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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Since May 2017, the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has been a constant presence in U.S. politics – a complex narrative that has included a rotating cast of characters and myriad plotlines.

Here is a roundup of the various figures who have been connected to the investigation at various points since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

Jeff Sessions

The two conversations that former attorney general Jeff Sessions had with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak – both of which happened during the campaign when Sessions was a very public supporter of Trump – were confirmed by the Department of Justice the day before he recused himself from any existing or future probes related to the presidential campaign. Without that recusal, Sessions would have been the one to oversee any such probes given his role as attorney general.

In a statement on March 2, 2017, Sessions said that over several weeks he met with "relevant senior career department officials" to discuss whether he should recuse himself and, "having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States."

The recusal made Sessions one of Trump’s favorite targets, with the president regularly blasting Sessions for failing to warn him that he might have to recuse himself.

In November, Sessions resigned at the request of President Trump and Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney, took on the acting attorney general role. In February, William Barr, Trump's nominee and the attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993 was confirmed and sworn-in as attorney general. Barr now heads the Justice Department during a pivotal time, overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election.

Rod Rosenstein

After then-Attorney General Sessions recused himself from campaign related investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the Russia investigation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May of 2017.

Since that time, Rosenstein has overseen Mueller’s probe, at times publicly defending the investigation from criticisms lodged by Republicans and the president. Rosenstein has appeared before Congress several times since taking the reins of the probe. Once Attorney General William Barr was sworn-in in February, Rosenstein was no longer in charge of overseeing Mueller's investigation.

ABC News reported that Rosenstein plans to leave the Department of Justice in mid-March.

James Comey

Former FBI Director James Comey was initially associated with the 2016 election after gaining notoriety for his public updates into the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

His role in the Clinton email investigation was cited in the letter that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued calling for his dismissal in May 2017.

"I remember just thinking, ‘This is a lie.’ The stuff about, you know, being fired because of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, that makes no sense at all," Comey told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in April 2018. "And then, of course, I quickly saw on the news that you know, the White House saying that the FBI was in tatters and the workforce -- it was relieved that I was fired. More and more lies. And so I was worried about the organization, worried about the people."

Right after he was dismissed, the White House publicly denied that Trump was considering the handling of the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible ties with Russia when he fired Comey.

But then, a couple of days later, Trump himself appeared to contradict that in an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News.

“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'" Trump told Holt.

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker was named as the acting-attorney general on Nov. 8, 2018.

Though Rosenstein had been overseeing the Russia probe during Sessions' tenure because of his recusal, that then shifted to Whitaker when he became the acting attorney general. Whitaker had previously criticized the probe – a point of contention for Democrats when he appeared at a recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Whitaker defended his performance saying that he had "not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation," but he refused to say whether he had discussed the Michael Cohen case with President Trump.

In March, shortly after Bill Barr was confirmed as attorney general, ABC News reported that Whitaker left the Justice Department.

Bill Barr

Trump named Bill Barr as his new pick for attorney general in December of 2018, exactly one month after the departure of Jeff Sessions. He previously served as the nation’s top law enforcement official during former President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Barr attempted to make it clear to wary Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing that he will not unnecessarily or inappropriately interfere with the Russia investigation, but he did not commit to a full public release of Mueller's report as Democrats wanted.

At one point during his opening remarks in January, Barr noted how he has known Mueller “for 30 years” and how they “worked closely together” during his earlier time at the Department of Justice.

“When he was named special counsel, I said his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today,” Barr said of Mueller during the hearing.

At an earlier hearing, Barr said that he thinks “it is in the best interest of everyone…. that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work.” Barr was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in in February.

Paul Manafort

In the years prior to joining the Trump orbit, Manafort’s political consulting work focused largely abroad, working for Ukraine's since-toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, and his political party, the Party of Regions, starting in 2006 and continuing until at least 2010.

In the United States, Manafort, 69, was known in Republican Party politics for decades – having worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016 as the campaign’s convention manager and then getting promoted to campaign chairman two months later.

Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes as part of the first major prosecution won by the team led by special counsel Robert Mueller's team.

On the eve of a second trial in Washington, DC, in September, Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

But that plea deal was short-lived. The special counsel’s office accused Manafort of lying to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate, which they say amounted to a breach of his agreement. Defense counsel claimed Manafort did not intentionally lie, but the federal judge overseeing his case sided with prosecutors.

He has been behind bars since June after the judge in his D.C. case revoked his bail amid allegations of witness tampering. Sentencing dates in both courts have been set and delayed after the Office of Special Counsel moved to set aside the plea deal based on the allegations that Manafort had lied.

The special counsel's office has since filed a sentencing memo for Manafort in Virginia, in which prosecutors agreed with the findings of an independent pre-sentence report, which calculated that Manafort’s crimes call for a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

Michael Flynn

The first and only Trump White House aide to plead guilty to a crime in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence operations targeting the 2016 presidential election was a decorated retired military intelligence officer, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who the president had insisted serve as his White House national security adviser.

In prosecuting Flynn for lying to FBI agents, a felony, about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions and other subjects, prior to Trump being sworn in as the 45th U.S. president, Mueller not only secured a key witness but he also sent a message to other witnesses in the probe to cooperate fully – though several more Trump campaign aides later admitted to lying to the FBI anyway.

Rick Gates

Gates was a Trump campaign aide who was brought into the then-future-president’s orbit by his longtime boss Manafort. Gates served as the government’s star witness in their trial against Manafort, and Gates admitted that they shielded millions of dollars in offshore accounts to keep it away from tax collectors.

Gates was charged in two separate federal courts in connection to financial crimes, unregistered foreign lobbying and on allegations that he made false statements to federal prosecutors.

Gates pleaded guilty in Washington, D.C., in February 2018 on counts of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal prosecutors. As part of his plea agreement, he avoided prosecution on a slew of financial charges in the Eastern District of Virginia that included assisting in the preparation of false income taxes, bank fraud, bank fraud conspiracy and false income taxes.

His charges are intimately tied to those of Manafort. In the Eastern District of Virginia, the two were indicted jointly.

Konstantin Kilimnik

Kilimnik is a longtime business associate of Paul Manafort’s who was responsible for overseeing the Kiev, Ukraine office of Manafort’s lobbying firm.

In August of 2016, shortly after the Republican National Convention, Manafort, his business associate Rick Gates, and Kilimnik met at the Grand Havana Room, a cigar club in New York. In a closed-door hearing in Manafort's case in early February, special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge that the meeting goes "very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating."

Earlier Manafort indictments refer to a "Person A" who was identified by sources as Kilimnik. However, he was formally identified in a third superseding indictment against him and Manafort, which accused Kilimnik of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.

The charges he faces are linked largely to an attempt to relay messages from Manafort in his alleged attempt to tamper with potential witnesses in the case against him.

Kilmnik has been identified as having ties to Russian intelligence. Though he's been indicted, he has not entered a plea. He remains out of reach of U.S. law enforcement.

Michael Cohen

One of the longest-serving members of the Trump inner circle who has come under scrutiny is Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney and longtime fixer.

Cohen's activity during the campaign came into the national spotlight in reference to payments made to two women who alleged that they had affairs with Trump, affairs Trump has denied.

In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts, including two related to illegal campaign contributions "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." The charges were brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

He was sentenced to three years in prison for charges including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress.

According to court documents, Cohen admitted that he made the misstatements about the “Moscow Project” – the Trump Organization’s efforts to “pursue a branded property in Moscow” in an August 2017 letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees, which were conducting inquiries into alleged collusion and Russian interference.

Ultimately, the proposed plan to build a Trump tower in Moscow was scrapped.

Cohen has cooperated with Mueller and participated in multiple interview sessions with investigators from the office of special counsel Mueller, totaling more than 40 hours, sources told ABC News.

Roger Stone

Given his decades-long role in Republican politics, Stone was one of the better-known members of the extended Trump network of campaign advisers.

His colorful history – from the tattoo of former President Richard Nixon that he has on his back, to being a self-described “dirty trickster in Republican politics for decades” made him one of the most visible politicos in Trump’s orbit.

Stone was arrested in January after Mueller filed a seven-count indictment against him as part of the ongoing probe into Russia interference during the 2016 presidential election.

The special counsel leveled against Stone, 66, five counts of lying to Congress, one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, and one count of witness tampering. He has pleaded not guilty and the federal judge overseeing his case has since issued a gag order on all parties involved in the case – including the gregarious Stone.

Carter Page

Page was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and came under FBI scrutiny during the campaign itself because according to the FISA application, the FBI believed he had been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government, according to an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Page is alleged to have had “established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”

Page told Stephanopoulos in February 2018 that there was "no basis" for the FBI to eavesdrop on him and called their investigation “just complete ridiculousness.”

Felix Sater

The Soviet-born American businessman, who, along with Michael Cohen, held discussions with Russians about a possible Trump tower in Russia used to describe himself as a “senior advisor to Donald Trump. Sater is also a convicted felon and one-time stock scammer who promised to "get all of Putin's team to buy in" on a proposed plan to build "Trump Tower Moscow" in the heat of the presidential campaign.

Donald Trump Jr.

One known contact that several members of the Trump team had with Russians during the campaign came through a meeting arranged through pop music promoter Rob Goldstone with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and a Russian attorney in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

Accounts of the motive for the meeting, the nature of the meeting and the attendees involved changed after The New York Times first reported about the meeting in July 2017. The initial statement about the meeting – which it was later determined to have been drafted by President Trump – said that the meeting was about adoption policy.

But as emails released by Trump Jr. show, he believed he was meeting the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to obtain damaging information about his father's then-Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. In addition to Trump Jr., two other key Trump campaign officials attended the meeting -– then-chairman Paul Manafort and campaign adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In a statement on behalf of Donald Trump Jr., Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas previously said, “Donald Trump Jr. has been professional and responsible throughout the Mueller and Congressional investigations. We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump, Jr., and on his behalf.”

Jared Kushner

Kushner, who married into the Trump family when he wed Ivanka Trump, was an ever-present member of the Trump campaign and remains a key senior adviser in the administration.

Because of his intimate role in the campaign, as well as his presence at the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer, questions about his contacts with Russians and knowledge of others’ were inevitable.

In July 2017, Kushner became the first Trump family member questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of the investigations into Russian meddling. He released a statement before the closed-door session denying any collusion with Russia.

"Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses," Kushner said.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation heated up over the past 22 months, so, too, did President Donald Trump's attacks -- first on the probe itself and later, increasingly on Mueller personally.

Firing off almost daily tweets, making angry, dismissive comments in photo-ops or interviews -- Trump's remarks coalesced into a relentless strategy to discredit Mueller's investigation, as he's said countless times, as nothing more than a "witch hunt" and a "hoax."

As of late, the president has sought to undermine Mueller, a former deputy attorney general and FBI director himself, in the American public's eye by calling him a “man out of the blue,” appointed by an obscure Justice Department official, without confirmation.

Trump, on the other hand, won more than 63 million votes to score his position as president, he pointed out Wednesday.

In reality, Mueller was not appointed randomly, but by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Trump's then-attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself due to conflict of interest.

It’s been a long two years for all involved, and perhaps no more than for Mueller, who is in charge of an investigation that -- despite the president's attempts to paint it as unfounded -- began with the president's own decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey while he headed an investigation into possible Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

According to a New York Times accounting, Trump attacked Mueller and the Russia investigations more than 1,100 times over two years — with the vast majority of the criticism coming in the last six months.

The president consistently denies any collusion. He repeatedly accuses the “17 Angry Democrats” he claims work for Mueller of bias.

Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies. The truth is very bad for their mission!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2018

Sometimes, like a game of pinball, the president’s takes bounced between treating Mueller with respect and then derision.

There was the Mueller who would be “fair,” who Trump was “looking forward to talking to” -- and now, there’s the Mueller who ran a probe that the president described as “bulls—t” intended to take him down.

Has Trump's attack strategy worked?

In January, half of Americans said they either had “just some” confidence or none at all that the Mueller report will be fair and evenhanded, and 43 percent say they have at least a good amount of confidence in its fairness, according to polling conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post.

Along partisan lines, the trust is more divided. 62 percent of Democrats trust Mueller, but from there it slides to 40 percent among political independents and just 22 percent among Republicans.

At the same time, Americans overall still back Mueller’s probe by 63-29 percent. Fifty-two percent support it strongly.

The attacks on Mueller are unlikely to actually change anyone’s views, said Dartmouth College public opinion professor Mia Costa. But political science is clear: people take cues from politicians in charge.

“Public trust in the investigation was always going to be divided along partisan lines, with Republicans opposing it more than they support it and vice versa for Democrats,” Costa said.

“However, consistent rhetoric about the investigation could deepen the partisan divide on the issue; people take cues from political elites and the more it is on the public's consciousness, the more it becomes a salient issue to feel strongly about,” she said.

So far, Mueller has indicted 34 people and three Russian business entities. He’s scored seven guilty pleas and five people charged have been sentenced to prison.

The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the “originators and founders” of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity. All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2018

Trump has reacted by discounting the charges as biased, by skirting the reality of the charges or by distancing himself entirely from people that worked with him directly as “people that had nothing to do with him.”

He has called many of the people indicted “bloggers from Moscow” — not Russian hackers or members of a troll farm aimed at undermining the 2016 election, which is what they have been charged with.

“Or they were people that had nothing to do with me, had nothing to do with what they're talking about, or there were people that -- that got caught telling a fib or telling a lie,” Trump said in an interview with CBS’ Margaret Brennan in February.

Of the people who have been charged, titles include Trump’s former campaign chairman, his former national security adviser and his former personal attorney, who was also a longtime fixer for the president.

But at the same time the president describes his grievances, he’s also called for the report to be released — as have most Americans, according to polling.

“Let it come out, let people see it,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, while simultaneously calling the report “ridiculous.” A few days before, he similarly called for the report to be public, saying “I don’t mind.”

“Let’s see whether or not it’s legit,” the president said Wednesday.

But with a divided electorate of American voters, it’s hard to say Trump’s rhetoric reaches those who weren’t listening to begin with.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The demands for complete transparency on Friday came quickly -- from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Almost immediately after news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller's report had been handed over to Attorney General William Barr, members of Congress called for the whole report to be made public.

“Now that Special Counsel Mueller has submitted his report to the Attorney General, it is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. Attorney General Barr must not give President Trump, his lawyers or his staff any ‘sneak preview’ of Special Counsel Mueller's findings or evidence, and the White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence are made public," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.

They threatened to sue the Trump administration to get Mueller's complete report and any related evidence if the Justice Department refuses to turn it over to Congress.

Attorney General William Barr has said that after he reviews the report, he'll advise the chairmen and ranking members of relevant congressional committees about details that can be released "consistent with the law." He will do so "as soon as this weekend," Barr wrote in a letter to Congress.

Key questions now: How much will Barr share? And will Congress be able to secure the full Mueller report in order to make it public?

Pressure from Democrats and from some Republicans for full transparency was clear Friday, while other Republicans echoed Barr's careful wording at his confirmation hearing that he would try to make as much of the report public as possible under the law and Justice Department rules.

According to federal regulations, the special counsel's final report should be "a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel."

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "I hope the Special Counsel’s report will help inform and improve our efforts to protect our democracy.

“The Attorney General has said he intends to provide as much information as possible. As I have said previously, I sincerely hope he will do so as soon as he can, and with as much openness and transparency as possible.”

Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries sent out a blunt tweet: #MuellerTime: "Every. Single. Word."

"Full transparency. No waiting. Attorney General Barr must immediately provide Congress and the public with Mueller’s entire report and supporting material, not just his summary findings. The American people have a right to know everything,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and one member expected to see Barr's report this weekend, said he looks forward "to getting the full Mueller report and related materials."

"Transparency and the public interest demand nothing less," he said.

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, also called for the entire report to be made public.

"I fully expect the Justice Department to release the special counsel’s report to this committee and to the public without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law,” Collins said in a statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, blocked a measure in the Senate last week that would have encouraged the Justice Department to make the full report public. A resolution in the House calling for the same passed 420-0.

"I will work with Ranking Member Feinstein and our House Judiciary Committee colleagues to ensure as much transparency as possible, consistent with the law," Graham said on Twitter Friday evening.

Other Republicans defended Trump, echoing his criticisms of the investigation into ties between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Russians as a witch hunt.

"The only collusion was between Democrats and many in the media who peddled this lie because they continue to refuse to accept the results of the 2016 election. #WitchHunt." said Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican Whip from Louisiana.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- In the two months since he announced a presidential exploratory committee, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen to relative prominence in a crowded 2020 field by appealing to the "whole country," beyond the liberal silos that Democrats tend to focus on in presidential races.

"An election is supposed to be about our whole country and we can't just concentrate on those areas where people, for the most part, already agree with us," he said on ABC's "The View" on Friday. "If they have a somewhat different set of values, if they know what you have to say is coming from a place of values, I think you get a lot of credit for that."

Democratic presidential candidate @PeteButtigieg: “An election is supposed to be about our whole country ... we can’t just concentrate on those areas where people, for the most part, already agree with us.”

— The View (@TheView) March 22, 2019

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is gaining traction in the early stages of a primary season with 15 contenders competing for the Democratic nomination by showcasing a blend of Midwestern values and robust policy acumen to back his long-shot bid. While Buttigieg might still be a lesser-known candidate, this week he earned a spot on the stage at the first Democratic debate after surpassing the 65,000 donor threshold to qualify.

Although he hasn't formally announced his candidacy, the 37-year-old said he believes he can attract voters open to "different voices" with "authenticity."

"My generation really puts a premium on authenticity," Buttigieg asserted. "I think you have a much better chance of reaching -- and of course we want to reach out to conservatives, too, not by tricking them and pretending to be more -- if I'm not aligned with somebody to where they shouldn't vote for me because I don't represent their values, then fine, but I'd like to reach more conservatives who just might for the first time in a long time -- because the Republican party went through this hostile takeover by the current president -- just might be open to different voices and different candidates."

Buttigieg's early push comes as the expected entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden looms over the race. CNN reported on Monday that Biden discussed with advisers the possibility of choosing a running mate early in the primary to "keep the focus of the primary fight on the ultimate goal of unseating Trump." The close advisers are considering pre-packaging a ticket with Stacey Abrams as his vice president, according to Axios.

"Abrams continues to keep all options on the table for 2020 and beyond,” Abrams' spokesperson Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement to ABC News. “She has met with over half a dozen presidential contenders to discuss their commitment to voting rights and to investing in Georgia."

During his Friday interview, Buttigieg dismissed the theory behind that speculation when asked about picking a vice president right out of the gate, but signaled he supported a gender-balanced ticket.

"I don't speak for anybody else but it would definitely feel presumption if I did it," he said. "I don't think you rule anybody in and out decisively. First of all, you got to get there. There's research on companies that's shown that when a company has more gender balance in it's leadership, it's more profitable. If that's true for companies, I bet you that's true for countries."

The former Navy intelligence officer could make history as the nation's first openly gay presidential nominee of a major party. He was the first openly-gay executive in Indiana history.

Buttigieg came out publicly in a 2015 essay in the South Bend Tribune, less than two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

"When I came out ... it was 2015. We were in the middle of a reelection campaign," Buttigieg said. "It was not obvious that that was going to be a safe thing to do. It was in Indiana. Mike Pence was the governor at the time, and I wound up getting re-elected with 80 percent of the vote. So I think people will evaluate you for the job that you do."

Despite the historic nature of his candidacy, in the ever-evolving field of 2020 candidates, Buttigieg urged his fellow Democrats to keep voters in the foreground and focus on what they are running for, not against in President Donald Trump.

"Where we could go off the rails is if we see this fountain of negativity because we've lost our minds about the current president, not without reason, right, but it can't be all about him," he said. "If we're always talking about him, then folks at home in the Midwest, for example, are going to say you're not talking about me. So the more we can make it about voters, not who's looking good in the committee hearing or who got the best zinger off on the cable news show. Where I live that's not what decides people's lives."

A graduate of Harvard University and Oxford who has met with former President Barack Obama about his presidential ambitions, Buttigieg also addressed issues and ideas confronting the 2020 hopefuls in the early primary race -- including a proposal on the fringes -- reparations to African-American families hurt by slavery.

"I'm supportive of the concept of acting proactively to right these wrongs," Buttigieg said. "I don't know that -- if it's perceived though as just a check in the mail system, I think we're going to have a hard time coming up with something that everybody can believe is fair."

On cash reparations for African-Americans, @PeteButtigieg says he’s “supportive of the concept of acting proactively to right these wrongs,” but tells us he thinks it would be difficult to create a payment system “everybody can believe is fair.”

— The View (@TheView) March 22, 2019

"Let's be intentional. When we decide how housing money is going to be spent, let's tar got those to neighborhoods that experience red lining," he added before sharing his support for a U.S. House proposal that will set up a commission to look into the idea.

Buttigieg also implied that socialism, which continues to be defined and redefined in American politics, has been weaponized as a "scare tactic" by President Donald Trump and Republicans.

"I think in many ways it's a term that's lost it's meaning because it's being thrown around politically," he said before citing the example of the Affordable Care Act, which he pointed out was initially a proposal by a Republican governor. "I believe that capitalism is this incredibly powerful force that can do a lot of good, but I guess in the same way people talk about democratic socialism, I want to talk about democratic capitalism."

The two-term mayor is ending his week in South Carolina for his first trip to the state since announcing his exploratory committee in January.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Within minutes after word came on Friday that Robert Mueller’s report had been handed over to the Department of Justice, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said officials there had "not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel's report " that could prove critical to the future of Donald Trump's presidency.

"The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course," Sanders tweeted, referring to William Barr, who in a letter to Congress said "I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend."

Earlier Friday, with regard to possible timing and whether he might be getting any advance word, the president told reporters “I have no idea about the Mueller report," as he departed the White House Friday morning for Florida.

The president expressed openness earlier this week to the report’s public release but has also said that ultimate authority regarding to the report’s dissemination rest with his newly-installed Attorney General William Barr.

In an interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo that aired Friday, Trump seemed to be bracing for the possibility that he could be accused of having obstructed justice, arguing, as he has before, that his "fighting" back should not be considered obstruction.

"For two years we've gone through this nonsense, because there's no collusion with Russia, you know that better than anybody and there's no obstruction, they'll so, oh wait there was no collusion, that was a hoax, but he obstructed in fighting against the hoax," Trump said.

Trump repeated a political argument that he made on Wednesday, suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, and Mueller himself, had no basis to issue a report judging him because neither had received a single vote compared to the millions who had given him his election victory. "Think of it, I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination on my presidency, people will not stand for it," Trump said.

With the president still uncertain about what the report may say about him, the White House was preparing for multiple contingencies.

Officials were writing a range of responses to address the best and worst case scenarios that could come from the report, according to multiple sources familiar with the strategy.

However, sources say the language used in the responses will be essentially what has been heard from the White House over the course of the investigation -- that there was "no collusion" and that the investigation was a "witch hunt."

Sources told ABC News that White House counsel Pat Cipollone is also traveling down to Mar-a-Lago this weekend.

The Trump 2020 campaign, along with the Republican National Committee, was also preparing aggressive responses.

"We are prepared and we expect the report will find no collusion as the president has said from day one," a senior campaign official said.

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(WASHINGTON) --  Special counsel Robert Mueller's much-anticipated report – the product of nearly two years of investigation – will not include any further indictments, according to a senior Department of Justice official.

The report was handed to the Justice Department for Attorney General Bill Barr’s review, and Congress has been notified of the transfer late Friday afternoon, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

According to federal regulations, the special counsel's final report should be "a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel."

After reviewing Mueller's report, Barr will then send what he has described as his own "report" on the Mueller investigation to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees. Barr has promised to be as transparent as possible, but it's unclear how extensive or detailed Barr's own "report" to Congress will be.

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Barr wrote that he is reviewing the report and anticipates that he "may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend." He continued that, separately, he intends to "consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law."

Sources who have spoken to the president told ABC News that Trump's initial reaction to Friday’s news was that he's “glad it’s over."

"The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on Friday afternoon.

Mueller and his team investigated how far the Kremlin went to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including trying to determine whether any Americans may have helped those efforts.

At the heart of Mueller’s probe were two Russian operations: the spread of disinformation on social media, and the release of thousands of sensitive emails stolen by hackers from the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic targets.

Mueller’s team has charged 25 Russian nationals and three foreign companies for their alleged role in those operations.

In appointing a special counsel to investigate, however, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also directed Mueller to look into “allegations” of possible “coordination” between Russian operatives and associates of President Donald Trump.

Over and over again, Trump and his Republican allies have derided the investigation as a “witch hunt.” But Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray and now-attorney general William Barr have each explicitly disputed that description.

“We follow the rule of law,” Rosenstein insisted last year. “[And] when we confront foreign interference in American elections, it’s important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans.”

While looking into allegations of “coordination” with Trump’s 2016 campaign, Mueller did find that a campaign adviser knew early on from a Russian operative that the Kremlin had compiled “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and recent court filings said Trump’s campaign repeatedly tried to elicit information about upcoming releases of Clinton-related documents stolen from the DNC and others.

In court filings, Mueller also documented how Trump’s personal business sought real estate deals in Moscow even after Trump became the Republican nominee for president, and documented how – while the Obama administration was still in the White House – senior members of Trump’s national security team tried to influence official actions taken by Russia.

According to federal prosecutors, Mueller also found that Trump’s associates routinely lied to them about all of it.

At least four Trump associates, including Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents during the Russia-related investigation.

Another Trump associate, the president’s former attorney Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Moscow. And former Trump adviser Roger Stone has been charged with lying to Congress about his alleged role in tracking information stolen from Democrats during the 2016 campaign.

“The investigation has identified 199 different criminal acts,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, noted during a recent House hearing. “So let’s be clear: The investigation into Russia’s attack on our democracy is not a witch hunt, it’s not a fishing expedition, it’s not a hoax, it’s not a lynch mob. It’s a national security imperative.”

Mueller’s investigation grew out of a probe the FBI launched in late July 2016.

By then, the FBI was already scrutinizing Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s business dealings with pro-Russian officials in Ukraine – dealings that have since landed Manafort in jail. And the FBI was keeping tabs on Trump adviser Carter Page, who was previously targeted for recruitment by Russian spies and had raised eyebrows with a trip to Moscow in mid-July 2016.

But claims by Trump adviser George Papadopoulos – that the Russians were touting “dirt” on Clinton – really set off alarms inside the FBI.

“If any Americans were part of helping the Russians [attack] us, that is a very big deal,” James Comey, who was FBI director at the time, later told lawmakers.

Several weeks after formally launching the Russia probe, counterintelligence agents leading the investigation in Washington received a so-called “dossier,” which had been compiled at the behest of Democrats and detailed uncorroborated allegations of coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Some of the allegations involved Page, who was already on the FBI’s radar, so agents began secretly intercepting his communications. Page has never been charged with any crimes.

The wide-ranging investigation continued even after Trump took office. After Jeff Sessions became attorney general, he recused himself from oversight of the FBI’s Russia-related probe, citing his previous advocacy for Trump on the campaign trail.

Rosenstein subsequently assumed oversight of the investigation.

And then Trump shocked the federal law enforcement community: He fired Comey.

The move prompted Rosenstein to appoint Mueller to take over the whole matter, including a review of whether Comey's firing and other actions meant Trump improperly tried to obstruct the probe.

Comey later alleged that in a private meeting with Trump before his removal, the president directed Comey to “let [Flynn] go.”

Mueller has not released any evidence suggesting Trump committed a crime related to Russian efforts.

However, Mueller did uncover evidence of other possible crimes and referred those cases to other federal prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan ended up tying Trump to federal campaign violations, alleging that – in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign – Trump personally directed Cohen to silence two woman claiming affairs with Trump by making illegal payments to them.

Cohen has pleaded guilty for his role in the matter, but no other charges have been filed.

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Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- While President Donald Trump's lawyers are preparing a legal defense to what might be in special counsel Robert Mueller's report, Trump himself is already casting the fight in stark political terms, arguing unelected bureaucrats were trying to "make a determination on my presidency."

He's now repeatedly gone on the offensive against Mueller and the man who appointed him -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein -- trying to discredit their legitimacy by arguing they "never got a vote" and have no business sitting in judgment of him since millions of voters elected him president.

In an interview that aired on Fox Business on Friday, Trump kept up the politically-themed attack.

"Well, it's always interesting to me because a deputy that didn't get any votes appoints a man that didn't get any votes, he's going to write a report on me. I had one of the greatest election victories in history -- wouldn't you say that's true?" Trump told Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo.

"They came from the valleys, they came from the rivers, they came from the cities, they came from all over, they voted in one of the greatest elections in the history of our country... Think of it, I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination on my presidency, people will not stand for it."

The president and his allies have accused Democrats of supporting the Mueller probe because they are upset with the results of the 2016 election. He has kept the message simple and repeated it almost daily, often multiple times in a single photo-op, calling the inquiry a “witch hunt” and a "hoax."

He did so again Friday as left the White House on a trip to Florida.

"There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. Everybody knows it. It's all a big hoax. It's -- I call it the witch hunt. It's all a big hoax," Trump said.

And he went after congressional Democrats and their investigations as well, with an argument he hopes will catch on with the public.

"It's just a continuation of the same nonsense. Everybody knows. They ought to go to work, get infrastructure done, and get a lot of other things done instead of wasting everybody's time," he said.

Speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn on Wednesday, Trump said he would not object to Mueller’s report being made public, but went on to re-litigate his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton.

“I'm saying to myself, wait a minute, I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country … and now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote,” Trump said. “It's called the Mueller report. So, explain that because my voters don't get it and I don't get it.”

“I think it's ridiculous, but I want to see the report, and you know who wants to see it? The tens of millions of people that love the fact that we have the greatest economy we've ever had,” Trump added as he departed for a speech in Lima, Ohio.

What the Democrats have done in trying to steal a Presidential Election, first at the “ballot box” and then, after that failed, with the “Insurance Policy,” is the biggest Scandal in the history of our Country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2019

Earlier this month in a two-hour speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual conservative rally for activists, Trump dismissed the forthcoming report “by people who weren’t elected.”

“They try to take you out with bulls****,” the president said of Mueller’s investigation.

Trump will have the opportunity to continue his messaging campaign about the Mueller probe next week when he holds his second campaign rally of 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the state which provided him with the slimmest margin of victory in 2016

But despite the complaints from Trump, most Americans believe that Mueller is conducting a fair investigation.

In a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University earlier this month, 54 percent of Americans, including 56 percent of Independents and one-third of Republicans surveyed, said they believe Mueller is conducting a “fair investigation,” into any links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

The attempts from Trump to already define the political debate swirling around Mueller’s report also come as the Democratic presidential field has grown to over 15 candidates and includes three members of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee: Senators Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020 have been careful to avoid speculating on the details of any announcement or report from Mueller, as well as how they plan to respond.

“The decision to release the Mueller report can’t be about politics,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, tweeted last week. “It must be about protecting our democracy. The American people deserve the truth.”

The decision to release the Mueller report can’t be about politics. It must be about protecting our democracy. The American people deserve the truth.

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 17, 2019

"I am an advocate for transparency. I am an advocate for a public report. And certainly that we in the United States Congress would receive all of the supporting information, be it in a classified hearing or not," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, told CNN last month.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another top contender for the Democratic nomination, deferred to Congress when asked whether or not he supports the impeachment of President Trump, something he said he would have voted in favor of while he was running for the U.S. Senate in Texas last year.

“I leave it to Congress, where the power resides in our Constitution, to make the decision based on the facts that are available now or those that are provided in the Mueller report,” O’Rourke told reporters last week outside of a campaign stop in Washington, Iowa.

“You’re asking me has the president committed impeachable offenses, yes, period,” O’Rourke added in response to a follow-up question.

But top Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have all but ruled out impeachment, tamping down expectations and arguing that backlash to the effort could help the president. They plan to continue conducting oversight and following up on Mueller’s work after any report is issued.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Mueller and I will, I am accepting of whatever he brings. But that cannot be the end of it,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said recently. “We just had a major attack on our electoral system, and we have done nothing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

For their part, some congressional Republicans are preparing to use elements of Mueller’s report to push back on some of Democrats’ investigative plans, to continue to depict some of their inquiries as partisan attacks to undermine Trump.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement Friday that he was cancelling a new round of sanctions intended to target North Korea announced only 24 hours earlier by his own administration.

"It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea," Trump tweeted after arriving at his Mar a Lago club in Florida. "I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!"

It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2019

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the president's announcement in a statement, citing his personal friendship with the North Korean dictator.

"President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary," Sanders said.

The Treasury Department just Thursday had announced the round of sanctions targeting two Chinese shipping companies that it said have helped North Korea evade sanctions.

The tweet marked a stunning and major policy reversal of the first round of sanctions targeting the regime since Trump's failed Hanoi summit with Kim last month.

In a tweet following the original sanctions announcement, President Trump's national security adviser John Bolton highlighted the move as an "important" step and warned other countries against similar actions to aid North Korea.

Important actions today from @USTreasury; the maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices. Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.

— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 21, 2019

In a briefing on the sanctions with reporters Thursday, an administration official similarly touted the significance of the sanctions, characterizing the package as “unprecedented” and “comprehensive.”

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday again accused Democrats of being "anti-Israel" and "anti-Jewish," in response to a question from a reporter on the growing number of the party's presidential candidates skipping a conference put on by a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group.

"The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel, there’s no question about that," Trump said as he departed the White House for Palm Beach, Florida. "And it’s a disgrace, I mean, I don’t know what’s happened to them but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”

The comments come after a growing number of Democratic hopefuls for the party's 2020 presidential nomination said they will not attend the annual policy conference put on by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

Thus far the campaigns of eight Democratic presidential candidates have confirmed to ABC News that they will not be attending the conference, which is slated to begin this Sunday in Washington, D.C., and runs through Tuesday.

Those not attending the conference include: Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.

Representatives for the campaigns of Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar did not respond to ABC News when asked if they will be attending AIPAC.

Even as a growing number of Democratic candidates declined to appear, other top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, are all slated to attend and speak at this year's conference.

"Sen. Sanders has no plans to attend the AIPAC conference. He’s concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution," Sanders' Policy Director Josh Orton wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.

Sanders, who is Jewish, did not attend the conference in 2016 either, while his then-rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, attended the gathering and gave remarks.

A spokesman for Delaney said the candidate is "very disappointed," he can not attend the conference due to a scheduling conflict.

The decisions come after prominent liberal group called on all Democratic candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination to boycott the conference.

"It’s no secret that AIPAC has worked to hinder diplomatic efforts like the Iran deal, is undermining Palestinian self-determination, and inviting figures actively involved in human rights violations to its stage," Iram Ali, campaign director at, wrote in a statement released earlier this week.

The call to boycott the conference also comes after Democrats struggled to respond to the backlash against Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose comments about Jewish Americans and dual-loyalty sparked a debate within the party about anti-Semitism and led the U.S. House to pass an official resolution condemning "hate."

Despite the backlash, many prominent Democrats including Sanders and Harris came to Omar's defense.

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ANNECORDON/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- With everyone still waiting on former Vice President Joe Biden to decide if he’s running (and the added speculation that he might pick Stacey Abrams as his running mate), the field did see one more official entry this week.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand transitioned her exploratory committee to a full-fledged campaign on Sunday and officially joined the groundswell of candidates in the 2020 Democratic field. She also scored her first home state endorsement from New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

But Gillibrand is struggling to gain traction in a field that has already seen record fundraising hauls and a collection of bold policy proposals -- a reminder that it’s increasingly difficult for many of the candidates running to stand out.

Here's the weekly candidate roundup:

Mar. 15-21, 2019

Stacey Abrams (D)

After meeting privately with former Vice President Joe Biden last week, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate signaled that she is willing to meet with any of the Democratic hopefuls in the 2020 presidential contest, but she said she has a couple of ground rules.

"My two requirements," Abrams said Tuesday at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "One, you have to tell me what you’re going to do about voter suppression. And two, you have to believe Georgia is a swing state."

Abrams, who is considering a presidential bid of her own, is -- for now -- returning to her roots as an organizer and promoting the nonprofit group she founded to advance voting rights, Fair Fight Action.

On Thursday, Abrams' spokesperson Lauren Groh-Wargo addressed rumors that close advisers to Biden are pitching a pre-packaged ticket with her as his vice president.

"Abrams continues to keep all options on the table for 2020 and beyond,” Groh-Wargo said in a statement to ABC News. “She has met with over half a dozen presidential contenders to discuss their commitment to voting rights and to investing in Georgia."

Michael Bennet (D)

Although several Democratic presidential candidates have expressed an openness to expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court, the Colorado senator literally slammed his head on a table when asked about it, according to The Washington Post.

"Having seen up close just how cynical and how vicious the tea party guys and the Freedom Caucus guys and Mitch McConnell have been, the last thing I want to do is be those guys,” Bennet said, referring to some Republicans' efforts in recent years to alter Washington rules and traditions. “What I want to do is beat these guys so that we can begin to govern again."

Bennet, who said he’ll decide whether to officially enter the race within weeks, told the Post: "I guess I'm starting to think strongly that we need a voice in this primary that's willing to make the kind of case that I think that I would make."

Joe Biden (D)

For a brief moment Saturday, it appeared as though the former vice president had inadvertently revealed that he had decided to run for president: At a Delaware Democratic Party fundraiser, he said that he had "the most progressive record of anybody running."

The audience launched into applause, but Biden quickly corrected himself, explaining that he meant "of anybody who would run." Even so, those close to Biden, including Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, continue to report that Biden is telling them he is all-but-certain to enter the race.

CNN reported on Monday that Biden discussed with advisers the possibility of choosing a running mate early in the primary to "keep the focus of the primary fight on the ultimate goal of unseating Trump." That running mate might be Stacey Abrams, according to Axios.

Cory Booker (D)

The New Jersey senator this week contended with a barrage of questions about his love life. After actress Rosario Dawson confirmed to TMZ that she and Booker are dating, the former Newark, New Jersey mayor told Ellen DeGeneres on her show on Wednesday that Dawson "is just a deeply soulful person and has taught me a lot of lessons about love already."

Despite the focus on his personal life, Booker managed to resurface an issue that had fallen out of the news a bit when he indicated he was willing to consider eliminating the filibuster.

"I’m going to tell you that for me that door is not closed," he said on "Pod Save America" on Wednesday.

Booker will return to the trail this weekend, making his third campaign sweep through South Carolina since officially declaring his candidacy for president.

Steve Bullock (D)

The Montana governor, who is still deciding whether to enter the presidential race, traveled to Iowa to support state Senate candidate Eric Giddens, who won a special election on Tuesday.

Bullock sat with Giddens over beers last weekend, according to Politico.

Bullock’s trip to Iowa will be followed by a visit to another early primary state, New Hampshire. Bullock is expected to celebrate New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes’s birthday in Concord on Sunday, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Pete Buttigieg (D)

Over the weekend, Buttigieg, who is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, qualified for the first Democratic debate -- hitting the 65,000-donor threshold.

In an appearance on MSNBC, Buttigieg made his case for why a mayor of a city of 100,000 people should be president. Buttigieg said becoming president is "a tremendous leap for anybody," adding that he thinks "this is an executive position that requires executive experience."

He joins ABC’s The View on Friday before heading to South Carolina for his first trip to the state since announcing his exploratory committee in January.

Julián Castro (D)

At a campaign stop in Las Vegas this week, following an article in which he was called "the other Texan" of the Democratic presidential field, Castro said, "I’m the one from the other side of the tracks. I’m the one that didn’t grow up as a front-runner."

His comments appeared to be a jab at fellow Texan and Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke. But Castro pushed back against that interpretation during an interview with MSNBC, saying that he was just speaking for himself.

The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development said he is "confident" that he will qualify for the first primary debate in June and that he will be a front-runner "by the time the Iowa caucus comes around."

Bill de Blasio (D)

Potentially gearing up for a presidential bid, the New York City mayor toured New Hampshire over the weekend. His trip got off to a lackluster start, however. The New York Post reported that only 20 people showed up to his roundtable on mental health -- the 14 people who were on the panel and six audience members.

Asked by the Post when he will make a decision about a bid, de Blasio said, "Sooner rather than later."

John Delaney (D)

Asked in an interview with CNN about whether he is in favor of eliminating the Electoral College and electing a president via the popular vote, Delaney said: "If I were starting from scratch, I would do that. It requires a constitutional amendment. … I'd much rather focus on things that can get done and affect the American people. I'd much rather focus on lowering drug prices, building infrastructure, creating digital privacy legislation in this country, expanding pre-K, that every kid has that opportunity, making sure community college is free for every kid in this country.”

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

Gabbard kicked off the week with visits to Fremont, California, and Las Vegas, where she delivered a message of peace.

In California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gabbard said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drained "trillions of dollars out of our pockets for health care, infrastructure, education, for clean energy." The U.S. House member from Hawaii was twice deployed to the Middle East as part of the Army National Guard.

Gabbard is ending the week in New Hampshire.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

After launching a presidential exploratory committee in January, the New York senator officially joined the race last weekend. In a video posted to her social media channels, Gillibrand also revealed that she will be holding an event outside of the Trump International Hotel in New York City on Sunday.

Gillibrand participated in an MSNBC town hall Monday that touched on immigration policy, her plans for a national paid leave program, her involvement in the resignation of Democratic Sen. Al Franken from his Senate seat in December and her belief that she "should have done more" on gun control earlier in her career.

Kamala Harris (D)

Harris edged up the candidate leaderboard this week: In a new CNN poll, she climbed into third place, with 12 percent support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. This was a significant increase for the California senator, whose support was 4 percent in December. Biden and Bernie Sanders captured first and second place, respectively.

Harris also joined ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live this week and said she believes that voters want a nominee who holds the ability to "prosecute the case" against President Trump.

Harris visits Texas this weekend for a campaign rally in Houston and an event hosted by Tarrant County Democrats in Grapevine before heading to Atlanta.

John Hickenlooper (D)

Hickenlooper joined CNN for a town hall in Atlanta on Wednesday night, taking questions from Dana Bash and directly from voters on a range of issues, including marijuana and the death penalty. Bash also asked the former governor of Colorado if he would vow to put a woman on the ticket like some of the other male contenders in the race, and he answered, "Of course."

"I’ll ask you another question," he said. "But how come we’re not asking, more often, the women, ‘Would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?’"

Hickenlooper plans to crisscross New Hampshire and Vermont this weekend, with stops in Manchester, Concord, Lebanon, Burlington, Littleton, Plymouth and Newmarket.

Jay Inslee (D)

In an an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Inslee said: "I'm finding people who really want to see a president who believes in science, who believes the number one job of the Untied States is to defeat climate change. People are telling me that's the right message."

When asked why he would "risk it all" on this single issue as he competes for the nomination against a sprawling pool of candidates, Inslee responded that "you can't solve other problems unless you solve climate change."

John Kerry (D)

Kerry, who has left the door open for a presidential bid, received 4 percent of the support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the CNN poll this week.

In an appearance with Condoleezza Rice, another former secretary of state, at Notre Dame on Tuesday, Kerry criticized the Trump administration.

Trump "hasn’t made anything better," Kerry said, according to the South Bend Tribune. "Not the Iran Deal, not the Paris Climate Accord, not TPP, not (the war in) Afghanistan and not Syria. He was teed up to prove to the world what a great negotiator he was."

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Klobuchar stopped in California this week, joining community leaders in San Francisco for a conversation about the effects of climate change.

In her first visit to the state since announcing her presidential candidacy in February, the Minnesota senator also hosted a "high-dollar fundraiser" in the San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood, according to CNN.

The cost to attend the event was up to $5,600 a chair, CNN reported. Klobuchar joins the Rye Democrats for a town hall in New Hampshire on Saturday.

Terry McAuliffe (D)

During a visit to South Carolina Tuesday, the former Virginia governor fueled speculation that he might enter the field of Democratic hopefuls.

Seth Moulton (D)

Moulton kicked off his week in New Hampshire to meet with the tri-city New Hampshire Young Democrats. He told the audience that he expects to make a decision about a presidential run next month, according to The Salem News.

“Ultimately the decision for me will come back to one simple question: How can I best serve the country," he said.

Moulton also stopped in another early voting state, South Carolina, and is set to visit Iowa next week for a roundtable with veterans.

Beto O’Rourke (D)

O'Rourke continued his campaign sprint across the country this week, traveling to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire (where he hit all 10 counties in 48 hours).

At a stop in Pennsylvania, the former Texas congressman was asked about delivering more than "platitudes and nice stories" on the stump.

"I’m going to try to be as specific as I can," he said. "In every single policy area, I’m trying to describe not just the goal and the aspiration, but the path we will take to get there."

The breakout political star, who fell just short in his 2018 Senate bid against Ted Cruz, reported raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his presidential campaign, which surpassed Sen. Bernie Sanders' $5.9 million and the rest of the Democratic field.

His record haul came from 128,000 unique contributions for an average donation size of $47. None of the donations came from PACs, corporations or special interests, according to his campaign.

O'Rourke brings his off-the-cuff and frenetic campaign style through South Carolina this weekend with eight events in Rock Hill, Columbia, Orangeburg and Charleston.

Bernie Sanders (D)

Sanders committed this week to offsetting emissions from his travel and events by partnering with a carbon offsets provider that will support renewable energy and carbon reduction projects.

This effort follows the Vermont senator's announcement that his workers will be the first presidential campaign staff to unionize.

Sanders holds rallies in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco starting Friday as he makes his first visit to California since launching his second presidential campaign.

Howard Schultz (I)

As Schultz continues to test the waters of an independent bid for president, he holds a series of town halls in Denver where he will hold a roundtable discussion at a startup incubator called Techstars Boulder Accelerator, according to the Denver Post.

The Post also reports that Schultz's schedule includes a stop at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a town hall event with the athletes.

Elizabeth Warren (D)

Warren, known for her pace-setting policy proposals, started a swing through the South in Memphis, Tennessee, before heading to Jackson, Mississippi, for a CNN town hall on Monday and unveiled her support for a bold proposal.

"My view is that every vote matters,” she said.

“And that means getting rid of the Electoral College," she went on, to applause from the audience. "Presidential candidates don’t come to places like Mississippi, they also don’t come to places like California or Massachusetts, because we’re not the battleground states."

The Massachusetts senator then headed to Alabama for two stops in Selma and Birmingham this week. She returns to New Hampshire this weekend for a conversation on the opioid crisis in Littleton and a pair of meet-and-greets in Berlin and Conway.

Andrew Yang (D)

Yang said there were 3,000 people in attendance at his rally in San Francisco last Friday. In a blog post recounting the event, the entrepreneur said "huge rallies" would help him build name recognition and that he'd be launching a national tour to draw crowds.

"Think Bernie 2.0 but with better music," he wrote.

The New York Times reported on Yang's internet popularity Wednesday, noting that his supporters, who have been nicknamed the "Yang Gang," are harnessing memes and inside jokes to promote the candidate much in the way that Trump supporters did in 2016. On Monday, Yang holds an event in Chicago.

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Official Whte House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- The White House rejected a request from Congressional Democrats for a slew of documents related to President Donald Trump's phone calls and meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, in a letter sent Thursday to the chairmen of the House Oversight, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence Committees, said that Congress has demonstrated no legal or constitutional authority to gain access to the president's diplomatic communications.

"The president must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purpose," Cipollone wrote.

"This is why, from the Nation's beginning, Presidents from all political parties have determined that the law does not require the Executive Branch to provide Congress with documents related to confidential diplomatic communications between the president and foreign leaders," he said in the letter.

Cipollone writes that there is an "unbroken recognition that the Constitution assigns the conduct of foreign affairs exclusively to the Executive Branch" and says that Democrats failed to cite any law or regulation that would justify their right to access the president's communications other than the Presidential Records Act, with which he insists the White House is in proper compliance.

Earlier this month, three House Democrats requested that the White House and State Department turn over detailed information about any communications between Trump and Putin. The letter, signed by Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel, and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings, was sent to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Democrats have sought to investigate whether or not Russia has influenced the president, and point to media reports that Trump has attempted to “conceal the details of his communications with President Putin.” Investigators argue that the president’s actions are a threat to national security and present concerns that the president may have been manipulated by Russia.

But White House counsel argues that Democrats are making an overly broad request for "detailed information related to the President's meetings and telephone calls with Russian president Vladimir Putin," in addition to "confidential communications" between the president and top advisers.

Cummings has accused the White House of “stonewalling.”

“The problem is that the White House is engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction,” Cummings, D-Md., wrote in a scathing Washington Post editorial Tuesday.

He noted, “The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress.”

The same goes for the House Judiciary Committee whose chairman, Jerrold Nadler of New York, launched a wide-ranging probe earlier this month into allegations of obstruction of justice and abuse of power by the president.

The president initially indicated that he would cooperate with the Judiciary Committee, but White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just hours later called the probe “a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations.”

Despite that pointed criticism, ABC News has learned from sources familiar with the matter that the White House does plan to reply to some requests, though they only intend to respond to those they deem “legitimate.”

It’s unclear what that would mean.

In Thursday’s letter, White House counsel Cipollone said he is "unaware of any precedent supporting such sweeping requests."

House Democrats have compiled a list -- obtained by ABC News -- that indicates that the Trump Administration, writ large, has either refused to respond to or slow-walked, more than 30 inquiries for documents and interviews by 15 committees.

This week, Chairman Nadler also ratcheted up the pressure on the president to assert executive privilege. The panel is interested in conversations Trump may have had about his former attorney Michael Cohen with his then-acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker who left his post last month after the confirmation of William Barr.

According to Nadler -- in a letter to the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department -- Whitaker, in a follow-up interview with the Judiciary Committee after a public hearing in February, refused to answer questions “on the basis that the President may one day want to invoke executive privilege to prevent the content of these communications from becoming public.”

“The executive branch has an obligation to respond to congressional oversight, especially where a committee has articulated its particular need for access to the information,” said John Bies who worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and is now chief counsel at American Oversight. “Certainly this letter ratchets up the pressure on the White House either to permit Whitaker to answer the questions or to actually invoke executive privilege.”

“A 'my way or the highway' approach to oversight is fundamentally inconsistent with the notion that ours is a government of checks and balances, and that each branch is obligated to try in good faith to accommodate the legitimate interests of the other,” Bies added.

Both chairmen, Nadler and Cummings, made clear this week that they intend to issue subpoenas for the documents they are seeking. Last year Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee blocked a move by Democrats to subpoena the State Department translator in the room during Trump and Putin’s private meeting in Helsinki.

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YsaL/iStock(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Mississippi on Thursday became the latest state to try to ban most abortions when its governor signed a so-called "Heartbeat Bill," a measure designed to undermine Roe v. Wade and similar to ones passed in other conservative states but then blocked in court.

The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected by ultrasound, which often can be after just six weeks.

Similar bills were signed into law in Kentucky earlier this month, in Iowa last year and in North Dakota in 2013. In each case, federal judges ruled them unconstitutional, citing the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized a woman's right to an abortion in all 50 states.

State lawmakers who sponsor the heartbeat bills are blunt in saying their goal is to challenge the Roe decision in hopes of getting it overturned.

Bolstered by the court's new conservative majority, the legislators say their strategy is to have court cases involving the restrictive state abortion laws work their way through the appeals process and eventually come before the highest court in the land.

"I think the point is to try to get a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to try to restrict abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade, and it's also designed to show the conservative base this governor and this conservative legislature will do anything to restrict abortion -- with an effort to ban it outright," said Joshua Tom, legal director with the ACLU of Mississippi, in a phone interview.

As the 2019 legislative session progresses, similarly restrictive bills have advanced in Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio and Georgia.

At the same time, Democratic-leaning states have pushed back, enacting bills that extend abortion protections. Bills that extend a woman's access to abortion through the third trimester were passed in New York and Virginia this year and are being considered in other states, including Vermont.

In Mississippi, the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nationwide abortion advocacy group, immediately promised to sue to stop the state's new abortion law.

"We'll see you in court Mississippi," the Center for Reproductive Rights tweeted.

Bryant welcomes the "threat of legal action," tweeting that it won't steer him away from the fight for "lives of innocent babies."

The state, which has only one abortion clinic, is no stranger to pushing abortion restrictions.

Last year, Mississippi passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, which a federal court later blocked. The ruling is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has seen an increase in conservative judges nominated by President Donald Trump.

This time, the state's ban goes further.

"The heartbeat bill that was just passed bans abortion at six weeks, which is even more restrictive than the bill banned last year," Joshua Tom said.

Though lawsuits are likely and would delay implementation, it's scheduled to go into effect in July.

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Bill Chizek/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- There's no shortage of speculation on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, much of it totally uninformed.

But we don't need to speculate on the scope – the man who appointed Mueller has already given us a potential road map on what to expect from the special counsel.

The bottom line: Do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes.

The road map comes in the form a little-noticed 12-page letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last June to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

The letter was in response to Grassley's demands for more information on the special counsel investigation, offers a brief history of special counsel investigations and actually quotes former and future Attorney General William Barr who appointed three special counsels during his time as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.

In the letter, Rosenstein makes it clear he believes the Department of Justice will not – and cannot without violating long-standing Department of Justice policy – include disparaging or incriminating information about anybody who has not been charged with a crime.

"Punishing wrongdoers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the Department's mission," Rosenstein wrote. "We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes."

Sources familiar with the investigation believe there are no more indictments coming from the special counsel. If Mueller follows the guidance of the man who appointed him and supervised his investigation, he cannot publicly disparage those who have not been charged with a crime.

Rosenstein is emphatic on this point: "In fact, disclosing uncharged allegations against American citizens without a law-enforcement need is considered to be a violation of a prosecutor's trust."

Later in the letter, he makes it clear this standard applies to anybody under investigation, even public officials.

"No matter who an investigation involves -- an ordinary citizen, a local or state politician, a campaign official, a foreign agent, an officer of the federal legislative, executive, or judicial branch -- agents and prosecutors are obligated to protect its confidentiality."

In the letter Rosenstein directly takes issue with the justification then-FBI Director James Comey used to publicly criticize Hillary Clinton in 2016 even as he decided not to charge her with a crime. At the time, Comey justified the break with long-time DOJ practice as an "extraordinary step" necessary because of circumstances so unusual they were comparable to a "500-year flood."

"It is important for the Department of Justice to follow established procedures, especially when the stakes are high," Rosenstein wrote.

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that would deny colleges certain federal research and education grants if they failed to comply with free speech standards outlined by the administration.

"Under the guise of speech codes and safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans ... all of that changes starting right now. We're dealing with billions and billions and billions of dollars," Trump said, surrounded by student activists at a White House ceremony Thursday afternoon.

In doing so, Trump is responding to a rallying cry among conservatives who say their views are suppressed on campuses, and that speakers are sometimes assaulted or silenced when protesters threaten violence.

Trump called the move "historic," saying that students and American values have "been under siege," as several students said free speech is at risk on their campuses.

"Every year the federal government provides educational institutions with more than $35 billion in research funding. All of that money is now at stake. That's a lot of money. They're going to have to not like your views a lot," Trump said.

The executive order would direct 12 grant-making agencies to work with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure universities are complying with federal law in an effort to promote free speech on college campuses, the senior administration official said earlier Thursday during a phone call with reporters.

Critics argue Trump's move is an attempt to fix a non-existent problem and one notable is Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

In a statement on Thursday, Alexander said he didn't "want to see Congress or the President or the department of anything creating speech codes to define what you can say on campus."

"The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don’t like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution," Alexander said.

At the same time, he said he agreed with the Trump administration's position that colleges "should provide better data on student debt and put some ‘skin in the game’ to reduce student borrowing."

Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America -- an organization that works to defend free expression rights, including free speech on college campuses -- said in a phone interview that the federal government "can have a role in reinforcing the principles of the First Amendment and the commitment to freedom expression and academic freedom at public universities in particular."

"But when you get into the possibility of punitive measures and the withholding of federal funds based on, you know, particularly kind of very vague definitions of, you know an idea like free inquiry. That's worrisome," Nossel added.

Following Trump's preview of his executive order in a fiery speech earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, 11 groups, including the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, issued a joint statement calling the proposal "a dangerous solution to a largely nonexistent problem."

"While the specific provisions of the promised executive order have not been revealed, like such legislation they are liable to interfere with institutional autonomy and governance in ways that is more likely to stifle than encourage free expression and diversity of opinion," the statement said. "There are and always will be individuals on campus and in society generally who wish to silence those with whom they disagree. But punitive and simplistic measures will only exacerbate the problems they may create," the statement said.

Though the administration official who briefed reporters stressed that free speech rules already apply to higher education institutions, the official said the order is designed to provide better oversight and enforcement by making free speech a more explicit condition of compliance.

Public universities will have to agree to follow the guidelines as a condition of receiving these grants, while private universities will have to certify following their intended policy, the official said.

The executive order would not affect student aid money, and would also require the Department of Education to publish information on earnings, debt, default rates and loan repayment rates to the college score card, the senior administration official said.

The official declined to say whether the president believes the issue has worsened in recent years, not wanting to get ahead of the president’s remarks. “The president is fully committed to promoting free speech on college campuses,” the official said.

The order would also require the Department of Education to submit policy recommendations to the president about institutions sharing the financial risk of student loans, the official said.

Trump had publicly teased the executive order during his CPAC speech.

“If they want our dollars and we give it to them by the billions they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak,” Trump said.

He was referring to the case of Hayden Williams, who was allegedly assaulted at the University of California, Berkley, while recruiting for a conservative group.

“And if they don’t, it will be very costly,” Trump added.

Trump has also tweeted about the issue, saying: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

"Just the fact that the President first announced this at CPAC, the fact Jeff Sessions when he was attorney general making a speech in front of Turning Point USA, a conservative group, this issue, you know, kind of adds this ideological cast," Nossel of PEN America said. "You know, really the First Amendment is nonpartisan. It doesn't have any ideological bias. It protects speech from across the spectrum. And so, the fear here is that you know, this is not just about protecting all kinds of speech it's about protecting certain kinds of speech and I think that's the way the executive order is implemented it's highly problematic."

But when it comes to the actual implementation of the order, the official was short on details and deferred the matter to OMB.

“I don't want to get ahead of implementation, that will be coming in the next several weeks, months,” the official said.”

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has used an encrypted messaging application for official business and to communicate with contacts outside the United States, his lawyer told senior lawmakers in December.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, disclosed the admission from Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell in a new letter to the White House, demanding records and documents related to White House officials’ use of private email for government work.

Lowell, according to Cummings, told the committee that Kushner sent screenshots of his WhatsApp messages to his White House email account or the National Security Council, and said that Kushner was in compliance with the law. He could not say whether Kushner used the application to discuss classified information.

Cummings, along with then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, met with Lowell in December, as part of an investigation into use of personal email at the White House, and following a CNN report that Kushner used WhatsApp to communicate with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

In a response to Cummings released Thursday, Lowell said he initially told Cummings Kushner had used “some communications with ‘some people’ and did not specify who they were,” and that he didn’t say Kushner used the application to communication with foreign leaders.

“I did convey that Mr. Kushner follows the protocols (including the handling of classified information) as he has been instructed to do,” he said.

He also said he referred Cummings to the White House counsel’s office for questions about Kushner’s use of the application.

Under the Presidential Records Act, White House officials are prohibited from using non-official email or messaging systems without forwarding any messages to their official email accounts within 20 days.

The Maryland Democrat is investigating potential violations of federal record-keeping laws by Kushner, senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump, and other current and former White House officials.

He asked for lists of White House officials who have used personal email accounts and messaging applications for official business, and more information about the White House archiving process for electronic communications.

In his letter, Cummings said he would give the White House until April 4th to cooperate with the committee's investigation voluntarily.

"The White House's failure to provide documents and information is obstructing the Committee's investigation into allegations of violations of federal records laws by White House officials," he wrote.

In a statement, White House spokesman Steven Groves said, “The White House has received Chairman Cummings’ letter of March 21st. As with all properly authorized oversight requests, the White House will review the letter and will provide a reasonable response in due course.”

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