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Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Some Justice Department officials are concerned that acting attorney general Matt Whitaker may have violated federal guidelines and his department's own guidance on the government shutdown by taking time on Wednesday to give a politically-tinged speech promoting Trump administration policies of little urgency.

"I think it's deeply hypocritical," one federal prosecutor said of Whitaker's speech, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the Justice Department to speak publicly.

According to a message sent to U.S. prosecutors around the country last week, those deemed "excepted" and required to work through the shutdown — without a paycheck — can only perform work on matters related in some way to substantial threats against life or property. And in a memo posted online by the Justice Department last week, "ancillary functions" such as "public affairs activities and community outreach ... may be conducted only to the extent the failure to perform those functions prevents or significantly damages" department operations.

At issue are remarks Whitaker gave Wednesday to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. The Justice Department said in a press release that the remarks were intended "to commemorate [the] 25th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act" — a law Congress passed with near-unanimous support in 1993 to help protect worshipers' rights.

Wednesday's event had an undeniable political bent: The Heritage Foundation's stated mission is to "promote conservative public policies," and in introducing Whitaker, the foundation's president charged that "the political left has actively worked to undercut our freedoms," citing efforts related to abortion and other controversial matters.

During his own remarks, Whitaker praised President Donald Trump as someone "who is standing up for the First Amendment," insisting "others" have tried to stand in the way.

"For example," Whitaker said, "we’ve seen nuns ordered to pay for contraceptives," and he noted that one U.S. senator tried to block "an evangelical Christian" from joining the Trump administration. Whitaker did not mention that the nominee – Russell Vought, now the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget — had claimed Muslims "have a deficient theology" and "stand condemned."

Whitaker "could have used his platform to call for an end to the shutdown so his employees won't miss mortgage payments, but instead he made a partisan speech," one career Justice Department official said to ABC News. Whitaker is expected to be replaced atop the Justice Department in the coming weeks.

Last week, a top Justice Department official in Washington sent an email to department offices around the country, laying out "what employees deemed excepted and working in the office may do."

"We have been directed to continue only activities that relate to 'emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,' i.e., where there is a reasonable likelihood that the safety of human life or the protection of property would be compromised to some significant degree by delay in the performance of the function in question," the email to senior prosecutors said. "The risk should be real, not hypothetical or speculative."

The email, obtained by ABC News, said administrative or other work "essential" to supporting the protection of life or property is also permitted. And the email urged senior prosecutors to "remind all of your employees who are working during the furlough as excepted employees that they should only perform work as described above."

"All other non-excepted work should be performed after the furlough is over," the email said.

Speaking to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, one federal prosecutor accused certain Justice Department officials of "talking out of both sides of their mouths here," saying it's a stretch to interpret the guidance issued last week as permitting "a speech or pursuits involving religious liberty."

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.

Despite questions over whether Whitaker should have given such a speech during the shutdown, it could be a technicality that might prohibit him from doing so. According to rules governing furloughs, a Senate-confirmed member of the president's Cabinet may be able to use his or her time for non-essential functions, because such an official can't technically be furloughed. But Whitaker is serving as attorney general in an "acting" capacity — he was not confirmed by the Senate.

When the government was shut down for weeks in late 1995 and early 1996 during President Bill Clinton's administration, then-attorney general Janet Reno still held her weekly, on-camera press briefings with reporters. In one of those events, she announced a big settlement related to environmental violations, and in another she announced she was suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Previous guidance and legal opinions authored by Justice Department lawyers have said employees called to work during a shutdown may perform some non-essential functions while in the office, but only during "brief" intervals that arise when the employee "is not engaged in an excepted function."

"In such cases, the employee may remain at work, and may perform non-excepted functions during these intervals," according to guidance issued to Justice Department employees in October 2013, when the government was shuttered for more than two weeks.

Whitaker, however, gave his remarks outside the Justice Department, he wrote them ahead of time, and they had been planned for weeks, with the Justice Department issuing a press release promoting the event the day before.

In all, Whitaker spoke for more than 15 minutes about how "religious freedom has made this country stronger."

"And that is why threats to religious freedom are also threats to our national strength," he said at the Heritage Foundation. "I am hopeful that we can recover the consensus in support of religious freedom that came together 25 years ago."

He was likely away from the Justice Department for less than an hour.

Whitaker has become a frequent target of criticism from Democratic lawmakers and others, who question whether he can impartially oversee the Justice Department. In particular, his detractors have raised concerns over statements he made before joining the Justice Department that criticized special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and they have demanded to know why Whitaker refuses to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller probe even though senior ethics officials within the Justice Department told him he should.

But after Trump appointed Whitaker to temporarily head the Justice Department, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, a frequent target of Trump's ire, called Whitaker a "superb choice."

"He certainly understands the work, understands the priorities and principles of the department, and I think he's going to do a superb job," Rosenstein said.

Whitaker is expected to step aside as acting attorney general soon. William Barr, who served as attorney general under the George H. W. Bush administration, has been nominated by Trump to become attorney general again, and Barr is likely to be confirmed by the Senate.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed -- In the increasingly personal political standoff between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the president on Thursday said he was canceling her trip to Belgium, and Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for Pelosi asking Trump to delay his State of the Union Address until after the government shutdown ends.

"Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed," Trump wrote in a snarky letter released Thursday afternoon. "We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out the letter.

A Pelosi spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment and it was unclear what travel plans, if any, she had.

Trump added that he feels “it would be better” if Pelosi was in Washington negotiating with him “and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the shutdown.”

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” Trump noted. “I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding and security it so desperately deserves.”

An administration official said that the Defense Department was made aware prior to the letter being sent to Pelosi, and that the policy applies to all CODELs -- or congressional delegation trips -- that may have been scheduled during the shutdown.

Sanders, when asked why Trump sent the letter to Pelosi, said, “We want to keep her in Washington. If she leaves she guarantees that the second round of paychecks to workers won’t go out.”

She said Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “always have an invitation” to the White House if they want to come to negotiate.

Asked if there is any White House response to Pelosi's letter to Trump on Wednesday calling for a delay in his State of the Union Address, she said, “We’ll keep you posted. Nothings changed on that front.”

Earlier Thursday, with the shutdown in its 27th day, Pelosi said she had not received a response to her letter, which urged Trump to delay the annual address until after government is reopened. When asked what she'd do if Trump were to insist on sticking to the Jan. 29 date, Pelosi she’d “cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“We haven't heard. Very silent more than 24 hours,” Pelosi said, seemingly amused. “Have you heard? We haven't heard.”

At the Pentagon Thursday morning, Trump continued to push for border security, including his proposed border wall, accusing Pelosi of refusing to let Democrats negotiate.

“The federal government remains shut down because congressional Democrats refuse to approve border security," Trump said. "We're going to have border security.”

Pelosi and Trump haven’t spoken to each other since Trump walked out of a Jan. 9 meeting with congressional leaders in the Situation Room, declaring it “a total waste of time.”

Last year, Trump delivered the State of the Union to a televised audience of 45.6 million people, leaving the impression that Pelosi is denying the president a prime platform to share his point of view as leverage against the president.

“Let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees,” Pelosi said. “He thinks it is okay not to pay people who do work. I don't. My caucus doesn't either.”

Pelosi said she is confident security professionals could keep the event safe, but added her qualm is that they would not be immediately paid for their work.

“This is directly related to our security,” Pelosi said, recounting several votes the House has taken to end the shutdown.

Pelosi predicted there's “bipartisan agreement” to use other technology to protect the border, but stressed “I'm not for a wall,” when she was asked why she hasn’t proposed an alternative dollar figure to counter the president’s $5.7 billion demand for a barrier.

“The president says the only way to do it is with a wall. That's a debate that we have,” Pelosi said. “We must respect our workers protect our borders and reopen government the government immediately.”

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vincent_ruf/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department announced Thursday it was calling back nearly all staff next week and paying them for a two-week period, but a growing number of U.S. diplomats are frustrated by the partial government shutdown and the damage it’s inflicting on their jobs and America’s standing abroad.

While they’ll be paid for this pay period, several diplomats are calling on the administration to fully reopen the government, as they struggle to interact with counterparts abroad and pay their own bills. Employees have been either furloughed and sent home or are working with no pay and limited in what kind of work they can conduct.

“Morale is pretty rock bottom,” said a Foreign Service officer based in Europe, “And this is among a really dedicated, really patriotic bunch of people who are unfortunately getting these messages that what they’re doing is not important or that they’re not valuable enough to have somebody figure out how to get them paid.”

Amid an eight-country tour of the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to assure his department’s rank and file serving at missions overseas and working to support his trip while not being paid because of the government shutdown.

“We’re doing our best to make sure it doesn’t impact our diplomacy,” Pompeo said of the shutdown while in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

“Morale is good,” he added, and said, staff “understand that there are squabbles in Washington, but their mission remains, their duties continue, and they’re executing them.”

While the plan to pay staffers has changed for the next two weeks, the uncertainty of what could come after that -- if the shutdown continues for that long -- has unnerved diplomats and their foreign counterparts.

“It is an embarrassment to the country. I have had multiple [foreign counterpart] contacts asking how does this happen in the U.S.,” said another Foreign Service officer.

Approximately 23 percent of U.S. employees overseas and 40 percent in the U.S. have been furloughed, according to a State Department spokesperson. But because of the shutdown, employees have been limited in their ability to meet with foreign counterparts or provide assistance to U.S. companies working in their host country. They’ve been forced to cancel or decline invitations to events or meetings.

“You don’t sort of put diplomacy on hold, and I think that we’re going to look back at this period with a lot of regret for sort of missed opportunities,” said the diplomat based in Europe.

That’s because the department is forced to prioritize “the protection of the United States’ critical national security interests and the safety of U.S. citizens abroad” over other functions, according to the spokesperson, who is among those still working but without pay. Even with the new pot of funding for salaries, department activity will be limited to this scope, with limits on employee travel and engagement.

That pay will also only run for the next two weeks before the department will have to consult with Congress on moving additional funds to cover salaries. In addition, employees will not yet be paid for the first month of the shutdown -- until fiscal year 2019 appropriations are approved and back pay can kick in.

While the department could have taken this step to pay employees as soon as the shutdown started, it didn’t largely because no one anticipated the shutdown to last this long.

"It has become clear as the lapse has continued to historic lengths that we need our full team to address the myriad critical issues requiring U.S. leadership around the globe and to fulfill our commitments to the American people," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. "We are also deeply concerned about growing financial hardship and uncertainty affecting Department employees whose salaries and well-being are affected by the unprecedented length of the lapse."

Even amid the shutdown, staff had to support Pompeo’s week-long Middle East tour while not being paid -- a trip that required more staff than usual to work for his wife Susan, who traveled with him and had her own schedule of meetings and activities. The secretary said his wife was on "an important mission ... trying to help the State Department be better" by touring embassy facilities and living conditions and making recommendations for improvements.

Consular operations like visa and passport services have remained open because they are supported by the fees folks pay for them, but some could be at risk of closing or scaling back hours if they do not have sufficient fees.

Certain operations within the agency have also remained open because of residual funds, including Diplomatic Security, Overseas Buildings Operations, and International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

But with fewer employees in the office, staff have had to pick up more work. Conversations have been turned to what tasks should be prioritized, instead of getting that greater amount of work done with less staff, one official in Washington said, adding, “People are starting to snap at each other in meetings.”

Diplomats sometimes spend a year in language training ahead of a new posting, but those classes have also halted -- even though diplomats will ship out to post at the same time. That means they will be less prepared when their position starts later this year.

While some federal employees in the U.S. have turned to side gigs, those based at U.S. missions abroad are not allowed to do so.

The shutdown could also start to pose a security risk, some have warned.

“We have tens, if not thousands of USG [U.S. government] employees with security clearances not getting a paycheck. Can only imagine that the Russians, Chinese and others are licking their lips at the prospect of there being a lot of people in need of cash,” said one U.S. diplomat based in Eastern Europe.

“USG employees are so incredibly dedicated and patriotic, and here our own government is putting them in a precarious situation,” they added.

Department employees are expected to receive back pay after the shutdown ends.

One U.S. diplomat quipped that even quitting would be difficult because the shutdown means that there is no one working to fund moving families home -- something guaranteed to all diplomats.

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John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Under President Donald Trump's administration, thousands more kids may have been separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration than was previously thought, according to an internal government report released Thursday, with a "steep increase" of such cases a year before "zero tolerance" began.

The latest findings by the Health and Human Services Inspector General's office suggests that tough immigration policies embraced early in Trump's term contributed to the family separations.

Also, poor communication among federal agencies and informal tracking systems made it difficult to track whether the kids ended up with their parents, other sponsors or in foster care, the internal watchdog reported.

"The total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is unknown," according to the IG report.

While the government has identified some 2,700 children were separated in 2018 under zero tolerance, "thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017" before a federal judge ordered the government to reunite the families, the report found.

"Zero-tolerance" was a policy announced in spring 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that mandated adults were prosecuted for trying to enter the country illegally. It resulted in the separation of thousands of kids, who cannot be subjected to lengthy detentions.

With the parent detained, the child would be designated an "unaccompanied" minor and provided to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement.

By June 2018, a federal judge ruled that the families be reunited. The Trump administration identified some 2,600 kids who had been put in government custody as a result of the policy and, by last December, told the courts there were only eight kids still waiting to be reunited.

HHS responded to the report with a detailed letter summarizing its efforts to care for the large influx of children. Lynn Johnson, the assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, said the agency remains committed to improving communication and transparency efforts related to migrant minors.

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SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a member of Congress for only 15 days, but she already has some of the most veteran House Democrats chasing her heels and taking notes.

“She’s really good at Twitter and she’s gonna teach me,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., emerging from a jam-packed Twitter training session Thursday morning hosted by Ocasio-Cortez.

“Between [former Rep.] John Dingell and AOC, I’m going to get good at Twitter,” she said.

“AOC,” as the freshmen Democratic phenom from New York is known, has 2.44 million followers on Twitter. Rep. Dingell has nearly 37,000; her husband, John, has more than 251,000.

Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman in Congress, has electrified progressives with her social media engagement, unabashed about picking a fight, pushing back at critics and giving followers an inside look at her personal life.

“The top tip, I think, is really to be yourself and to really write your own tweets so that people know it’s you talking,” Ocasio-Cortez told ABC News after emerging from class.

ABC News was the only news organization to visit the Ocasio-Cortez Twitter boot camp in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol. Here is a selection of the advice AOC gave to her peers:

  •     “Social media is not just for young people.”
  •     “If you don’t know what a meme is don’t post a meme.”
  •     “If you’re an older woman, talk like an older woman talks.”
  •     “Don’t try to be anybody who you’re not.”
  •     “Jonathan Dingell is amazing on Twitter, absolutely amazing.”
  •     “Social media is not a press release. It’s not a press conference.”
  •     “It’s not the kitchen that’s popular, or the cooking that’s popular, it’s that I’m engaging people doing something I’m already doing.”
  •     The most effective behavior is “behavior that is not like your normal member of Congress.”
  •     “Sometimes the culture here is to fit in and keep your heads low,” she said. But “we don’t want to separate ourselves” from constituents on social media.
  •     “Mute people but try not to block them.”
  •     “The way we grow our presence is being there.”

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani sparred with Chris Cuomo in a heated -- and often pinballing -- interview Wednesday night. The former New York City mayor tried to defend the president and impugn the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In one spirited debate, Giuliani told Cuomo, host of Cuomo Prime Time, that he had never said the president didn't collude with Russia during the campaign.

"You just misstated my position," Giuliani said, interrupting the host. "I never said there was no collusion between the campaign! Or between the people in the campaign."

"Yes, you have," Cuomo interrupted.

"I have not. I said the president of the United States -- there is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here: conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC," Giuliani said.

Trump of course has tweeted the phrase "no collusion" dozens of times, including 51 times in 2018 (and once in 2019).

Giuliani himself, contrary to his interview with Cuomo, has echoed the "no collusion" claim many times. After a CNN interview in July 2018, he responded to a viewer with exactly that claim. He tweeted, "No collusion, no obstruction. President Trump did nothing wrong."

Giuliani also explained away one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's alleged contact with an ex-Russian agent, saying, "He was only there for six months -- or four months."

Defense attorneys inadvertently revealed earlier this month that Manafort is accused of sharing 2016 campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate whom the special counsel has identified as a former Russian intelligence officer.

While defending handing over polling data as not being collusion, Giuliani said, "Polling data is given to everybody," before conceding, "He shouldn't have given it to them" just one question later.

Later in the interview, Giuliani seemed to hedge even further about collusion, saying, "If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago. It's either provable or it's not. It's not provable because it never happened."

Seconds later, when asked what he meant by "if it happened," Giuliani responded: "I'm telling you there's no chance it happened."

The former mayor did say Mueller's report should be made public, but also said Trump and himself should be able to see it first and he should be able to offer a response on behalf of the president.

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LPETTET/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats have for months fired up supporters with the promise that control of the House of Representatives would finally allow them to seize copies of President Donald Trump's tax returns.

They have argued the filings could produce a road map for investigations into Trump’s tangle of global businesses and provide a cure for anxiety caused by his refusal to share details about his wealth, debt, charitable giving and potential conflicts of interests.

At one point during the campaign, soon-to-be-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the San Francisco Chronicle it would be “one of the first things we do” and “the easiest thing in the world” to demand a copy of the president's tax filings from the Internal Revenue Service.

But now just a few days into the new Congress, the leader of the committee, one of a handful of lawmakers legally entitled to access the returns, is urging caution, setting the stage for an early conflict among Democrats about how aggressively to push.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., told ABC News Wednesday he doesn’t know when he will request the documents but wants to ensure the committee takes a careful approach to the politically-sensitive issue, so as to best protect their legal position should the president seek to block their efforts in the courts.

"The other side of this is that litigation could prolong it, so we’re methodically doing it the way we said we would," Neal said.

Neal added that he still hopes the president will turn over the returns voluntarily.

Other Democrats on the panel want to move immediately.

“We’ve got to get it going as soon as possible,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who repeatedly tried to push Republicans to obtain Trump’s highly sought after returns in the last session of Congress. “I would say within the next month, I think that’s fair.”

The brewing clash in some ways encapsulates a pivotal challenge facing Democrats on a range of topics, including investigations into Trump’s business holdings, subpoenas for Trump insiders and talk of impeachment.

Many have expressed concerns that partisan battles over these matters could overshadow their legislative agenda and feed the perception of overreach House Republicans have been quick to accuse them of on the tax returns and other issues.

The call for Trump to make public his tax returns dates back to the early days of the 2016 presidential contest, when then-candidate Trump initially signaled he would gather the volumes of documents that comprised his returns and make them available for public inspection. As the campaign progressed, he dialed back that pledge, citing ongoing IRS audits that would complicate any attempt to make them public. Ultimately, he chose to keep them private.

Trump is among the few presidents or candidates not to release his tax returns over the past 40 years. Gerald Ford didn't release his returns in 1976, but released a summary of his returns. Other candidates have released more extensive records.

By the end of the 2016 election, three-quarters of Americans wanted Trump’s returns to be made public, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The Ways and Means chairman is one of only three congressional committee heads entitled to request copies.

A provision that was added to the Internal Revenue Code during a bribery scandal that hit Washington in the 1920s says the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” the tax return of any individual upon written request from the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Some Democrats have suggested they attempt a bipartisan route to the tax returns, through the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. But Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who sits on that joint committee, has already signaled that he has no interest in that fight.

"I will not go along with efforts to weaponized the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes," Grassley said on the Senate floor in December. "Such an action would be unprecedented."

With the Senate under Republican control, the Democrats have viewed Ways and Means as their only option to pursue the documents. And there is mounting pressure on Neal, not only from within his committee, but from Democrats in other House committees, such as the oversight, intelligence and foreign affairs panels, all of whom see potential value in reviewing the returns as providing potential fodder for their own investigations.

A ‘roadmap’ to Trump finances

While there is no way to know whether the returns will yield anything helpful to those probes, tax experts tell ABC News they are very likely to provide insight into the president’s family business empire.

"There really is a lot of information on a return; it is a roadmap to a taxpayer’s financial world -- not just the total amount of income, but its sources and types," said tax attorney Christopher S. Rizek, an IRS veteran who now works at the Washington firm of Caplin and Drysdale.

"For most items, the return will just provide leads that will require follow-up," Rizek said.

Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, vowed on CNN in December to fight any effort by the House to see the returns.

“They can’t just look at them,” Giuliani said. “It has to be linked to some wrongdoing. We will fight it in court and I think we would win unless they had some specific allegation.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the New York Times in October that the department “will work with our general counsel and the IRS general counsel on any requests.”

Some Democrats have expressed a willingness to wait patiently as Ways and Means gears up for a possible fight with the Trump administration.

“You have one shot at it and you’ve got to get it right,” one House Democrat told ABC News. “Richie [Neal] has the best shot, everybody knows that he can go for it, but we can’t muck it up.”

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, defended Neal's handling of the delicate political question.

"I don’t think he’s timid at all. I think he’s just being thoughtful," he said.

But other Democrats note that if the battle grows into a long and arduous court fight, the longer they wait to request them, the more likely they miss their opportunity to hold the president accountable before the elections.

“We have the law on our side,” Pascrell said. “This president’s going to do it. Sooner or later.”

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Sen. Kamala Harris, who went from being the daughter of immigrants to a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said in an interview with ABC News' Good Morning America that she finds her political strength in knowing that "if it's worth fighting for, then it's a fight worth having."

Harris, D-Calif., soared to national prominence first as attorney general of California, and then by becoming the state’s third-ever female senator.

In her interview with GMA, the California senator opened up about her advice for young women, how she finds courage to fight in Washington, and her 2019 new year’s resolution.

On courage: ‘If it’s worth fighting for, then it’s a fight worth having’

Harris said that a lot of the courage she has to fight for what she believes in comes from her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who instilled within her many of the values that continue to influence her political career to this day.

"A lot of the courage I have comes from my mother," Harris said. "My mother raised us with a belief that we could do anything. Her point was don’t let anybody tell you who you are, you tell them who you are."

Some of her courage to fight in Washington and beyond also comes "with the confidence in knowing that if you believe in something then you should know that if it’s worth fighting for then it’s a fight worth having."

Advice for young women: Remember you’re not alone

Harris, who is no stranger to breaking barriers as a woman in politics, said it’s important for young women to remember that they are not alone, and to build a network of support.

"There are going to be many times you are going to be the only one like you in a room," Harris said. "It could be a meeting room, it could be a board room, and the thing I want you to remember is this: When you are in that room, we are all in that room with you, cheering you on."

"So chin up, shoulders back, and you use your voice and you speak for all of the people who are so proud you are in that room, and want their voice to be projected through you," she added.

Harris said the second piece of advice she would give to young women is to "surround yourself with really good friends."

"Have people around you who cheer you on and applaud you and support you and are honest with you, and tell you, you know when your breath stinks," she quipped.

Look for people who will "celebrate your successes," she added. "The ones who you can also call in the middle of the night and laugh about the thing you’re not supposed to laugh about, or cry when you feel like crying, or curse when you feel like cursing."

She continued: "That’s really important because none of us have achieved the success we have without really good friends."

We need to talk about sexual assault

Harris also made headlines for challenging Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation late last year, but said that a lesson she gleaned from the hearings was that as a society, we need to talk more about sexual assault.

“One of the aspects of the Kavanaugh hearing, among the many, that I think is important is the importance of us talking much more as a society and a community of people about the issue of sexual assault,” she said.

“I know it makes people uncomfortable, I used to specialize in those cases as a prosecutor, and it is something that impacts so many people,” she added.

“We don’t want to think that it exists, but we have to talk about it, we have to let it out in the open,” she said. “We have to support survivors and we have to talk about something that we still have a lot of work to do in terms of combating.”

“Even though we would like to think that it doesn’t happen, it does, and we need to deal with it,” she added. “Let’s speak that truth.”

New Year's Resolution? Cook more

Harris revealed that her goal for 2019 is to "cook more," saying preparing a meal for her family and spending time with them over food is one of her passions.

"I spend time thinking about recipes, I plan menus in my head and then it’s just a matter of when can I get the family together and be home to cook Sunday family dinner," Harris said.

"So my goal this year is to do even more Sunday family dinners,” she said. “It’s my most favorite thing to do."

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested to President Donald Trump that his State of the Union address, scheduled for later this month, be delayed because of the partial government shutdown.

In a letter to the president, Pelosi proposed the delay because the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, the agencies designated to provide security for the Jan. 29 event, and have not been funded for 26 days.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote.

Read the letter here.

The second-ranking House Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, tweeted that Pelosi's move showed "Democrats are only interested in obstructing."

Hours after Pelosi's letter became public, there was no response from the White House, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back in a tweet against the implication that the shutdown has harmed the department's ability to secure the event.

A Pelosi spokesperson said that a furloughed DHS employee – someone not declared 'essential' staff and not forced to work through the shutdown – “expressed serious concerns” about the staffing levels to manage the security needs of the SOTU. It’s unclear what sort of visibility or credentials this furloughed employee carries to make that assessment, given that he or she is not classified “essential staff." Furloughed employees are directed not to participate in any work functions, including reading email, while the lapse in appropriations continues.

Given the letter leaves the invitation on the table for the president to speak on January 29th, Pelosi told ABC News that her letter explains her concerns are "about security."

“Our letter is clear about what our concerns are. Just read the letter again, okay?” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "It’s about security.”

Freshmen House Democrats are also clearly frustrated by the shutdown, traversing the Capitol for the second straight day in search of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, this time to deliver a petition to end the shutdown. But for the 2nd time, they ended up speaking with his aides instead.

For the first time, progressive phenom Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the group, attracting a lot of attention from passing tourists in the Capitol rotunda.

“It’s an urge to reopen the government, to send it for a vote," Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said. "That’s it.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib said negotiations can resume "when we get government back up and running.”

Tlaib, known for profanely declaring on her first day as a member of Congress that she was elected to “impeach the motherf-cker” -- referring to President Trump of Trump, said she supports Pelosi's letter to the president today, but that the public must understand that Congress could reopen government without Trump's support by passing a bill with a veto-proof majority.

“Let’s get people paid," Tlaib, D-Mich., said. "People don’t like being used as pawns in this so-called debacle. Everyone knows this has nothing to do with the wall. I don’t think anybody wants anything else right now to happen but for government to get back up and running.

Trump's first State of the Union address in 2018 was viewed by 45.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, across broadcast and cable.

The last U.S. president to deliver a State of the Union address in writing was Jimmy Carter in 1981, though a written message conveyed to Congress was the historical norm in an era before broadcast radio or television.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to deliver the State of the Union in person from the House chamber in 1913. In 1922, Warren G. Harding made history as the first to share live audio of the address on the radio, though it the broadcast was not widely distributed. A year later, Calvin Coolidge's address was broadcast on the radio nationally. Harry Truman was first to deliver a televised address in 1947.

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Missile Defense Agency(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon’s new Missile Defense Review highlights new space capabilities that could become the next layer of missile defense to deal with the threat of ballistic missile threats posed by North Korea and Iran.

According to a senior administration official, the review looks at the development of new space-based sensors that could detect long-range missile before they are launched and calls for the study of whether lasers could be used to counter ballistic missiles that are launched by rogue states.

President Donald Trump will visit the Pentagon on Thursday to formally unveil the Missile Defense Review.

The first review of its kind to be undertaken since 2010, the Missile Defense Review provides a road ahead for how the United States could continue to counter the ballistic-missile threat to the United States and its regional allies and partners.

But while the earlier review focused exclusively on the ballistic-missile threat, the new review broadens the scope to include cruise missile and hypersonic threats being developed by Russia and China.

“This is really a comprehensive look at our missile defense capabilities and programs and posture,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the review’s release. “Both what we have today, what we’d like to make improvements to and then what are the next generation programs we’d like to invest in to get ahead and stay ahead of the threat.”

A key point of emphasis in the review will be space-based capabilities that could help the U.S. stay ahead of the threat, according to the official

“Space is key to the next step of missile defense,” said the official.

The current U.S. missile defense system consists of a layered approach of interceptor missile aboard Navy ships and long-range, ground-based interceptors based in Alaska and California.

The Defense Department will looking at a space-based layer of sensors that could enhance early warning systems to track missiles before they are launched.

ABC News has learned that another space technology that might be explored is the development of a space-based interceptor that could fire rockets into space, directed at an incoming missile.

The Missile Defense Review also calls for the study of whether to use “directed energy” against incoming missiles, possibly through laser technology, according to the official.

The official described it as an advanced capability “we think is worth looking into” and whether it makes sense to be able to deploy such a technology.

ABC News has learned that one concept being explored for countering the North Korean missile threat in the future is using a new solid state powered laser on a high-altitude drone. The long-range laser would be able to destroy a North Korean missile while in the initial boost phase of its launch.

The United States has 44 ground-based missile interceptors stationed at Fort Greeley in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California designed to intercept North Korean missiles that might be headed towards the United States. The number of ground-based interceptors is already slated to increase to 64 in 2023.

The official said the Missile Defense Review will continue studying the feasibility of creating a third such site elsewhere in the continental United States to counter a threat from Iranian long range missiles.

The review is likely to rile Russia and China about America’ missile defense system, the official stressed that America’s missile defense systems are purely defensive and directed at a rogue threat. The official noted that the United States continues to rely on its nuclear arsenal to deter any potential Russian or Chinese nuclear attack.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump's comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks "long and hard" about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

"My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting," Graham said. "You make people we are trying to help wonder about us."

A bomb blast on Wednesday in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which killed American service members, comes less than a month after Trump announced that U.S. troops would withdraw from the country.

Graham, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, interrupted a confirmation hearing for the nominee to be the next attorney general, William Barr, to make his sentiments known.

Trump declared in a video released on Twitter last month: "We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home."

At the time, Graham called the decision an "Obama-like mistake" and blasted the president for the hastily announced withdrawal plan, and made clear it was a move he wholeheartedly opposed.

"Anytime a president does something that people on the ground are rattled by, it usually comes back to bite us," Graham told reporters Wednesday.

"When it got to be seen we’re going to withdrawing all of our forces, people went back to their corners and started hedging their bets," Graham said.

Graham noted that if ISIS is behind the attack, it "shows they’re not defeated and they’ve been emboldened."

Meanwhile, at least one Republican senator - Rand Paul of Kentucky - is condemning the president. Paul said he met with Trump at the White House Wednesday to discuss Afghanistan and Syria.

"I have never been prouder of President Donald Trump. In today’s meeting, he stood up for a strong America and steadfastly opposed foreign wars. Putting America First means declaring victory in Afghanistan and Syria. President Trump is delivering on his promises!" Paul said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Vice President Mike Pence also issued a statement earlier in the day saying the U.S. has "crushed the ISIS caliphate" and devastated its capabilities.

"President Trump and I condemn the terrorist attack in Syria that claimed American lives and our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen. We honor their memory and we will never forget their service and sacrifice," Pence said.

"Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate – not now, not ever," Pence added.

Democrats, while expressing their grief over the loss of American lives, ripped Trump for his lack of strategy in the region.

"I think this tragic occurrence on the battlefield reflects how the United States has no strategy no plan and no real path forward," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, told reporters Wednesday.

"But the danger to our troops will only increase because of the haphazard and lack of strategy that we have in Syria. This rapid withdrawal without a plan a strategy puts our troops in danger," he said.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, also blasted the president.

"President Trump’s precipitous removal of our troops from Syria and his claim that ISIS has already been beaten we knew would not hold up. Today’s tragedy shows that’s just the case," Schumer told reporters.

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Noam Galai/WireImage via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A government agency “ignored the Constitution” by allowing the Trump Organization to retain a lease of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue -- more widely recognized now as the Trump International Hotel -- when Donald Trump was elected president, according to a report issued Wednesday by the agency’s inspector general.

Lawyers with the General Services Administration (GSA) told investigators that “they ignored the emoluments issues” involved in determining whether the president’s election “caused Tenant to be in breach of the lease upon the President’s inauguration,” the report said.

The emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibits any federal office holder, including the president, from accepting any payment or benefit from a state or foreign government. For example, the hotel in Washington is frequently patronized by representatives of foreign governments while in the nation’s capital.

The agency failed to appropriately account for the possibility that Trump could profit from the hotel while in office, including from foreign governments, the report says.

“We also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution; and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration,” the inspector general wrote.

Investigators in the inspector general’s office launched the probe in July of 2017 “based on numerous complaints from members of Congress and the public about GSA’s management of the lease.”

The Trump International Hotel is already tied up in two legal challenges based on emoluments concerns.

Attorneys general from Maryland and the nation’s capital said Trump violated the emoluments rules by profiting from the hotel and congressional Democrats have filed a lawsuit against Trump arguing that Congress must consent to all foreign payments he receives, including at his hotel. Both lawsuits are moving forward.

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at his hotel ahead of his 2017 swearing-in, according to internal documents.

In their report on Wednesday, the inspector general recommended -- and the GSA agreed -- that the agency “conduct a formal legal review” of the matter.

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3000ad/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Before they square off over Democrats' planned inquiries into the Trump administration, House Democrats' chief investigator and President Donald Trump's top White House lawyer touched gloves for the first time Wednesday as they begin to work together on oversight requests regarding the Trump administration.

Sources tell ABC News in recent weeks under the new leadership of Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel’s office has been aggressively staffing up – adding attorneys with a variety of expertise many who have worked in oversight capacities in the past. The White House team of lawyers, according to sources, will cooperate when it’s deemed a request from Congress is valid – however, in the cases when it’s not in the legal team’s opinion they will fight that aggressively and would potentially invoke executive privilege or claim an active investigation.

After a brief "get-to-know you" phone call last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and White House counsel Cipollone sat down Wednesday, with the veteran lawmaker telling ABC News after the meeting that he has "a lot of respect" for the White House counsel.

"I think he's a distinguished lawyer," Cummings, who is also an attorney, said. "Certainly he's going to do his job in representing the president and I'm going to do my job in leading the committee."

White House lawyer Emmet Flood has also briefed senior White House staff on Congressional oversight ahead of the investigations, according to sources familiar with the matter. However, sources say, the briefing was a broad overview, not about strategy or tactics when it comes to requests from Congress.

Cummings has no illusions about the White House likely legal strategy and potential resistance to congressional oversight requests but said it's important for both sides to work together. He set a deadline last Friday for the White House to respond to dozens of requests for information but has not commented on next steps or the White House's compliance with those inquiries.

"We understand that we both have a job and we're going to be straightforward with each other. My relationship with lawyers and I've gone against some of the best, have always been like that," he said.

The Maryland Democrat is preparing for a marquee public hearing next month with Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, that will shine a spotlight on the president's family business and his time working for the businessman-turned-president.

Cummings has also expressed interest in following up with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the department's efforts to slip a citizenship question into the 2020 censure questionnaire. A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the administration from asking about citizenship on the census,but the ruling is expected to be appealed. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments next month.

Also on the radar for Congress, is the president’s company – the Trump Organization.

Compared to the White House, the company cannot claim executive privilege and sources familiar with internal discussions expect the company to comply with any requests it receives from Congress within reason. The company also hired Stefan Passantino, the former White House ethics chief who is already representing the Trump’s firm on a matter in front of the House Oversight Committee.

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Yana Paskova/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A key Senate panel is moving closer to issuing a subpoena for Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer, as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Asked Wednesday whether it is fair to say the Senate Intelligence Committee is moving closer to issuing a subpoena to Cohen after trying for some time to get him to agree to testify, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told ABC News, “Fair.”

Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison for financial crimes, two violations of campaign finance law, and lying to Congress – a charge based on false testimony he provided to the Senate and House intelligence committees in the fall of 2017.

He met twice with the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee in September and October of 2017, but the first interview was hastily cut short by “disappointed” committee leadership after Cohen released his own statement to the press beforehand.

Burr’s interest in bringing Cohen back in front of his panel comes less than a week after the House Oversight Committee announced that Cohen had agreed to appear in an open session next month.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has also expressed interest in scheduling Cohen to appear before his panel in a closed session.

President Trump, in an interview with Fox News over the weekend, accused Cohen of agreeing to testify before Congress as part of an effort “to get his sentence reduced,” and suggested without evidence that Cohen’s father-in-law might face legal exposure because “that’s the money in the family.”

The president’s comments prompted a statement from three top Democrats, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Schiff, warning Trump to cease any “efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure [Cohen] not to provide testimony to Congress.”

Cohen’s hearing in front of the House Oversight committee is scheduled for February 7. He is due to report to federal prison on March 6.

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Bill Chizek/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House Problem Solvers Caucus sat down with President Trump at the White House Wednesday as the president continues to demand funding to build a southern border wall as a condition for ending the partial government shutdown, now in its 26th day.

The meeting with both Democrats and Republicans comes the day after the president invited a group of rank-and-file Republican and Democrat members to the White House for lunch. No Democrats took the White House up on that invitation, which was viewed on Capitol Hill by some as an attempt by the White House to create fissures within the Democratic Party – though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave approval for Democrats to accept Trump’s invitation.

Democrats remain united in their firm opposition to building a physical barrier along the southern border and have said they will not negotiate with the president on the issue with the government still partially shuttered.

Talks between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders broke down a week ago when Trump walked out of a meeting with top Democrats after Pelosi told the president she would not be willing to cede to the president’s demand for wall funding if the government reopened.

The seven Democrats who attended Wednesday’s meeting released a statement as they arrived at the White House saying they accepted the president’s invitation in order to relay their message that the government must be reopened as a precondition for further in-earnest conversations.

"There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government. Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering,” the Democrats said in a group statement. "There is also strong agreement that if we reopen the government, the possibility exists to work together and find common ground to tackle some of our country’s toughest problems and fix them. But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened."

The Democrats included Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Thomas Suozzi, Vincente Gonzalez, Anthony Brindisi, Dean Phillips, Max Rose, and Abigail Spanberger.

While President Trump remains dug in with his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a southern barrier, the White House has acknowledged that the administration’s updated projection of the impact of the partial government shutdown on economic growth has worsened.

The administration’s updated projection estimates the ongoing shutdown shaves off 0.13 percentage points each week off quarterly economic growth.

The administration’s revised model includes both the estimated impact from those contractors that are not working because of the shutdown, as well as the 380,000 furloughed federal workers, according to an administration official.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed concerns about the negative impact of the ongoing stalemate on the economy, maintaining that the White House remains confident in the long term fundamentals of the economy and the president’s policies.

And while President Trump said Monday that he rejected a proposal from his close ally South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to reopen the government on a short term basis to allow for time to negotiate, Graham said Tuesday night that he and a bipartisan group of senators were preparing to make a pitch to the president to do just that.

Graham told reporters Tuesday night that the proposal would call for reopening the government on a short term basis, with a promise that within a "few weeks" they might be able to reach a viable solution that would meet his border security needs.

"I’m hoping in the next 24 hours there will emerge a group of Republicans and Democrats who will basically ask the president jointly to give us a few weeks to work on this, with you, to see if we can produce a result in the Senate," Graham told reporters Tuesday night.

"I would ask the President if that does come forward and there’s a critical mass of Republicans and Democrats asking for a period of time to work on this a short term CR, the president strongly consider giving us that opportunity," he said.

Graham argued that by reopening the government for a limited period of time would provide the president with a better opportunity to get his way in increased funding for border security. "I can’t guarantee an outcome if you give us three weeks, but I can pretty well guarantee you’re getting nowhere quick doing what we’re doing," he said.

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