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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

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants you to know he’s getting along just fine with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Zinke posted a picture Thursday of him having a beer with Murkowski, a week after he reportedly threatened Alaska’s senators in an attempt to gain their support for Obamacare repeal.

During the Senate’s major push to repeal Obamacare, Zinke put in calls to both Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Per Sullivan’s account to the Alaska Dispatch News, Zinke threatened to punish the state of Alaska when it came to energy policy if the senators didn’t fall in line behind Obamacare repeal.

Murkowski, who rejected all of the Senate GOP’s repeal proposals, confirmed that she received a call from Zinke, but didn’t describe the conversation as a threat the way Sullivan had. She simply said that Zinke relayed Trump’s unhappiness with her vote against a motion to proceed to debate on Obamacare repeal, and she relayed to reporters that she would not back down after the call.

Zinke, for his part, dismissed the reports on his threat to the two senators as “laughable.”

Murkowski, as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and chair of the Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, wields some power over the Interior Department and was not in a position to be bullied. Shortly After Zinke’s call, Murkowski postponed hearings for Interior Department nominees, although it’s not clear those delays were a response to Zinke’s call. The hearing has since been rescheduled for Thursday.

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Kushner Companies, the real estate company run by Jared Kushner’s family, has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York over the company’s use of the EB-5 visa program, which grants green cards to foreigners who invest in U.S. businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night.

The subpoenas cover the Kushners’ One Journal Square development in New Jersey, but it’s not clear if other developments were also included in the subpoena, the Street Journal reported, citing an anonymous person familiar with the matter.

Emily Wolf, the general counsel for Kushner Companies, told the newspaper that the company complied with the EB-5 program’s rules.

“Kushner Companies utilized the program, fully complied with its rules and regulations and did nothing improper. We are cooperating with legal requests for information,” Wolf said in a statement to the Journal.

The Kushner Companies’ use of EB-5 visas came under scrutiny recently when Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, mentioned her brother’s new role in the White House during a presentation to potential Chinese investors. The company later apologized for mentioning the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser in the presentation.

“In the course of discussing this project and the firm’s history with potential investors, Ms. Meyer wanted to make clear that her brother had stepped away from the company in January and has nothing to do with this project,” the company said in a statement in May. “Kushner Companies apologizes if that mention of her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors. That was not Ms. Meyer’s intention.”

Kushner divested from the One Journal Square project and has said that he recused himself from EB-5 policy in the Trump administration.

The EB-5 program has faced criticism in Congress, with some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle arguing that the program is ripe for abuse.

“I’ve long called for an end to the EB-5 program. It says that visas—and eventual U.S. citizenship—are for sale, a terrible message for the 4.4 million people waiting in line for visas—some for as long as 23 years,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in a statement following the May reports on the Kushner family’s pitch to Chinese investors.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is also critical of the program, in May called for scrutiny of the agencies that worked with Kushner Companies to seek Chinese investors for the One Journal Square project through the EB-5 program.

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During the first days of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries, as airports were besieged by chaos and protests, immigration officials were told to ignore inquiries from members of Congress, attorneys and the press, the Daily Beast reported Thursday.

According to an email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Beast and the James Madison Project, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) official told his employees that they were banned from speaking to members of Congress or the press.

Asked about this strategy, CBP told the Daily Beast that was typical procedure and that all requests from Congress must go through the agency’s Office of Congressional Affairs (OCA).

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told the Daily Beast that he did not receive a response from the OCA when he asked about those detained, however.

“They built a stone wall and gave us the middle finger,” he told the publication. “They feel they can do that with impunity because Trump’s in the White House and Sessions is at the Department of Justice, and they can behave outside the law or inside the law as they see fit.”

Another email from a CBP official directed employees to ignore calls from attorneys, claiming that they were likely protesters since they “appear to be reading from a script,” according to the report. The official told employees to direct requests to the agency’s Office of Public Affairs.

“This is most likely a form of telephonic protest to the EO,” the official wrote, per the Daily Beast. “Please advise all your personnel not to engage the callers nor respond to any questions.”

The emails also showed that CBP officials monitored protests at airports and which elected officials made appearances at the protests, per the Daily Beast.

Read the full report here.

 

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President Donald Trump on Thursday morning reiterated his displeasure with the Russia sanctions bill he signed on Wednesday, blaming Congress for an “all-time” low relationship with Russia in an angry tweet.

Trump signed the bill, which imposes new sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran, on Wednesday. He accompanied his signature with two statements bashing the legislation, but Congress passed the bills with veto-proof majorities, forcing Trump’s hand on the matter.

In the statements, he said that the bill was “seriously flawed” since it limits the president’s powers — the bill limits the president’s ability to ease sanctions on Russia without approval from Congress.

“By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.  The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.  This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice,” Trump said in the statement.

Yet, he said he signed the bill “for the sake of national unity.”

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This post has been updated.

Anthony Scaramucci, the ousted White House communications director, on Thursday afternoon announced he will no longer speak publicly on Friday.

Scaramucci had told CNN on Wednesday that he would address the public on Friday in an online event. He said that the event will be available on several public platforms during the day with the help of former Fox News executive Bill Shine, per CNN.

Whereas on Tuesday, Scaramucci told the Huffington Post that he planned to “go dark” now that he was forced out of the White House.

He was asked to resign by John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, on Monday after the New Yorker published a profanity-filled rant from Scaramucci about “leakers” and his former White House colleagues.

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New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly assured Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the weekend that his position in the Trump administration is safe despite the recent public humiliation campaign that President Donald Trump has launched against Sessions, according to reports from the Associated Press and Politico.

The Associated Press was first to report that Kelly gave assurances to Sessions, citing unnamed sources familiar with the conversation. Politico then confirmed that Kelly told Sessions his job was safe, citing unnamed Trump administration officials.

Kelly told Sessions that Trump is still angry with him, but said that the frustration would not lead to his firing, according to the Associated Press.

The assurances from the new chief of staff follow an intense couple weeks of Trump publicly attacking his own attorney general. Trump has blasted Sessions as “weak” and “bealeaguered,” criticizing him for not investigating Hillary Clinton. Trump even told the New York Times that he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he’d known he would recuse himself from the Russia probe.

Throughout Trump’s public attacks, Sessions has reportedly not been in communication with the President. Sessions said last week that while Trump’s comments are “hurtful,” he has no plans to resign.

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After a brief hiatus from bashing the media on Twitter, President Donald Trump on Wednesday night published a tweet denying a report that he said the White House is a “real dump.”

Trump was responding to a Tuesday report in Sports Illustrated that the President has told members at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he travels there frequently because the “White House is a real dump.”

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The New York Board of Elections decided on Tuesday to hand over most of the voter data requested by the Trump administration’s bogus voter fraud commission, the Albany Times Union reported.

The elections board said it would hand over the voter data requested by the commission’s vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, with the exception of voters’ social security numbers, according to the Times Union.

The board decided to hand over the data despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) statement pledging that New York would not turn over the data. The Board of Elections, not Cuomo, had the authority to make the decision.

At the end of June, Kobach issued a request to states for their voter roll data, as well as information on voter fraud and election security. That request prompted incredible backlash, with several states refusing to comply with the request.

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In another attempt to dismiss charges against former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), the ex-congressman’s lawyers on Tuesday accused federal prosecutors of inappropriately asking witnesses about his romantic relationships and sexuality.

Schock’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against him that alleged prosecutorial misconduct, arguing that by quizzing witnesses on Schock’s sexuality, the prosecutors could have shaped the opinions of witnesses and members of a grand jury.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois declined to comment to TPM.

Schock, best known as the “Downton Abbey” congressman, was indicted in November 2016 on 24 counts, including improper use of campaign funds. In the filing submitted Tuesday, his lawyers claimed that prosecutors made “false, misleading, and erroneous statements” about Schock to witnesses in front of a grand jury and otherwise. They alleged that prosecutors intimidated one witness, threatened another, and quizzed witnesses on Schock’s sexuality without an apparent reason for doing so.

“The government has investigated nearly every facet of Mr. Schock’s professional, political, and personal life. This even includes his sex life,” Schock’s lawyers wrote. “It is no secret that there has long been speculative gossip in the media about Mr. Schock’s sexual orientation. For no apparent reason, the government has felt itself compelled to investigate this too.”

They charged that the federal government “discussed with witnesses whether Mr. Schock is gay, whether he ‘really’ dated his ex-girlfriend (a highly-accomplished diplomat and attorney), and whether he spent the night or shared hotel rooms with her.”

“The government’s inquiries into Mr. Schock’s sexuality and romantic relationships were not just distasteful and offensive. They were prejudicial,” his lawyers wrote.

They added that some of the questions to witnesses were in front of the grand jury, “thus potentially prejudicing Mr. Schock through salacious innuendo.” Schock’s lawyers argued that the questions could have influenced witnesses’ and jury members’ opinions of Schock, and that the questions “reveal the government’s malicious intent to impugn Mr. Schock’s character.”

The lawyers claimed that prosecutors asked 12 witnesses about Schock’s love life and sexuality. Several of those witnesses speculated about whether Schock is gay or mentioned rumors that he is gay, according to transcript excerpts included in the filing.

The excerpts also show that prosecutors asked witnesses about Schock’s relationship with one particular woman, including whether the two stayed in the same hotel room on a trip. It’s not clear in most instances that prosecutors asked about Schock’s sexuality specifically; but in one excerpt, after a witness mentioned rumors that Schock is gay, a prosecutor followed up to ask if those allegations were true.

The ex-congressman has been aggressively fighting the corruption charges against him. In March, his lawyers accused federal investigators of breaking the law by turning a Schock staffer into a confidential informant and using that informant to get information the prosecutors could not obtain otherwise. After a judge denied their request for documents on federal investigators’ use of the informant, Schock’s lawyers then sought to dismiss the case in April by arguing federal prosecutors had violated the Constitution’s provisions on the separation of powers.

Read the filing:

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In an interview with the Huffington Post on Tuesday afternoon, ousted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci indicated that he still feels wronged by Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker reporter who published Scaramucci’s off-the-rails rant about some of his fellow White House staffers.

Scaramucci claimed to have some kind of established relationship with Lizza and thought the reporter knew that the “humorous” interview should be off the record.

“The Lizzas and Scaramuccis have been friends for over 50 years. My dad knew his dad from construction, and we were building a personal relationship. Most of what I said was humorous and joking. Legally, it may have been on the record, but the spirit of it was off. And he knew that,” Scaramucci told the Huffington Post.

Lizza disputed to the Huffington Post that he knew Scaramucci in any other capacity than as a Trump spokesman.

“I’ve only known Anthony in his capacity as a Trump surrogate and then White House communications director. We are not and have never been ‘old family friends,’ though I think our fathers knew each other, so maybe that’s what he’s talking about. (The Long Island Italian world in that generation is relatively small.) But again, that would not be a reason to suppress an explosive on-the-record interview,” Lizza said.

Scaramucci called Lizza last week after the reporter tweeted about a White House dinner attended by Scaramucci and some Fox News personalities. Scaramucci told the Huffington Post Tuesday that he was concerned about the attendees leaking to the press and said he considered it an “attack.” He said he was particularly concerned that the media would reveal that Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle was at the dinner, a fact that was reported later by New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi. There have been rumors of a relationship between Scaramucci and Guilfoyle, which Scaramucci denies. Guilfoyle told the Huffington Post through a spokesperson that she knows Scaramucci through her work at Fox News and that they are “good friends.”

The ousted White House communications director also briefly addressed his firing earlier this week when John Kelly began as chief of staff. He said that Kelly asked him for his resignation.

“It was a very polite conversation,” Scaramucci told the Huffington Post.

He said that he did not speak to the President until later in the day.

“The President told me he knows I have his back, but he has to try to tighten the ship,” Scaramucci told the Huffington Post of his phone conversation with Trump on Monday.

Now that he’s been ousted from his job as communications director, Scaramucci said he is “going to go dark.”

“Then I will reemerge,” he told the Huffington Post. “As me.”

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