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

When an ethics official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined last week that Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a room in a lobbyist’s home did not violate ethics rules, he did not have all of the facts about Pruitt’s rental situation, a new memo obtained by CNN reveals.

The ethics official, Kevin Minoli, wrote in a Wednesday memo that he only assessed whether the terms of the lease violated ethics rules, not whether Pruitt’s actual use of the space complied with rules.

“The Review addressed the terms of the lease as they were written in the lease agreement only. Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease,” Minoli wrote. “Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the Review does not address those questions.”

The lease spelled out that Pruitt would be able to use one room in the home, however his daughter reportedly stayed in the second bedroom while serving as a White House intern at no extra cost.

Minoli also noted that he only assessed whether the rental violated gift rules, not whether it ran up against other ethics regulations regarding impartiality. The owner of the condo Pruitt rented for just $50 a night is a prominent lobbyist who represents Cheniere Energy, a natural gas exporter. The lobbying firm also had as a client a Canadian company linked to a pipeline project that the EPA approved during Pruitt’s time in the rental.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday lamented the new wave of Chinese tariffs on United States soybeans and other products and suggested that President Donald Trump should have known the tariffs he imposed on Chinese goods would prompt a reaction from China that would hurt American farmers.

Grassley said that he warned the President about this possibility in February and, in a statement, called on lawmakers to help the Americans who will be hurt by the new tariffs.

“The Administration knew that if it imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, China would retaliate against U.S. agriculture. I warned President Trump as much in a White House meeting in February,” Grassley said in the statement. “Today shows that’s exactly what happened. If the federal government takes action on trade that directly results in economic hardship for certain Americans, it has a responsibility to help those Americans and mitigate the damage it caused.”

Grassley, who is often quick to stand up for the agriculture industry in his state, said in the statement that he will address the impact of the new tariffs in the Senate Finance Committee and as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Trump administration imposed tariffs on China in retaliation for the country’s attempts to steal U.S. technologies and intellectual property. Trump, on the campaign trail, was skeptical of free trade, and pulled the U.S. out of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations soon after entering office. He has also pushed to re-write the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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Felix Sater, a former business partner of President Donald Trump and a figure in the Russia investigation, is meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, BuzzFeed News reported.

Sater (pictured above on the right) was spotted by BuzzFeed News entering the committee’s secure work space on Wednesday morning.

Sater’s work for the Trump Organization and alleged involvement in a pitch for a “peace plan” between Ukraine and Russia have made him a figure in the Russia probe. He has already spoken to the House Intelligence Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

He worked for the Trump Organization to help fund the Trump SoHo building and tried to land a deal for a Trump building in Moscow. He went on to serve as an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015.

In 2017, Sater sent a “peace plan” for Ukraine and Russia to longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen while he was working with a Ukrainian politician on an energy trading deal. Cohen then passed along the Russia-friendly plan to the Trump White House.

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In his last public speech as national security adviser Tuesday night, H.R. McMaster offered harsh words for Russia and said that the U.S. and the rest of the international community have not been tough enough on Russia.

“We have failed to impose sufficient costs,” he said in a speech at the Atlantic Council.

He warned that Russia “has used old and new forms of aggression to undermine our open societies.” McMaster offered the examples of the use of a nerve agent to poison a former spy in Britain, allegedly carried out by Russia, and cyber attacks on the U.S.

McMaster noted that Trump expelled Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack and said that the President has offered harsh words for Russia.

“Russian aggression is strengthening our resolve and our confidence,” McMaster said, but he added that the U.S. and its allies must do more to combat Russian threats.

McMaster’s comments came after Trump on Tuesday afternoon claimed that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia than” he has. The President also said that he may develop a good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that it would be “a good thing.”

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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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