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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

As women continue to come forward to accuse Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of making sexual or romantic advances while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Friday that it’s still not clear to him whether the accusations are true.

“I still am not sure whether or not the allegations are true. I know that they are very damning and damaging,” Merrill told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when asked if he would call for Moore to step aside in the race.

Merrill previously said that it’s “possible” the accusers are “making it up.”

Though Merrill cast doubt on the accusers’ credibility, he was clear that the allegations reflect poorly on Moore and the state of Alabama.

“The thing that’s the most frustrating and the most disappointing is that these allegations reflect very poorly on Judge Moore and our state as a whole because Judge Moore is the Republican standard bearer in the Senate race,” he said. “Because of that, for more than a week, it put Alabama in a difficult position and a very damaging position nationwide as far as the spotlight is concerned. That’s not something that we’re very proud of.”

Merrill said that the Alabama voters will have to reach their own conclusions about the accusations and Moore’s behavior in the December election. He also said that there is no way for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to “save” the seat for Republicans ahead of the election, noting that the state does not allow for substitute candidates.

“Their position is try to save the seat and make sure the Republican majority is preserved, but that is only going to happen if judge Roy Moore wins the election,” he told CNN. “There is no way that a substitute can be provided. He is the standard bearer for the party at this particular time.”

Merrill said that party leaders’ commentary on Moore has been unhelpful.

“The information that continues to come in from the national commentators is not helping to clear up the situation,” he said. “In many ways it has intended to cloud up the situation. That has been very difficult.”

 

As the Interior Department inspector general has carried out its investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel habits, the watchdog has discovered that the department has not properly documented Zinke’s travel, according to a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

In a letter to Interior officials, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote that the probe has been delayed due to “absent or incomplete” records. She said that the department had yet to finalize vouchers and authorizations for Zinke’s travel, and that Interior officials have not provided sufficient documentation of the legal and ethical analysis required to distinguish between personal and official travel.

Zinke is one of several cabinet leaders in the Trump administration who has come under scrutiny for his travel on non-commercial planes. The inspector general is looking at Zinke’s reported use of a private plane to attend meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, which is owned by a major donor to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign.

Zinke also used non-commercial planes on several occasions, including for trips between St. Thomas and St. Croix, Politico reported in September.

The inspector general’s office is also looking at the travel habits of Zinke’s wife, Lolita Zinke, according to the Wednesday letter. Kendall wrote that her office has been unable to determine how many trips Lolita Zinke went on with her husband and who paid for her travel.

This post has been updated.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel resigned on Friday after several women accused him of making inappropriate comments and leering at them, creating an uncomfortable work environment.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Bittel apologized to “all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure.”

Six women who spoke with Politico said that Bittel made suggestive comments, invited women on his private plane, remarked that women were attractive and had stress balls in his office shaped like breasts.

“There was a lot of boob stuff in his office,” one woman who encountered Bittel while working as a fundraiser told Politico. “I was told by other women not to go into his bathroom. I was warned.”

Bittel initially apologized for his behavior in a Thursday statement to Politico before announcing his resignation Friday.

“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said in a statement to Politico. “I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I’ve not been successful in that goal, and I will do better.”

 

A spokesperson for Bittel did not dispute the women’s accounts and told Politico that the breast-shaped stress toys were a gift “from a former female general counsel of his company years ago as a joke for his birthday. He keeps them in a drawer with other gag gifts.”

One former party staffer told Politico that Bittel is “creepy.”

“He just leers at you, and stares. I don’t know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don’t know how to describe the feeling,” she said.

A former staffer told Politico that she left her work with the party because of Bittel’s “demeaning” and “inappropriate” comments. She also said that Bittel would offer women rides on his private plane.

“The most suggestive thing he does is invite women on his plane or over to his home when his wife is not in town,” she told Politico. “It is not like these things are in the eye of the beholder, the suggestion is very clear … His reputation is very clear, and it has been there since before he was party chairman.”

Bittel is one of several prominent figures recently to face allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women. On Thursday, a Los Angeles news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual misconduct, and Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore faces allegations of making inappropriate sexual advances with teenage girls.

Read Politico’s full report here.

Jamie Johnson resigned as the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Thursday following a CNN report revealing his past comments about black people and Muslims.

“His comments made prior to joining the Department of Homeland Security clearly do not reflect the values of DHS and the administration. The Department thanks him for his recent work assisting disaster victims and the interfaith community,” DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a statement confirming Johnson’s resignation, which was first reported by The Hill.

In a Thursday report, CNN revealed comments Johnson made during radio appearances before his time at DHS.

In 2008, he explained why he felt black people are anti-Semitic in response to a question.

“I think one of the reasons why is because Jewish people from their coming to America in great waves in the early part of the 1800’s immediately rolled up their sleeves and began to work so hard and applied themselves to education and other means of improvement and other means of climbing the, I hate this phrase, but the social ladder if you will,” Johnson said. “And it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.”

In another radio appearance, he said that Muslims “are not our friends.”

“I never call it radical Islam, if anything, it is obedient Islam. It is faithful Islam,” Johnson said. “I agree with Dinesh D’Souza, your friend and mine, who says all that Islam has ever given us is oil and dead bodies over the last millennia and a half.”

Read CNN’s full report here.

In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said Thursday that former President Bill Clinton should have resigned from office over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“Yes, I think that is the appropriate response,” Gillibrand told the New York Times when asked if Clinton should have stepped down.

Gillibrand suggested that such a relationship is viewed differently now than it was at the time.

“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” she said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.”

A spokesperson for Gillibrand later told the Times that Gillibrand was trying to say that if Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky had happened today, he should have been compelled to step down. Gillibrand is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and backed her 2016 campaign. Both Hillary and Bill Clinton also supported Gillibrand in her first bid for Congress in 2006.

Gillibrand said that the debate over sexual misconduct has transformed recently and that people are viewing misconduct differently.

“What the ‘Me Too’ movement has done is transform this debate,” Gillibrand told the Times. “I think because, when you have hundreds of thousands of people coming out every day about all industries saying, ‘This is what happened to me,’ I think a lot of people have finally realized, ‘Wow, I didn’t quite realize this.’”

The New York senator on Thursday said that the allegations against Franken are “deeply disturbing” and called for an ethics committee investigation. Los Angeles news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2006 while they were entertaining the troops abroad. Franken apologized for his behavior and called for a Senate Ethics Committee probe into the allegations, but he also said that he viewed the incident with Tweeden differently. The alleged incidents occurred before Franken held public office.

Leeann Tweeden, the Los Angeles news anchor who accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual misconduct, said Thursday that she was initially afraid to speak up about the 2006 incident because she was concerned it could hurt her career.

“There were people around me who said, ‘Oh, my God, you will get annihilated and you will never work in this town again,’ and I was afraid of that. I really was afraid of that,” she told the media on air after publishing her initial accusations.

She also said that she didn’t report the incident to anyone at the time because she didn’t want to be the “troublemaker” on the United Service Organizations (USO) tour to entertain the troops in the Middle East they were on together.

She also said she was inspired to speak out now by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) who revealed in October that while she was a staffer on Capitol Hill, the chief of staff “held my face, kissed me, and stuck his tongue in my mouth.”

In lengthy remarks to the press Thursday, Tweeden said that she felt “violated” by Franken when he allegedly forcibly kissed her. She also said that she believes he pushed to kiss her during a rehearsal the show because they were alone.

“I felt like he wrote that just to get that piece in, because he knew he wasn’t going to get it on stage and that was why he was badgering me to do it then when we were alone because that’s what he wanted,” she said.

Tweeden said that after the incident, she avoided being alone with Franken for the rest of the USO tour but that he tried to “belittle” her.

She told reporters that she accepts Franken’s apology for his behavior.

“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t accept his apology,” she said, adding later that Franken had an opportunity to apologize a couple years after the 2006 tour when she encountered her at a USO gala.

Tweeden was also asked if Franken should resign from the Senate.

“People make mistakes,” she replied. “I’m not calling for him to step down.”

The incidents described by Tweeden took place before Franken took public office, though the allegations have prompted several senators to call for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the matter.

Franken apologized to Tweeden in a statement but said that he does not “remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way.” He also called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations and pledged to fully cooperate.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday afternoon called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer said in a statement. “I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”

Los Angeles news anchor Leeann Tweeden on Thursday accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2006 while the two were in the Middle East for a United Service Organizations tour.

Franken apologized in a statement on Thursday, but said he remembered the incident differently than Tweeden. The alleged incidents occurred before Frank held public office. Franken has asked for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations. He said he would fully cooperate with a probe.

A little over an hour after a Los Angeles news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual misconduct, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) postponed a press conference planned for 12:30 p.m. to talk about the Republican tax cut legislation.

Schumer’s office did not offer an explanation for the postponement of the press conference.

Leeann Tweeden, an anchor on Los Angeles station KABC, on Thursday accused Franken of forcibly kissing her and groping her in 2006 while the two were on a United Service Organizations tour to entertain the troops. Tweeden said that Franken insisted on rehearsing a skit in which the two would kiss until she agreed and then “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” She also shared a photo in which Franken is reaching toward her chest while she is asleep.

Franken on Thursday apologized for his behavior but also said he does not recall the incident “the same way.” The alleged incidents occurred before Franken was in office.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it,” he said in the statement.

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday morning introduced a bill aimed at ensuring the proper criminal record information makes it to the background check system used to approve gun purchases.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”

The legislation follows the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier in November. The Air Force failed to report past criminal conduct by the alleged gunman as was required.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the most vocal gun control advocates in Congress, and Cornyn led the effort to craft the bill. Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have also signed onto the bill.

Despite the bipartisan support for the legislation, the bill likely faces an uphill battle in Congress, since many Republicans oppose any changes to gun laws. After the deadly Las Vegas shooting in October, some Republican senators expressed support for a ban on bump stocks, but that effort has since fizzled out.

The legislation, titled the Fix NICS Act, would require the head of each federal agency to certify twice a year that they have submitted the proper records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would mandate that each agency develop an implementation plan for ensuring that all records are submitted. If the agency fails to certify which records it has submitted to NICS or fails to follow its implementation plan, political appointees in that agency will not be eligible to receive bonus pay.

The bill also allows the attorney general to use funds for NICS to provide assistance to agencies as they submit records and establishes a program run by the attorney general focused on making sure domestic violence information is reported to the NICS system.

Murphy acknowledged that he would like to see more gun control legislation passed in Congress, but he said that this bill is an important step.

“It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns. It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future,” he said in a statement.

After calling on Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to explain inconsistencies in his denials of the allegations aired by several women, Fox News host Sean Hannity said Wednesday night that he was satisfied with an open letter from Moore.

“We demanded, rightly, answers from Judge Moore,” Hannity said on his show Wednesday night. “And he provided them to the specific questions we asked.”

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity pointed out that Moore gave inconsistent answers to Hannity when he asked the GOP candidate if he dated teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Hannity also noted that Moore denied knowing one of his accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, but that Nelson has a yearbook that appears to be signed by Moore. Hannity told Moore to explain the inconsistencies in 24 hours or drop out of the race.

In an open letter to Hannity published on Twitter Wednesday, Moore first painted the accusations as an attack from the liberal media and suggested that there’s reason to doubt the allegations since they are only coming to light now.

Moore also argued that the signature in Nelson’s yearbook could have been faked and said that he presided over Nelson’s divorce proceedings as a judge in 1999, which Nelson did not mention. Moore said that it did not appear to cause Nelson “distress” in 1999 when she appeared before Moore in court.

Later in the letter, Moore said that he “did not date underage girls” and specifically denied the allegations from Nelson and Leigh Corfman, who accused Moore of initiating a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old.

Hannity said that with this letter from Moore, the voters of Alabama now need to make their choice.

“The people of Alabama deserve to have a fair choice, especially in light of the new allegations tonight.” Hannity said. “We have told you everyone’s point of view. The accusers continue to have an open invitation to come on this show and share their story.”

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