Donald Trump accuses Supreme Court justices of bias in 1st direct attack as president

As Supreme Court weighs Trump cases, the president openly criticizes justices.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanded that two sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from all Trump-related matters, insisting without evidence that they have treated him unfairly.

“While ‘elections have consequences’, I only ask for fairness, especially when it comes to decisions made by the United States Supreme Court!” Trump said in a pair of tweets posted from Delhi, India, where he was completing a state visit 7,000 miles from Washington.

Trump singled out Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – both appointed by Democratic presidents — for comments he alleged reflect animus toward him. “Both should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!” he said.

The tweets are the first time Trump has directly attacked members of the Supreme Court by name since taking office. Justices, who are appointed for life, decide on their own when it’s appropriate to recuse from cases.

The criticism comes one month before the court will consider the legality of subpoenas for Trump’s financial records and as the justices weigh rulings on major Trump administration policies, including the cancellation of DACA. It also follows reports that Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia has been closely advising the president and top aides on ensuring White House staff are loyal to Trump.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said the justices have no comment.

In his tweets, the president cites a Fox News report that claims Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently “accused GOP appointed justices of being biased in favor of Trump.”

“This is a terrible thing to say,” Trump said in his tweet. Sotomayor, in fact, has not leveled such a pointed accusation.

Legal experts said statements attributed to Sotomayor and others by Justice Ruth Ginsburg do not meet the recusal standard applied to all federal judges.

The extraordinary exchange stems from a narrow Supreme Court decision issued Feb. 21 lifting a lower court hold on the Trump administration’s new “public charge rule” for immigrants in the state of Illinois.

The court’s conservative majority offered no explanation for allowing the policy to take effect as legal challenges continue; Justice Sotomayor dissented in a seven-page statement.

“Perhaps most troublingly,” she writes, “the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others.”

While clearly passionate in her objection, Sotomayor never names Trump or the administration, instead referring to “the Government” as is customary.

“This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures ‘to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner,’” she writes in the dissent. “Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances.”

Sotomayor’s position is consistent with her long running and much publicized views that her colleagues often too quickly dismisses appeals from death row inmates and inconsistently address nationwide injunctions issued by lower courts.

She concludes, “I respectfully dissent.”

The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump had read Sotomayor’s opinion or only the Fox News characterization of it and why he believes Sotomayor was trying to “shame some into voting her way” as he alleged on Twitter.

The president also revived criticism of Justice Ginsburg who had referred to Trump as a “faker” during the 2016 campaign. She later apologized.

“She went wild during the campaign when I was running,” Trump said of Ginsburg during a press conference in India. “I don’t know who she was for. Perhaps she was for Hillary Clinton, if you can believe it.”

None of the justices has publicly revealed his or her votes during the 2016 presidential election.

“The idea being advanced by President Trump – that a justice becomes conflicted if she disagrees with the executive branch’s legal strategy or constitutional theory – is not only wrong but also degrading to the independence of our judiciary,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

“The notion that a dissent like Justice Sotomayor’s could somehow be construed as an invalid attempt to shame other justices into coming to different conclusions would come as a surprise to many jurists throughout the country and throughout American history,” he said.

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.


New rail blockades in Canada emerge as talks continue

Protesters in Canada have erected new rail blockades as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it is working to calm tensions with a British Columbia First Nation at the heart of demonstrations disrupting train traffic across Canada

HAMILTON, Ontario —
Protesters erected new rail blockades Tuesday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said it was working to calm tensions with a British Columbia First Nation at the heart of demonstrations disrupting train traffic across Canada.

A day after police dismantled a major railway blockade near Belleville, Ontario, new ones surfaced in both Quebec and Ontario.

The largest emerged in Hamilton along a heavily traveled commuter rail line. The disruption along what the Go Transit passenger rail service describes as its busiest route left thousands of passengers scrambling to make alternative travel plans and caused numerous delays and cancellations.

Hamilton police said they had no plans to move in on the small group of demonstrators camped out on the tracks near a Canadian National Railway Co. depot.

Demonstrators have set up blockades in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec in solidarity with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwestern British Columbia.

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from its elected council.

Constable Jerome Stewart said CN Rail served demonstrators a court injunction Monday night ordering them to leave the area and police are monitoring the situation.

GO Train passenger rail service in Hamilton and all points on the route to Niagara Falls, Ontario, had been halted since Monday evening, Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said. Shuttle buses were running to help commuters, she said.

Tom Nederpel cancelled plans to take trip into Toronto on Tuesday afternoon when he heard of the blockade, fearing he wouldn’t be able to get a train home to Dundas, Ontario, in the night.

“They’re completely out of order,” he said of the protesters. “They’re blocking railways that don’t belong to them. They’re blocking national railways, and businesses and commuters.”

Mark Miller, the federal indigenous services minister, said the government hoped to hear from the hereditary chiefs by Wednesday. He said Canada is committed to peacefully resolving the situation that has hampered freight and passenger travel in much of the country for nearly three weeks.


Senate GOP again thwarted on bills to restrict abortion

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a pair of Republican bills that would ban most late-term abortions and threaten prison for doctors who don’t try saving the life of infants born alive during abortions.

The measures have been defeated multiple times in recent years, but Senate Republicans pushed for renewed votes to allow GOP lawmakers to make an election-year appeal to conservative voters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of bowing to “the radical demands of the far left” to “drown out common sense” and the views of millions of Americans.

“It almost defies belief that an entire political party could find cause to object to this basic protection for babies,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer blasted McConnell for taking up the Senate’s time on what he called “fake, dishonest and extreme legislation that has nothing to do with improving the lives of ordinary Americans.”

Noting that existing laws protect infants, Schumer said the GOP bills would, in effect, “criminalize” women’s reproductive care and intimidate health care providers.

“Putting these already defeated bills up for a show vote is not a good faith attempt to improve the lives of … American women,” the New York Democrat said. “Every single Senate Republican knows that these bills cannot and will not pass. But they’re putting them on the floor anyway to pander to the hard right. And to cover up the fact that they won’t provide good health care for women.”

Senators voted 56-41 for the born-alive bill, and 53-44 for a separate measure banning most abortions after 20 weeks. Both tallies were short of the 60 votes needed to end Democratic delaying tactics and force a Senate vote.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin from West Virginia were the only lawmakers to cross party lines on the born-alive bill. Jones and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska opposed the late-term abortion ban.

Three senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president — Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – did not cast votes.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the Senate debate was not about passing laws or even health care. “It is really about Republicans’ crass political calculation that they can fire up their far-right base with an all-out war against the constitutionally protected right to safe, legal abortion,” she said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the bill he sponsored was not about limiting access to abortion at all. Instead, the bill is intended to make sure that every newborn baby “has a fighting chance — whether she’s born in a labor and delivery ward or whether she’s born in an abortion clinic.”

Sasse’s bill would make it a crime to deny care to a baby that’s survived an abortion. “Are we a country that protects babies that are alive, born outside the womb after having survived a botched abortion?” he asked.

Or is the United States a country “that says it’s okay to just sit back and allow that baby to die? It’s a plain and simple question and we all know what the right answer is,” Sasse said. ”This isn’t a hard call.”

A separate bill sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would essentially ban abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which many scientists say an unborn child can feel pain.

Graham said he believe a majority of Americans oppose allowing abortion in the fifth month of pregnancy. The United States is currently one of seven countries in the world that permit elective abortion after 20 weeks.

“The United States should not be in that club,” Graham said.

The two votes marked the latest instance in which Republicans have tried to go on offense on the issue of abortion and put Democratic lawmakers who support abortion rights in an uncomfortable position.

“It’s hard to believe that, in 21st century America, the life of a baby more than halfway through pregnancy is considered up for debate, but it’s true,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that works to elect anti-abortion candidates.

Opponents, noting the rarity of such births and citing laws making it a crime to kill newborn babies, said the GOP bills were unnecessary. They called the proposals part of a push by abortion opponents to curb access to the procedure and intimidate doctors who perform it, and said late-term abortions generally occur when the infant is considered incapable of surviving after birth.

Only 1% of all abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Abortions during the final weeks are rarer still.

Doctors’ and abortion-rights groups say it is extremely unusual for live infants to be born during attempted late-term abortions, which they say usually occur when the baby is extremely deformed or deemed unable to survive after birth. In such cases, families sometimes decide they want to induce labor so they can spend time with the infant before it dies.

“Families across the country have actually faced these decisions, have spoken out to make clear politicians should have no part in them,” Murray said. ”Pressing for these awful bills year after year may be nothing more than a cynical political tactic for Republicans, but passing them would be an unconscionable exercise in cruelty.”


Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this story.


This story corrects the vote counts on both bills. An earlier version reversed the vote counts.


Avenatti lawyer to put Stormy Daniels credibility on trial

The attorney for Michael Avenatti says he plans to make the credibility of porn star Stormy Daniels the central issue when his client faces trial on charges he cheated her of book deal proceeds

The credibility of porn star Stormy Daniels will be the central issue when Michael Avenatti goes on trial in April on charges that he cheated her of $300,000 from a book deal, his attorney said Tuesday.

Lawyer Tom Warren spoke outside court after his client, his feet and hands shackled, shuffled from a Manhattan courtroom with federal marshals to an elevator on his way back to a federal lockup next door to the courthouse.

He said he expects the trial to occur, although he added that it’s his responsibility to listen to any plea deal offerings by prosecutors. He wouldn’t say if any had occurred.

“I wouldn’t pass on the opportunity to cross examine Stormy Daniels in a million years,” Warren said, saying he believes she has made conflicting statements.

Warren said a jury would learn how much Daniels owed Avenatti “for all the legal work he did for her” while she was challenging President Donald Trump over a hush money payment made to her after she alleged that she had an affair with Trump before he ran for president.

During that time, Avenatti, a California attorney, appeared frequently on cable television programs, gaining a measure of fame and drawing the ire of Trump.

“It isn’t a documents case really,” Warren said. “It’s about the credibility of Stormy Daniels.”

Clark Brewster, a lawyer for Daniels, said the deal between Avenatti and Daniels called for Avenatti to be paid $1 and whatever he could get from a crowdfunding drive, which generated about $600,000.

He said the written agreement said any additional fees would be described in separate deals, but there were none.

“He can try to obscure and smear and make up testimony as he goes along, but the upshot is that the agreement was very simple,” Brewster said.

Warren spoke after U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman confirmed that the trial will begin on April 21, as planned, even after a judge who had earlier presided over the case died.

Avenatti, 49, was recently convicted of trying to extort up to $25 million from sportswear giant Nike. His court appearance Tuesday was his first since he was convicted at the Nike trial.

Avenatti is also facing charges in Los Angeles federal court that allege he cheated clients and others of millions of dollars. He has denied wronging, and the trial is scheduled to start in May.


Indiana couple gets no prison time for caging teenage girl

An Indiana couple accused of locking a teenage girl in a cage and denying her food, water and clean facilities won’t serve any prison time

An Indiana couple will serve no prison time after pleading guilty to allegations that they locked a teenage girl in a cage and denied her food, water and clean facilities.

Alan and Aimee Friz pleaded guilty Friday to neglect of a dependent in Crawford Circuit Court in exchange for two years of probation and the dismissal of their criminal confinement charges, WXIN-TV reported. Several charges of sexual misconduct with a minor levied against 57-year-old Alan Friz were also dismissed.

The Huntingburg couple was arrested in October 2017 after deputies responded to their Dubois County home on a report of a “juvenile that was out of control.” Authorities interviewed the girl with help from the county prosecutor’s office. Alan Friz was taken into custody as the investigation continued.

Police subsequently obtained a search warrant for the home and discovered a closet area of a bedroom that had been converted into a lockable cage. Authorities said the couple locked the girl in the cage at night and possibly at other times.

Both were originally charged in Dubois County, but the case was moved to Crawford County after they argued that they wouldn’t get a fair trial there.


Pompeo: US, Taliban deal historic opportunity for peace, but womens rights up to Afghans

“So far,” a deal among the U.S., the Taliban and the Afghan government to reduce violence “is working,” according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

But, Pompeo said, the U.S. will only sign an agreement with the militant group to withdraw American troops if that reduction holds until Saturday and is declared a success.

While the top U.S. diplomat hailed the temporary reduction as a “historic opportunity for peace,” there are strong doubts about what comes next for Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban government that harbored the al Qaeda operatives responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. This comes after years of gains in equality and economic empowerment for women, as well as of devastating violence across the country.

The U.S. announced a deal with the Taliban and Afghan government last Friday to reduce violence for seven days, starting at midnight local time. While the Taliban claimed Saturday that it allowed them to still attack Afghan security forces, the U.S. and Afghan government — which the Taliban refuses to recognize — said it included Afghan troops and extended nationwide.

Since then, the truce has largely held, according to Pompeo: “It isn’t perfect, but it’s working,” he told reporters Tuesday.

“If — and only if — it’s successful,” he added, the chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and senior Taliban officials will sign a deal on Saturday that means the beginning of a “conditions-based and phased” U.S. withdrawal and the “commencement” of Afghan negotiations where “all sides of the conflict will sit down together and begin the hard work of reconciliation.”

In particular, Pompeo was pressed Tuesday on whether the U.S. is committed to ensuring women’s rights are defended in a future Afghan government. But he said that would be up to Afghan negotiators to decide, signaling it is not an explicit part of any U.S.-Taliban agreement.

“Our mission set there has been much broader than that,” he said, latter adding “the Afghans will drive the solution.”

The U.S. will assist those talks, providing structure and support along with other countries like Germany and Norway, he said.

The talks will bring together a Taliban delegation with other Afghan leaders, including tribal chiefs and members of the government. But because the Taliban rejects the government, those officials will have to participate in a “personal” capacity, even after being chosen by President Ashraf Ghani’s administration.

Instead of guaranteeing any particular outcome from those talks, Pompeo made clear the phased U.S. withdrawal will depend only on the Taliban’s commitments to the U.S. — sitting for those negotiations in the first place and, perhaps more importantly to the administration, severing ties to terrorist groups.

“We’re not required to leave unless they can demonstrate they are fulfilling every element of their end of the bargain,” he said. “Our conditions-based withdrawal sets a high bar for the things that will take place in order for America to ensure that we can accomplish both of those missions” — peace and reconciliation among Afghans and keeping the U.S. homeland safe, he added.

While Pompeo said he was “very confident” that women’s rights “will be addressed as part of these conversations,” the withdrawal of U.S. forces doesn’t seem contingent upon it — and that’s what has women’s rights advocates most concerned.

“What we Afghan women fear is that this situation will get worse after international forces withdraw from Afghanistan next year. We fear we will lose our rights and security, particularly if the Taliban are brought back into government,” according to Tamana Heela, an Afghan women’s rights activist. “Afghan women need continued international support to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

It’s a message that Afghan women have tried to press upon Khalilzad — the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations — during his year and a half of negotiations with the Taliban.

The Taliban have been “calling the shots,” Mahbouba Seraj, a women’s rights activist, told ABC News last June. “They want to get anything and everything the way they want to. Amongst them, of course, is our freedom, whatever we have so far and what we have worked so hard with the help of the world to get for the last 18, 19 years.”

A State Department official told ABC News at the time that U.S. negotiators “assert that civil rights must be protected in any peace agreement, and that women must be an integral part of intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.”

They have also made clear that any future relations with the U.S. and the rest of the international community “will rest in part on what [Afghanistan] does to maintain the civil rights of women,” the official added.

But Pompeo has also stressed since last spring that it is the role of Afghan women to speak up and demand equality — an act that has gotten many, including Heela’s mother, killed.

“I hope the women of Afghanistan will demand that of their leaders,” he told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in April. “We’ve always done our part there.”


Robert Iger, longtime Disney chief, steps down as CEO

Iger is being replaced by Disney theme park chairman Bob Chapek.

Robert “Bob” Iger, the longtime leader of the Walt Disney Company, is stepping down as CEO effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday.

Iger, who has led the company since 2005, will stay on as executive chairman in charge “creative endeavors” until his contract ends on Dec. 31, 2021, the company said.

Bob Chapek, who most recently led the company’s theme parks division, will be the new CEO of the Walt Disney Company.

Iger, 69, said he felt it was the “optimal time” for a change a leadership.

“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” Iger said in a statement.

“I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s creative endeavors,” he added.

Chapek has been Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products since 2018, and has been with the company since 1993.

Chapek said he is “honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees.”

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates. The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News.


Pompeo accuses China and Iran of censoring information about coronavirus outbreaks

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused the governments of China and Iran of censoring information about the outbreaks in their countries and putting the rest of the world at greater risk of its spread.

The top U.S. diplomat’s sharp tone towards Beijing was matched by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who told Congress on Tuesday that the world is not getting reliable data out of China on issues like mortality rates.

But President Donald Trump seems to be out of sync with both of his Cabinet members and other top officials, praising Chinese President Xi Jinping and his government’s handling of the outbreak even as his own administration’s response comes under fire from Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

“Censorship. It can have deadly consequences,” Pompeo said Tuesday at the State Department. “Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge.”

The flow of accurate information out of China, he added, is critical to assisting not just the Chinese people, but also “citizens across the world.” He called on all governments to “tell the truth about coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations.”

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Azar said the administration is also uncertain if the data provided by China on the novel coronavirus outbreak has been full and transparent.

But both of those were at odds with Trump’s own remarks just two days ago, praising Xi for “working very, very hard” and “doing a very good job.”

“It’s a big problem, but President Xi, he’s working very hard to solve the problem, and he will solve the problem,” Trump told reporters at the White House Sunday.

Trump also showered praise on his own administration’s response in the U.S., saying Tuesday in India, “We have very few people with it. … We’re really down to probably 10. Most of the people are outside of danger now.”

There have been 57 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., with three now released from hospital and no longer thought to be contagious. The majority of those — 43 of the 57 — are Americans repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship or Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Only 14 are individuals that either arrived in the U.S. from China and checked into a hospital or caught the virus in the U.S. from a loved one who had traveled overseas.

But officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that the most recent data suggests another level of virus spread globally, with cases identified in more countries now and another level of virus spread.

“The data over the last week has raised our level of concern,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

During his news conference in India, Trump also said the U.S. is “very close to a vaccine.”

But his acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Congress Tuesday the U.S. was at least “months” away from developing one, with other advisers testifying one was still a full year away.

The various answers vexed Republican Sen. John Kennedy, who told Wolf his “numbers aren’t the same as the CDC’s. … Don’t you think you oughta contact them?”

Trump’s administration has requested $2.5 billion from Congress for emergency supplemental funds to combat COVID-19, the virus’s formal name. That funding would come from a $1.25 billion emergency cash requested from Congress as well as reprogramming existing money, including money Congress allocated to fight Ebola.

Democrats condemned the move as both insufficient to deal with the crisis and a short-sighted effort “to steal funds dedicated to fight Ebola,” in the words of Sen. Chuck Schumer, amid the second largest outbreak of that deadly disease still lingering the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The request “is indicative of his towering incompetence and further proof that he and his administration aren’t taking the coronavirus crisis as seriously as they need to be,” the Senate Democratic Minority Leader added Monday.

It’s not just Democrats, however, who have challenged the administration’s response. Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told Azar the administration’s “request… is low-balling it possibly, and you can’t afford to do that. … If you low-ball something like this, you’ll pay for it later.”

Trump’s top diplomat for Europe and his State Department also warned that Russia was spreading disinformation about the novel coronavirus outbreak on Saturday. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Philip Reeker and the agency’s Global Engagement Center, which combats terrorist propaganda and foreign government disinformation, told AFP news agency that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts are actively spreading alarm about the outbreak in a coordinated effort, including accusing the U.S. of creating the virus.

Pompeo said nothing about Russia’s role Tuesday. But he did attack Iran’s government for censorship as well.

“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” he said, noting Iran is second to China in COVID-19 deaths.

Dr. Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s counter-coronavirus task force, tested positive for the virus himself, authorities announced Tuesday — one day after he appeared at a news conference downplaying the danger posed by the outbreak in Iran and opposing a quarantine of Qom, the city with the largest number of infected patients and fatalities in Iran.


Trump maintains Russian interference in 2020 election is about Sanders, not his reelection

As questions about Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election continue to loom over both the president’s reelection campaign and the Democratic primary, President Donald Trump on Tuesday again denied that he’s receiving help from Russia, stressing he doesn’t want any assistance from any foreign powers.

“First of all, I want no help from any country, and I haven’t been given help from any country,” Trump told reporters Tuesday, despite his telling less than a year ago ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that he would accept damaging information against his 2020 rivals.

For the better part of a week, the White House has maintained that the president was not personally briefed on the intelligence community’s reported findings that Russia is again delivering a misinformation campaign aimed at helping Trump win reelection.

During a news conference in New Delhi, Trump again said “nobody ever told me” Russia is helping his campaign and again pointed at his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who joined Trump on his trip to India, to validate his denial.

On Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week,” O’Brien also denied that he or Trump have been briefed that Russia is meddling in the election to help the president.

“We have Ambassador O’Brien in the audience. He can tell you that this was never discussed with us,” Trump said. “So I think it’s terrible. They ought to stop the leaking from Intelligence Committee.”

At the news conference, Trump again accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of leaking classified information from a briefing the administration gave the committee earlier this month, where Shelby Pierson, a senior election security official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers that Russia is spreading disinformation on social media aimed at helping Trump win another four years in office this fall.

“I think it was leaks from the Intelligence Committee, House version. And I think that they leaked it, I think probably Schiff leaked, and some people within there,” Trump said, repeating an unfounded allegation he first cast on Sunday as he departed the White House for the two-day trip abroad. “Schiff leaked it, in my opinion, and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that.”

While denying Russia is helping his own campaign, Trump has instead seized on reports that Russia is helping Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders win the party’s nomination.

He’s focused on reports that some Democrats are concerned about Sanders’ surging candidacy, charging that the Democratic establishment is working to keep the self-described democratic socialist from locking up nomination.

“He has a head of steam and they maybe don’t want him, for obvious reasons. So they don’t want him, so they put out a thing that Russia is backing him. This is what [Democrats] do,” Trump said following reports Russia is boosting Sanders in the Vermont senator’s quest for the Democratic nomination. “I have gone through it for a long time. I get it. I get the game better than anybody. And that’s the way it is.”

The conflicting accounts have created competing narratives about who Russia is helping, although it’s possible that Russia’s social media blitz is pumping up both Trump and Sanders.

After three top Senate Democrats urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to sanction Russia over its 2020 election interference, Pompeo condemned election interference, though he expressed doubt on whether Russia is actively interfering.

While he did not announce any new penalties against Russia, Pompeo said election meddling is “unacceptable” and the administration “will always work to protect the integrity of our elections, period, full stop.”

“Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department Tuesday.

Pompeo has consistently downplayed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, saying Moscow has interfered in U.S. presidential elections for decades or — as he did today — saying it’s not unique to America, with Russian agents “sowing division and distrust” among many countries’ citizens, “from Belarus to Zimbabwe.”

Pompeo said he warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against Russian interference in U.S. elections when they met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 14.

ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report


Study begins in US to test possible coronavirus treatment

The first clinical trial in the U.S. of a possible coronavirus treatment is underway in Nebraska and is eventually expected to include 400 patients at 50 locations around the world

OMAHA, Neb. —
The first clinical trial in the U.S. of a possible coronavirus treatment is underway in Nebraska and is eventually expected to include 400 patients at 50 locations around the world, officials said Tuesday.

Half of the patients in the international study will receive the antiviral medicine remdesivir while the other half will receive a placebo. Several other studies, including one looking at the same drug, are already underway internationally.

Dr. Andre Kalil, who will oversee the study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the clinical trial was developed quickly in response to the virus outbreak that originated in China. Patients who are hospitalized with the COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, will be eligible to join the trial if they have at least moderate symptoms.

“The goal here is to help the people that need it the most,” Kalil said.

Fourteen people who were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan are being treated at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Twelve of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

There are no proven treatments or vaccines for the new and mysterious virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700, with the overwhelming majority of cases in China.

Doctors give patients fluids and pain relievers to try to ease the symptoms, which can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In the case of those who are severely ill, doctors use ventilators to help them breathe or a machine that pumps and oxygenates their blood outside the body, easing the burden on the heart and lungs.

At least two patient studies are already underway in China, including the other study involving remdesivir, which is made by Gilead Sciences, and another that tests a combination HIV drug containing lopinavir and ritonavir.

In a draft research plan published last month, the World Health Organization said remdesivir was considered “the most promising candidate.” It was used briefly in some Ebola patients in Congo before that study stopped. But the WHO cited laboratory studies that suggested it might be able to target SARS and MERS, which are cousins of the new virus.

Gilead has provided the drug for use in a small number of patients, including a man in Washington state who fell ill after a trip to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak. He is no longer hospitalized, but it is not clear whether the remdesivir helped him.