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

During a speech Monday at the Anti-Defamation League’s conference in Washington, D.C., FBI Director James Comey said that it is important to protect Americans’ right to use Twitter since free speech is a vital right in the United States.

“Some of you may have read recently that I’m on Twitter. I’m not a tweeter,” Comey told the audience. “I am there to listen, to read, especially what’s being said about the FBI and its mission. Sometimes it’s a wonderful place. Sometimes it’s a depressing place. Sometimes it feels like I’m all of a sudden immediately in every dive bar in America, where I can hear everybody screaming at the television set.”

“But it is free speech. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but we have to protect it because it is the bedrock of this great country,” he continued. “That we can believe and say what we want, no matter how distasteful or how disruptive, it’s a vital right in this amazing country of ours.”

But Comey warned that often hateful speech foments into action, which he said the country must work to prevent.

“You know all too well that in a heartbeat, words can turn to violence. Because hate doesn’t remain static too often,” he said. “An opinion, a prejudice, a dislike sometimes foments, sometimes it festers, and it can grow into something far more dangerous. Sometimes, too often, hate becomes hate crime. So we have to do everything in our power to stop those people who move from stewing to acting, who move from just hating to hurting.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate crimes, issued a report in late April that found anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. increased by 34 percent in 2016 and are set to increase even more in 2017.

The group also found that Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, was the target of anti-Semitic tweets around the time that the United States launched a missile strike in Syria and Kushner’s reported rival Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council’s Principal’s Committee.

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A panel discussion on CNN Monday afternoon highlighted how unusual it was for President Donald Trump to publish a tweet attacking former acting Attorney General Sally Yates mere hours before she testified in Congress.

“He’s the President of the United States and the former acting attorney general is about to testify under oath before the United States Congress and you tweet, ‘Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to the White House counsel,'” CNN’s John King said.

“I started, before I got into covering politics all the time, I used to cover the courts a lot. A lawyer would call that witness intimidation,” he added.

“Completely,” CNN reporter Dana Bash said in response. “Look, I think we have all been kind of desensitized in some way to his tweets and to his statements that are so out of the norm. This is beyond out of the norm. This is inappropriate. For the President of the United States to be this aggressive with somebody who used to work for him, who is coming before the United States Congress with sworn testimony hours later, is beyond the pale. It just is.”

King emphasized that it was unusual for Trump to make such a plea in public.

“To go public like this is striking,” he said.

Trump’s tweet about Yates came before she was expected to inform a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election that she’d warned White House Counsel Don McGahn about former national security adviser Michael Flynn discussing U.S. sanctions with a Russian official.

Watch a clip via CNN:

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Kushner Companies on Monday said that it didn’t mean to mention Jared Kushner’s role in the Trump administration in order to reel in Chinese investors to help fund a development in New Jersey.

“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. “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.”

Nicole Kushner Meyer mentioned her brother over the weekend at an investment conference in Beijing while she pitched the audience on a development in Jersey City, One Journal Square.

“In 2008, my brother Jared Kushner joined the family company as CEO, and recently moved to Washington to join the administration,” Meyer said on Saturday, as quoted by CNN Money.

A lawyer for Jared Kushner, Blake Roberts, said in a statement obtained by the Washington Post that his client had divested from the project.

“Mr. Kushner divested his interests in the One Journal Square project by selling them to a family trust that he is not a beneficiary of, a mechanism suggested by the Office of Government Ethics. As previously stated, he will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program,” Roberts said.

Ethics filings corroborate that Kushner divested from the One Journal Square project, although he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, still benefit from investments in other Kushner Companies projects.

Meyer and other representatives of the family’s real estate business were looking for Chinese citizens to invest in the project through the EB-5 visa program. Immigrants may get a green card if they invest $500,000 or more in a project that creates jobs in the United States.

Another speaker at the Beijing conference told the audience to invest soon, in case the Trump administration changes rules for visas, according to the Washington Post.

After the Meyer spoke in Beijing on Saturday, journalists were blocked from attending a similar event in Shanghai on Sunday, Reuters reported.

One Journal Square has also faced local pushback since Meyer pitched the Jersey City project to foreign investors over the weekend. Steven Fulop, the city’s mayor, announced in a Facebook post on Sunday that he opposes Kushner Companies’ request for a tax abatement.

“I want to be clear with residents on where the city stands here. Last week, the developer of this project submitted an application to Jersey City for a tax subsidy and abatement on this property. The administration made clear to the applicant that the city is not supportive of their request and while the law requires a first reading ordinance vote if they submit an application, I don’t foresee the council voting in favor,” Fulop wrote. “I know for certain I have made my feelings clear here on this project and what I feel works best for Jersey City. This tax abatement application doesn’t work for us.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has sponsored a bill to eliminate the EB-5 visa program along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), on Monday afternoon issued a statement calling for an end to the program. She said that the reports on the Kushner Companies’ investment pitch shows there is “a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House” when it comes to the EB-5 visa program.

“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,” Feinstein said in the statement.

“EB-5 is also rife with fraud and abuse. In addition to numerous cases of securities fraud, the program is frequently exploited by real estate developers to finance projects in the wealthiest parts of this country,” she continued. “This is a far cry from the program’s original intent to spur economic development in depressed communities. There isn’t a better example of how the program has been distorted than the Kushner Company’s marketing campaign in China.”

Feinstein said that because Trump and Kushner will not completely divest from their business interests, “the only way to eliminate this conflict is for Congress to allow the program to expire in September.”

This post has been updated.

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Ahead of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday, President Donald Trump published tweets urging Congress to ask Yates about leaks of classified information and defending his administration’s decision to hire Michael Flynn.

Yates’ testimony and Trump’s tweets follow a report from CNN last week that Yates is expected to tell the senate that she warned the White House about Flynn a few weeks before he was forced to resign from his role as national security adviser. Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn in late January that Flynn was lying when he denied discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian officials, per CNN. At the time of Flynn’s firing, the White House claimed that Vice President Mike Pence had been unaware that the former national security adviser had discussed sanctions.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday signed into law a bill that would ban sanctuary cities in Texas and allow police officers to ask anyone they detain about their immigration status.

“As Governor, my top priority is public safety, and this bill furthers that objective by keeping dangerous criminals off our streets,” Abbott said in a statement announcing that he signed the bill. “It’s inexcusable to release individuals from jail that have been charged with heinous crimes like sexual assault against minors, domestic violence and robbery. There are deadly consequences to not enforcing the law, and Texas has now become a state where those practices are not tolerated. With this bill we are doing away with those that seek to promote lawlessness in Texas.”

The bill establishes misdemeanor penalties for any local police officer who does not aid federal law enforcement in detaining undocumented immigrants. If a local law enforcement entity declines to help federal officials, they would face a fine between $1,000 and $25,500.

The legislation, which is set to take effect Sept. 1, also includes an amendment that allows police officers to ask someone about their immigration status when they are detained.

In an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News last month, David Pughes, the interim Dallas police chief, and Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, wrote that they opposed the legislation known as SB4.

“We officers work extremely hard to build and maintain trust, communication, and stronger relationships with minority communities through community based policing and outreach programs,” they wrote. “Broad rules, such as those imposed by SB 4, that push local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and these diverse communities.”

“Officers would start inquiring about the immigration status of every person they come in contact with, or worse, inquire about the immigration status of people based on their appearance,” they continued. “This will lead to distrust of police and less cooperation from members of the community. And it will foster the belief that people cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.”

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During one if his first public appearances since leaving office, former President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to show “courage” and defend his administration’s attempts to expand access to health insurance.

“For many Americans, I know that this feels like an uncertain and even perilous time. And at such moments, courage is necessary. In such moments we need courage to stand up to hate – not just in others, but in ourselves,” Obama said while accepting the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

He then pivoted to Obamacare and noted that it took courage for some Democratic lawmakers to vote to pass the Affordable Care Act.

“It is my fervent hope — and the hope of millions — that regardless of party, such courage is still possible, that today’s members of Congress, regardless of party, are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it contradicts party positions,” he said.

“I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn’t take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential. But does require some courage to champion the vulnerable, and the sick and the infirm. Those who often have no access to the corridors of power,” Obama continued. “I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient, but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right.”

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Following a reports that the White House is looking to drastically cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the 2018 budget, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Friday warned that such cuts would hurt the country’s ability to fight the opioid crisis.

“I’ve known and worked with our drug czars for more than 20 years and this agency is critical to our efforts to combat drug abuse in general, and this opioid epidemic, in particular. This office supports the Drug Free Communities Act, legislation I authored in 1997 which has provided more than $1 billion to community drug coalitions around the country over the last 20 years, as well as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which has helped states like Ohio that are ground zero for this problem,” Portman said in a statement.

“We have a heroin and prescription drug crisis in this country and we should be supporting efforts to reverse this tide, not proposing drastic cuts to those who serve on the front lines of this epidemic,” he concluded.

Both Politico and the New York Times on Friday reported that the Trump administration is looking into a 95 percent cut in funding for the office.

Asked about the reports Friday afternoon, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that she would not “comment on ongoing discussions.”

“Again, there’s not a final document,” she added. “When there is, we’d certainly be happy to discuss that. I think the bigger point here is the President has made very clear that the opioid epidemic in this country is a huge priority for him, something he is certainly very focused on tackling and something that I think was ignored by the previous administration that won’t go ignored in this one.”

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Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will recuse himself for one year from lawsuits against the agency that he was involved in as the Oklahoma state attorney general or as part of the conservative Rule of Law Defense Fund.

Pruitt signed the recusal document on Thursday, and the memo was obtained by E&E News on Friday.

The list of cases from which Pruitt will recuse himself include a lawsuit over President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan and cases regarding the Clean Water Rule. He indicated that he will not recuse himself from cases in which Oklahoma only filed an amicus brief.

During his confirmation hearing in the Senate, Pruitt would not say definitively whether he would recuse himself from cases he had been involved in while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general. At the time, he would only say that he would follow guidance from the EPA’s ethics office.

Though Pruitt will recuse himself from a long list of cases at the EPA, President Donald Trump has signaled he will roll back many Obama-era environmental regulations. Pruitt said that he would not step back from the rule-making process on the matters he listed in the memo.

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Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said during a Friday town hall in Idaho that “nobody dies” from losing their health insurance while defending the House Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Idaho Statesman reported.

During a town hall in Lewiston, Idaho, an attendee suggested to the congressman that making cuts to Medicaid could lead to people dying.

“That line is so indefensible,” Labrador replied. “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

His response was met with boos from the audience.

Watch a clip of the exchange:

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President Donald Trump on Friday evening complained about the media coverage of the House’s vote to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, using one of his favorite terms, “fake news.”

House Republicans on Thursday passed the American Health Care Act by a razor-thin, sending the bill to the Senate. However, the Senate plans to write its own bill.

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