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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

Updated at 2:54 p.m. ET

The Defense Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn sought the proper approval before accepting payments from a foreign government, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee announced Thursday morning.

“This office has initiated an investigation to determine whether Lieutenant General (LTG) Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired) failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a letter to the Oversight Committee that was released by committee Democrats.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee also released an October 2014 letter to Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) informing him that he must seek approval from Congress before accepting payments from foreign governments.

In another letter to the Oversight Committee released by Democrats on Thursday, the DIA said that it had not found any records on Flynn’s foreign payments or on his request for approval of the payments.

Flynn, a retired general lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, received a payment from Russian state-backed media outlet RT in 2015 for a speech in Moscow.

The House Oversight Committee announced earlier this week that it has not found any evidence indicating that Flynn gave the federal government the appropriate disclosures about the speech and payments.

The documents released by House Democrats on Thursday give further indication that Flynn knew he needed permission from the federal government to accept money from a foreign source but that he failed to do so anyway.

In a Thursday afternoon statement, Robert Kelner, Flynn’s lawyer, pushed back on the release from House Democrats and said that the letter from the DIA to the Oversight Committee shows that Flynn made the DIA aware of his speaking engagement for RT.

“We respectfully disagree with Representative Cummings’ characterization of the April 7, 2017 letter from DIA to the Committee. DIA’s letter actually confirms, in a terse section that is partly redacted, that General Flynn provided information and documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the RT speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speakers bureau for the event. The Department was fully aware of the trip,” Kelner said in the statement.

The letter released on Thursday does mention a thumb drive regarding Flynn’s work with a speaker’s bureau, but any mention of RT or Russia cannot be seen in the redacted version of the letter, if at all. Kelner’s statement notably does not argue that Flynn sought permission to receive payments from a foreign government, just that he made the DIA aware of an upcoming event with RT and his use of a speaker’s bureau.

Kelner called on the DIA and the House Oversight Committee to release the unredacted version of the letter, as well as information on briefings Flynn had with DIA officials in September 2016 that were mentioned in the letter.

“We urge DIA and the Committee to release the full, unredacted letter, along with the documents that General Flynn provided to DIA during the briefings and details concerning the in-person briefings provided by General Flynn to DIA,” he said in the statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, previously announced on Tuesday that Flynn did not disclose the payment from RT on his application for a security clearance when he joined the Trump administration. Cummings noted that falsifying an application is a felony.

In a press conference announcing the release of the documents, Cummings noted that the letters from the DIA countered a statement from Flynn’s lawyer on Tuesday.

“As has been previously reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of DoD, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings,” Flynn’s lawyer said in the statement.

Cummings also slammed the White House for refusing to comply with a request from the House Oversight committee for documents regarding foreign payments received by Flynn.

“Earlier this week the White House refused, absolutely refused, to produce even a single document — not a single document in response to the bipartisan document request that I sent with our Republican chairman. Not one syllable,” Cummings said. “I watched Sean Spicer make all kinds of excuses about how hard it would be to comply with our requests. Come on, man. Look, General Flynn served in his position for 24 days, so that excuse at the White House will not fly.”

Cummings suggested that the White House is trying to hide information from Congress and the public.

“I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn. I don’t get it,” Cummings said. “So the President fired him for lying about communications with the Russian ambassador. They should be bending over backward to help us. It does not make any sense, and it makes the American people think the white house has something to hide.”

“There’s obviously a paper trail, ladies and gentlemen. There is a paper trail that White House does not want our committee to follow. But let it be known that we will follow it. We will follow it with everything we’ve got,” Cummings concluded.

Flynn was asked to resign from his post in the Trump administration for failing to disclose his communications with Russian officials.

Since then, the former national security adviser has come under intense scrutiny for his links to foreign governments. After leaving the Trump administration, Flynn registered with the federal government for lobbying work he did before the November election that may had aided the Turkish government. He also reportedly lobbied for a Turkish businessman with ties to Russia while he was working for the Trump campaign as an adviser.

Read the documents:

This post has been updated.

 

Following criticism for a comment he made about Ivanka Trump on Tuesday night, Fox Host Jesse Watters announced Wednesday night that he will be on vacation for the rest of the week and the weekend.

“I am going to be taking a vacation with my family, so I will not be here tomorrow and Friday,” he said at the end of Fox News’ “The Five. “Try not to miss me too much.”

During the show on Tuesday night, Watters made a comment about Ivanka Trump’s participation in a women’s summit in German.

“You know, the left says they really respect women and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss,” he said.

“So I don’t really get what’s going on here but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone,” Watters added while making a fist and holding it up to his face.

The Fox News host denied that he was making a lewd comment about Ivanka Trump.

“During the break we were commenting on Ivanka’s voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ,” Watters said in a statement on Wednesda. “This was in no way a joke about anything else.”

Watters’ comment and vacation follows the departure of Bill O’Reilly, who was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by several women. Following a New York Times report earlier this month that multiple women had received settlements after accusing him of sexual harassment, O’Reilly went on a sudden, lengthy vacation. He did not return to the channel after Fox reviewed the allegations made against him.

House Republicans on Wednesday night introduced a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open through May 5 while lawmakers work on a final agreement for legislation to fund the government through September.

The measure, introduced by House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), would keep the government open at current funding levels, according to a statement from Frelinghuysen’s office.

“This Continuing Resolution will continue to keep the government open and operating as normal for the next several days, in order to finalize legislation to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year,” Frelinghuysen said in the statement. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon. It is time that this essential work is completed so that critical programs and activities – including national defense –are properly and adequately funded for the year.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) issued a statement supporting the passage of the one-week spending measure.

“We’ve made substantial progress on an agreement to complete the 2017 appropriations process.  Let’s pass this new continuing resolution, and make good use of this extra time to enact overdue legislation to provide for national defense and meet our country’s needs,” Cochran said in a statement Wednesday night.

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House signaled to Democrats that it would continue paying Obamacare subsidies, which Democrats had demanded be guaranteed in the measure to fund the government through September.

With the administration also indicating that President Donald Trump is willing to sign a funding measure that does not include money for a border wall, Congress and the White House have resolved two major issues that threatened the funding legislation. However, Democrats have raised additional smaller issues that they need addressed before agreeing to a final funding package.

“Our major concerns in these negotiations have been about funding for the wall and uncertainty about the CSR payments crucial to the stability of the marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act.  We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “More progress needs to be made on some of our priorities, and we continue to be concerned about poison pill riders that are still in this legislation.  Our appropriators are working in good faith toward a bipartisan proposal to keep government open.”

Following reports that the Trump administration was considering an executive order to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), President Donald Trump assured the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he would only like to renegotiate the trade deal at this time.

Trump spoke with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the phone on Wednesday, according to a readout of the call from the White House.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” the White House said in its readout of the call. “President Trump said, ‘it is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation. It is an honor to deal with both President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better.'”

Trump followed up on the issue Tuesday morning with tweets warning that if he does not like the deal to renegotiate NAFTA, he will terminate the trade agreement.

The statement from the White House followed two reports that Trump advisors had drafted an executive order to withdraw the United States from NAFTA. Politico reported that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, who leads the National Trade Council, drew up the draft order. Reuters confirmed that the White House was considering the order.

This post has been updated.

Heritage Action on Wednesday announced that the group would no longer urge Republican lawmakers to vote against the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare if a newly proposed amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) is adopted.

Last month the conservative group initially issued a key vote alert calling on members to vote against the American Health Care Act (AHCA), indicating that the group would not support members who voted in favor of the legislation.

Though Heritage Action will no longer pressure Republican members to vote against the bill, the group did not issue a resounding endorsement of the legislation.

“Representatives MacArthur and Meadows deserve tremendous credit for their good faith negotiations to improve the bill. Their proposed amendment advances the debate and raises key issues for the Senate to consider as the effort to repeal Obamacare moves forward,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Neeham said in a statement.

“To be clear, this is not full repeal and it is not what Republicans campaigned on or outlined in the Better Way agenda,” he continued. “The amendment does, however, represent important progress in what has been a disastrous process. Given the extreme divides in the Republican Party, allowing Texas and South Carolina to make different decisions on health insurance regulations than New York and New Jersey may be the only way forward.”

The new amendment drafted by moderate MacArthur and House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) prompted the Freedom Caucus to officially back the AHCA if the amendment is included. The amendment would allow states to apply for waivers from certain Obamacare mandates.

Though the amendment has brought conservatives on board, it’s not yet clear whether the changes will bring the bill too far to the right to win over moderate Republicans.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday afternoon announced that the caucus would support the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, the American Health Care Act, with a new proposed amendment.

The move was not a surprise. The negotiations in the weeks since the original bill was pulled from the House floor for lack of votes have focused on moving the bill further to right the win Freedom Caucus support. The big question now is whether it’s moved too far to the right to win enough moderate Republican votes.

“Over the past couple months, House conservatives have worked tirelessly to improve the American Health Care Act (AHCA) to make it better for the American people. Due to improvements to the AHCA and the addition of Rep. Tom MAcArthur’s proposed amendment, the House Freedom Caucus has taken an official position in support of the current proposal,” the caucus said in a statement.

“The MacArthur amendment will grant states the ability to repeal cost driving aspects of Obamacare left in place under the original AHCA,” the statement continues. “While the revised version still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower healthcare costs.”

The new amendment, drafted by moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) would allow states to apply for waivers from certain Obamacare mandates.

During a press conference earlier on Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the amendment “helps us get to consensus.” However, it’s not clear that the amendment would earn enough support from moderate members of the Republican caucus to ensure the legislation’s passage.

Some moderates, including Rep. Charlie Dent (R0PA), still won’t back the AHCA with this amendment, and other moderates had yet to finalize their positions on the amendment early Wednesday.

President Donald Trump will host a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in the runoff to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, on Friday in Atlanta.

Trump’s fundraiser was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, and Handel’s campaign confirmed to TPM that Trump would fundraise for the GOP candidate on Friday.

Handel will face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff in a runoff election on June 20 after Ossoff narrowly missed winning the race last week.

The special election in Georgia has gained national attention because Democrats see it as one of their best chances to turn a ruby-red district blue. Tom Price, who now leads the Health and Human Services Department, won re-election to his House seat in the Sixth District by more than 20 points in November. However, Trump only won the district by one point, giving Democrats hope that they can channel anti-Trump fervor into a win in Georgia.

The fundraiser Friday afternoon asks for $25,000 for a host sponsorship and $27,000 per person for tickets, according to an invitation obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

During the months leading up to the April election day, Handel largely steered clear of Trump. She acknowledged that she voted for Trump but rarely mentioned him on the campaign trail and did not say the President’s name during her speech last week. Yet, after she advanced to the runoff, she welcomed Trump’s support and said she hoped he would fundraise for her.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Wednesday indicated that a new proposed amendment to the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare has brought more Republicans on board with the plan.

When asked if the new amendment offered by moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and backed by the House Freedom Caucus will garner enough support to pass the bill, Ryan did not give a direct response. But he suggested that the amendment has prompted additional Republicans to support the legislation.

“It helps us get to consensus,” he said.

The amendment would allow states to opt out of certain Obamacare mandates if they set up high-risk pools instead. Ryan touted the amendment as a way to lower premiums and give states more choice while still protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions.

MacArthur has been the only moderate engaged in negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus over changes to the bill. Many of the changes made to obtain Freedom Caucus support will likely alienate moderate members even more from a bill they largely opposed in the first place. It remains to be seen whether the pressure from the White House and other members will be enough to overcome moderates’ objections.

The White House is eager to get the bill through the House this week in advance of the 100-day mark of the Trump administration.

Sen. Tex Cruz (R-TX) has a new plan to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

The Texas senator on Tuesday introduced legislation that would funnel any assets seized from Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman as part of the United States’ criminal case against him. The U.S. is seeking $14 billion in criminal forfeiture from El Chapo.

“Fourteen billion dollars will go a long way toward building a wall that will keep Americans safe and hinder the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, and individuals across our southern border,” Cruz said in a statement announcing the bill. “Ensuring the safety and security of Texans is one of my top priorities. We must also be mindful of the impact on the federal budget. By leveraging any criminally forfeited assets of El Chapo and his ilk, we can offset the wall’s cost and make meaningful progress toward achieving President Trump’s stated border security objectives.”

Cruz’s bill, the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order (EL CHAPO) Act, would funnel that $14 billion and any other assets seized from drug cartels toward Trump’s border wall.

After a judge halted part of an executive order threatening to yank funding for sanctuary cities on Tuesday, the White House and Trump himself both blasted the judge.

“Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation,” the White House said in a statement late Tuesday night. “Once again, a single district judge — this time in San Francisco — has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country.”

In the statement, the White House suggested that judge is biased against Trump.

“This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge. Today’s ruling undermines faith in our legal system and raises serious questions about circuit shopping,” the White House statement reads. “But we are confident we will ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court, just as we will prevail in our lawful efforts to impose immigration restrictions necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.”

Early Wednesday morning, Trump himself followed up with a Twitter tirade, also suggesting that lawsuits against the Trump administration are purposefully brought before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which blocked his travel ban. However, the judge who blocked part of the order threatening sanctuary cities does not sit on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Trump administration appealed the ruling, the 9th Circuit would review the case next.

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