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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

After the Veterans Affairs inspector general found that VA Secretary David Shulkin and his chief of staff misled ethics officials about a trip to Europe of the summer, Shulkin told USA Today on Wednesday afternoon that he regrets the mistakes made in the process for approving the trip.

The inspector general found that chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson doctored an email to make it seem like Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government during a trip in July in order to obtain government funding for his wife’s plane ticket, which cost more than $4,300. The investigation also found that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets from someone he met a few times at officials events.

Shulkin told USA Today that he did not intentionally mislead government officials about the trip and tried to shift blame to his staff.

“We act with the highest ethical character,” he said. “I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions.”

He said that he mailed a check to the government to reimburse taxpayers for his wife’s $4,312 airfare and that he will reimburse his acquaintance for the Wimbledon tickets.

Shulkin was previously scheduled to appear before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday morning, and he will likely face questions about the trip.

The VA secretary is just the latest cabinet to face scrutiny for his expensive air travel. This week, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt was forced to defend an expensive first class ticket.

 

 

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More than 100 White House staffers, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were working on interim security clearances as of November of last year, according to reports from CNN and NBC News.

It’s not clear how many of those aides received a full security clearance in the few months since the information on interim security clearances was generated.

Since it was revealed last week that Rob Porter continued in his position as staff secretary on a temporary security clearance, even as the background check process turned up accusations of domestic violence, security clearances in the White House have come under greater scrutiny. House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said Wednesday that his committee would investigate the process used to assess whether Porter should have obtained a security clearance.

Of the scores of White House staffers operating without full security clearances in November, about two dozen started working in the administration in January 2017, according to CNN. Those without a full security clearance include a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council’s senior director for international cybersecurity, per CNN.

According to NBC News, 47 of the aides without full security clearances in November report director to President Donald Trump.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had temporary clearance to access top secret information and information classified as “top secret, sensitive compartmented information,” which means it comes from sensitive intelligence sources, according to NBC News.

White House Counsel Don McGahn, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah obtained permanent security clearances to access top secret information but were still operating on temporary clearances for the “top secret, sensitive compartmented information” as of November, according to NBC News.

Several staffers continued to work on interim security clearances even as some of Trump’s top aides have received their full security clearance. Counselor Kellyanne Conway, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Communications Director Hope Hicks, and policy adviser Stephen Miller all received a full security clearances by November, according to CNN.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday morning that Democrats are working with officials at the FBI to make some redactions to their memo in the hopes that the White House will then approve the memo for public release.

Schiff told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the FBI identified all portions of the Democrats’ memo that are classified and that Democrats are now looking for a subset of those sections that should be held either to protect sources and methods or because of investigative interest. Schiff added that a lot of what the FBI identified as classified is already in the public domain.

He argued that the question should not be over what is classified but what should be declassified due to public interest.

“We’re in good, I think, discussions with the FBI,” Schiff said Wednesday.

Schiff said Tuesday night on CNN that the Democrats will not make any changes to the memo, but will continue to work with the FBI on redactions.

The ranking member said that he suspects the White House directed the FBI to identify anything that was classified in the Democratic memo, though he cautioned that he does not know for sure.

Schiff said that by going through this redaction process with the FBI, he hopes to at least gain “visibility” on any difference between what the FBI wants redacted for investigative reasons and what the White House may want redacted for political reasons.

“When we reach agreement with the FBI, is that the end of the matter or will the white House still put a veto on it?” he asked rhetorically.

Schiff said that if Democrats and the FBI come to an agreement on what needs to be redacted from the memo, he hopes that will at least produce “visibility that if the White House still refuses to publish the document, they can no longer try to hide behind anyone else.”

“It’s pretty clear that the president has no concern over national security information that trumps his personal concerns because he said that he was publishing the Nunes memo without even reading it, and over the strenuous objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” he said.

Schiff also noted that the FBI has not identified issues with accuracy in the Democratic memo, as the bureau did with the Republican memo.

“The FBI has as far as I can tell, has taken no issue with the accuracy of what we’ve written,” he said.

Schiff has been highly critical of efforts by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release their memo alleging misdeeds at the FBI and Justice Department, and on Wednesday he warned that the memo could hurt the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community.

“It certainly will make the intelligence community less willing to share material information with us for fear of how it will be handled,” he said, adding that he suspects the intelligence community already had concerns prior to the memo’s release due to Nunes’ “broadsides” against the DOJ in an attempt to obtain information on surveillance applications.

“The more significant consequence may be that sources that provide information to the intelligence community may be more wary of doing so if they think that our committee or any other on the Hill will not jealously guard that information,” Schiff added.

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White House Counsel Don McGahn suggested to Rob Porter in November that he resign from his position as staff secretary after Porter’s ex-girlfriend contacted McGahn about Porter’s behavior, the New York Times reported Tuesday night, citing people familiar with the discussion.

McGahn did not follow up on his suggestion to the since-ousted staff secretary, according to the New York Times.

Following the revelations last week that Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of domestic abuse in their interviews with the FBI for its background check process, the Trump administration’s handling of Porter’s case has come under scrutiny. FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that the FBI sent reports on Porter’s background check to the White House in March, July, and November of last year, and that the bureau completed its review of Porter in January. It’s not clear just how much top officials knew about the allegations, but reports have indicated that both McGahn and chief of staff John Kelly were aware of the domestic abuse allegations before Porter was fired.

According to previous reporting, McGahn learned in September that Porter’s security clearance had been delayed due to accusations of domestic violence, though it’s not clear how McGahn learned that and how much detail he had at that time. Porter’s ex-girlfriend then called McGahn in November. According to a previous Washington Post report, she told McGahn about the abuse allegations from Porter’s ex-wives. According to the Tuesday New York Times report, she told McGahn that Porter had cheated on her and that he had anger problems.

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The White House put in place a ban on new interim security clearances in November, but allowed those who had already received interim clearances to continue working with them, Politico reported Tuesday night.

A November 7 email obtained by Politico did not spell out the reasoning behind the new ban on interim security clearances.

The security clearance process in the White House has come under intense scrutiny recently following the revelation that staff secretary Rob Porter remained in a high-level position, even as the background check process turned up domestic abuse accusations from his ex-wives.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that the FBI completed Porter’s background check in January, however, the White House security office had not yet completed its determination on Porter’s security clearance, according to the New York Times.

Jared Kushner, a White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has also reportedly been working on an interim security clearance for a year, along with several others.

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Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday that he paid $130,000 to porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, out of his own pocket.

Clifford once claimed that she had an affair with Trump, though she denies it now.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported in January that Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 as part of an agreement to keep her quiet on her affair with Trump. Cohen’s Tuesday statement is the first time he acknowledged making the payment, but he did not say why he made the payment to Clifford.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement first obtained by the New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Cohen made the statement in response to a complaint from the group Common Cause that the payment was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.

“The complaint alleges that I somehow violated campaign finance laws by facilitating an excess, in-kind contribution,” he said in the statement. “The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the F.E.C.”

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Since Rob Porter announced last week that he would resign as White House staff secretary following allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives, chief of staff John Kelly came under scrutiny for the way he handled the allegations.

But Kelly told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he’s satisfied with the way he handled the situation.

Asked if he should have approached the abuse allegations against Porter any differently, Kelly told the Wall Street Journal, “No.”

“It was all done right,” Kelly added.

Kelly reportedly knew about the abuse allegations from Porter’s two ex-wives before the women came forward with their accounts to the Daily Mail and the Intercept last week. However, the White House was slow to push Porter out of his position, first emphasizing that Porter made the decision to leave. As more details emerged, the White House moved up Porter’s exit.

White House officials suggested that they had been misled by Porter, who has denied the allegations in public and reportedly downplayed them to senior White House aides. White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Tuesday morning that Porter’s background check, which turned up the abuse allegations, was not completed as of Porter’s departure, suggesting that the administration was going through the proper procedures. However, FBI Director Christopher Wray undermined that narrative later on Tuesday when he said in a hearing that the FBI completed its background check in January, before the allegations against Porter became public.

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Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter told senior staffers in the White House that two of the alleged domestic abuse incidents described by his ex-wives were not as bad as the women made them out to be, ABC News reported Thursday evening, citing two sources with knowledge of Porter’s account.

Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, sought a protective order against Porter in 2010 while the two were separating. She accused Porter of trying to break into her house by punching a glass door.

Porter told White House aides that it was an accident, per ABC News. Porter said he was tapping the door with his index finger when his knuckle went through the door, according to ABC News.

He also downplayed an incident that led to his first wife, Colbie Holderness, getting a black eye during a trip to Italy in 2005. Holderness accused Porter of punching her in the face during the incident. Porter told senior White House aides that he and Holderness were arguing over a glass vase, and that Holderness was poised to drop and break the glass vase, according to ABC News’ report. Both lunged for the vase, and Holderness fell and bruised her eye, Porter told White House staff, per ABC News.

The Washington Post previously reported that Porter told colleagues that Holderness was somehow hit in the face with the vase when they two were arguing over it.

Porter has denied the allegations against him.

Porter resigned from the White House last week after his ex-wives accused him of verbal and physical abuse in several news articles. The Trump administration has come under scrutiny for how it handled the revelations about Porter’s past. Some reports indicate that top officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and counsel Don McGahn, knew about the allegations before they became public. However, Kelly has told White House staff that he moved to fire Porter shortly after he learned the full extent of the allegations.

White House officials have since complained that Porter misled them by downplaying his ex-wives allegations and denying wrongdoing.

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Now that Omarosa Manigault has left the White House and joined the cast of “Celebrity Big Brother,” she has taken to gossiping about President Donald Trump’s administration.

In a video posted Monday night, Manigault warned her fellow “Big Brother” contestants not to pine for Trump’s impeachment because Vice President Mike Pence is “scary.”

“As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” she said. “I’m just going to say that. So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment, might want to reconsider their life.”

“We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became President,” she added.

Manigault called Pence “extreme” and noted how religious he is.

“He thinks Jesus tells him to say things. And I’m like, Jesus ain’t saying that. He’s scary,” she said.

Manigault also weighed in on the Trump administration’s deportation plans and claimed that she had seen the plan.

“The roundup plan is getting more and more aggressive,” she said. “He’s a numbers guy. He wants to outdo his predecessors.”

Last week, Manigault said that she tried to be a force for good in the White House while working for Trump.

“I felt like it was a call to duty, I felt like I was serving my country, not serving him,” she said, before adding that she was “haunted” by Trump’s tweets.

Manigault was fired from the White House in December for improperly using the White House car service as an “office pick-up and drop-off service,” Politico reported Tuesday morning.

Watch the clip via CBS News:

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Omarosa Manigault left the White House in December, and while it was reported that Manigault’s departure from the White House grounds was dramatic, the exact reasons for her departure were unclear at the time.

Politico reported on Tuesday that White House chief of staff John Kelly fired Manigault for using the White House car service as “an office pick-up and drop-off service,” which is not allowed. Upon her firing, Manigualt tried to re-enter the White House to make a personal appeal to President Donald Trump, and in doing so she set off a Secret Service wire that monitors entry to the residence, according to Politico.

Back in December, reports indicated that Manigault was escorted off the White House campus when she was fired.

Since leaving the White House, Manigault has joined the cast of “Celebrity Big Brother,” where she recently said she was “haunted” by tweets while working for Trump in the White House.

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