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

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg about two months ago at an airport in the New York area, the New York Times reported on Friday afternoon.

CNN had reported in April that Mueller’s team had questioned at least one Russian oligarch and searched his electronic devices, and the New York Times now names the oligarch confronted by investigators. The Times gave few details about investigators’ encounter with Vekselberg.

Vekselberg is one of the wealthy Russians subject to U.S. sanctions over Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The New York Times reported that there’s no indication Mueller’s team suspects Vekselberg of any wrongdoing, but instead framed the revelation as an indication that Mueller is looking closely at any ties between the Trump campaign and Russian oligarchs. Vekselberg also attended the 2015 RT dinner in Moscow also attended by former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

Read the New York Times’ full report here.

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Judge T.S. Ellis has been basking in the limelight as he presides over the criminal case brought against Paul Manfort in Virginia.

In between his tough questions and pointed jabs, Ellis goes off on tangents, reminisces about the way things used to be, and jokes about his old age. Sitting in the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, it can sometimes feel as though Ellis is primarily there to entertain us with his quips and stories, until he returns to the matter at hand, prompting the journalists in the courtroom to resume furiously scribbling in our notebooks. Reporters look forward to his asides, as they offer extra entertainment during proceedings that can be dry and complicated at times.

“I reminisce a lot,” Ellis told the courtroom Friday morning as he began one of his tangents during the hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the indictment brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller.

After the attorney representing Manafort noted that he would not spend time detailing the contents of his motion to dismiss the indictment, Ellis offered his thoughts on his time in England in the 1960s. The judge noted that the barristers wore wigs and robes and would not use briefs, instead offering their arguments orally.

“I thought that was a charming but ineffective way to do things,” Ellis said.

Later in today’s hearing, he mentioned the methods used by the British once more, noting that in England, the government would have formed a commission to investigate Russian election interference. Ellis said that such a commission would not work well in the U.S., but that “it sure is less disruptive.”

Ellis also likes to point out that he’s been a judge for 30 years and joke about his age. While questioning the prosecutors Friday, Ellis commented on how long the hearing may last and how long the trial could ultimately take.

“I’m an old man,” he said, joking that the trial could last longer than he could. He then took the joke further, telling the lawyers, “This proceeding could outlive me.”

The judge even made one popular cultural reference that my editor had to explain to me once I emerged from the hearing. Ellis brought up the ESPN segment “C’Mon, Man!” in which commentators mock dumb plays or moments during NFL games.

He used the ESPN segment to tell the prosecutors that one of their arguments about the authority granted to the special counsel invited the reaction, “C’mon, man!”

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President Donald Trump has a new hero.

Just a few hours after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis grilled Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on how the indictment brought against Paul Manafort in Virginia is relevant to the Russia probe, Trump tried to use Ellis’ comments from the hearing to support his claim that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt.”

On the stage at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Trump read headlines from news stories on Friday’s hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the federal grand jury indictment against him in Virginia. He quoted the Wall Street Journal‘s headline, “Judge Questions Mueller’s Authority to Prosecute Manafort,” and the headline run by CNN, “Judge in Manafort case says Mueller’s aim is to hurt Trump.”

“You believe that? This is what we’re up — it is called the witch hunt,” Trump said.

He then started to read the first few lines from the Wall Street Journal’s story, making several interjections to praise Manafort, downplay Manafort’s role in the 2016 campaign, and call the judge a “very special” and “respected person.”

Trump noted that the judge asked prosecutors how the charges brought against Manafort — which stem from his work in Ukraine before the 2016 election — were relevant to the core of the Russia probe and that the judge hypothesized that prosecutors only went after Manafort to secure his cooperation for other parts of the probe.

“I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said.

“We’re all fighting,” the President added. “It’s a disgrace.”

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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — The federal judge presiding over the criminal case against Paul Manafort in the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday quizzed the attorneys representing special counsel Robert Mueller on how the charges they brought against Manafort were linked to their core investigation into Russian election interference and any potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

“I don’t see what relation this indictment has” to the special counsel’s authority, Ellis told prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked several pointed questions to prosecutors during the Friday morning hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the federal grand jury indictment, and he spent more time pushing the prosecution to parse out their reasoning than he did pushing Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, to do so.

At the beginning of the hearing, Ellis noted that the Justice Department was aware of some of Manafort’s activities in Ukraine that led to the charges in the Virginia indictment before Mueller was appointed and pointed out several times that the charges against Manafort were not related to Russian election interference.

“That seems to me to be obvious,” Ellis said of his belief that the indictment against Manafort is unrelated to Russian election interference.

Ellis also hypothesized several times that Mueller’s team brought charges against Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates in order to push them to turn over information on the Trump campaign. The lawyer arguing for Mueller’s team, Michael Dreeben, would not say that Ellis’ hypothesis was correct, but he did admit that Mueller’s team received some kind of information from the Justice Department on Manafort when Mueller took over the Russia probe.

Ellis told the prosecutors that it seemed they were using the Manafort indictment “to exert leverage on a defendant” so that they will flip and provide information on the core issues of the investigation. He said that the indictment is about pressure and argued that Mueller team is trying to make Manafort “sing.” The judge told prosecutors that they “don’t really care” about Manafort and the charges they brought against him.

Though Ellis appeared to go tougher on prosecutors, he acknowledged that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did spell out Mueller’s authority to investigate Manafort’s Ukraine work in a memo issued on Aug. 2, 2017, more than two months after the initial order appointing Mueller. The memo made public by Mueller’s team in its response to Manafort’s push to dismiss the indictments against him is heavily redacted, only revealing details related to Manafort.

Ellis asked prosecutors to submit the full unredacted memo to the court under seal so that he could determine whether the parts made public by Mueller’s team were indeed the only portions relevant to Manafort.

Manafort is seeking dismissal of the indictment brought against him in Virginia, arguing that Mueller did not have the authority to bring the charges against him. In the motion to dismiss, Manafort’s attorney made a two-part argument pushing for dismissal. They argued that Rosenstein did not have the power to give Mueller the broad authority to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” They also argued that even if Rosenstein did have that authority, Mueller overstepped the investigation’s parameters by bringing charges stemming from activities the Justice Department was aware of before Mueller was appointed.

Also at issue is the gap between Rosenstein’s initial order in May 2017 appointing Mueller and the Aug. 2 memo detailing the boundaries of the investigation. In between the May and August documentation, the FBI raided Manafort’s home.

During the hearing, Ellis also quizzed the prosecutors on why they referred some investigative material to the Southern District of New York, an apparent reference to the probe into Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, but did not refer the Manafort investigation to U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia.

“I don’t see the difference,” Ellis said.

Dreeben, the lawyer arguing for Mueller’s team, responded that the Manafort indictment falls within the Russia investigation because he was an official in the Trump campaign and had connections to Ukraine.

Ellis also asked Downing why he was not simply seeking to transfer the case from the special counsel’s office to the regular federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia. In response, Downing said he was also arguing in the motion to dismiss that Mueller did not have the authority to take some of the investigative steps he had taken against Manafort in the case, including obtaining subpoenas.

During a back and forth with prosecutors on Mueller’s investigative authority, Ellis told Dreeben, “We don’t want anyone with unfettered power.”

“We are not operating with unfettered power,” Dreeben told Ellis, noting that the Mueller investigation is accountable to Rosenstein and that Rosenstein laid out their authority to investigate Manafort in the Aug. 2 memo.

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During his streak of interviews Wednesday night and Thursday, Rudy Giuliani brazenly called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in both the Russia probe and the investigation into Michael Cohen, escalating the Trump legal team’s rhetoric about about the federal investigations involving President Donald Trump.

First, during his interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Giuliani called on Sessions to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

“I know the President is heartbroken over this. It isn’t that he’s angry, he’s heartbroken. He never expected this from Jeff,” he said. “The two of them can redeem themselves, Sessions and Rosenstein: They should order the investigation over.”

“I believe that Attorney General Sessions, my good friend, and Rosenstein, who I don’t know, I believe they should come in the interest of justice, and end this investigation,” Giuliani added. “There’s been too much government misconduct.”

Trump himself has long labeled the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” and his legal team has pushed for Mueller’s team to bring the probe to a quick conclusion. But Giuliani upped the ante Wednesday night by calling on Sessions to step in and shut the probe down, despite his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Giuliani then told The Hill on Thursday that Sessions should investigate those carrying out the probe into Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. Giuliani was angered by an NBC News report that federal investigators wiretapped Cohen’s phones.

“I am waiting for the attorney general to step in, in his role as defender of justice, and put these people under investigation,” Giuliani told The Hill.

He argued that investigators breached attorney-client privilege by spying on Cohen. In an interview with The Hill, he predicted a conversation with Trump on the news.

“He is going to say to me, ‘Isn’t there an attorney-client privilege?’” Giuliani said Trump would ask him. “And I am going to tell him, ‘No, the Department of Justice seems to want to trample all over the Constitution of the United States.’”

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Harold Bornstein, the eccentric gastroenterologist who once served as President Donald Trump’s personal doctor, has again graced another political news cycle with his presence.

He jumped back into the spotlight this week with a new claim that Trump’s lackeys barged into his office and seized the President’s health records in early 2017, apparently without prior approval from Bornstein. His entrée into the news cycle led him to spill additional details about his interactions with Trump, including that the President dictated the infamous letter Bornstein wrote claiming that Trump would “be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Bornstein’s return to the spotlight this week also serves as a reminder on why he even became a character in the 2016 election in the first place: Trump is obsessed with his own health.

Trump has long boasted about his physical health, often citing his “good genes” as the source of his physical fitness, success in the business world and his intelligence.

On the campaign trail, Trump constantly touted his ability to stand during long rallies and questioned rival Hillary Clinton’s “stamina,” seizing on her bout of pneumonia during the campaign. Trump promised that his health records would reveal “perfection” in late 2015. Indeed, two weeks later, Bornstein released his letter about Trump’s “excellent health,” which Trump apparently drafted himself.

As Trump continued to obsess over Clinton’s health, his own health became the subject of public scrutiny. As the oldest person ever elected President with a tendency to rant and go on incoherent tangents, Trump faced skepticism about his physical and mental health. He challenged Clinton to release her health records in August 2016, a move that ultimately led to pressure for him to release his own record.

In a publicity stunt built up as an effort to be transparent about his health, Trump sat for an interview with television personality Dr. Oz to talk about his health. Yet he only released a one-page summary of his medical history drafted by the infamous Bornstein and spent the interview boasting about his “stamina” and emphasizing his excellent genetics.

Forced to ditch Bornstein, his doctor for 30 years, upon entering the White House, Trump found a new doctor to stroke his ego. After Trump’s much-ballyhooed first physical in office in January, Dr. Ronny Jackson announced that the President was in “excellent health” and had “incredibly good genes.” Trump was so impressed with Jackson’s performance that he nominated him to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, only for allegations of improper behavior to derail Jackson’s path to confirmation.

Trump has also defended his mental health, insisting earlier this year that he is a “very stable genius” in response to coverage of a book about his campaign and administration, “Fire and Fury.” The scrutiny over Trump’s mental health led him to take a cognitive test aimed at identifying memory loss or dementia as part of his physical in January. The President received a perfect score on the test, Jackson said, clearing him of a significant memory issue.

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Porn actress Stormy Daniels on Monday filed a new lawsuit against President Donald Trump, accusing him of defamation for his response on Twitter to the release of a composite sketch of a man who allegedly threatened Daniels in 2011.

The new lawsuit takes issue with Trump’s tweet about Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, earlier in April. She and her lawyer released a composite sketch of the man Daniels claims threatened her to stay quiet about Trump in 2011. Trump said that the sketch depicted a “nonexistent man” and claimed that the release of the image was a “con job,” retweeting a message arguing that the sketch looked similar to Daniels’ husband.

“In making the statement, Mr. Trump used his national and international audience of millions of people to make a false factual statement to denigrate and attack Ms. Clifford,” Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, wrote in the complaint. “Mr. Trump knew that his false, disparaging statement would be read by people around the world, as well as widely reported, and that Ms. Clifford would be subjected to threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage as a result.”

Daniels’ lawyer argued that Trump either knew his tweet was false or acted recklessly without knowing the truth and that Trump’s tweet caused Daniels to suffer damages including “harm to her reputation, emotional harm, exposure to contempt, ridicule, and shame, and physical threats of violence to her person and life.”

Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump filed at the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York is separate from her lawsuit against Trump and his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen filed in California.

In her original lawsuit, Daniels sued Trump seeking to be released from a nondisclosure agreement barring her from discussing her alleged sexual encounter with Trump. She charged that Trump did not sign the hush agreement, rendering it invalid. Daniels later added Cohen to that lawsuit, accusing him of defamation over his statement suggesting that she lied.

Read the complaint:

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Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has removed language stressing the need to prevent racial gerrymandering from the manual used by federal prosecutors, Buzzfeed News reported Sunday.

Before the section was removed in March, it affirmed that DOJ would support redistricting plans that are drawn to help minority communities achieve meaningful representation, and would fight racially gerrymandered plans that undermine minority voting power.

“The Voting Section defends from unjustified attack redistricting plans designed to provide minority voters fair opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and endeavors to achieve racially fair results where courts find, following Shaw v. Reno, 113 S.Ct. 286 (1993), and Johnson v. Miller, 115 S.Ct. 2475 (1995), that redistricting plans constitute unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” the section read, according to an archived version of the online manual.

Buzzfeed News discovered that the section no longer exists and that the current manual does not mention redistricting or racial gerrymandering elsewhere. The handbook does still mention some voting rights issues, such as bans on literacy tests and poll taxes, Buzzfeed News noted.

News of the change comes a week after the Supreme Court heard a challenge to a Texas redistricting plan that the courts have found to be a racial gerrymander aimed at undercutting Latino voting power. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has sided with Texas in defending the maps.

The Justice Department also removed a section on the need for a free press and public trial, Buzzfeed News reported.

Read Buzzfeed News’ full report on the changes here.

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President Donald Trump called for an end to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner after comedian Michelle Wolf’s comedy routine at the event upset the administration, conservatives and some members of the media.

In a Sunday night tweet, Trump said that Wolf was “filthy” and gave a “weak” performance and that the entire dinner was an “embarrassment.”

He then followed up Monday morning.

Wolf roasted several members of the administration and the media, as is customary for the headliner at the annual event. However, both conservatives and members of the media said that Wolf’s jokes about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went too far. Wolf defended her jokes about Sanders and argued that she was not mocking the press secretary’s looks, as some had charged.

Margaret Talev, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which hosts the event, said that Wolf’s monologue was not in line with the organization’s mission.

“Last night’s program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people. Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission,” Talev said in a statement Sunday.

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Ronny Jackson, who withdrew as the nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday, will not return to his role as personal physician to President Donald Trump, according to several reports.

Politico was first to report the news on Sunday evening, and the Washington Post and New York Times later confirmed.

Jackson will return to the White House medical unit, but will not personally serve the President, according to Politico and the Washington Post. Sean Conley, who took over as Trump’s personal physician a month ago, will remain in that role.

White House spokesman Raj Shah on Monday pushed back on reports that Jackson would not return to his position as Trump’s personal physician.

“Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is currently on active duty, assigned to the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President. Despite published reports, there are no personnel announcements at this time,” Shah said in a statement.

Jackson withdrew as the VA nominee due to allegations that he drank on the job, irresponsibly handed out prescriptions for sleeping pills, and mistreated his employees. Both Jackson and Trump have insisted that the allegations are false, but Jackson bowed out anyway.

Since the allegations surfaced, Trump has attacked Sen. John Tester (D-MT), one of the lawmakers who publicized the accounts of Jackson’s behavior, and threatened to ruin Tester’s re-election chances at a rally Saturday night.

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