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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

After Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) office confirmed this month that it occasionally sends constituents cease and desist letters, one Arkansas resident shared his attempts to learn the Senator’s position on two issues close to his family, which he said ended in Cotton’s staff sending the him a cease and desist letter.

Don Ernst, a resident of Little Rock, shared his story at length with “The Sexy Pundits” podcast in an episode that aired Monday. He said that he called Cotton’s office in February 2017 to ask about the senator’s position on the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and to ask about Cotton’s plans for addressing the opioid epidemic in the event that Obamacare was repealed.

Ernst said he has a son battling opioid addiction, making Cotton’s stance on how to address the opioid crisis particularly important to his family.

The Arkansas resident told the podcast that he called Cotton’s office 18 times between February and June 2017 to ask for the senator’s position on the two issues, but staffers told him that the senator’s stance was not readily available and indicated they would look into his questions.

“It’s excruciating not to get an answer to questions that impact people you care about and you love,” Ernst said on the podcast.

Ernst confirmed to TPM that he called Cotton’s for months without getting an answer from the senator’s staff. He told TPM that he suspects that at times he raised his voice.

“Certainly, as each call happened, I think I began to get more emotional,” he told TPM.

But it was the 18th call that got him banned from phoning into the senator’s office again, according to Ernst.

On that call, Ernst told a staffer that it was “bullshit” that he could not get answers on IDEA and the opioid crisis, and he said that staffer abruptly hung up the phone. He called back immediately and a different staff member informed him that they would send him a cease and desist letter.

Ernst said he never actually received the letter in the mail and hasn’t seen it to this day, but he told TPM that a Capitol Police official confirmed to him over the phone later that the letter had indeed been sent.

After he was notified of the cease and desist letter, Ernst sent a letter to Cotton’s office, which he shared with TPM. He apologized for “for an emotionally driven expression of the word (sh_ _t).”

“I should have never used such language with one of your young staffers, and it was understandable that she expressed concern to her supervisors. I offer my apology with sincerity,” he wrote.

Cotton’s office confirmed earlier this month that it does send cease and desist letters to constituents, but claimed that they are rare.

“Senator Cotton is always happy to hear from Arkansans and encourages everyone to contact his offices to express their thoughts, concerns, and opinions. In order to maintain a safe work environment, if an employee of Senator Cotton receives repeated communications that are harassing and vulgar, or any communication that contains a threat, our policy is to notify the U.S. Capitol Police’s Threat Assessment Section and, in accordance with their guidance, send a cease and desist letter to the individual making the harassing or threatening communication. These letters are rare and only used under extreme circumstances,” Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt Tabler said in a statement earlier in January following the first reports that the office sent cease and desist letters to constituents.

TPM asked Cotton’s office for confirmation that it sent a cease and desist letter to Ernst, but did not receive a response. TPM also reached out to the Capitol Police for confirmation but has not yet received a response.

Cotton’s office has issued a cease and desist letter to at least one other constituent.

Stacey Lane, a Fayetteville resident, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that she got a cease and desist letter when she used the f-word with a member of Cotton’s staff.

“Have I used expletives? Yes,” Lane said. “I like to think I use them appropriately and to get people’s attention.”

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White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday morning that should the House vote to release a memo crafted by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), the White House will conduct a national security review of the memo to determine whether it should be released to the public.

“If that happens, we’re going to have a whole national security review and look at this document and then make a determination. The President will make a determination,” Shah said on CNN’s “New Day.”

On Sunday, White House legislative aide Marc Short said that Trump is “inclined” to release the memo, but the President has not yet read the memo, Shah revealed Monday morning.

The memo reportedly purports to show that FBI officials misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court when asking for approval to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page by failing to reveal that one of the FBI’s sources, dossier author Christopher Steele, was being paid by Democrats. However, the FBI did not rely solely on Steele for its FISA application. A new report in the New York Times reveals that the memo claims Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved the decision to surveil Page.

House Republicans have been lobbying for the memo to be released to the public, but must go through a lengthy process since the document contains classified information. Democrats have argued against releasing the memo and have accused Republicans of crafting a misleading memo that merely seeks to bolster GOP anti-FBI rhetoric.

Justice Department officials have also warned against the memo’s release, though House Republicans have not granted their requests to review it. Shah on Monday morning indicated that the White House would also leave the Justice Department out of its review process if the House votes to release the memo.

“The constitutional process as laid out involves the house of representatives, the House Intelligence Committee and the White House and the President of the United States. The Department of Justice doesn’t have a role in this process,” he said.

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President Donald Trump has admitted that he sometimes publishes tweets while still in bed in the morning.

“Well, perhaps sometimes in bed, perhaps sometimes at breakfast or lunch or whatever, but generally speaking during the early morning, or during the evening I can do that,” Trump told Piers Morgan when asked about his Twitter habits in an ITV interview that aired Sunday. “But I am very busy during the day, very long hours. I am busy.”

Trump also said he will sometimes “dictate out something really quickly and give it to one of my people” to post on Twitter.

The President is known to publish tirades in Twitter early in the morning, and the New York Times has reported that Trump starts his mornings in his private residence watching cable news and looking at Twitter. His early morning news binge fuels his angry morning tweets.

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President Donald Trump suggested to Piers Morgan in an interview that aired in full on Sunday that the polar ice caps are actually doing well, despite concerns about climate change, though it’s not clear how Trump came to that conclusion.

Morgan asked Trump if he believes in climate change.

“Look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place,” Trump claimed in response.

He then launched into a baseless claim about ice caps.

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records,” Trump said.

Despite Trump’s suggestion that the ice caps are not melting as quickly as expected, NASA reported in March that the polar ice caps had reached record lows.

During his wide ranging interview with Morgan on the British network ITV, Trump also said he is not a feminist.

“No, I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist,” he told Morgan. “I’m for women, I’m for men, I’m for everyone.”

 

 

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Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn resigned as finance director of the Republican National Committee on Saturday following a Wall Street Journal report surfacing allegations of sexual misconduct against Wynn.

Politico was first to report Wynn’s resignation, and RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel later confirmed in a brief statement that she accepted Wynn’s resignation, though she did not share the reason for Wynn’s departure.

“Today I accepted Steve Wynn’s resignation as Republican National Committee finance chair,” McDaniel said in the statement.

McDaniel did not indicate whether the RNC would return donations from Wynn, a longtime ally of President Donald Trump.

Wynn said in a statement to Politico that he resigned because he had become a “distraction”

The Wall Street Journal reported “dozens” of accounts from employees at Wynn resorts who said that Wynn had a pattern of sexual misconduct. He allegedly pressured a manicurist to have sex with him, and the manucurist was later paid a $7.5 million settlement, per the Journal. A deposition from the 1990s from an executive at one of Wynn’s casinos said that he “routinely received complaints from various department heads regarding Wynn’s chronic sexual harassment of female employees,” per the Journal.

Wynn told the Wall Street Journal that the “idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.”

 

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In a speech Friday afternoon in Norfolk, Virginia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed recent criticisms of the Justice Department and vowed to defend his department from any “unfair” critiques and root out any bias he finds among the department’s staffers.

The comments come as the Justice Department and FBI face an effort from GOP lawmakers in Congress to undermine the investigations into President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team. Republicans have alleged bias among the FBI officials investigating Trump and claimed that the FBI abused a surveillance program while carrying out that investigation.

Sessions said that one of his goals as attorney general is “eliminating political bias or favoritism – in either direction – from our investigations and prosecutions,” according to his prepared remarks.

“That sort of thinking is the antithesis of what the Department stands for, and I won’t tolerate it,” he said.

The attorney general said he would identify “mistakes of the past” and correct them “for the future.”

“When we find problems, we’re addressing them head on, not sweeping them under the rug. Much of what we are doing is behind the scenes, but some of it is squarely in the public view,” Sessions said in his prepared remarks.

Despite Sessions’ apparent acknowledgement of bias within the Justice Department, a claim that has not been proven, he said that his department would “defend our investigators and prosecutors from criticism that is unfair.”

“Our goal is justice. All our work is subject to review with certain restraints. We will not reject justified review. Our work requires constant improvement and adjustment, but it must always be founded on integrity and law,” he said in his prepared remarks.

Sessions also called for Congress to be “a partner in this effort.”

“When they learn of a problem and start asking questions, that is a good thing. Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant. Truth produces confidence,” he said.

A memo crafted by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee purports to show that the FBI misled a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court judge by failing to mention that one of its sources for a surveillance application, Trump dossier author Christopher Steele, was being paid by Democrats for his research. (It does not appear that the FBI relied solely on Steele’s information for the FISA warrant application.)

House Republicans have not permitted the Justice Department to view the anti-FBI memo despite calls from the department to view the memo.

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President Donald Trump has turned his frustration with the Russia probe toward Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in recent weeks, even suggesting he fire the Justice Department official, CNN reported Friday night.

Trump’s advisers have so far managed to convince Trump not to fire Rosenstein, according to CNN.

Rosenstein is just one of many top Justice Department and FBI officials that Trump has become angry with or considered ousting. The CNN report on Trump’s inclination to fire Rosenstein helps paint a picture of a president obsessed with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign and hell-bent on minimizing its damage.

Trump fired FBI Director James Comey back in May out of anger over the Russia probes. He was frustrated with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, which led to Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller to lead the investigation. Trump’s public humiliation of Sessions prompted the attorney general to offer his resignation, though Trump ultimately kept Sessions on.

The President ordered the ouster of Mueller over the summer, but backed off when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. The Trump administration has also pressured the new FBI director to fire certain top officials in the bureau, including deputy director Andrew McCabe.

Despite the revelations that Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, Republicans in Congress do not seem eager to to put legislation in place to protect the special counsel.

 

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Two bills aimed at preventing President Donald Trump from firing special counsel Robert Mueller stalled last year with a lack of enthusiasm from Republicans in Congress. And despite Thursday’s revelation that Trump did order Mueller’s ouster over the summer, the bills’ odds still don’t look great.

The bipartisan bills were introduced last summer, when President Donald Trump was raging against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Some lawmakers in Congress grew concerned that Trump would seek to oust Mueller by replacing Sessions, and drew up legislation to protect the special counsel.

But most Republicans in the Senate dismissed the bills, arguing that the legislation was unnecessary because Trump wouldn’t dare fire Mueller.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in November that he had not heard “much pressure to pass anything” and that there was “no indication” Trump was not cooperating with Mueller. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said in August that a bill to keep Trump from firing Mueller was uncalled for “because I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), two vocal critics of the President, said that they were not worried that Trump would actually try to remove Mueller.

However, thanks to the New York Times, we now know that Trump did order Mueller’s removal, and backed off the effort only when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign.

As of Friday afternoon, Republicans in Congress were not exactly rushing to promote legislation protecting the special counsel, even as their Democratic colleagues urged them to do so.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called for Congress to pass a bill to protect Mueller, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) issued a blistering statement complaining that “instead of protecting Mueller’s investigation from undue interference, many Republicans in Congress have stepped up their spurious attacks against the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Special Counsel.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), did tell CNN Friday that he would be “open” to considering bills to protect Mueller but said that he still doesn’t believe Trump would fire Mueller. However, Republican leaders have yet to weigh in on the matter.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), one of the co-sponsors for a bill to protect to the special counsel, now says that its not an “urgent” matter.

“[T]he chatter that the administration is considering removing Special Counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt,” Tillis spokesperson Daniel Keylin told The Daily Beast. “In fact, the president and his administration have spoken favorably of Special Counsel Mueller’s professionalism and integrity, and recent reports indicate the investigation may soon come to an end.”

Many of the Republicans who did respond to the news Thursday night and Friday simply shrugged it off. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) said he wasn’t sure he could believe the New York Times report revealing Trump’s push to fire Mueller.

“There have been so many stories on this particular quote, unquote Russia investigation, I don’t know what to believe anymore. We’ll see,” Lewis said on CNN Friday, adding that the “mainstream” media relies too heavily on anonymous sources.

Former Trump campaign and transition staffer Jason Miller said that the reports on Trump’s move to fire Mueller were “suspect.” And the hosts of Trump’s favorite cable news show, “Fox and Friends,” said that the revelation “screams of a leak from the special counsel.”

Fox News’ Sean Hannity at first questioned the New York Times’ reporting, but when his own network confirmed the story, he argued that Trump had the right to question Mueller’s credibility.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) found the silver lining in the reports and pointed out that White House Counsel Don McGahn stopped Trump from firing Mueller.

“If it’s true, it would be concerning to me,” Stewart told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night. “But it would also show that the process worked, that the people and the organization around the President did what they needed to do and that the outcome was actually the right outcome and that was Mr. Mueller wasn’t fired.”

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After learning about the New York Times report Thursday night that President Donald Trump sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, one Republican congressman found a silver lining.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) told CNN Thursday night that the fact that Mueller has not been fired shows that the process to reel in the President’s instincts works. The congressman largely refrained from passing judgment on the report, telling CNN that he had not read the Times’ report or heard from the White House about the revelation. Several outlets confirmed the New York Times’ reporting later on Thursday and early Friday.

“If it’s true, it would be concerning to me,” Stewart told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

“But it would also show that the process worked, that the people and the organization around the President did what they needed to do and that the outcome was actually the right outcome and that was Mr. Mueller wasn’t fired,” Stewart continued.

The New York Times reported that White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign if Trump proceeded to fire Mueller over the summer, and that Trump then backed off from the idea. Stewart focused on the ability of Trump administration staff to convince Trump not to fire Mueller.

“Maybe the President — maybe he was angry, maybe he was frustrated, maybe for a moment he suggested this. We just don’t know. If he did, his instincts were wrong, but the people around him protected from those instincts,” Stewart said on CNN “And once again, the investigation went forward as it should, and I think the process served the President.”

Trump has dismissed the New York Times’ report as “fake news,” and Trump’s attorney, Ty Cobb, declined to comment to the Times.

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In an interview with Piers Morgan on Thursday, President Donald Trump addressed his decision in November to retweet unverified anti-Muslim videos posted by the leader of a British far-right group, claiming that he knows “nothing” about the British figure he retweeted.

When first asked about the videos, Trump said he retweeted the videos “because I am a big believer in fighting radical Islamic terror” and “this was a depiction of radical Islamic terror.” However, two of the videos have been debunked. Trump also faced criticism for the retweets from Republican lawmakers in the U.S. and from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said that the British group “seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions.”

Morgan noted to Trump that the videos were unverified, and in response, Trump rejected any notion that he would be responsible for the dissemination of the videos since he merely retweeted them. He also claimed that the retweets were not a “big story” in the U.S., despite the fact that major American news outlets covered the retweets and May’s concern that Trump would boost the far-right British group.

“I didn’t do it. I didn’t go out — I did a retweet. It was a big story where you are, but it was not a big story where I am,” Trump said.

Morgan asked if Trump could apologize, but the President stopped short of doing so, claiming that he does not know the group that pushed the unverified videos, despite major news coverage.

“If you’re telling me they’re horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologize if you’d like me to do that. I know nothing about them,” Trump said.

Pressed to say whether he would disavow Britain First, Trump replied, “I don’t want to be involved with people like that. But you’re telling me about these people because I know nothing about these people.”

Watch part of the interview, which aired on “Good Morning Britain” on Friday:

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