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Syria Chemical Attack Survivor Haunted by Memories a Year Later


iStock/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- It was right after morning prayers and still dark, recalls 28-year-old Qusai Zakarya, when the alarms started to go off and rockets hit his suburban neighborhood outside Damascus last August.

Though the country had been engulfed in war for over two years, this was different. "It was something we never witnessed before," Zakarya said, and since he could not see the gas he was not sure what was happening.

"You can barely smell it. It's like heavy air. It's like you take a breath and you feel you breathed something heavy," he said. The reality of a chemical weapons attack did not sink in until his neighbor arrived with two young children who were vomiting. They rushed to the hospital, but Zakarya collapsed along the way. His heart stopped and he was pronounced dead. He awoke almost an hour later, only when a mourning friend shook him.

"For me it is always like one minute ago," he continued. "It's like a printed image in my mind. Every detail, every breath that I took, every woman or children I saw dying for suffocating."

"This is something I cannot forget and just look the other way."

Zakarya eventually had to flee Syria and arrived in the U.S. in March. He has spent much of this year talking to people about the war: the press, students and United Nations officials.

On Thursday, he participated in a demonstration in front of the White House to mark the anniversary of the attack.

"I think my duty, so the world will know someday how brutal and terrifying that day was," he said.

 

Lima Sergie Attar, a Syrian-America who lives in the Washington, D.C., area and helped organize the memorial demonstration, agreed. "Our first goal is to remember and remind people what is going on in Syria and as well as the consequences of inaction," she said, motioning to symbolic red banner the group had created with the names of the more than 1,400 people killed in the chemical weapons attacks last summer. Prior to the attacks, President Obama had referred the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a "redline," which, if crossed, may trigger military retaliation from the international community.

"People forget the humanity behind the numbers," Attar said.

The decision not to respond more forcefully following the chemical weapons attack has been back in the limelight this summer, as the U.S. engages in airstrikes just across the border in northern Iraq. Zakarya still hopes for more support for the Free Syrian Army, an organization he says is fighting two enemies--President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS--but he is adamant that group has never asked for American troops on the ground in Syria.

"All we asked for is to help us take away the Assad ability to using barrel bombs… and especially chemical weapons to keep punishing the Syrian people for asking for their freedom."

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'Kissing Congressman' Makes Ballot, Faces "Duck Dynasty" Snub


mcallister.house.gov(NEW ORLEANS) -- Louisiana's "Kissing Congressman" Vance McAllister, seeking a political rebound after he was caught on a surveillance video kissing a staffer, qualified to be on the ballot Friday, but he also got a challenge from the Ducky Dynasty family that helped him get elected in the first place.

The Republican congressman for Louisiana's 5th District was supposed to qualify on Thursday, but missed his time slot because he said he was stuck in traffic, arriving at the Secretary of State's office after it had already closed for the day.

"We were coming down yesterday and traffic was backed up in Baton Rouge," McAllister told ABC News. "It was bumper to bumper stand-still for over an hour."

Friday is the last day in a three-day qualifying period that requires all candidates seeking public office in Louisiana to file the necessary paperwork.

After qualifying for the ballot in the morning, McAllister donned a New Orleans Saints jersey and was doused with a bucket of icy water, joining in what has become a viral campaign to raise money for research and awareness of ALS.

"I chose today after the close of my qualifying," McAllister said. "I thought it was fitting to do it down there with my Saints jersey on."

McAllister's participation in the ALS challenge came just days after House ethics rules warned members of Congress that their participation in the charitable challenge could be an ethics violation.

"No doubt, this is for an admirable cause. There is a prohibition in the Members Handbook and in the Ethics Manual on the use of official resources for the promotion or benefit of any private charitable cause," The House Administration Committee told members in an email obtained by Politico.

While members are forbidden from posting the videos to their official accounts, personal and campaign accounts are permitted.

McAllister has not posted a video to any of his official accounts.

Though McAllister didn't qualify as planned on Thursday, his Duck Dynasty challenger Zach Dasher did. Dasher is the nephew of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

"It was a surreal experience. I had my whole family there," Dasher told ABC News of qualifying for the ballot, but adding jokingly that it was his 8-year-old son Max who stole the show.

"He told me that he wants to run for office someday," Dasher said. "I am against career politicians, but I think my son Max might be a career politician someday."

Robertson endorsed McAllister's candidacy in last year's special election, but this year he is trying to defeat McAllister and elect his nephew instead.

"He is going to be very involved," Dasher said of his uncle Phil. "But being related to Phil doesn't make me qualified to be the next congressman. What it does is it gives me this platform to promote that our rights do not come from man, they come from God... I'm someone who will fight to dismantle the federal takeover of state rights and restore God back to government."

Though the endorsement is an outright rejection of McAllister as a politician by the Robertson clan, the congressman said he's not taking it personally and still considers the family his friends.

"They are supporting a family member," McAllister said. "They wouldn't be the family I know them to be if they didn't support a family member. So, there are no hard feelings whatsoever."

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US in No Hurry to Ramp Up Fight Against ISIS in Syria


DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released(WASHINGTON) -- America’s top military officials have acknowledged that ISIS will not be defeated without taking the fight to Syria, but the Pentagon on Friday tamped down any expectation that the U.S. could soon ramp up its help for moderate forces opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighting with ISIS in the country.

“I know of no plans to try to accelerate it,” Department of Defense spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters when asked if the Pentagon would speed up $500 million in funding to help moderate Syrian rebels, which it’s requested for next year. “Again, we’re working through Congress and through the budget–the budget vehicles available to us to get at that program.”

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said that the administration is looking at all options to deal with the ISIS threat.

The men did not advocate for airstrikes in Syria, but did not rule them out either. On Friday, Kirby reiterated that the Pentagon continues to review all options.

“The secretary didn’t rule anything in or out,” Kirby told reporters. “I think he said that options -- that all options remain available. And they do.”

Dempsey said on Thursday, however, that airstrikes were just “one small part” of a potential overall strategy to defeat the terror group.

“I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America,” said Dempsey. “But it requires the application of all of the tools of national power -- diplomatic, economic, information, military.”

Both agreed, however, that despite al-Assad’s hatred of ISIS, the United States and the Assad regime are not on the same side.

“When you have the brutal dictatorship of Assad and what he has done to his own country, which perpetuated much of what is happening and has been happening in Syria -- he’s part of the problem, and is as much a part of it as probably the central core of it,” Hagel said.

“He is absolutely part of the problem,” said Dempsey.

The Obama administration has set aside $500 million to help arm and train vetted members of the Syrian opposition, who are now fighting both the Assad regime and extremist opposition groups such as ISIS and al-Nusrah Front, but that program is not set to begin for another year.

Kirby told reporters that there are no plans to speed the assistance and training. He said while the Pentagon does understand the urgency of addressing the extremist problem in Syria, the program is still subject to Congressional approval and needs to be implemented carefully, to make sure only vetted opposition members and groups receive U.S. assistance.

“You can only go as fast as right,” he said. “And a key to that is a proper vetting process and we just haven’t done that yet.”

But the three-year conflict in Syria continues. The United Nations reported on Friday that the number of people killed in Syria’s civil war has more than doubled in the past year to at least 191,000.

The U.N. identifies 191,369 deaths from the start of the conflict in March 2011 to April 2014, more than double the 92,901 deaths cited in their last report, which covered the first two years of the conflict.

U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, blasted the world’s inaction on Syria.

“The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis,” she said in a statement Friday.

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Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Reunite at Union League Club of Chicago


John Gress/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Failed presidential nominee Mitt Romney reunited with running mate Paul Ryan for the first time since the 2012 presidential election.

When the Republican Party's unsuccessful presidential ticket appeared at the Union League Club of Chicago on Thursday, Romney praised his former partner.

"I've made a couple of good decisions in my life. One was who I married, and the other was who I chose to be my running mate and there was no better person to be vice president of states than Paul Ryan!"

Romney also highlighted all the great attributes of running for president.

"I know a lot of you think it must be just awful running for president, because you got to go every night into a different hotel, you get debate after debate after debate in the primaries then in the general as well, and you have the adoring press always at your heels," he said.

The two men joked at the possibility of another run for the White House as Romney said, "So if you get the chance to run for president, do it, it's a great thing. Third time's a charm!"

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John Kerry Spotted in Massachusetts


State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- While the State Department hasn’t said where John Kerry is this week -- he’s out of the office the department has told media, without confirming his location on the record -- it appears the secretary has been spotted by a handful of Twitter users and one Instagrammer vacationing in Nantucket, in his home state of Massachusetts.

Although the Instagram user identified the above boat as Kerry’s, it might be impossible to confirm for certain, and it’s also unclear whether Kerry was in fact on the boat when the photo was taken.

But the number on the sail does match the number borne by Kerry’s boat in at least one past photo, and the boat itself appears to be the same.

In a racing context, at least, sail numbers can be used to identify boats, the American Sailing Association confirms to ABC News.

Kerry is apparently taking a break from Washington, D.C., life at the same time as his boss, President Obama, who is currently on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.

The rising threat of ISIS, and its execution of American journalist James Foley, have prompted a response from the president and again raised discussion about whether a president should be criticized for being on vacation as global events unfold. Obama has received national-security briefings during his trip.

For his part, Kerry released a long written statement on Foley.

“We grieve for James Foley. We mourn for his family and his loved ones. We honor the courage and pray for the safety of all those who risk their lives to discover the truth where it is needed most,” Kerry wrote. “And make no mistake: we will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred. The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil.”

The secretary of State also tweeted:

ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.

— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014

Kerry is due to return to the office on Aug. 31.

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Rick Perry Doesn’t ‘Really Understand the Details’ of Indictment


Stewart F. House/Getty Images(PORTSMOUTH, N.H.) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.

Speaking to a group of business leaders in Portsmouth, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.

Asked about his indictment during a question and answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.

A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts -- abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official -- over a 2013 veto threat.

Perry went on to detail why he threatened to veto millions of dollars in funding for the state’s public integrity unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after a 2013 DWI conviction.

“When I saw that, I made the decision if I’m going to be held responsible for making decisions about where Texas taxpayer money gets spent, I was not funding that agency,” Perry said. “And as long as that individual was there I did not feel comfortable, I think the general public did not feel comfortable.

“I think this is an attack on the constitutional authorities of a governor. I’m going to fight this with every fiber of my being,” Perry said of his indictment.

The Texas governor talked about the need to secure the border and how to combat ISIS, a group that threatens the United States as this New Hampshire community has seen firsthand after the brutal beheading of journalist James Foley, who was from the state.

“Unfortunately for this state, it has been brought right to this doorstep with the pictures of the young man who was from New Hampshire who was brutally, viciously, maliciously murdered, beheaded to send a message to Americans,” he said. “They have told us that they are coming and why should we not take them at their word.”

Perry’s trip to New Hampshire comes as he weighs another presidential bid. Perry did not fare well in New Hampshire last time around, coming in last place in the Republican primary.

“I don’t know whether I was a good fit or not. I didn’t stay here long enough. I didn’t spend the time. I didn’t have the preparatory time. I learned some really, really good humbling and frustrating lessons running for the presidency,” Perry told reporters.

“I just think you have to spend a lot of time in these states if you’re going to do it. It’s like a relationship before you get married. There are a few times I guess people meet and it just works right off the bat but generally there’s a courtship that goes on. There is a period of time that you need to spend with people. They need to know you and I need to do that, and I didn’t do that,” he said.

Greg Whalen, a Republican from Portsmouth who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP primary, said he was impressed by the Texas governor and believes the indictment will have “no net effect at all” on Perry if he runs again in 2016.

Asked whether he thought New Hampshire voters would be able to forget Perry’s trouble in the last presidential campaign, Whalen said, “This is a new beginning and everyone deserves a second chance.”

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Reid Apologizes for Asian Jokes: 'Sometimes I Say the Wrong Thing'


Ethan Miller/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., apologized Friday for Asian-themed jokes he made while speaking to the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas Thursday night.

“My comments were in extremely poor taste and I apologize. Sometimes I say the wrong thing,” Reid said in a brief statement.

Reid’s remarks were caught on tape and posted to the Internet by the Republican opposition group America Rising.

While speaking to the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Reid said, “I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are.”

The Senate Majority leader then went on to explain the difficulty of encountering multiple people with the last name Wong.

“One problem that I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight,” Reid told the crowd as he leaned into the microphone.

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Why Control of the Senate May Not Be Known Until December


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Election Day is Nov. 4, but we may not know until December whether Democrats or Republicans will control the Senate in 2015.

It could all come down to Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu -- the last Democrat holding a statewide office in the increasingly red Creole State -- is making a bid for a fourth term, with polls showing her neck-and-neck with her leading Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Louisiana doesn’t have a traditional party primary system; instead, the primary and general election are held on the same day in what is known as a “non-partisan primary,” referred to informally as a “jungle primary.” All qualified candidates run at once, and if no one candidate wins over 51 percent of the vote on Nov. 4, the election will proceed to a Dec. 6 runoff between the two candidates with the most votes.

So in a year filled with close Senate races, one of the most hotly contested may not be over for an extra month. Analysts have predicted that a Republican takeover of the Senate is within reach, and if control of the upper chamber remains up for grabs on election night, the nation could be left watching and waiting for Louisiana’s race to end.

The chances of a runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy are likely increased by the presence of a third candidate on the ballot: tea party favorite and political newcomer Col. Rob Maness. Friday marks the close of the candidate sign-up period in Louisiana, and with Maness expected to qualify as a Republican, the stage is set for a three-way race in November.

Maness is not considered a serious contender by the measures of fundraising and polling, but the presence of a third candidate in the already tight race makes a runoff “pretty certain,” according to Pearson Cross, the head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“If Landrieu and Cassidy were mano a mano and someone was going to get 50 percent plus 1, I think you know that would make things a little clearer for both candidates,” Cross told ABC News. “With Maness in the race, it makes it hard for one of those candidates to get over 50 percent.”

In a midterm season in which Democrats are playing defense in an effort to maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, it’s not inconceivable that Louisiana could become the final outpost.

In that unlikely-but-possible scenario, extra attention and money would almost certainly pour into the state.

“Let’s imagine it’s Wednesday after Election Day and the Senate has 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans elected,” said Michael Malbin, the executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. “In that situation, the runoff election will decide control of the Senate and in that case, everyone will have a stake in the election, because control of the institution will turn on it.”

Under that situation, Malbin said the “sky is the limit” when it comes to how much money independent groups might spend on the race.

“It’s impossible to predict how much independent spending would occur in that final month,” he said. “But you can only expect that anyone with a stake in public policy will spend as much as they can. You can imagine some sort of record would be set.”

Louisiana’s race may find some clarity soon.

The passing of the qualification period also marks the beginning of the formal campaign season in Louisiana, when average voters begin to tune into the political chatter and do their homework on the candidates.

“After qualifying, [the election] takes on a reality that it didn’t before, and you see broader swaths of people paying attention,” said Cross.

Though Maness is expected to pull some conservative voters away from Cassidy in the general election, Cross said he may end up actually helping Cassidy more than he hurts him.

“Maness will prevent Cassidy from getting a first round election victory I think, because they do draw from the same pool,” Cross said. “But by the same token, I think if Maness were gone, Landrieu would have a better choice in the first round as well.”

That’s because runoff elections tend to attract fewer, and more politically motivated, voters than general elections. Sean Cain, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola University, says a runoff would likely break in Cassidy’s favor.

“That lower turnout is typically the stronger core partisan voters who are willing to turnout in a runoff election,” said Cain. “So, if it’s a runoff between Cassidy and Landrieu, I think he has the advantage unless something really changes between November and December.”

Despite the fact that Maness trails behind his opponents in fundraising and polling, his campaign is pushing the possibility of a scenario -- perhaps a far-fetched one -- in which Maness could advance to a runoff with Cassidy.

“If the question is, does Maness think he can get 34 percent of Louisianans to choose the non-politician in this race -- absolutely,” said Maness campaign communications strategist Kurt Bardella. “Quite frankly, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if come November, both Bill Cassidy and Maness end up advancing to a December run-off and the voters reject Mary Landrieu outright.”

But before any scenario of a runoff has the chance of becoming political reality, there are still 10 weeks to go before November election.

Like Maness, both Landrieu and Cassidy are expressing optimism publically, while also acknowledging that it’s a tight race ahead.

Landrieu touts her clout in the Senate as one her campaign selling points, while Cassidy counters that her clout hasn’t brought real results for Louisiana.

“With my service, Louisiana has real clout and now holds the gavel of the Senate Energy Committee,” Landrieu told reporters after qualifying for the ballot Wednesday, according to her campaign. “But this clout isn't mine, it's the people of Louisiana’s and with this clout, we will be able to create thousands of high-paying energy jobs in Louisiana and secure America's energy independence.”

"You can speak of clout, but frankly you should ask, 'Why haven't you been effective? Why weren't you able to get a vote on Keystone Pipeline,'" The Times-Picayune quoted Cassidy as saying after he qualified for the ballot on Wednesday.

Landrieu has also been weathering a controversy as of late surrounding her use of taxpayer funds to pay for charter flights to two separate campaign events. Though Landrieu has called the incidents a mistake and has taken action to reimburse the flights, it has provided fodder for critics seeking to paint Landrieu as a wealthy politician who’s lost touch with her roots.

For Landrieu, one advantage may come on the debate stage.

Landrieu has agreed to four debates and Maness to seven, but Cassidy has yet to commit to any. Cassidy campaign spokesman John Cummins has said that Cassidy will wait until the close of the qualifying period before agreeing to any debates.

Louisiana State University political science professor Robert Hogan said part of Cassidy’s calculation in not committing to debates sooner may have to do with the fact that he knows that Landrieu is a “very good” debater.

“A lot of peoples’ criticism of [Cassidy] is that he doesn’t have the retail politics skill compared to Landrieu,” Hogan said. “A high stakes debate…is an unknown for Cassidy. Landrieu is someone who has devastated her opponents in debates.”

Both Landrieu and Maness have criticized Cassidy for not yet committing to any debates. Maness has even taken to tweeting out a photo of a duck wearing a “Congressman Cassidy” name tag with the accompanying hashtag #duckingdebates.

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Vacationer-in-Chief? How Obama’s R&R Stacks Up to Other Presidents


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- There may never be a good time to take a vacation when you’re president. But the last couple of weeks made for particularly bad timing.

Now, as President Obama prepares to return from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, the commander-in-chief might very well want a vacation from his vacation, which was more notable for its many interruptions than its relaxation -- that is, unless you’re counting the president’s many rounds of golf.

The president held multiple news conferences -- and in an unusual fashion, even broke from his vacation for a two-day trip back to Washington -- as he addressed the developing crises in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri.

But Obama is just the latest in a long line of presidents to adopt the “working vacation.”

“Early on, when vacations began to get criticism -- for example, during the Eisenhower administration -- the press secretary, Jim Haggerty, invented the phrase ‘working vacation,’” Larry Knutson, author of the new book Away From the White House: Presidential Escapes, Retreats and Vacations, said during a recent interview with ABC News/Yahoo! News. “And we've had working vacations ever since.”

In his 37-year career as a reporter for the Associated Press, Knutson has covered presidential vacations ranging from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush.

Despite public jabs at Obama for socializing in the midst of domestic and international turmoil -- the president was notably criticized for hitting a golf course directly after his somber statement on the death of U.S. journalist James Foley -- Knutson said that when it comes to taking time off, Obama ranks “right in the middle” among his 43 predecessors.

“I wouldn't say that he's on top at all. He's taken regular vacations; he's certainly not taken as many or as long as some recent presidents,” he said. “It's an easy criticism, and it's been made from the very beginning.”

Knutson pointed to the case of Chester Arthur, the 21st president, as an early example of a president whose vacations drew particularly intense criticism.

“He fished from New England to Florida to the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, and at one point [made] a real, almost military expedition to then-very new Yellowstone National Park,” he explained. “And a newspaper in New York proposed half-seriously that the president's pay may be docked every time he went fishing or went on a vacation.”

Other presidents have managed to build their own mystique through their vacations.

In order to prevent the public eye from passing judgment on his holiday habits, Knutson said President Ronald Reagan tried to obscure the press’ view of his off-duty activities, like yard work and horseback riding, while vacationing at his California ranch -- literally.

“In Reagan's case, although he rode and cut brush, famously television was kept more than an arm's length away and had to set up cameras on a nearby mountaintop with lenses that I am told have been used to photograph the moon,” he said.

Despite the longstanding public disenchantment with presidential retreats, Knutson listed a handful of American leaders who were successfully able to unplug from their high-stress jobs for a some rest and relaxation.

“Dwight Eisenhower golfed from coast to coast. …John Kennedy sailed out of Hyannis Port and throughout the country and was photographed playing touch football with all of his nephews and nieces,” he said. “Lyndon Johnson relaxed totally at the ranch in Texas.”

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Ex Gov. McDonnell Takes Stand, Reveals Bleak Marriage in Corruption Trial


Mark Wilson/Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Facing corruption charges, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell characterized his marriage in stunningly bleak terms, taking the witness stand to discuss a marriage that, as he describes it, was filled with yelling, unpleasantness, and distance.

McDonnell is on trial in Virginia over gifts his family received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who has testified that he believes he was granted access and a platform at the governor's mansion to promote a nutritional supplement, in exchange for gifts that included a $20,000 shopping spree for Maureen McDonnell, the governor's wife, and $15,000 for the wedding catering of the McDonnell’s daughter, Cailin. The total amount of lavish gifts, vacations, and cash loans is at least $165,000.

A deterioriated marriage and evidence of emotional distance is a key to McDonnell's defense, which has contended that Bob and Maureen McDonnell were too far separated by marital differences to have collaborated on a quid pro quo for Williams in exchange for his gifts.

Leaving the jury -- and the public -- with only one side of the story, Maureen McDonnell has not testified in her husband's trial and likely will not.

In his testimony, McDonnell spoke of a marriage that had been strained by years of his public-service career, underlined by fits of anger and yelling by his wife, whom advisers suggested should seek emotional help but who was unwilling to pursue that option. Things got so bad, McDonnell said, that he began working late purposefully to avoid his wife.

"It's going to be very, very difficult," McDonnell said at the beginning of the day's testimony, according to The Washington Post. "It's going to be hard for me to talk about."

It was revealed that McDonnell wrote an emotional letter to his wife in September 2011, which went unreturned, where he admitted that, "I am lonely sometimes."

It read, in part:
"I love you. Yesterday was one on (sic) the lowest points in my life. We have had a very hard year emotionally, despite a wonderful anniversary celebration. You are my soulmate. I love being married to you and having a family. We have shared much good life together (sic). I have made plenty of mistakes in my life which I wish I could fix. I am sorry for all the times I have not been there for you and have done things to hurt you. I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core. I have asked and prayed to God so many times to take this anger away from you and heal whatever hurt is causing it..."

The letter has been entered into evidence but is not yet publicly available. The above text was reported by The Washington Post.

Asked by his attorney about the current state of his marriage, McDonnell reportedly said it was "on hold." He does not believe his wife had a physical affair with Williams, McDonnell reportedly said, and he revealed he moved out of his family's home in suburban Richmond before the trial and is living with his parish priest in the St. Patrick's Church rectory.


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GAO Determines Bergdahl-Taliban Swap Was Illegal


File photo. Credit: US Army(WASHINGTON) -- Accusations by congressional Republicans that the Pentagon broke the law when it swapped five Taliban detainees for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl were validated by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office Thursday.

Immediately after Bergdahl was released in late May following five years of captivity in Afghanistan, GOP lawmakers and some Democrats questioned the urgency to make the trade for Bergdahl, saying Congress was not given the required 30 days’ notice before making the deal.

Although the administration argued Bergdahl's life was in imminent danger, the GAO rejected that rationale, saying the law was broken because written notice was not provided to the relevant congressional committees until the day that swap occurred.

Last month, the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee supported a non-binding resolution condemning the trading of the five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl.

Adding to the controversy is Bergdahl's alleged desertion from his military post before his capture. The Pentagon is conducting a probe into the matter and will release its results next month, which could mean disciplinary action against Bergdahl, who is currently back in the States at a desk job.

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Hagel: Secret Mission to Get Hostages in Syria 'Flawless' -- Except for the Rescue


Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A large contingent of American special operations forces was able to sneak into an ISIS camp near the terror group's stronghold in Syria in search of American hostages, but quickly withdrew when it became clear that while 100 or so armed terrorists were there, the hostages weren't, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the then-secret mission.

The official provided ABC News with new, dramatic details of the raid earlier this summer to grab Americans including journalist James Foley, a mission that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Thursday was "flawless" except that no one was rescued.

"Knowing their lives were clearly in danger, it's the responsibility of our leaders, our government to take action when we believe there is a good possibility or chance of making the operation successful. This operation, by the way, was a flawless operation, but the hostages were not there," Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Thursday. "We regret that mission did not succeed but I am very proud, very proud of the U.S. forces that participated in it."

The U.S. official familiar with the operation agreed that the mission, at least from a military perspective, was "magic."

When the "unusually large" U.S. special mission unit -- described by senior officials as "several dozen" warfighters -- arrived at the location near Raqqah, Syria where they believed the hostages were being held, they had little time "on station" because of the distance they had to fly from their launch base.

A senior administration official claimed Wednesday that, "while on site it became apparent the hostages were not there." But around 100 ISIS fighters were there, said the U.S. official familiar with the incident, and the American forces engaged in a fierce firefight. An Air Force AC-130 gunship came in overhead and put down fire on other ISIS fighters, keeping the bulk of the extremist force from the fight.

The Americans killed a number of ISIS fighters -- at least 15, according to the U.S. official -- before scrambling back to their helicopters and flying away.

The official said that some in the military and intelligence circles believe they missed the hostages by less than a week.

"It was magic," the official told ABC News Thursday. "Everything went perfectly and [there were] no major injuries… But they saw it was a dry hole and left."

Hagel declined to blame the incident on an intelligence failure.

"Was it a failure of intelligence? No. Intelligence doesn't come wrapped in a package with a bow. It's a mosaic of many pictures, of many factors, and the enemy always has a say," Hagel said. "The underlying objective was to do everything we could to rescue these hostages, knowing that their lives were in danger, clearly in danger."

Phil Balboni, CEO of GlobalPost, the news outlet for which James Foley was working when he was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, told ABC News Foley was "moved fairly often" while in captivity.

At Thursday's press conference Hagel went on to discuss ISIS, the brutal Sunni extremist group that has swept across Iraq in recent months and murdered James Foley, calling the group an "imminent threat" and "beyond anything we've seen."

"ISIL [ISIS] is as sophisticated and well-fund as any group we've seen. They're beyond any terrorist group," Hagel said, adding that ISIS presents a 9/11-level threat. "We must prepare for everything. The way to do that is you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and you get ready."


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Calif. Attorney General Appeals Death Penalty Ruling


iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- California's top prosecutor is fighting back, arguing to keep the state's death penalty in play after it was found to unconstitutional.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris says she will appeal a federal court ruling that struck down the death penalty.  A federal judge ruled California's death penalty is arbitrary and unfair.

Since the current system was adopted 35 years ago, 900 people have been sentenced to death, but only 13 have been executed.  

Harris calls the court's ruling flawed and says it requires appellate review.  

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New Bill Pushes for Breastfeeding Rooms in California Airports


iStock/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- A new bill in California would force airports to have lactation rooms for nursing moms.

At most airports in California, moms who don't want to nurse in public often have to opt for a dirty bathroom stall.

Under a bill now approved by the California Senate, airports would be forced to offer rooms with a chair and an electrical outlet for a breast pump. New terminals would also have to have sinks in the rooms.

Now, San Francisco has the only airport in California with breastfeeding rooms.

The bill will now head back to the California Assembly. If it passes, it would go into effect in 2016.

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Sen. McCaskill to Hold Hearing on Militarization of Police


Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., will hold a hearing in September on the militarization of local police, a spokesperson for McCaskill confirms.

The date has not been set yet, but the Senate is in session next month from Sept. 8-Sept. 23.

McCaskill chairs the financial and contracting oversight subcommittee for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

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