Garland orders halt to any further federal executions

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered a temporary halt to the Justice Department advocating any scheduling of further executions of federal inmates, according to a memo.

Garland in a memo to senior officials at the department Thursday echoed his own recently stated reservations about use of the death penalty, noting a number of defendants who were later exonerated as well as statistics showing possible discriminatory impact on minorities.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” he wrote in the memo. “That obligation has special force in capital cases. Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases.”

“Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers. In the meantime, the Department must take care to scrupulously maintain our commitment to fairness and humane treatment in the administration of existing federal laws governing capital sentences,” he continued.

The new directive comes after Garland’s predecessor in the job, William Barr, had resumed the department’s use of capital punishment against inmates a year ago, after a nearly two-decade lapse. He also pushed for executions of several federal prisoners during the transition period before President Joe Biden — who opposes the death penalty — took office.

The federal government in 2020 executed more people than all 50 states combined, according to a year-end report from the Death Penalty Institute, a non-partisan, death penalty information center that tracks death row inmates and executions.

The directive, however, is not expected to impact the department’s position taken recently in the case of Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a person familiar with the matter told ABC News. Officials last month urged the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling and reinstate Tsarnaev’s death penalty despite Biden’s stated opposition to capital punishment.

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

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Special election to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom set for Sept. 14

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California voters will decide whether to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and replace him with another candidate in an election set for Sept. 14, the lieutenant governor announced Thursday.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber certified the gubernatorial recall petition earlier Thursday, prompting Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis to set an election date between 60 and 80 days from the date of certification.

While the signatures have only just been officially certified, Weber announced in late April that the organizer of the recall petition had collected more than the approximately 1.5 million validated signatures required.

During a 30-day period, voters who signed the recall petition could request their signatures be removed, but only 43 voters did so, Weber announced last week. More than 1.7 million signatures supporting the recall were verified.

The California Department of Finance estimated on Thursday the cost of the recall election to be $276 million.

Recent polling suggests Newsom is on his way to easily defeating the recall effort.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California’s May statewide survey, only 40% of likely voters would vote to recall Newsom if the election were held, while 57% would vote against recalling him as governor. To successfully recall the state’s governor, a majority of voters must vote “yes.”

Among Californians, 55% approve of the way Newsom is handling his job overall — and on his handling of COVID specifically, he fares even better, with 64% of Californians approving of his response, according to PPIC.

Newsom’s campaign has blasted the recall as a partisan, Republican-led effort that’s a waste of taxpayer money.

In response to the date being set, Juan Rodriguez, the leader of the Newsom-aligned group, “Stop The Republican Recall,” said in a statement, “This Republican recall is a naked attempt by Trump Republicans to grab control in California — powered by the same Republicans who refused to accept the results of the presidential election and are now pushing voter suppression laws across the country. On September 14, Californians will have the chance to defend our state and reject this Republican power grab once and for all.”

Most voters likely know Newsom is a Democrat, but back in February 2020, when responding to the recall petition, his team failed to indicate he wanted his party affiliation on the potential recall ballot. A spokesperson for the secretary of state confirmed to ABC News Tuesday that Newsom’s campaign filed a notice of his party preference to Weber on June 19, but the secretary declined to accept it, saying in a statement, “The Secretary of State’s office has a ministerial duty to accept timely filed documents. Acceptance of filings beyond a deadline requires judicial resolution.”

In a statement Thursday, Orrin Heatlie, the chief proponent of the recall effort, said they objected to the legal move, while Mike Netter, another proponent of the recall, blasted Newsom, saying, “The absurdity of this suit is almost surreal. This Governor is so focused on identity politics it is that important to him to actually sue his own appointed Secretary of State to demand she override a regulation which he signed into law.”

The California Patriot Coalition, which Heatlie and Netter co-founded, plan to intervene in the lawsuit next week.

When voters cast ballots, they will face two questions. The first is whether they want to recall Newsom and the second is who they want to replace Newsom if a majority of voters support the recall.

Though the recall organizers said they are nonpartisan, Republicans have rallied around the effort, including the California Republican Party, whose chairwoman called Newsom the “worst governor in California history” in a statement after the date was set.

So far, no major Democrats have announced campaigns to be on the recall ballot to replace Newsom. Organizers and Republican candidates vying to replace the governor have pointed to his handling of the pandemic, in particular government-mandated restrictions on businesses and schools, and general government overreach.

Prominent Republicans in the race to replace him include San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Newsom’s 2018 challenger John Cox and reality star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

This is the sixth official attempt to recall Newsom. Only one California governor has ever been successfully recalled in the United States. In 2003, California’s Democratic governor, Gray Davis, lost the recall election, and actor and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the election to replace him.

According to PPIC’s polling, Davis’s approval rating was significantly worse than Newsom’s ever has been while in office. In five polls over nine months leading up to the 2003 election, over 70% of California voters disapproved of Davis. The state today is also far more Democratic than it was in 2003.

ABC News’ Meg Cunningham contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump calls indictment against his company and long-serving CFO ‘shameful’ and a ‘disgrace’

David Dee Delgado/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump called the criminal charges unsealed Thursday against his organization’s long-serving chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg a “disgrace” and “shameful,” telling ABC News he is a “tremendous man.”

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty in Manhattan State Supreme Court to 15 charges related to what the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office general counsel Carey Dunn called a “15-year-long tax fraud scheme.”

Weisselberg allegedly benefitted from the scheme to the tune of $1.7 million, Dunn said.

“During the operation of the scheme, the defendants arranged for Weisselberg to receive indirect employee compensation from the Trump Organization in the approximate amount of $1.76 million … in ways that enabled the corporate defendants to avoid reporting it to the tax authorities,” the indictment said.

Weisselberg arrived at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with his lawyer hours after a grand jury on Wednesday voted to indict him and the Trump Organization on the charges, which include grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

A special grand jury in Manhattan voted Wednesday to indict Trump’s firm and its chief financial officer.

The indictment said that beginning in 2005, Weisselberg used the Trump corporation’s bank account to pay the rent for his apartment and his utility bills, and to cover nearly $360,000 in upscale private school payments for his family and nearly $200,000 in luxury car leases.

“Weisselberg intentionally caused the indirect compensation payments to be omitted from his personal tax returns, despite knowing that those payments represented taxable income and were treated as compensation by the Trump Corporation in internal records,” said the indictment.

“Allen Weisselberg is a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who has worked at the Trump Organization for 48 years,” the Trump Organization said in a statement about the charges. “He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President. The District Attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice; this is politics.”

Trump has called the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt,” and said that the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James are pressuring Weisselberg to lie against him. When asked if he thought Weisselberg would cooperate, he told ABC News, “No.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Supreme Court strikes down California’s donor disclosure requirement for charities

Douglas Rissing/iStock

(WASHINGTON) — The ruling is a victory for Republicans, who have enacted 22 laws restricting voting in 14 states.
In a second significant opinion Thursday, the US Supreme Court divided 6-3 along ideological lines to strike down a California law that required charities to privately disclose the identities of major donors to the state attorney general.

State officials had argued that the identities, which not-for-profit charities are allowed to keep secret from the public, would help enforce rules around tax-exempt status and catch potential fraud.

A pair of conservative groups that challenged the requirement — and backed by the ACLU, NAACP and others — argued the state was unnecessarily violating the donors’ First Amendment right to free association and that prior leaks of the information exposed donors to harassment and attacks.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, sided with the charities, concluding “the Attorney General’s disclosure requirement imposes a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights. And this burden cannot be justified on the ground that the regime is narrowly tailored to investigating charitable wrongdoing, or that the state’s interest in administrative convenience is sufficiently important.”

Justice Roberts wrote that the state did not sufficiently consider alternative means of gathering the information or protecting against fraud. He said the current requirement could create a “chilling effect” on donors because of the state’s documented history of leaks of private donor information.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, said the charities challenging the rule failed to show any concrete harm by the disclosure requirement.

“The Court jettisons completely the longstanding requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate an actual First Amendment burden,” Sotomayor wrote. “It can point to no record evidence demonstrating that the regulation is likely to chill a substantial portion of the donors. These moves are wholly inconsistent with the Court’s precedents and our Court’s long-held view that disclosure requirements only indirectly burden First Amendment rights.”

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center summed up the impact of this case as relatively limited, if disappointing, to transparency advocates and watchdogs in a statement.

“Wealthy special interests scored a win, albeit a narrow one. We at Campaign Legal Center are disappointed that the majority chose to sidestep established precedent recognizing the important public interests in nonprofit reporting and relatively minimal burdens such reporting imposes. While the standard of review applied by the Court here was unduly skeptical, it is one transparency laws in the electoral context easily meet, limiting the reach of this case. The decision does not call into question the longstanding laws and regulations requiring public disclosure of campaign spending.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden visits Florida to meet with first responders, families impacted in Surfside collapse

Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — Biden and first lady to meet with families of Surfside condo collapse victims
The death toll has risen to 18 after the bodies of two children were found on Wednesda…

President Joe Biden is on the ground in Surfside, Florida, Thursday following the devastating partial collapse of a beachside condominium building last week that has killed at least 18 people.

The president departed the White House early Thursday morning and was planning to spend nearly eight hours on the ground in Florida. He’s already met with local officials and thanked first responders engaged in the ongoing search efforts ahead of consoling families affected by the disaster and delivering remarks at 3:50 p.m. ET. First lady Jill Biden is accompanying him for the visit.

At an earlier command briefing with local officials, seated next to Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Biden immediately made a big offer to cover the cost of the response effort.

“I think there’s more we can do, including, I think we have the power, and I’ll know shortly, to be able to pick up 100% of the cost to the county and the state,” Biden said, eliciting a surprised reaction from Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who put her hand on Biden’s arm.

“I think the governor will you tell you, anything he asked for, he got,” Biden said, ahead of DeSantis nodding in agreement.

Biden took a moment to turn to politics, noting the bipartisan display of cooperation

“We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate when it’s really important,” Biden said.

Meeting later with a group of first responders, Biden was effusive with praise.

“I just want you to know that we understand,” he told the responder. “What you’re doing now, is just hard as hell. Even psychologically. And I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He also invoked three personal stories to demonstrate the importance of first responders in his own life, referring to his experience having an aneurysm, describing his two sons being pulled out of the car crash that killed his first wife and daughter with the jaws of life and explaining that his home burned down after being struck by lightning.

“You saved my life. Literally, my fire department saved my life,” he said.

Search and rescue efforts were paused Thursday morning due to concerns about the stability of the remaining structure and the potential danger it poses to the crews. Structural engineers are on-site monitoring the situation as officials evaluate possible options and determine the next steps, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that the safety of our first responders is paramount and to continue our search and rescue operations as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said at an earlier press conference.

Officials were unable to provide a timeline for when the urgent operation will resume.

Separately, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the visit has been closely coordinated with officials on the ground to ensure that it does not divert any resources away from search and rescue operations.

“They want to thank the heroic first responders, search and rescue teams, and everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock, and meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search and rescue efforts continue. And they want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under the emergency declaration,” Psaki said earlier this week.

En route to Florida, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that local leaders urged the Bidens to visit Thursday, saying the time was right despite ongoing search and rescue efforts.

“The message that we’ve been given is very clear from the mayor’s office, from the governor’s office, from local officials, which is, they wanted us to come today, think now is the time to come, to offer up, offer up comfort and show unity from not just from him, but the country. And so this is why he and the first lady decided to come today, and he thought this was the right time to do it,” Jean-Pierre said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Supreme Court upholds Arizona restrictions in major voting rights, racial discrimination case


(WASHINGTON) — A divided US Supreme Court on Thursday upheld two Republican-backed Arizona voting restrictions, rejecting claims that they discriminate against minority voters and imposing new limits on the landmark Voting Rights Act.

The 6-to-3 decision, breaking along ideological lines, overturned a lower court ruling to uphold Arizona’s policy of invalidating ballots cast in the wrong precinct and a law criminalizing the collection of mail ballots by third-party community groups or campaigns.

Democrats had argued that data show both restrictions disproportionately hurt Latino and Native American voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits any policy that “results in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote of any citizen on account of race or color.”

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s six conservatives, said Section 2 requires equal openness to voting, not equal outcomes.

“It appears that the core of [Section 2] is the requirement that voting be ‘equally open.’ The statute’s reference to equal ‘opportunity’ may stretch that concept to some degree to include consideration of a person’s ability to use the means that are equally open. But equal openness remains the touchstone,” Alito wrote.

“Mere inconvenience cannot be enough to demonstrate a violation of [Section 2],” he added.

Civil rights advocates, Democrats and the court’s three liberal justices warned that the decision’s more stringent approach to racial disparity in voting will weaken the protections intended by Congress.

“This Court has no right to remake Section 2. Maybe some think that vote suppression is a relic of history — and so the need for a potent Section 2 has come and gone. But Congress gets to make that call,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent. “Because it has not done so, this Court’s duty is to apply the law as it is written.”

“The law that confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs; pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy; and now stands as the crucial tool to achieve that goal. That law, of all laws, deserves the sweep and power Congress gave it. That law, of all laws, should not be diminished by this Court,” she wrote.

The decision is the court’s most significant on voting rights in nearly a decade since the justices in 2013 effectively gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had required states with a history of discrimination to “pre-clear” any new voting rules with the Justice Department.

The ruling could have a sweeping impact on the fate of state election laws as dozens of GOP-led states push for voting restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s claims of 2020 election fraud. Republicans in 48 states are pushing more than 389 restrictive bills that would make it more difficult to cast a ballot, according to the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.

While the Court’s conservative majority declined to lay out a sweeping new test for when state voting rules discriminate on race, it did make clear they will cast a skeptical eye on future challenges to similar measures.

Justice Alito offered a series of “guideposts” for judges to consider: the size of a voting rule’s burden; the degree to which it departs from past practice; the size of racial disparities; and the overall level of opportunity afforded voters within a state’s entire system for casting a ballot.

“No one suggests that discrimination in voting has been extirpated or that the threat has been eliminated,” Alito wrote, “but Section 2 does not deprive the states of their authority to establish non-discriminatory voting rules.”

Justice Kagan called Alito’s list of guidelines “a list of mostly made-up factors at odds with Section 2 itself.”

The law, she says, is written with a focus squarely on the effects of a voting restriction. “It asks not about why state officials enacted a rule, but about whether that rule results in racial discrimination. The discrimination that is of concern is inequality in voting opportunity.”

Alito fired back, calling Kagan’s interpretation “radical.”

Democrats and civil rights advocates say the guidelines laid out by Alito will make it more difficult to win legal challenges against restrictions like tighter rules for absentee ballots, reductions of drop boxes, stricter ID requirements, bans on ballot collection, purges of voter rolls, and even criminalizing of water distribution to people in long voting lines.

“This is a ruling that definitely will make it easier for states to impose restrictions, harder for plaintiffs and voting rights groups to challenge these kinds of restrictions, and could really impact the outcome in close elections going forward,” said Kate Shaw, Cardozo law professor and ABC News legal analyst.

President Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s decision and that it inflicts “severe damage” to the Voting Rights Act. “After all we have been through to deliver the promise of this Nation to all Americans, we should be fully enforcing voting rights laws, not weakening them,” Biden wrote.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called it a “resounding victory for election integrity.”

“Democrats were attempting to make Arizona ballots less secure for political gain, and the Court saw right through their partisan lies,” she said in a statement.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that Americans by a 2-1 margin call it more important to make it easier to vote lawfully than to make it harder to vote fraudulently.

Sixty-two percent in the national survey, completed Wednesday night, say it’s more important to pass new laws making it easier for people to vote lawfully; 30% instead say it’s more important to pass new laws making it harder to vote fraudulently.

There are sharp partisan and ideological differences. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats prioritize making it easier to vote lawfully, as do 62% of independents, dropping to 32% of Republicans. Still, that means a third of Republicans hold this view, which is at odds with the national party’s focus on the issue.

Earlier this month, Congress failed to advance a sweeping overhaul of federal election laws backed by Democrats and the White House that would have established new baseline standards for mail-in voting, early voting, ID requirements and voter registration. Republicans were staunchly opposed.

“The Court’s decision, harmful as it is, does not limit Congress’ ability to repair the damage done today: it puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength,” President Biden said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pelosi taps GOP Rep. Liz Cheney for House select committee to investigate Jan. 6


(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced Republican Rep. Liz Cheney will serve on the House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“We are very honored and proud she has agreed to serve on the committee,” Pelosi said Thursday.

At her press conference on Capitol Hill, Pelosi also announced House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will serve as the chair of the committee, which was widely expected.

The other Democrats tapped by Pelosi to serve on the committee are Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff, Pete Aguilar, Stephanie Murphy, Jamie Raskin and Elaine Luria.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in a press conference following Pelosi, downplayed reports that he’s threatened GOP members with taking away committee assignments if they were to accept a select committee position and questioned Cheney’s place in the Republican Party when given the chance.

“I was shocked that she would accept something from Speaker Pelosi. It would seem to me, since I didn’t hear from her, maybe she’s closer to her than us,” McCarthy said.

Cheney, who has been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump in the wake of the attack and stripped of her No. 3 GOP leadership role earlier this year, said in a statement she was “honored” to be named though she did not appear with Democrats on Thursday.

“Those who are responsible for the attack need to be held accountable and this select committee will fulfill that responsibility in a professional, expeditious, and non-partisan manner,” she said. “Our oath to the Constitution, our commitment to the rule of law, and the preservation of the peaceful transfer of power must always be above partisan politics.”

Later, appearing informally with the other members chosen by Pelosi, Cheney was asked if she would lose her committee assignments. She said she has not been told that at this time.

“We have an obligation to have a sober investigation of what happened leading up to the attack on the Capitol on that day,” she said.

The House approved a resolution Wednesday to green-light the creation of a select committee after a vote for a bipartisan, independent commission — similar to one formed after the Sept. 11 attacks — failed to pass the Senate earlier the month.

The resolution required a majority vote in the House for the committee to be formed and it passed mostly along party lines — other than Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., breaking from Republicans.

Pelosi introduced the measure earlier in the week, which states the committee will include 13 members. Eight of those members will be selected by Pelosi, while the five others will be selected by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in consultation with Pelosi.

“As we enter the Fourth of July weekend to observe the birth of our nation, we do so with increased responsibility to honor the vision of our Founders and to defend our American Democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement announcing her committee choices.

As for whether McCarthy will cooperate and to which members he would select to the committee, he told reporters Thursday, “When I have news on that, I’ll give it to you.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump’s long-serving CFO, Allen Weisselberg, surrenders to authorities to face charges


(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump’s long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has surrendered to authorities in New York to face criminal charges, court officials told ABC News Thursday morning.

Weisselberg arrived at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with his lawyer hours after a grand jury indicted him and the Trump Organization on charges that are expected to be unsealed Thursday afternoon.

A special grand jury in Manhattan voted Wednesday to indict Trump’s firm and its chief financial officer.

The charges are believed to involve fringe benefits given to employees, including Weisselberg, sources said. Investigators have been examining whether the company and Weisselberg properly accounted for those forms of compensation.

“Allen Weisselberg is a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who has worked at the Trump Organization for 48 years,” a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said in a statement Thursday after Weisselberg surrendered to authorities. “He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President. The District Attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other District Attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice; this is politics.”

Attorneys for the former president’s company were told to expect charges last week by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s staff, sources said.

Trump has called the charges “completely outrageous” and dismissed the investigation as being a politically-motivated “witch hunt.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

‘Time is running out’ on police reform negotiations: Sen. Cory Booker

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — With pressure to change policing in America following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., sounded the alarm Wednesday, warning that “time is running out.”

“This Congress is moving very quickly,” he said. “There’s a crowded agenda on the Senate floor and if we don’t do something soon, we will lose a historic moment where we really should rise (to) the moment and make the reforms necessary.”

While the lead negotiators released a statement last week announcing they’ve “reached an agreement framework,” several sources have told ABC News that behind closed doors there are still major points of contention.

What’s putting the deal at risk?

The latest hurdle is an emerging divide within police unions, which are closely involved in the negotiations.

The discussions have dragged on for months, already blowing past two self-imposed deadlines. As talks progressed, lawmakers turned to outside groups for insight — holding a meeting with two police unions, the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police in late May.

At the time, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told Booker that if he could get the unions “on board with a proposal, he would not stand in the way,” a source familiar with the discussion told ABC News.

Booker floated a potential compromise to the unions, gaining their initial support, according to two sources familiar.

But when other unions caught wind of the floated proposal, they fired back.

The National Association of Police Organization encouraged the other negotiators to reject it. In a June newsletter, NAPO said, “Sen. Booker froze out NAPO and other police groups, despite the fact that NAPO represents just about all law enforcement officers in the senator’s state of New Jersey.”

According to sources familiar, Booker’s proposed measure tried to strike a balance of providing more resources to police departments but also giving the federal government more power to bring cases against officers who committed acts of misconduct in four areas: excessive force, sexual misconduct, theft and obstruction of justice. It did not touch qualified immunity, a sticking point for Republicans and a red line for many progressive Democrats.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said that she fears the infighting could put the entire deal at risk.

“Absolutely I worry that it could prevent us from coming to a deal. And you know what? I think that it would be a really sad statement about the profession,” Bass said on Tuesday.

Booker said Wednesday that his meeting with the Fraternal Order of Police executive Jim Pasco made him more hopeful for police reform legislation to gain bipartisan support in the Senate.

“I told a great guy named Jim Pasco I viewed him as like an ogre before I got there, because these guys are tough, tough union and have not shown — in my opinion — the level of desire for reform. But Jim and I — along with other law enforcement agencies — had three weeks in negotiation, working up a lot of respect for him, as I’ve always had respect for his membership, we came to some accord,” Booker said. “And if we can — a Democrat from New Jersey and the administrative head of FOP — come to a lot of agreements, I’m sure hoping that Tim and I can work the final details out and get a bill done.”

“One of the reasons why a lot of law enforcement groups I’ve been negotiating with have leaned in is because they just know we are losing ground because of the erosion of trust amongst communities and law enforcement,” he added.

With slim margins on both sides of the aisle in Congress, Booker said there’s a “50-50 chance whether we get something done or not. If we don’t act, this is another shameful moment for Congress, and I know I’m at the center of that. And that’s why I’ve been bending and contorting myself in every way to try to make a bill that can attract people on both sides of the aisle.”

Tensions run high

As details of the negotiations trickled out, the backlash was swift.

The National Sheriffs’ Association said the group felt “blindsided” by Booker’s proposal and brought up their concerns in a previously scheduled face-to-face meeting with Booker and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in June, according to an official with the group. Sources said Graham came to the defense of the police unions — raising objections about the floated compromise.

Publicly, Graham slammed the proposal.

“There ain’t no way in hell that’s going anywhere,” Graham said. “The conversations we had about police reform were completely different than the document that was produced.”

Graham’s public comments caught Democrats off guard, according to two sources who believed Booker followed through on a request from Scott and did “the impossible” by getting the support of two large police unions. Republicans accused Booker of acting alone.

The NAACP, which has also been closely involved in negotiations, is growing increasingly frustrated and sounding the alarm about the role police unions are playing in the talks.

“Many in law enforcement agree that meaningful change is necessary, but unfortunately, a few are committed to standing in the way with a goal of obstructing the process. Police unions and partisan politicians should not control and dilute the terms of the police reform bill, nor delay any of its progress,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “This bill must be for the people.”

This week, eight civil rights organizations including the NAACP, The Urban League and the National Action Network, took a direct jab at police unions accusing them of obstructing the negotiations.

The National Sheriffs’ Association pushed back on any accusations that they are trying to sink the bill.

“That’s not true at all. We’re supportive of the process and we’ve been completely transparent with the things that we agree and disagree with — with the senators,” an official with the group told ABC News.

“To say that law enforcement is trying to delete the bill or they don’t want this, it’s just not a fair assessment,” the official said, emphasizing that their role is to advocate on behalf of sheriffs.

The Fraternal Order of Police, who backed Booker’s initial proposal came out with a statement on Wednesday underscoring that talks are on the brink.

“Given the politics of the moment, we seem to be poised to undo more than a year’s worth of work toward common sense criminal justice reform,” said Patrick Yoes, the group’s president, in a statement. “Demagoguery and scare tactics have jeopardized the future of these efforts and may well have derailed the negotiations.”

All sides ask: What now?

Lawmakers have been under increased pressure in recent weeks, having missed the first deadline to pass the bill into law by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death. One source told ABC News that members of the NBA have held multiple bipartisan meetings with lawmakers to push the bill, with several more meetings planned with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. In May, James Cadogan, the executive director of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, said in a statement that the league is “calling on our elected representatives of both parties to work together to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the U.S. Senate now and present it to President Biden for him to sign into law this year.”

Two sources close to the talks also told ABC News that there is growing concern about how the upcoming midterm elections will affect the negotiations with some fearing Republicans may be less willing to strike a deal, as their party pushes a law-and-order message.

One source close to ongoing talks told ABC News, “a compromise isn’t me walking over to you, it’s us meeting halfway and that’s not what’s happening at this point.”

“The goal posts keep moving,” the source continued.

Scott’s office declined to comment.

“The process — finalizing the bill is difficult,” one source familiar with Scott’s thinking said. “Despite the challenges, we are going to continue to move forward with the negotiation process, ironing out specifics within the broader, agreed-upon framework.”

“(Sen. Scott) is committed to making sure any final bill honors the family of Walter Scott, George Floyd and any family that has been affected, while at the same time providing the resources officers need to keep our communities safe,” the source added.

Still, no one appears ready to walk away from the negotiations and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said recently that “the president remains eager to sign the police reform bill into law.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mayoral candidates call for reforms, recounts after NYC Board of Elections admits ‘errors’


(NEW YORK) — An updated count of in-person votes in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary still shows Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams maintaining a close lead, but it also shows a razor-thin margin between former consul to Mayor Bill de Blasio Maya Wiley and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in the penultimate round of voting.

The New York City Board of Elections released an updated unofficial count of ranked choice votes on Wednesday afternoon, after candidates and officials sharply criticized the BOE for counting over 130,000 test votes in an initial release of vote tallies for the city’s ranked-choice Democratic mayoral primary.

Wednesday’s count showed Eric Adams holding 31.8% of the vote in the first round, with Maya Wiley following with 22.2% and Kathryn Garcia third with 19.3%.

But by the eighth round, with all of the other candidates eliminated and their votes allotted to others, Garcia led Wiley by only 347 votes.

“While we remain confident in our path to victory, we are taking nothing for granted and encourage everyone to patiently wait for over 124,000 absentee ballots to be counted,” Garcia said in a statement on Wednesday night.

As of Wednesday evening, the BOE has received over 125,000 absentee ballots, none of which are included in the unofficial count.

“Yesterday’s ranked choice voting reporting error was unacceptable and we apologize to the voters and to the campaigns for the confusion,” the BOE said in a statement released alongside the updated figures.

The Board of Elections removed the initial results from its website late Tuesday, and tweeted a statement around 10:30 p.m. ET that admitted to including test votes in the released figures.

“When the cast vote records were extracted for the first pull of RCV results, it included both test and election night results, producing approximately 135,000 additional errors,” the BOE said. It committed to removing the test votes and accurately recounting.

Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said on Tuesday that “a mistake by a low-level junior staffer” caused the miscount.

After the Board of Elections’ admission, Adams struck a conciliatory tone.

“We appreciate the Board’s transparency and acknowledgement of their error,” Adams said in a statement late Tuesday. “We look forward to the release of an accurate, updated simulation, and the timely conclusion of this critical process.”

He had initially questioned the results, with Wiley going further in criticizing the board.

“This error by the Board of Elections is not just [the] failure to count votes properly today, it is the result of generations of failures that have gone unaddressed,” Wiley said in a statement on Tuesday night. “We have once again seen the mismanagement that has resulted in a lack of confidence in results … because those who implement [election laws] have failed too many times.”

Garcia called the count error “deeply troubling” and said it “requires a much more transparent and complete explanation.”

“I am confident that every candidate will accept the final results and support whomever the voters have elected,” she said in a statement on Tuesday night.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Wednesday morning that what happened is “indicative of the fact the Board of Elections is broken, structurally broken. I don’t know how many times we are going to have this conversation. We can no longer have a partisan Board of Elections.”

Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties sit on the Board.

Lerner called for reforming the Board as well, adding: “The system is designed for the 19th century, and we need to bring it into the 21st century.”

“It’s like a rookie mistake,” Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, a nonpartisan organization advocating for voting reforms, said in an interview with ABC News. “Every voting equipment process has to be tested, and it’s a very elementary part of it, which is you clear the data after you do your tests.”

The Board of Elections has faced scrutiny before for election errors. Last September, it erroneously mailed at least 100,000 absentee ballots with incorrect names and addresses.

Richie said that ranked-choice voting itself, which New Yorkers experienced for the first time in the primary, is not to blame, and next time the BOE could possibly run daily vote tallies and accept additional support from developers of the tabulation software.

“I think a lot of people would have expected it to be lucky to get turnout [like] what we got eight years ago, when Bill de Blasio ran,” Richie said. “Well, it’s much bigger than that, right? It’s like more than 25% more votes.”

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky and Averi Harper contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.