Political News

Democrats rally without 'any reservation' around Biden's expected 2024 campaign

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(WASHINGTON) -- As hundreds of Democrats gather in Philadelphia this weekend for their annual winter meeting, the party is primed to create a smooth on-ramp for Biden to gear up for his reelection campaign, which a source says is expected to launch within months.

The main business of the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) winter meeting will go down at a Saturday session where the full body will finally green light a reconfigured -- and somewhat controversial -- primary calendar boosted by the White House that cuts the famed Iowa causes and all but guarantees the loss of the typically first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary as part of the official early window.

Many Democrats see the proposed changes -- adding Georgia and Michigan to the lineup while tapping South Carolina to kick-off the entire schedule -- as hyper-advantageous to Biden, who owes much of his 2020 campaign reinvigoration to key voting blocs in those states after early setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Supporters of the calendar shuffle also say it will allow a more diverse group of Democratic voters, including Black people in the South, to have a larger and earlier role in selecting primary candidates.

But others, like Sen. Bernie Sanders' senior adviser Faiz Shakir, critiqued the newly proposed calendar as a "fatal mistake" because, he wrote in a December New York Times op-ed, South Carolina "is not trending in any way toward the Democratic Party."

This week, the DNC is set to resolve the matter, with the Biden-backed calendar likely to get unanimous support at the same time the party is officially declaring their support for his likely reelection campaign.

The president has repeatedly said he intends to run in 2024 but that he hasn't definitively decided.

One DNC member familiar with discussions around timing, who like others in this story was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said his reelection announcement would occur within a few months. (The White House declined to comment.)

Outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Biden on Wednesday, at a transition ceremony, that he "look[s] forward to being on your side when you run for president in 2024."

And while Republicans recently saw internal fissures over their leadership on public display in the elections for Republican National Committee chair and House speaker, several DNC members tell ABC they are preparing to stand firm, despite Biden's middling approval numbers and the Democratic base's stated preference for another standard-bearer in the next cycle.

One member called their strategy "controlled unity" as Biden is scheduled to appear at the winter meeting on Friday along with Vice President Kamala Harris. On Thursday morning, a resolution was unanimously passed supporting Biden running for reelection.

While the president is expected to stop short of making any formal announcement in his remarks to the group on Friday, DNC members believe the newly configured primary speaks for itself.

If approved, the line-up would begin with South Carolina on Feb. 3, 2024, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire hosting their contests concurrently on Feb. 6, then Georgia on Feb. 13 and ending with Michigan on Feb. 27.

"Look, if you start to read the tea leaves here, you'll see that the president is running. The first and most obvious signal of that is the calendar," said one DNC member.

"The top line is Biden's going to come there, he's going to make it clear that he and Harris are running [in 2024], that's going to soak up the interest level on Friday," another DNC member said, predicting that the entire committee will then "rubber stamp" the new nominating calendar which was previously agreed upon by the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

"This is not a calendar for an open primary. This is a calendar for reelect," a third DNC member said. "I do think this will be the calendar for '24. I do not think it will be the calendar for 2028.

Biden's presumptive bid will result in an almost certain nomination, which makes some Democrats indifferent about the timing of his announcement.

The third DNC member noted that Biden faces "no pressure" to announce a 2024 campaign as no other establishment Democrat is planning to oppose him.

Other DNC members predicted that Donald Trump's fairly low-key campaign kickoff so far could be contributing to Biden taking his time, having said last year that he would confer with his family over the winter holidays.

"I have heard from no one within the DNC or other power brokers within the Democratic Party any reservation about Joe Biden," one of the DNC members said.

Another of the members who spoke with ABC News theorized the timeline for Biden's announcement has more to do with the future of his presidential agenda with a divided Congress and related factors that might influence his candidacy -- like the recent discovery of classified documents retained while at of office at an old office in Washington, D.C., and at his Wilmington, Delaware, home -- than any threat of a primary challenger.

This member said that the narrative and media attention will change around Biden when he is "encumbered" by running a campaign at the same time that he is running the federal government.

"There's no perceived opposition on the Democratic side. So why not just continue to do events, and you get all the free media and are spending money to do it?" one of the DNC members said.

However, one potential challenger to Biden from the left has made herself known: author and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. In the last few weeks, she's teased possible trips to the early nominating states of New Hampshire and South Carolina to explore the option of running.

But many DNC members brushed that aside, given Williamson is without party backing, comparable funds and comparable support from the party's base.

"My expectation is that after President Biden announces that there won't be any substantive, well-funded, well-known people running against him," South Carolina DNC member Carol Fowler said.

One of the DNC members said that attempting to primary Biden would only serve to weaken the party's ultimate chance to keep the White House.

"You undermine him in the campaign. You don't make him stronger," this member said.

New Hampshire DNC member Ray Buckley, however, cited the chance of a Williamson campaign as an example for Democratic leaders of an "insurgent candidate" who could optimize the state's anger at losing its nominating slot, suggesting the angst over the calendar shakeup had electoral ramifications.

The new nominating calendar will "create an opening for an insurgent candidate — serious or not — who can garner media attention and capitalize on Granite Stater's anger about being passed over by [Biden's] campaign," Buckley wrote in a letter published last week.

"Some of her supporters have made that very clear, that that is something that they are heavily thinking about," Buckley said in an interview with ABC News.

New Hampshire Democrats will use their time at the DNC winter meeting to engage in conversations with members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the White House about the "predicament" they've found themselves in: where their secretary of state will not breach state law, which mandates New Hampshire be the first in the nation to hold a primary election.

Opposition from New Hampshire -- along with hesitation in Georgia about working to change its laws to accommodate a new calendar -- forced a DNC committee to vote last week on an extension for the two states so that they might meet the requirements of their spots in the restructured early state schedule.

But Buckley maintains that New Hampshire Democrats do not have the power to break the law instituted by state leaders, even if they are punished by the DNC and are at risk of losing delegates.

"We want to make sure that we are successful: that we carry the state for the Biden-Harris ticket and that we pick up the governor's race so we gain it, we hold onto our congressional seats and gain the majorities in the legislature," Buckley said. "That's what our focus is."

He said they'll continue to fight for their spot at the front of the primary line with little expectation that the DNC at large will vote for anything other than the new early nominating calendar.

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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Biden meets with Congressional Black Caucus on pushing policing reform

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met Thursday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss pushing policing reform in the wake of the death of Tyre Nichols.

As the group gathered in the Oval Office, Biden said it was his hope that the "dark memory" of Nichols' death "spurs some action that we've all been fighting for."

"We got to stay at it, as long as it takes," the president said.

Attendees included CBC chair Rep. Steven Horsford, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Raphael Warnock, Rep. James Clyburn, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Joe Neguse -- all Democrats.

Calls for legislative action have grown in the weeks following the fatal encounter between Nichols and Memphis police. Graphic footage of the Jan. 7 confrontation showed officers striking and kicking Nichols after a traffic stop. He died three days later. According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by the family, he suffered from "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."

Nichols' parents, attorney Ben Crump and Rev. Al Sharpton all pushed for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as they delivered remarks at Nichols' funeral on Wednesday. Harris, too, demanded Congress pass the legislation, calling it "nonnegotiable."

"The death of Tyree Nichols is yet another example of why we do need action," Horsford said as the caucus sat down with the president and vice president.

"We need your help to make sure we can get the legislative actions that are necessary to save lives, and to make public safety the priority that it needs to be for all communities," he told them.

The group did not elaborate on any specific policies they planned to discuss as they entered the otherwise closed-door meeting.

But any policing reform faces an uphill battle in the now-divided Congress.

ABC News' Justin Gomez pressed President Biden on whether police reform will be possible this Congress just before his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

"I hope so," Biden said as he held up his hands and crossed his fingers.

In advance of Thursday's meeting between the Congressional Black Caucus and Biden, Republican Sen. Tim Scott poured cold water on the idea of using the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a starting point in negotiations.

"Resurrecting the House progressives' police reform bill is a non-starter," Scott wrote in a Twitter thread.

The legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate, with impasse occurring primarily over the issue of qualified immunity for officers.

Scott has been at the center of police reform negotiations in the Senate in recent years, and he worked with Booker in 2021 to try to get a deal on the issue. His sign approval of any policing reform bill would likely be essential in garnering the necessary Republican support in the Senate.

"I've been working toward common ground solutions that actually have a shot at passing," he tweeted. "Solutions to increase funding and training to make sure only the best wear the badge. Solutions that would have made a difference in places like Memphis & Kenosha.Here's the truth: We can get something meaningful done. We can pass a bill that the majority of Congress--and the majority of Americans--would agree on."

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters at his weekly press conference Thursday he'd spoken to Congressional Black Caucus leaders ahead of their meeting at the White House.

Jeffries declined to say when exactly Democrats would put forward a policing bill, saying he wouldn't get ahead of the meeting.

"We do need to have a real, genuine, authentic, and bipartisan conversation about dealing with police reform in America, and figuring out how do we strengthen the relationship between the police and the community," Jeffries said.

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What is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act?

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(WASHINGTON) -- The funeral for Tyre Nichols was filled with tributes for the 29-year-old who died after a violent encounter with police, and a call to action for reform.

Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells, who addressed the mourners gathered in Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church through tears, said she needed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act bill to be passed.

“We need to take some action because there should be no other child that should suffer the way my son [did] and all the other parents here who’ve lost their children,” Wells said. “We need to get that bill passed because if we don’t, that blood -- the next child that dies -- that blood is going to be on their hands.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Ben Crump all pushed for lawmakers to revive talks on the legislation, which was crafted in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police.

"We demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," Harris said at the funeral. "Joe Biden will sign it. We should not delay, and we shall not be denied. It is nonnegotiable."

The bill, which would’ve sought to address racial profiling and use of deadly force, was passed by the Democrat-controlled House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate over the issue of qualified immunity for officers.

Here’s what was included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act:

Accountability for police misconduct

The bill would have lowered the legal standard for prosecuting officers from willfulness to recklessness, and would've limited qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against an officer.

It also mandated the creation of a National Police Misconduct Registry to collect data on complaints and records of police misconduct. The registry would've been designed to keep track of termination records, lawsuits against officers, discipline records and more at the federal, state and local level.

The Department of Justice would've also been granted administrative subpoena power in pattern-or-practice investigations -- reviews the agency says are a central tool to accomplish police reform and restoring police-community trust.

Framework for addressing racial profiling

The bill would have banned racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels. It would also have required officers to complete training on racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

It would also have required procedures for investigating and "responding meaningfully" to complaints alleging racial profiling.

Limit use of force

The bill would also have banned no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. The use of no-knock warrants in such cases was highly scrutinized after police killed Breonna Taylor when entering her Louisville home on a no-knock warrant in March 2020.

It would also have incentivized local and state agencies to ban chokeholds by tying the prohibitions to federal funding.

Federal officers would also have been required to wear and activate body cameras except in narrow circumstances when stopping to activate it would endanger their life.

The bill would have prohibited federal officers from using deadly force unless all “reasonable alternatives to the use of the form of less lethal force have been exhausted” -- including verbal warnings, de-escalation tactics and nonlethal force. The attorney general would also be mandated to establish a clear duty for federal officers to intervene in cases where another law enforcement officer is using excessive force against a civilian.

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The external campaign grows for a DeSantis 2024 bid

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(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has not made any significant public movements toward a presidential run, but his supporters are gearing up for one.

While former President Donald Trump is so far the most prominent candidate to have announced a 2024 campaign for the White House, much attention has also been on DeSantis. At the same time, DeSantis has begun to build the foundation to explore a potential presidential run, according to recent reports.

And as DeSantis' profile continues to grow, and even as he has played down the constant questions about his political ambitions, committees and organizations are coming together to urge him to run.

One of the groups already doing that is Ready for Ron, a draft committee created in May of 2022 to encourage DeSantis to run for president.

Gabriel Llanes, the committee's executive director, told ABC News that this year the organization is doing several grassroots events in several states to raise DeSantis' national profile. Recently, the group announced that it plans to spend millions through television, phone, mail and digital promotion.

"We think that our efforts have kind of helped propel him to be that person to generate that chatter across the country," Llanes said.

Llanes attributed DeSantis' popularity among conservatives to his actions as governor of Florida and his "ambitious legislative session" last year, where he signed into law the controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, which critics call "Don't Say Gay," and took on the Walt Disney Corporation by eliminating its special district which allowed it to self-govern.

Ready for Ron has attracted different groups of people energized by the possibility of DeSantis' launching a presidential campaign, including Bob Carey, part of Vets for Ron. The committee approached Carey, a retired Navy officer, to help on the veteran side.

Carey told ABC News that part of the reason he supports DeSantis' is his ability to get things done, which he sees as a reflection of the veteran and military mentality. DeSantis is also a former Navy officer.

"I think that the veteran community finds in Gov. DeSantis a kindred spirit to whom they can relate and to whom they can believe in," Carey said.

Dan Backer, counsel at Ready for Ron, told ABC News that in addition to DeSantis' broad appeal is the importance of winning for the Republican Party.

"It is clear to us I think, and more and more people, that Ron DeSantis has the best chance to beat Joe Biden [in 2024] and turn this country around," Backer said.

The possibility of DeSantis' presidential run has spurred excitement in Republican circles, even having some of Trump's supporters switch over to support the Florida governor, believing he can help the party regain power throughout the country.

Ed Rollins, a prominent Republican adviser, left his position as chairman of the Great American PAC, which supported Trump's candidacy, to be the chief political strategist at Ready for Ron. Following Republicans' surprisingly lackluster results in the 2022 midterm elections -- in many parts of the country except Florida -- Rollins has publicly said that he believes DeSantis is the "complete package" and can win the White House.

This sentiment seems to be shared by other groups supporting the Florida governor, with many believing that the Republican Party can't win a major election cycle if Trump is at the helm. Since the 2018 elections, the GOP has faced tough losses. The party lost the House in 2018, lost the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2020 and although they retook the House in 2022, it was by a slim number of seats and the Senate was retained by Democrats.

John Thomas, the chief political strategist at Ron to the Rescue, a federal super PAC, told ABC News that while Trump was heavily involved in the 2022 midterms, it did not "make the winning difference" for the party.

"What struck me was after the midterm elections, when we were promised a red wave, [was] at best we got a red mist and in large part I think what we saw was a lot of the Donald Trump-endorsed candidates failed," Thomas said.

Republicans did see the red wave they were hoping for in Florida, where DeSantis won reelection by nearly 20 points -- changing Florida's status from a longtime swing state to a ruby red one.

"I think there's this thirst for a MAGA agenda that has become so popular in the Republican Party, but they're ready for Donald Trump to move from a party leader to a party elder," Thomas said.

And while Trump remains a hugely popular figure in the Republican Party, it's clear that DeSantis is gaining momentum ahead of 2024. A recent University of New Hampshire poll showed that DeSantis led Trump among likely voters in the state's 2024 Republican presidential primary 42%-30%.

Last week, the New Hampshire GOP held its annual meeting, where Trump served as the keynote speaker, kicking off his presidential campaign events. At the meeting, Ron to the Rescue had a presence there, talking to voters about DeSantis and they were pleased with the conversations they had with attendees at the meeting.

"Everybody was cordial and polite, but throughout the whole day, even self-identified Trump supporters that would come up were all saying essentially the same thing: 'We're supporting President Trump, [but] we really like Ron DeSantis, and we'll see how the primary plays out. Maybe we change our mind,'" Thomas said.

"That's not where you want your base to be if you're former President Trump, so that actually was really great."

Earlier this week, DeSantis seemingly swiped at Trump for criticizing his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, invoking how, unlike the former president, he won reelection.

"You take a crisis situation like COVID -- you know, the good thing about it is when you're an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions, you got to steer that ship," DeSantis said during a press conference on education. "And the good thing is is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they reelect you or not."

"I'm happy to say, you know, in my case, not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida."

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders to deliver GOP's State of the Union response

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(WASHINGTON) -- Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address next Tuesday, Feb. 7, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced on Thursday via Twitter.

Sanders, 40, became the first woman elected to serve as Arkansas' governor in November and is currently the youngest governor in the country. She is also the first daughter to become a state's governor after her father, Mike Huckabee, held the same position from 1996 to 2007.

"I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP's optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats," Sanders said in a release with Republican congressional leaders. "We are ready to begin a new chapter in the story of America – to be written by a new generation of leaders ready to defend our freedom against the radical left and expand access to quality education, jobs, and opportunity for all."

Sanders is expected to deliver the response from Little Rock, while McCarthy will sit behind the president for the first time.

"She is bringing new ideas for a changing future, while also applying the wisdom of the past, including from the leadership of her father, Mike," McCarthy said in the release. "She is a servant-leader of true determination and conviction. I'm thrilled Sarah will share her extraordinary story and bold vision for a better America on Tuesday. Everyone, including President Biden, should listen carefully."

In her first week of office, Sanders signed executive orders banning critical race theory in schools and the term "Latinx" in government documents.

"While President Biden keeps repeating old mistakes and failing Americans, a rising generation of Republican Governors are fighting for families, advancing new solutions, and winning," echoed Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. "Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the youngest Governor in the nation and a powerful advocate for the popular, commonsense conservative principles that will put our country back on a better course."

Sanders was former President Donald Trump's longest-serving White House press secretary from 2017 to 2019 and has remained a Trump loyalist since leaving his administration. It's rumored Trump could be eyeing Sanders for a vice presidential pick, though she's said she intends to serve as governor of Arkansas for eight years.

Sanders tenure in the White House saw a combative relationship with the press as she frequently spread disinformation to defend the Trump administration. She admitted to federal investigators in the Mueller special counsel investigation that she had made false statements to the public as press secretary, calling it a "'slip of the tongue,'" according to the Mueller report.

When Biden, 80, enters the House next week to address the joint session of Congress, it will be his first time since Republicans took control of the chamber.

McCarthy said Thursday to open his weekly press conference that he was "excited" to have Sanders deliver the response, as well as freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., to deliver the response for the GOP in Spanish.

He called Ciscomani's story, "just a real, true American story, as well."

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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House Republicans vote to kick Rep. Ilhan Omar off Foreign Affairs Committee

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks on the House floor before the vote to remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Feb. 2, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. - Pool via ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans on Thursday voted to kick Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

They said it was because of antisemitic comments and statements on Israel she later apologized for in 2019.

The vote on the resolution was 218-211 -- with one Republican -- Rep. David Joyce of Ohio -- voting "present."

Omar defended herself in an impassioned floor speech Thursday immediately ahead of the vote and displayed a photo of her younger self on a poster board beside her.

"I am Muslim. I am an immigrant. And interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted?" she said.

"I am an American -- an American who was sent here by her constituents to represent them in Congress, a refugee who survived the horrors of a civil war. Someone who spent her childhood in a refugee camp, someone who knows what it means to have a shot at a better life here in the United States, and someone who believes in the American dream," she said.

"There is an idea out there that I am not, that I do not have, objective decision making because of who I am, where I come from and my perspective -- but I would check that we say there is nothing objective about policy. We all inject our perspectives, our points of view, our lived experiences, and the voices of our constituents," she continued. "That's what democracy is about."

"I will continue to speak up because representation matters. I will continue to speak up for little kids who wonder who's speaking up for them. I will continue to speak up for families around the world towards seeking justice, whether they are displaced in refugee camps, or they are hiding under their beds -- somewhere like I was -- waiting for the bullets to stop -- because this child survivor of war would have wanted, that the nine-year-old me, would be disappointed if I didn't talk about the victims of conflict those that are experiencing unjust wars, atrocities, ethnic cleansing occupation or displacement like I did," Omar said.

The Minnesota congresswoman concluded by saying she would not let the vote silence her.

"I came to Congress to be their voice, and my leadership and voice will not be diminished," she said. "If I am not on this committee for one term, my voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been."

Earlier Thursday, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said the vote was "all about political revenge" and called the resolution written to remove Omar "phony, fake and fraudulent."

"This type of poisonous toxic double standard is going to complicate the relationship moving forward between House Democrats and help Republicans," Jeffries told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott at his weekly press conference.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had repeatedly vowed to remove Omar and two other Democrats, California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, once Republicans regained power.

The House Rules Committee voted along party lines on Tuesday night, 9-4, to advance a resolution to effectively block Omar from the panel -- by removing her once she is seated.

On Wednesday, the chamber voted to move forward with a vote on the resolution, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Max Miller of Ohio. It cites some of Omar's previous controversial statements to argue she doesn't have an "objective mindset."

Miller said it wasn't about a "tit-for-tat," given that Democrats and some Republicans had removed two GOP lawmakers -- Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar -- from committees in the last Congress.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Key Senate Democrat wants details on probes overseen by arrested former FBI official

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(WASHINGTON) -- The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee wants more information about investigations overseen by the former head of the FBI New York Field Office Charles McGonigal.

McGonigal, who was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI's New York Field Office, was arrested last month over his alleged ties to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who has been sanctioned by the United States and criminally charged last year with violating those sanctions.

"These allegations are extremely disturbing and raise concerns about the potential impact this misconduct may have had on the FBI's counterintelligence matters and criminal investigations," Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, writes to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland. "As a SAC for the New York Field Office, Mr. McGonigal oversaw many sensitive counterintelligence investigations, including investigations involving individuals he has now been accused of working to benefit."

Durbin points out U.S. officials have said Deripaska was a close associate of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and also on the U.S. sanctions list.

Noting the indictment alleges that McGonigal concealed his receipt of $225,000 cash from a former Albanian intelligence agency employee, Durbin writes, "Both indictments include alleged conduct that occurred while Mr. McGonigal served as the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of FBI's Counterintelligence Division in the New York Field Office from 2016 to 2018 and after his retirement."

Durbin is wanting to know if any investigations were impacted and how many investigations that he oversaw were potentially compromised.

Durbin is asking for a response by Feb 15.

"Mr. McGonigal's alleged misconduct may have impacted these highly sensitive matters, including whether he compromised sensitive sources, methods, and analysis," Durbin writes. "Whether his alleged misconduct materially impacted the outcome of any investigations or further compromised our national security also remains unknown at this time."

Previously, FBI Director Christopher Wray said McGonigal's actions don't represent his agency.

McGonigal, who retired from the FBI in 2018, has pleaded not guilty to the four-count indictment unsealed Monday in Manhattan.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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Justice Department in talks to search former Vice President Mike Pence's home for classified documents

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice is in contact with former Vice President Mike Pence's lawyers about scheduling a potential search of his home in Indiana, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The discussions come after classified documents were found in Pence's Indiana home and turned over to the FBI for review. A lawyer for Pence conducted the search of Pence's home in Indiana last week and found the documents.

The search was done proactively and in the wake of news that classified documents from before he was president were found in Joe Biden's home and old office at the Penn Biden Center.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that the Department of Justice and Pence's legal team were in discussions about scheduling a search.

Pence's team believes an additional search by federal investigators won't reveal any additional classified documents but intends to comply fully with the DOJ review of the matter, including any search of his home.

The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Top Trump Organization executive to appear before grand jury

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(NEW YORK) -- The Trump Organization's controller is expected to testify Thursday before a grand jury in New York that is investigating whether former President Donald Trump played a role in the hush payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Jeffrey McConney has worked at the Trump Organization for more than three decades and was a subordinate to its former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who is now serving jail time after he pleaded guilty to tax fraud.

McConney appeared more than a half-dozen times before a grand jury about illegal practices at the Trump Organization and he testified at the company's trial late last year that resulted in a conviction on charges it paid certain executives as independent contractors and through under-the-table perks.

McConney is expected to appear before the new grand jury convened to hear evidence by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office about the payment to Daniels meant to keep quiet about her long-denied affair with Trump, the sources said.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment. An attorney for McConney also declined to comment.

McConney's anticipated grand jury appearance was first reported by CNN.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, appeared before the grand jury earlier this week, the sources said. Pecker helped broker a $150,000 payment to Daniels, according to federal prosecutors who previously investigated the arrangement and reached a non-prosecution agreement with Pecker's employer, AMI.

Pecker interviewed Daniels about her alleged affair in June 2016 and agreed to acquire the story for the purposes of burying it, a practice known in the tabloid industry as "catch and kill."

Prosecutors believe the payment violated campaign finance laws governing expenditures made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with a candidate or his campaign.

Trump has denied knowing about the payment that was arranged through his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is investigating whether the Trump Organization falsified business records in the way it recorded a reimbursement payment to Cohen, sources familiar with the investigation have told ABC News.

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Biggs rolls out new articles of impeachment against DHS Secretary Mayorkas

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(WASHINGTON) -- Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs on Wednesday rolled out new impeachment articles against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, saying the top Biden administration official has "violated his oath of office, wreaking havoc on this country and he must be impeached."

"He must be impeached because he is a public official who has lost public trust and is an imminent threat to the United States of America," Biggs said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Biggs, who previously introduced articles in 2021, said he would be filing the articles while standing alongside fellow conservative GOP members, including Reps. Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Bob Good and others. The presser began as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's first in-person meeting with President Joe Biden since winning the gavel was slated to begin.

"Secretary Mayorkas has failed to faithfully uphold his oath and has instead presided over a reckless abandonment of border security and immigration enforcement, the expense of the Constitution and the security of the United States," the articles read.

Biggs did not provide a hard timeline for when the articles would be moved forward in committee.

When asked if Speaker McCarthy supported the effort to impeach Mayorkas, Biggs didn't answer directly, but said he was hopeful, adding, "We start this hopefully at the Judiciary Committee."

Greene made it clear she intends to target President Biden, once again calling to impeach him as well: "It's also President Biden's responsibility. I've called for his impeachment because of his failure to protect our country as well. And I'll continue to call to impeach President Biden for that reason as well."

The articles also come as Republicans held their first hearing on the border crisis, highlighting the issue at the House Judiciary Committee earlier on Wednesday.

The move follows months of conservative Republicans vowing to impeach Mayorkas and even with Speaker McCarthy holding an event on the border weeks back calling for an investigation into the DHS secretary.

Biggs's announcement also comes weeks after Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, introduced his own impeachment articles against Mayorkas on Jan. 10. Fallon accused Mayorkas of failing to maintain operational control, providing false testimony to Congress and misleading the public. A DHS official said at the time they believed Fallon's impeachment articles had no factual grounds.

Biggs said Wednesday he and Fallon will co-sponsor each other's impeachment resolutions.

Mayorkas said in January, just after Republicans took control of the House, that he was ready for any congressional investigations and that he had no intention of resigning.

"I've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to do it," Mayorkas told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."

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Veteran who claimed George Santos stole money for his dying dog says FBI has reached out to him

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI has contacted a Navy veteran, Richard Osthoff, as part of an investigation into embattled Rep. George Santos and a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Osthoff's sick service dog.

Osthoff confirmed the call from the FBI, and sources familiar with the matter confirmed the nature of the investigation -- which adds to the growing list of legal issues and controversies Santos, R-N.Y., is facing.

The freshman lawmaker insists he isn't a "criminal" and has said he will leave office if he isn't reelected. He has acknowledged and apologized for lying about parts of his background while maintaining that he was only embellishing his resume.

According to previous ABC News reporting, a source familiar said Santos, using the name Anthony Devolder, ran a GoFundMe account in 2016 under the auspices of a charity, Friends of Pets United, and raised some $3,000 to ostensibly help Osthoff pay for surgery to remove a tumor from his dog.

MORE: Investigations and complaints facing George Santos could bring serious penalties
Osthoff told ABC News that Santos did not come through with the money and ignored text messages about it. Osthoff says his dog, Sapphire, ultimately died from her condition.

"I don't ever want to see another person, especially another veteran, go through this again," Osthoff said.

Osthoff told ABC News that he was "glad to get the ball rolling with the big-wigs," with the FBI involvement.

"I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted," he added.

A spokesperson for GoFundMe would not comment on any specifics but said the company will cooperate with any investigations.

Santos' campaign previously described Friends of Pets United as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but IRS records do not list a charity under that name.

Santos told ABC News on Wednesday that he was unaware of the FBI probe and said of Osthoff, "I have no recollection of ever meeting him." Osthoff previously provided a local news outlet with texts that he said were between him and Santos.

When asked if he was worried about being prosecuted, Santos responded, "I have no clue, I don't know what it's about."

He also told ABC News he had not been contacted by anyone regarding the investigation. "I haven't been reached out by them. So I can't comment," he said.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are investigating Santos, including the charity, which is also part of an investigation by the New York attorney general's office, according to sources familiar with both investigations.

Spokespeople for both the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI's New York field office declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

The FBI outreach to Osthoff was first reported by Politico.

In December, as reports emerged about Santos fabricating some of his life story, he told The New York Post that he was sorry for "embellishing" but said: "This [controversy] will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good."

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After high-stakes meeting with Biden, McCarthy says 'common ground' possible

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met in the Oval Office for more than hour Wednesday, and afterward McCarthy called it a "good first meeting," suggesting the two men might find a compromise over spending.

At the same time, he said there were "no agreements" and "no promises" made.

The highly anticipated meeting, the first the two men have held since McCarthy narrowly won the speakership last month, comes amid an ongoing standoff over the national debt limit.

"I think, at the of the day, we can find common ground, I really do," McCarthy told reporters in the White House driveway.

A few minutes later, the White House released its take on the meeting, saying the two men had a "frank and straightforward dialogue" and that the conversation would continue.

"They covered a range of issues and President Biden underscored that he is eager to continue working across the aisle in good faith," the statement said.

The White House said that Biden "made clear" that they cannot allow the U.S. to default and that this obligation is "not negotiable or conditional," adding that Biden "welcomes a separate discussion" on reducing the deficit.

The president had told reporters Monday that his message for McCarthy would be "show me your budget," showing specific cuts he's proposing in exchange for Republican support to lift the debt ceiling -- and avoid a catastrophic default.

Asked Wednesday by ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce when he would share the "big plan" he has promised, McCarthy responded, "I think the president and I have talked about a lot of different ideas and we'll work to see if we can come to an agreement."

Pressed further, McCarthy fired back, "I know you all have a job to do but I don't think we'll come to an agreement if I negotiate with you."

The White House has repeatedly said it would not negotiate with Republicans -- that the stakes for the U.S. economy were too high, and that the limit had been raised 74 times before, including with Republican support under then-President Donald Trump.

But on Tuesday, the president suggested he was open to talking. Asked if he would negotiate with the speaker during Wednesday's meeting, Biden responded simply, "Show me his budget."

The president has long cast himself as a dealmaker, eager to sit down with Republicans to reach bipartisan agreements. At a fundraiser in New York on Tuesday, Biden referred to McCarthy as "a decent man."

But he has also lambasted congressional Republicans as "extreme" and said McCarthy had given in to that faction to take control.

"Look at what he had to do," the president said Tuesday. "He had to make commitments that were just absolutely off the wall for a speaker of the House to make in terms of being able to become a leader."

Responding to Biden's comments at the fundraiser, McCarthy said, "apparently he doesn't understand."

"I'm looking forward to sitting down with the president negotiating for the American public -- the people of America -- on how we can find savings," McCarthy said.

When asked if he planned to make Biden a specific offer, McCarthy said, "I think we're gonna sit down and negotiate."

That public posturing was only the latest salvo launched between the two men.

Earlier Tuesday, McCarthy told reporters that he was "willing to sit down" with Biden "and finally get this done long before the debt limit hits its point that we have to get something done."

"Because why would you put the economics of America in jeopardy?" he said. "Why would you play political games?"

McCarthy has noted he and Biden had "met many times prior to him being president," although "not as often as being president."

He said Tuesday the White House should "say they're willing to negotiate, because the only irresponsible way is to play a political game and say, we're not going to talk about it. It sounds pretty childish to me."

Earlier in the day, top White House officials wrote in a memo that Biden planned to pose two questions to McCarthy during the meeting.

The president is expected to ask McCarthy if he will "commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its financial obligations" and whether he agrees with "former presidents, including Presidents Trump and Reagan, that it is critical to avoid debt limit brinksmanship," according to the memo, which was first obtained by ABC News.

The authors of the memo -- the president's top economic adviser, Brian Deese, and the director of the White House budget office, Shalanda Young – noted Biden planned to release a budget on March 9. They challenged McCarthy to do the same.

"It is essential," they wrote, "that Speaker McCarthy likewise commit to releasing a budget, so that the American people can see how House Republicans plan to reduce the deficit – whether through Social Security cuts; cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage; and/or cuts to research, education, and public safety – as well as how much their Budget will add to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, as in their first bill this year."

In response, McCarthy wrote in a statement Tuesday: "Mr. President: I received your staff's memo. I'm not interested in political games. I'm coming to negotiate for the American people."

Republicans in the House have insisted on deep spending cuts in exchange for their cooperation on raising the debt ceiling.

The Republican Study Committee, which represents the largest group of Republicans in the House, previously called for revisions to Social Security and Medicare, including raising the age for Medicare to 67 and Social Security to the age of 70 for younger workers.

But McCarthy recently said any cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be "off the table."

McCarthy pointed to the "Commitment to America" plan presented by Republicans before the midterms, which he said "strengthens" Medicare and Social Security. The White House has accused McCarthy of being "evasive" on his plan for government spending.

Pressed on what he meant by "strengthen" and whether he would seek to raise the retirement age -- McCarthy said: "No, no, no. What I'm talking about Social Security, Medicare, you keep that to the side."

"I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling but take control of this runaway spending," McCarthy said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed support for McCarthy. "We're all behind Kevin," he said Tuesday. "Wishing him well in the negotiations."

Meanwhile, the White House has repeatedly said Biden will not negotiate or compromise by tying a debt limit increase to spending cuts, with the administration pointing to the bipartisan history of the ceiling being increased by both parties over the years.

"Attempts to exploit the debt ceiling as leverage will not work," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last month. "There will be no hostage taking."

Earlier this month, McCarthy made it clear he was holding firm.

"For the president to say he wouldn't even negotiate -- that's irresponsible. We're going to be responsible. We're going to be sensible, and we're going to get this done together. So the longer he waits, the more he puts the fiscal jeopardy of America up for grabs," McCarthy told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott last month. "We should sit down and get this done and stop playing politics," he added.

The debt limit doesn't allow government spending on new programs -- instead it allows the U.S. to borrow any money it needs to pay for the nation's existing bills.

The federal government hit the current debt ceiling, about $31.4 trillion earlier this month prompting the Treasury Department to step in with "extraordinary measures" which will allow the nation to avert a catastrophic default until June.

"President Biden will ask Speaker McCarthy to publicly assure the American people and the rest of the world that the United States will, as always, honor all of its financial obligations," the memo stated.

ABC News' Lauren Peller and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden proposes rule to 'slash excessive credit card late fees'

Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed a federal rule to "curb excessive credit card late fees" and plans to go after the Apple and Google app stores for what it says are "barriers to competition."

The rule, proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would reduce typical late fees from roughly $30 to $8, according to projections from the White House.

Regarding the app stores, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, "Consumers largely can't get apps outside of the app store model, controlled by Apple and Google."

The proposals come less than a week before President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday and originated from his Competition Council. The credit card fee proposal, in particular, is part of Biden's push to reduce "junk fees."

"Today's rule proposes to cut those fees from $31 on average to $8," Biden said Wednesday while meeting with the Competition Council. "That change is expected to save tens of millions of dollars for America. Roughly $9 billion a year in total savings."

He said over the next few weeks his team will meet with state and local officials across the U.S. to find ways to "crack down on junk fees" in their jurisdictions, and is calling on Congress to pass a Junk Fee Prevention Act that would regulate a variety of fees, including entertainment ticket fees and certain airline fees.

"These unfair fees add up. It's a basic question of fairness," Biden said. "We're gonna keep building an economy that's fair, economy that's competitive, and an economy that works for everyone."

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted in support of the proposed rule and said, "Congress should follow President Biden's lead and crack down on junk fees on tickets, airfare, internet, hotels, and more."

In addition to the limit on credit card late fees, the proposed rule would end the automatic annual inflation adjustment and cap late fees at 25% of the required minimum payment, according to the White House.

"Over a decade ago, Congress banned excessive credit card late fees, but companies have exploited a regulatory loophole that has allowed them to escape scrutiny for charging an otherwise illegal junk fee," said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. "Today's proposed rule seeks to save families billions of dollars and ensure the credit card market is fair and competitive."

In recent years, late fees have surged to as much as $41 for a missed payment, Chopra said in a statement, with consumers being hit with $12 billion a year in late fees -- in addition to the billions of dollars in interest they are paying.

Chopra said that the rule could go into effect as soon as 2024, the Associated Press reported.

Industry groups, including the American Bankers Association, worry the proposed rule will "harm consumers by reducing competition and increasing the cost of credit," Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO, said in a statement.

"It will result in more late payments, higher debt and lower credit scores, and is inconsistent with the CARD Act's encouragement of responsible credit management," Nichols said. "If the proposal is enacted, credit card issuers will be forced to adjust to the new risks by reducing credit lines, tightening standards for new accounts and raising APRs for all consumers, including the millions who pay on time."

The Consumer Bankers Association released a similar statement following Wednesday's announcement of the proposed rule.

"It is deeply unfortunate and puzzling that policymakers would take action that could ultimately limit consumers' access to these valued financial products at a time when they are needed most," Lindsey Johnson, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Continuing to conflate fees charged by well-regulated banks with those in other industries is not only disingenuous, it fails to reflect the fact that banks are required by law to provide clear and conspicuous disclosures."

In addition to the administration's push to limit credit card late fees, it also announced a plan to go after large app stores. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a report on Wednesday stating that, "The current mobile app store model is harmful to consumers and developers."

"Apple and Google create hurdles for developers to compete for consumers by imposing technical limits, such as restricting how apps can function or requiring developers to go through slow and opaque review processes," the NTIA said.

An Apple spokesperson told ABC News, "we respectfully disagree with a number of conclusions reached in the report, which ignore the investments we make in innovation, privacy and security - all of which contribute to why users love iPhone and create a level playing field for small developers to compete on a safe and trusted platform.”

A Google spokesperson said the firm also disagrees with the report, namely “how this report characterizes Android, which enables more choice and competition than any other mobile operating system,” The Associated Press reported.

The report, which was developed at the direction of President Biden's 2021 Executive Order on Competition, says new legislation and antitrust enforcement actions are "likely necessary to boost competition in the app ecosystem."

ABC News' Ben Gittelson and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Raskin dons headwear as he undergoes chemo, receives encouragement from GOP colleague

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Jamie Raskin, sporting a cap as he undergoes chemo, received applause from GOP colleagues.
In a moment of bipartisanship, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin received words of encouragement from a Republican colleague as he undergoes cancer treatment.

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., told Raskin "we're all rooting for you" as he kicked off the panel's meeting Tuesday to adopt its official rules for this Congress.

"We know that you're gonna win this battle," Comer said. "You're in our thoughts and prayers, and it's good to see you here today."

Raskin, who was elected by his Democratic colleagues to serve as the committee's ranking member, said the words meant a lot to him.

"I’ve been gratified to receive so many kind words of encouragement and sympathy from colleagues on both sides of the aisle," he said. "I hope that these expressions of concern and solidarity will become seeds of friendship over the year."

"I certainly plan on getting through this thing and beating it, and I thank you for your patience and indulgence," he added, prompting a round of applause from committee members on both sides of the aisle.

Raskin announced in late December he'd been diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, which he described as a "serious but curable form of cancer," and said he was about to begin chemo-immunotherapy.

Raskin joked at the time he was advised the regimen will cause hair loss and weight gain, but that he was "still holding out hope for the kind that causes hair gain and weight loss."

The Maryland Democrat wore a black-and-white bandana during Wednesday's oversight meeting, and has been seen wearing other caps as he endures treatment.

House rules have generally long prohibited the wearing of hats on the floor, though Democrats amended the century-old rule in 2019 to allow for religious headwear.

Raskin rose to national prominence as he led two impeachments against former President Donald Trump, and was a leading member of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee tasked with investigating the U.S. Capitol attack.

He's said he expects to continue working as he battles the disease, but was advised by his medical team to "to reduce unnecessary exposure" to COVID-19 or other viruses.

Raskin on Wednesday offered an amendment to allow members of the influential House Oversight Committee to participate remotely for certain situations, including medical circumstances.

"No one should be prevented from performing their duties on behalf of their constituents due to unavoidable and uncontrollable health conditions, whether it's being immunocompromised or having COVID-19 or being injured in some way that prevents him or her from coming to work," Raskin said.

The measure was rejected along party lines as House Republicans make good on their vow to end remote participation and proxy voting measures enacted by the Democrat-controlled chamber during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comer and other Republicans on the panel voted against the amendment, calling it unnecessary as the chairman's already pledged to work to with Raskin.

"I will do everything in my ability to work with you to make sure we can accommodate anything with respect to committee work while you're undergoing treatment. I'm very sympathetic to what you're going through," Comer said.

Democrats on the panel, pushed back and described the amendment as a failsafe for both sides.

"Protecting individuals based on health outcome should be part of our workplace protections," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said during the hearing.

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House Republicans kick off fraud investigation into billions in COVID pandemic relief money

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(WASHINGTON) -- Kicking off its investigations into the Biden administration, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on the billions of dollars that were scammed from COVID-19 relief programs.

The hearing came on the heels of a new report released Monday that found about $5.5 billion of pandemic aid that was supposed to reach small businesses suffering from COVID-19 shutdowns may have been eaten up by fraudsters instead.

Nearly 70,000 questionable Social Security numbers were used on applications to get grants from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the report from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), a government watchdog on pandemic spending. The Social Security numbers didn't match the names of the applicants or their date of births but weren't caught by the application system.

Michael Horowitz, chair of PRAC, was one of the witnesses called to testify before the committee on Wednesday.

Of the $5 trillion total spent on pandemic relief throughout both the Trump and Biden administrations, Horowitz said the amount siphoned off by fraud could be anywhere from tens of billions of dollars to over $100 billion, but that it would be years before the final number was tallied.

The issue, Horowitz said, was that trillion-dollar programs had to get off the ground quickly to prevent potential economic collapse but they lacked key fraud protections, including verification systems and information sharing with other agencies to match up Social Security numbers with peoples' names and birthdates.

"I think the problem at the outset of the pandemic was the lack of preparedness," Horowitz told the committee. "Understanding this was a 100-year event with the pandemic, but we have emergencies all the time, like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters … We don't take the steps after an event like this, or smaller ones, to fix what's needed."

Republicans used that data to argue that the programs were a "prescription for waste, fraud and abuse" and haven't been investigated thoroughly enough by Democrats over the last two years of Biden's administration.

But there was also bipartisan agreement on seeking to find the holes in programs that made them ripe for fraud -- to prevent similar situations in the future.

"We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history," Republican Chairman James Comer of Kentucky told the committee in his opening remarks.

"We must identify where this money went, how much ended up in the hands of fraudsters or ineligible participants and what should be done to ensure it never happens again," Comer said.

The ranking member of the Oversight Committee, Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, pushed back on the notion that fraud hasn't been properly investigated over the last two years by citing multiple past hearings -- while also acknowledging that more investigation, in a bipartisan fashion, was necessary.

"Democrats have systematically ferreted out fraud, waste and abuse in pandemic-relief programs, although we all certainly can do a more effective job and that's what this hearing should be about," Raskin said.

He noted that the programs were "by no means perfect" and cited "anachronistic government IT systems, many running obsolete software," that were unable to efficiently respond when unemployment insurance claims ballooned by 30-fold over just three weeks in March 2020. (The Government Accountability Office has estimated that fraud in the unemployment insurance system during the pandemic was at least $4.3 billion but could be as high as $60 billion.)

Still, Raskin heralded the programs' benefits, even with their flaws.

"Recall that, while the former president [Donald Trump] denied and trivialized and dismissed the COVID-19 pandemic, it was Congress which acted responsibly and swiftly and in bipartisan fashion to create and supercharge programs that saved countless businesses and families from bankruptcy and ruin throughout the pandemic," Raskin said.

Rep. Greg Casar, a Democrat from Texas, said that the programs were vital during the height of the pandemic and that the true victims of the fraud were often people who desperately needed the relief.

"I want to be clear: No one in the country is more strongly against fraud than my working-class constituents who needed those COVID dollars to make sure their small businesses kept running, to make sure they got [personal preventive equipment] at work, to ensure they got vaccines, to make sure that house wasn't foreclosed on," Casar said.

"Any dollar taken from those programs by fraudsters is $1 taken away from people who needed support," he said.

As for potential ways to improve government programs at risk of fraud, both Horowitz and Comptroller General Gene Dodaro of the Government Accountability Office, another witness before the Oversight Committee on Wednesday, said it would require more investment in outdated systems and a better balance between preparedness and urgency.

The goal, Dodaro said, was to be able to step in during times of disaster "in a way that gets the funds to the people who need it and not allow this type of fraudulent activity to plague our national programs."

Investigations are still ongoing, including reports on the total amount of fraud discovered by committees like PRAC, which Horowitz urged the committee to keep funding past its targeted end date of 2025 and instead make a permanent fixture to fight fraud.

The Secret Service has also clawed back more than $1.43 billion in funds that were wrongfully obtained, with 2,300 investigations into unemployment insurance fraud and 2,900 investigations into loans and grants given to businesses, according to David Smith, the assistant director of the Office of Investigations within the U.S. Secret Service and another witness at the hearing.

More than 1,000 people have been charged, forced to return money or convicted for defrauding the programs, Smith said.

The White House, now facing multiple House investigations after Republicans won the chamber in last year's midterms, called Wednesday's hearing partisan and pointed to "strict" measures that President Joe Biden backed to limit waste and wrongdoing, compared to the Trump administration.

"House Republicans are holding political stunts that reveal their own hypocrisy and failed past policies," White House spokesman Ian Sams contended in a statement.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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