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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

In a statement submitted to Congress ahead of closed-door sessions with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees this week, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, said that he had four encounters with Russian officials during the campaign and transition but did not collude with Russia.

“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector,” Kushner said in the statement obtained by several news outlets. “I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required.”

Kushner has come under intense scrutiny in the Russia probes, since he played a big role in the Trump campaign and met with Russian officials several times. It has been widely reported that Kushner met with Russian officials during the campaign, though he has done little to publicly acknowledge those meetings so far.

It has also been reported that federal investigators are looking at Kushner’s business dealings and that congressional committees are looking at whether he sought Russian financing for real estate projects. In his statement to the committees, Kushner denied seeking Russian financing.

Kushner also stressed in his statement that he was inexperienced in the world of politics and had been overwhelmed with emails and foreign officials contacting him as a representative of the Trump campaign.

He said that his first encounter with a Russian official was during an April 16, 2016 speech by Trump at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., which was attended by Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Kushner said that he was introduced to Kislyak and three other ambassadors. He said that each exchange with an ambassador went on for less than a minute.

“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election,” Kushner said.

Kushner said that he does “not recall” any phone calls with Kislyak, responding to a Reuters report that he had two calls with the ambassador during the campaign.

He did acknowledge that he met with Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, as was disclosed by Trump Jr. earlier this month. Kushner said that he did not read the full email exchange forwarded to him by Trump Jr. that revealed that the meeting was pitched as an effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign.

Kushner said he arrived at that meeting late, and by that time the discussion had already turned to adoption. He said he left the meeting early because he felt it was a waste of time. Kushner claimed that there was no document exchanged at the meeting, no follow-up after, and said that he did not recall how many people attended the meeting.

He also listed two meetings during the Trump transition period, when Kushner said he was flooded with requests from foreign officials.

“During this period, I recall having over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries. Two of those meetings were with Russians, neither of which I solicited,” he said in the statement.

The first was a December meeting with Kislyak, which has been previously reported.

“During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations,” Kushner said of that meeting, adding that Kislyak wanted to discuss policy in Syria.

Kushner addressed a report that he suggested setting up a covert communications channel with Russia at this meeting with Kislyak.

He said that Kislyak asked him if there was a “secure line in the transition office” so he could send the transition team information regarding Syria. Kusher said that he explained there was no secure line and he asked if there was an “existing communications channel” at the Russian embassy and denied that he tried to set up a “secret back channel.”

“I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” Kushner said in the statement. “I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel.’ I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period. We did not discuss sanctions.”

Finally, Kushner said that his assistant met with Kislyak later in December, and that Kislyak requested that Kushner meet with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank.

“I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the President, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days,” Kushner said.

Kushner said that Gorkov brought him gifts and that the banker expressed unhappiness with President Barack Obama’s policy toward Russia.

“There were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind,” he said of the meeting.

Kushner also revealed that he received an email from “Guccifer400” during the campaign, which he said he ignored.

“This email, which I interpreted as a hoax, was an extortion attempt and threatened to reveal candidate Trump’s tax returns and demanded that we send him 52 bitcoins in exchange for not publishing that information. I brought the email to the attention of a U.S. Secret Service agent on the plane we were all travelling on and asked what he thought. He advised me to ignore it and not to reply — which is what I did. The sender never contacted me again,” Kushner said.

The White House aide also addressed updates to his SF-86 application for a security clearance. He said the form “prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication” and did not include any contacts at the time.

“It has been reported that my submission omitted only contacts with Russians. That is not the case. In the accidental early submission of the form, all foreign contacts were omitted,” he said.

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Sean Spicer on Friday resigned as White House press secretary after exactly six months on the job, in which time he racked up his fair share of memorable and meme-able moments from behind the podium in the White House briefing room.

Spicer had the difficult and unenviable task of defending President Donald Trump and explaining his often convoluted and controversial tweets and interviews. In doing so, Spicer ended up making bold declarations about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, making several horrifying slip-ups while referencing the Holocaust, and, in one instance, literally hiding from reporters in the bushes outside the White House.

Below are a few of the highlights from Spicer’s spin as press secretary:

Inauguration crowd sizes

The day after Trump’s inauguration, Spicer faced the media for the first time from the podium in the White House briefing room and reamed out reporters over their portrayal of the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Aerial photos of the crowds showed more open space at Trump’s in January 2017 compared to Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer huffed at the time. “Both in person and around the globe.”

He left the first briefing of his tenure without taking a single question.

Frederick Douglass

After the President made confusing comments about Frederick Douglass that left it unclear whether he knew the black abolitionist leader had died in the 19th century, Spicer also came across as fuzzy on who Douglass was. He used the present tense while trying to explain Trump’s remarks.

“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

‘The silliest thing I’ve ever heard’

During a February briefing, SiriusXM White House correspondent Jared Rizzi pointed out that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had said that Trump did not have time to tweet about everything, even though the President had just tweeted about his daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.

During the subsequent heated exchange over Conway’s comments, Spicer told Rizzi, “What are you—you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet? I don’t, I mean that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. OK. This is silly.”

‘Stop shaking your head’

During a March briefing, Spicer grew exasperated with American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan as she quizzed him about the White House’s image following a report that the Trump administration tried to keep former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying in Congress. He told Ryan to stop shaking her head.

“April, hold on, it seems like you’re hell-bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays,” he said. “I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again.”

Hitler and ‘Holocaust centers’

During an April briefing, Spicer took a wild stab at explaining why Russia might pull its support for Syrian president Bashar Assad following a reported poison gas attack.

“I think a couple things. You look—we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said. “You had a—someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you—and a regime that you want to align yourself with?”

The remark was particularly tin-eared given that Hitler oversaw the execution of millions of Jews, many of them in gas chambers.

Spicer proceeded to muck up his first attempt at clarifying his comments later in that same briefing, referring to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” he said.

“There was not — he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that,” Spicer added. “But I’m saying that in the way Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent — into the middle of towns. It was brought — the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there, that was not the intent.”

‘That’s what I’m telling you’

In early May, Spicer got into a tense exchange with a Breitbart News reporter who suggested that Trump would put up fencing along the southern border before a wall could be built. Spicer protested this vehemently.

“No, what I’m telling anybody is that the President said he was going to build the wall and he’s doing it,” Spicer said. “That’s what I’m telling you.”

Hiding in the bushes

After Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, White House reporters relayed that Spicer literally hid in the bushes outside the White House following a television interview in order to avoid their questions. He eventually agreed to answer a few questions in the dark, but still refused to be filmed.

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has been one of a handful of Republican senators who is consistently unsatisfied with the Obamacare replacement plan devised by Senate leaders, and in a Thursday interview with Politico, he defended his staunch opposition to the legislation.

“I’m not being an absolutist,” Lee told Politico. “I’m a little frustrated by some who are eager and willing to call me out for saying this doesn’t go far enough in doing what we promised to do for seven years.”

The senator has opposed the Senate’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare from the start, saying that he will need an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that allows for the sale of cheaper, non-Obamacare-compliant plans, in order to back the bill. Lee, along with moderates who oppose the bill’s cuts to Medicaid funding, has helped block the replacement plan from moving forward.

But he told Politico that his Republican colleagues should be just as concerned that some GOP senators have not supported full repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“If Republicans want to criticize someone for having problems with this bill, why are they not equally critical of anyone who wouldn’t stand behind full repeal?” he told Politico. “It is not nothing to ask someone holding an election certificate in the United States Senate to provide his or her vote. I’m not going to provide it simply because others in my party are providing theirs.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), an ally of Senate leadership, criticized Lee’s die-hard opposition to the replacement bill to Politico, complaining that it “seems like he’s against everything right now.”

“I am stunned by that suggestion,” Lee told Politico, responding to Hatch’s comments. “I am surprised that he would purport to know what my thoughts and intents were, what I was thinking or intending. He could not be more wrong.”

 

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President Donald Trump has appointed Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, several news outlets reported on Friday.

Scaramucci, a former adviser to Trump’s transition team, had often publicly defended the President as a surrogate before he was offered formal role on the White House staff.

With Scaramucci’s hire, Press Secretary Sean Spicer has resigned, reportedly over objections to Scaramucci’s appointment.

The news that Scaramucci is expected to be named to the communications role was first reported by Axios Thursday night. NBC News later reported that Scaramucci’s hiring is expected to be announced Friday, citing an unnamed White House official. However, Reuters reported that while Scaramucci has been interviewed for the job, he has not yet been offered the position, citing an anonymous senior White House Official.

The role of communications director has been vacant since Michael Dubke resigned from the post in late May. Spicer had been handling the communications director’s duties in the meantime.

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Aides to President Donald Trump are looking for ways to hamstring and delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to Thursday night reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The reports show that Trump is still fuming and obsessing over the Russia investigation, which continues to dominate headlines almost daily. The President fired James Comey as FBI director, partially out of unhappiness with the Russia probe, precipitating Mueller’s hiring as the special counsel. He’s also openly expressed his anger with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, signaling that Trump is unhappy with his lack of control over its progress.

It’s against that backdrop that his aides are looking for ways to derail and discredit Mueller’s investigation, possibly building an argument for firing the special counsel.

Trump’s aides have been looking into the backgrounds of Mueller’s team for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit Mueller or possibly to fire him, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the effort. They are looking at past campaign donations and clients, as well as at Mueller’s relationship with Comey, per the New York Times.

The President has also asked about his power to pardon his aides, his family, and himself, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the effort. Another source told the Post that Trump’s aides have been discussing pardons amongst themselves.

Trump was recently set off by reports that Mueller is looking into his past finances, and Trump was particularly “disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns,” the Washington Post reported.

Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s outside legal team, complained to the Washington Post about a Bloomberg News report that Mueller’s team is looking into some of Trump’s real estate deals.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

The Thursday night reports follow a Wednesday interview with the New York Times during which Trump voiced concern about the possibility of Mueller’s team looking at his financial records. But Trump stopped short of telling the Times that such a move would prompt him to fire the special counsel.

Sekulow told the Washington Post that Trump wants to make sure Mueller is staying within the bounds of the Russia probe.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow told the Post. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

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After his office announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) published a tweet Thursday saying that he’s thankful for the “outpouring of support” he’s received and assuring his Senate colleagues that he will “be back soon.”

McCain has been out of work on Capitol Hill for about a week following surgery to remove a blood clot from above his eye. The Mayo Clinic, where McCain is being treated, then announced Wednesday night that doctors had discovered glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. McCain and his family are considering treatment options, which may include chemotherapy or radiation, according to the Mayo Clinic statement.

Senate Republicans are working to revive a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare in McCain’s absence, and it’s still unclear when, if at all, McCain will be able to return for a vote on the legislation.

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The Department of Health and Human Services has been using government funding earmarked for efforts to educate Americans about the Affordable Care Act to produce anti-Obamacare online videos, according to a Thursday Daily Beast report.

The report, which cited several unnamed “sources at various agencies and on the Hill,” stated the department used its internal studio to film testimonials of people who say they have been hurt by Obamacare, which were then used to create more than 100 videos. HHS also used taxpayer money to pay for the travel costs of individuals who flew to Washington, D.C., to be interviewed for the videos, per the report. The department posts the videos to the HHS YouTube channel, describing the families and doctors as “burdened by Obamacare.”

The Trump administration has also used official Twitter accounts to promote Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, while the HHS website currently features a banner that sends people to a page arguing that Obamacare has done “damage” to health insurance markets.

Democrats in Congress have asked the government to look into whether HHS is misusing the funds for an effort to sabotage Obamacare, per the Daily Beast.

Earlier this year, HHS also had pulled ads encouraging people to enroll in health insurance plans through the exchanges for 2017, saying that the department would not “continue spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting a failed government program.” The department said at the time that it would return the costs savings to the U.S. Treasury.

As the HHS works to sabotage the ACA and Senate Republicans fail to agree on a plan to replace it, President Donald Trump this week suggested that Republicans just “let ObamaCare fail” and then eventually work with Democrats on a new law.

Read the full Daily Beast report here.

 

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After President Donald Trump on Wednesday pressured Senate Republicans to vote for a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House aide Kellyanne Conway echoed the President, noting that those who vote down repeal “will be held accountable” in a Wednesday interview on Fox News.

“Any Republican Senator who votes against a motion to proceed is basically saying, ‘we’re proceeding with ObamaCare,” she told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Hannity then jumped in to note that “we’re going to hold them accountable.”

Conway agreed, saying, “That’s right, they will be held accountable.”

She then told senators who have issues with the bill to allow the legislation to proceed on the floor and then offer amendments.

The President gathered Republican senators at the White House on Wednesday for a lunch to discuss health care. During the lunch, he implored them to vote to repeal Obamacare.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you are fine with Obamacare,” the President said. “But being fine with Obamacare isn’t an option for another reason because it’s gone. It’s failed. It’s not going to be around.”

Watch Conway’s interview via Fox News:

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Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, will testify in a closed door session on Monday with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe, Kushner’s lawyer told ABC News and Politico.

“As Mr. Kushner has been saying since March, he has been and is prepared to voluntarily cooperate and provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress,” Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s lawyer, told ABC News in a statement. “Working with and being responsive to the schedules of the committees, we have arranged Mr. Kushner’s interview with the senate for July 24. He will continue to cooperate and appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest.”

Kushner has come under intense scrutiny as the Russia probes proceed and new encounters come to light. Recently, Donald Trump Jr. revealed that Jared Kushner attended a meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump, and Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s son-in-law had already been a focus of the Trump probes, however. Kushner held meetings with the Russian ambassador last year, as well as a meeting with the head of a Russian bank. Federal investigators are also looking into whether Kushner was seeking Russian financing for his family’s struggling Manhattan building.

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During an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, President Donald Trump warned special counsel Robert Mueller against looking into his finances as part of the Russia probe, but he stopped short of saying he would fire the special counsel for doing so.

Asked if it would be a “breach of what his actual charge is” if Mueller looked at the President’s finances, Trump replied, “I would say yeah.”

“I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia,” Trump added. “They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that.”

Trump was then asked if Mueller would have to step down if he looked into the President’s finances.

“No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company,” the President responded.

When asked if he would fire Mueller if he went outside the parameters of the Russia probe, Trump wouldn’t say.

“I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the President said.

Trump also criticized Mueller for having conflicts of interest.

“I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Trump told the Times, describing his reaction when Mueller was appointed special counsel of the Russia probe.

Earlier in the interview, Trump suggested that James Comey, the former FBI director, told Trump about the dossier with unverified allegations about Trump so that he could use it as leverage to keep his job.

“I think he shared it so that I would — because the other three people left, and he showed it to me,” Trump said when asked why Comey told him about the dossier.

“So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump added.

“As leverage?” New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asked.

“Yeah, I think so. In retrospect,” Trump replied.

Read excerpts from the New York Times interview here.

 

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