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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

Greg Gianforte, the Republican U.S. House candidate who was charged late Wednesday with assaulting a reporter who asked him a policy question, is a billionaire tech entrepreneur who’s never held public office before, despite what his hardened distaste for the press may suggest.

He faces Democrat Rob Quist Thursday in a special election to fill Montana’s open congressional seat, which was vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The race already had garnered a lot of attention given that some observers viewed it as a referendum on President Donald Trump, but it was thrust even further into the national spotlight after Gianforte allegedly bodyslammed Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs when Jacobs asked him to respond to the Congressional Budget Office scoring of House Republicans’ bill to repeal Obamacare.

Gianforte’s alleged assault of Jacobs on the eve of the election is not the first time he’s expressed open hostility toward the media. During an event in April, an attendee asked the Republican candidate how to “rein in the news media,” which that individual described as “our biggest enemy,” according to the Billings Gazette.

“We have someone right here,” Gianforte replied, pointing to a reporter sitting in the audience, per the newspaper. “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him. I don’t have a simple solution for you. I will say that doing town hall meetings and getting out and visiting with people is very important.”

In its editorial rescinding an endorsement of Gianforte, the Billings Gazette said that the Wednesday incident puts Gianforte’s April comments in a new light.

“We’d point out that all the other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters, including one case where he joked about ganging up on a reporter, must now be seen through a much more sinister lens,” the Billings Gazette editorial board wrote. “What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.”

The Helena Independent Record also noted in its reversal of its endorsement for Gianforte that he has previously been hostile to the press.

“We are also sick and tired – of Gianforte’s incessant attacks on the free press. In the past, he has encouraged his supporters to boycott certain newspapers, singled out a reporter in a room to point out that he was outnumbered, and even made a joke out of the notion of choking a news writer, and these are not things we can continue to brush off,” the Helena Independent Record editorial board wrote, though it did not offer specific examples.

Gianforte has openly embraced President Donald Trump, an unusual move given the President’s low approval ratings, and adopted Trump’s “drain the swamp” catchphrase from the 2016 campaign. He has brought Donald Trump Jr. and Vice President Mike Pence along to campaign with him, and Trump himself recorded a robocall for Gianforte this week.

The candidate’s antagonism toward the press echoes that of Trump. In the Gianforte campaign’s statement on Jacobs’ allegation, a spokesman complained that “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Gianforte made his first bid for public office in 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Bullock, a Democrat, won by four points even though Trump won the state by a significant margin.

Prior to getting into politics he amassed great personal wealth by founding RightNow Technologies and later selling it to Oracle for $1.5 billion. The former tech entrepreneur also has ties to multiple Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the United States, as the Guardian reported in April.

As a candidate Gianforte is known for his religious and conservative views. He has questioned the theory of evolution as recently as April.

“I personally believe, as many Montanans do, that God created the Earth,” Gianforte said in an April interview with Montana Public Radio. “I believe that God created the Earth. I wasn’t there, I don’t know how long it took, I don’t know how he did it exactly. But I look around me at the grandeur in this state and I believe God created the Earth.”

His foundation has donated to the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, which presents a Creationist viewpoint of the earth’s origins. And Gianforte once cited the biblical figure Noah to argue that Americans have an “obligation to work.”

“There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today,” he said in a February 2015 speech at the Montana Bible College, according to the Huffington Post. “Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.”

“The example I think of is Noah,” he added, per the Huffington Post. “How old was Noah when he built the ark? 600. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”

Though Gianforte’s alleged assault made a big splash in the national media just before polls opened, it’s not clear that it will have an impact on the election. A significant number of Montanans typically vote early via absentee ballot, and some voters told reporters on the ground Thursday that they were unfazed by Gianforte’s misdemeanor charge:

After Republican U.S. House candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with assault on the eve of Thursday’s special election in Montana, some Republicans on Capitol Hill blamed “the left” or appeared to crack jokes while members of the conservative media mocked the reporter Gianforte was accused of bodyslamming.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) told MSNBC that he rejects using violence and blamed the alleged assault on “the left” for taking what he called a “confrontational approach.”

“The left has precipitated this intense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months. I reject any kind of thing where we use physical violence in a situation like that,” he said. “It should not have happened. And the law will have to be the ultimate arbiter.”

Franks’ comments echoed the statement issued by Gianforte’s campaign. His spokesman, Shane Scanlon, lamented that “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.” Scanlon also claimed that the reporter, Ben Jacobs, grabbed Gianforte first, which contradicts both the reporter’s account and the eyewitness account of a Fox News reporter who was in the room.

Rep. David Brat (R-VA) told the Washington Post that he was unsure of exactly what happened and heard about the incident “in the weight room.”

“Everyone was laughing,” Brat noted, per the Post. “Democrats and Republicans.”

A few other Republicans appeared to crack jokes about the alleged assault:

“We didn’t have a course on body slamming when I went to school,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) told MSNBC when asked about Gianforte.

Some in the conservative media mocked Jacobs and questioned the amount of media attention given to the alleged assault, with NewsBusters editor Tim Graham even incorrectly identifying Jacobs as a British reporter:

In an interview published online on Wednesday, Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, described poverty as a “state of mind.”

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there,” he said during a town hall interview with friend Armstrong Williams that aired on SiriusXM radio Wednesday night. “And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way back down to the bottom.”

Carson added that not all people have a “defeatist” attitude but that the government should help those who do.

“I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful,” he said. “It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.”

As Fox News host Sean Hannity partially backed away from his recent promotion of a conspiracy theory about the murder of a DNC staffer, several advertisers confirmed Wednesday that they have pulled out of Hannity’s show.

“The fact that we advertise on a particular program doesn’t mean that we agree or disagree, or support or oppose, the content. We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make our advertising purchase. In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity,” Cars.com said in a statement to Buzzfeed News on Wednesday.

Leesa Sleep, a mattress company, Peloton bikes, and USAA, a financial services company, also said Wednesday that they had stopped advertising on the show.

Crowne Plaza Hotels told Buzzfeed News that they terminated their relationship with a third party company after learning that their advertisements were running on Fox News, including on Hannity’s show.

“We do not advertise on Fox News, Hannity or any political commentary show. We have a specific do not advertise list for this type of programming. Unfortunately, our expectation to adhere to this list was not met by a third-party agency. Since we learned of the airings, we addressed the issue immediately and terminated our relationship with the agency. We have no plans to advertise on Fox News for the foreseeable future,” the company said in a statement.

The flurry of advertisers announcing that they would not air ads on Hannity’s show came after the Fox News host said he would stop talking for the time being about the baseless conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. However, Hannity indicated that he would keep digging on the conspiracy theory and that he could resurface it at a later time.

Hannity told the Huffington Post on Wednesday that he did not announce his decision to stop talking about Rich due to pressure from his bosses at Fox News.

“I did it out of my own heart,” Hannity said. “Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They never have and frankly they never will. I’m not that type of person you can say, ‘Go on air and say this.’ That’s been the beauty of Fox News all these years. They leave me alone.”

However, CNN reported that Hannity did face pressure from the network, citing unnamed sources at Fox. Suzanne Scott, the president of programming at Fox News, met with Hannity on Tuesday to encourage him to drop the conspiracy theory, per CNN.

As advertisers pulled out on Wednesday, Fox News’ Kimberly Guilfoyle announced during “The Five” that Hannity would be on vacation on Thursday and Friday and that she would be filling in for him. Hannity also addressed his vacation in a bizarre tweet.

In a Thursday morning statement, Fox News pushed back against theories that Hannity’s time off from his show was related to his discussion of Seth Rich.

“Like the rest of the country, Sean Hannity is taking a vacation for Memorial Day weekend and will be back on Tuesday. Those who suggest otherwise are going to look foolish,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement.

This post has been updated.

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate to fill the open U.S. House seat in Montana, was charged with misdemeanor assault on Wednesday night after he allegedly body-slammed a reporter.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s office announced the charge in a statement on Wednesday night and said that Gianforte will have to appear in court by June 7.

A reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs, said on Wednesday night that Gianforte “body-slammed” him after he asked the candidate a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis of the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In audio of the incident published by The Guardian, a man who is apparently Gianforte can be heard telling Jacobs to ask him at another time and to speak with someone on his staff about his question. A rustling noise can then be heard on the recording, followed by Gianforte apparently saying, “I’m a sick and tired of you guys,” and telling Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”

“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs can then be heard saying on the recording.

In a Wednesday night statement, Gianforte’s campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon contradicted Jacobs’ account of the incident, claiming that Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face.”

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” Scanlon continued.

However, an account from a Fox News reporter who was in the room with Jacobs and Gianforte aligns with Jacobs’ description of the incident, not with that of the Gianforte campaign.

Fox News’ Alicia Acuna said that Jacobs came into the room where a Fox News crew was preparing for an interview with Gianforte and asked the Republican candidate about the Republican health care bill. Acuna said that Gianforte told Jacobs he would answer later and that Jacobs persisted in asking his question. Acuna said that Ginaforte then grabbed Jacobs by the neck and pushed him to the ground, punching the reporter. She wrote:

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Acuna said that Jacobs was not acting in an aggressive manner:

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.

Following the incident, three Montana newspapers — the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette, and the Helena Independent Record — pulled their endorsements of Gianforte, citing his alleged assault of a reporter.

The incident occurred the night before the election in which Gianforte will face off against Democrat Rob Quist. It’s unclear how much the alleged assault will impact the race given the number of absentee ballots that have already been submitted. More than half the number of ballots projected to be submitted in the race had already been submitted by Wednesday night, per the New York Times.

Quist declined to comment on the incident Wednesday night.

“That’s really not for me to talk about. I think that’s more a matter for law enforcement,” he told reporters when asked about the incident, per the New York Times.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Gianforte to pull out of the race.

“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist. Further, Speaker Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee should not waste another minute before publicly denouncing their candidate and apologizing for the millions of dollars they spent on his behalf,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement Wednesday night.

With voters less than a day away from heading to the polls for a special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in Montana, President Donald Trump has recorded a robocall making a last-minute pitch for the Republican candidate.

“Hi, this is President Donald Trump, and I know what the people of Montana really want and really care about: lower taxes, good paying jobs, secure borders — and we’ve done a great job on those borders — and protecting your God-given right to bear arms, your Second Amendment,” he says in a recording of the robocall obtained by CNN. “If you don’t vote tomorrow, the liberal Democrats running for Congress will decimate and dismantle all that we’ve done.”

Trump then urges voters to support Republican candidate Greg Gianforte in the call, which was paid for by the Republican National Committee.

Trump’s robocall comes as Republicans fret that the race is closer than it should be, according to a Politico report published Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence also recorded a call supporting Gianforte this week.

Gianforte faces off against Democrat Rob Quist on Thursday.

Montana’s at-large congressional seat hasn’t been held by a Democrat in over 20 years. But Given Trump’s lack of popularity, Democrats are looking to this spring’s special elections to score some wins, including the special election in Montana. The House race there has drawn a lot of money from both sides, flooding Montanans’ televisions with political ads.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) traveled to Montana to campaign for Quist over the weekend, and Quist has recently focused on criticizing Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Democrats have put substantial resources into the race to boost Quist, but Republican outside groups have outspent Democrats in the special election. Republican outside groups have spent about $7 million on ads for the race, where Democrats have spent about $3 million on ads in Montana, per Politico.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) on Wednesday morning discarded the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was responsible for a hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign, instead pushing a conspiracy theory favored by some conservatives that a DNC staffer was responsible for leaking emails.

Farenthold’s comments came after multiple conservative outlets promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered last year in Washington, was central to the hack. A story in which a private investigator claimed Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his death was pulled from Fox News’ website late Tuesday after being live for a full week, and network host Sean Hannity said he would stop pushing the conspiracy theory on air for the time being, in accordance with the Rich family’s wishes.

Farenthold insisted during an interview on CNN that the takeaway from former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony Tuesday before Congress was that Brennan said he had not seen any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia. That interpretation of Brennan’s remarks echoed that of the White House.

CNN’s John Berman noted that Farenthold’s interpretation did not tell the whole story, though: Brennan said that he saw intelligence suggesting contact between Trump associates and Russian officials.

“There you go taking the worst possible spin,” Farenthold said in response.

The congressman added later that Brennan “was unable to point to any specific evidence, and I think that’s what we’re going to continue to see there.” He then rushed headlong into the conspiracy theory that the hack of the DNC was an inside job.

“And my fear is our constant focusing on the Russians is deflecting away for some other things that we need to be investigating in,” Farenthold said. “There’s still some question as to whether the intrusion of the DNC server was an insider job or whether or not it was the Russians.”

Berman asked Farenthold if he was referring to the report on Rich that Fox News retracted, to which Farenhold replied: “There’s stuff circulating on the internet.” He added that he would like federal officials to look at DNC computers.

CNN’s Poppy Harlow then jumped in to ask Farenthold if he thought it was “responsible” to float the conspiracy theory without evidence.

“I think the same is true with what the media is doing with Trump. We’re basing allegations on anonymous sources,” he replied.

Watch part of the interview below:

Democratic senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday complaining that the administration appears to be purposefully ignoring requests for information from Democratic members of Congress.

“We write to express our concerns with recent reports that the White House may have instructed certain Federal agencies to refuse requests for information from Democratic members of Congress,” the senators wrote in a letter first reported by the Washington Post. “If true, such an instruction would be a significant departure from the practices of past Administration and seriously inhibit Congress’s ability to fulfill its legislative and oversight duties.”

The senators noted in the letter that the Supreme Court has acknowledged the need for Congress to have access to information from the White House in order to conduct oversight. They contended that most requests sent to agencies have gone unanswered under the Trump administration, however.

The senators asked Trump to “clarify that your Administration will not refuse requests for information from Congress, including Democratic members, and will provide the courtesy of a response to congressional inquiries in a timely and comprehensive manner.”

The letter was signed by 17 Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democrats.

Read the letter:

President Donald Trump has hired Marc Kasowitz to serve as outside legal counsel and help the President navigate the federal investigation into potential collusion between his campaign officials and Russia, according to several news reports.

The news of Kasowitz’s hiring was first reported Tuesday by ABC News and Fox Business, and it was subsequently confirmed by additional outlets, including the Washington Post and Politico.

Trump’s decision to hire outside counsel comes as the investigation into his associates’ ties to Russia ramps up with the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director.

Kasowitz has worked with Trump in the past and has been in regular communication with the President since he took office, according to Politico. Kasowitz represents Trump in a defamation lawsuit filed by Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant who accused Trump of groping her. Kasowitz sought to dismiss that case on behalf of Trump in March, arguing that Trump is immune to lawsuits in state court as President.

Kasowitz also sent a letter to the New York Times in October on behalf of Trump, arguing that the paper’s report about allegations that Trump groped several women was “reckless and defamatory.”

Trump’s decision to hire Kasowitz may have thrown a wrench into the White House’s plans to consider former Sen. Joe Lieberman as the next FBI director. Trump himself said last week that Lieberman, who is a partner at the same law firm as Kasowitz, was his top pick for the job. Lieberman is no longer the leading candidate for the position, CNN reported Wednesday.

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for confirmation of Kasowitz’s hiring.

After Fox News pulled a report based on a conspiracy theory about the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, Sean Hannity, one of the most prominent voices pushing the theory, said on Tuesday night that he would stop talking about Rich for the time being.

Hannity said that he would stop discussing the conspiracy theory on air out of respect for Rich’s family, but he indicated that he will still attempt to prove the theory true and that he may return to it at a later time.

“I totally, completely understand how upset, how hard this is on this family, especially over the recent coverage of Seth’s death,” he said on his Fox News show, noting that he has been in touch with Rich’s family. Seth Rich’s brother made a plea to Hannity to stop pushing conspiracy theories about the murder.

“Out of respect from the family’s wishes for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time,” Hannity continued before launching into a rant about the probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Hannity said that Democrats and the media “have been pushing that tinfoil hat conspiracy with zero evidence.”

Though he said he would stop talking about Rich’s death for now, Hannity indicated a few minutes later that he would keep digging.

“I want to say this to you, my loyal audience, please do not interpret what I am saying tonight to mean anything — don’t read into this. I promise you, I am not going to stop doing my job. To the extent of my ability, I’m not going to stop trying to find the truth. That’s what we do here every single day. That effort is not stopping in any way, shape, matter or form,” he said. “I’m continuing the work that I promise to do every day for you and at the proper time, we shall continue and talk a lot more.”

Hannity also followed up with tweets suggesting that he was not dropping the conspiracy theory entirely.

Conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder resurfaced recently after a private investigator alleged to Washington, D.C. Fox affiliate WTTG that Rich was communicating with Wikileaks before he was killed. A spokesman for Rich’s family pushed back on the claim, and the investigator later backtracked, however.

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