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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

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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President Donald Trump on Friday morning dismissed reports that he sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller over the summer, calling the report in the New York Times “fake news.”

“Fake news, fake news,” Trump told reporters at the Davos World Economic Forum early Friday morning. “Typical New York Times. Fake stories.”

The New York Times reported Thursday night that Trump wanted to fire Mueller in the summer of 2017 and had drawn up a list of conflicts of interest he saw that should keep Mueller from leading the Russia probe. Trump backed away from that plan when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit over the move, per the New York Times.

Several other outlets, including Fox News, the Washington Post, and Politico, followed up with confirmation of the New York Times’ reporting.

Trump attorney Ty Cobb declined to comment to the New York Times about its report that Trump sought to fire Mueller.

The revelation that Trump wanted to fire Mueller follows several reports this week indicating that the special counsel’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice is heating up.

 

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Thursday that he plans to release the transcript of the committee’s interview with Donald Trump Jr., as well as the transcripts of others involved in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Grassley’s announcement comes after Democrats on the committee called for Trump Jr.’s transcript to be released, including Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who suggested that transcripts from the committee’s interviews could “reveal other, and better-founded, concerns about witness false statements.”

In prepared remarks for the committee’s Thursday meeting, Grassley said that he has always pushed for “as much transparency as possible.” He said that he had been waiting for the committee to finish interviewing all witnesses about the Trump Tower meeting, during which several Trump campaign associates met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

The committee was only waiting to interview Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Grassley said. He then blamed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the committee’s ranking member, for scaring away Kushner by releasing the transcript of the Fusion GPS co-founder.

“I had hoped to speak with all the witnesses surrounding the Trump Tower meeting before releasing any of those interview transcripts. But the Ranking Member unilaterally released the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. That has spooked other potential witnesses,” Grassley said in his prepared remarks. “As a result, it looks like our chances of getting a voluntary interview with Mr. Kushner have been shot.”

Bloomberg News reported that Kushner’s lawyers did not decline an interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, but asked when lawmakers can disclose the contents of closed-door interviews and asked if Grassley had seen Kushner’s Senate Intelligence Committee interview.

Feinstein released the transcript of Simpson’s interview with the committee earlier in January after Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) referred Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who compiled the so-called Trump dossier, to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Republicans in Congress have recently upped their attacks on the FBI and Justice Department and placed great emphasis on investigating how the FBI and DOJ handled the dossier. In her statement accompanying Simpson’s transcript, Feinstein said that she was concerned “a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice.”

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening said that he does not remember asking Andrew McCabe, then the acting FBI director, who he voted for in the 2016 election and argued that it would not be a “big deal” if he had.

“I don’t think so,” Trump told reporters in the White House when asked whether he asked McCabe who he voted for.

The President reportedly asked McCabe who he voted for during a May 2017 meeting shortly after James Comey was fired as FBI director. In that same meeting, Trump reportedly mentioned that McCabe’s wife received a campaign donation from former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Pressed on whether it’s possible he asked McCabe who he voted for, Trump told reporters, “I don’t know what’s the big deal with that. Because I would ask you, ‘Who did you vote for?'”

“I don’t think that’s a big deal. But I don’t remember that. I saw that this morning. I don’t remember asking him that question,” Trump added.

McCabe has long been the focus of Trump’s ire. The President has suggested that McCabe is biased because his wife, who ran a Democratic campaign for a Virginia state senate seat, accepted a campaign contribution from McAuliffe.

Reporters asked Trump on Wednesday if he believes McCabe should leave the FBI, but Trump wouldn’t say.

“Well, McCabe got more than $500,000 from essentially Hillary Clinton. And is he investigating Hillary Clinton?” he replied.

Asked if he regrets McCabe’s time as acting FBI director, Trump again failed to give a straight answer.

“You know what, I keep out of it. You’d find that hard to believe. I keep out of it. That’s the way it fell. He’s been there. It’s one of those things,” Trump said. “But he was the star of many of my speeches. Because he got from $500,000 to $700,000, whatever the number was. Got that money for the wife.”

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In yet another change of opinion by the President, Donald Trump suggested to reporters Wednesday evening that he would be open to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients to obtain a path to citizenship.

“We’re going to morph into it. It’s going to happen at some point in the future,” Trump told reporters at the White House, according to CNN. “If they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.”

Trump made the comments in an impromptu gaggle with reporters at the White House who were speaking with a senior administration official about the Trump administration’s proposal for restoring DACA, per Roll Call.

It’s not clear exactly what Trump meant when he said he’d like to “morph into it,” and the President and his staff could easily pivot away from Trump’s Wednesday evening comments as negotiations continue. The President recently rejected a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators that included a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the authors of the bipartisan plan rejected by Trump, said Wednesday night that he was encouraged by Trump’s comments.

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After President Donald Trump said Wednesday evening that he is willing to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team “under oath” in an impromptu gaggle with White House reporters, his attorney quickly clarified that Trump merely meant to say that he’s willing to meet with Mueller.

“He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,” Ty Cobb, Trump’s personal attorney handling the Russia probe, told the New York Times Wednesday night.

The President’s attorneys have been working with Mueller’s team for weeks on setting up an interview between Trump and the special counsel’s investigators. Trump’s team has reportedly worked to set some parameters on the interview, and Mueller’s team has given Trump’s lawyers potential topics for the upcoming interview, which include the decisions to fire FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to CNN.

Despite his attorneys’ careful work to set up an limited interview with Mueller’s investigators behind closed doors, Trump said that he would be willing to talk to Mueller “under oath” in freewheeling comments to reporters.

“I would love to do that and I’d like to do it as soon as possible,” Trump told reporters. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever, no obstruction whatsoever, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team will interview former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon by the end of the month, according to reports from CNN and NBC News out Wednesday.

Mueller’s investigators want to ask Bannon about the firings of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, two people familiar with the probe told CNN.

It had been previously reported that Bannon agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team after the special counsel issued a subpoena to Bannon, calling for him to testify before a grand jury. But CNN’s report shows that Mueller is looking to speak with Bannon soon.

CNN’s report also suggests that the Mueller team’s probe into potential obstruction of justice is heating up, given recent reports about the investigation’s direction. The special counsel team spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week for several hours. Sessions was involved in the Comey firing, one of the key narratives in the obstruction of justice probe. Mueller’s team is also reportedly looking to speak with President Donald Trump about the firings of Comey and Flynn, a sign that Mueller’s team is looking seriously at obstruction of justice.

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About three weeks after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he would exempt Florida from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling, Zinke on Tuesday offered a new explanation for his decision.

Zinke’s announcement exempting Florida was seen as a political move since top Republicans are pushing Gov. Rick Scott to run for Senate in 2018.

Zinke told CNN that he was moved to exempt Florida because the state’s coast is unique.

“The coastal currents are different, the layout of where the geology is,” he said.

He also claimed that he met with Gov. Scott quickly, and not with the governors of other states, about the issue because Scott and “every member” representing Florida contacted him.

“In the case of Florida, the governor asked first for an immediate meeting and every member on both sides of the aisle contacted my office, wrote letters on it. So Florida is unique. As well as every other state has theirs,” Zinke told CNN.

The Interior secretary’s explanation for the exemption differs from his initial comments about the decision. In his statement earlier in January explaining the exemption, he said that Florida’s “coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” but he did not mention anything about “currents” or “geology.”

In his statement urging Zinke to exempt Florida from the drilling plan, Scott did not mention the state’s “currents” or “geology” and merely said he wanted to “ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

However, it appears that Zinke may have acted without President Donald Trump’s blessing. The President was reportedly angered by Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida without giving Trump any kind of heads up, according to an Axios report.

It also looks like Zinke’s announcement did not represent a final decision. The official who runs the Interior agency that manages offshore drilling told a House committee on Friday that Zinke’s announcement exempting Florida was “not a formal action.”

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