cattle farmer who has served in the Mississippi State Senate from 2000 to 2012.  

She drew ire in 2010 when she switched parties from Democrat to Republican. Her background in the other party led to reports that some Republicans have questioned appointing a former Democrat to the seat, particularly since state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a conservative favorite, is running the special election.

Cochran is a legend in the state, having served in the seat since 1978.

After he announced his retirement, McDaniel announced he would run in the special election for Cochran’s seat instead of challenging Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who is also on the ballot this fall.

McDaniel ran against Cochran in 2014 and nearly ousted him from office.

In accepting the position, Hyde-Smith emphasized her conservative credentials.

“I've been conservative all of my life and that's demonstrated by my conservative voting record as a three-term State Senator and my conservative accomplishments as Agriculture Commissioner," she said.

She also touted her support of President Donald Trump, saying she looked forward to working with him on the “policies and principles that are making America great again."

And her first campaign release also notes her ties to the administration, saying she is “strong supporter of President Donald Trump” and points out she co-chaired the Trump Agriculture Policy Advisory Council during the presidential campaign.

McDaniel wasted no time in attacking Hyde-Smith for her time in the Democratic Party.

His statement on her appointment used the word “Democrat” 11 times.

“Knowing the establishment’s opposition to conservatives, it was not at all surprising that they would choose a former Democrat,” he said in a release. And he also attacked her as the choice of establishment Republicans, invoking the name of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who has been a target of anger from the right.

“I was troubled to learn that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant dutifully followed the orders of the Washington establishment’s Mitch McConnell” with Hyde-Smith’s appointment, he said.

McDaniel compared this primary contest to the one in the Alabama Senate race last year, in which Republicans supported the appointed GOP senator, Luther Strange, in the primary instead of Rep. Mo Brooks. Former state Judge Roy Moore ended up winning the Republican primary and ultimately losing the special election to Democrat Doug Jones.

“The establishment should have learned their lesson in Alabama. By spending millions of dollars against conservative Mo Brooks, they ended up losing the seat to a Democrat,” McDaniel said.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Mike Espy, who also served as Bill Clinton’s agricultural secretary, announced his bid for Cochran’s seat earlier this month. In 1986, Espy became the first African American since Reconstruction to win a congressional seat in Mississippi.

There is no primary in Mississippi’s special election. If no candidate garners a majority, the top two vote-getters face off in a run-off later in November.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, is expressing outrage over a report that a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy was caught sleeping on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where one of the deadliest school shootings in American history happened last month.

 “Of all the schools in America, you would think this would be the safest one right now. This is so outrageous it’s almost impossible to believe,” Rubio said in a statement Tuesday.

The statement was posted to Rubio's web site shortly after The Huffington Post first reported BSO Deputy Moises Carotti was found sleeping in his patrol car outside the school's northwest building.

The Broward Sheriff's Office confirmed to ABC News that Carotti was first found by a student, who then notified a BSO sergeant patrolling the interior of the school.

Just thirty minutes before, shooter Nikolas Cruz's brother Zachary was arrested by Broward deputies for trespassing on school property. Three other students were also arrested in separate, unrelated incidents; two for carrying knives on school property, and one for posting threats to social media, according to the sheriff's office.

Carotti will be suspended without pay pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, the sheriff's office said.

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Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is set to announce actions the United States will take against China to combat what the administration claims are unfair practices related to intellectual property.

"Tomorrow, the president will announce the actions he has decided to take based on [the U.S. Trade Representative]'s 301 investigation into China's state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal U.S. technologies and intellectual property," deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.

The specific nature of these actions was not detailed.

The White House's confirmation of the pending announcement comes amid reports that the president will roll out steep tariffs of tens of billions annually against China. The White House declined to confirm those figures on Wednesday, but a USTR official said that tariffs and investment restrictions are options that the president will have at his disposal based on the USTR's investigation into China's practices.

The investigation, which was initiated in August of last year to look into China's practices as it relates to intellectual property, was very “getting very close” to concluding on Wednesday, the official said.

Among China's behaviors that the U.S. has investigated is a whether the country has used state funds to purchase U.S. intellectual property, as well as China's practice of not allowing U.S. companies the same abilities as Chinese companies to license intellectual property in China.

The official said that the USTR has found that the World Trade Organization and other negotiations with China have not been sufficient in reining in the country's behavior.

“Is the WTO alone going to be able to get at a lot of these things? No. Can you simply sit down and get them to sign on to commitments and then trust that those commitments are going to solve the problem? No,” the official said.

The official also said the administration has been engaged in a months-long effort to engage with China diplomatically on its intellectual property practices and said there’s been an extensive interagency process.

“As of today, the administration has not been satisfied with the types of responses we've been getting from China and now we're getting very close to the end of potentially this 301 investigation, so obviously the president will have the final say,” the official said.

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Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump is pushing back hard after being criticized for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election in a phone call Tuesday.

The president lashed out on Twitter — first taking aim at the news media.

"I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.......," Trump tweeted.

Trump then sent a second tweet insulting former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton for, he said, not getting along better with Russia.

"They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's tweets came after a White House official said the West Wing is "stunned" by reporting Monday night that Trump did not follow the advice of his aides to not congratulate Putin during the call Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that Trump did not heed the advice of his national security advisers to not congratulate Putin and to condemn the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in the UK. "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" was written in all capital letters on briefing materials provided to Trump by advisers, the Washington Post reported. The report said it wasn't clear whether Trump had read the briefing materials.

"If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the president's briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal," a senior White House official told ABC.

An administration official confirmed reports that chief of staff John Kelly is "frustrated and deeply disappointed" by the leak of the president's briefing notes for his call with Putin.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said whoever made the stunning leak should be fired — or simply quit.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that he didn't like that Trump missed an opportunity to challenge Putin.

"But you know what I like even less? That there's somebody close to him leaking this stuff. If you don't like the guy then quit. But to be this duplicative and continue to leak things out, it's dangerous," Rubio said. "If you don't like working for the president, you should resign your job."

Sen. Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said the leaker ought to be fired.

"I think that's unconscionable. I think whoever did that ought to be fired immediately and I think they ought to be prosecuted," said Kennedy. "I think that's absolutely unconscionable. It's disgraceful to work for a person, give him advice, if he chooses not to follow that advice, to go try to justify your advice by leaking the advice."

One administration official told ABC News their impression of what Trump said to Putin in offering his congratulations was that it was an underhanded insult. The official said Trump congratulated Putin on his big victory over tough competition.

But that's not how Trump described the call when he — impromptu — told reporters gathered in the Oval Office Tuesday that he spoke to Putin in the morning and congratulated him on his victory. Trump did not, however, discuss election meddling or Russia's use of a nerve agent on a former spy, two glaring omissions from the call.

When White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked Tuesday why Trump didn't mention election meddling to Putin, she told reporters, "We speak about it and continue in ways, steps forward to make sure it never happens again."

The White House has tried to crack down on leaks in the past, but despite measures like taking away personal cell phones, the leaks have continued.

"There have been more leaks coming out of this White House, the only thing in coming out in greater volume are people resigning," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  As questions have mounted about data firm Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of Facebook data from up to 50 million user profiles, it has not only caught the eye of Congressional investigators but also the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

 Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for the last several weeks has had a growing interest to better understand the relationship between the campaign, the Republican National Committee, and Cambridge Analytica, sources tell ABC News.

The company is also under investigation by British officials for its use of Facebook users’ data.

Sources tell ABC News several digital experts who worked in support of Trump’s bid in 2016 have met with Mueller's team for closed-door interviews. The staffers, most of whom were employed by the RNC, served as key members of the 2016 operation working closely with the campaign and the data firm, the sources said. The company worked closely with the Republican candidate’s political team.

The Trump campaign declined to comment and the Republican National Committee has not responded to ABC News' request for comment.

Cambridge Analytica was brought on by then-Trump campaign digital advisor Brad Parscale in early June 2016, after the data science firm pitched him on its services, sources told ABC News. Three Cambridge Analytica employees, including two data scientists, immediately moved to San Antonio to embed with Parscale's firm and by August, the number of fulltime staffers in Texas ballooned to 13.

The team led by Matt Oczkowski, who served as the data firm's chief product officer, was divided into three groups focusing on data science, research and polling and marketing.

Parscale would eventually leave Texas to move into Trump Tower in September, and the data firm sent a mid-level employee with him to interpret daily polling reports, according to sources.

Cambridge Analytica was one entity involved in creating the voter information and fundraising database now known as Project Alamo, built jointly by staffers from the RNC, the Trump campaign and Parscale's firm with data supplied by the RNC and the campaign, sources said.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign told ABC News in a statement that they “used the RNC for its voter data and not Cambridge Analytica. Using the RNC data was one of the best choices the campaign made. Any claims that voter data were used from another source to support the victory in 2016 are false.”

A source with direct knowledge who has met with the special counsel's team tells ABC News investigators have asked former senior level campaign staff about the digital operations, specifically how data was collected and used and how assets were targeted specifically in the battleground states. Mueller's team has asked witnesses about the process of "micro targeting" which is the process of using data to identify specific groups of individuals and thereby influence their thoughts and potentially their actions.

From the start, Trump and his top advisors have touted the campaign’s mastery of spinning pithy social media messages into votes.

"I understand social media. I understand Twitter, I understand the power of Twitter I understand the power of Facebook. Maybe better than almost anybody, based on my results," Trump said at a 2015 town hall in South Carolina.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Parscale are among those who credited the use of targeted Facebook advertising – a strategy developed by Cambridge Analytica.

“We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign," Kushner told Forbes Magazine just after the election. "That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica.”

The Trump campaign paid the data firm more than $5.8 million for “data management” during the 2016 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Overseeing that effort was Parscale, the Trump family confidante who has been tapped to run Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. Parscale coordinated work with Cambridge Analytica executives to identify voters who were undecided and use social media to motivate them to support Trump over Hillary Clinton.

"I think Donald Trump won, but I think Facebook was the method–it was the highway in which his car drove on," Parscale told 60 Minutes last year.

In an undercover video aired on the British television Channel 4, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica's political division, Mark Turnbull, appears to describe, the effort to a reporter posing as a potential client.

Turnbull said his firm created memes around the “Crooked Hillary” brand, not necessarily the name itself.

“The brand was ‘Defeat crooked Hillary,’” he said. “Sometimes you could use proxy organizations… charities, or activist group. We feed them the material and they do the work. We just put the information into the bloodstream on the internet and then watch it grow. Give it a little push every once in a while. .. it’s un-attributable. Untraceable.”

Cambridge Analytica in a statement said it deleted all the Facebook data and related information in cooperation with the social media company, and that such information was never used as part of the data firm's work with the Trump presidential campaign. The data firm has said it was unaware the data was improperly obtained by a third party and that is was destroyed as soon as they were made aware.

Aleksandr Kogan, the psychology researcher at Cambridge University, who developed the app to collect the data from Facebook users that Cambridge Analytica used told the BBC that he is “being basically used as a scapegoat” by the social media company and data firm.

"Honestly, we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately, we thought we were doing something that was really normal," he told the news outlet.

The Trump campaign has said they never used data from Cambridge Analytica.

On Tuesday, the data firm announced CEO Alexander Nix’s suspension, pending an investigation and the release of several undercover videos, aired by Channel 4, of him bragging about Cambridge Analytica’s use of sex workers and bribes to damage politicians for their clients.

In the video, Nix is also recorded as saying the company used a method of communicating with clients that ensure emails “disappear” after they have been read.

“You send them and after they’ve been read, two hours later, they disappear,” Nix said in the undercover Channel 4 News video. “There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”

ABC News has not verified Nix’s on camera claims in the Channel 4 reports.

The data firm has been under fire this week after reports that the company used data harvested from millions of Facebook users without consent beginning in 2014 through an app. The company claims the material was obtained by a third party and has denied wrongdoing.

“This Facebook data was not used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump presidential campaign; personality targeted advertising was not carried out for this client either. The company has made this clear since 2016,” the company said in a statement.

Lawmakers involved in congressional investigations into Russian election interference have renewed interest in Facebook, calling for top company leaders to testify on Capitol Hill and more scrutiny of safeguards meant to protect user data.

“I think it’s time for the CEO, Mr. [Mark] Zuckerberg, and other top officials to come and testify and not tell part of the story, but tell the whole story of their involvement -- not only with the Trump campaign but their ability to have their platform misused by the Russians,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee may soon have the opportunity to question the former Cambridge employee who helped expose the company's use of millions of Facebook profiles without their knowledge to help its political messaging efforts during the 2016 presidential election.

Christopher Wylie, the former employee, told ABC News “one of the reasons why I’m speaking out is because I think that it’s really concerning that no one has really investigated Cambridge Analytica and its role in the 2016 election.”

Wylie confirmed to ABC News that he has accepted an invitation to appear for an interview with congressional investigators.

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Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly a year before Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired senior FBI official Andrew McCabe for what Sessions called a "lack of candor," McCabe oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Sessions of misleading them in congressional testimony and called on federal authorities to investigate, but McCabe's previously-unreported decision to actually put the attorney general in the crosshairs of an FBI probe was an exceptional move.

One source told ABC News that Sessions was not aware of the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last Friday less than 48 hours before McCabe, a former FBI deputy director, was due to retire from government and obtain a full pension, but an attorney representing Sessions declined to confirm that.

Last year, several top Republican and Democratic lawmakers were informed of the probe during a closed-door briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and McCabe, ABC News was told.

By then, Sessions had recused himself from the FBI’s probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, giving Rosenstein oversight of the growing effort.

Within weeks, Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to take over the investigation and related inquiries, including the Sessions matter.

Two months ago, Sessions was interviewed by Mueller's team, and the federal inquiry related to his candor during his confirmation process has since been shuttered, according to a lawyer representing Sessions.

"The Special Counsel's office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress," attorney Chuck Cooper told ABC News on Wednesday.

According to the sources, McCabe authorized the criminal inquiry after a top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and then-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wrote a letter in March 2017 to the FBI urging agents to investigate "all contacts" Sessions may have had with Russians, and "whether any laws were broken in the course of those contacts or in any subsequent discussion of whether they occurred."

It's unclear how actively federal authorities pursued the matter in the months before Sessions' interview with Mueller’s investigators. It's also unclear whether the special counsel may still be pursuing other matters related to Sessions and statements he has made to Congress – or others – since his confirmation.

During his confirmation in January 2017, Sessions told the Senate committee that he had not been in contact with anyone connected to the Russian government about the 2016 election. He also said he was "not aware" of anyone else affiliated with the Trump campaign communicating with the Russian government ahead of the election.

Two months later, after a Washington Post report disputed what Sessions told Congress, the attorney general acknowledged he had met the Russian ambassador twice during the presidential campaign, but insisted none of those interactions were "to discuss issues of the campaign."

Sessions "made no attempt to correct his misleading testimony until The Washington Post revealed that, in fact, he had at least two meetings with the Russian ambassador," Leahy and Franken said in a statement at the time. "We know he would not tolerate dishonesty if he were in our shoes."

Sessions called any suggestions that he misled lawmakers "false."

Nevertheless, charges subsequently brought by Mueller raised more questions over Sessions' testimony to Congress.

In November, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos admitted to federal authorities that during the campaign he was in frequent contact with Russian operatives about setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Papadopoulos pitched the idea to Sessions and Trump at a meeting of the then-candidate's foreign policy team in March 2016.

Sessions later told lawmakers he "always told the truth," insisting he didn’t recall the March 2016 meeting when first testifying to Congress. He later remembered the meeting after reading news reports about it, he said.

"We are concerned by Attorney General Sessions' lack of candor to the Committee and his failure thus far to accept responsibility for testimony that could be construed as perjury," Leahy and Franken said in their March 2017 letter to then-FBI director James Comey, who was fired by Trump two months later.

It is a federal crime for anyone to knowingly provide false information to Congress – or to a federal law enforcement agency. No charges have been announced against McCabe, and there’s no indication that the FBI has recommended he be charged.

McCabe was fired Friday after the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that McCabe misled investigators looking into how Justice Department and FBI officials handled matters associated with the 2016 presidential election.

In October 2016, hoping to push back on a series of news reports questioning whether he might be trying to protect Hillary Clinton, McCabe authorized two FBI officials to speak with a reporter about his efforts to boost the FBI's investigation of the Clinton Foundation. When he was questioned later about that decision, McCabe "lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions," Sessions said in a statement announcing McCabe's firing.

 "The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability," Sessions said. "As the [FBI's ethics office] stated, 'all FBI employees know that lacking candor under oath results in dismissal and that our integrity is our brand.'"

McCabe vehemently denies misleading investigators, saying in his own statement that he is "being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."

For more than a year, Trump and other Republicans have questioned whether McCabe harbored a political bias when making law enforcement decisions as deputy director. McCabe's critics point to his ties to Democrats, particularly his wife's failed Democratic run for state senate in Virginia nearly three years ago.

But in an interview with ABC News, McCabe insisted politics was "absolutely not" a factor in any of the decisions he made, noting he has considered himself a Republican all his life.

A representative for McCabe declined to comment for this article.

Franken, one of the two senators who pushed the FBI to investigate Sessions, resigned from Congress in December amid several claims of sexual misconduct.

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Pete Marovich/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt spent almost $118,000 in flights — many of them first class — during his first year in the role, according to documents the agency provided to the House Oversight Committee.

In the letter to Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican who requested the documents last month, the agency says that the EPA approved the administrator's first or business class flights based on a recommendation from his security detail.

There have been multiple questions about the cost of Pruitt's travel, especially after the agency confirmed that he often flies first and business class citing security reasons. The EPA's inspector general is currently investigating the cost of his travel from last year and whether the agency followed all proper procedure in making travel decisions.

"This location allows the Administrator's security agents to expeditiously exit with him upon the occurrence of a threat," Associate Administrator Troy Lyons wrote in the letter.

The documents were first reported by The Daily Beast and provided to the committee on Tuesday.

Neither the EPA or the House Oversight Committee has responded to ABC News’ request to review the documents.

The EPA has said that Pruitt receives "an unprecedented number of threats" directed at the administrator and his family, which has led them to increase his security detail. Pruitt has also said that the decision to place him in an upgraded class was made after at least one problematic interaction with another passenger during one of his trips in his first few months as administrator.

Pruitt recently said in an interview with CBS News that he has asked his security team to find a solution that would include more flights in coach.

Federal regulations say that federal officials should take the cheapest travel possible but that first class travel can be approved in "exceptional security circumstances," according to the letter.

The letter also says that Pruitt's security detail also traveled in first class on these trips but does not include documents on the cost of those flights.

In addition to the cost of Pruitt's first class flights the agency has also confirmed that Pruitt took at least one chartered flight and multiple flights on government planes totaling more than $58,000.

Among questions being raised is one trip that included a flight on his way to Italy for the G-7 environmental summit in June. That trip included multiple flights including a flight on a military plane and a first-class flight.

ABC News has exclusively obtained a June 2017 photo of Pruitt deplaning a military-owned plane at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport.

In that instance, Pruitt was approved to take a military plane from Cincinnati to New York before his trip to Italy for the G-7 environmental summit. That flight cost $36,000 and was approved so Pruitt could join President Trump at an event in Cincinnati and still make his flight to Rome, which was another first class flight leaving JFK airport.

More documents released this week showed that that trip to Italy cost the agency about $120,000 - about $90,000 on travel for Pruitt and his staff and an additional $30,000 more than previously made public for the cost of his security detail.

Those documents were obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project through a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent lawsuit. ABC News reviewed the documents.

E&E News, an energy and environment news outlet, has reported that Pruitt's security detail is more expensive than previous administrators, according to information obtained through a FOIA request. For example, documents released by EPA show that Pruitt's security detail cost upwards of $830,000 during the first quarter of the year.

The news outlet reported that former Administrator Gina McCarthy's security detail cost about $465,000 and Lisa Jackson's detail cost about $423,000 for the first quarter in their respective administrations.

Other lawmakers have also raised concerns about the costs of Pruitt’s travel and security detail.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to the EPA inspector general on Tuesday asking them to provide more information on the cost of Pruitt’s security and specifically how the agency handles his security on personal trips.

Whitehouse writes in the letter, which was reviewed by ABC News, that he has seen documents that Pruitt’s security detail traveled with him on a trip in December where he had no official business scheduled. Pruitt allegedly flew to Lexington, Kentucky and attended a University of Kentucky basketball game on Dec 29, flew to Los Angeles with his family on Dec 31 where they attended the Rose Bowl and then went to Disneyland on Jan. 2nd and 3rd, according to the letter.

“Information I have reviewed suggests that significant agency resources are being devoted to Administrator Pruitt’s round-the-clock security, even when he is traveling on non-official business,” Whitehouse wrote in the letter.

Whitehouse asks the EPA to provide more information about the cost of the security detail, including whether the agency issues tickets for agents to attend events like the Rose Bowl with the administrator.

He also asks the EPA to answer questions about whether the cost of Pruitt’s security detail “detracts from the agency’s agility to investigate environmental crimes.”

In another part of the letter, Whitehouse says he has been told that Pruitt has requested lodging on his trips that is higher than the federal government’s daily rate.

 “While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious, personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment,” the senator wrote in the letter.

The EPA defended the costs.

“Administrator Pruitt follows the same security protocol whether he’s in his personal or official capacity,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.

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