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

In a change of heart, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) will announce on Friday that he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, challenging Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the Bismarck Tribune reported Thursday.

The paper cited a person close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who spoke to Cramer about the race.

The news would be a boost for the GOP as it seeks to maintain control of the Senate this fall. It currently holds a 51-49 edge.

Cramer’s apparent reversal came only about one month after he confirmed that he would not run and would instead run for re-election in the House.

The congressman had been Republicans’ favorite candidate to challenge Heitkamp, and his decision not to run had been a blow to the GOP’s chances to flip the Senate seat. Cramer is an ally of President Donald Trump, who carried North Dakota 63 to 27 in 2016.

Both Trump and McConnell had urged Cramer to run for the Senate, and it appears McConnell made another appeal since Cramer passed on the race.

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Under fire over reports that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took several first class flights using taxpayer money, the agency defended the flights on Tuesday by claiming that Pruitt had a “blanket waiver” to fly first class for security reasons, only to walk back that claim the next day.

Several reports this week revealed that Pruitt flew first class on flights from Washington, D.C. to Boston and Washington, D.C. to New York, as well as on an Emirates flight from Milan, Italy, to Washington, D.C. Pruitt said on Tuesday that he felt he had to fly first class due to the “level of threat” he faces on planes. EPA Spokesman Jahan Wilcox also said Tuesday that Pruitt had a “blanket waiver” to do so.

However, when Politico pointed out that rules prohibit blanket waivers, Wilcox changed his statement and said that the EPA submits waivers each time Pruitt needs one.

“As such, for every trip Administrator Pruitt submits a waiver to fly in either first or business class,” Wilcox said in a statement to Politico.

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After Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) criticizing the senator’s criminal justice legislation, Grassley tore into the attorney general in a tweet and several interviews.

Grassley followed up in interviews with Politico and Bloomberg News explaining his ire toward Sessions. Grassley told Bloomberg News that he was especially angry with Sessions’ letter considering how much support he gave Sessions through his nomination process and the Russia investigation.

“I think it’s legitimate to be incensed and I resent it, because of what I’ve done for him. He had a tough nomination, a tough hearing in my committee,” Grassley told Bloomberg News.

“They wanted to call him back every other day for additional hearings about his Russian connection, and I shut them off of that until we had the normal oversight hearing in October I believe it was, see? And the President was going to fire him, and I backed him, you know? So why wouldn’t I be irritated?” he added.

In his letter to Grassley, Sessions claimed that the criminal justice bill Grassley worked on with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) would “reduce sentences for a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.” The bill is expected to pass the Judiciary Committee Thursday, but faces tough odds after that.

The bill would give judges more room to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, but the legislation also bolsters punishment for other crimes, such as for those involved in crimes related to the trafficking of opioids.

Grassley complained that Sessions was acting like a senator, not an attorney general by sending the letter.

“It’s Senator Sessions talking, not a person whose job it is to execute law, and quite frankly I’m very incensed,” he told Politico.

Grassley told Politico that if Sessions wanted to undermine the legislation, he “should have done what people suggested to him before: resign from attorney general and run for the Senate in Alabama again.”

He told Bloomberg News that he pitched his bill to the White House, with limited success, but that he feels unsupported by Sessions and President Donald Trump.

“I’ve got people in the White House sympathetic to it but feel corralled by Sessions and a president that hasn’t dug into it,” Grassley said.

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After the Veterans Affairs inspector general found that VA Secretary David Shulkin and his chief of staff misled ethics officials about a trip to Europe of the summer, Shulkin told USA Today on Wednesday afternoon that he regrets the mistakes made in the process for approving the trip.

The inspector general found that chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson doctored an email to make it seem like Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government during a trip in July in order to obtain government funding for his wife’s plane ticket, which cost more than $4,300. The investigation also found that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets from someone he met a few times at officials events.

Shulkin told USA Today that he did not intentionally mislead government officials about the trip and tried to shift blame to his staff.

“We act with the highest ethical character,” he said. “I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions.”

He said that he mailed a check to the government to reimburse taxpayers for his wife’s $4,312 airfare and that he will reimburse his acquaintance for the Wimbledon tickets.

Shulkin was previously scheduled to appear before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday morning, and he will likely face questions about the trip.

The VA secretary is just the latest cabinet to face scrutiny for his expensive air travel. This week, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt was forced to defend an expensive first class ticket.



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More than 100 White House staffers, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were working on interim security clearances as of November of last year, according to reports from CNN and NBC News.

It’s not clear how many of those aides received a full security clearance in the few months since the information on interim security clearances was generated.

Since it was revealed last week that Rob Porter continued in his position as staff secretary on a temporary security clearance, even as the background check process turned up accusations of domestic violence, security clearances in the White House have come under greater scrutiny. House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said Wednesday that his committee would investigate the process used to assess whether Porter should have obtained a security clearance.

Of the scores of White House staffers operating without full security clearances in November, about two dozen started working in the administration in January 2017, according to CNN. Those without a full security clearance include a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council’s senior director for international cybersecurity, per CNN.

According to NBC News, 47 of the aides without full security clearances in November report director to President Donald Trump.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had temporary clearance to access top secret information and information classified as “top secret, sensitive compartmented information,” which means it comes from sensitive intelligence sources, according to NBC News.

White House Counsel Don McGahn, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah obtained permanent security clearances to access top secret information but were still operating on temporary clearances for the “top secret, sensitive compartmented information” as of November, according to NBC News.

Several staffers continued to work on interim security clearances even as some of Trump’s top aides have received their full security clearance. Counselor Kellyanne Conway, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Communications Director Hope Hicks, and policy adviser Stephen Miller all received a full security clearances by November, according to CNN.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday morning that Democrats are working with officials at the FBI to make some redactions to their memo in the hopes that the White House will then approve the memo for public release.

Schiff told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the FBI identified all portions of the Democrats’ memo that are classified and that Democrats are now looking for a subset of those sections that should be held either to protect sources and methods or because of investigative interest. Schiff added that a lot of what the FBI identified as classified is already in the public domain.

He argued that the question should not be over what is classified but what should be declassified due to public interest.

“We’re in good, I think, discussions with the FBI,” Schiff said Wednesday.

Schiff said Tuesday night on CNN that the Democrats will not make any changes to the memo, but will continue to work with the FBI on redactions.

The ranking member said that he suspects the White House directed the FBI to identify anything that was classified in the Democratic memo, though he cautioned that he does not know for sure.

Schiff said that by going through this redaction process with the FBI, he hopes to at least gain “visibility” on any difference between what the FBI wants redacted for investigative reasons and what the White House may want redacted for political reasons.

“When we reach agreement with the FBI, is that the end of the matter or will the white House still put a veto on it?” he asked rhetorically.

Schiff said that if Democrats and the FBI come to an agreement on what needs to be redacted from the memo, he hopes that will at least produce “visibility that if the White House still refuses to publish the document, they can no longer try to hide behind anyone else.”

“It’s pretty clear that the president has no concern over national security information that trumps his personal concerns because he said that he was publishing the Nunes memo without even reading it, and over the strenuous objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” he said.

Schiff also noted that the FBI has not identified issues with accuracy in the Democratic memo, as the bureau did with the Republican memo.

“The FBI has as far as I can tell, has taken no issue with the accuracy of what we’ve written,” he said.

Schiff has been highly critical of efforts by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release their memo alleging misdeeds at the FBI and Justice Department, and on Wednesday he warned that the memo could hurt the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community.

“It certainly will make the intelligence community less willing to share material information with us for fear of how it will be handled,” he said, adding that he suspects the intelligence community already had concerns prior to the memo’s release due to Nunes’ “broadsides” against the DOJ in an attempt to obtain information on surveillance applications.

“The more significant consequence may be that sources that provide information to the intelligence community may be more wary of doing so if they think that our committee or any other on the Hill will not jealously guard that information,” Schiff added.

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White House Counsel Don McGahn suggested to Rob Porter in November that he resign from his position as staff secretary after Porter’s ex-girlfriend contacted McGahn about Porter’s behavior, the New York Times reported Tuesday night, citing people familiar with the discussion.

McGahn did not follow up on his suggestion to the since-ousted staff secretary, according to the New York Times.

Following the revelations last week that Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of domestic abuse in their interviews with the FBI for its background check process, the Trump administration’s handling of Porter’s case has come under scrutiny. FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that the FBI sent reports on Porter’s background check to the White House in March, July, and November of last year, and that the bureau completed its review of Porter in January. It’s not clear just how much top officials knew about the allegations, but reports have indicated that both McGahn and chief of staff John Kelly were aware of the domestic abuse allegations before Porter was fired.

According to previous reporting, McGahn learned in September that Porter’s security clearance had been delayed due to accusations of domestic violence, though it’s not clear how McGahn learned that and how much detail he had at that time. Porter’s ex-girlfriend then called McGahn in November. According to a previous Washington Post report, she told McGahn about the abuse allegations from Porter’s ex-wives. According to the Tuesday New York Times report, she told McGahn that Porter had cheated on her and that he had anger problems.

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The White House put in place a ban on new interim security clearances in November, but allowed those who had already received interim clearances to continue working with them, Politico reported Tuesday night.

A November 7 email obtained by Politico did not spell out the reasoning behind the new ban on interim security clearances.

The security clearance process in the White House has come under intense scrutiny recently following the revelation that staff secretary Rob Porter remained in a high-level position, even as the background check process turned up domestic abuse accusations from his ex-wives.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that the FBI completed Porter’s background check in January, however, the White House security office had not yet completed its determination on Porter’s security clearance, according to the New York Times.

Jared Kushner, a White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has also reportedly been working on an interim security clearance for a year, along with several others.

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Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday that he paid $130,000 to porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, out of his own pocket.

Clifford once claimed that she had an affair with Trump, though she denies it now.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported in January that Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 as part of an agreement to keep her quiet on her affair with Trump. Cohen’s Tuesday statement is the first time he acknowledged making the payment, but he did not say why he made the payment to Clifford.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement first obtained by the New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Cohen made the statement in response to a complaint from the group Common Cause that the payment was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.

“The complaint alleges that I somehow violated campaign finance laws by facilitating an excess, in-kind contribution,” he said in the statement. “The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the F.E.C.”

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Since Rob Porter announced last week that he would resign as White House staff secretary following allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives, chief of staff John Kelly came under scrutiny for the way he handled the allegations.

But Kelly told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he’s satisfied with the way he handled the situation.

Asked if he should have approached the abuse allegations against Porter any differently, Kelly told the Wall Street Journal, “No.”

“It was all done right,” Kelly added.

Kelly reportedly knew about the abuse allegations from Porter’s two ex-wives before the women came forward with their accounts to the Daily Mail and the Intercept last week. However, the White House was slow to push Porter out of his position, first emphasizing that Porter made the decision to leave. As more details emerged, the White House moved up Porter’s exit.

White House officials suggested that they had been misled by Porter, who has denied the allegations in public and reportedly downplayed them to senior White House aides. White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Tuesday morning that Porter’s background check, which turned up the abuse allegations, was not completed as of Porter’s departure, suggesting that the administration was going through the proper procedures. However, FBI Director Christopher Wray undermined that narrative later on Tuesday when he said in a hearing that the FBI completed its background check in January, before the allegations against Porter became public.

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