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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 Treasury Department’s inspector general is conducting a review of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of a government plane to fly with his wife to Kentucky, following criticism of the secretary’s trip on the day of the solar eclipse.

“We are reviewing the circumstances of the Secretary’s August 21 flight . . . to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed,” counsel Rich Delmar said in a statement to the Washington Post Thursday night. “When our review is complete, we will advise the appropriate officials, in accordance with the Inspector General Act and established procedures.”

Mnuchin flew to Kentucky last week, where he attended an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in Louisville before he, his wife, and McConnell traveled to Fort Knox to view the solar eclipse. Mnuchin came under fire for the trip given that he used a taxpayer-funded plane.

The Treasury Department said that the trip was planned around an official event and that Mnuchin had cleared the used of the plane through the proper channels.

“The Secretary of the Treasury at times needs to use a government aircraft to facilitate his travel schedule and to ensure uninterrupted access to secure communications,” a Treasury spokesperson told the Washington Post. “The Department of the Treasury sought and received the appropriate approval from the White House. Secretary Mnuchin has reimbursed the government for the cost of Ms. Linton’s travel in accordance with the long-standing policy regarding private citizens on military aircraft.”

The jaunt also prompted Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OR) to ask the Treasury Department for more information on Mnuchin’s use of the plane.

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, helped the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus raise money at a fundraiser Thursday night in North Carolina, Politico reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the event.

Kushner’s aid to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) comes as Trump is gearing up to work with GOP leaders on several must-pass bills in September. The President has been feuding with Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and has publicly criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) ahead of a push to raise the debt ceiling, so it’s intriguing that the administration reportedly has decided to help out Meadows, who is a constant thorn in the side of Republican leadership as they seek to pass major legislation.

Meadows has already been weighing in on what his band of arch-conservatives will and will not support ahead of Congress’ return to Washington, D.C., in September. He said this week that he would back a government spending bill that does not include funding for the border wall, but has warned against tying Hurricane Harvey aid to the bill to raise the debt limit.

President Donald Trump was quick to pounce on Republican senators’ claim that former FBI Director James Comey started to draft his statement about not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton before the FBI had completed its investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Trump tweeted about the revelation on Friday morning, reveling in the opportunity to bash his former presidential opponent and the “rigged system.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday asking for more information on Comey’s decision-making process in clearing Clinton. In the letter, the senators cited redacted transcripts of interviews with FBI officials who said that Comey began drafting a statement “exonerating” Clinton in May 2016, before the FBI interviewed Clinton and other key aides for its probe.

“The outcome of an investigation should not be prejudged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts,” the senators wrote in their letter. “The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.”

Eric Trump on Thursday evening tried to bash one of his father’s arch-nemeses, CNN, by predicting that the network would not cover his father’s personal donation to the recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey.

His attempt to burn the network failed miserably, however.

Eric Trump published his tweet criticizing CNN around 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Yet CNN had published a story on Trump’s donation pledge hours earlier, soon after the White House announced the planned contribution, and the network also covered it on the air.

The federal government on Thursday reached a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought over President Donald Trump’s initial travel ban, which ensures that travelers who had valid visas and were barred entry to the United States under the initial executive order can now reapply for visas to enter the U.S.

“Although the government dragged its feet for far too long, it has finally agreed to do the right thing and provide those excluded under the first Muslim ban with proper notice of their right to come to the United States. While this closes one chapter in our challenge to Trump’s efforts to institute his unconstitutional ban, we continue our legal fight against Muslim ban 2.0 at the Supreme Court in October,” Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement announcing the settlement.

In the brief period between the initial, chaotic implementation of Trump’s first order barring travelers from certain majority Muslim countries from entering the U.S. and a judge’s order blocking the ban, several people with valid visas were barred from entering the country. Two of those people, Iraqi nationals Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration when they were detained at JFK airport.

Under the settlement announced Thursday, the federal government agreed to contact those barred entry in the first 24 hours of the ban to inform them of their right to reapply for visas and to give those people a list of organizations that provide pro bono legal aid, per the ACLU.

 

As new chief of staff John Kelly tries to impose order in the White House by limiting the President’s impromptu conversations with friends and advisers, a defiant Donald Trump has taken to calling friends and outside advisers on his personal cell phone, circumventing Kelly’s attempt to vet calls and appointments, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the calls.

Those in contact with Trump on his personal, unsecured cell phone when Kelly is not present include recently ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon, per the Washington Post.

Although Trump has praised Kelly both in private and in public, he has become frustrated with the chief of staff’s attempts to bring order to the White House and therefore limit the President’s interactions with friends and advisers, according to the Washington Post. In particular, Trump is unhappy with the way Kelly’s role managing Trump is covered in the media and has tried to counter that narrative, the Post reported.

Trump has also been frustrated with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who openly criticized Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, per the Post.

In the wake of a report on the potential conflicts of interest investor Carl Icahn had while serving as an informal adviser to President Donald Trump, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on Wednesday asked the FBI to investigate whether Icahn violated anti-corruption laws.

“Mr. Icahn appears to have abused his role as a special advisor to the President of the United States on issues relating to regulatory reform by participating personally and substantially, through recommendation and the rendering of advice, on a government matter that directly affects his own financial interests,” Duckworth wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Icahn resigned as a special adviser to Trump in late August, saying that he did so to prevent “partisan bickering” about his position advising the President. At the time, he said that he “never had access to nonpublic information or profited from my position” and argued that he did not have any conflicts of interest.

However, the billionaire investor left that role just as the New Yorker was set to publish a lengthy investigation laying out Icahn’s potential conflicts of interest. Icahn owns a stake in a refinery in Texas, and had previously tried to persuade the Obama administration to change regulations regarding ethanol blending in gasoline in a way that could have helped that refinery. He then pushed the Renewable Fuels Association to back an executive order changing those regulations in February, according to the New Yorker.

Duckworth urged the FBI to probe whether Icahn violated a criminal conflict of interest statute by working to change a regulation that would have benefitted him financially.

“I am confident that you will understand my grave concern that, if the FBI fails to thoroughly investigate Mr. Icahn’s potential violations of criminal conflict of interest statutes, our Nation could experience a significant increase in future public corruption, as wealthy individuals are empowered to take advantage of a new ‘Icahn loophole’ to serve as unpaid officers or employees of the Executive Branch of the United States Government while working to modify Federal programs and policies in a manner that directly benefits their own personal financial interests,” she wrote.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday revealed that he received a phone call from President Donald Trump reassuring the senator that he supports ethanol production, a pet issue of Iowa politicians.

The call from Trump voicing support for an issue important to the Iowa senator followed reports on Tuesday that Donald Trump, Jr. had set a date to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Grassley chairs, in a closed-door interview. The committee hasn’t confirmed when exactly senators with interview Trump Jr., but Politico reported that it could come in the next few weeks.

A spokesman for Grassley, Taylor Foy, told the Washington Post that Trump and the senator did not discuss the committee’s probe into Russian interference in the U.S> election. The call only lasted for a couple of minutes, during which the two discussed ethanol, Hurricane Harvey, and the ambassador to China, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Foy told the Post. Grassley also informed Trump that he’d tweet about their conversation on ethanol, Foy said.

A White House official told the Post that Trump made the call to quash rumors that he no longer supported ethanol.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) on Thursday morning defended his vote against legislation funding aid for Hurricane Sandy and argued that past disaster recoveries show that aid for the Hurricane Harvey response should come in stages.

Burgess is one of several Republican members of Congress who voted against an aid bill for Hurricane Sandy who will now have to advocate for funding to address disaster in their own state. These members have been forced  to square their votes against Sandy Aid with their current push to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. Defending his vote against Sandy aid earlier this week, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued that the Sandy aide package was bloated. Several lawmakers have run with that defense, though fact-checks have found that the provisions in the Sandy aid package were in fact for the most part related to damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Burgess said on CNN Thursday morning that he felt it was a mistake for Congress to draw up large aid packages for past disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, arguing that it’s hard to predict an area’s needs right away and that some of the funding from past disasters has gone unspent.

“It’s tough. Because with Katrina we came in, did a big bill, and then another big bill and years later unfortunately found they couldn’t spend all the dollars that were sent,” the congressman told CNN. “That has been a concern of mine as well. I want to be certain that the help gets where it’s needed, when it’s needed.”

“I thought Sandy should have been broken into at least two tranches, it wasn’t. I didn’t win that argument,” he added.

Congress passed two bills following Hurricane Sandy, one passed quickly for the flood insurance program, and a larger aid package passed later on.

Burgess said that Congress should immediately pass a short-term aid bill to jumpstart the recovery from Hurricane Harvey, and then take several months to develop a long-term aid package.

“So there will be immediate help that will likely come as early as early next week,” the congressman said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a high-ranking Republican who sits on the House Budget and Appropriations committees, on Wednesday warned President Donald Trump against publicly attacking Republican senators.

“You’re not going to bully United States senators, this isn’t the Apprentice,” Cole told the Associated Press. “You can’t look at them and say you’re fired, you’re going to need their vote and you oughta remember that they’re going to be at the table in every major deal you need for the next three years. So I just don’t think that’s a productive way to proceed.”

While Republican lawmakers have been away from Washington, D.C. for the August recess, Trump has gone after several Republican senators. His feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spilled into the open, with Trump publishing tweets chastising McConnell for failing to pass Obamacare repeal. Trump has also launched attacks against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who recently published a book critical of Trump.

When Congress returns in September, lawmakers must tackle several must-pass bills, including legislation to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling. They will likely push for an aid package to fund recovery in Texas and other parts of the south following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Trump has also pushed for the funding legislation to include money to build a border wall, and he will need all the support he can muster in the Senate, which has a slim majority of just 52 Republican senators.

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