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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

The Environmental Protection Agency spent about $3.5 million on Administrator Scott Pruitt’s unprecedented 24/7 security detail, according to EPA data viewed by Politico.

The EPA spent twice as much on security for Pruitt in his first year than the agency did in the final year of the Obama administration, Politico calculated.

Pruitt has insisted that he needs a round-the-clock security detail due to the number of threats that he has received. He also flew first class on domestic flights, ostensibly due to security concerns, but pledged to fly coach after an uproar over his spending habits. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox emphasized to Politico on Friday that Pruitt has faced “an unprecedented amount of death threats.”

The EPA administrator has also come under scrutiny for installing a pricey soundproof booth in his office, renting a room in a prominent lobbyist’s home and giving large raises to two staffers.

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Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday morning that Michael Cohen remains a deputy finance chair at the RNC despite the fact that he’s under criminal investigation.

“It is still the case,” McEnay told livestreaming news network Cheddar when asked if Cohen remained as an RNC official. “You know, there’s ongoing litigation, and we’ll take it step by step.”

She would not say whether Cohen would be removed in the future if he faces charges.

Cheddar’s J.D. Durkin asked McEnay if the RNC had concerns that Cohen is under investigation for possible campaign finance violations given his role in the Republican Party. In response, McEnay echoed President Trump’s claim that federal investigators violated attorney-client privilege when they raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room.

“I have concerns about the violation of attorney-client privilege, and when the Southern District of New York invaded his office, swept up material, violating the President’s privacy, his clients’ privacy, Michael Cohen’s privacy. So that’s where my concerns lie,” she said.

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C. grappled Wednesday with whether key evidence obtained by the FBI against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort should be admitted at his trial.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson spent the bulk of the hearing discussing the FBI search of Manafort’s storage unit. The main issue is whether an employee of Manafort’s had the authority to allow an FBI agent to enter the unit before a search warrant was obtained. Manafort’s lawyers argue that the employee did not have the authority to grant a third party access to the unit. Jackson also asked both legal teams about the search of Manafort’s residence, for which Manafort’s lawyers argue the warrant was overly broad.

Manafort wants evidence from both seizures to be suppressed, which would deal a serious blow to special counsel Robert Mueller’s case.

As previous filings revealed, an employee for Manafort allowed an FBI agent entry to a storage unit where the agent saw filing cabinets and boxes, as well as some of the labels on the boxes. The employee’s name was on the lease for the unit, and the employee told the agent that he placed items inside the unit for Manafort.

The FBI agent then sought and obtained a search warrant and seized the records in storage unit. Though Jackson had ordered the FBI agent who conducted the search to be present at the hearing, Manafort’s lawyers decided it would not be necessary to question the agent.

The lawyer arguing for Manafort for this portion of the hearing, Thomas Zehnle, argued that the employee did not have the authority to grant the agent access to the unit because he only brought filings to the unit at Manafort’s “direction.” Zehnle said that the agent did not ask the employee enough questions to determine whether he had the authority to allow a third party entry to the unit. At one point, Zehnle compared the situation to his recent decision to hire a pet sitter. He said that just because the pet sitter had a key to his home temporarily did not mean that the individual had any authority to do whatever he or she pleased in the home.

Jackson spent a lot of the hearing quizzing Zehnle on the case law that backed up his argument that the employee did not have the authority to give the agent access to the unit, at one point telling Zehnle she was “shocked” by how few cases had been cited to back up his arguments on mutual use.

The special counsel’s office argued that because the employee had a key, was listed on the lease and conducted business for Manafort in the unit, he had the authority to grant the FBI agent access.

As for the residence search, the lawyer arguing for Manafort in that portion of the hearing, Richard Westling, said that the warrant obtained by the government was overly broad given that it lacked specifics on which files agents were seeking from Manafort’s home. Westling complained that the government could search “every piece of paper in the place” and argued that the government should have returned any documents copied from Manafort’s devices to Manafort.

“You couldn’t construct a warrant any broader than this,” Westling said.

Meisler, the lawyer arguing for the government, argued that the warrant was not overly broad, citing specific possible offenses that the government listed in the search warrant. He also noted that some devices were returned to Manafort and that copies taken from devices need to be kept in their entirety to maintain authenticity.

In the Washington, D.C. case, Manafort faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying, stemming from his lobbying work in Ukraine. He faces additional charges in Virginia stemming from that same lobbying work. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena to John Kakanis, an assistant to Roger Stone, Reuters reported Friday, citing two people with knowledge of the matter.

The report on the subpoena to Kakanis, who has worked as a driver, accountant and operative to Stone, comes just two days after Reuters reported that Mueller subpoenaed a social media consultant to Stone.

The subpoenas issued to two Stone aides show that Mueller’s team may be narrowing in on Stone as part of the Russia probe. Stone communicated with Wikileaks and Giccifer 2.0, the Twitter personality linked to the Democratic email hacks, but Stone has denied having advance knowledge of the email leaks during the 2016 election.

Stone told Reuters in a statement that he expects Mueller to clear him of any wrongdoing.

“I sincerely hope when this occurs that the grotesque, defamatory media campaign which I have endured for years now will finally come to its long-overdue end,” Stone wrote in the statement.

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Paul Manafort’s former son-in-law has reached a plea deal with the Justice Department regarding his own case that requires him to cooperate with other investigations, Reuters reported Thursday evening, citing two people with knowledge of the matter.

Jeffrey Yohai’s cooperation with other ongoing probes could impact special counsel Robert Mueller’s case against Manafort, who faces two indictments stemming from his political work in Ukraine.

CNN reported last year that Yohai gave federal investigators information and documents. It’s unclear what information he handed over, but investigators were looking for cooperation on their probe into Manafort’s Ukraine work, per CNN.

Yohai had been facing a separate investigation into his real estate dealings along with Manafort in New York and California.

In the plea agreement he reached earlier this year, Yohai pleaded guilty to misusing construction loan funds and to a charge related to overdrawing a bank account, according to Reuters.

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Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner appeared agitated and disinterested after it became clear that the Russians in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting could provide little of value, according to testimony from those who attended the meeting released on Wednesday.

As the emails previously released by Trump Jr. revealed, members of the Trump campaign attended a meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and several Russian businesspeople with the promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

However, Veselnitskaya apparently spent most of the meeting alleging that she had discovered the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as well as inveighing against the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. sanctions law that prompted Russia to ban U.S. adoptions of Russian children. This frustrated some of the Trump campaign officials in the room, according to testimony from three people there — Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, Russian businessman Irakly Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone, the publicist who helped set up the meeting.

“You could tell that they were not interested, and they were like looking at their phones or like, you know, just looking the other way, their watch,” Akhmetshin told the committee.

Kushner and Trump Jr. seemed particularly irked by Veselnitskaya’s presentation, meeting attendees said.

As Veselnitskaya was giving her presentation, Trump Jr. specifically asked her if she had any information on Hillary Clinton, suggesting he was frustrated by the lack of dirt about his father’s opponent, according to both Akhmetshin and Kaveladze. Veselnitskaya replied that she did not have information on Clinton and suggested that the Trump campaign research it, Akhmetshin and Kaveladze said.

After that, Trump Jr. “instantly lost interest,” Akhmetshin told the committee. As Veselnitskaya moved on to discuss Russian adoption it was “palpable” that Trump Jr. was no longer interested in the meeting, Akhmetshin added.

“You could kind of see it,” Akhmetshin said.

Goldstone said that Trump Jr. told Veselnitskaya to raise her concerns about the Magnitsky Act “to the Obama administration because they actually are in power” before ending the meeting.

And as the meeting attendees left, Goldstone appeared to apologize to Trump Jr., Kaveladze said.

Kushner left before the end of the meeting, and Kaveladze told the committee that Kushner appeared “very frustrated that he was in the meeting,” asking at one point why Veselnitskaya was discussing the Magnitsky Act.

Goldstone said that Kushner appeared confused and asked Veselnitskaya to give a more focused presentation. Veselnitskaya started over with very similar comments, irking Kushner even more, Goldstone said.

“After a few minutes of this labored presentation, Jared Kushner, who is sitting next to me, appeared somewhat agitated by this and said, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Could you please focus a bit more and maybe just start again?” Goldstone said in his testimony. “And I recall that she began the presentation exactly where she had begun it last time, almost word for word, which seemed, by his body language, to infuriate him even more.”

While Trump Jr. and Kushner appeared visibly agitated, Paul Manafort seemed disinterested and spent the entire meeting looking at his Blackberry, according to Akhmetshin.

“[H]e was sitting in the chair which kind of goes back. He was almost like lying there, like, you know, on his phone, and it’s through the whole meeting,” Akhmetshin said.

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Four top congressional Democratic on Friday called out Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for failing to report to Congress that the agency’s spending on a $43,000 phone booth without congressional approval violated federal law.

The lawmakers called on Pruitt to report the violation regarding the phone booth expenditure and to report other funds spent to refurnish his office to Congress as soon as possible.

In April, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the EPA violated two separate laws by purchasing and installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office. The EPA failed to give Congress advance notice of the purchase, and exceeded legally available funds with the purchase, the GAO found.

Upon learning the GAO’s finding that the EPA had violated the Anti-Deficiency Act by overspending, the EPA was required to report that violation to Congress, the lawmakers wrote in the letter. However, the EPA has not reported the violation and has not alerted Congress to other expenditures.

“Several weeks have passed, yet EPA has not transmitted the statutorily-required Antideficiency Act report regarding this violation, nor has the agency fulfilled related notification requirements regarding other expenditures made to furnish or redecorate your office, such as biometric locks and a ‘Captain’s Desk.'” the lawmakers wrote. “We are writing to urge you to immediately comply with the law by providing Congress and the GAO all statutorily-required information to enable our Committees to conduct proper oversight of these expenditures of taxpayer dollars.”

The letter was signed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), all Democratic leaders on committees that oversee the EPA.

Pruitt has faced intense scrutiny over his spending habits since taking over the helm at the EPA. He has flown on several first class flights, installed biometric locks in his office, and purchased the infamous phone booth.

Read the letter:

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday attempted to paint this week’s revelation about AT&T’s contract with Michael Cohen into a positive story for the Trump administration.

Asked if President Donald Trump believes it was a mistake for Cohen to advise AT&T, Sanders said that the episode only shows how committed Trump is to “draining the swamp.”

“I think that this further proves that the President is not going to be influenced by special interests. This is actually the definition of draining the swamp, something the President talked about repeatedly during the campaign,” Sanders said. “For anything beyond that I would direct you to the president’s outside counsel.”

She added that because the Justice Department opposed AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, it’s clear Trump was not “influenced by any outside special interests.”

Cohen’s contract with AT&T specified that he would consult the company on its proposed merger with Time warner, according to the Washington Post. AT&T now says it was a mistake to enter into the contract.

Watch the clip via C-SPAN:

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Michael Cohen reached out to pharmaceutical company Novartis in early 2017 and promised the company help in gaining access to President Donald Trump and his administration, STAT News reported Wednesday, citing a Novartis employee.

The revelation follows Novartis’ acknowledgement on Wednesday that the company signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen in early 2017 to advise the company on how best to navigate health care issues with the new administration. The company claimed that after one meeting with Cohen, they concluded that he “would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated.” The company was not able to leave its contract, so it continued to pay Cohen without engaging with him.

“He reached out to us,” the Novartis employee told STAT News. “With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players. We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

The employee told STAT News that Novartis decided against attempting to cancel its contract with Cohen in part because the company did not want to irk Trump.

Novartis was one of several companies to reveal this week that they paid Cohen through his firm Essential Consultants LLC, the same firm he used to pay porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000. The U.S. affiliate company of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg also reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cohen after the election. Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly questioned Vekselberg about the transactions.

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