Hhjtzrbjtu7lmqcndp9g

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 Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) placed his bets early on Donald Trump, and it appears the move has paid off bigly.

Brown was confirmed as the ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa in early June, and by the looks of his Twitter account, he’s having a blast.

Other early Trump surrogates were named to top posts, and have been left to endure President Donald Trump’s unwieldy administration. Jeff Sessions left the Senate to take the role of attorney general, and he’s been forced to sit and take hit after hit from Trump for recusing himself from the Russia probe. Reince Priebus faithfully stood by Donald Trump throughout the campaign, and was ousted from the White House after only six months.

Meanwhile, Brown, who failed in his bid to represent New Hampshire in the Senate in 2014 and who cast his lot with Trump in February 2016 , has been posting pictures of his adventures abroad this summer. Between social media posts about the meetings and discussions he’s had in his role as ambassador, he has been sharing the breathtaking vistas of New Zealand and Samoa. He’s also been running a Twitter account for his dog, Gracie.

Here he is on Mt. Victoria after a mountain bike ride.

Just a few days later he returned again.

And he’s been sharing photos and videos of beautiful scenery since.

And as if the beautiful scenery in New Zealand was not enough, he started venturing to Samoa.

He misses the warm weather there, unsurprisingly.

Brown revealed last month that he actually introduced Trump to Anthony Scaramucci, who just ended his short-lived tenure as White House communications director. At the time, Brown predicted that Scaramucci would “right that ship.”

On the day Scaramucci was fired after his profanity-laden rant to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, Brown was in New Zealand meeting with local entrepreneurs.

Though Brown has been posting photos of beautiful vistas and sharing cheery updates about his meetings abroad, he did participate in a tough interview with Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill in July. She quizzed him on Trump’s comments about women, the Russia probes, and the 2016 campaign, as Brown defended the President.

The Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan watchdog group, on Friday called for an investigation into White House senior adviser Steve Bannon’s reported use of a private spokesperson.

“Once again, it appears the White House is ignoring longstanding government ethics rules, this time by outsourcing White House press office functions to an unpaid private public relations consultant,” Larry Noble, CLC’s senior director and general counsel, said in a statement.

Bannon has been using an outside public relations professional who is not on the White House payroll to field his media requests as a Trump adviser, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

Media inquires from CPI about Bannon were answered by Alexandra Preate, a spokesperson he’s worked with since his time at Breitbart News. Preate is not employed by the White House, but has responded to inquiries about Bannon’s work in the administration and worked with other White House officials to coordinate those responses, per CPI’s report.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol, CLC asked those offices to look into whether Bannon has broken any laws or regulations by using an outside spokesperson.

CLC argued that Bannon’s use of a private spokesperson may violate the Antideficiency Act, which states that a government employee cannot accept “voluntary services” for the government. Bannon also may be violating a rule barring executive branch employees from accepting gifts “because of the employee’s official position,” according to CLC.

 

Before the Senate left for its August recess on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to a series of pro forma sessions that ensures the Senate never officially goes on recess. The move effectively blocks President Donald Trump from making recess appointments while senators are away.

When Trump’s public humiliation campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at its peak, Democrats pledged to block any possibility of Trump naming a new attorney general while they’re away for recess.

“Many Americans must be wondering if the President is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire special counsel [Robert] Mueller and shut down the Russian investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a late July floor speech. “First let me state for the record now, before this scheme gains wings, Democrats will never go along with the recess appointment if that situation arises. We have some tools in our toolbox to stymie such action. We’re ready to use every single one of them.”

As Trump has stopped publicly fuming about Sessions, concern about him appointing a new attorney general who could fire special counsel Robert Mueller has died down a bit. However, Trump now has an open slot at the head of the Department of Homeland Security after he named retired Gen. John Kelly his new chief of staff.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday emphasized that congressional Republicans must pass major legislation or they will risk their majority in the 2018 elections.

“If we don’t do our job we will depress turnout,” Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal. “I am frustrated as well.”

Ryan blamed inaction on the Senate, which recently failed to pass a bill to repeal Obamacare.

“We’re pretty frustrated with the slow pace of things (in the Senate), but in the House, we’ve actually done most of our agenda except for welfare reform and tax reform,” he said.

The speaker also lamented the distractions from the White House, though he did not mention President Donald Trump by name.

“There’s just been a lot of distractions out there, whether it’s Russia, or tweeting, or whatever,” Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal.

But he then reiterated that the Senate is the main holdup when it comes to Republicans pushing their agenda.

“The problem isn’t having President Trump sign bills into law and it isn’t getting bills out of the House — the problem is getting these bills through the Senate,” he said.

Ryan said that he would like to introduce legislation with tax cuts in September, with the goal of passing the bill by the end of the year. He predicted that Congress will have an easier time passing tax cuts than Obamacare repeal.

“We had different opinions on how to advance health care reform,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “On tax reform, we’re largely in agreement.”

Asked about Trump’s criticism of Congress’ Russia sanctions bill and his tweets blaming Congress for a poor relationship with Russia, Ryan said, “We think Russia deserved the sanctions that we passed.”

“Russia can improve our relationship if they stop meddling in our elections,” he added.

 

As several news outlets reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury in the Russia probe, signaling that the investigation has intensified, President Donald Trump on Thursday night dismissed the “Russia hoax” and instead called on prosecutors to investigate Hillary Clinton.

During a rally in West Virginia, Trump returned to his comfort zone of a campaign-style speech, railing against his former rival like it’s still 2016. As he addressed the Russia probe, he quickly pivoted to Clinton, suggesting that she should be the target of federal investigations instead of the Trump campaign.

“The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That’s all it is. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about,” Trump said at the beginning of a five-minute riff about the Russia probes.

“What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails,” he said.

When he mentioned Clinton’s name, the crown began chanting “Lock her up,” just as they did on the campaign trail. And when the chant began to fade away, Trump continued to rail against Clinton.

“They should be looking at the paid Russian speeches and the owned Russian companies,” he said. “Or let them look at the uranium she sold that is now in the hands of very angry Russians.”

He then returned to his own campaign, denying that his team worked with Russia.

“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign, there never were. We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you,” Trump said to cheers in the crowd.

“They can’t beat us at the voting booths so they’re trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want,” he added.

After painting the Russia probes as a witch hunt by those who lost the 2016 election, Trump said that he just hopes that the investigation is fair.

“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve,” he said.

His speech followed reports that Mueller is putting together a grand jury in Washington, D.C. for the Russia probe. The move signals the scope of the investigation, but Trump’s lawyer said he was not surprised by the move.

As the Russia probe has intensified, Trump has become increasingly angered by it. He has been publicly bashing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, openly lamenting that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe. As part of his public humiliation campaign against Sessions, Trump criticized the Justice Department for not investigating his campaign rival, Hillary Clinton. He made these comments even after his team said that he would not go after her now that Trump is president.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants you to know he’s getting along just fine with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Zinke posted a picture Thursday of him having a beer with Murkowski, a week after he reportedly threatened Alaska’s senators in an attempt to gain their support for Obamacare repeal.

During the Senate’s major push to repeal Obamacare, Zinke put in calls to both Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Per Sullivan’s account to the Alaska Dispatch News, Zinke threatened to punish the state of Alaska when it came to energy policy if the senators didn’t fall in line behind Obamacare repeal.

Murkowski, who rejected all of the Senate GOP’s repeal proposals, confirmed that she received a call from Zinke, but didn’t describe the conversation as a threat the way Sullivan had. She simply said that Zinke relayed Trump’s unhappiness with her vote against a motion to proceed to debate on Obamacare repeal, and she relayed to reporters that she would not back down after the call.

Zinke, for his part, dismissed the reports on his threat to the two senators as “laughable.”

Murkowski, as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and chair of the Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, wields some power over the Interior Department and was not in a position to be bullied. Shortly After Zinke’s call, Murkowski postponed hearings for Interior Department nominees, although it’s not clear those delays were a response to Zinke’s call. The hearing has since been rescheduled for Thursday.

Kushner Companies, the real estate company run by Jared Kushner’s family, has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York over the company’s use of the EB-5 visa program, which grants green cards to foreigners who invest in U.S. businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night.

The subpoenas cover the Kushners’ One Journal Square development in New Jersey, but it’s not clear if other developments were also included in the subpoena, the Street Journal reported, citing an anonymous person familiar with the matter.

Emily Wolf, the general counsel for Kushner Companies, told the newspaper that the company complied with the EB-5 program’s rules.

“Kushner Companies utilized the program, fully complied with its rules and regulations and did nothing improper. We are cooperating with legal requests for information,” Wolf said in a statement to the Journal.

The Kushner Companies’ use of EB-5 visas came under scrutiny recently when Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, mentioned her brother’s new role in the White House during a presentation to potential Chinese investors. The company later apologized for mentioning the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser in the presentation.

“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 in May. “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.”

Kushner divested from the One Journal Square project and has said that he recused himself from EB-5 policy in the Trump administration.

The EB-5 program has faced criticism in Congress, with some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle arguing that the program is ripe for abuse.

“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,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in a statement following the May reports on the Kushner family’s pitch to Chinese investors.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is also critical of the program, in May called for scrutiny of the agencies that worked with Kushner Companies to seek Chinese investors for the One Journal Square project through the EB-5 program.

During the first days of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries, as airports were besieged by chaos and protests, immigration officials were told to ignore inquiries from members of Congress, attorneys and the press, the Daily Beast reported Thursday.

According to an email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Beast and the James Madison Project, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) official told his employees that they were banned from speaking to members of Congress or the press.

Asked about this strategy, CBP told the Daily Beast that was typical procedure and that all requests from Congress must go through the agency’s Office of Congressional Affairs (OCA).

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told the Daily Beast that he did not receive a response from the OCA when he asked about those detained, however.

“They built a stone wall and gave us the middle finger,” he told the publication. “They feel they can do that with impunity because Trump’s in the White House and Sessions is at the Department of Justice, and they can behave outside the law or inside the law as they see fit.”

Another email from a CBP official directed employees to ignore calls from attorneys, claiming that they were likely protesters since they “appear to be reading from a script,” according to the report. The official told employees to direct requests to the agency’s Office of Public Affairs.

“This is most likely a form of telephonic protest to the EO,” the official wrote, per the Daily Beast. “Please advise all your personnel not to engage the callers nor respond to any questions.”

The emails also showed that CBP officials monitored protests at airports and which elected officials made appearances at the protests, per the Daily Beast.

Read the full report here.

 

President Donald Trump on Thursday morning reiterated his displeasure with the Russia sanctions bill he signed on Wednesday, blaming Congress for an “all-time” low relationship with Russia in an angry tweet.

Trump signed the bill, which imposes new sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran, on Wednesday. He accompanied his signature with two statements bashing the legislation, but Congress passed the bills with veto-proof majorities, forcing Trump’s hand on the matter.

In the statements, he said that the bill was “seriously flawed” since it limits the president’s powers — the bill limits the president’s ability to ease sanctions on Russia without approval from Congress.

“By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.  The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.  This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice,” Trump said in the statement.

Yet, he said he signed the bill “for the sake of national unity.”

This post has been updated.

Anthony Scaramucci, the ousted White House communications director, on Thursday afternoon announced he will no longer speak publicly on Friday.

Scaramucci had told CNN on Wednesday that he would address the public on Friday in an online event. He said that the event will be available on several public platforms during the day with the help of former Fox News executive Bill Shine, per CNN.

Whereas on Tuesday, Scaramucci told the Huffington Post that he planned to “go dark” now that he was forced out of the White House.

He was asked to resign by John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, on Monday after the New Yorker published a profanity-filled rant from Scaramucci about “leakers” and his former White House colleagues.

LiveWire