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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

The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday sent letters to the White House and 24 federal agencies demanding details on the use of private and government planes by Trump administration officials.

Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote in the letters that they are “examining the extent to which non-career officials at federal departments and agencies either use government-owned aircraft for personal travel or private non-commercial aircraft for official travel.” They noted that federal law requires officials to use the “most expeditious” mode of transportation possible and that official travel should not “include personal use.”

The letters follow reports from Politico about Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private jets to fly around the country. He used private planes at least five times, costing taxpayers more than $300,000 since May, and Price visited family and friends on those trips as well.

HHS has defended Price’s use of private planes, arguing that he sometimes needs to use a private plane due to his busy schedule. The White House has not offered a full-throated defense of Price, however, noting that HHS and not it cleared the secretary’s use of private planes.

The HHS inspector general has already launched a probe into Price’s use of private planes, and Cummings previously sent a letter to Price asking for information on his flights.

The Tuesday letters mark involvement from the Republican chair of the oversight committee and an expansion of the inquiry about plane use to other federal agencies.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also come under fire for his use of a government plane to attend a local chamber of commerce event in Kentucky, where he also watched the solar eclipse with his wife.

Read one of the letters the House Oversight Committee sent out Tuesday:

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President Donald Trump took a break Tuesday night from his presidential duties to court donors at a fundraising dinner in Manhattan, delivering a 40-minute speech covering a wide range of topics including his spat with the NFL.

The President proudly discussed the controversy with the NFL that he manufactured when he criticized players who protest during the national anthem at a Friday night rally in Alabama.

“They have a rule, you can’t dance in the end zone, you can’t wear pink socks, one guy’s mother had breast cancer and they wouldn’t let him, you can’t do anything! But you’re allowed to sit down for the national anthem,” Trump said at the dinner, according to an attendee who spoke to Politico.

Trump criticized Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who started the trend of kneeling during the anthem as a way to protest police treatment of black people, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Politico.

“All Goodell had to do was say there’s rules and you can’t do it, suspend him for a couple games, you would never have had this,” Trump said, as quoted by Politico. “Now you have this whole thing going and it’s a very dangerous thing ‘cause we cannot let anyone disrespect our country like that.”

Trump made the remarks in front of about 150 people at the upscale restaurant Le Cirque to help fundraise for his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. Attendees paid between $35,000 and $100,000 to attend the swanky dinner.

The President also touched on health care and his communication with world leaders, CNN reported. Trump claimed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau incorrectly told him that the U.S. has a $11 billion trade surplus with Canada and told a staffer to leave the room and check the numbers, according to CNN’s source in the room. Trump said the staffer returned to say that Trudeau was correct on the number, but did not take into account how Canada benefits from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“With math like that, we’d all be broke,” Trump then said, according to CNN.

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After the Senate failed yet again on Tuesday to repeal Obamacare, President Donald Trump early Wednesday morning turned to his go-to solution for the Senate’s stalemates: nuking the filibuster.

As the Senate struggled to find consensus on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare over the summer, Trump on several occasions urged Senate leaders to completely eliminate the filibuster, which allows the minority party to force a 60-vote threshold on legislation. Senate Republicans have been using a process called reconciliation to circumvent the filibuster on health care, but their authority to do so expires at the end of this month, leaving them unable to try to repeal Obamacare again any time soon.

Ending the filibuster would not likely solve Senate Republicans’ problem on health care. They have failed to earn the support of 50 Republican senators for any repeal bill they have tried to pass this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also shot down Trump’s suggestion, noting that there is not enough support in the Senate to change the rules.

In another tweet Wednesday morning, Trump insisted that Republicans are close to the 50 votes they need to pass a repeal bill, despite the fact that three senators firmly stated they could not back the Graham-Cassidy legislation.

He also suggested that Republicans did not vote on the bill because one senator was in the hospital.

It was not entirely clear to whom Trump was referring, though he was likely talking about Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). Cochran was away from Washington, D.C. for medical reasons early this week, but he was not in the hospital, the senator’s office told Politico reporter Seung Min Kim.

 

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The IRS has started sharing information about Trump aides with special counsel Robert Mueller after a disagreement earlier in the summer about which documents Mueller’s team should have access to, CNN reported Tuesday night, citing unnamed people brief on the matter.

Mueller’s team has received information from the IRS on former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to CNN. It’s not clear whether Mueller has obtained President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that Mueller has enlisted help from agents in the IRS’ criminal investigations unit for the Russia probe, signaling Mueller’s focus on Trump allies’ potential financial crimes.

Mueller has a broad mandate in the Russia probe to investigate Russia’s election meddling and any matters that arise from that investigation. Manafort has been under federal investigation for his financial dealings abroad and work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Federal investigators are also looking into Flynn’s lobbying work for Turkey.

Read CNN’s full report here.

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After former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in the Republican primary Tuesday night, President Donald Trump was quick to ditch Strange and rally behind Moore.

After firing off a tweet congratulating Moore in his victory in the race, Trump deleted several tweets he sent earlier in the day urging Alabama voters to re-elect Strange to the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The deleted tweets were captured by Politwoops, a tool that collects politicians’ deleted tweets currently run by ProPublica.

Trump backed Strange, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) choice to hold the Senate seat, early on in the race, but several prominent Trump supporters, like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, campaigned for Moore, an ultra-conservative Republican who has been kicked off the Alabama supreme court twice.

After initially endorsing Strange, Trump appeared to hesitate and wavered on plans to hold a rally for Strange in Alabama after polls showed Moore in the lead. However, the President relented, holding a rally for Strange and sending out several since-deleted tweets urging Alabama voters to back Strange.

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After Senate Republicans officially gave up on the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill Tuesday afternoon, some Republican senators and members of leadership suddenly warmed to reopening bipartisan talks on a bill to stabilize the Affordable Care Act markets.

The talks led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN, pictured above) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, were abruptly abandoned a week ago when Republican leaders decided to push the Graham-Cassidy bill through the Senate. Now that another week’s worth of desperate attempts to whip votes for an Obamacare repeal bill have failed, some Republicans pointed to Alexander as the next step on health care.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, told reporters that Alexander and Murray should continue their stabilization work.

“There are going to be some things that in the near-term may have to be done to stabilize markets, and that kind of thing can be done in a bipartisan way,” Thune said.

He noted that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) would continue to work on gaining support for their bill, but could not offer an exact timeline.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) also encouraged Alexander to continue with bipartisan talks, but seemed pessimistic about the outcome.

“Sen. Alexander’s going to continue with his meetings with Sen. Murray, so they are going to continue on the bipartisan discussions,” he told reporters.

“I want much more flexibility to the states than any Democrat has ever been willing to offer,” Barrasso said when asked if he supports those talks. “And if we can’t get the flexibility to the states, so that people can buy in their own home state what works for them personally, then I’m not supportive of a direct continuation of those payments.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the co-sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy bill, said that the failure of the repeal bill would “give Democrats an opportunity to really step up to the plate” to work with Republicans on bipartisan legislation.

Two of the three senators who publicly opposed the bill, Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ), also called for bipartisan talks to resume.

“I very much want us to resume the work that the Health committee was doing under the leadership of Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray. I believe that that offers great promise for stabilizing insurance markets and helping to lower premiums,” Collins told reporters before Republican leaders announced they wouldn’t move forward with the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Alexander said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that he will work with Murray and Republicans on a bipartisan stabilization bill

“I will consult with Senator Murray and with other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, to see if senators can find consensus on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available to the 18 million Americans in the individual market in 2018 and 2019,” the senator said in a statement.

But despite those lawmakers’ willingness to see Alexander and Murray work toward agreement, bipartisan talks will face some resistance in the Senate Republican caucus.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told reporters Tuesday that bipartisan talks in the HELP Committee are a “sham” and predicted that the panel would not be able to come to any agreement.

“Talk to a Democrat and tell me where there’s any bipartisan agreement right now coming out of that committee,” he said.

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Former White House adviser Stephen Bannon on Monday night compared GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to Donald Trump, although the President has campaigned for Moore’s opponent in the race, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL).

“A vote for Roy Moore is a vote for Donald J. Trump,” Bannon said at rally for Moore, a staunch conservative who is leading Strange in the polls.

Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, also railed against the Republican “establishment” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Outside groups have poured money into the state to support Strange’s bid.

“They think you’re a pack of morons. They think you’re nothing but rubes,” Bannon told the crowd.

Later, during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Bannon emphasized that Moore would be an ally to Trump and that his decision to campaign for Moore was not born out of a desire to oppose Trump.

“We’re not here to defy President Trump, we’re here to praise and honor him,” Bannon said.

The former White House adviser said that establishment Republicans are “trying to destroy Roy Moore, just like they tried to destroy Donald J. Trump.”

Bannon also told Hannity that after Tuesday night’s election, “a real review has to be done of how President Trump got the wrong information and came down on the wrong side of the football here.”

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Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore tried to prove his support for the Second Amendment by pulling out his handgun on stage Monday night at a rally on the eve of the election.

“It’s been very hard for my wife and myself to wither two, nearly three months of negative ads that we couldn’t answer with money because we didn’t have it. Ads that were completely false. That I don’t believe in the Second Amendment,” Moore, who formerly served as the chief justice of the Alabama state Supreme Court, told rally attendees.

“I believe in the Second Amendment,” he added, pulling out his handgun and briefly displaying it to the crowd.

Moore, who has the support of former Trump aides Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, has been leading polls against Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), the candidate backed by Republican leaders in Washington, D.C. Trump has supported Strange in the race, despite the President’s similarities to Moore, and Trump may see his candidate lose on Tuesday night.

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Following reports that White House aides have been using private email accounts to conduct official business, the leaders of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), sent a letter to the White House on Monday asking that the administration identify any staffers using private email.

“With numerous public revelations of senior executive branch employees deliberately trying to circumvent [federal] laws by using personal, private, or alias e-mail addresses to conduct official government business, the Committee has aimed to use its oversight and investigative resources to prevent and deter misuse of private forms of written communication,” Gowdy and Cummings wrote in the letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn explaining their oversight request.

The congressmen cited a Sunday report in Politico that revealed Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner used private email to communicate with other members of the administration. Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus, former administration aides, also used private email, according to Politico. Newsweek reported Monday that Ivanka Trump used her personal email in at least one instance to correspond with another administration official. At least six administration officials, including Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller, have used personal email accounts for White House business, the New York Times reported Monday.

The White House did not dispute reports that administration officials used personal email accounts for some official business on Monday. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that personal email use in the Trump administration is “very limited” and noted that McGahn has instructed staff to only use their official email accounts.

Gowdy and Cummings asked McGahn to identify any White House staffers who have used a personal email account, an alias email, text messages, or encrypted message apps for official business to ensure that members of the administration are complying with laws governing record preservation.

The use of personal email accounts by members of Trump’s administration has drawn considerable attention given that Trump throughout the 2016 campaign painted Hillary Clinton as a criminal for using a private email server.

Read the letter from Gowdy and Cummings:

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President Donald Trump was up early again Tuesday morning, firing off angry tweets about NFL players’ protests during the national anthem.

Trump has been on a tear since his Friday night rally in Alabama, where he said that any “son of a bitch” who protests during the national anthem should be fired. As more players and teams drop to one knee as the national anthem plays at football games, the President’s anger has grown.

On Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s owner, Jerry Jones, who is a Trump supporter, took a knee before the national anthem and then rose for the song. Trump called this “big progress” in his Tuesday morning tweetstorm.

Trump also fumed on Twitter Monday night, going after CNN for reporting that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is not happy with Trump’s war against NFL players.

Kelly did tell CNN that he is “appalled” by the protests, which the network emphasized Monday night in a tweet pushing back against Trump’s attack.

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