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ABC News(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- After a dramatic, months-long investigation into allegations of a widespread, coordinated and possibly illegal ballot tampering scheme, election officials in North Carolina have ordered that a new election be held in the state's 9th Congressional District, a decision that reverberated across the American political landscape and could reframe the national conversation about election fraud.

"I believe the people of North Carolina deserve a new election," Robert Cordle, the chairman of the North Carolina state board of elections, said Thursday. "It was certainly a tainted election."

The new election will be the first congressional election to be redone since 1974, and while details on when it will be held and which candidates will be on the ballot are still unknown, the race will undoubtedly attract national attention and millions of dollars in national money.

Here's a look at the unexpected twists and surprises that led to a new election.

A narrow victory is called into question

Republican candidate Mark Harris, who defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District's May primary, declared victory in the general election on November 6 over Democrat Dan McCready, even as just 905 votes separated the two candidates in unofficial results.

McCready conceded the next day, saying it has been "my true honor to fight alongside you all on this campaign."

For weeks after Election Day, Harris was presumed to be the next congressman from North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. But in a surprise move in late November, the state board of elections voted not to certify the results.

Soon after evidence began to surface of abnormalities in the absentee vote totals in rural Bladen County, and a possibly illegal system of collecting absentee ballots run by a man named McCrae Dowless, who was hired as a consultant on Harris' campaign.

McCready then retracted his concession on Dec. 6, a month after the election, as it became clear that major doubts were being cast on its fairness.

Dowless denied any wrongdoing and in early December. He declined to comment when asked by ABC News' Steve Osunsami about his alleged activities, and Harris denied any knowledge of the illicit scheme.

What ensued was a months-long investigation, spearheaded by the state board of elections and aided by dogged reporting from local media, that culminated in an evidentiary hearing that began on Monday and featured stunning and emotional testimony from the workers involved in Dowless' alleged scheme, Mark Harris' son John, and Harris himself.

A son's testimony and a father's admission

"We believe that the evidence ... will show that a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties."

That was how North Carolina Board of Elections executive director Kim Strach kicked off the hearing in Raleigh on Monday that would ultimately result in a brand new congressional election.

After days of testimony from witnesses who said they participated in Dowless' scheme to collect absentee ballots from North Carolina voters, and from Harris' top political strategist who said he was unaware of any illegal activity, an expected witness took the stand -- John Harris, Mark Harris' son.

In hours of testimony that featured new e-mail communications between him and his father in April 2017, John Harris told the state board he repeatedly warned his father about abnormalities in vote totals in Bladen County, and said he had heard Dowless was a "shady" character.

"I told him that collecting ballots was a felony, and I would send him the statute that showed that collecting ballots was a felony," John Harris said during his testimony on Wednesday, which culminated in an emotional closing statement that brought his father to tears.

"I love my dad and I love my mom. I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle," John Harris told the hearing room. "I think that they made mistakes in this process and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them."

The next day, in equally stunning testimony, Mark Harris testified that he had listened to his son's concerns, but did not consider them a major warning, and decided to hire Dowless anyway.

But following his initial testimony came a dramatic mea culpa from Harris, who revealed he had suffered two strokes in January and still struggles with memory recall.

"Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing, and I'm getting stronger, I clearly am not. And I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion," Harris said, before telling the board he believes a new election should be called.

"Through the testimony, I've listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called," Harris said. "It has become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District's seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."

Just hours later, the board voted unanimously to hold a new election in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District.

So what happens next?

Pursuant to the board of election's decision, and a new law passed late last year by the state's Republican-controlled state legislature, a new primary election and general election will be held in the 9th District.

In a statement released Thursday evening, the state board said the timing of those elections will be decided on at a later meeting.

The biggest question now becomes who will run in a new election in a highly-competitive congressional race decided by fewer than 1,000 votes.

McCready, an ex-Marine who raised $6.7 million in his congressional bid last year, has already announced that he will run for the seat again. He is sending out fundraising appeals and again has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

ABC News has reached out to representatives from Harris' 2018 campaign, but they did not respond when asked if Harris is planning to run again for the seat in the new election.

Pittenger, who represented the suburban Charlotte district in Congress for six years before his loss to Harris, told the Charlotte Observer last year that he will not run for his old seat if a new election was called.

While the district voted for Donald Trump by double digits in 2016, the close results between McCready and Harris in 2018 continues to fuel Democratic hopes to add one more seat to the 40-seat gain they made in taking back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

"I look forward to joining with countless others in this special election to do the hard work of repairing the harm Mark Harris, and Republicans in North Carolina, have caused," DCCC Chairwoman and Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos wrote in a statement released Thursday.

Other Republicans are likely to jump into the race as well, but local GOP leaders declined to speculate following Thursday's decision on who those candidates will be, or if Harris will run again.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(RICHMOND, Virginia) -- Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax dismissed Republican calls for his sexual assault accusers to testify before the state House of Representatives, calling it "political theater."

Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault in the past month by two women, both in the early 2000s, one while he was a college student at Duke University in 2000 and another at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

"This week, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]," a spokesperson for Fairfax said Friday. "Now suddenly the same Republicans want to distract the public from their record of opposition to women’s rights by engaging in political theater.

"The Lt. Governor has consistently denied the unsubstantiated allegations against him and he has consistently requested a full, fair, independent, impartial, and non-political investigation by law enforcement," the spokesperson continued. "Obviously this House Republican led effort is partisan."

Any testimony from either accuser has yet to be scheduled, but House Republican Rob Bell made the invite on Friday for both Dr. Vanessa Tyson, Fairfax's first accuser, and Meredith Watson, Fairfax's admitted college acquaintance, to speak before a committee on live television.

Both women quickly accepted the offer Friday.

"Meredith Watson is gratified that the Virginia General Assembly has announced their intention to hold hearings, and she looks forward to testifying at this forum," Nancy Ericka Smith, Watson's attorney, said in a statement.

"As she has made clear previously, Dr. Vanessa Tyson is prepared to testify at a public hearing regarding Lt. Governor Fairfax's sexual assault of her in 2004," Tyson's lawyers said in a statement. "However, she has not yet received an invitation to do so from members of the Virginia Legislature."

It was just a day earlier Tyson's lawyers had spoken out against the legislature for not taking any action since her accusations.

"It has been two weeks since Dr. Vanessa Tyson came forward with detailed allegations about Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax’s sexual assault of her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention," the lawyers for Tyson said in a statement on Thursday. "Virginia General Assembly has remained silent and has taken no action whatsoever in response to her allegations, even after a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to report that Lt. Governor Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000."

Tyson has also called for the Suffolk County District Attorney in Massachusetts, where the alleged assault occurred during the DNC, to investigate her claim.

Virginia House Democrats backed Fairfax, who has said he will not resign.

"Even with the announcement today by Delegate Rob Bell, we lack any details or substantive information on how this meeting would proceed," Virginia House Democrats said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox said on Thursday any hearing presented would not be an impeachment hearing.

"Chairman Bell announced he will hold a meeting of the Courts of Justice Committee and invite all parties involved," Parker Slaybaugh, communications director for Cox, said Friday.

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mizoula/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has named a new pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tapping Kelly Knight Craft, the current U.S. ambassador to Canada, to fill the role.

A senior administration official told ABC News that Craft was at the White House earlier Friday when President Trump offered her the job.

Craft, a native of Glasgow, Kentucky, becomes the second nominee the president has selected to replace former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who resigned in October.

Her nomination was applauded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who personally recommended Craft to the president for the post.

“The President made an exceptional choice for this critical post," McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "Kelly Craft is a strong advocate for American interests and will be a powerful representative of our great nation at the U.N. She has a long record of service to her state and the nation and I’m confident she will continue to serve with distinction as America’s voice to the world at the United Nations. I was proud to recommend this remarkable Kentuckian to President Trump.”

Trump’s first nominee, Heather Nauert, the former State Department spokeswoman, withdrew her name from consideration last Saturday after problems arose in her background related to an undocumented nanny she had employed at her home.

Trump quickly resumed interviews, and Craft’s name had emerged as a frontrunner for the post.

Before Nauert was nominated, Trump had interviewed Craft for the post on October 2.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

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

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Juanmonino/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday denied he was "reversing course" on his order that all 2,000 U.S. troops be withdrawn from Syria despite an unexpected White House announcement Thursday night that hundreds would remain as a "peacekeeping force."

"Roughly 400" American troops will stay on in Syria, a senior administration official said Friday.

"A small U.S. presence will remain in northeast Syria as part of a multinational monitoring and observer force," the official said.

The sudden adjustment to what Trump had said would be the total withdrawal of U.S. forces is intended, the official said, to maintain stability in Syria and prevent a resurgence of ISIS after the majority of the U.S. troops leave.

Initial plans call for the U.S. troops to participate in a force of "up to 1,500" from other partner nations.

"Separately, the U.S. will maintain a presence at the Al Tanf Garrison" in southern Syria near the border with Jordan, the official said.

"The goal will be to main stability and prevent an ISIS resurgence," said the official, who added that the multi-national observer mission is intended to create a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

On Thursday night, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that 200 American forces would remain in Syria after a U.S. withdrawal in a "peacekeeping" capacity.

An observer force in northeastern Syria has been proposed as part of a "safe zone" that would ease tensions between Turkey and the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish force that is on the verge of defeating the last battlefield remnants of ISIS. The idea of a safe zone in Syria had first been proposed by Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

The administration turnaround came after European allies had a tepid response to the Trump administration's proposal that they fill the security vacuum created by a U.S. withdrawal.

The continued presence of a separate U.S. military force in Al Tanf will serve as a check on Iran's freedom of movement in Syria. Since President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, U.S. officials have floated the idea of keeping U.S. troops at the garrison near the Jordanian border to counter Iran's presence in Syria.

Ironically, by keeping 400 American troops in Syria, the Trump administration is close to returning to the Pentagon's long-standing estimate for the number of U.S. troops in Syria. For years, the Pentagon insisted that there were about 500 U.S. troops in Syria, though the actual number was closer to 2,000.

On Thursday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan denied that allies had rejected the idea out of concerns that U.S. troops would not participate in the mission.

"Our mission remains unchanged in terms of the defeat of ISIS," Shanahan told Pentagon reporters on Friday. "The transition that we are working towards is stabilization and to enhance the security capability of local security forces. We'll do that as strategic partners."

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed confidence on Friday that European allies would join a multinational observer force.

Dunford also explained that a transition towards stabilization efforts had always been planned with a focus on training local security forces.

"So, there's no change in the basic campaign, the resourcing is being adjusted because the threat has been changed," he told Pentagon reporters.

So far, the U.S. military has only removed equipment and supplies from Syria as part of President Trump's withdrawal order. The withdrawal of troops is slated to begin in coming weeks pending further White House guidance.

A U.S. official said that with Trump's new decision to keep some forces in Syria, the U.S. military will now develop a plan to adjust the withdrawal and to resource the new observer mission.

The official added that it was unclear what the total number of U.S. troops might be given that a lot depends on how much force protection might be needed.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina hailed Trump's decision when it was announced Thursday night. A close supporter of and adviser on foreign policy, Graham has been strongly critical of Trump's decision to pull out all U.S. forces in Syria.

“I applaud President Trump’s decision to leave a small contingent of American forces in Syria as part of an international stabilizing force," said Graham. "This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict."

Graham said an international safe zone in Syria was also "the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria."

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice," he added. "This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives."

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US Congress (Office of Jerry Nadler, D-NY)(WASHINGTON) -- The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to Attorney General William Barr Friday to demand access to the full scope of records and evidence gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

The letter is an attempt to lay the foundation for Democrats to ensure they can obtain the report and the underlying materials from the Mueller probe amid concerns about the records’ full release.

There is, wrote Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, “a significant public interest in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel about the nature and scope of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine our democracy.”

His letter is co-signed by a handful of Democrats leading other committees investigating the president or his administration, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel. Nadler's committee would oversee any impeachment investigation should Democrats decide to pursue that course.

Nadler’s letter requests not only copies of Mueller’s full report -- whenever his investigation has concluded -- but also that the Department of Justice provide copies with material they believe may “not suitable for immediate public release.” This would include any classified documents or records that may be withheld from the public because of the department’s policy against discussing evidence in cases where the target of an investigation is not charged.

“This expectation is well-grounded in the precedent set by the Department in recent years,” Nadler wrote. “In other closed and pending high-profile cases alleging wrongdoing by public officials, both the Department and the FBI have produced substantial amounts of investigative material, including classified and law enforcement sensitive information, to the House of Representatives.”

Nadler specifically focuses on the concerns that the Barr will withhold any material that could be viewed as evidence of wrongdoing by President Donald Trump, based on his comments during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Barr said he would determine what from Mueller's confidential report would be transmitted to congressional leaders.

"My goal and intent is to get as much information out as I can consistent with the regulations," he said, frustrating Democrats who wanted him to commit to releasing the full report.

“Where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and Department policy and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision,” Barr said, noting that Congress “can and does conduct its own investigations, and its right to do so is not precluded by the [DOJ’s] decision not to provide certain information about an uncharged individual gathered during the course of a criminal investigation."

Barr has suggested he may follow department protocol that do not permit indictments against sitting presidents. The argument favoring the release of records to Congress has been the subject of several published reports in recent days by legal experts.

A congressional demand to access records from the special counsel’s probe relies on precedent set during the Watergate investigation into President Richard M. Nixon.

Nadler “should consider taking a page from his predecessor’s book and formally request a referral of possible impeachment material,” Benjamin Wittes, who is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, wrote in a column, in the online legal publication Lawfare.

Neal Katyal, who served as solicitor general under President Barack Obama, also cited those actions in an opinion column in the New York Times this week raising the question of Congress’s responsibility to intervene if the Justice Department finds evidence of wrongdoing.

“If Mr. Mueller writes a report that is anything less than a full clearing of the president: Congress would be under a constitutional obligation to investigate the facts for itself,” he wrote.

Nadler’s letter tackled that issue head-on.

“Because the Department has taken the position that a sitting President is immune from indictment and prosecution, Congress could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct,” he wrote. “To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up. The President is not above the law.”

Nadler’s request extends beyond the requirements spelled out in the current special counsel regulation. Under those guidelines, Mueller is required to provide the attorney general with a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel,” but it will be up to the attorney general whether to release that report to Congress and the public.

The attorney general is also required to notify key congressional leaders - the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees - when Mueller's investigation is finished, along with a "description and explanation" of any instances where a proposed action by Mueller was "so inappropriate or unwarranted" that it was not pursued.

President Trump and the White House have said the decision will be up to Barr.

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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Despite mounting speculation that Special counsel Robert Mueller would deliver his final report to Attorney General William Barr as early as next week, a Justice Department official with knowledge of the matter said Friday the handover is not that imminent.

Suggestions that the report could be delivered next week -- while President Donald Trump is overseas in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- are "incorrect," the official told ABC News.

Mueller has been looking into Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign may have coordinated efforts with Russian operatives.

Asked by reporters at an Oval Office photo-op whether he had spoken with Barr about the release of the Mueller report, the president said he hadn't, but he said it would show "no collusion" if it were "honest."

When asked whether he expects to speak with Barr, Trump answered, "At some point, I guess I'll be talking about it. But you know the nice part? There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. So that’s the nice part. There was no phone calls -- no nothing. "I look forward to seeing the report. If it's an honest report it will say that, if it's not an honest report it won't."

"We have a -- I won a race. You know why I won the race? Because I was a better candidate than she was. And it had nothing to with Russia. And everybody knows it’s a hoax. It’s one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on this country," Trump said.

Trump said Wednesday it would be "totally up to the new attorney general" whether the report is publicly released.

Congressional Democrats have demanded that Mueller's entire report be released.

Barr pledged during his confirmation hearing to be as transparent about the report as the law and DOJ regulations allow.

"I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political or other improper interests influence my decisions," Barr told senators.  

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

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LPETTET/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration on Friday issued its much-anticipated rule that prohibits family planning providers like Planned Parenthood that receive federal assistance from providing abortion referrals.

The move is likely to become subject to court challenges as Planned Parenthood and Democratic lawmakers, now in control of the House, deride the much-anticipated regulation as a "gag rule" because it limits what family planning clinics can say to women seeking an abortion. Under the prior rules, pregnant women who wanted an abortion had to be provided with a referral, although the provider was not allowed to promote it or help with the logistics such as scheduling an appointment or providing transportation.

"This is just the latest step in the Trump Administration’s ideologically-driven, misguided crusade to prevent Americans from accessing the full range of reproductive health care services,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The administration, through its Department of Health and Human Services, said the final approved rule "protects" providers that use federal money by eliminating the requirement that have to offer abortion counseling and referral.

The new rule “protects Title X providers so that they are not required to choose between participating in the program and violating their own consciences by providing abortion counseling and referral.” Planned Parenthood, which stands to federal assistance unless it agrees, called the new rule an “unethical gag rule” because health care providers that receive federal assistance wouldn’t be able to refer patients for abortion services.

Planned Parenthood, which says it serves 41 percent of the four million patients who receive care through the federal assistance program, known as Title X, said the regulation will disproportionally hurt women of color and low-income patients who rely on the organization for family planning options.

“Thanks to the gag rule, the already massive divide between who does and who doesn’t have health care will get worse,” the Planned Parenthood Action Fund tweeted.

Abortions are down to the lowest rate since the landmark case Roe v. Wade legalized a woman’s right to abortion in 1973, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2006 until 2015, the total number of reported abortions decreased by 24 percent — from more than 840,000 in 2006 to about 638,000 in 2015, the report found.

The CDC also focused on two other measures that reached their lowest level over the same time period: the total number of abortions in the population, or the abortion rate, which decreased 26 percent, and the proportion of all pregnancies that end in abortion rather than birth, or the abortion ratio, which decreased 19 percent.

Conservatives, including Vice President Mike Pence, have said they still see eliminating the option as a priority for the administration.

The administration announced plans to move ahead with the new regulation last spring.

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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(NEW YORK) -- Democrat Dan McCready, who narrowly lost a congressional election in North Carolina's 9th district last year, announced Friday he will run for the seat again after the state board of elections voted to hold a new election following an investigation into widespread fraud in the 2018 race.

"I am running in the special election to represent the people of the 9th District," McCready told supporters Friday at a brewery outside of Charlotte. "I want to say right now that we are in this fight and we are going to win this fight."

"This is bigger than one race. This is bigger than one election. This is about what does it mean to live in a democracy," McCready added. "Our right to vote is our most sacred freedom as Americans."

McCready comes into the raise already a proven fundraiser, having raised $6.7 million for his 2018 race, and has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The timing of the new primary and general election in the 9th Congressional District will be decided at a meeting of the state board of elections. The timing of that meeting has not yet been announced.

The announcement from McCready comes the day after the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously on to hold a new election in the 9th Congressional District – a move that came hours after Mark Harris, the Republican congressional candidate at the center of the case, testified.

"I believe a new election should be called," Harris said during the hearing, adding that his conclusion is based on the testimony he's heard over the last four days.

While it's unclear whether Harris will run again in a new election, both men would have to compete in a primary election, according to a law passed by the GOP-controlled legislature late last year.

McCready tweeted Thursday following the board's decision saying, "Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina."



North Carolina Democrats said the evidence revealed at the nearly four-day hearing shows Harris knew far more about the allegedly illicit scheme than he previously disclosed.

"Over an extraordinary four-day hearing, investigators laid out point by point how Republican Mark Harris' campaign funded and directed an elaborate, illegal scheme to steal an election," North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin wrote in a statement. "This saga could only have ended in a new election, and we look forward to repairing the harm dealt by Republicans and giving the people of the Ninth district the representative they deserve."

Republicans thanked the State Board of Elections and said they'll do what they can to ensure that "these kinds of situations can be avoided in the future."

"We will continue to work with legislators and investigators on how we can improve the electoral system so that these kinds of situations can be avoided in the future," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The people of North Carolina deserve nothing less than the full confidence and trust in the electoral system. We'd like to thank the hard-working staff and members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections for their professionalism and dedication in this investigation."

Just a day before the board's decision to hold a new election, Harris' own son said he'd raised concerns about a "shady political operative," seeking to join the Republican congressional candidate's campaign.

Harris' comments came amid an ongoing election fraud case which has now triggered a brand new election.

"Sitting here four days into this meeting ... my son was a bit prophetic in his statement that day," Harris said of his son John's warning about McCrae Dowless, the political hand accused of running an illegal absentee ballot collecting scheme in the state's 9th Congressional District.

That warning was revealed in testimony on Wednesday and came in a phone conversation and later an e-mail in April 2017, after John Harris said he discovered abnormalities in absentee vote totals in one rural Bladen County, North Carolina.

Despite the warnings, Mark Harris eventually hired Dowless to do absentee ballot and other campaign work.

Harris won the 2018 election in the district by 905 votes, but after concerns were raised by the North Carolina State Board of Elections about potential election fraud, the result was not certified, leaving the seat vacant and hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians without representation in the U.S. House.

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ANNECORDON/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders' long-anticipated announcement of a presidential run came this week alongside an air of vindication as he described the ways in which the Democratic party has embraced several of the policies around which he based his 2016 run, including Medicare for all, free college tuition and an increase of the highest marginal tax rates to address income inequality.

But while Sanders might consider it a partial success that components of his platform has been embraced by several presidential candidates, it may also make it more difficult for the independent senator to differentiate himself this cycle.

While there is a clear divide with the Democratic Party's moderates, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a crowded field means that the primary is no longer a binary choice and the senator from Vermont may have to more clearly define himself in a political world in which the labels "progressive" and "socialist" are no longer a novelty.

Here's the weekly candidate roundup:

Feb. 15-21, 2019

Stacey Abrams (D)

In a speech to the Democratic National Committee's Winter Meeting last week, Abrams joked about her political future, saying that she is "going to run for something," but that it might be president of her home owners' association.

Michael Bennet (D)

Bennet traveled to Iowa Thursday for a house party in Dubuque, and will remain in the Hawkeye State through Saturday for two more house parties, a meeting with the Polk County Democrats and a roundtable with farmers. A press release earlier this week announcing the visit, acknowledged that the senator is considering "whether to enter the race for president."

Joe Biden (D)

People close to the former vice president told ABC News this week that they believe Biden will enter the 2020 race. The sentiment is shared by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who was left with that feeling after she met with Biden last week. Feinstein has previously said she would support Biden if he were to enter the race.

Biden avoided specifically commenting on the 2020 election during an event at the University of Pennsylvania Tuesday, but was highly critical of the Trump administration's immigration policy, describing "hysteria at the southern border" and arguing that the president's beliefs were rooted in "xenophobia."

On Tuesday, Biden will participate in a discussion at the University of Delaware.

Michael Bloomberg (D)

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Bloomberg's advisers were beginning to reach out to the recipients of support from Bloomberg's philanthropy to gauge their willingness to back a potential presidential run.

Cory Booker (D)

The New Jersey senator visited New Hampshire last weekend, during which he pushed back against criticisms of his nice-guy approach and described himself as "someone who’s strong, who’s tough, who will fight for a cause and fight for people but also finds common ground."

Booker, along with fellow presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, were questioned about their immediate responses to the January attack on actor Jussie Smollett as police uncovered information indicating Smollett may have staged the incident.

The senator said, "I'm going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources." He previously labeled the attack a "modern-day lynching."

On Thursday, Booker announced endorsements from a score of New Jersey politicians, including Gov. Phil Murphy and all 11 Democratic members of the state's House of Representatives delegation. He'll travel to Nevada Sunday for a an event in North Las Vegas.

Sherrod Brown (D)

In an interview on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, Brown said that the odds of him joining the 2020 field have increased to "51-49."

The Ohio senator told Politico Wednesday that if he does enter the race he will decline corporate PAC money, a decision in line with nearly all of the Democratic candidates thus far, but a departure from his Senate campaigns.

Julian Castro (D)

The former Housing and Urban Development secretary made his first visit to Iowa since announcing his presidential candidacy Thursday, the first day of a road trip that will take him to Des Moines, Exira, Sioux City and Ames through Saturday.

John Delaney (D)

Shortly after Sen. Bernie Sanders' entrance into the 2020 race Tuesday, Delaney issued a statement in which he said voters would have to choose "between socialism and a more just form of capitalism."

"I don’t believe top-down, government-only approaches are the right answer," the former Maryland congressman continued. "But I do believe in a clear role for government in creating institutions and policies that ensure equality of opportunity and basic human dignity."

Delaney elaborated in an interview with CNN Wednesday, arguing that if Democrats "want to win and we want to beat Trump, we should not put up a candidate who embraces socialism." He said, "That’s not what the American people want."

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

In a mostly foreign policy-focused interview on ABC's The View Wednesday, Gabbard defended her non-interventionist platform, saying that her experience serving in Iraq influenced her belief that "the cost on the people in the countries where we intervene, as well as the trillions of dollars, our taxpayer dollars," were not worth foreign entanglements.

The Hawaii congresswoman went on to express her support for Medicare for all and a free college tuition plan, but balked at endorsing the proposed Green New Deal, explaining that she felt the legislation was too vague.

Gabbard visited Iowa Thursday for two events in Iowa City and will remain in the state Friday for a stop in Council Bluffs.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

Gillibrand found herself in the middle of one of the 2020 cycle's first viral moments this week when a woman at an Iowa restaurant, where the senator from New York was speaking Monday, interrupted her to squeeze past as she sought out ranch dressing.

Video of the "ranch girl" moment topped one million views on Twitter. The woman who sought the dressing and described herself as "left-leaning," has embraced her newfound fame. But she said that there was no political reason prompting her encounter with Gillibrand.

Prior to her stop Monday in Iowa, Gillibrand spent the weekend in New Hampshire and then continued on to Texas on Wednesday and Thursday. In Dallas on Thursday, she referred to her family as one of the reasons she is running, saying that she "will fight for other people's children and their families and their communities as hard as I would fight for my own."

Patch in Beverly Hills, California reported Thursday that Gillibrand is headed to the city next month for two fundraisers, including one that will be co-hosted by Will Ferrell.

Kamala Harris (D)

During a visit to New Hampshire earlier this week, Harris pushed back against the suggestion that she would not focus her attention on the New England state's first-in-the-nation primary to instead concentrate on South Carolina or her home state of California. She said that she intends to "spend time here" and "shake every hand that I possibly can."

"I want to talk with you, I want to listen to you, I want to be challenged by you," she added.

Harris was ultimately challenged during the week for her immediate reaction to the attack against actor Jussie Smollett. In January, she described it as a "modern day lynching." Additional details now suggest the crime was staged by Smollett. In response, she said she would no longer comment until all of the facts of the incident were known.

Harris' campaign additionally declined to comment on a critical statement made by her father to Jamaica Global Online referencing the senator's past comments about marijuana and her Jamaican heritage. Donald Harris labeled the linking of the drug to her ancestry a "travesty" adding that their deceased relatives "must be turning in their graves" over being connected to a "fraudulent stereotype" "in the pursuit of identity politics."

The California senator stops in Iowa for six different events this weekend and then travels to Nevada on Thursday and Friday.

Amy Klobuchar (D)

During a CNN town hall Monday in New Hampshire, the Minnesota senator staked out her position in the middle of the political spectrum, refusing to endorse some of the progressive proposals, like Medicare for all, the Green New Deal and free college tuition, that her presidential rivals have made tentpoles of their campaigns.

"If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would," Klobuchar said of free college tuition, continuing, "I've got to tell the truth. We have this mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse. I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these we've got to do a balance."

She said, of the Green New Deal, that "big ideas" were "important," but predicted that compromises would have to be made to advance the legislation.

Klobuchar stopped in Iowa Thursday to headline the Ankeny area Democrats’ Winter Banquet.

Terry McAuliffe (D)

The former Virginia governor said he is "close to making a decision" about a presidential run during an interview on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday, explaining that he's "made hundreds and hundreds of calls across the country" and "talked to potential staff."

After saying that he was not waiting on former Vice President Joe Biden's decision, McAuliffe described his desire for a "progressive governor who was very jobs-oriented, very successful in economic development" in the race.

"They're not mutually exclusive," he said.

Beto O’Rourke (D)

As he accepted an "El Pasoan of the Year" award from a local newspaper Tuesday, O'Rourke said that he is still "trying to figure out how I can best serve this country" and "where I can do the greatest good for the United States of America," including a run for president.

Though the former Texas congressman described a desire to reach a decision on his future by the end of February, he also gave himself leeway to continue his deliberations about a potential White House run or challenge to Republican Sen. John Cornyn. Probed further by a reporter about other opportunities, O'Rourke did not rule out serving as the eventual Democratic presidential nominee's running mate.

"I’m going to consider every way to serve this country," O'Rourke responded in Spanish. "And, yes, that will include anything.”

Tim Ryan (D)

During a trip to New Hampshire Wednesday, the Ohio congressman warned his fellow Democrats of appearing "hostile to business" as they campaigned for president.

"We’ve got to come together. And that includes being engaged with the business community," Ryan, who said he is "getting close" to a decision about a campaign of his own, said. "You can be hostile to greed, you can be hostile to income inequality, you can be for raising raises ... but you can’t be hostile to businesses because 98 percent of businesses are small business people.”

Bernie Sanders (D)

Sanders launched his presidential campaign Tuesday with an online video and interviews with Vermont Public Radio and CBS News.

In the CBS interview, the Vermont senator predicted victory on the back of a "grassroots movement unprecedented in modern American history." He further took aim at President Donald Trump in an email to supporters, writing that "we are living in a pivotal and dangerous moment in American history."

"We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction," Sanders continued.

Trump wished Sanders well in a tweet, though referred to him as "Crazy Bernie."

In the first day of his campaign, Sanders raised nearly $6 million, his campaign announced. More than 223,000 people contributed an average of $27.

On Monday, Sanders is scheduled to participate in a CNN town hall.

Howard Schultz (I)

As he continues to consider an independent campaign for president, Schultz posted an open letter to Medium Tuesday entitled "Our path."

"Thousands of Americans have reached out -- people who want common-sense solutions to the problems we face, people who are frustrated with our broken two-party system, people who want to hear the truth from their leaders, and people among the exhausted majority of Americans who want genuine leadership and cooperation in Washington," Schultz wrote, while also acknowledging the backlash he's received from Democrats fearful that he could play spoiler in the 2020 race.

Schultz's book tour continued this week with an event in Los Angeles moderated by Maria Shriver Thursday. He will stop in Cleveland next Wednesday.

Eric Swalwell (D)

During a trip to Iowa last weekend, Swalwell said that he would make a presidential decision "fairly soon" and noted that he has staff in the state and was establishing a team in South Carolina.

Elizabeth Warren (D)

The Massachusetts senator announced a plan Tuesday to make child care and early childhood education from birth through school age more affordable, with prices capped at 7 percent of a family's income.

"Today, more than half of all Americans live in child care 'deserts' -- communities without an adequate number of licensed child care options," Warren wrote in a Medium post outlining her plan, adding, "We shouldn’t be denying our kids the kind of care and early learning they need to fulfill their potential."

This weekend, Warren once again visits New Hampshire where she will headline the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s 60th McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner and attend a house party, an organizing event and a meet-and-greet in Laconia, Plymouth and Nashua, her campaign announced.

Bill Weld (R)

Last week, Weld announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, becoming the first notable Republican to take public steps toward a primary challenge of Trump.

"I think our country is in grave peril and I can no longer sit silently on the sidelines,” Weld said at a New Hampshire Institute of Politics "Politics and Eggs" breakfast where he outlined a decidedly moderate platform, just over two years after he ran as the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate.

"To compound matters, our President is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office -- which include the specific duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed -- in a competent and professional matter," Weld added.

In an interview on ABC News' This Week Sunday, the former Massachusetts governor explained that his potential bid was not simply about weakening the president ahead of the general election but was intended to avoid "six more years of the antics frankly, for want of a better word, that we've seen the last two years."

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Matt Anderson/iStock(WASHINGTON ) -- House Democrats on Friday took the first step in a long-shot bid to stop President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration aimed at getting more money to build his proposed border wall after congressional Democrats refused to give it to him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will bring a resolution to terminate Trump's national emergency proclamation for a vote on Tuesday, the first swing congressional Democrats are taking to try to block the additional border wall money the president is seeking through executive action.

"We will fight his action in the Congress, in the courts and in the public," Pelosi, D-Calif, told reporters on a conference call Friday morning. "This isn't about anything partisan or political. This is about upholding the oath of office we take to protect and defend the constitution."

H.J. Resolution 46 was filed earlier Friday morning, after Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, rallied "226 or 227" original cosponsors, including Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash.

In a nod to the long odds the resolution faces of being enacted, Castro called the president's proclamation an "unconstitutional power grab" that will "require historic unity" to counteract the president.

Pelosi denied that there is a crisis at the national border, calling the president's description of the border "frivolous and cavalier."

"The president does have such a right to do such a thing when there is a true emergency," Pelosi acknowledged. "If there was such an emergency, he wouldn't have to do it. We'd be right there with him."

"This is not what is happening now," she continued. "The president is being frivolous to the constitution."

Instead, Pelosi and Castro claimed that Trump is taking the action to fulfill a campaign promise, not because there is an actual emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Not only is he disrespecting the legislative branch and the Constitution, he is dishonoring the office in which he serves," Pelosi said. "This is institutional; it is constitutional; it is not political; it is not partisan. It is patriotic."

Though some Republicans have expressed concern about the president's executive action, none has vowed to join the Democratic effort to terminate the national emergency that's unlikely to succeed.

Despite its dim prospects, the gambit still promises to produce a political spectacle. With newfound power in the House majority, Democrats are seizing the opportunity to not only attack the president on cable TV, but also to force Republicans into casting politically difficult votes.

At the same time, other efforts to block the president are playing out in court.

According to the National Emergencies Act, any national emergency declared by the president shall terminate if there is a joint resolution terminating the emergency enacted into law or the president issues a proclamation terminating the emergency.

The text of the resolution is relatively straightforward, identifying the president's proclamation and then destroying it: "Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019, in Proclamation 9844 (84 Fed. Reg. 4949) is hereby terminated."

Since the resolution would require Trump's signature to become law, he's likely to veto the measure instead -- in what would be the first of his presidency. There does not appear to be enough bipartisan support constituting supermajorities in both chambers to override a presidential veto, so this attempt to block the president legislatively likely would end there as legal challenges continue in court.

A coalition of 16 states filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the president and his administration to block the proclamation, arguing the declaration amounts to a misuse of executive power. The case could drag into the 2020 presidential campaign and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter sent Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Republicans and Democrats alike to support the resolution, warning the proclamation "undermines the separation of powers and Congress's power of the purse, a power exclusively reserved by the text of the Constitution to the first branch of government, the Legislative branch, a branch co-equal to the Executive."

"All Members take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution," Pelosi, D-Calif., noted. "The President's decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated. We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President's assault."

While the Senate's majority is controlled by Republicans, the measure is privileged and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is compelled to hold a vote on the measure after House passage, creating an awkward vote to either buck the president or surrender the constitutional authorities many lawmakers believe are threatened by executive action. If the House passes it, the resolution could sit in committee for up to 15 days before it's considered privileged in the upper chamber and its consideration is mandated. Last week, McConnell encouraged the president to pursue executive action, though several GOP senators, including Sens. Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Thom Tillis, Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander have expressed an aversion to the president's declaration.

"The president has made a strong case for increased border security, but declaring a national emergency is unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution," Alexander, R-Tenn., warned Wednesday prior to the president's announcement on Friday. "It is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution because, after the American Revolution against a king, our founders chose not to create a chief executive with the power to tax the people and spend their money any way he chooses. The Constitution gives that authority exclusively to a Congress elected by the people."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that identical companion legislation to the House resolution "will soon be introduced in the Senate."

"If the president's emergency declaration prevails, it will fundamentally change the balance of powers in a way our country's founders never envisioned," Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned. "That should be a serious wake-up call to senators in both parties who believe in the constitutional responsibility of Congress to limit an overreaching executive."

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Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An Internal Revenue Service agent was charged on Thursday in connection with the leaking of overseas financial transactions tied to President Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, according to the Department of Justice.

John Fry, an analyst in the San Francisco office of the IRS, was charged with unlawful disclosure of suspicious activity reports, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of California.

Banks are required to file suspicious activity reports for any suspicious financial transactions. The criminal complaint, which was filed under seal on Feb. 4, was released by the Department of Justice Thursday.

The criminal complaint alleged that Fry logged onto his work computer and searched Cohen's name in a specific government database, found many of Cohen's financial records and then ultimately went back a second time and did a second search for Cohen.

After accessing the documents, Fry allegedly called Michael Avenatti, the attorney who represents actress Stormy Daniels, "for more than 6 minutes," according to the complaint. Avenatti then allegedly "used his public Twitter account to circulate a dossier releasing confidential banking information related to Cohen and his company, Essential Consultants," the complaint stated.

In addition to Avenatti, the information was allegedly shared with reporters from the Washington Post and New Yorker magazine, according to the DOJ.

The complaint indicated that Cohen's financial records showed "possible fraudulent and illegal financial transactions by Michael Cohen."

In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was securing the Republican nomination in 2016.

Cohen is set to report to prison in May.

Fry appeared in court Thursday and was released on $50,000 bond. He did not enter a plea. His next hearing is scheduled for March 13. It's unclear whether he's retained an attorney.

Fry, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, is not the first Treasury employee to be charged in connection with allegedly leaking "highly sensitive information" about suspects in the high-profile investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department, allegedly "betrayed her position of trust” by leaking confidential banking reports on the Russian Embassy and suspects charged in special counsel Robert Muller's Russian collusion probe, the government said in a statement.

She pleaded not guilty in January.

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Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Thursday slapped a full gag order on Roger Stone, just days after the longtime political operative and adviser to President Donald Trump posted an inflammatory image on Instagram that appeared to target her.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the posting had a "sinister message" and ordered Stone from speaking publicly about his case.

The image Stone posted to Stone's 45,000 Instagram followers featured a photograph of Jackson with what appeared to be crosshairs in the upper left corner. A caption characterized Jackson as “an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime."

At Thursday’s hearing, Stone, who has apologized both publicly and in court documents, sought to take responsibility for the content of the post but maintained he did not select the image.

"I am kicking myself over my own stupidity, though not more than my wife was kicking me. I offer no excuse for it, no justification,” Stone told the judge. "This is just a stupid lack of judgment."

Before issuing her order, Jackson laid into Stone for both his conduct and his apology, which she said “rings quite hollow.”

"So no Mr. Stone, I am not giving you another a chance. I have serious doubts about whether you have learned any lesson at all," the judge said. “From this moment on the defendant may not speak publicly about the case."

“The post had a more sinister message,” she said. "Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols, and there's nothing confusing about crosshairs.”

Earlier, Jackson grilled Stone about his decision to post the image, questioning why he could not have selected an image without crosshairs.

"It is your Instagram. So, it's fair to say you are 100 percent responsible for what gets posted on it and not anybody else,” she said. "Do you know how to do a Google search? And do the volunteers who work for you know how to do a Google search? How hard was it for you to select a photo that did not have a crosshairs in the corner?"

Stone fielded questions under oath from both prosecutors and the judge for more than 30 minutes, struggling to explain the logistics of who selected the image that appeared on his Instagram page. He insisted that what the judge and prosecutors perceived as crosshairs was actually a “Celtic symbol.”

Special counsel prosecutor Jonathan Kravis then encouraged the judge to issue a gag order on Stone and suggested his testimony Thursday was “not credible.”

Last week, Jackson issued a “narrowly-tailored” gag order on prosecutors and witnesses involved in Stone's case but left Stone to continue speaking publicly about the probe – as long as he refrained from doing so near the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

"Every time the defendant gave another one of those interviews he continued to amplify the media coverage and increase the risk to the jury pool," Kravis said.

Stone’s defense team counsel, Bruce Rogow, sought a second chance for his client.

"What [Stone] is really asking for is a second chance. It should not have been done. It is indefensible," Rogow said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Stone in January on five counts of lying to Congress, as well as witness tampering, and obstruction of justice as part of Mueller's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian meddlers in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Stone has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts.

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Yvette Gaytan(NEW YORK) -- The winding Rio Grande river is the natural dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico in southern Texas.

Yvette Gaytan’s family has owned land on the border's edge for generations. Her kids fish along the river banks in Starr County.

The Trump administration has asked to use Gaytan’s land to build sections of the wall approved in the newly passed budget.

“I’m not looking to sell. I’m not looking to move,” she told ABC News. “My father helped build this house with his own two hands.”

Not far from her home, President Donald Trump’s long-promised southern border wall continues to be a work in progress. Crews have now started preparing to build the first new miles. Further east, old barriers have been replaced with new ones.

Trump declared a national emergency last week to divert money from the Department of Defense. His battle with Congress, which resulted in the longest government shutdown in American history, left him with fewer funds to build the wall in places like Starr County.

The nonprofit group Public Citizen, which represents Gaytan and other residents in the area and filed its lawsuit last week, argues that using the national emergency as a way to fund the wall is entirely unconstitutional.

“We’re at the very beginning of what’s probably going to be a long, drawn-out process,” said Public Citizen lawyer Michael Kirkpatrick.

In order to stop the construction, Kirkpatrick will have to wait for the Trump administration to figure out how it will fund the planned sections of the wall. But he says it's clear that any wall would hurt all of his clients.

The Trump administration has plans to build as many as 12 miles of new border wall in Starr County. It’s a massive steel fence design, 20 to 30 feet high. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is involved in a variety of legal disputes over these projects.

In the meantime, Gaytan has been forced to confront the possibility of leaving the home passed down from her late parents. She understands the need for more border security and she’s not opposed to it.

“Put more people on the ground, put boots to the ground,” she said.

But from her land overlooking Mexico, she doesn’t see a national emergency, and leaving her family’s legacy behind would be a devastating outcome, she says, adding, "I’m not going to go down without a fight.”

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Michael Cohen, former personal attorney and long-time fixer to President Donald Trump, appeared on Capitol Hill Thursday for closed-door meetings with the Senate Intelligence Committee, ahead of hearings before various congressional committees next week.

Cohen is scheduled to give public testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday and closed testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. A source close to Cohen also confirmed he will testify behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear what Cohen discussed Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee members or its staff, but meetings like these are commonplace ahead of hearings. Cohen was accompanied by his legal counsel, Lanny Davis.

Cohen declined to comment to reporters, other than to say that the shoulder he recently had surgery on is still "sore."

When asked if Cohen will be coming back to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Davis said "I'm thinking about it."

That committee subpoenaed Cohen last year.

Cohen's testimony was delayed last month, "Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani," according to a statement from Davis, which included a reference to the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

But Cohen tweeted Wednesday his intention to testify, saying "The schedule has now been set. Looking forward to the #American people hearing my story in my voice!"

Wednesday's blockbuster public hearing comes at a sensitive time, as Trump will be in Vietnam on the same day meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The testimony and potential for negative comments about Trump could distract from the second meeting with Kim.

"He needs to tell his personal story to the American people," Davis said in a wide-ranging interview for an episode of "The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast focused on the probe that is led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"And when he does," Davis added, "you're going to hear personal, front-line experiences of memories, and incidents, and conduct, and comments that Donald Trump said over that 10-year time period behind closed doors that, to me when I first heard Michael tell me all this, even as much as I knew about Trump that was negative, was chilling."

Davis said that while Cohen cannot talk about subjects vital to the special counsel investigation, he can describe his life at Trump's side, where he spent years as a lawyer and fixer.

He said the issue Cohen "can speak to better than anyone" is Trump's character.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to six felonies associated with his personal business dealings, including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank, and two felony campaign finance violations in connection with his role in arranging non-disclosure agreements during Trump's campaign with two women who had claimed past affairs with the president.

In November, he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was securing the GOP nomination in 2016. Cohen has on repeated occasions scheduled, and then canceled, appearances before Congress in recent weeks.

Due to the recent shoulder surgery, and the appearances before Congress, a judge recently pushed back Cohen's prison report date from March 6 to May 6.

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David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- The day after his own son said he raised concerns about a "shady political operative," seeking to join his campaign, North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris testified Thursday that he believes there should be a new election.

"I believe a new election should be called," Harris said adding that his conclusion is based on the testimony he has heard over the last four days.

His comments come amidst on ongoing election fraud case that could end up triggering a brand new election.

"Sitting here four days into this meeting ... my son was a bit prophetic in his statement that day," Harris said of his son John's warning about McCrae Dowless, the political hand that is accused of running an illegal absentee ballot collecting scheme in the state's 9th Congressional District.

That warning was revealed in testimony on Wednesday and came in a phone conversation and later an e-mail in April 2017, after John Harris said he discovered abnormalities in absentee vote totals in one rural Bladen County, North Carolina.

Despite the warnings, Mark Harris eventually hired Dowless to do absentee ballot and other campaign work.

Harris won the 2018 election in the district by 905 votes, but after concerns were raised by the North Carolina State Board of Elections about potential election fraud, the result was not certified, leaving the seat vacant and hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians without representation in the U.S. House.

John Harris' surprise testimony on Wednesday sent another shock wave into an already confusing situation, as the board continues to weigh whether or not to order an entirely new election or certify Harris' victory and seat him in Congress.

"I expressed my concerns based on everything that I did know up to that point," John Harris said Wednesday evening. "Namely my belief that McCrae had engaged in collecting ballots in 2016. Now that belief was based on my review of the absentee voter data...and also just the sense of general reports that I was getting back that this guy was kind of a shady character."

In his closing statement, with his father looking on and fighting back tears, John Harris said that his parents "made mistakes," throughout the process.

"I love my dad and I love my mom. I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle," John Harris told the hearing room Wednesday evening. "I think that they made mistakes in this process and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them."

On Thursday, the fourth day of the board's hearing, Mark Harris took to the witness stand to say that while he respected and heard his son's opinion, he trusted Dowless and wanted him on his campaign in large part due to his relationships in the community.

Harris said that despite the warnings from his son, he trusted Dowless when he told him he was not engaged in any illegal handling of ballots.

"My son at the time that we were communicating here, was still my son. He was 27 years old, very sharp young man who I have a great deal of respect for him ... as an attorney. But he was looking simply at data that he was doing of a special election," Harris said, "He had never been to Bladen County, he had never met McCrae Dowless, he had never met any of these elected leaders. ... So no, I didn't go back any further. ... I did have a comfort level at that point."

Harris met Dowless at an April 2017 meeting arranged by a mutual friend, Judge Marion Warren.

"He seemed to have the relationships that I was gathering from the conversation that happened in that meeting that day," Harris said. "Absentee ballot request forms and getting people to fill that out and turn that in and even get an absentee ballot, does take a certain amount of trust for individuals to do it, and those relationships I felt like is what caused him to be successful."

Harris' testimony also comes after his attorneys were scolded Thursday for not producing, in a timely enough manner, a text message between himself and Warren asking her to connect him with a man that ran an absentee ballot program that "could have put me in the US House this term, had I known, and he had been helping us."

That man would turn out to be Dowless.

"The timing of your disclosure raises significant and material concerns regarding the Committee's compliance and candor prior to, and now during, the hearing," Josh Lawson, the general counsel for the board of elections, wrote to Harris' attorney John Branch on Wednesday evening.

Looming over Harris' testimony on Thursday is the possibility of a new election, which the North Carolina Board of Elections has the power to call if it deems that there was enough fraud in the election that it could have tainted the races ultimate outcome.

Democrat Dan McCready has not commented publicly on the proceedings but is being represented at the hearing by his attorney Mark Elias.

Elias called the failure to disclose the text message in question "gamesmanship," and characterized the exchange as "explosive."

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