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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

Former Trump campaign aide Carter Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow for meetings prompted the FBI to launch an investigation into potential ties between Russia and members of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The Times reported, citing unnamed former and current law enforcement and intelligence officials, that federal investigators were just beginning to look into ties between Trump associates and Russia in July. The FBI gathered more evidence in the following months, including intercepts of Russian officials talking about Page and other Trump associates, according to the New York Times.

Page has come under increasing scrutiny for his ties to Russia as the FBI investigates any links between the Trump campaign and Russia. He said last week that U.S. sanctions “may have come up” during his July trip to Moscow. It was also revealed earlier this month that Page gave an undercover Russian agent information in 2013, though Page has said that the information was immaterial.

The FBI reportedly received a FISA court warrant to surveil Page as part of its probe into Russia’s election meddling, and the FBI reportedly used a dossier with allegations of links between Trump and Russia to justify its need for the warrant.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on Wednesday night faced a rowdy crowd in Meridian, Idaho, where he was pummeled with questions about health care and President Donald Trump.

The congressman was at times met with jeers and chants of “Do your job,” as well as with cheers and applause, according to the Spokesman-Review. He originally planned for a 90-minute event, but spoke with the 800 constituents packed into a middle school auditorium for about three hours, according to the Idaho Statesman.

“I actually like it – I’m used to getting booed. I get it at home all the time,” Labrador said at one point, per the Spokesman-Review.

He was confronted with questions about Trump, specifically whether the President Donald Trump should release his tax returns.

“I don’t think that there’s anything in the law that requires the president to provide his tax returns. There’s nothing in the law,” Labrador said to boos and some applause, according to the Spokesman-Review.

Though he would not call on Trump to release his tax returns, Labrador did tell the crowd that the President’s time spent at Mar-A-Lago presents costs and transparency issues, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Labrador was also grilled on the House Republicans’ failed Obamacare repeal bill, which the Freedom Caucus refused to support. He defended his decision to oppose the legislation.

“I don’t believe that health care should be provided by the government,” Labrador said, according to the Idaho Press-Tribune. “But I do believe that people should have access to health care.”

He was met with boos from the crowd.

In response, one audience member told Labrador, “You seem very concerned about the well-being of children before they’re born, but I wonder what happens to that compassion going forward, in terms of the positive changes you could make in the areas of health care, education and parental leave,” per the Press-Tribune.

 

Now that Democrat Jon Ossoff on Tuesday narrowly missed winning an open U.S. House seat in Georgia outright, he will compete against Republican Karen Handel in a special June runoff election.

Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state, where she helped implement and defended the state’s restrictive voter ID law. She also bid unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in the 2010 governor’s race and the 2014 U.S. Senate race. But having held statewide office and competed in several elections, Handel has good name recognition in the district—and she now has the advantage of consolidating the resources that previously had been split among 11 Republican candidates, of which she was the frontrunner.

After she left office as Georgia’s secretary of state and lost her bid for governor, Handel joined the Susan B. Komen Foundation, where she served as the vice president for public policy. Handel made headlines in 2012 when she resigned from the foundation over her role in a push to end funding for Planned Parenthood. She later wrote a book titled “Planned Bullyhood,” in which she described the organization as “a bunch of schoolyard thugs.”

If she were to win the seat, Handel would join a House GOP caucus that has spent much of the year trying and failing to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare that satisfies both the hard-line conservatives who want to scrap it entirely and moderates who want to keep some of the law’s protections in place. Notably, Handel lobbied for Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits while at the Komen Foundation, specifically pushing for insurers to cover certain aspects of women’s health care.

But she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month that her advocacy for that specific provision did not amount to full support of the law.

“Obamacare was passed months before my first day at Komen. I thought it was bad legislation in 2010 and I support full repeal and replacement of the law today,” she said. “A small part of my job at Komen included advocating that mammogram screenings be covered under plans available on the exchanges —just as they are covered in other plans in Georgia. I think we can all agree that women deserve access to life saving, early detection procedures.”

It’s unclear that President Donald Trump would get a Congresswoman Handel’s full support as well. Trump loomed large over the race from the start, as Democrats saw the relatively affluent and well-educated district, which he won by just one point in November, as their ripest congressional pickup opportunity. Nevertheless, Ossoff seemed to studiously avoid talking about the President, and Handel did not seek to tie herself to Trump. She did acknowledge that she voted for the President but rarely mentioned him on the campaign trail, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Handel did not mention Trump in her victory speech, but instead used the time to contrast herself with Ossoff, who has never before held public office.

“We cannot let an untested, unproven, inexperienced ally of Nancy Pelosi steal the seat that has been held by the great leaders like Tom Price, Johnny Isakson, and Newt Gingrich,” she said.

However, Handel welcomed Trump’s help on Wednesday after he pledged to support her in the runoff.

Asked on CNN if she would welcome Trump on the campaign trail with her, Handel replied, “I would hope so.”

“It’s all hands on deck for us,” she continued. “We know what’s at stake here, and I don’t think this is about any one person. We need to rise above it.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday painted the results in the special election to fill a U.S. House seat in Georgia, which the leading Democrat narrowly missed winning outright, as a “big loss” for the party.

Democrat Jon Ossoff garnered 48 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent he needed to clear to avoid a runoff, while the top Republican vote-getter, Karen Handel, won 20 percent.

“They were clear going into this election, they said their goal was to get over 50 percent. They came up short,” Spicer said during the daily press briefing when asked about the race. “I think this was a big loss for them. The bottom line is they went all-in on it. They said that they — their goal was to get over 50 percent. They came up short.”

Asked later about his assessment of the race and whether Republicans had to put in too much effort to compete in what is historically a solid Republican district, Spicer doubled down on his depiction of Democrats as the race’s losers, noting that they spent more than $8.3 million on the race.

“They ran to win last night and they lost,” he said. “Anything short of describing that as a loss is sort of inconceivable to me in the sense that’s literally what they said their goal was to do.”

Spicer was also asked if Ossoff’s relative success in the race shows that Republicans need to pay attention to demographic changes in the South. The press secretary, who formerly ran communications for the Republican National Committee, replied that the GOP is in great shape.

“I think you know that based on my former position, we talked about changing demographics throughout the country and made significant headway in doing that. In large part, that’s why we won,” he said.

“I think we did pretty well in November,” he added. “And we’ve continued to pick up seats around the country at different levels. So I feel very confident about the state of the party.”

Spicer said he was not yet sure whether Trump would campaign for Handel in Georgia.

“If needed I think the President is going to make sure he does everything he can to maintain majorities and further the party. But we’ll see if we’re needed,” he said.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning spun the results from Tuesday night’s special election in Georgia as a win for Republicans because the leading Democrat in the race narrowly missed winning it outright.

Republican Karen Handel earned 20 percent of the vote, compared to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 48 percent, so the two will compete in a June 20 runoff to decide the fate of an open seat in the U.S. House. Though no Republican candidate clinched the seat or outperformed Ossoff, Trump insisted the results represented a win:

Trump also framed the upcoming runoff as “Hollywood vs. Georgia,” a reference to Ossoff’s fundraising prowess and the celebrities, like actress Alyssa Milano, who helped him campaign. As it turns out, Ossoff did not pull much of his more than $8 million in campaign cash from big Hollywood donors.

The President published a similar tweet Tuesday night declaring that a runoff represented a victory for Republicans:

During a town hall in Claremore, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, Sen. James Lankford said that President Donald Trump should release his tax returns, according to the Tulsa World.

“He promised he would,” Lankford said when asked if the President should release his tax returns, per the Tulsa World. “He should keep his promise.”

A handful of Republican lawmakers believe Trump should release his tax returns, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and several members of the House Freedom Caucus.

At another event in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Lankford addressed the failed House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and said it would not have passed in the Senate.

“The bill the House put out originally would have included twice as many people with half as much help,” he said, according to the Tulsa World. “That would not get through the Senate.”

The senator also criticized Trump’s social media use.

“I’m very aware our president is not a good example of how to do social media,” he told constituents on Tuesday, per the Tulsa World.

Amid reports Tuesday night that executives at Fox are discussing cutting ties with Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host’s lawyer issued a statement claiming that O’Reilly is the the victim of a “smear campaign” from the “far-left.”

“Bill O’Reilly has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America. This law firm has uncovered evidence that the smear campaign is being orchestrated by far-left organizations bent on destroying O’Reilly for political and financial reasons,” O’Reilly’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said in a statement Tuesday night. “That evidence will be put forth shortly, and it is irrefutable.”

The statement came as several outlets reported that it’s unlikely O’Reilly will return to his show at the network.

New York Magazine reported Tuesday afternoon that members of the Murdoch family have been fighting over whether O’Reilly should leave the network. The Murdochs are “leaning toward” announcing O’Reilly’s departure, per New York Magazine.

Tuesday evening, CNN reported that representatives for Fox and O’Reilly have begun discussing the host’s exit, citing a “well-placed source.” Sources close to O’Reilly denied this, but yet another source told CNN that it’s not likely O’Reilly will return to his primetime show on the network.

The Wall Street Journal later reported that Fox News is preparing to have O’Reilly leave the network, citing unnamed “people close to the situation.” A final decision on the host’s fate could come in the next few days, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Fox News declined to respond to several outlets when asked about O’Reilly’s status at the network on Tuesday.

O’Reilly went on a lengthy vacation following a New York Times report revealing that the host and Fox had settled multiple sexual harassment cases. The report prompted several advertisers to pull their ad buys from the show, putting pressure on the network to boot O’Reilly.

Jon Ossoff led the 18-candidate pack in Tuesday’s special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, but he came just short of clearing the 50 percent hurdle to win the seat outright and will now compete in a June runoff election against Republican Karen Handel.

Ossoff earned 48 percent of the vote in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, followed by Handel just shy of 20 percent.

“This is already a victory for the ages,” Ossoff told supporters gathered at an election night rally just before midnight, when vote totals from one county experiencing technical problems had yet to come in. “That no matter what the outcome is tonight, whether we take it all or we fight on, we have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world.”

Late Tuesday night, Handel addressed supporters and pledged to fight for the House seat against Ossoff. In her 10 minute speech, she did not mention President Donald Trump, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Tomorrow, we start the campaign anew,” she said, per the Journal-Constitution. “Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person.”

The results for the race were not finalized until after midnight Wednesday morning due to a data error in Fulton County that forced poll workers to screen ballots by hand, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Before the final results came in, President Donald Trump declared victory for Republicans in the race, touting that the GOP had prevented Ossoff from winning the race outright with his help.

The historically Republican seat had previously been held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Trump only won the suburban Atlanta district by one point in November, however, giving Democrats hope that they could channel anti-Trump energy into a victory there.

Democrats still have an opportunity to flip the district in the June 20 runoff, but it will be a tall order now that Republicans can put their full might behind a single candidate. Ossoff consistently led polls of the 18-candidate field for the jungle primary-style election, and was polling at an average of 42 percent in the last nine polls before polls opened, according to FiveThirtyEight. But the crowded field, which included 11 Republicans, gave Ossoff a change to rise above the fray. That’s an advantage he won’t have in June.

The special election in Georgia drew national attention as one of the first congressional pickup opportunities after Trump’s November victory—and the most promising one at that for Democrats, who were especially optimistic about being able to flip the fairly wealthy, well-educated district. Ossoff’s fundraising prowess boosted Democrats’ hopes, and by Tuesday he had raised more than $8 million for the race.

But as the frontrunner, Ossoff was subject to relentless attacks from conservatives, with one Republican candidate, former Georgia state Sen. Judson Hill, making a last-ditch attempt to tie him to terrorism.

Trump himself waded into the race in its final days in a big way, with multiple tweets going after Ossoff and a robocall urging Republicans to get out to the polls. Though Trump got involved at the eleventh hour, Ossoff declined to go after the President at all during a Tuesday morning interview on CNN, instead choosing to pitch his economic message.

Back at the local level, news broke on Monday afternoon that some electronic poll books had been stolen over the weekend in Cobb County, part of which lies in the 6th District. The county elections board said that the stolen units would be replaced for the election, and there was no evidence the theft had any impact on the race.

Ossoff’s first-place finish came on the heels of a closer-than-expected race last week to fill another open U.S. House seat in Kansas vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Republican Ron Estes won by a seven-point margin in a solidly conservative district that Trump had swept by 27 points in November, a 20-point swing.

This post has been updated.

 

 

On Saturday, just a few days before Tuesday’s highly anticipated special election to fill an open congressional seat, election equipment used to check in voters at the polls was stolen in Cobb County, Georgia.

“On the evening of April 15th, voting equipment used for voter check-in for one Cobb County precinct for the April 18 Special Election was stolen from a poll manager’s vehicle,” the Cobb County Board of Elections said in a statement. “The Cobb County Board of Elections is working with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to address this serious matter. Cobb County Police is investigating the theft.”

Although the units were stolen on Saturday, the Georgia secretary of state’s office says the Cobb County Board of Elections did not notify it until two days later. The secretary of state’s office has reconfigured the coding to make the stolen units unusable, according to spokeswoman Candice Boce.

“It is unacceptable that the Cobb County Elections Office waited two days to notify my office of this theft,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a statement. “We have opened an investigation, and we are taking steps to ensure that it has no effect on the election. I am confident that the results will not be compromised.”

Pam Burel, the administrative supervisor at the Cobb County Board of Elections, told TPM that the board was unable to comment further while there is an open investigation.

The units stolen were not voting machines, so they could not be used to fraudulently vote, Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The equipment did contain the voter file with Georgia voters’ personal information like driver’s license numbers and addresses, but not social security numbers, Eveler told the Journal-Constitution. But she added that “it does require some knowledge or expertise to use machine to retrieve the information.”

Eveler told told Atlanta television station WSBTV that they will replace the stolen equipment.

Though local officials say the machines stolen cannot be used to vote, some residents may link the incident to concerns about voter fraud, which is extremely rare in the U.S.

“It’s very shocking, especially with the climate we have of voter fraud out there,” an unnamed voter  told WSBTV of the theft.

The incident took place just a few days before the high-stakes special election to fill a House seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Democrat Jon Ossoff has been leading the 18-candidate field in the polls, and Democrats are hopeful that they can turn the historically Republican district blue.

Tammy Patrick, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center who served on the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, told TPM that the theft should not have much of an impact on Tuesday’s election. She said that electronic poll books are more secure than paper books and that voter information is often available to the public in some form, though driver’s license numbers are likely not public information.

She said that someone could not use the electronic poll books to alter voter information or to fraudulently cast a vote. And as long as there is a back-up electronic or paper voter file, the theft would not impact voters’ ability to cast a ballot at the polling place.

Patrick did note that the theft could prompt an “issue of the perception and the confidence in the process from the voter’s perspective.” But she did not see an effect beyond that.

“It sounds far worse than it is,” she told TPM. “I don’t see how this is going to be impactful in the election itself unless people say, ‘Oh look, it’s already compromised, I’m just not going to go vote.’ Then that would obviously have an impact.”

This post has been updated.

 

 

On the morning of the special election to fill an open House seat in Georgia, President Donald Trump went all in on attacking Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate leading the polls. However, Ossoff himself repeatedly declined to go after Trump in a Tuesday morning interview.

During an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” co-host Alisyn Camerota noted that Trump recorded a robocall singling out Ossoff and asked him to respond.



“I appreciate the president’s interest in the race. Although, he is misinformed with respect to my priorities,” Ossoff replied.

Camerota then asked Ossoff if the race was a referendum on Trump.

“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. Everyone’s looking for national implications, but all politics is local,” he replied, again declining to go after Trump.

The special election in Georgia and Ossoff’s dominance in the polls has been linked to Trump from the start. Democrats are hopeful they can flip the solidly Republican district given that the President only won the district by one point in November. Democrats are counting on anti-Trump fervor to drive their base to the polls.

When asked if he was motivated to run by Trump’s election, Ossoff noted that he does have “serious concerns about the direction of things in Washington.” But he quickly pivoted to his pitch on boosting the economy.

And he demurred yet again when Camerota asked if he talks about Trump on the campaign trail.

“I’ll always voice my concerns about what’s happening in Washington. That includes my concerns about the administration, whether it’s on the environment or civil liberties,” he replied, avoiding Trump’s name.

The Democratic candidate also declined to respond to Trump when asked about the President’s fiery tweets labelling Ossoff “VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration.”

“Once again I appreciate the President’s interest. It sounds like he’s misinformed about my priorities,” Ossoff said before suggesting Trump visit his campaign website.

During the interview, Camerota also pointed out that Ossoff does not currently live in the district, noting that this means he won’t be able to vote for himself. In response, Ossoff explained that he grew up in the district and is living just outside it with his girlfriend while she attends medical school at Emory University.

Watch part of the interview via CNN:

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