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

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began flying first class in May when his security team determined that it would help him avoid confrontations, Henry Barnet, the director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico on Thursday.

Barnet said that Pruitt “was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth.” He did not say what incident in May prompted the switch in protocol, but he offered an example from October.

Someone approached Pruitt and said, “‘Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment,’ those sort of terms,” Barnet told Politico.

Barnet said that Pruitt’s team leader determined that flying first class would help Pruitt avoid any confrontations.

“The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,” Barnet told Politico. “We felt that based on the recommendation from the team leader, the special agent in charge, that it would be better suited to have him in business or first class, away from close proximity from those individuals who were approaching him and being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth.”

Pruitt has faced an uptick in threats from previous EPA administrators, but none of those threats were related to air travel, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General told Politico.

The EPA administrator has come under scrutiny for taking several first class flights, some on short trips up and down the east coast, and another flight across the Atlantic. He is one of several Trump cabinet officials who have taken several first class or non-commercial flights during their short tenure.

Pruitt has also stepped up his security compared to past EPA administrators and is accompanied by a 24/7 security detail.

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After three different plans to restore DACA protections failed in the Senate on Thursday, the White House tried to blame Democrats for the chamber’s inability to agree on a proposal.

“Today, the Schumer Democrats in the Senate demonstrated again that they are not serious about DACA, they are not serious about immigration reform, and they are not serious about homeland security. They filibustered a proposal with an extremely generous path to citizenship because it also contained reforms that secured our border and secured our immigration system,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday night.

Though the White House blamed Democrats for the failure of the legislation Trump favored, a bill Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sponsored that made significant cuts to legal immigration, that bill failed by a 39-60 vote and did not gain the support of all Republicans in the Senate.

Other pieces of legislation with bipartisan support came closer to passing the Senate, but the White House came out strongly against those bills. The White House actually lobbied Republican senators to oppose a bipartisan plan that did not address the visa lottery system.

The Republicans who backed the bipartisan plan that came closest to passing the Senate on Thursday tore into the Trump administration for lobbying against their bill.

“This is the President’s own plan. Unfortunately this administration has resorted to spreading a lot of misinformation about the bill, and that makes it harder,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters after the bill failed in the Senate.

Though Republicans were involved in crafting the bipartisan bills opposed by the Trump administration, the White House claimed that Democrats who voted against the hard-line immigration bill backed by Trump were “radical” and part of an “open border fringe.”

“The Administration will continue advocating for an immigration package that includes border security, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and a reasonable DACA solution—a proposal Americans support overwhelmingly,” Sanders said in the statement. “And while radical Schumer Democrats align themselves with the open border fringe, the Trump Administration will continue advocating for the American people. The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman McCaul.”

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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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