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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

Ed Butowsky, a Republican donor and Fox News commentator accused in a new lawsuit of pushing a conspiracy theory about a murdered DNC staffer at Fox News, on Tuesday night told CNN that the lawsuit is “full of nonsense.”

Butowsky was named in lawsuit filed Tuesday by Rod Wheeler, a former police detective and Fox News contributor, who alleged he was roped into an effort to publish a story claiming that the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, had been in contact with Wikileaks. The story was quickly retracted from the Fox News website, and Wheeler now alleges that his quotes in the story were made up by a Fox News reporter.

Wheeler, who was hired by Butowsky and the Rich family to investigate Rich’s murder, revealed in the lawsuit that he and Butowksy met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about their findings, which Spicer confirmed. Wheeler also alleged that Butwosky said he had been in contact with the White House and President Donald Trump about the article, allegedly telling Wheeler that Trump wanted the article published.

Throughout his interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday night, Butowsky pushed back against several of Wheeler’s claims, sometimes giving confusing and convoluted answers. He also tried to discredit Wheeler, suggesting that he was filing the lawsuit because he is “dead broke.”

He said that the claims that Trump knew about the article were “not true.”

“I never talked to anybody at the White House,” Butowsky told CNN. “I’ve never talked to President Trump in my life. And President Trump nor the White house has anything to do with any of this.”

Butowsky said that a voicemail cited by Wheeler in the lawsuit in which he mentions to Wheeler that their work has the White House’s attention was actually about another D.C. detective who wanted whistleblower status in order to talk freely to Wheeler.

The lawsuit also cites a text message from Butowsky to Wheeler, in which Butowsky claims that Trump read the article and wanted it published quickly. Butowsky said this was “tongue-in-cheek.”

Butowsky told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that when he met with Spicer about his findings, he did not tell the press secretary the purpose of the meeting beforehand. Butowsky told CNN that he told Spicer about claims he says reporter Seymour Hersh made about the FBI having a copy of Rich’s hard drive. (Hersh told NPR that he hears “gossip” and suggested Butowsky “took two and two and made 45 out of it.”)

Butowsky told CNN that Spicer “had no interest at all” in learning more about their investigation into Rich’s death and that they only talked about it for a minute before engaging in small talk.

Despite the fact that Fox News retracted its story reporting that Rich was in contact with Wikileaks, Butwosky told CNN, “I don’t believe there’s anything in that story that isn’t accurate.” He said he believes it was retracted because Wheeler complained that he was misquoted. Butowsky, however, said that Wheeler was quoted accurately.

Watch Butowsky’s full interview via CNN:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday afternoon dismissed President Donald Trump’s call for the Senate to change its rules for passing legislation.

“It’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care was not the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Republicans,” McConnell said at a brief press conference when asked about Trump’s suggestion.

The majority leader also said that there is not enough support in the Senate to change the rules regarding legislative filibusters.

“The votes are simply not there,” McConnell said.

After the Senate failed last week to pass legislation repealing Obamacare, Trump suggested changing the Senate rules in a tweetstorm that vented his frustration with the process.

Democrats can start a filibuster on most legislation in the Senate, requiring a bill to have 60 votes to pass. Because Republicans have a slim majority of just 52 senators, it’s impossible for them to pass a partisan bill. Trump was looking to eliminate that problem.

As McConnell pointed out Tuesday, however, the Senate had used the reconciliation process to try to repeal Obamacare, under which the bill only needed a simple majority of 51 votes to pass. But three Republicans defected to sink the bill.

McConnell dismissed Trump’s frustration with the rules, arguing that two top priorities for Republicans, tax reform and health care, can be passed through the reconciliation process. Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday also signaled that they would pivot to tax reform when they return from an August recess, and McConnell said they will likely pursue that legislative goal through reconciliation.

He also left the door open for Republicans to try to repeal Obamacare again, noting that their window to repeal the law through reconciliation has not yet expired and revealing that senators are still asking for scores on some proposals.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday by a Fox News contributor alleges that the White House, and possibly President Donald Trump himself, were involved in pushing for a Fox News story on a conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of Seth Rich that the network was forced to retract.

The lawsuit obtained by NPR was filed by Rod Wheeler, a Fox contributor and former detective recruited by Ed Butowsky, an investor and ally of President Donald Trump, to help with his effort to investigate the murder. Wheeler alleged that Butowsky worked with him and a reporter at Fox News to publish a story reporting that Rich, who was a staffer at the Democratic National Committee, had been in contact with Wikileaks.

Butowsky and Wheeler met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on their findings about a month before the story went up, the lawsuit alleged. Spicer acknowledged to NPR that he met with Butowsky and Wheeler, but said they were “just informing me” about the story.

About a week before the story ran, Butowsky told Wheeler that the White House had seen the story and that the President wanted it published, according to the lawsuit. Wheeler alleges Butowsky did this to pressure him into helping. Butowsky told NPR that he was just joking with Wheeler, and that he never shared the story draft with Trump.

In the lawsuit, Wheeler also alleged that the Fox News reporter on the story, Malia Zimmerman, made up quotes from him, and that Butowsky coached him to tout the story on television and push the narrative that Russians did not hack the DNC.

Fox News told NPR that it looked into whether Wheeler was misquoted in the story and did not find “concrete evidence” that he was misquoted.

The network retracted the story on Rich, which also cited an unnamed FBI official, shortly after it went up, but did not say why the story did not meet its editorial standards at the time.

In a statement Tuesday, Jay Wallace, the president of news at Fox News, said that the lawsuit’s allegation that Fox News pushed the story as a distraction from coverage of the Russia probes is “erroneous.”

“The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race,” Wallace said in a statement.

Fox News played a big role in pushing the conspiracy theory about Rich, who was murdered in Washington, D.C. in July 2016. Host Sean Hannity in particular pushed the bogus narrative, and his obsession was fueled by the bogus story published in May. Following the retraction and pleas from Rich’s family, Hannity pledged to stop talking about the DNC staffer, though he’s mentioned the conspiracy theory at least once more since then.

Read NPR’s full report here.

This post has been updated.

A prankster in the United Kingdom tricked several Trump administration officials with emails pretending to be other White House officials or Trump family members, CNN reported Monday night.

White House officials told CNN that they are looking into the matter.

“We take all cyber related issues very seriously and are looking into these incidents further,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN.

In one incident, the prankster pretended to be Jared Kushner in an email to Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert (pictured above), inviting him to a “soirée,” according to CNN. In response, Bossert gave the fake Kushner his personal email address, per CNN.

The prankster also emailed since-ousted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci after Reince Priebus was fired as chief of staff, per CNN. The prankster pretended to be Priebus and told Scaramucci that the way he was ousted was hurtful,” CNN reported. Scaramucci then exchanged several emails with the fake Priebus, telling him, “You know what you did,” according to the CNN report.

It does not appear that the White House officials fooled by the prankster clicked on any links that would have made their accounts vulnerable, according to CNN.

Read CNN’s entire report here.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a top Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told Reuters on Monday that the Senate GOP should ignore President Donald Trump’s push to keep working on an Obamacare repeal measure and instead move on to tackling the tax code.

“There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on health care,” Hatch told Reuters.

“I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterwards but we need to move ahead on tax reform,” he added.

Hatch said that he would rather not work with Democrats to up cost-sharing subsidies, but he told Reuters that Republicans will likely have to do that.

The senator’s comments follow an intense push from Trump and his administration to convince Senate Republicans not to give up on repealing Obamacare just yet. Trump sent several tweets over the weekend urging senators to keep working, and Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney said that the Senate should not hold any other votes until they pass a bill to repeal Obamacare.

President Donald Trump dictated the initial statement released by his son, Donald Trump Jr., claiming that his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer primarily addressed Russian adoption, the Washington Post reported Monday night, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

It had previously been reported by the New York Times that Trump and his advisers drew up the statement aboard Air Force One, but the Washington Post report indicates that the President himself played a significant role in crafting the misleading statement.

In that initial statement on the meeting, Trump Jr. claimed that the discussion primarily centered on Russian adoption, even though the meeting was set up as a chance for Trump Jr. to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. subsequently revised his characterization of the meeting, culminating in the release of emails revealing that the meeting was pitched as part of an effort by the Russian government to boost the Trump campaign.

Asked several questions about the President’s role in crafting the statement, Jay Sekulow, one of the President’s outside attorneys, told the Post, “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.”

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer representing Trump Jr., told the Post that he had “no evidence to support that theory” when asked about the President’s role in writing the initial statement. He told the Post that the process to craft the statement was “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

Discussions on how to address the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, which was attended by Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, began before any news outlets approached the Trump team about it, according to the Washington Post. Kushner’s lawyers discussed it while trying to complete his disclosure forms, prompting deliberations with the President’s aides, per the Washington Post.

Two White House aides, including Hope Hicks, worked with aides to Ivanka Trump and Kushner to push for a transparent approach, the Washington Post reported. Trump’s legal team wanted to provide the emails to Circa, a media outlet they hoped would be friendly to Trump, according to the Washington Post.

When the Times started asking the Trump team about the meeting while the President was in Germany for the G20 summit, Kushner’s team pushed for a transparent approach, the Post reported.

However, Trump overruled the aides and directed his team to craft a statement characterizing the June 2016 meeting as unimportant and claiming that the meeting was primarily focused on adoption, per the Post.

Read the Washington Post’s full report here.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) will make another trip to the White House on Monday to discuss a possible path forward on Obamacare repeal with Trump administration aides, as the President continues to push the Senate to pass Obamacare repeal, according to a Politico report.

Cassidy is expected to meet with aides to both Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Politico reported, citing an aide to Cassidy and other unnamed Republican officials.

The senator and a couple of his Republican colleagues also met with White House officials on Friday to discuss a proposal drafted by Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). However, it’s not yet clear that this bill has more potential to unite Senate Republicans than those that failed last week.

Over the weekend, Trump increased pressure on Senate Republicans to pass a bill repealing Obamacare despite their failure to do so late last week. Trump unleashed several tweets calling on GOP senators to pull together an Obamacare repeal proposal, and Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that the Senate should not vote on any other legislation until it repeals Obamacare.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Sunday brushed off reports that he issued threats to the senators representing Alaska ahead of a vote on Obamacare repeal, saying that such a characterization of his calls with the senators is laughable.

“I talk to Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Sullivan all the time,” Zinke said at a press conference when first asked about his phone calls with the senators, as quoted by E&E News. “A lot’s been said about a lot of things. But I talk to them all the time. We get along well.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told the Alaska Dispatch News last week that Zinke called him and indicated opposition to Obamacare repeal could prompt the Trump administration to retaliate against Alaska when it comes to energy policy. Sullivan said that Zinke also spoke with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Murkowski characterized the phone call differently, later telling reporters that Zinke had relayed to her that President Donald Trump was not happy with her vote against proceeding to an Obamacare repeal vote.

During the Sunday press conference, Zinke was asked if he issued a threat to Murkowski and Sullivan.

“The moon has been characterized as a threat, too, so I think it’s laughable,” he replied, according to E&E News.

After he was ousted as White House chief of staff last week, Reince Priebus said on Sunday that he has “no regrets” about his support for President Donald Trump throughout the presidential campaign and for his first six months in office.

“We have a Republican president, a Republican Senate, and a Republican House,” Priebus told The Atlantic. “I have no regrets at all.”

Trump announced Friday evening that he had replaced Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a former Marine Corps. general. The announcement followed a tumultuous couple weeks in the White House, capped by a public humiliation campaign carried out by new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci against Priebus.

Priebus endured six months of trying to wrangle a President prone to tweeting the first thoughts that pop into his head, ignoring advisers, and cheering on White House division. Priebus took on this role after begrudgingly backing Trump throughout the campaign as RNC chair, even as Trump made significant missteps.

But Priebus insisted to The Atlantic that it was all “absolutely worth it.”

“The president has accomplished an incredible amount of things in the last six months,” he said. “The future can be great, and the past has been pretty good.”

Read The Atlantic’s entire piece here.

Ivanka Trump, daughter and aide to President Donald Trump, found out about her father’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military when everyone else did: when Trump tweeted it, Politico reported Sunday, citing unnamed White House officials.

Ivanka Trump, once known for supporting LGBT rights, was “blindsided” by her father’s decision, per Politico.

She was not alone, however. The Pentagon was also not informed of the President’s proposed policy until he announced the decision in a series of three tweets. Vice President Mike Pence was also out of the loop, Politico reported Sunday:

Inside the White House, the issue was so closely held — and resolved so quickly — that just a handful of West Wing aides were aware of what was transpiring. In addition to Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, a Catholic evangelical with a history of pushing religious liberty policies, had no inkling of what was underway.

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