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

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday evening said that the fact that Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe, cleared former FBI Director James Comey to speak publicly about his conversations with President Donald Trump shows that Mueller does not think he has an obstruction of justice case against Trump.

Graham told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum that Comey’s prepared statement released Wednesday “means in the minds [sic] of special counsel Mueller there is no obstruction of justice case to be made because if he felt like he had a case, he wouldn’t let Comey, his chief and only witness, go out in public and get beat up.”

“What prosecutor in their right mind would allow their star witness to go out before the Senate panel of 20 senators and get beat up if he really believed he had a case?” Graham continued. “So this is the best evidence yet that in the mind of the special counsel, there is no obstruction of justice case to be made against President Trump because he allowed Comey to testify in public and issue a statement. No prosecutor would ever do that if there was a good case here.”

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Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who won a U.S. House seat in late May, on Wednesday formally apologized to a reporter with the Guardian and explicitly acknowledged that he assaulted the reporter.

“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard,” Gianforte wrote in the letter to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” he continued. “I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”

The Wednesday letter was the first time that Gianforte acknowledged that he assaulted Jacobs. The Montana Republican apologized for his conduct during his victory speech in late May, but at the time he did not admit to assault.

His letter also explicitly contradicts a statement from the campaign issued soon after the incident with Jacobs. In that statement, a spokesman for Gianforte alleged that Jacobs initiated physical contact with Gianforte. However, Jacobs’ account of the incident, as well as accounts from witnesses, contradicted the campaign’s initial version of events. Jacobs accused Gianforte of bodyslamming him, while a Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident said that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck, slammed him to the ground, and punched Jacobs.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault following the incident but has yet to appear in court. Gianforte must appear in court by June 20, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

He wrote in his letter to Jacobs that he will donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The donation and letter are part of a settlement with Jacobs, who signed a release giving up his ability to file a civil lawsuit against Gianforte, according to the Guardian. However, Gianforte still faces the misdemeanor assault charge.

“I have accepted Mr Gianforte’s apology and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and statements,” Jacobs said in a statement published by the Guardian. “I hope the constructive resolution of this incident reinforces for all the importance of respecting the freedom of the press and the first amendment and encourages more civil and thoughtful discourse in our country.”

In his letter, Gianforte also wrote about the importance of the press and said that Jacobs was just trying to do his job.

“I understand the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society. Protections afforded to the press through the Constitution are fundamental to who we are as a nation and the way government is accountable to the people,” he wrote. “I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy. You were doing your job.”


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Eric Trump on Tuesday night lashed out at people critical of his father during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, saying that he’s “never seen hatred” like what he’s seen directed at the President.

“To me, they’re not even people. It’s so, so sad,” Eric Trump said on Fox News, referring to critics of President Donald Trump. “Morality’s just gone, morals have flown out the window. We deserve so much better than this as a country.”

“You see the Democratic Party, they’re imploding. They’re imploding. They have no message. You see the head of the DNC, who is a total whack job,” he continued, referring to Tom Perez, the former labor secretary. “There’s no leadership there. And so what to they do? They become obstructionists because they have no message of their own. They have no solid candidates of their own.”

Eric Trump charged that Democrats have tried to obstruct the President and his family.

“They come after us viciously,” he said.

He also went after the media, suggesting that news outlets prompt criticism of his father and the Trump administration.

“I blame the media because it’s out of control,” Eric Trump told Hannity. “The way they act are out of control.”

Watch the interview via Fox News:

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President Donald Trump and the top issues facing the United States were front and center during the first televised debate ahead of the closely-watched runoff to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia.

Even the moderator of the debate held by Atlanta television station WSB, anchor Justin Farmer, nodded at one point at the national implications of the race, segueing from a commercial break by saying the debate was “not just for Georgians, it’s on the national stage.”

With money pouring into the race on both sides, the special election slated for June 20th is the most expensive U.S. House race ever. And both Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff went after each other Tuesday night over campaign spending from outside Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. Handel repeatedly blasted Ossoff for fueling his campaign with donations from out of state, calling out places like California and New York. She mentioned House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) several times, attempting to tie Ossoff to Democratic leadership and “San Francisco values.” Ossoff went after Handel, too, arguing that her campaign has stayed afloat with the help of national super PACs.

The WSB debate panel’s questions forced Ossoff and Handel each to reckon with Trump’s policies and other national issues, too, after a campaign in which the candidates had avoided talking about the President to a certain extent.

Ossoff criticized Trump in several instances, from saying he opposed the President’s travel ban on six predominantly Muslim countries to criticizing Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accord. He also said he was “dismayed by the weak trajectory” of the current administration’s foreign policy, chastising the administration for wavering on its commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Ossoff slammed the White House for not having a “firm response” to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election, too.

He hesitated to come out strongly against Trump’s presidency on the whole, however.

Asked if he was part of the “resistance” opposing Trump, Ossoff would not define himself as an anti-Trump candidate.

“I hope to have the opportunity to work with the President to get things done for Georgia,” Ossoff said, after noting that he would not get a congratulatory tweet from Trump if he won.

He added that he would “stand up to anyone, regardless of their party” if he disagrees with them in an apparent appeal to moderate voters.

And while Ossoff said he opposed Trump’s travel ban, he did not offer a full-throated condemnation of the executive order. He instead said the travel ban was not an “effective” national security policy.

Handel embraced some of Trump’s policies during the debate, from backing his travel ban to defending the House GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that has been pushed forcefully by the White House. But Handel also drew contrasts with the President, emphasizing that she does not support any “religious litmus test” for immigrants and noting that she does not agree with some of Trump’s proposed budget cuts, such as those to scientific and medical research.

She also suggested that Trump lay off Twitter.

“Sometimes you should just put down the computer, the phone, and walk away,” she said.

Handel was also asked to answer for Greg Gianforte, the Republican who recently won an at-large congressional seat in Montana after being charged for allegedly assaulting a reporter for The Guardian. Gianforte promoted the Georgia race in a fundraising email for the House Republicans’ campaign arm, and Handel pointedly said in the debate that Gianforte was not fundraising for her campaign. She said that she does not condone Gianforte’s behavior toward the reporter.

But after distancing herself from Gianforte, Handel lamented that people “on both sides of the aisle” have become increasingly aggressive toward political candidates. She claimed that a reporter associated with a liberal organization “almost literally accosted” her at a Memorial Day event.

While the candidates took their most concrete positions to date relative to Trump in the WSB debate, any single answer from either of them was perhaps overshadowed by a remark Handel made in response to a question from a viewer about raising the minimum wage.

“I do not support a livable wage,” she said. “What I support is making sure that we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, quickly blasted out video of Handel’s remarks, and the Ossoff campaign highlighted the gaffe on Twitter after the debate:


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During Tuesday night’s debate for an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, Republican candidate Karen Handel said that she does not support a “livable wage.”

“This is an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative: I do not support a livable wage,” she said on Atlanta’s WSB-TV in response to a viewer question about raising the minimum wage. “What I support is making sure that we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation.”

Handel said that raising the minimum wage could “dramatically” hurt small businesses.

Handel’s opponent, Democrat Jon Ossoff, said that “the minimum wage should be a living wage.” He noted that he supports raising the minimum wage gradually so that businesses can slowly adapt to the increase.

Ossoff’s campaign highlighted Handel’s remark about not supporting a “livable wage,” which quickly went viral, on Twitter after the debate:

Watch below:

This post has been updated.

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During the first debate ahead of the runoff to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, the two candidates butted heads in a charged exchange about the effort to repeal Obamacare underway in Congress.

Republican Karen Handel defended the House GOP’s American Health Care Act in Tuesday night’s debate, hosted by Atlanta TV station WSB, arguing that the current system under Obamacare is “collapsing.” She dismissed an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office projecting that 23 million Americans would end up losing their health insurance under the House bill.

“I reject the premise of the CBO,” she said, adding that the CBO was wrong about Obamacare’s impacts.

Democrat Jon Ossoff criticized Handel for backing a bill “that would gut the protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.” He also brought up his opponent’s role in the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off its funding for Planned Parenthood.

Handel hit back hard, saying that her sister has a pre-existing condition as she was born without an esophagus. She said it was “outrageous” for Ossoff to “suggest that I would do anything that would negatively affect her.”

She went on to insist that the House GOP bill does offer protections for those with pre-existing conditions. A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, however, found that under a waiver option the American Health Care Act offers states, there are more than six million people that are vulnerable to being charged more by insurers because they both have a pre-existing condition and a lapse in insurance coverage.

Handel also stressed that she did not “singularly” decide that the Komen foundation would stop funding Planned Parenthood.

“I will not be lectured by you or anyone else,” she told Ossoff.

In response, Ossoff charged that Handel campaigned in 2012 on her role in cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood and noted that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Handel “engineered” the move, which resulted in disastrous PR for the organization.

Handel charged that Ossoff has aired misleading ads about her role at the Komen Foundation and suggested that news reports on her efforts may not be accurate.

“You can’t believe everything you read in the press,” she said. “Everyone knows that.”

This post has been updated.

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Karen Handel, the Republican candidate for an open Congressional seat in Georgia, threw her support behind President Donald Trump’s travel ban during the first debate before the runoff election.

“It is a temporary, limited halt for six countries that are known to harbor terrorists,” Handel said of Trump’s revised travel ban during the Tuesday night debate hosted by Atlanta TV station WSB.

She emphasized that she does not support a “religious litmus test” for people entering the country, but said that the Department of Homeland Security needs time to evaluate the United States’ vetting procedures. Trump’s executive order, which has been tied up in the courts, sought to ban travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Handel’s statement of support came in response to a question on national security and Trump’s travel ban.

In response to the same question, Ossoff initially did not address Trump’s executive order. Pressed again, Ossoff said that the travel ban is “not effective” and that the United States needs an intelligence-driven approach to the issue.

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Pundits and the national media have framed the upcoming runoff in the special U.S. House race in Georgia as a referendum on President Donald Trump. But the candidates themselves don’t spend much time praising or attacking the President, and they have been silent on most of the Trump news items du jour.

Because Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, located in the suburbs of Atlanta, only voted for Trump by a one-point margin in November, the race is seen as Democrats’ best chance to flip a congressional seat before the 2018 midterm elections. Both Republicans and Democrats have poured record-shattering sums of money into the closely-watched race.

Under that national spotlight, Democrat Jon Ossoff and, albiet to a lesser extent, Republican Karen Handel have avoided talking Trump during the campaign. So it’s an open question how often the President and national issues will be raised when they debate each other for the first time on television Tuesday night.

“Every federal special election since the beginning of time has a federal component to it. This race has a federal component on steroids,” Chip Lake, a longtime Republican strategist in Georgia, told TPM. “And so there’s no real reason I don’t think for either candidate to go out of their way to mention the President because that narrative and that dynamic is already well-developed.”

Handel welcomed Trump for an April fundraiser, and the President sent a fundraising email on her behalf. Handel also praised Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and said his firing of former FBI director James Comey was “probably overdue.” But she has not incorporated the President into her campaign messaging with the kind of zeal that Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who adopted Trump’s “drain the swamp” campaign message and aggressive attitude toward reporters for his successful bid for an at-large House seat last month, did.

Ossoff, for his part, has pulled back from the anti-Trump energy that characterized the launch of his campaign. He ran ads explicitly pitching himself as a check on Trump when he first jumped into the race, but the Ossoff campaign has since focused its message and ads on local issues, painting the Democratic candidate as someone who will work across the aisle to bring jobs to Georgia.

Political strategists in the Peach State say it’s not surprising that Ossoff has focused on issues other than the ones plaguing Trump’s young presidency, arguing that news reports offer plenty of reminders for district voters about Trump’s time in office.

“He’s actually made a smart pivot to ensure that his ads tell the people in the sixth district what he’s for and what he’ll do when he’s in Washington as their member of Congress,” Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist who has worked for several Georgia lawmakers, told TPM.

Johnson said that Ossoff’s focus on local issues also helps him appeal to the “disaffected Republicans that live in the district.”

Jesse Ferguson, a former campaign aide to Hillary Clinton, said that it makes sense for a candidate new to voters like Ossoff to “introduce yourself and let voters know who you are and who you stand for, before you can credibly critique the Republican President and his candidate.”

As Ferguson noted, Ossoff hasn’t managed to avoid Trump completely during his campaign. He issued a statement last week condemning the President’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, followed up by a press email calling out Handel for not immediately publicizing her view on the consequential move. But the campaign doesn’t often try to nail down Handel’s position on national issues, instead zeroing in on her history in Georgia and her time at the Susan G. Komen foundation, where she pushed to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

And when asked about Trump during interviews with the national media, Ossoff often demurs. CNN host Chris Cuomo asked Ossoff during an interview last week if he felt like he was running against Handel or against Trump.

“I prefer to think about what I’m running for,” Ossoff replied. “And what I’m running for is greater accountability in Washington, the ability to work across the aisle to get things done to develop metro Atlanta’s regional economy so we can become an economic powerhouse. I think we have too much running against things in this country. We need to be finding common ground, finding areas to work together.”

Ossoff also avoided talking about Trump on the occasion of the April 18 special election, when he fell just short of winning the race outright and secured the top spot in the June 20 runoff against Handel.

“This race is about local economic issues here and values that unite people in the community in Georgia before it’s about the national political circus,” he said at the time when asked if he thought the race was a referendum on Trump. “Everyone’s looking for national implications, but all politics is local.”

He shies away from mentioning the President on his own at campaign events, too, addressing Trump only when faced with a question from a supporter or member of the media, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Lake, the Georgia Republican strategist, told TPM that it makes sense for Ossoff to let Trump’s actions speak for themselves.

“If you’re Jon Ossoff, you’re already getting the benefit of being anti-Trump,” Lake said, adding that it makes sense for Ossoff to “reap the benefits but not have to make it a defining theme of your campaign so that you don’t alienate people that you don’t need to alienate.”

Lake said Handel’s approach to her party’s standard-bearer also was fitting, since “the only reason that this race is competitive is because Donald Trump is President of the United States.” Handel is slated to welcome Vice President Mike Pence to the state before the runoff, which Lake believes is a smart move that could help rally the Republican base in the area.

For her part, Handel has tried to tie Ossoff to national Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and outside liberal groups. Her campaign has also relentlessly attacked Ossoff’s resume, arguing that he inflated his credentials as a congressional staffer.

Sacha Haworth, Ossoff’s communications director, told TPM that the campaign has not changed its approach to Trump (Handel’s campaign did not respond to TPM’s interview requests for this story). She did say that the campaign has focused on local issues going into the June 20 runoff, however.

“This race is and should be about local issues, and that’s what Jon is talking about every day,” Haworth told TPM.

Ossoff and Handel are scheduled to face off in the runoff’s first debate Tuesday night on Atlanta TV station WSB. It’s unclear whether the Democratic candidate will make his opponent answer for her appearance with the President: Haworth said Ossoff plans to charge that Handel “has put her own personal agenda ahead of what’s best for the people that she works for, whether it’s as an elected official, secretary of state, or when she was working on the board at Susan G. Komen.”

TPM composite by Christine Frapech.

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