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

Updated Jan. 18, 2018 at 12:47 p.m. ET

After CNN reported that Fox News “killed” a story linking President Donald Trump  to porn actress Stephanie Clifford during the 2016 election, the network pushed back on that characterization and said that the network was merely unable to verify the facts in the story.

“Like many other outlets, we were working to report the story of Stephanie Clifford’s account in October 2016 about then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump and a possible payment by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. In doing our due diligence, we were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story,” Noah Kotch, the editor-in chief of Fox News Digital, said in a statement.

Ken LaCorte, the former head of Fox News Digital, followed up on Thursday with a post explaining why he decided against publishing the story. LaCorte said that the reporter did not have strong enough confirmation of the affair between Trump and Stormy Daniels to feel comfortable publishing it, and he argued that “no legitimate news organization would have published what we had.”

CNN reported that a Fox News reporter filed a story about an alleged sexual relationship between Clifford, who uses the stage name “Stormy Daniels,” and Trump with an on-the-record statement from Clifford’s manager right before the November election. However, Fox News “killed” the piece, an unnamed person familiar with the matter told CNN.

The revelation that Fox News and other outlets were tracking down the story about Clifford before the election came after the Wall Street Journal published a report last week on the alleged relationship. Trump attorney Michael Cohen arranged for Clifford to receive $130,000 for agreeing to keep quiet about a relationship with Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a statement circulated by Cohen last week, Clifford denied having a sexual relationship with Trump or receiving payment for her silence.

“My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more,” she wrote in the statement. “When I met Donald Trump, he was gracious, professional and a complete gentleman to me and EVERYONE in my presence. Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false. If indeed I did have a relationship with Donald Trump, trust me, you wouldn’t be reading about in the news, you would be reading about it in my book. But the fact of the matter is, these stories are not true.”

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Nine of the 12 members of a national parks advisory board resigned on Monday, citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s failure to meet with or consult the board in the entire first year of President Donald Trump’s presidency.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” Tony Knowles, the chair of the National Park System Advisory Board (NPSAB), wrote in a letter signed by eight other board members.

In the letter, first obtained by the Washington Post, Knowles wrote that he is concerned that the leadership in the Trump administration has “set aside” the National Park System’s mission.

“I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success. However, from all of the events of this past year I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside,” Knowles wrote.

In an interview with the New York Times, Knowles said that Zinke “appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem.”

The NPSAB is supposed to meet twice a year, but upon becoming interior secretary, Zinke froze all of the department’s advisory committees while he assessed them. Interior has since told the Washington Post that all the committees have restarted, but the department has yet to approve new charters or agendas for some of the committees, effectively prohibiting them from operating.

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) published a blistering op-ed Tuesday night, admonishing President Donald Trump for his constant attempts to undermine the American press and warning that such attacks have an impact around the globe.

“He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with,” McCain wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”

McCain suggested that the Trump administration’s condemnation of violence against reporters abroad has little meaning when the President attacks the press in his own country. Trump’s constant criticism of the media “has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit,” McCain wrote.

“The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens,” the senator wrote.

McCain called on Trump and Congress to protect the freedom of the press, arguing that journalists are essential to democracy.

“Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values,” he wrote. “Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday afternoon made a plea to the Trump administration, calling on President Donald Trump and the secretary of homeland security to reset negotiations on immigration. Graham lamented that the debate over the issue had devolved into an “s-show.”

During a senate hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Graham noted that early last week, Trump seemed open to a comprehensive deal to restore the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program along with some measures to boost border security and change the legal immigration system. The President changed his tune on Thursday afternoon, however, when he reportedly made the infamous “shithole countries” remark in a meeting about a bipartisan DACA proposal.

Graham said that earlier in the week, Trump understood that he had to approach the DACA deal with “compassion.”

“Now, I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back,” Graham said.

Later, the senator noted that Trump was likely watching his televised remarks and asked Trump to call him.

“This has turned into an s-show and we need to get back to being a great country, where Democrats and Republicans will work together to do something that we should have done years ago,” Graham said.

Graham then pledged to help DACA recipients and include in any deal measures that change the immigration system. The senator called on Nielsen to help broker that deal.

After he left the hearing, Graham told reporters in the Capitol that Trump was not “well-served by his staff,” though he would not identify a specific administration aide. He then told reporters that he believes someone on Trump’s staff intervened between 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, when Sen. Dick Durbin (R-IL) called the President about a DACA deal, and noon on Thursday, when the actual meeting began. (Durbin and Graham arrived at the meeting to find two more conservative lawmakers, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also at the gathering.)

“I think somebody on his staff gave him really bad advice between 10 o’clock and  12 o’clock on Thursday. I think the president I saw on Tuesday is the guy I play golf with. I actually like the guy. He’s actually funny. I thought he commanded the room. And the conversation at 10 o’clock was pretty consistent. Something happened between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock,” Graham told reporters.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena to former White House adviser Steve Bannon last week, calling on him to testify before a grand jury, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Mueller will likely let Bannon skip a grand jury testimony if the former Trump adviser agrees to sit for a less formal interview with Mueller’s team in their offices, the person familiar with the matter told the New York Times.

As the New York Times noted, Bannon does not appear to have much firsthand knowledge of the main incidents Mueller would be interested in for the Russia probe. However, as a one-time member of Trump’s inner circle, Bannon likely has information on some of the wheelings and dealings of the Trump team that could prove useful to Mueller’s team.

Bannon also sat for an interview with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday as part of the committee’s Russia probe.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »


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White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is expected to sit with the House Intelligence Committee for an interview as part of the Russia probe, CNN reported Monday evening, citing people familiar with the matter.

Hicks, one of the Trump administration’s longest-serving staffers, could testify as early as this week, according to CNN. She has reportedly already sat for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Congressional investigators will ask Hicks if she has any knowledge of contacts between Trump officials and Russia, per CNN. She may also face questions about briefings she reportedly received from the FBI earlier this year warning her that Russian operatives tried to make contact with her during the transition.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »


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In the same meeting during which President Donald Trump referred to African countries as “shithole countries,” he also told congressional lawmakers that he did not care about any demands from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Washington Post reported Monday evening.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was at the Thursday meeting to promote a bipartisan plan to restore the protections from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, told the President at one point that the Congressional Black Caucus would be more likely to back a deal that gave immigrants from certain countries protected status, the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the meeting. Trump told Durbin he was not interested in catering to the CBC, per the Post.

Trump’s combative and racially charged comments in last week’s meetings have endangered a deal on DACA. The President sided with immigration hardliners in his administration and in Congress, alienating the lawmakers working on a bipartisan proposal. In the wake of reports about his comments, Trump has attacked Democrats and specifically gone after Durbin, who confirmed that Trump said “shithole countries” during the meeting.

Read the Washington Post’s full report on the meeting here.


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U.S. counterintelligence officials told White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in early 2017 that Wendi Murdoch may be leveraging her relationship with him to help advance the interests of the Chinese government, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night, citing people familiar with the matter.

Officials were worried that Wendi Murdoch was lobbying for a Chinese garden at the National arboretum in Washington, D.C., according to the Wall Street Journal. The Obama administration originally backed the plans for the garden, but changed its stance over concerns that a tower planned for the garden could be used for surveillance, per the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesman for Murdoch told the Wall Street Journal that she is unaware of the FBI having concerns about her and has no knowledge of the planned garden.

The officials who delivered the warned to Kushner did not give him details about their concerns about Murdoch, the Journal reported. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, was not present for the warning, according to the Journal. A spokesman for Kushner and Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the warning about Murdoch came as part of a “routine senior staff security briefing.”

Kushner and Trump have been friends with Murdoch for years. Wendi Murdoch used to be married to Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp.

Read the Wall Street Journal’s full report here.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the lawmakers in attendance at the Thursday meeting during which President Donald Trump referred to African countries as “shithole countries,” said Friday afternoon that he said his “piece” to the President following the comments.

Graham’s statement did not confirm that Trump used the phrase “shithole countries,” but it did not deny that either, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) already said that Graham confirmed the comments to him privately.

“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals,” Graham said in the statement. “The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. It was best said a long time ago, E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration we cannot lose these American Ideals.”

Though Graham did not directly confirm Trump’s remarks, his statement noting that he stood up to the President differs from a statement issued by other Republicans in the room. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) claimed that they did “not recall” Trump using the phrase “shithole countries.”

Graham also thanked Durbin, who worked with Graham on a deal to restore the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and who also told reporters Friday morning that Graham confronted Trump during the Thursday meeting over his remarks.

“I appreciate Senator Durbin’s statements and have enjoyed working with him and many others on this important issue,” Graham said in the statement. “I believe it is vitally important to come to a bipartisan solution to the immigration and border challenges we face today. I am committed to working with Republicans and Democrats to find common ground so we can move forward.”

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Nearly a day after reports surfaced that President Donald Trump referred to African countries as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting with lawmakers, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the remarks “unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”

“So, first thing that came to my mind, was, very unfortunate, unhelpful,” Ryan said when asked about Trump’s reported comments on Friday afternoon at an event in Milwaukee.

Ryan, who was not at the meeting where the remarks were allegedly made, said that Trump’s alleged comments made him think of his own family, who immigrated from Ireland when the Irish were not treated very well in the U.S. He said that immigration is “what makes this country so exceptional and unique in the first place” and said it’s “important that we celebrate that.”

Since the Washington Post and the New York Times first reported Trump’s derogatory comments on Thursday afternoon, few Republicans have offered criticism of the President, including the Republican lawmakers who were present at the meeting.

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