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Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas was in contact with at least two major Trump campaign donors-- one with an official role in the Republican National Committee-- during his efforts to pressure Ukraine into opening politically motivated investigations, documents released by the House Intelligence committee this week revealed.

Parnas' interactions with the two men, Harry Sargeant III and Tommy Hicks Jr. -- who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to fundraising vehicles for the president -- provides more fuel to assertions by the president’s critics that political motives – and not the nation’s foreign policy goals -- drove the efforts in Ukraine.

In an interview on CNN on Thursday, Parnas confirmed his work in Ukraine was all about ensuring President Trump remained in office.

“It was all about 2020, to make sure he had another four years,” Parnas said. “That was the way everybody viewed it. That was the most important thing, for him to stay on for another four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”

A friend with a jet

The identity of those financing the work by Guiliani and Parnas during the months they spent traveling to Ukraine, Austria, and elsewhere, has remained largely opaque. Giuliani at one point told Reuters that the president was not paying for any of their efforts to see Biden investigated in Ukraine.

“Nobody pays my expenses,” Giuliani said in a Reuters interview in September. “What does it matter if I’m getting paid for it. Isn’t the real story whether he (Biden) sold out the vice presidency of the United States, not whether I got paid for it?”

The messages released on Wednesday suggest that Parnas was receiving at least some support from Sargeant, a Florida-based oil executive and former state Republican Party’s finance chairman, who was funding at least some of Parnas' flights as he assisted Giuliani's efforts abroad.

In a message dated April 10, Parnas asks Sargeant about a trip that "just got canceled, adding that "we have people scheduled to meet on Saturday in Vienna."

"Just becoming expensive flying u guys everywhere LEV," Sargeant replied.

Parnas subsequently told Sargeant that "we" are paying him back for the flights and that he was “never expecting [Sargeant] to pay for it." According to House investigators, Parnas flew to Ukraine four days after this conversation.

In another message, Parnas asks Sargeant to “approve” for his associate named Dave “to pay for car service on cc [credit card],” saying he got a “deal” from “Rudy’s guys” on lodging and taxis. Sargeant – an ultra-wealthy energy mogul -- replies, “Don’t bother w this stuff pls.”

It also remains unclear how involved Sargeant was in directing Parnas’s efforts, though text messages between the two men suggest Sargeant was aware of Parnas’s activities. At one point, Parnas invited Sargeant to meet him in Ukraine, to which Sargeant responded, “I could leave Thur and be there Friday maybe.” Parnas then said, “I think first Vienna and than Ukraine.” At another point, Parnas sent Sargeant a photo he described as a “Team trump dinner celebration” and wrote: “I’m official part of team trump tomorrow big day my brother I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The two also exchanged articles about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and about the then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, with Parnas telling Sargeant he has some “juicy stuff” and that a “bomb is dropping.” When Yovanovitch is recalled to Washington in May, Sargeant texted Parnas with his reaction: "Perfect."

Sargeant's attorney Chris Kise told ABC News his client has not been to Ukraine in over a decade for any purpose. In a statement, Kise denied Sargeant had any involvement in any plan to remove Yovanovitch and said Sargeant loaned money for Parnas' air travel, but never offered to pay for it outright.

"As is evident from the texts, Mr. Sargeant loaned Lev Parnas small sums for travel expenses because Mr. Parnas claimed, perhaps falsely, he was broke, and promised to pay the funds back," Kise said. "But despite repeated requests by Mr. Sargeant, and continual promises of repayment by Lev Parnas, Mr. Parnas never repaid these expenses.”

Sargeant's name has also surfaced in news reports and impeachment inquiry witnesses' testimonies related to Parnas and Fruman’s to attempts to reshape the leadership of Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz in pursuit of natural gas business in Ukraine. Sargeant’s lawyer at that time denied his client’s involvement in any Ukraine energy ventures.

“Power Breakfast”

Other material released by the House this week shows Parnas in contact with several people who play prominent roles in the president’s fundraising and re-election effort. Those includes texts between Parnas and Hicks Jr., a friend of Donald Trump Jr., who is the co-chairman of the RNC and chairman of pro-Trump super PAC American First Action.

Parnas and Hicks were in contact for at least four months, messages show, as the scheme to oust then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yavnovotich and pressure Ukraine to announce political investigations unfolded. At times, Hicks and Parnas exchanged articles about the Biden campaign and Ukranian election meddling conspiracy theories. Hicks appeared to offer Parnas guidance.

"Editor and owner of Daily Caller is a friend," Hicks told Parnas in a message alongside an article about Nellie Ohr and Fusion GPS. "We should let him know what we know at the right time," he suggested.

"100%," Parnas replied.

The messages also suggest the two joined conference calls to discuss the efforts.

"Great job on the conference call!," Parnas praised Hicks in one exchange. "Thanks," Hicks replied. "Short and sweet!"

Hicks at times appeared to want to keep his distance from Parnas, stating he wanted to "keep [his] hands clean" when Parnas asked him to retweet a since-deleted Sean Hannity tweet.

But Parnas kept Hicks up to date on the status of his efforts in Ukraine, informing Hicks in March that something was going to "break tomorrow.” In May, Parnas told Hicks the ambassador "just got recalled."

Just a few weeks later, Parnas posted a photo on Facebook showing him at a breakfast with Hicks, alongside Donald Trump Jr. and fellow Giuliani associate Igor Fruman.

Parnas referred to the meeting as a "Power breakfast."

ABC News made attempts to reach Hicks by phone at his home and at the RNC but was not able to reach him for comment.

“Have jr retweeted it”?

Parnas also kept in touch with America First Action's director of development Joseph Ahearn, who kept Donald Trump Jr. updated on Ukraine matters, messages released by House committees this week show.

In a message dated March 20, 2019, Ahearn asks Parnas, "What should I send don to tweet" and Parnas sends a series of tweets and articles related to Ukraine officials' probe into U.S. elections. Parnas then asks Ahearn, "Have jr retweeted it" and Ahearn replies, "Sent."

Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of the articles Parnas sent to Ahearn around the same time.

In another series of messages, Parnas also sent Ahearn a New York Times article from May that links Parnas to Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine for the first time, to which Ahearn says, "They started naming you here. Are you okay?"

Shortly after Parnas and Fruman were named as part of the House impeachment inquiry, the two were indicted in a separate campaign finance violation case in the Southern District of New York on charges related to alleged illegal straw contributions and foreign contributions. They both pleaded not guilty. Among Parnas' donations mentioned in the indictment is a $325,000 contribution to America First Action. Prosecutors accuse Parnas and Fruman of falsely reporting the origin of the payment as under the name of “Global Energy Producers.”

Of numerous outside groups raising and spending money to support President Trump’s re-election bid, America First Action is the sole outside group the president has officially endorsed and approved as the “trusted supporter of President Trump’s policies and agendas.”

ABC News reached out to America First Action for comment but received no response.

Parnas’s expanded political outreach

As an ardent supporter of Trump since the early days of his 2016 campaign, Parnas’s contact with wealthy Trump donors stretched far beyond his activities in Ukraine this year. But his donation to America First Action in early 2018 afforded him a new level of access to exclusive high-dollar events.

 Parnas has since acquainted himself with a host of President Trump’s wealthy supporters at close-door donor events, and then touted those very connections to pursue his personal business interests as well as political interests. During an interview on CNN, Parnas said he had so many photos of himself with Trump-world insiders hanging in his house, his wife thought it looked like a “shrine” to the President.

In 2018, Parnas cultivated a relationship and secured a $500,000 loan from New York-based lawyer and Trump donor Charles Gucciardo, his attorney told ABC News. Gucciardo's lawyer Randy Zelin said his client then gave the money to Giuliani, which kicked off the business relationship between the two in the fall of 2018. No apparent connection has been made between Gucciardo’s loan and Parnas's specific efforts in Ukraine.

Zelin told ABC News that his client made the payment as a "passive investor" in Parnas and Fruman’s company, called Fraud Guarantee, and that he decided to invest in the company because of an endorsement from Giuliani.

"Mr. Gucciardo invested because he believed that Mr. Giuliani – the former Mayor of New York City; former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; and, the first name in cybersecurity -- was in front of, behind, and alongside the Company which would catapult the Company into the world of cybersecurity and investor protection," Zelin said in an email.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has scrambled the Democratic primary, forcing senators in the race to overhaul their schedules in the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

At a time when presidential candidates traditionally camp out in early voting states, the four senators will spend their afternoons at their desks in the Senate chamber, sitting in silence for six days a week, listening to evidence and debating over whether Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress in efforts to investigate the Ukraine affair.

“I would rather be in Iowa today, there’s a caucus there in two and a half weeks,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters Thursday at the U.S. Capitol amid impeachment proceedings. “But I swore a constitutional oath as a United States senator to do my job.”

 He is hosting a rally in Iowa Wednesday evening and his campaign has said he's willing to go back-and-forth to continue to squeeze in events during the trial.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has made face-to-face campaigning and selfie lines a signature part of her campaign, is expected to supplement her time in Washington with virtual town halls, and plans to return to the trail when possible throughout January.

With a four-way race emerging between Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the top of the field, the trial has obvious implications for the senators.

"It's a challenge. There's no doubt about it,” Matt Paul, a prominent Democratic strategist who led Hillary Clinton’s Iowa efforts in 2016, told ABC News. “From a campaign standpoint, it comes at a very difficult time for them.”


The race is still competitive and many voters haven’t settled behind a single candidate.

One recent poll of Iowans by Monmouth University showed Biden leading the pack, followed closely by Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren, while a CNN poll out days earlier showed Sanders in front, followed by Warren, Buttigieg and Biden. Both found that roughly 6 in 10 voters don’t have their minds firmly made up on a candidate.

President Trump and Republicans have hoped for a speedy trial that would conclude before the Feb. 4 State of the Union Address. But the push from Warren and other Democrats to seek additional witnesses and records could extend proceedings through Iowa and New Hampshire, and well into February.

“It is a tough time to be stuck in Washington,” said Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chair who ran for president in 2004 and came in third in the Iowa caucuses after being considered the front-runner. “And it’s going to be just as painful in New Hampshire and South Carolina as Iowa.”

“The fact that there are four [primaries] in a row and they can be taken out of all four primaries, that is some of concern,” he added.


Biden and Buttigieg will spend the next few weeks on the ground, engaging with local press and voters in churches, diners and town halls across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

 Sanders and Warren will be forced to lean heavily on key campaign surrogates to spread their message and keep them on voters’ minds on a day-to-day basis.

“I told her, sign me up,” former presidential candidate Julian Castro, now a key Warren supporter, told ABC News’ Rachel Scott in Iowa about helping the senator’s campaign. “Every minute counts, and I’m going to do whatever I’m asked between now and the Iowa caucus.”

For Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is staking her campaign on a strong performance in Iowa, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who is hoping to do the same in New Hampshire, the Senate trial could undermine plans for a late resurgence ahead of early voting.

“I’ve got to be there. At the same time, I’m going to get here. And I do things like get five hours sleep. I do things like I get on a plane like I did today at 6 a.m. I just keep going,” Klobuchar told ABC News’ Rachel Scott in Iowa last week.

“We're just going to have to adjust," she said. "We don't know what the schedule is going to be, but I just think we have to have as fair a trial as possible with the four witnesses that we've asked for, and the chips will fall where they may when they come to this campaign.”

 In 2016, when Clinton narrowly defeated Sanders and his stronger-than-expected campaign in the caucuses, the former secretary of state was able to adjust her schedule and spend more time in Iowa when it became clear that the result could be close, according to Paul, her 2016 Iowa state director.

“We added events in Iowa, and added her time in Iowa, and, you know, that was critically important to winning in Iowa,” he said.

The rules of the impeachment trial, which force senators to sit in silence and submit written questions to Supreme Court Justice Roberts, will also limit the opportunities for Democrats to seize the spotlight, as Klobuchar and Sen. Kamala Harris of California did in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

 But Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who served as Clinton’s rapid response director in 2016, argued that the historic nature of impeachment proceedings will play in the senators’ favor.

“All eyes are going to be on this impeachment hearing, especially amongst caucus-goers who are die-hard Democrats,” he said. “After the trial each day, they will be able to go on cable news and give their reactions and stay at the center of the conversation.”

The campaign operations, he added, won’t be dormant in the early voting states while the senators are on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not like them not being there means they’re going to vanish,” he said. “Candidates will be there every time they turn on the TV and radio.”

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Motortion/iStock(NEW YORK) --  Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s wife, Evelyn Yang, claims she was sexually assaulted by her OBGYN while she was pregnant with her first son, revelations she said she shared on CNN on Thursday to help other women.

In the interview, the candidate's wife said she faced months of abuse as a patient of Dr. Robert Hadden.

“It started with inappropriate questions around how intimate I was with my husband, sexual activity, just very inappropriate, probing questions that were unrelated to my health,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash. “The examinations became longer, more frequent, and I learned that they were unnecessary most of the time.”

Yang said the abuse escalated when she was seven months pregnant.

“I was in the exam room, and I was dressed and ready to go. And then at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about I think you might need a C-section. And he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved. And at first I was a little bit like what's going on here?” she said.

Evelyn said that the outpouring of support for her and Andrew Yang on the campaign trail has inspired her to speak up about the assault, but says that at first she didn’t even tell the presidential candidate what had happened.

“I certainly didn't want Andrew blaming himself not being able to go with me to these doctors visits because, honestly, if he was with me in the room, if anyone was with me in the room this, obviously, wouldn't have happened. And at the time, he was traveling a lot for his nonprofit,” she said.

Months after the abuse she said she learned that Hadden had been accused of assaulting other women after Googling him when she received a notice in the mail that he had left his practice. It was at that point that she told her husband about the abuse.

“He cried. And he wasn't bawling. There were tears. And he said it's because he remembered when I told -- when I came home one day ranting about pervy doctors I said something like, why do they let men be gynecologists? It makes no sense. And he remembered that I had made this comment and he felt so bad. He felt guilty that he didn't make the connection or ask anymore,” she said.

Yang says she joined the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s case against the doctor, along with 17 other women, accusing the doctor of sexual assault. The doctor pleaded guilty to two charges involving two of the women, but Yang wasn’t one of them, according to CNN.

According to court documents, Hadden pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two patients, one by “licking her vagina during a purported vaginal examination” and another by sexually abusing a female patient the doctor knew to be HIV positive, “with his ungloved hand.”

The district attorney agreed to a plea deal with Hadden and the doctor lost his medical license, registered as the lowest level sex offender, and avoided jail time, according to CNN.

In a statement provided to ABC News, District Attorney Vance said, "Dr. Hadden was a serial sexual predator who used access and power to take advantage of women in their most vulnerable states. We support all of his survivors, and applaud their strength and courage. Because a conviction is never a guaranteed outcome in a criminal trial, our primary concern was holding him accountable and making sure he could never do this again – which is why we insisted on a felony conviction and permanent surrender of his medical license. While we stand by our legal analysis and resulting disposition of this difficult case, we regret that this resolution has caused survivors pain.”

Six weeks before Yang says she was assaulted, police arrested the doctor after a patient told them he “sexually assaulted her and licked her vagina during an exam.” His arrest was voided and he continued seeing female patients, according to CNN.

There are now 32 women who accused Hadden of sexual assault.

“The allegations leading to Robert Hadden’s 2016 guilty plea and allegations contained in subsequent complaints are abhorrent, and we deeply apologize to those whose trust was violated,” the university told ABC News in a statement.

Attorney Isabelle Kirshner, who previously represented Hadden declined to comment when reached by ABC News.

As the story aired on CNN, Andrew Yang tweeted, “I love my wife very much.”

“I’m extraordinarily proud of Evelyn for telling her story, and my heart breaks every time I think of what she had to experience. She is my best friend and the bravest woman I know. No one deserves to be harmed and treated the way she and countless other women have been. When victims of abuse come forward, they deserve our belief, support, and protection. I hope that Evelyn’s story gives strength to those who have suffered and sends a clear message that our institutions must do more to protect and respond to women,” Andrew Yang said in a statement to ABC News.

Evelyn Yang, who previously fought to keep her name anonymous says she is speaking out now because she has a platform to talk about it.

“I need to use that voice. I feel like it’s something that’s an obligation but also a privilege and a gift that I get to share my story now and also help other women. The process of getting to this point is very hard. You know, like I haven't slept in days. This is very hard to come out,” she said.

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Scott Heins/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Election Commission on Friday granted Mike Bloomberg's campaign an additional 45 days to file his mandatory personal financial disclosure form.

That extended deadline, March 20, means the multibillionaire former mayor of New York City won't have to disclose additional details on his considerable private fortune until more than two weeks after Super Tuesday.

Millions already will have voted in states on which Bloomberg is staking his entire 2020 gambit -- slightly fewer than than half of the delegates in the race will be on the table.

Bloomberg's campaign cites his late entry into the Democratic primary as the reason, along with the intricacies of his paperwork.

"Mr. Bloomberg, who became a candidate for President of the United States on November 21, 2019, has made diligent efforts to prepare his report," Bloomberg's counsel wrote in requesting the extension. "Nevertheless, due to the complexity of his holdings and the need to obtain certain information from third parties, Mr. Bloomberg needs additional time to gather and review his financial information and complete and file his report."

The FEC's decision comes as Bloomberg has poured unprecedented sums into his bid for the White House, blanketing the airwaves with ads, and a staff swelling to more than 1,000 fanned out across 33 states, including every single one voting on Super Tuesday.

Pushed for additional details regarding what kind of "complexity" his holdings might have, his campaign declined to comment.

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Melissa Kopka/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration announced a set of proposals on Friday that will loosen school and summer meal guidelines, further weakening one of former first lady Michelle Obama's signature policy efforts.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue defended the new proposals in a statement Friday saying they will "empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide."

"Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA’s school meal programs," Perdue said in the statement.

The Trump administration in 2018 finalized its rollback of school lunch regulations under former President Barack Obama, which was later challenged in court by a group of states. ABC News previously reported that some of the changes finalized by the Trump administration included allowing schools to offer additional milk flavors and curbing Obama-era regulations on sodium limits.

Friday’s proposed rules build onto the 2018 regulation, according to the USDA statement.

"Under the school meals proposed rule, school nutrition professionals have more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste," the statement said.

The agency highlighted proposed new rules that would allow schools to "offer more vegetable varieties." In addition, schools would have the ability to "adjust fruit servings" and make it easier to "offer meats/meat alternatives," for breakfast, among other things.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) -- a group that has previously challenged the administration in court over previous school meal guideline changes -- weighed in on USDA's newest proposal.

Colin Schwartz, CSPI's deputy director of legislative affairs, in a statement called the rule an "assault on children’s health [that] continues today under the guise of ‘simplifying’ school meals."

"In practice, if finalized, this would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, French fries, and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day," Schwartz said.

Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America also responded, claiming the proposals "appear to be a step in the wrong direction."

"Putting politics aside, the science of the past few years suggests that we should be increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables at each meal," Roman said in a statement. "Young children especially need more exposure to unprocessed, easy-to-eat, fruits, vegetables, and greens."

The proposals were announced on the former first lady's birthday.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday denied having knowledge of any surveillance conducted on former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch -- whose ouster is now at the center of the impeachment process -- but he said the State Department will investigate whether any occurred.

“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” Pompeo said during an interview with conservative radio host Tony Katz. “I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as Secretary of State, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate.”

Ukrainian police had already announced earlier this week that they were investigating the alleged surveillance.

In the radio interview, Pompeo also denied being acquainted with Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudy Giuliani who handed over a trove of text messages and other materials to Congress that included revelations texts about a possible surveillance effort.

“I’ve not met this guy, Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him,” Pompeo said.

In text messages between Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde and Parnas that have been made public, Hyde appeared to suggest to Parnas that he had people following Yovanovitch's movements in Ukraine.

Beyond providing the new trove of documents, Parnas has also gone public with claims that he was involved in a scheme to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into the former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Parnas said on CNN Thursday night that he and Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine “was all about 2020, to make sure [Trump] had another four years.”

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Niyazz/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic National Committee announced the qualifying rules for the Democratic debate on Feb. 7, the first matchup after voting begins, which will be hosted by ABC News, ABC's New Hampshire affiliate WMUR-TV and Apple News.

The slightly modified criteria for the debate, which is sandwiched evenly between the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, includes the previous criteria of qualifying through the polling and grassroots thresholds but it also includes a new, second pathway to qualify. Any candidate who is awarded at least one pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention based on the results of the Iowa caucuses, as reported and calculated by the Iowa Democratic Party, will be able to participate.

On caucus night, 41 pledged delegates are up for grabs in Iowa.

To clinch a podium on the debate stage, candidates can also meet both the polling and grassroots fundraising requirements, with the same thresholds as the January debate. The polling requirement will no longer include Iowa polls because, as the DNC says in its news release, "a candidate’s support in Iowa will be reflected through the results of the Iowa caucus instead of Iowa-specific polling."

The first pathway of the polling requirement is the four-poll threshold: candidates must earn at least 5% support in four national or early state polls from New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina. In order to count as qualifying polls, the polls must be sponsored by different organizations, or if sponsored by the same organization, cover different geographical areas.

The second pathway is the early state polling threshold: Candidates must get at least 7% support in two early state polls, again from only New Hampshire, Nevada and/or South Carolina. Unlike the first path, these polls can be sponsored by the same organization and can also be conducted in the same geographical area.

The polls must be released between Dec. 13 through Feb.6, the day before the debate. Additionally, the polls must be sponsored by one of the organizations or pairs of organizations from the following list determined by the DNC: The Associated Press; ABC News/Washington Post; CBS News/YouGov; CNN; Fox News; Monmouth University; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist; NBC News/Wall Street Journal; NBC News/Marist; New York Times/Siena College; Nevada Independent/Mellman Group; Quinnipiac University; University of New Hampshire; USA Today/Suffolk University; Winthrop University.

The DNC said it could add another Nevada-specific and/or South Carolina-specific polling sponsor to this list.

To meet the grassroots fundraising threshold, candidates must accrue at least 225,000 individual donors and a minimum of 1,000 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states, U.S. territories or the District of Columbia.

Candidates have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 6 to hit this threshold.

With the donor requirement still intact, the rules appear to preclude presidential contender Michael Bloomberg from qualifying for the debate since he is self-funding his campaign and not soliciting any donations. He has met the polling threshold, according to an ABC News analysis.

"I hope the DNC change its rules – I’d gladly participate – but I’m not going to change my principles," Bloomberg wrote in a CNN op-ed. "So I’m traveling the country taking my message directly to voters – and as a result, President Trump is now finally facing opposition from a candidate in the battleground states."

The DNC outlined the new rules on Friday for the crowded field of 12. More details for this debate, including moderators, will be announced at a later date.

Under these new rules, the candidates who appear to have cleared the polling and grassroots fundraising thresholds, according to an ABC News analysis, are former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Andrew Yang, the political novice who missed the cut for the January debate but was the only candidate of color who participated in the December clash, has met the donor requirement but remains two polls shy of crossing the polling threshold, according to an ABC News analysis. None of the other candidates have a single qualifying poll.

The New Hampshire debate, which will be held at St. Anselm College in Manchester, will air across ABC, WMUR-TV, which is owned by Hearst Television, Apple News and on ABC News Live, ABC's streaming channel available on the ABC News site, app, and OTT media services.

The DNC previously announced two other debates that will held throughout the month of February. NBC News and MSNBC, in partnership with The Nevada Independent, hosts a Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas prior to Nevada's caucuses. CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute co-host the debate before South Carolina's primary on Feb. 25 at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina and Twitter will be a debate partner.

Qualifying criteria for those two debates have yet to be announced.

Throughout 2019, the party imposed more rigorous qualifying rules as the primary season deepened -- oftentimes putting the committee at odds with the presidential contenders, leading to lower-polling candidates being excluded from the stages.

This is the second debate hosted by ABC News following September's matchup at Texas Southern University, a public, historically black university in Houston, which was co-hosted with Univision. That debate featured a roster of 10 candidates, with Biden and Warren, the two polling front-runners at that point in the primary, tangling on the same stage for the first time. They have since stood shoulder-to-shoulder at center-stage in every matchup succeeding that debate.

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ablokhin/iStock(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- Virginia is slated to begin its five-day ban on weapons from Capitol grounds Friday night in anticipation of Monday's Lobby Day against pending gun control legislation.

Efforts by gun rights groups Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America to block Gov. Ralph Northam's order still were being debated in Virginia's Supreme Court as the ban was planned for 5 p.m.

Northam and state law enforcement leaders said they'd received credible threats that targeted Richmond Capitol Square and that the ban would help ensure there wasn't a repeat of the violence at 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, at which James Alex Fields drove into a crowd and killed Heather Heyer.

"I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence," Northam said in a statement Thursday.

Virginia's state legislature, which has its first Democratic majority in over 20 years, is considering several major gun control measures, including universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and a red-flag law that would give judges and cops the authority to remove guns from individuals believed to be threats.

Virginia gun rights activists are planning a rally at Capitol Square and have invited others who share their views from other states to join them.

"Without relief from this court, petitioners and thousands of other rally participants will be irreparably denied their right to bear arms," the Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America wrote in their filing to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Law enforcement authorities, however, stressed that the threats are real.

On Thursday, the FBI arrested three alleged members of a neo-Nazi group who had with them guns and ammunition.

Law enforcement sources told ABC News they were detained under suspicion that they would travel to Richmond "in anticipation of a possible race war."

The four-day ban lifts at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden earned the endorsement of Alabama's lone Democratic U.S. House member Friday morning, Rep. Terri Sewell, the 11th member of the Congressional Black Caucus to back Biden’s presidential bid and another sign of his strength with a key constituency needed to win the party’s nomination: African-American voters.

Sewell, the first African-American woman ever to represent Alabama in Congress, was courted by a number of 2020 Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who traveled to Selma with the congresswoman in April to promote her plan for affordable housing.

Sewell’s endorsement was timed with Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, where she will appear with the former Vice President at an event in South Carolina, and gives Biden a boost in a key Super Tuesday state.

“Donald Trump is the biggest threat to Dr. King’s legacy! I believe that Joe Biden is the best democratic candidate to beat Trump and, therefore, protect the causes central to the life’s work of Dr. King,” Sewell said in a statement announcing her support.

Biden currently leads the Democratic 2020 field with endorsements from the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, and was outmatched only by California Sen. Kamala Harris before she ended her presidential bid in early December.

The endorsement comes as a Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month showed Biden with an entrenched lead over his other Democratic rivals with African-American voters, a group whose support he will need to both earn the party’s nomination and defeat President Trump in November.

The poll showed nearly half, 48%, of black Democratic-leaning voters voters say they are siding with the former vice president, while 20% support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and 9% support Warren.

"For most Democrats, they are looking for a candidate that can be President Trump and Vice President Biden is perceived by most Democrats, and particularly African Americans, to be the candidate who could most beat Trump," said Fredrick Harris, a political science professor at Columbia University, with a focus on African American politics.

Advisers to Biden have consistently cited the former vice president’s ability to build a broad coalition of support as evidence he is the candidate best suited for the Democratic nomination, as no candidate has secured a position at the top of the ticket without gaining a majority of support from African American voters since 1992.

The struggle to chip away at Biden’s support among black voters in part led both Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, two of the party’s most prominent African-American competitors for its presidential nomination, to end their bids for the White House, and still plagues another top contender, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

In the Washington Post/Ipsos poll, only 2% of black Democratic-leaning voters are backing the former U.S. Navy Intelligence officer.

Earlier this month Buttigieg picked up his first endorsement from a member of the CBC, Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, who also now serves as the campaign’s first national co-chair.

With the departures of Harris and Booker from the 2020 race, only two other members of the CBC have endorsed candidates currently running: Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley is backing Warren, while Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar is backing Sanders.

While Biden’s record on race relations and civil rights has come under more intense scrutiny during the 2020 race, the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator often touts his experience as a former public defender and early advocate for voting rights, and names Dr. King and former Attorney General Robert Kennedy as his two political heroes.

“I'm extremely proud of my record on civil rights. That's why I have more people in the African-American community supporting me than anybody else. That's why the president picked me. I make no apologies for my record on civil rights. It’s been as good or better than anybody in politics,” Biden said during an education forum last month in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, referencing the fact that then-candidate Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, picked the then-senator to be his running mate.

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Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump, while honoring the college football national champions from Louisiana State University amid his Senate trial on Friday, called out Democrats, saying "they are trying to impeach the son of a bitch."

Trump made the comment as he invited the team back to the Oval Office for photos at the Resolute Desk, after he said some "good presidents and some not so good presidents" have sat at the desk.

"But they got a good one now," Trump said. "Even though they are trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?"

While touting the success of the record-breaking LSU Tigers, he also made sure to highlight his own successes as president -- including the signing of the partial trade agreement with China on Wednesday and the Senate passage of a new trade deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico on Thursday.

He continued to talk up the U.S. military -- claiming his administration catches terrorists much like a football team would take out their opponents.

“We’ve got the greatest military … we’ve taken out the terrorists just like your football team would have taken out those terrorists," he said. "So we’re doing good."

Trump also mentioned a record "all-time high" for the U.S. stock market, what he's called an economic victory.

"So that will be 149 times in the past three years," he said, turning to LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. "That's not bad. Coach, that's good, right?"

The president did talk football at the ceremony, giving shoutouts to various LSU players such as Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback Joe Burrow, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and wide receivers Ja'mar Chase and Justin Jefferson. He also went down a list of some of the most well known plays and games of the season.

When last season's champions, Clemson University, visited to the White House in March, Trump fed them fast food from McDonald's and Chick-fil-A. He said the team ate so much food "we didn't know what the hell to do."

The LSU Tigers gave the president a jersey with "Trump" on the back, displaying the number 45.

"I thought he was giving me the Heisman trophy … He’s just giving me a jersey," Trump joked.

Louisiana federal and state lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Cassidy, Reps. Mike Johnson, Garret Graves and Steve Scalise, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, also attended the ceremony.

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Ken Starr is seen here during a 2018 interview with ABC News. (ABC News)(WASHINGTON) -- Former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray are expected to join President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial legal team, a source familiar with the plans told ABC News Friday.

Former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz is joining the team as well, his office confirmed in a statement. It said he will help argue in the president's defense on the Senate floor.

"Professor Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the Senate trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal.," the statement said. "While Professor Dershowitz is non partisan when it comes to the Constitution—he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and voted for Hillary Clinton— he believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution. He is participating in this impeachment trial to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent."

A senior administration official confirmed that Starr, Ray and Dershowitz will be part of the president's team.

Starr was a central player in the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and one of the president's personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, will still be leading the defense, according to the source.

The developments come ahead of opening arguments in the trial scheduled to begin Tuesday.

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hermosawave/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The traditional kick-off of election season is usually associated with the state of Iowa, when caucus-goers spend hours attempting to lobby support for their top choice candidates in hopes of helping presidential hopefuls establish an early lead in the nominating process.

But as Iowans prepare to brace frigid temperatures to cast their ballots on Feb. 3, voters in another chilly state directly to the North may be the ones to lay claim over casting the actual, in-person first votes of 2020 through early voting.

Among the first states to start in-person early voting is Minnesota, where voters will begin to head to the polls as early as Friday - weeks before the state’s March 3 primary on "Super Tuesday," when the bulk of the nation’s primary contests are held, apportioning nearly one-third of the delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination on one night.

"The earliest people who vote are either the people in situations where they just need to vote early, like our military abroad...or it's these people who are hardcore voters," said Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida who specializes in elections and voter turnout. "They're very engaged, they follow the candidates, they're very confident as who they're going to vote for. And that's the theme, I think, plays out through the early voting period."

But a rush to the ballot box might not overwhelm polling places opening their doors on Friday, McDonald said.

"In a chaotic presidential nomination contest like what we have right now with multiple candidates, what you often see is that voters tend to hold on to their ballots much longer than they will when we get to the general election," he continued. "Right now, people don't know, really, who to vote for. We still have candidates dropping out."

The option to cast votes early is a departure from how Minnesotans have voted for nearly three decades under the caucus system, which required real-time and in-person attendance up until this cycle.

“When we had caucuses, we were requiring people to show up, you know, during a two and a half hour window on Tuesday night during the middle of winter to cast their votes and you know, [it] was very restrictive,” Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said in an interview with ABC News.

Minnesota party officials believe the expanded flexibility will result in record turnout at the polls, meaning that a significant number of votes could be cast across the battleground state weeks before its official primary date. Democrats are pouring resources into the state early, as the party aims to safeguard its blue territory from GOP gains through organizing tactics.

The expected increase in voter turnout could also serve as an indicator for the eventual presidential matchup in the general election, and Minnesota Democrats are also bracing for a flood of political efforts from the Trump campaign.

“Trump's a little bit of a trophy collector, right? And there's no bigger trophy for a Republican running for president than winning Minnesota,” Martin said.

In 2016, President Trump lost the state by a margin of two points, and has been open about wanting to tip the scales in 2020. At a campaign rally in Minneapolis in October 2019, the president made clear that winning the state was a priority in his campaign strategy, as he took a swipe across the aisle at Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar while promising to win the second time around.

“How do you have such a person representing you in Minnesota? I am very angry at you people right now,” Trump said at the time, adding, “She is one of the big reasons that I am going to win, and the Republican Party is going to win Minnesota in 13 months.”

Trump’s focus on Minnesota hits close to home on the campaign trail for Senator Amy Klobuchar who has enjoyed a steady rise in the polls over the last few months, particularly in the early states. She has said she is confident in her ability to face off with the president.

As Klobuchar maps out her winning strategy beyond Iowa, she will be in the state Friday as voters begin to cast ballots to kick off early voting.

But the Land of 10,000 Lakes only slightly beats out Vermont, another Super Tuesday state, as the earliest state to conduct in-person early voting.

Voters in Vermont, a state home to Sen. Bernie Sanders and one that the presidential contender is likely banking on in his second pursuit for the Democratic nomination, can start heading to the polls on Jan. 18.

But the distinction of issuing the first early voting ballots of the 2020 timeline, in this case, does not include people who vote absentee by mail. Voters in both New Hampshire and North Carolina have already started requesting absentee ballots, ahead of Minnesota and Vermont.

Those absentee ballots started trickling out of New Hampshire to military and overseas voters in December, according to the secretary of state's office. On Monday, North Carolina began mailing absentee by mail ballots to voters who requested them, and any registered voter in North Carolina may vote absentee by mail. In Virginia, in-person absentee voting began on Thursday.

Minnesota and Vermont aren't the only non-early states who will start the electoral process before the nation’s first four primaries and caucuses. A slew of states are poised to begin early voting throughout the month of February, allowing voters to cast ballots early on days interspersed between the first four nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Illinois, a state holding its primary on March 17, begins early voting on Feb. 6, sandwiched in between Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primary.

Between the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses, seven states will begin early voting, including the delegate-rich Texas, another Super Tuesday state.

Closing out the month of February with early voting are another five states, which are all holding primaries in March, including: Massachusetts, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Among the first four early states, only Nevada will be holding early voting from Feb. 15 to Feb. 18 prior to caucus day.

The benefits of early voting range from the convenience factor to producing higher turnout rates. In the 2018 midterm elections, which saw record highs for early voting, the total number of Texans who cast ballots during the early voting period surpassed the total vote (early plus Election Day) in 2014.

At this stage in the Democratic race, heightened expectations for early voting are driven by the competitiveness of the primary, according to McDonald.

"I don't expect the level of turnout on the Republican side to be the same as on the Democratic side because there's just different levels of competition there," McDonald told ABC News. "We know that competition is one of the key determinants for turnout."

But early voting could provide significant insights into voting patterns and behavior ahead of a competitive primary season and the critical 2020 general election.

"I think probably the more interesting dynamic will be on the Democratic side," McDonald said, adding, "we'll be able to look at the racial composition of the Democratic primary voters" across states that include race on the voter file, including a number of southern states like Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana.

"For like Biden to do well in South Carolina, we’ll want to see if the level of engagement among African Americans is at least the same level as it was in 2016," the last time there was a competitive Democratic primary, McDonald offered as an example.

But more broadly, early voting could potentially signal the level of engagement among America’s electorate -- a key indicator that could decide the trajectory of the 2020 race.

"We might also get some clues about what's going on with overall levels of engagement, just by looking at the total number of voters who have been participating," he added.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s former business associate, said on CNN Thursday night that his view of his and Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine was that “it was all about 2020, to make sure [Trump] had another four years.”

“That’s the way everybody viewed it,” Parnas said. "There was no other reason for doing it."

The statement came during Parnas’ second night of back-to-back television interviews, during which he implicated President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Devin Nunes, and the Trump legal team in activities central to the House impeachment investigation and Trump's Senate trial.

In Parnas' second night appearing on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show Thursday, he alleged that former Energy Secretary Rick Perry also played a direct role in the plan to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into opening an investigation into former Vice President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Parnas recalled that Perry called Giuliani when Perry was on his way to Zelenskiy 's inauguration "to ask him what to discuss, and Rudy told him to make sure to give [Zelenskiy] the message" that Zelenskiy should announce the opening of an investigation into Biden.

Perry then called Giuliani after the inauguration to confirm "that he spoke to Zelenskiy, and Zelenskiy's going to do it,” Parnas alleged.

The effort did lead Zelesnkiy to make a general announcement about investigating corruption -- but when it didn't mention Biden, "Giuliani blew his lid," Parnas recalled.

It “wasn't supposed to be a corruption announcement," Parnas explained. "It had to be about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and Burisma.”

Parnas explained that this happened on several occasions. "Every time somebody would meet Zelenskiy" to press him to announce a Biden investigation, Parnas said, Zelenskiy would "agree -- and then [he] would walk it back."

Perry, who has been described by colleagues as one of the "three amigos" in the Trump administration's policy on Ukraine, has insisted that he's "extremely comfortable" that there was no quid pro quo, saying he had only been focused on addressing corruption in Ukraine and encouraging American companies to do business there.

He confirmed at that time that he encouraged the president to call Zelenskiy "multiple times" during a press conference in Lithuania, but said that he never encouraged Trump to talk about the Biden family.

"Not once, as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name -- not the former vice president, not his son -- ever mentioned," Perry said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in October.

Parnas, during Thursday's CNN interview, also stressed that he would be “very willing” to testify at the Senate impeachment trial and that he would be the “best witness.”

"I should be their No. 1 witness, because I'm the one that got all the dirt," Parnas said. "Why do they need Biden? Call me."

When asked why he hasn't been asked to testify, Parnas said, "I think they're afraid of me."

During both the CNN and MSNBC interviews, Parnas detailed a specific conversation he said he had with the president about then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Parnas recalled sitting with Trump at a super PAC dinner and saying something negative about Yovanovitch to Trump, which prompted Trump to immediately turn to an adviser and say, "fire her.”

Parnas said Pompeo and then-national security adviser John Bolton refused to fire Yovanovitch despite being repeatedly pushed by the president. Parnas said he thought it was becoming “comical.”

Parnas’ interview appearances have touched off a new round of debate among lawmakers over the need for witnesses at the impeachment trial. Democrats argue that Parnas' first-hand account would be important testimony, while Republicans have remained largely unmoved.

During his first appearance with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Parnas said he believes "President Trump knew exactly what was going on" with Parnas' activities in Ukraine, including his efforts to have Yovanovich removed from her post as the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv.

"[President Trump] was aware of all of my movements," Parnas said. "I wouldn’t do anything without the help of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

Pressed on the president’s insistence that he does not know him, Parnas said, "He lied."

Reactions to Parnas’ claims differed sharply.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, in a statement Thursday morning, attacked Parnas' credibility and dismissed his claims by insisting the president did nothing wrong.

"These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison," Grisham said in the statement. "The facts haven’t changed -- the President did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats, has been a sham from the start."

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, however, said that Parnas’ claims raised “lots of serious questions,” and Sen. Chris Murphy said Parnas’ statements “fit neatly into what we’ve already heard.”

Separate from the House impeachment probe, Parnas last year was charged in the Southern District of New York with circumventing campaign finance laws to channel foreign money into Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. He has pleaded not guilty.

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narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A century-long battle to amend the Constitution to cement equal rights for Americans regardless of sex is coming to a head soon.

On Jan. 15, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, crossing the three-fourths of the union threshold specified in the Constitution for its adoption.

However, the amendment may not see the light of day for a while, due to legal technicalities over a Congress-issued deadline, which are bound to lead to long court fights.

Here's a look at how the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, began and progressed, and where it will go in the weeks to come.

Origins in the suffrage movement


Activist Alice Paul pushed to have national protections for women and formally called for the ERA in 1920. Three years later, Congress introduced the amendment, which was authored by Paul. However, both the House and Senate sat on the proposal for decades.

Civil rights movement prompts action


Throughout the 1960s, women's rights groups and civil rights organizations lobbied Congress to pass the amendment and send it to states for ratification. Their efforts included rallies, disrupting hearings and public campaigns.

Their efforts paid off when, in 1971, the amendment passed in the House, followed by the Senate a year later. There was bipartisan approval for the amendment, which read, "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

The amendment would give American women more protections and would be the basis for laws that granted equal pay and prohibited gender discrimination, according to experts.

Off to the states, the battle begins


When Congress sent its resolution to the states for ratification in 1972, it came with some stipulations, including a seven-year deadline to meet the 38-state minimum. Article V of the Constitution, though, does not give a specific time limit to ratify any potential amendment.

Although the ERA had big name supporters, such as the AFL-CIO, there was some opposition, particularly from conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. She argued that the ERA would disrupt social norms and lead to hardships for housewives and possibly women being drafted into the military.

By the end of 1979, only 35 state legislatures ratified the ERA including Nebraska, Texas, Michigan and Oregon. Congress extended the deadline by another three years, but no additional state houses gave their seal of approval.

New push in the '90s


Although activists continued to lobby for the three additional states to ratify the ERA, there was little to no activity among those legislatures for a quarter-century. ERA supporters, however, were still determined, especially after the 27th Amendment was passed in 1992.

That amendment was originally sent to the states for ratification in 1789 and didn't meet its minimum state count until 1992. ERA proponents have argued that the deadlines issued by Congress in 1972 were part of the resolution to send it to the states and not in the actual wording of the amendment itself.

New millennium, new states


In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, and a year later, Illinois approved the amendment. More and more advocates began calling on their elected officials to ratify the amendment including celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and Patricia Arquette.

In January, Virginia's state legislature, which had recently gained a Democratic majority after more than 20 years, ratified the amendment, passing the threshold.

Legal roadblocks make future murky


The congressional deadlines set in the original 1972 resolution continue to be a major impediment to ERA's adoption. Some legal experts contend that those deadlines prohibit ratification and the process would have to start over. However, others have argued that Article V doesn't deter ratification once the threshold is met.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Legal Counsel (OLC) released an opinion before the Virginia vote that stated the amendment "is no longer pending before the States," because of the expiration. The National Archives and Records Administration, which has to certify the amendment, said in a press release it would comply with the OLC's opinion save for a court order.

Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, told ABC News it is likely a lawsuit will be filed against the National Archives that will compel them to ratify the amendment.

There are bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that seek to remove the deadline, which would negate any legal argument, according to experts.

"It's taken almost a century, but it's closer than we have ever been. We're determined to cross the finish line," Carol Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women's Equality, told ABC News.

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izanbar/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. senators settled into their political foxholes on Thursday upon the kickoff of President Donald Trump's historic impeachment trial, saying they would take their duties as jurors seriously while also declaring that the upcoming proceedings were either – depending upon their party – necessary to save the country or a complete waste of time.

"I'm ready for this trial to end," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told ABC News' Mariam Khan. "And all the evidence I've seen has nothing to do with the facts as far as I'm concerned."

"They've given us two very weak articles of impeachment," added Republican Sen. David Perdue. "Our job is to look at what they've brought us and decide if that rises to the level of impeachment."

For the Democrats, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, speaking at a news conference, drew comparisons to President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal, and accused Trump of hiring "henchmen" to do his dirty work and then blocking all efforts by Congress to hold him accountable.

"Nothing we do while we serve in the United States Senate will be more important than putting country above party in this procedure," Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.

"The case is already overwhelming," he later added.

If there was any doubt of the hyper partisan atmosphere, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York declared: "We want the truth, and maybe some Republicans would rise to the occasion."

Trump's Senate impeachment trial officially began Thursday afternoon on a blustery January day in Washington as a group of House lawmakers – designated "impeachment managers" -- marched across the Capitol carrying two articles that accused the president of abusing his power in office and obstructing Congress.

During the House impeachment inquiry, the Democratic majority gathered evidence of a pressure campaign orchestrated by Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get the newly elected Ukrainian government to announce an investigation that would take aim at the president's chief political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.

According to documents and witness testimony, Trump last July ordered a hold on nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine – money the new democratically elected government desperately needed to fend off Russian troops at its border -- and refused to lift the hold despite the White House being warned that doing so was possibly illegal.

As the Senate chamber prepared for the formalities of a trial this week, new evidence in the case continued to spill out. Lev Parnas, a close associate of Giuliani facing criminal charges provided phone texts and other documents that described the two men's push for a Ukrainian announcement on Biden, while also telling media outlets that the president "knew exactly what was going on."

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, a federal government watchdog, ruled that the White House budget office indeed broke the law by withholding aid at President Trump's direction.

Trump again called the allegations a "hoax" and insisted that he didn't know Parnas, despite Parnas' close relationship with Giuliani.

"I don't know him at all, don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from, know nothing about him." Trump said.

Several Senate Republicans seemed unmoved by the new evidence.

"To me, the source of evidence, at best is questionable … The people involved are sketchy at best. I am ready to move on," said Graham.

Added Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana: "I don't want America, once the Senate finishes its work to say ‘well, we just got run over by the same truck twice.'"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that Republicans were content in burying their heads in the sand.

"They're afraid of the truth," she said.

Late Thursday, GOP moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine put out a statement trying to clarify where she stands on the question of witnesses and new evidence. "There's been a lot of mischaracterization and misunderstanding about my position on the process the Senate should follow for the impeachment trial," she said.

"While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999," she said, referring to the Clinton impeachment trial, where the question of witnesses was voted on only after opening arguments.

"Prior to hearing the statement of the case and the Senators asking questions, I will not support any attempts by either side to subpoena documents or witnesses," she added.

The partisan rancor though was left for outside the Senate chamber, as 99 senators signed their names in a book promising to uphold "impartial justice." One senator, James Inhofe, R-Okla., was in his home state because of a medical issue involving a family member.

Reporters described the room as completely silent as each member approached the book with Chief Justice John Roberts observing quietly.

Told to minimize distractions, many senators sat with few materials in front of them. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, took a Bible from his desk and began reading.

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