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Shawn Thew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave his administration post at the end of the year, President Donald Trump announced early Saturday.

Zinke submitted his resignation to the White House Saturday, an administration source told ABC News.

The president, who made the sudden staffing announcement on Twitter, thanked Zinke for his service over the last two years.

"@RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years," the president tweeted. "Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation."

Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.......

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

Zinke's replacement will be named next week, the president said.

.......The Trump Administration will be announcing the new Secretary of the Interior next week.

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

The White House did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment about what prompted the sudden announcement of Zinke’s departure. The announcement came just a day after the president announced that his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, will step into the role of chief of staff on an acting basis in the new year when Chief of Staff John Kelly will depart.

Zinke has faced multiple inquiries by his department's inspector general and congressional investigators since he took office, including into his travel and whether he was improperly involved in a real estate development in his hometown. At least one of the investigations into Zinke's conduct was referred to Department of Justice, though it was unclear whether the department intended to act on the referral.

Zinke has maintained that he will be cleared in the investigations and has followed all department ethical rules.

In a statement Saturday, Zinke referenced inquiries into his conduct as one reason for his departure.

"I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together," he said. "However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations."

Sources tell ABC News Zinke had been asked to leave the administration by the end of the year, as it had been expected that he would come under greater scrutiny under the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress.

In November, Zinke publicly attacked top House Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva after he called for Zinke's resignation and promised intense oversight of Interior in the new Congress in January.

In a tweet, Zinke accused Grijalva of “drunken and hostile behavior,” in an apparent reference to the lawmaker's battle with alcohol addiction in the 1980s.

Grijalva sought treatment for the addiction.

My thoughts on Rep. Grijalva’s opinion piece. #TuneInnForMore pic.twitter.com/VMGxdtHwvU

— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 30, 2018

In a statement, Grijalva said he hopes Zinke's replacement will be more amenable to working with the committee.

"This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page," he said in the statement. "Secretary Zinke’s successor has a chance to move on from on an unfortunate Trump administration record of environmental mismanagement and decline. A well-managed Interior Department — one that puts the public good ahead of fossil fuel and mining industry demands — can be a boon to the entire country."

.@RepRaulGrijalva on @SecretaryZinke news: “This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page. Secretary Zinke’s successor has a chance to move on from on an unfortunate Trump administration record of environmental mismanagement and decline“ 1/2

— Nat Resources Dems (@NRDems) December 15, 2018

"The next Interior secretary should respect the American people’s desire for strong environmental standards and an end to corporate favoritism," the statement continued. "The Democratic majority on the Natural Resources Committee will be ready to assist in that effort starting in January."

Capitol Hill sources told ABC News that Zinke's personal attack on Grijalva would have made it difficult for the committee to work with him and that they expected he would ultimately resign.

In his role as secretary of the interior, Zinke successfully pushed to expand energy development on public lands, including a major offshore wind energy sale in Massachusetts last week. Zinke also sought to secure more funding for maintenance in national parks, an initiative for which he enjoyed bipartisan support.

The Senate’s top Democratic, Chuck Schumer, celebrated Zinke’s announced departure in a tweet, accusing Zinke of doing damage to the country’s natural resources at Interior.

Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the govt like it was his personal honey pot.

The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 15, 2018

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop praised the outgoing Interior Secretary in a statement.

“In the world of Washington politics, Zinke was an anomaly," Bishop said. "He had a vision of a better future - an efficient department; a park system without a backlog; a staff who listened. Where others dithered he got stuff done. We owe him a debt of gratitude."

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Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his first on-camera comments since a federal court in Texas ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, President Trump called it a “great ruling for the country” and praised the judge who handed down the decision.

“It was a big, big victory by a highly respected judge, highly, highly respected in Texas,” President Trump said in response to a question from ABC News during a visit to Arlington Cemetery Saturday.

The ruling to strike down Obamacare, by Judge Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District District Court for the Northern District of Texas, is expected to be challenged and will likely go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once the legal battle plays out, the president said he wants to sit down with Democrats to work out a solution to secure “great healthcare” for Americans.

“On the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people, we’ll have to sit down with the Democrats to do it, but I’m sure they want to do it also,” the president said.

Shortly after the decision on Friday evening, Trump tweeted that "Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions."

"Mitch and Nancy," he wrote, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, "get it done!"

As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!

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

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders pointed to the court ruling as proof of the president’s conviction that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional but also made clear that Obama’s signature law remains intact until the legal process plays out.

“The judge’s decision vindicates President Trump’s position that Obamacare is unconstitutional. Once again, the President calls on Congress to replace Obamacare and act to protect people with preexisting conditions and provide Americans with quality affordable healthcare,” Sanders said in a statement. “We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.”

While the administration has praised the ruling, Democrats have vowed to fight it.

Pelosi called the ruling “cruel” and “absurd” and vowed that Democrats will take steps to try and bolster President Obama’s signature healthcare law in the new Democrat-controlled Congress in January.

“When House Democrats take the gavel, the House of Representatives will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans’ effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” she said in a statement.

The American Medical Association said Saturday in a statement that Connor's ruling "violates multiple precepts that guide and limit the exercise of the judicial power."

"And it sets a dangerous precedent that invites politicians to resort to the unelected, life-tenured judiciary when they cannot achieve their political goals through the democratic process," the statement continued. "Elected and accountable officials at the federal and state level continue to debate how best to ensure the provision of quality health care to the American people."

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simpson33/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A federal district judge in Texas dealt a blow to the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, deeming the entire legislation unconstitutional without the individual mandate -- which was eliminated in the GOP-passed tax bill last year.

The decision comes in a case brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of the ACA. The ruling will likely be appealed, and could eventually reach the United States Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the ruling Friday night, calling on Congress to "pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions."

The ruling comes just one day before the deadline to enroll at healthcare.gov.

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, released a statement Friday night calling the ruling "absurd."

"Tonight's district court ruling exposes the monstrous endgame of Republicans' all-out assault on people with pre-existing conditions and Americans' access to affordable health care," Pelosi said.

"While the district court's absurd ruling will be immediately appealed, Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision and for the fear they have struck into millions of families across America who are now in danger of losing their health coverage," she said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, echoed that sentiment, criticizing the ruling that he said is "based on faulty legal reasoning."

"If this awful ruling is upheld in the higher courts," Schumer said on Twitter, "it will be a disaster for tens of millions of American families, especially for people with pre-existing conditions."

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Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has tapped Mich Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget as acting White House chief of staff.

"I am pleased to announce that Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management & Budget, will be named Acting White House Chief of Staff, replacing General John Kelly, who has served our Country with distinction. Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration," Trump tweeted. "I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!"

Mulvaney, one of the original founders of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus and an early backer of Trump during his candidacy for the presidency, was named as the director of the Office of Management and Budget in December of 2016.

Through his tenure, Mulvaney fortified a close alliance with the president as he proposed steep cuts to the federal budget and gained notoriety for his sparring sessions with reporters in the White House briefing room making the case for his fiscal hawk approach to gutting the country’s entitlement programs.

In November of last year, President Trump appointed Mulvaney to the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government oversight agency born out of the 2008 financial crisis that Mulvaney had once advocated for eliminating entirely.

As Mulvaney has sought to reign in many of the CFPB’s previously announced enforcement activities against financial institutions which he has described as government overreach, Democrats have cast him as a symbol of the Trump Administration’s efforts working to benefit big business over American consumers.

But those attacks if anything have further endeared the president to Mulvaney. Just last week Mulvaney was tasked with announcing the president’s 120-page plan to reform and reorganize the entire federal government.

Mulvaney’s six years serving as a congressman from South Carolina could provide him a skill set that will mark a significant departure from his predecessor. While John Kelly’s arrival was initially framed as a turning point in restoring order and discipline to a chaotic West Wing, Republican lawmakers will likely see an opportunity in Mulvaney’s ascension to achieve closer coordination and direct access to the president in a way that benefits their legislative agenda.

John Kelly will remain chief of staff until the end of the year. Until then, Mulvaney will work with Kelly.

Mulvaney will be replaced as OMB director by Russell Vought, who is currently the agency's deputy director.

Vought is a former vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee -- the largest GOP caucus on Hill -- and served with Mike Pence at the House GOP Conference when Pence chaired the conference. His wife Mary is a former Pence communications director at the GOP conference as well.

It took almost a year for successful Senate confirmation of Vought’s nomination, and Pence was there in the Senate chamber to break a 50-50 tie on Feb. 28, 2018.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Over the course of his 18-months as special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, Robert Mueller and his team have racked up more than $25 million in expenditures, according to the latest Justice Department filing, including $8.5 million over the past six months.

The numbers reflect spending as of Sept. 30.

In recent tweets, President Donald Trump has accused Mueller of spending more than $30 million on an "illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt" that has "shattered so many innocent lives."

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

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Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The special counsel’s office has filed court documents in response to retired Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn’s sentencing memorandum, in which attorneys for the former national security adviser suggested he was “unguarded” during an FBI interview in 2017.

“Nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI,” the special counsel retorted in court documents on Friday.

The special counsel's team underscored that it felt Flynn's actions were his own.

“The defendant chose to make false statements about his communications with the Russian ambassador weeks before the FBI interview when he lied about that topic to the media, the incoming Vice President, and other members of the Presidential Transition Team.”

The special counsel's comments come in response to a filing by Flynn's defense team on Tuesday in which they gave more information on the January 2017 interview between Flynn and two FBI agents.

In December of that year, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the interview about contacts he had with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition -- from election day 2016 until President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Earlier this week, the judge set Friday as a deadline for the government to turn over documents related to the January 2017 meeting for review. Heavily redacted versions of those documents were submitted alongside the filing Friday.

Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser before he left the White House in February 2017, has been cooperating with investigators since, though most of his 19 interviews with the special counsel team occurred early this year, a source close to Flynn has told ABC News.

In the filing earlier this week, Flynn's defense team maintained his guilty plea but suggested that additional context was needed to understand his lies during the FBI interview in January 2017.

Flynn's defense team said that he was not warned of the consequences of lying to the agents before his interview.

The filing said that the agents were concerned that warning Flynn "might adversely affect the rapport."

The office of the special counsel recommended in a filing last week that Flynn receive no jail time in exchange for what they called his "significant" cooperation with the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Flynn's legal team echoed calls for leniency in his sentencing.

President Trump tweeted about Flynn on Thursday, alleging that the special counsel had recommended a lighter sentence because prosecutors were "embarrassed" by the way Flynn was treated and suggesting in interviews throughout the day on Thursday that Flynn had not actually lied to investigators.

"The FBI said he didn’t lie and they overrode the FBI," Trump tweeted. "They want to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true by catching them in the smallest of misstatements. Sad!......"

The White House did not clarify what FBI statements the president was referring to when asked by ABC News.

Last year, however, Flynn departed the White House in a move Trump explained in a tweet at the time.

"I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI," Trump wrote in the 2017 tweet. "He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

Flynn's supporters have long insisted he didn't lie to the FBI agents, who included Peter Strozk, a senior agent later dismissed because of embarrassing texts he exchanged with now-former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

The meeting with Flynn in the White House was set up by then-FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe, who served as the agency’s acting director after James Comey was fired by Trump as FBI director in May 2017.

McCabe was fired himself this year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Trump repeatedly complained about McCabe. Flynn's lawyer noted the firings in his sentencing memo.

Sessions, in turn, was fired last month.

Flynn is set to be sentenced on Tuesday.

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Credit: Office of the Governor(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin's outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Friday legislation that weakens the authority of his incoming Democratic successor amid national consternation among Democrats, who decried the legislation as a blatant power grab that disrespects the will of the state's voters.

When asked Friday whether or not the legislation, which limits the governor's power over several state agencies and prevents the state's newly elected Democratic attorney general from pulling out of a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, undermines the will of the voters that elected a Democrat, Tony Evers, to succeed him, Walker said no.

"The will of the voters four years ago was to elect me to a term that ends January 7th," Walker said at a bill signing ceremony in Green Bay, "So I don't stop, just because the media treats an election as though that's the end of a term, it's not."

Walker said the outrage over the legislation was nothing more than "hype and hysteria" generated by the national media, and that Evers will remain on of the strongest chief executives in the country following his decision to sign the bills into law.

"I will be signing each of these three bills in their entirety. We believe they fulfill the criteria that we set going forward," Walker said flanked by the Republican leaders of the Wisconsin State legislature.

Evers had been trying to make a personal appeal to Walker in the past week to veto the bills, but ultimately his attempts were unsuccessful.

The Democrat immediately slammed Walker's decision, saying it "overrides" the will of Wisconsin voters.

"Today, Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin. This will no doubt be his legacy," Evers wrote in a statement released Friday, "The people demanded a change on November 6th, and they asked us to solve problems, not pick petty, political fights. The people of Wisconsin expect more from our government than what has happened in our state over the past few weeks."

Some in the state worry that the legislation sets a dangerous precedent and encourages both parties to take similar steps to curb their opponent's power in the wake of an electoral defeat.

"You don’t want to bring a Nerf gun to a knife fight. If one player is violating norms and the other player says well I’m still going to behave as if they still exist, then you’re at a real disadvantage," University of Wisconsin political science professor Kenneth Mayer told ABC News in an interview, "Over time, if voters are okay with that, or in a position where they can’t respond, then you have serious questions about the meaning of democratic rule."



The episode continues to raise questions about the acceptability of partisan responses to election losses, and a potentially destabilizing precedent set by this and a similar situation playing out across the lake in the state of Michigan, where the Republican-controlled House and Senate are seeking to limit the power of incoming Democratic state officials, including Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer.

The situations in Michigan and Wisconsin are reminiscent of a 2016 attempt by the GOP-led state legislature in North Carolina to limit the powers of an incoming Democratic governor.

The courts eventually ruled that the legislation violated the state's constitution.

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Tennessee State Capitol - Credit: Ron_Thomas/iStock(NASHVILLE) -- After drawing a link between vaccines and autism earlier this week during a town hall with constituents, incoming Republican congressman Mark Green of Tennessee partially walked back those comments Wednesday following an uproar over the scientifically inaccurate statements.

“Recent comments I made at a town hall regarding vaccines have been misconstrued,” Green said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “I want to reiterate my wife and I vaccinated our children, and we believe, and advise others they should have their children vaccinated.”

On Tuesday, the congressman-elect, a medical doctor, told the group assembled in Franklin, Tennessee, that "there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines."

"As a physician, I can make that argument and I can look at it academically and make the argument against the [Centers for Disease Control], if they really want to engage me on it," Green added, in video obtained by The Tennessean, after he had pledged to "to stand on the CDC’s desk and get the real data on vaccines."

Green, who was elected last month to represent Tennessee's 7th Congressional District, was referring to a belief that has grown in recent years stemming from a debunked 1998 study that drew a link between vaccines and autism. The study was eventually retracted and the doctor who conducted it lost his medical license. Despite this, the CDC has recorded a steady rise in the number of children who are not receiving vaccines or exempt from school vaccination requirements.

Even after the congressman-elect's follow-up statement became public, he continued to face backlash, including from members of his own political party.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., tweeted Thursday: "Vaccines take deadly, awful, ravaging diseases from horror to history."

"Vaccines save lives," he added, attaching video of himself speaking about the topic in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Alexander made no specific reference to Green in the post, however.

Later Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Health released a terse statement on the subject.

"Vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccines save lives," it read. "The Tennessee Department of Health welcomes discussion with Tennessee clinicians and scientists who would like to examine the evidence on this topic."

Green, who received his medical degree while in the U.S. Army, served as a flight surgeon and later founded a health care company. After a stint in the Tennessee State Senate, he was nominated to be Secretary of the Army by President Donald Trump in April 2017, but withdrew his nomination amid controversy surrounding past comments in which he likened being transgender to having a disease.

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iStock/JPecha(WASHINGTON) -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her first public remarks following a health scare last month, hailed immigrants as the “vanguard” of an effort to remove “stains” of discrimination from American society.

“The Constitution sets out the aspiration to form a more perfect union,” Ginsburg said, addressing 31 newly naturalized American citizens who had just taken the oath of allegiance. “While we have made huge progress, the work of perfection is far from done. Many stains remain."

“As well informed citizens you will play a vital part in that endeavor,” she said. “First by voting in elections, serving on juries and participating in civil discourse.”

Ginsburg spoke in near darkness at the National Archives, standing before the delicate original documents of the U.S. Constitution.

Saturday marks the official 227th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

As much of Washington remains embroiled in a heated debate over immigration and border security, Ginsburg pointed out that more than 20 million current citizens were born in other countries, coming to America “to provide a better life for themselves and their families.”

She argued, in a striking contrast to the rhetoric coming from the White House, that “the founders of the US proclaimed that the heart of America would be its citizens, not its rulers.”

“May the spirit of liberty … be your beacon,” she told America’s newest citizens, who came from 26 different countries, “as you play your part in helping to achieve a more perfect union.”



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@Reince/Twitter(WASHINGTON) -- With current White House chief of staff John Kelly now set to depart by year’s end, President Donald Trump has ramped up the candidate interview process as he scrambles to fill the top White House position.

One-time deputy campaign manager David Bossie was seen at the White House Friday where he's expected to speak with the president about the position. He arrived with Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, with whom he's recently written a book.

ABC News has learned former New Jersey governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie interviewed for the position on Thursday, but released a statement Friday saying he's asked the president to no longer consider him.

"It's an honor to have the President consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief-of-staff," Christie said. "However, I've told the President that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment. As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post."

The president is expected to continue the interview process over the weekend and next week, sources said.

Providing an update on his search Thursday, the president said he has whittled his list down to five candidates.

“We’re interviewing people for chief of staff, yes,” Trump told reporters, saying he has five “terrific” candidates lined up for the position so far.

Sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking told ABC News that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway are also on the list.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president is expected to make a decision on the post soon. He added, however, that Trump could decide to “extend” the current deal with Kelly. Kellyanne Conway also said Thursday on CNN that Kelly's job could extend past the new year while the president continues his search.

“We expect him to make an announcement pretty quickly,” Gidley said. “Obviously if the president and the chief of staff make another deal and extend it, they can do that. It’s their prerogative to do so. Right now, currently, John Kelly is expected to leave at the first of the year.”

Kelly has served in the role of chief of staff since July 2017 and was initially credited with bringing order to a chaotic White House after the president’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, lasted in the role for fewer than 200 days.

The two were spotted together Thursday evening at the White House Christmas party.

Whoever ultimately replaces Kelly will become the third person to fill the position within the first two years of the Trump administration, marking an unprecedented level of turnover for the top job within the first two years.

Just a few months ago, Trump asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign, and Kelly accepted, several White House officials confirmed to ABC News.

However, his departure is not unexpected. Kelly’s relationship with the president has been at times strained over the course of his 16 months of the job and his eventual departure has been long speculated.

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U.S. Senate Photographic Studio/Rebecca Hammel(PHOENIX, Arizona) -- Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican appointed following the passing of longtime Sen. John McCain earlier this year, will step down at the end of the month, the state's governor announced Friday.

"When Jon Kyl returned to the Senate in September, our country faced many critical issues. Arizona needed someone who could hit the ground running from day one and represent our state with experience and confidence – and that’s exactly what Senator Kyl has done," Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey wrote in a statement released Friday, "Over the last few months, Senator Kyl served with the same integrity and statesmanship that marked his 26 years in Congress."

Kyl, who previously served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years and became a high-ranking member of the GOP caucus, delivered the news to Ducey in a letter dated Dec. 12.

"When I accepted your appointment, I agreed to complete the work of the 116th Congress and then reevaluate continuing to serve. I have concluded that it would be best if I resign so that your new appointee can begin the new term with all other Senators in January 2019 and can serve a full two (potentially four) years," Kyl wrote in his letter to Ducey.

Under Arizona state law, Ducey now has the power to appoint a replacement that will serve until the next general election in Arizona, which will take place in 2020.

The news of Kyl's resignation immediately fuels speculation over who Ducey will appoint to the seat next.

One name that has been the subject of intense speculation is GOP Congresswoman Martha McSally, who narrowly lost her bid for the Senate last month to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

McSally, a former fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, was first elected to Congress in 2014, winning the race for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, a traditionally Democratic district along Arizona's southern border.

McSally defeated her two main rivals, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Sen. Kelli Ward, in the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate primary to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, receiving 52.9 percent of the vote.

Richard Herrera, a political science professor at Arizona State University, told ABC News last month that the close nature of the recent Senate race could help make McSally a front-runner.

"I think it's very plausible," Herrera said.

"I would think she's the favorite," he added, noting that the close nature of the Senate race and McSally's support for President Donald Trump could be helpful advantages for her.

"She checks a lot of boxes," Herrera said.

However, there is a growing sentiment among some Republicans in Arizona that McSally had her shot at a seat, and that Ducey should look for a replacement elsewhere.

"There is momentum building for an “Anybody But McSally” appointment among the Arizona donor community," Dan Eberhart, an Arizona-based GOP donor told ABC News, "Arizona Republicans have a deep bench of qualified, electable candidates. She should be strongly considered, but Ducey’s duty is the pick the best Arizonan."

Neither Ducey's office nor McSally's campaign returned ABC News' requests for comment on her potential appointment to the U.S. Senate.

Other potential replacements include Kirk Adams, Ducey's chief of staff, former GOP U.S. Reps. Matt Salmon and John Shadegg, Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire and Arizona State Treasurer Eileen Klein.

In announcing the news of the Kyl's resignation, Ducey also praised Kyl's longtime service to the state of Arizona which also included eight years in the U.S. House.

"Senator Kyl didn’t need to return to the Senate. His legacy as one of Arizona’s most influential and important political figures was already without question. But he did return, and I remain deeply grateful for his willingness to step up and serve again when Arizona needed him. I wish him and his family all the best," Ducey wrote.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to arrange hush-money payments with two women because then-candidate Trump “was very concerned about how this would affect the election” if their allegations of affairs became public, the president’s former personal attorney said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

Cohen’s comments are his first since being sentenced earlier this week to three years in federal prison for financial crimes, lying to Congress and two campaign finance violations in connection with the deals with the women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who claim past affairs with Trump.

[ Click here to read the full transcript of Cohen's interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos ]

“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” Cohen told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “I stood up before the world [Wednesday] and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.”

When asked if the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course,” adding that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”

Cohen said he is “angry at himself” for his role in the deals, but that he did it out of “blind loyalty” to Trump.

“I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty,” he said.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have implicated, but not charged, the president in the deals reached in the closing weeks of the 2016 election. They allege that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, according to court filings. Prosecutors also reached a plea agreement with AMI, the publishers of the National Inquirer, in which the tabloid admitted to making a $150,000 payment to McDougal “in concert” with the Trump campaign.

The president has denied allegations of the affairs -- but has had shifting explanations about when he learned about the payments to the women. He has also contended that the deals were private and unrelated to the campaign and that if anything illegal occurred, it was Cohen’s responsibility.

Trump has lashed out at Cohen since his sentencing, contending in a Thursday tweet that his former close confidant only agreed to plead guilty “in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did.”

“It is absolutely not true,” Cohen said. “Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth.”

Cohen was particularly distressed by another Trump tweet on Thursday, in which the president implied that prosecutors investigating Cohen had let his wife and father-in-law off the hook.

“Instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do?” Cohen said. “He attacks my family.”

And Cohen refuted the president’s contention that he never directed Cohen to do anything wrong.

“I don't think there is anybody that believes that,” Cohen told Stephanopoulos. “First of all, nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.

“He knows the truth. I know the truth. Others know the truth,” Cohen continued. “And here is the truth: People of the United States of America, people of the world, don't believe what he is saying. The man doesn't tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”

When confronted about his convictions for lying to Congress and for tax evasion and banking crimes, Cohen said he was “done with the lying. I am done being loyal to President Trump and my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son and this country.”

“Why should we believe you now?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful,” Cohen replied. “There’s a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.”

Cohen -- who is due to report to prison on March 6 -- has professed his willingness to continue to answer questions for special counsel Robert Mueller and other federal and state investigators.

He declined in the interview to answer specific questions about the Mueller investigation “out of respect for process.”

“I don’t want to jeopardize any of their investigations,” he said.

But when asked if he thinks the president is telling the truth about the Russia probe, Cohen replied simply, “No.”

Cohen once said he would “take a bullet” for the president, but now he finds himself opposing the president and facing the prospect of becoming a witness against him.

“It’s never good to be on the wrong side of the president of the United States of America, but somehow or another this task has now fallen onto my shoulders and as I also stated ... I will spend the rest of my life in order to fix the mistake that I made.”

Cohen said as he observes Trump’s actions in the White House, he barely recognizes the man he served for more than a decade at the Trump organization.

“He’s a very different individual,” Cohen said. “I think the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It’s not like the Trump organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done. There’s a system here; he doesn’t understand the system and it’s sad because the country has never been more divisive and one of the hopes that I have out of the punishment that I’ve received as well as the cooperation that I have given I will be remembered in history as helping to bring this country back together.

“I will not be the villain of his story,” he said.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The federal judge in retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's case has ordered that documents related to Flynn's 2017 FBI interview be turned over by the government for his review, just days before Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced for lying to the FBI.

And the order comes as President Donald Trump and Flynn’s supporters have escalated their arguments that Flynn was pressured or tricked into lying.

The documents concern an interview between Flynn and two FBI agents at the White House in January 2017.

In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the interview about contacts he had with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition -- from election day 2016 until Trump's inauguration.

Flynn, who became Trump’s national security adviser before he resigned in February 2017, has been cooperating with investigators since, though most of his 19 interviews with the special counsel team occurred early this year, a source close to Flynn has told ABC News.

It wasn't immediately clear why U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan has ordered the FBI interview report -- or “302” form -- be shown to him. But one Republican lawyer surmised that the judge -- who replaced another judge shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty a year ago -- was concerned by allegations made by Flynn's defense lawyer that the FBI misled Flynn about what he thought was an informal meeting with the agents at the White House.

“They’re not changing the admission that he was lying, but they are saying there are mitigating factors,” Solomon Wisenberg, who served as deputy independent counsel in the Ken Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton, told ABC News Thursday.

It did not appear to be a move by Flynn’s lawyer to get the conviction tossed out, he added.

“It’s reputation management,” Wisenberg speculated. "It's his lawyer's last chance to say there are mitigating circumstances."

Flynn is set to be sentenced on Tuesday.

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller recommended in a filing that Flynn receive no prison time in exchange for what they called his "significant" cooperation with the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn's legal team responded to the special counsel's filing Tuesday by echoing calls for leniency in Flynn's sentencing.

However, Flynn's defense team also offered more information on the meeting in which Flynn has admitted he lied to the FBI. According to their filing, Flynn was not warned of the consequences of lying to the agents before his interview. The filing said that the agents were concerned that warning Flynn "might adversely affect the rapport."

In the defense's explanation of the meeting, the filing references in a footnote the documents now being requested by the judge.

Trump tweeted about Flynn on Thursday, alleging that the special counsel had recommended a lighter sentence because prosecutors were "embarrassed" by the way Flynn was treated.

"The FBI said he didn’t lie and they overrode the FBI," Trump tweeted. "They want to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true by catching them in the smallest of misstatements. Sad!......"

Flynn's supporters have long insisted he didn't lie to the FBI agents, who included Peter Strozk, a senior agent later dismissed because of embarrasing texts he exchanged with now-former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

The meeting with Flynn in the White House was set up by then-FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe, who served as the agency’s acting director after James Comey was fired by Trump as FBI director in May 2017. McCabe was fired himself this year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Trump repeatedly complained about McCabe. Flynn's lawyer noted the firings in his sentencing memo.

Last year, however, Trump seemed to admit knowledge of Flynn's lies in a tweet that read, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

The judge has not, as of now, altered Flynn's sentencing date in light of his request for documents. The government has until Friday at 3 p.m. to submit the requested documents to the judge and to respond to the recent defense filing.

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Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his first reaction since his longtime personal -- and now former-- attorney and fixer was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes committed while working for him, President Donald Trump again attempted to distance himself, repeating legal arguments and saying he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," contrary to what federal prosecutors contend.

"He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel,' and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid," Trump said in an early morning series of tweets on Thursday.

I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called “advice of counsel,” and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

 

....stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

....guilty even on a civil basis. Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did-including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

The president expanded on his tweets in an interview later in the morning with Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner.

“Whatever he did he did on his own, he’s a lawyer, a lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing – that’s why you pay them a lot of money,” Trump said.

A federal judge in Manhattan sentenced Cohen for multiple crimes, including campaign finance violations, despite the president's tweeted assertion that "this was not campaign finance." Cohen was also found guilty of tax evasion and lying to Congress.

The campaign finance violations stemmed from hush money payments Cohen made to two women who alleged affairs with then-candidate Trump, which prosecutors and Cohen alleged in court documents that Trump directed. Though the payments were made with the intent to influence the outcome of the election, prosecutors said, they weren't disclosed as such.

The president said he'd never "directed" Cohen to "break the law" and said liability fell to Cohen "if a mistake is made."

Federal prosecutors contend Cohen did not make a mistake and had the requisite knowledge of the law, as federal election laws require proof that violations were committed knowingly and willfully.

But Trump in his Thursday interview came prepped with multiple clips from commentators who have argued that Cohen's actions didn't amount to campaign finance violations and that Trump similarly shouldn't face legal jeopardy.

Trump also claimed that the campaign finance charges Cohen pled guilty to were only intended to "embarrass" the president, and sought to downplay his relationship to his former fixer and personal lawyer.

"He did very low-level work," Trump said. "He did more public relations than he did law."

Prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York charged Cohen with eight felony counts in August, including tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, and campaign finance violations. Special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, tacked on an additional count of lying to Congress last month. Cohen pleaded guilty to all nine counts and struck a deal to cooperate with ongoing investigations.

Hours after Cohen was sentenced Wednesday, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced they'd also reached an agreement with American Media Company, Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer, in connection with the $150,000 payment made to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate.

In the agreement between prosecutors and AMI, which was signed on Sept. 20 and made public Wednesday, “AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” the press release read.

But Trump in his interview claimed he wasn't aware of any payment made to A.M.I. to facilitate the alleged hush agreement.

"I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid," Trump said. "I was asking the question -- I don't think we made a payment."

Through the deal McDougal made with AMI, she transferred to the company the rights to her story of an alleged 10-month romantic affair with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied that the affair took place.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As a partial government shutdown looms, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi flatly dismissed President Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion towards a border wall, scoffed at his claim that Mexico is implicitly paying for the wall as a result of the renegotiated trade agreement and revealed that she told him on Tuesday, after a public confrontation at the White House, that she is praying for him.

Flexing her muscles as she attempts to reassume the speakership in the next Congress, Pelosi said Thursday that the impasse over the border wall is likely to result in a long-term continuing resolution for all the appropriations that lawmakers have not agreed to fund yet.

“[Republicans] do not have the votes to pass the president's proposal -- $5 billion dollars, whatever it is -- for the wall,” Pelosi said. “Nothing is going to change in that regard.”

Trump met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday in the Oval Office and they publicly sparred over the border wall funding.

"You said 'I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall,'" Schumer said to Trump.

The president shot back, "I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. People in this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won't blame you for it. The last time, you shut it down. It didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down.

"I'm going to shut it down for border security."

On Thursday, Pelosi said that following the wild exchange, she told the president in private that she is praying for him. She also revealed that she hasn't spoken to Trump since he called Tuesday to follow up after the meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Trump tweeted, that “just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL.”

“He said that, but it doesn't make any sense,” Pelosi, D-California, said. “The American people are still paying the price. Mexico is not paying for this wall. But maybe he doesn't understand how a trade agreement works for him to say such a thing.”

“It's really unfortunate that the president has decided that he would shut down government at a time when the markets are in a mood, where people are losing their jobs in some industries. The auto industry, for one, where there's uncertainty in terms of the financial security of America's working families," she said. “That’s a drastic thing for him to do, especially as we leave the Congress for the holidays because that means it would be shut down for a while."

Lawmakers must come to terms by the end of the day Friday, Dec. 21 or there will be a partial government shutdown. Without a deal, up to 420,000 federal employees would be faced to work without pay and more than 380,000 others would face furloughs.

If there is a shutdown, Pelosi promised that House Democrats would vote in January to reopen government, which she conceded is little consolation to federal employees working paycheck-to-paycheck.

“[Trump’s] taking full responsibility for the Trump shut down,” Pelosi said. “Perhaps he doesn't understand people need their paychecks. Maybe that's not the life he leads.”

“It's not enough to say we’ll pay you in January when people have to make ends meet in December. Of course if he went down that path as soon as we took over the Congress we would pass legislation to open up government and send it to the Senate and we think it would then go to his desk. But we don't want to have to go to that place.”

“I don't know why we just don't proceed to keep government open so that people can be home for the holidays and enjoying all of that," she added.

Pelosi said that Democrats are essentially waiting for Republicans to bring them back into negotiations.

“We're not going for the $5 billion for the wall,” she said. “We simply are not.”

“Let’s hope that there won't be a shutdown of government. That's a very bad thing to do and maybe the president doesn't grasp that but that is very harmful to our country,” she said. “The only obstacle is the president of the United States.”

The House of Representatives has adjourned until Wednesday, though appropriators are expected to continue negotiations throughout the weekend.

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