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

Aides to President Donald Trump are looking for ways to hamstring and delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to Thursday night reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The reports show that Trump is still fuming and obsessing over the Russia investigation, which continues to dominate headlines almost daily. The President fired James Comey as FBI director, partially out of unhappiness with the Russia probe, precipitating Mueller’s hiring as the special counsel. He’s also openly expressed his anger with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, signaling that Trump is unhappy with his lack of control over its progress.

It’s against that backdrop that his aides are looking for ways to derail and discredit Mueller’s investigation, possibly building an argument for firing the special counsel.

Trump’s aides have been looking into the backgrounds of Mueller’s team for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit Mueller or possibly to fire him, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the effort. They are looking at past campaign donations and clients, as well as at Mueller’s relationship with Comey, per the New York Times.

The President has also asked about his power to pardon his aides, his family, and himself, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the effort. Another source told the Post that Trump’s aides have been discussing pardons amongst themselves.

Trump was recently set off by reports that Mueller is looking into his past finances, and Trump was particularly “disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns,” the Washington Post reported.

Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s outside legal team, complained to the Washington Post about a Bloomberg News report that Mueller’s team is looking into some of Trump’s real estate deals.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

The Thursday night reports follow a Wednesday interview with the New York Times during which Trump voiced concern about the possibility of Mueller’s team looking at his financial records. But Trump stopped short of telling the Times that such a move would prompt him to fire the special counsel.

Sekulow told the Washington Post that Trump wants to make sure Mueller is staying within the bounds of the Russia probe.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow told the Post. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

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After his office announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) published a tweet Thursday saying that he’s thankful for the “outpouring of support” he’s received and assuring his Senate colleagues that he will “be back soon.”

McCain has been out of work on Capitol Hill for about a week following surgery to remove a blood clot from above his eye. The Mayo Clinic, where McCain is being treated, then announced Wednesday night that doctors had discovered glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. McCain and his family are considering treatment options, which may include chemotherapy or radiation, according to the Mayo Clinic statement.

Senate Republicans are working to revive a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare in McCain’s absence, and it’s still unclear when, if at all, McCain will be able to return for a vote on the legislation.

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The Department of Health and Human Services has been using government funding earmarked for efforts to educate Americans about the Affordable Care Act to produce anti-Obamacare online videos, according to a Thursday Daily Beast report.

The report, which cited several unnamed “sources at various agencies and on the Hill,” stated the department used its internal studio to film testimonials of people who say they have been hurt by Obamacare, which were then used to create more than 100 videos. HHS also used taxpayer money to pay for the travel costs of individuals who flew to Washington, D.C., to be interviewed for the videos, per the report. The department posts the videos to the HHS YouTube channel, describing the families and doctors as “burdened by Obamacare.”

The Trump administration has also used official Twitter accounts to promote Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, while the HHS website currently features a banner that sends people to a page arguing that Obamacare has done “damage” to health insurance markets.

Democrats in Congress have asked the government to look into whether HHS is misusing the funds for an effort to sabotage Obamacare, per the Daily Beast.

Earlier this year, HHS also had pulled ads encouraging people to enroll in health insurance plans through the exchanges for 2017, saying that the department would not “continue spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting a failed government program.” The department said at the time that it would return the costs savings to the U.S. Treasury.

As the HHS works to sabotage the ACA and Senate Republicans fail to agree on a plan to replace it, President Donald Trump this week suggested that Republicans just “let ObamaCare fail” and then eventually work with Democrats on a new law.

Read the full Daily Beast report here.


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After President Donald Trump on Wednesday pressured Senate Republicans to vote for a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House aide Kellyanne Conway echoed the President, noting that those who vote down repeal “will be held accountable” in a Wednesday interview on Fox News.

“Any Republican Senator who votes against a motion to proceed is basically saying, ‘we’re proceeding with ObamaCare,” she told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Hannity then jumped in to note that “we’re going to hold them accountable.”

Conway agreed, saying, “That’s right, they will be held accountable.”

She then told senators who have issues with the bill to allow the legislation to proceed on the floor and then offer amendments.

The President gathered Republican senators at the White House on Wednesday for a lunch to discuss health care. During the lunch, he implored them to vote to repeal Obamacare.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you are fine with Obamacare,” the President said. “But being fine with Obamacare isn’t an option for another reason because it’s gone. It’s failed. It’s not going to be around.”

Watch Conway’s interview via Fox News:

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Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, will testify in a closed door session on Monday with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe, Kushner’s lawyer told ABC News and Politico.

“As Mr. Kushner has been saying since March, he has been and is prepared to voluntarily cooperate and provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress,” Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s lawyer, told ABC News in a statement. “Working with and being responsive to the schedules of the committees, we have arranged Mr. Kushner’s interview with the senate for July 24. He will continue to cooperate and appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest.”

Kushner has come under intense scrutiny as the Russia probes proceed and new encounters come to light. Recently, Donald Trump Jr. revealed that Jared Kushner attended a meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump, and Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s son-in-law had already been a focus of the Trump probes, however. Kushner held meetings with the Russian ambassador last year, as well as a meeting with the head of a Russian bank. Federal investigators are also looking into whether Kushner was seeking Russian financing for his family’s struggling Manhattan building.

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During an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, President Donald Trump warned special counsel Robert Mueller against looking into his finances as part of the Russia probe, but he stopped short of saying he would fire the special counsel for doing so.

Asked if it would be a “breach of what his actual charge is” if Mueller looked at the President’s finances, Trump replied, “I would say yeah.”

“I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia,” Trump added. “They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that.”

Trump was then asked if Mueller would have to step down if he looked into the President’s finances.

“No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company,” the President responded.

When asked if he would fire Mueller if he went outside the parameters of the Russia probe, Trump wouldn’t say.

“I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the President said.

Trump also criticized Mueller for having conflicts of interest.

“I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Trump told the Times, describing his reaction when Mueller was appointed special counsel of the Russia probe.

Earlier in the interview, Trump suggested that James Comey, the former FBI director, told Trump about the dossier with unverified allegations about Trump so that he could use it as leverage to keep his job.

“I think he shared it so that I would — because the other three people left, and he showed it to me,” Trump said when asked why Comey told him about the dossier.

“So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump added.

“As leverage?” New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asked.

“Yeah, I think so. In retrospect,” Trump replied.

Read excerpts from the New York Times interview here.


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After most of the Senate GOP caucus trekked to the White House for a lunch with President Donald Trump to talk health care on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senate will hold a vote next week to proceed on an Obamacare repeal bill.

In remarks during the lunch that aired on the cable news networks, Trump told Senate Republicans that he would prefer they repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time and pressured them to pass a bill before they skip town for August recess. Despite Trump’s assertion that a repeal and replace strategy would be ideal, McConnell made no assurances that the Senate would proceed down that path.

“Next week, we’ll be voting to get on the bill,” McConnell told reporters after the lunch. He did not specify which bill the Senate would vote on, but he said earlier this week that the Senate will vote on a straight repeal bill.

Already three Republican senators have said they would not support a motion to proceed on a clean repeal bill—enough to block the Senate from moving forward with the plan. But even though he yanked the Obamacare replacement bill on Monday when it became clear he didn’t have the votes to proceed, McConnell was insistent that the vote will take place this time, saying he has “every expectation that we’ll be able to get on the bill.”

Asked about Trump’s push for repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously, McConnell said that a concurrent replacement would be ideal and suggested that the Senate could vote on either straight repeal or a concurrent plan.

“I think we have two options here. There is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare,” he said when asked about Trump’s latest preference. “I think we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace, but we could have a vote on either, and if we end up voting on repeal only, it will be fully amendable on the Senate floor, and if it were to pass without any amendment at all, there’s a two-year delay before it kicks in.”

“So, the takeaway from what I’m telling you is, no harm is done by getting on the bill. Wide open for amendment no matter what I offer as a substitute at first, it’s fully amendable,” the majority leader added.

Asked if he was experiencing “whiplash” from Trump, who has vacillated several times between pushing for straight repeal and calling for a simultaneous replacement, McConnell chuckled.

“Well, it’s pretty obvious we’ve had difficulty in getting 50 votes to proceed,” he then said. “But what I want to disabuse any of you of is the notion that we will not have that vote next week. We’re going to vote on the motion to proceed to the bill next week.”

McConnell also said that Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials would be on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening to talk with senators who “had some difficulty in getting to yes.”

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In yet another 180 on how the Senate should approach Obamacare repeal, President Donald Trump on Wednesday pushed for senators to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act simultaneously—and not to head home to their districts until they do.

“We’re in this room today to deliver on our promise to the American people, to repeal Obamacare and to ensure that they have the health care they need. We have no choice,” Trump told Republican senators gathered at the White House for lunch. “We have to repeal and replace Obamacare. We can repeal it, but the best is repeal and replace. And let’s get going. I intend to keep my promise and I know you will, too.”

This marks a reversal from the President’s tweets earlier this week, after Senate GOP leadership failed to lock down enought votes from its caucus to move forward with passing a comprehensive replacement bill. Trump has vacillated several times from preferring straight repeal to pushing for concurrent replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has ditched the Senate repeal bill and instead is pushing for a vote early next week on clean repeal with a two-year delay in implementation.

After a lengthy diatribe about the failures he sees in Obamacare, Trump pressured Senate Republicans to act quickly on repeal.

“I’ve been hear just six months, I’m ready to act. I have pen in hand, believe me. I’m sitting in that office. I have pen in hand,” he said.

He then noted that Republicans had no trouble voting to repeal Obamacare before he came into office, when they knew it would never be signed into law.

“For seven years, you had an easy route. ‘We’ll repeal, we’ll replace, and he’s never going to sign it.’ But I’m signing it. So it’s a little bit different,” Trump said. “For seven years you’ve promised the American people you would repeal Obamacare. People are hurting, inaction is not an option.”

“And frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care,” he added. “Because we’re close, we’re very close.”

The Senate has already delayed its August recess by two weeks, but Trump indicated he was willing to keep them in town even longer.

Trump also took what seemed to play among the gathered senators as a lighthearted dig at Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), one of the more moderate Republican senators who was undecided on the Senate repeal bill before it failed earlier this week.

“You didn’t go out there. This was the one we were worried about. You weren’t there,” Trump said, gesturing to Heller, after referencing the opposition to the Senate bill from Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that killed the bill late Monday night.

After jabbing Heller, Trump turned back to his remarks to the GOP caucus, warning them against blocking a vote on Obamacare repeal.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you are fine with Obamacare,” the President said. “But being fine with Obamacare isn’t an option for another reason because it’s gone. It’s failed. It’s not going to be around.”

After issuing that threat, Trump again implored senators to stick around and work on a package to repeal and replace Obamacare. He then touted some aspects of the now-dead Senate bill, hinting that he’s interested in reviving the legislation McConnell has moved past. CNN reported Wednesday that Trump on Tuesday called Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who opposed the Senate bill, and tried to work with him on passing the Senate replacement legislation, even though McConnell already had started on a new strategy.

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The U.S. military unit in charge of support for President Donald Trump has been renting space in Manhattan’s Trump Tower for $130,000 per month since April, even though Trump has not stayed the night there since his inauguration, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night.

The government signed a $2.39 million lease to rent more than 3,000 square feet in the building from April 11 through Sept. 30, 2018, according to a lease the newspaper obtained from  the General Services Administration through a Freedom of Information Act request. The space was rented for $180,000 for part of April, and then $130,000 for each month after that, according to the report.

The GSA redacted the name of the person who owns the building from the lease. However, James A. MacStravic, the acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, wrote in a letter to a Democratic member of Congress that the person who owns the space is not affiliated with the Trump Organization. The GSA does list the owner of the space on its inventory list as Joel R. Anderson, a businessman in Alabama, per the Wall Street Journal.

CNN had reported back in February that the military was looking into renting space in Trump Tower to help fulfill the President’s security needs. It’s not uncommon for the government to make these arrangements, and they did so for former President Barack Obama.

Though the government pays for security for all presidents, the Trump family has proven particularly costly to protect. Congress set aside $120 million in May to pay for Trump’s security through the end of September, about half of which will be used to reimburse the cities of New York and Palm Beach for the high security costs they have seen as Trump and his family travel.

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After a group of Democratic House members on Tuesday penned a letter to Vice President Mike Pence calling on him to fire Kris Kobach as vice chair of the bogus “election integrity” commission, Kobach hit back in a CNN interview Wednesday morning, calling the letter “ridiculous.”

“They allege that somehow I’m not qualified because I’ve pointed out widespread voter fraud in my own state of Kansas,” Kobach told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, claiming that he has found evidence that non-citizens have tried to vote in Kansas.

Kobach also said that Democrats’ concern that the commission is merely an attempt to suppress the vote is a “ludicrous argument.”

Cuomo said that Kobach wants to change voting requirements in the U.S. so that people must show proof of citizenship and noted that some are concerned that Kobach is using the commission to advance his own agenda, which “could be construed as voter suppression.”

In response, Kobach pointed out that the commission is technically bipartisan.

The Kansas secretary of state also defended his comments from last year backing up President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

Kobach suggested on CNN that his comments were taken out of context and said that he merely stated Trump’s claims were “plausible.”

“The commission is not set up to prove or disprove President Trump’s claim,” he added.


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