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

Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, on Monday asked the Treasury Department to release information it has on a suspicious activity report (SAR) regarding Cohen’s payment to Daniels.

As part of the hush agreement Daniels signed barring her from talking about her alleged relationship with Trump, Cohen paid her $130,000 through a business he set up, Essential Consultants, LLC. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the bank Cohen used to make the payment, First Republic Bank, flagged the transaction as suspicious.

Avenatti noted the Wall Street Journal report in his letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and that the report was filed to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau within the Treasury Department.

He said that information on the suspicious activity flagged by First Republic Bank would be helpful in the lawsuit, in which Daniels alleges that the payment amounted to an illegal campaign contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign. Avenatti noted that if Cohen’s payment had nothing to do with Trump, as Cohen has claimed, then releasing the information should not be an issue.

“Indeed, if the payment was made as innocently as Mr. Cohen has suggested, there should be no objection to the prompt release of the SAR,” Avenatti wrote.

Avenatti asked the Treasury department to release the report and any related documents by April 11.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller told attorneys for President Donald Trump in early March that Trump is a subject of the Russia probe but is not considered a criminal target, the Washington Post reported Tuesday night, citing three people familiar with the discussions.

Mueller gave that assessment to Trump’s lawyers during a discussion about a possible interview with Trump and told Trump’s attorneys that he needs to interview the President, according to the Washington Post. Though Mueller said at the time that Trump is not a criminal target, meaning that there is not enough evidence to support criminal charges, there’s the possibility the assessment could change after Trump talks with investigators.

The special counsel also told Trump’s legal team that he is preparing a report on the President’s actions while in office and possible obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reported. The special counsel would prepare separate reports on other aspects of the investigation, per the Post.

Trump has said that he is willing to talk with special counsel office investigators, and debate over the issue caused tension on his legal team. John Dowd left Trump’s legal team after arguing that Trump should refuse an interview, while Trump and other lawyers on the team have pushed for Trump to sit for the interview.

Read the full report at the Washington Post.

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President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday afternoon that he has been incredibly tough on Russia and that everybody knows it.

“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have,” he said at a press conference with three heads of state from Baltic nations when asked how he views his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Everyone agrees when they think about it.”

Trump praised Putin effusively during the 2016 campaign, and his presidential campaign faces multiple investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia in its attempts to influence the election. Since taking office, Trump has dragged his feet on imposing sanctions on Russia in response to its election meddling and, on a phone call with Putin last month, suggested a meeting with, reportedly without first consulting his advisers.

Trump, however, on Tuesday declared that he has been tough on Russia, noting that his efforts to bolster U.S. fossil fuel production has had a negative effect on Russia’s own energy industry. He also pointed out that the U.S. recently expelled 60 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s alleged role in poisoning a former spy in Britain.

After repeating that “nobody” has been tougher on Russia than he has, Trump also said that he could develop a good relationship with Putin.

“And with that being said, I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin,” he said. “It’s possible I won’t. And you will know about it, believe me. This room will know about it before I know about it. It’s a real possibility that I could have a good relationship.”

“Getting along with Russia is a good thing,” he continued. “Getting along with China is a good thing. Getting along with other countries, including your three countries, is a good thing, not a bad thing. So I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin. And if I did, that would be a great thing. And there’s also a great possibility that that won’t happen. Who knows?”

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New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday announced that 17 states and Washington, D.C. filed a federal lawsuit over the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the states argue that the decision to ask about citizenship status will not properly carry out the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause, which states that the “actual enumeration” of people in the United States be used to determine congressional districts. The lawsuit also argues that the decision runs up against the Administrative Procedure Act, which bars “arbitrary and capricious” agency action.

“This is a blatant effort to undermine the census,” Schneiderman said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit, adding that the lawsuit filed by several states will block the decision to include the citizenship.

Seventeen states were included in the lawsuit against the Trump administration: New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnestoa, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C.. The cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Sanfrancisco, and Seattle, as well as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, also joined the lawsuit.

The Commerce Department announced last month that the 2020 census will include a questions about citizenship status, which experts warn could discourage some residents from participating in the survey and lead to an undercount of the U.S. population.

Schneiderman noted in the press conference that the citizenship question could lead to an inaccurate count, and in turn change the number of congressional representatives representing certain areas and reduce federal funding to certain regions. The lawsuit argues that the “unconstitutional and arbitrary decision to add a citizenship demand to the 2020 census questionnaire, which will fatally undermine the accuracy of the population count and cast tremendous harms to Plaintiffs and their residents.”

The lawsuit also argues that anti-immigrant policies promoted by the Trump administration will “amplify the negative impacts on census participation rates” from the citizenship question.

The Trump administration decided to add the citizenship question late in the process for developing the 2020 questionnaire, and the Commerce Department chose to add the question despite research from the Census Bureau concluding that such a change to the questionaire could depress response rates, which the lawsuit filed Tuesday also notes. The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to conduct proper tests about the effect of the citizenship question and by failing to offer a convincing argument for including the question.

Read the complaint:

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The publisher of the tabloid National Enquirer on Monday asked a California judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by former Playboy model Karen McDougal over the “catch and kill” contract she signed with the company.

McDougal sold the rights to her story about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump to American Media, Inc. (AMI), the parent company of National Enquirer, and signed a contract promising McDougal fitness columns in the publisher’s outlets and two covers featuring her. AMI and the Trump-friendly National Enquirer never ran McDougal’s story about Trump.

In her lawsuit against the publisher, McDougal demands to be released from the contract and claims that AMI secretly talked with longtime attorney to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, about the contract. She argued that AMI violated election law by purchasing the story and deciding not to publish it, and claimed that the publisher did not fulfill the contract’s obligations to publish her work.

In the motion to dismiss the case filed on Monday, lawyers for AMI argued that the First Amendment protects their right not to publish stories and their editorial decisions about other content featured in their publications. The publisher also argued that it did not violate any terms of the contract when it came to publishing work by McDougal.

When she signed the agreement with AMI, McDougal was represented by Keith Davidson, the same lawyer who represented porn actress Stormy Daniels in her nondisclosure agreement with Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Daniels has also filed a lawsuit over her hush agreement, arguing that the agreement is invalid because Trump did not sign it.

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President Donald Trump and a company associated with his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen on Monday asked a California judge to move Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit regarding the nondisclosure agreement to private arbitration.

Daniels sued Trump and Essential Consultants, the business established by Cohen, over a hush agreement she signed barring her from discussing her alleged relationship with Trump. Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 through Essential Consultants in exchange for her silence. Daniels argues that because Trump never signed the agreement, however, the agreement is invalid. Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, have made the lawsuit a public issue, with Avenatti regularly appearing on cable news shows.

Lawyers for Essential Consultants filed a motion to move the case to private arbitration, hidden from public view, and they argued that the agreement signed by Daniels calls for that. His lawyers also noted that Clifford accepted the $130,000 payment at the time the agreement was signed and did not protest the agreement until more than a year after it was completed. Trump’s lawyer in the case, Charles Harder, submitted a filing joined Essential Consultants in its push for private arbitration.

Avenatti on Monday evening pledged to fight the motion from Trump’s lawyers.

He also noted that the filing did not claim that Trump was unaware of the agreement signed by Essential Consultants and Daniels.

Avenatti last week filed a motion to depose Trump and Cohen in the case. The judge ruled that the motion was premature, however, because Trump’s lawyers had not yet filed a motion to move the case to private arbitration. It may be possible for Avenatti to re-file his request to depose Trump and Cohen soon.

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In a federal court filing submitted Monday night, prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave Mueller the specific authority to investigate former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s work for Ukrainian officials and his time in the Trump campaign.

The revelation came in the Mueller team’s response to Manafort’s push to dismiss the Washington, D.C. indictment brought against him by arguing that Mueller did not have the power to investigate his work lobbying for Ukrainian officials.

Several months after issuing the public order naming Mueller as special counsel and granting him the authority to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Rosenstein issued a confidential memo laying out the specifics of Mueller’s probe, according to prosecutors.

The August 2, 2017 memo attached to the Monday night filing grants Mueller the authority to investigate allegations that Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States” and “committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.”

The rest of the details about the investigation laid out in the memo are redacted.

The memo confirms that Mueller is investigating potential collusion by members of the Trump campaign and shows that Mueller planned to investigate Manafort’s work in Ukraine early on.

In their March motion to dismiss the Washington, D.C. indictment against Manafort, his lawyers argued that Rosenstein did not have the power to grant Mueller the authority to investigate any matters that arise from the Russia probe, and that even if Rosenstein did have that power, Manafort’s Ukraine work did not fall within the scope of the Russia investigation.

Mueller’s team argued that Rosenstein did have that power and used the August 2 memo to argue that Mueller had the authority to bring the indictments against Manafort related to his Ukraine work.

In the Washington, D.C. indictment, Manafort faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. In a separate indictment brought in Virginia, Manafort faces charges of making false statements on tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to both indictments.

Read the Rosenstein memo and the Mueller team’s filing:

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President Donald Trump’s lawyers on Sunday sought to appeal a New York judge’s ruling last week that the defamation lawsuit against Trump filed by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos can proceed.

New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter ruled last month that Zervos’ lawsuit against the President can proceed. Trump had sought the case’s dismissal, arguing that a sitting President cannot face lawsuits in state court. Schecter disagreed with the argument from Trump’s lawyer, and allowed Zervos’ case to proceed.

Zervos filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump in January 2017 over his denial of her accusation that he inappropriately groped and kissed her in 2007. Gloria Allred recently left Zervos’ legal team in the case but said that her departure had nothing to do with the merits of the lawsuit.

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning echoed conservatives in Congress who have criticized the Justice Department over its pace in responding to document requests, blasting his own Justice Department in a tweet.

House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) issued a subpoena to the Justice Department late last month for documents related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation, surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the firing of Andrew McCabe from the FBI. Goodlatte complained that the Justice Department has been too slow in fulfilling his document requests.

In response, the FBI doubled the number of staffers dedicated to responding to Goodlatte’s request and Director Christopher Wray said that the bureau’s response to Goodlatte has been too slow.

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