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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

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a watchdog agency in the federal government that monitors civil rights law enforcement, announced on Friday that it would launch a two-year assessment of the executive branch.

The commission warned that budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration could lead to a “dangerous reduction” in civil rights law enforcement.

“The Commission, by majority vote, expresses concern with the Administration’s proposed budget cuts to and planned staff losses in numerous programs and civil rights offices across the federal government that enforce our nation’s federal civil rights laws,” the commission said in a statement. “Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination.”

The assessment will look at whether the federal government will be able to properly enforce civil rights law with budget cuts and whether the “management practices” in place in the federal government are sufficient. The commission cited specific actions from federal government agencies that caused concern.

The commission noted that the Justice Department decided to place Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in courthouses, arguing it could be a “dangerous impediment to access to justice .” The commission also said the DOJ did not note the need to protect LGBT people and those with disabilities in its priorities for civil rights division.

The commission expressed concern about staff reductions in the civil rights offices at the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as about changes at other agencies.

“For 60 years, Congress has charged the commission to monitor federal civil rights enforcement and recommend necessary change. We take this charge seriously, and we look forward to reporting our findings to Congress, the President, and the American people,” Commission Chair Catharine Lhamon said in a statement.

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A new poll released by WSB-TV on Friday night showed Democrat Jon Ossoff’s lead over Karen Handel Shrink slightly in the special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia.

Ossoff led Handel by 1.7 points, 49.7-48, among likely voters in the poll conducted by Landmark Communications. In the last WSB-TV/Landmark poll released last week, Ossoff led Handel by 2.5 points.

The poll released on Friday surveyed 800 likely voters on June 15 with a margin of error plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

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President Donald Trump continued to fume this week over the continued attention paid to the Russia probes, especially following a report that he’s now under investigation for potential obstruction of justice.

The President has been yelling at the television, according to the Associated Press:

Trump advisers and confidants describe the president as increasingly angry over the investigation, yelling at television sets in the White House carrying coverage and insisting he is the target of a conspiracy to discredit — and potentially end — his presidency.

He has also started to direct some of his anger at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to the AP and the New York Times. The Times reported:

Inside the White House, those close to the president say he has continued to fume about the actions of Justice Department officials, his anger focused mostly on Mr. Rosenstein for appointing Mr. Mueller and on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime political ally whose decision to recuse himself from the Russia case in March enraged Mr. Trump.

Trump’s frustration with Rosenstein spilled into the public sphere on Friday morning with a series of tweets about the Russia probe, one of which appeared to be aimed at Rosenstein.

The President’s outburst on Twitter followed a bizarre statement from Rosenstein Thursday night warning Americans against trusting anonymous sources in news reports.

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President Donald Trump has hired another attorney to join his outside legal team as he faces a special counsel investigation, according to reports from Reuters, Politico, and CNN.

John Dowd, a veteran Washington, D.C. lawyer, will join Trump’s legal team run by Marc Kasowitz, a longtime attorney for Trump.

Dowd led the Major League Baseball investigation into Pete Rose and represented Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on the congressional ethics charges in the “Keating Five” probe.

Trump has added lawyers to his outside legal team as the Russia investigations heat up. The Washington Post reported this week that special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct justice, and Trump appeared to confirm that in a Friday tweet.

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday night issued an odd statement warning Americans against trusting news stories that cite “anonymous ‘officials.'”

It was not immediately clear what stories Rosenstein was referring to in the cryptic statement, but it followed several Thursday evening reports about the status of the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives.

“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country – let alone the branch or agency of government – with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations,” he said in the statement. “The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

Rosenstein’s statement echoed President Donald Trump’s attempts to delegitimize news stories about his administration, albeit with a more measured approach. Trump constantly blasts “fake news,” while Rosenstein issued a warning about anonymous sourcing.

An anonymous Justice Department official told a CNN reporter Friday morning that Trump did not order Rosenstein to issue the statement on anonymous sources.

A Washington Post report that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at Jared Kushner’s finances cited anonymous sources, but described them as U.S. officials. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Mueller is investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct justice, citing unnamed “officials.”

However, Trump appeared to confirm himself on Friday morning that he is under investigation by the FBI.

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Friday morning attempted to mock the Russia probes, claiming that they had not yet found evidence of collusion.

He followed up with a tweet defending his use of Twitter, perhaps anticipating the media attention aimed at his previous tweet.

Trump has tweeted about the Russia probes or lashed out at the media three out of the five business days this week, suggesting that the President has become frustrated with the attention paid to the Russia probes. Often early in the morning, Trump uses Twitter to declare that his campaign did not collude with Russia and to try to delegitimize the “Fake News” that’s reporting on the investigations.

His Friday morning tweets followed two reports that hint at the progress the Russia probes are making. The Washington Post reported that the special counsel’s investigation is looking at Jared Kushner’s finances. And a memo obtained by the New York Times and Politico revealed that the Trump transition team has been ordered to preserve documents related to Russia for the probes into election meddling.

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A lawyer for President Donald Trump’s transition team told transition and campaign officials to preserve documents related to Russia and Ukraine for probes into Russia’s election meddling, according to a memo obtained by the New York Times and Politico.

The memo from attorney Kory Langhofer also stated that officials should preserve travel records and records on campaign aides Paul Manafort and Carter Page, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as records on Roger Stone and Rick Gates, according to Politico.

“In order to assist these investigations, the Presidential Transition Team and its current and former personnel have a responsibility to ensure that, to the extent potentially relevant documents exist, they are properly preserved,” Langhofer wrote in the memo dated Thursday, per Politico.

The memo did not specify which probes requested the documents, according to Politico and the New York Times.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the business dealings of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to President Donald Trump, as part of the Russia investigation, the Washington Post reported Thursday evening, citing unnamed “U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”

Mueller and his team are also looking at the financial activities of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page, according to the Washington Post.

The probe was already looking at Kushner’s meetings with a Russian banker, as well as a meeting with the Russian ambassador in December, where Kushner reportedly floated a secret line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Russian government, as the Washington Post previously reported.

The congressional committees are also looking at Kushner’s finances, specifically whether he tried to secure Russian financing for his family’s building in Manhattan, NBC reported earlier this month.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Jamie Gorelick, Kushner’s lawyer, seemed to brush off the prospect of Mueller looking at Kushner’s finances.

“We do not know what this report refers to,” Gorelick told the Post. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to ­Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about ­Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

The Washington Post also revealed in its report that FBI general counsel James A. Baker told Comey that he should not tell Trump that he was not under investigation personally. Comey testified last week that he told Trump three times in private that he was not a subject of the investigation, though Mueller is now reportedly looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

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Less than a week out from a highly-anticipated special U.S. House election in Georgia, a private security researcher has revealed that he discovered a serious security hole at the center that helps manage election operations and voting machines for the state.

The findings from researcher Logan Lamb, whose account was first reported by Politico on Wednesday, raise concerns about the security of the Georgia’s election system. Due to a misconfigured server on the website of the Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems, Lamb said that he was able to gain access to data including a voter registration database with information on 6.7 million voters, documents with poll workers’ passwords and software for the state’s electronic poll books.

He told the Associated Press that he was moved to share his findings publicly after the Intercept published a National Security Agency report showing that Russian military intelligence hackers went after U.S. voting infrastructure in 2016, including attempting to phish local elections officials. Bloomberg also recently reported that Russian cyber attacks on voter databases and election software were much broader than previously known, targeting no less than 39 states (it’s unclear whether Georgia was one of the 39).

Lamb said he first came across the files in August 2016 and brought them to the attention of the center’s director, Merle King, who he says vowed to patch the hole. But a second private researcher was able to access the same data as Lamb earlier this year, showing that the security gaps Lamb says he warned King about had not been fully addressed. A security breach at the center first was reported in March, kicking off an FBI investigation.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office says they were made aware of the breach in March, but were unaware that the center had been warned about security issues before then.

“We were notified of the KSU hack on March 2. We were not notified, however, when KSU officials were apparently first warned by an outside source of potential server vulnerabilities,” Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said in a statement. “This failure in communication is inexcusable.”

Despite the security concerns raised by Lamb, Broce said that the secretary of state “remains confident in Georgia’s elections systems and voting equipment,” citing a county judge’s recent decision in a case concerning the state’s voting system.

Two Georgia voters and an advocacy group filed a lawsuit last month to try to force the state to stop using its old touchscreen electronic voting machines, which do not produce a paper ballot, citing the FBI investigation into the data breach. Using machines that do not leave a paper trail could make it more difficult to determine whether hackers tried to interfere with an election. However, the judge denied their request on Friday, arguing that the plaintiffs did not offer enough evidence “to demonstrate any concrete harm.”

Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel has also been pulled into this story line, as she was involved in assessing the security of the state’s voting system when she was elected secretary of state in 2006. As the Washington Post reported, Handel ordered an assessment of the state’s voting system, prompting the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at Georgia Tech to produce a report in 2008.

Richard DeMillo, who oversaw that assessment, told the Post that it found several issues with the state’s election procedures and that he also told the secretary of state’s office that the Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems was at risk of an attack. Handel never followed up on that report, according to DeMillo.

“She seemed very interested in getting this, at the time,” he told the Post. “Once she was in office for a few months, we heard nothing.”

The Post asked Rob Simms, who served as Handel’s deputy secretary of state and now runs her campaign, about DeMillo’s claims.

“You’re asking if we ever ‘responded’ to a report/study that was done more than 10 years ago?” Simms asked in response, per the Post. “Doesn’t make sense to me.”

Voters in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District head to the polls Tuesday for the runoff election to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced on Wednesday that his committee will investigate the circumstances surrounding the firing of James Comey as FBI director and whether there have been any “partisan” attempts to interfere with FBI probes.

Grassley announced the decision in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the committee’s ranking member, after she requested that the committee investigate those matters.

“You and I agree that the American people deserve a full accounting of attempts to meddle in both our democratic processes and the impartial administration of justice. The Judiciary Committee has an obligation to fully investigate any alleged improper partisan interference in law enforcement investigations. It is my view that fully investigating the facts, circumstances, and rationale for Mr. Comey’s removal will provide us the opportunity to do that on a cooperative, bipartisan basis,” Grassley wrote in the letter to Feinstein.

Grassley said that the committee will also look at former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server as part of the probe, another issue that Feinstein had said should be investigated. Grassley said that the committee should look at Lynch’s actions as part of the probe into Comey’s firing since the former FBI director discussed her handling of the email probe in his testimony last week. He also noted that the Trump administration noted Comey’s handling of the email probe in its initial explanation for Comey’s firing.

“The Administration has referenced both Mr. Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation and Russia investigation as factors in his decision to fire Mr. Comey,” Grassley wrote.

Read Grassley’s letter:

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