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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

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday declined to criticize President Donald Trump for lashing out at his attorney general when asked about the chance that Trump could fire Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department.

“The President gets to decide what his personnel is, you all know that. He is the executive branch,” Ryan said when asked if he was concerned that Trump could fire Sessions and appoint a new attorney general, who could in turn fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

“He determines who is hired and fired in the executive branch. That’s his prerogative,” Ryan continued. “If he has concerns or questions or problems with the attorney general, I’m sure he will bring them up with him himself.”

Asked if it would amount to obstruction of justice for Trump to fire the attorney general over his frustration that Sessions had recused himself from the Russia probe, Ryan similarly demurred.

“It’s up to the President to decide what his personnel decisions is [sic] and any possible thought that comes from that,” he said. “If he has concerns about anyone in the administration, their conduct or their jobs, I’m sure he is going to talk to them directly.”

After saying on Sunday that President Donald Trump supported a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backtracked on Monday, telling reporters that the President was still reviewing the bill.

“He’s looking over where it stands exactly at this point and we’ll keep you posted on the decision,” Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One when asked about the Russia sanctions bill.

“The President has been very vocal about his support for continued sanctions on those three countries. He has no intention of getting rid of them, but he wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible. Congress doesn’t have the best record on that,” she said, describing the President’s thinking on the bill working its way through Congress, which would impose new sanctions on North Korea and Iran as well as Russia.

Her comments Monday differed from the answer she gave on Sunday when asked on ABC News’ “This Week” whether Trump backed the bill.

“The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” she said Sunday. “We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia.”

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, said on Sunday that Trump had not yet made a decision on the legislation.

Anthony Scaramucci, the White House’s new communications director, on Tuesday morning said that President Donald Trump “probably” wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step aside, but he would not comment definitively on the President’s thinking.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt began an interview with Scaramucci by noting Trump’s tweets Tuesday morning bashing Sessions and asked, “It’s clear the President wants him gone, isn’t it?”

”I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the President pretty well, and if there’s this level of tension in the relationship, that’s that public, you’re probably right,” Scaramucci replied. “But I don’t want to speak for the President on that because he’s a cabinet official, and I sort of think that has to be between the President of the United States and the cabinet official.”

Scarmucci later added that Eric Holder, who served as attorney general for President Barack Obama, was a good goalie for the president. He said that Trump and Sessions “probably don’t have that sort of relationship” but that Trump needs that kind of relationship.

Trump on Tuesday morning went after Sessions for the second day in a row, criticizing him for not going after Hillary Clinton at the Justice Department. Trump also said recently that he would not have nominated Sessions to be attorney general if he knew Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia probe.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) predicted last week that Republicans will not be able to repeal and replace Obamacare, arguing that the law has been in place too long for complete repeal to pass, according to video obtained by the Washington Post.

“Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they’ve not passed this bill. Now, they’re never — they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Boehner said at the trade show ThoughtSpot in Las Vegas. “It’s been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work.”

The former speaker said that Republicans should focus on making tweaks to Obamacare instead.

“When it’s all said and done, you’re not going to have an employer mandate anymore, you’re not going to have the individual mandate,” Boehner said, describing the changes to Obamacare he sees passing the Republican Congress. “The Medicaid expansion will be there. The governors will have more control over their Medicaid populations and how to get them care, and a lot of Obamacare taxes will probably go.”

He said that Republicans’ struggle to repeal Obamacare casts serious doubt in their ability to pursue tax reform.

Boehner also discussed Donald Trump’s presidency, saying that Trump “keeps getting in his own way” and advising that the President stop fighting with the press.

 

Now that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is trekking to Capitol Hill Tuesday despite a brain cancer diagnosis, President Donald Trump called him an “American hero” on Tuesday morning.

Trump’s tweet is especially notable given that during the 2016 campaign, Trump questioned whether McCain should be considered a war hero because he was “captured.” During a July 2015 event, Trump said that McCain “is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

After McCain was diagnosed with cancer, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Trump regrets suggesting that the senator is not a war hero.

“I’m not sure about that,” she replied.

 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will return to the Senate in time to vote on the motion to proceed to debate on a bill to repeal Obamacare after undergoing surgery and being diagnosed with brain cancer.

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” McCain’s office said in a statement Monday night.

Without McCain in Washington, D.C., to back a proceed to Obamacare repeal, Senate GOP leaders would have only been able to lose one member of their caucus on that vote. McCain’s return to the Capitol should make it easier for the GOP to proceed to a vote-a-rama on health care this week, though it’s still unclear that they have the votes.

Republican senators said Monday evening that they had been discussing the potential for McCain to return to the Capitol in time for the vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has scheduled the vote on the motion to proceed for Tuesday, but it’s still not clear which bill or bills senators will take a vote on after they agree to debate.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) on Monday released a new television ad for his U.S. Senate campaign that uses audio of the shooting at a congressional baseball practice that left his colleague and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) injured to underscore Brooks’ support for gun rights.

The 30-second spot, which will go up on air Monday, begins with the sound of gunshots over a black background with a caption that reads, “June 14: A Bernie Sanders supporter fires on Republican Congressmen.” The ad notes that Brooks used his belt to make a tourniquet for one of those injured at the shooting.

The ad then pivots to gun control with a caption that reads, “What’s the liberal media immediately ask?” Brooks is then shown responding to a question about gun control in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at the baseball practice. The congressman affirms his support for the Second Amendment.

The shooting at the practice for the Republican baseball team in June just outside of Washington, D.C. left several people injured, including Scalise, who remains hospitalized in fair condition.

Brooks, a conservative member of Congress, is running in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Watch the ad below:

Over the course of three months this spring, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, spent nearly half of his time either in or traveling to and from his home state, according to an analysis of his travel records.

Pruitt spent 48 out of 92 days in March, April, and May traveling, 43 of which he spent either in or traveling to and from his home state of Oklahoma, according to the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit formed by former EPA officials. The group’s analysis was based on travel documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The trips cost $12,000, most of which was spent on the travel to and from Oklahoma, according to the group’s analysis. Pruitt did put his own money toward some of the travel to his home state, but the EPA fronted the cost of most of his travel there, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

The documents obtained by the group show that for the most part, Pruitt had meetings to attend in the state when he traveled there. The documents do not provide a schedule for every trip Pruitt took to Oklahoma, however.

Pruitt’s travel and use of taxpayer money does not appear to violate any ethics rules.

In a statement to the New York Times, a spokeswoman for the EPA said that Pruitt visited Oklahoma to take care of agency business.

“Administrator Pruitt is committed to serving the president by leading the Environmental Protection Agency; he is not running for elected office. The administrator’s travel, whether to Utah, Michigan or Oklahoma, all serves the purpose of hearing from hard-working Americans about how E.P.A. can better serve the American people,” spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Times when asked about Pruitt’s travel to his home state and potential political plans for the future.

The last EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, often traveled to her home in Boston but paid for her own travel there, the New York Times noted.

As he prepares to speak with congressional intelligence committees this week as part of their Russia probes, Donald Trump, Jr. has added another lawyer to his legal team, ABC News and Reuters reported on Sunday.

Trump Jr. brought on Karina Lynch, a regulatory attorney based in Washington, D.C. Lynch as worked with the Williams and Jensen law firm since 2005, and before that, she worked on Capitol Hill for Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

He will speak with both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees this week following the stunning revelation that he met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign. The meeting was pitched to him as part of a Russian government effort to help his father win the election, and a publicist promised him the lawyer would have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. was already represented by Alan Futerfas, a criminal defense attorney.

 

In a statement submitted to Congress ahead of closed-door sessions with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees this week, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, said that he had four encounters with Russian officials during the campaign and transition but did not collude with Russia.

“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector,” Kushner said in the statement obtained by several news outlets. “I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required.”

Kushner has come under intense scrutiny in the Russia probes, since he played a big role in the Trump campaign and met with Russian officials several times. It has been widely reported that Kushner met with Russian officials during the campaign, though he has done little to publicly acknowledge those meetings so far.

It has also been reported that federal investigators are looking at Kushner’s business dealings and that congressional committees are looking at whether he sought Russian financing for real estate projects. In his statement to the committees, Kushner denied seeking Russian financing.

Kushner also stressed in his statement that he was inexperienced in the world of politics and had been overwhelmed with emails and foreign officials contacting him as a representative of the Trump campaign.

He said that his first encounter with a Russian official was during an April 16, 2016 speech by Trump at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., which was attended by Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Kushner said that he was introduced to Kislyak and three other ambassadors. He said that each exchange with an ambassador went on for less than a minute.

“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election,” Kushner said.

Kushner said that he does “not recall” any phone calls with Kislyak, responding to a Reuters report that he had two calls with the ambassador during the campaign.

He did acknowledge that he met with Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, as was disclosed by Trump Jr. earlier this month. Kushner said that he did not read the full email exchange forwarded to him by Trump Jr. that revealed that the meeting was pitched as an effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign.

Kushner said he arrived at that meeting late, and by that time the discussion had already turned to adoption. He said he left the meeting early because he felt it was a waste of time. Kushner claimed that there was no document exchanged at the meeting, no follow-up after, and said that he did not recall how many people attended the meeting.

He also listed two meetings during the Trump transition period, when Kushner said he was flooded with requests from foreign officials.

“During this period, I recall having over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries. Two of those meetings were with Russians, neither of which I solicited,” he said in the statement.

The first was a December meeting with Kislyak, which has been previously reported.

“During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations,” Kushner said of that meeting, adding that Kislyak wanted to discuss policy in Syria.

Kushner addressed a report that he suggested setting up a covert communications channel with Russia at this meeting with Kislyak.

He said that Kislyak asked him if there was a “secure line in the transition office” so he could send the transition team information regarding Syria. Kusher said that he explained there was no secure line and he asked if there was an “existing communications channel” at the Russian embassy and denied that he tried to set up a “secret back channel.”

“I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” Kushner said in the statement. “I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel.’ I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period. We did not discuss sanctions.”

Finally, Kushner said that his assistant met with Kislyak later in December, and that Kislyak requested that Kushner meet with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank.

“I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the President, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days,” Kushner said.

Kushner said that Gorkov brought him gifts and that the banker expressed unhappiness with President Barack Obama’s policy toward Russia.

“There were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind,” he said of the meeting.

Kushner also revealed that he received an email from “Guccifer400” during the campaign, which he said he ignored.

“This email, which I interpreted as a hoax, was an extortion attempt and threatened to reveal candidate Trump’s tax returns and demanded that we send him 52 bitcoins in exchange for not publishing that information. I brought the email to the attention of a U.S. Secret Service agent on the plane we were all travelling on and asked what he thought. He advised me to ignore it and not to reply — which is what I did. The sender never contacted me again,” Kushner said.

The White House aide also addressed updates to his SF-86 application for a security clearance. He said the form “prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication” and did not include any contacts at the time.

“It has been reported that my submission omitted only contacts with Russians. That is not the case. In the accidental early submission of the form, all foreign contacts were omitted,” he said.

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