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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

Shortly after the Daily Mail published a photo of Rob Porter’s wife with a black eye, the White House arranged an off-the-record briefing with Porter and four reporters, Politico reported Tuesday morning.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders arranged for Porter to tell his side of the story to the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender, according to Politico.

The Daily Mail published the photo of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye on Wednesday of last week, after publishing an account of abuse from Porter’s second wife on Tuesday.

The news that Sanders arranged a briefing between Porter and several reporters on Wednesday calls into question chief of staff John Kelly’s reported claim that he asked for Porter’s resignation 40 minutes after he learned the extent of allegations against the former staff secretary. Several reports have indicated that Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn were aware of the allegations against Porter before the story went public.

Porter announced his resignation on Wednesday after both of his ex-wives accused him of verbal and physical abuse. Porter has denied the claims, and the White House at first publicly stood behind him when the allegations became public. After more details about the allegations surfaced, however, the White House changed its tune and pushed for Porter to depart the White House swiftly. The White House has since acknowledged that it could have handled the situation better, but President Donald Trump has continued to defend Porter.

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Rachel Brand, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, decided to leave her post in part because she wanted to avoid any possibility that she would have to oversee the federal Russia investigation, NBC News reported on Monday.

NBC News reported, citing unnamed sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, that Brand was also frustrated by continuing vacancies at the Justice Department.

President Donald Trump has reportedly grown increasingly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and has privately contemplated terminating Rosenstein.

According to NBC News, Brand was concerned that Trump would fire Rosenstein and leave her in charge of overseeing Mueller’s probe, a highly visible position that Brand did not want.

The Justice Department on Friday announced that Brand will leave the Justice Department in the next few weeks, and Walmart announced that she will take an executive job at the corporation. According to NBC News, her move to the private sector has been in the works for “some time.”

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt sat in a first class seat on a flight from Washington, D.C. to New York in June, which cost taxpayers $1,641.43, according to records obtained by the Washington Post through a public documents request.

Pruitt was accompanied by two aides on the flight who sat back in coach, and it’s unclear whether Pruitt’s security detail accompanied him in first class, according to the Washington Post.

Later the same week in early June, Pruitt and his staffers flew from Cincinnati to New York on a military plane in order to catch a flight to Rome, per the Post. The military jet flight cost $36,068.50, according to the Washington Post. Pruitt’s roundtrip travel to Rome to meet with papal officials and attend meetings in Bologna cost $7,003.52, according to the Washington Post.

That stretch in early June for Pruitt and his aides cost a total of $90,000.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Washington Post that all of Pruitt’s air travel was approved by ethics officials.

Pruitt’s flights in early June are just the latest travel arrangements by an administration official to come under scrutiny. Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary in September after his frequent travel on non-commercial flights was reported by Politico. Several other administration officials, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

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After Politico reported on Sunday morning that Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) campaign runs its own “news website,” the site went offline, with a message on its Facebook page claiming that the website was the victim of an “attack” on its servers.

“Due to heavy traffic and an attack on our servers, you may encounter an error message when attempting to reach The Republican,” a message on the Facebook page for the “California Republican” read on Sunday evening. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Politico reported Sunday morning that a website called the “California Republican,” which was billed as a news website, was paid for by Nunes’ campaign. A line at the bottom of the cached page reads, “Paid for by the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee.”

Headlines from the site shared recently on its Facebook page include “Understanding the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo” and “Sacramento mandates push CA Dairies to pack up milk cartons and shutdown plant.” According to Politico’s review of the website before it went offline, most of the articles on the website pull from conservative and other news outlets.

The website was registered by political consultant Alex Tavlian, according to Politico. Tavlian told Politico that he did not manage the website, however. Nunes’ office refused to comment on the website to Politico until the news organization “retracts its multitude of fake stories on Congressman Nunes.”

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Vice President Mike Pence said this weekend that the United States may be willing to sit down with North Korea for diplomatic negotiations after South Korean officials first begin talks with their neighbors to the north.

Pence told the Washington Post that he came to a preliminary understanding with South Korean President Moon Jae-in about a path forward with diplomatic negotiations. Pence told the Post that the U.S. would continue to impose sanctions on North Korea while holding talks with the country, and would not ease sanctions until North Korea took steps toward denuclearization.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

Though Pence opened the door to talks, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday morning that it’s too soon to tell whether talks will take place.

“We’ve said for some time it’s really up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way,” Tillerson told reporters, according to Reuters.

Pence’s openness to negotiations stands in contrast to Trump’s bombastic rhetoric about North Korea. Trump has bragged about the United States’ nuclear capabilities and publicly questioned whether diplomatic talks with North Korea would be fruitful.

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President Donald Trump has publicly defended Rob Porter, who resigned last week as White House staff secretary when accusations of domestic violence became public, but in private Trump has said that he believes the allegations made against Porter, Axios reported Sunday evening.

The President has told several people that Porter is “sick” and that he believes the accusations from his ex-wives that Porter was abusive, according to Axios.

Trump has taken a different tack in public. On Friday, Trump wished Porter well and said that it was a “tough time” for the former aide. Trump also emphasized that Porter said “very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”

On Saturday, Trump lamented in a tweet that “peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation” without mentioning Porter by name.

Both of Porter’s ex-wives cam forward publicly last week to accuse him of verbal and physical abuse. At first, the White House stood by Porter and signaled he would stay on staff, but as scrutiny on his past intensified, Porter resigned from the White House.

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Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) announced on Friday that he will not seek re-election in 2018, leaving his swing district in Minnesota up for grabs.

“Now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation,” Nolan said in a statement.

In a letter announcing his retirement, Nolan said that he planned to finish his term in Congress “strong.”

“Despite the fact that our nation is being challenged by some rather troubling politics, let’s remember that our founders foresaw difficult times and gave us the tools to see them through,” Nolan wrote in the letter obtained by the Star Tribune. “Our Constitution is strong, our people are resilient, and the elections of 2018, 2020 and beyond provide continuing opportunities for progress, reform and necessary change.”

Nolan’s decision came as a bit of a surprise given his announcement in June that he would not run for governor because he felt pressure to hold onto his congressional seat. The district is historically Democratic, but it is slowly becoming more Republican leaning, as Kyle Kondik, an elections expert at the University of Virginia, explained.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Thursday night quickly dismissed a Fox News report revealing Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner’s (D-VA) efforts to contact the author of the so-called Trump dossier last year.

Warner exchanged text messages with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch last year in an attempt to reach Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled information on President Donald Trump, Fox News reported Thursday.

Rubio revealed that Warner had already informed the committee of the contacts and indicated it was not a big deal to the rest of the committee.

Warner and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) also issued a joint statement slamming “leaks” taken “out of context” in response to the Fox News story. They said that they have conducted their entire investigation in a bipartisan manner and that the entire committee has been aware of Warner’s text messages for a while.

“From the beginning of our investigation, we have taken each step in a bipartisan way, and we intend to continue to do so. Leaks of incomplete information out of context by anyone, inside or outside our committee, are unacceptable,” Burr and Warner said in the statement. “The Senate Intelligence Committee has been in possession of this material for several months. The full committee has had access to the material and been brief on its content, and committee investigators have pursued all relevant investigative leads related to this material.”

Senate Republicans’ shrug did not stop President Donald Trump from latching onto the Fox News story. Trump sent a tweet two hours later saying that Warner got “caught” sending the text messages and suggested the Russia probe was connected to Hillary Clinton.

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As White House officials prepared their initial response to public abuse allegations from staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives, some of them painted the accusations as part of a smear campaign from Porter’s enemies, the Daily Beast reported Thursday night.

Two White House officials told Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) office that a forthcoming story from the Daily Mail with abuse allegations was the product of a “smear campaign” against Porter. The officials laid some of the blame on former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and claimed that he had been researching Porter’s past, per the Daily Beast. Porter is dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, according to CNN and CBS News. Lewandowksi also reportedly dated Hicks, as was mentioned in the book “Fire and Fury,” though Lewandowski disavowed the reporting in that book.

Lewandowski denied to the Daily Beast that he was pushing the story about Porter’s alleged past domestic abuse.

“I’ve never had a bad word about Rob Porter,” Lewandowski told the Daily Beast. “I think he did a very good job, and I wish him the very best.”

Hatch’s office sent a statement praising Porter to the White House on Tuesday before the senator learned that Porter would be accused of physical abuse, per the Daily Beast. After Porter announced his resignation Wednesday, Hatch issued a new statement condemning domestic violence.

Porter has denied the allegations from the start and did so again when he announced his resignation on Wednesday. He told aides in the White House that his ex-wives were making up the stories, two White House officials told the New York Times. He also reportedly later claimed that the photo of one of his ex-wives with a black eye came after his wife was hit with a vase while the two were arguing over it, according to the Washington Post. It’s not clear what he told FBI investigators about his ex-wives’ allegations.

Since Porter’s resignation on Wednesday, when the White House was still circulating statements praising the White House aide, the administration has acknowledged that they handled the situation poorly.

I think it’s fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours— or last few days in dealing with this situation,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Thursday.

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White House chief of staff John Kelly learned several weeks ago that multiple White House aides, including staff secretary Rob Porter, would be denied full security clearances, Politico reported Thursday night, citing an unnamed administration official.

Kelly planned to fire those who were denied security clearances, but had not yet done so, according to Politico.

The chief of staff has come under intense scrutiny this week over the White House’s handling of public allegations from Porter’s ex-wives that he abused them. When the allegations first surfaced on Tuesday, the White House, including Kelly, stood by Porter and defended his character.

By Thursday, Porter had left the White House permanently as attention on the abuse allegations increased. White House spokesman Raj Shah admitted Thursday that the administration “could have done better” in responding to the accusations about Porter’s past behavior.

Kelly learned some time in the fall that abuse allegations from Porter’s ex-wives were holding up his security clearance, but the chief of staff did not act to investigate the matter at the time, according to the Washington Post.

White House Counsel Don McGahn was also aware of the allegations but did not act. McGahn learned that Rob Porter’s ex-wives were going to make negative allegations about him about a year ago, and discovered more specifics about the accusations as the year went on, but he never initiated a review of the staff secretary before he resigned this week, the Washington Post reported Thursday night. In June, the FBI told the White House about the accusations, but it’s not clear whether that news reached McGahn. The White House counsel learned in the fall that abuse allegations were delaying Porter’s security clearance, but he agreed that Porter should stay on, per the Washington Post.

In November, an ex-girlfriend of Porter’s contacted McGahn to warn him about allegations of domestic abuse, but the White House counsel again didn’t act, according the Washington Post.

 

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