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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

Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.

After a local outlet reported that Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) office sent cease and desist letters to constituents, demanding that they stop any communications with the senator’s office, Cotton’s office explained that it does send such letters. His office said they are sent rarely and only “under extreme circumstances,” but it’s unclear how often they are used.

“Senator Cotton is always happy to hear from Arkansans and encourages everyone to contact his offices to express their thoughts, concerns, and opinions. In order to maintain a safe work environment, if an employee of Senator Cotton receives repeated communications that are harassing and vulgar, or any communication that contains a threat, our policy is to notify the U.S. Capitol Police’s Threat Assessment Section and, in accordance with their guidance, send a cease and desist letter to the individual making the harassing or threatening communication. These letters are rare and only used under extreme circumstances,” Caroline Rabbitt Tabler, Cotton’s communications director, told TPM in an email when asked about the reports.

Tabler did not respond to TPM’s inquiry as to how recently such letters have been sent.

Cotton twice said “no comment” as he entered a Senate elevator when TPM asked him about the letters.

A staffer for Cotton, John Noonan, on Thursday afternoon sent several tweets defending the decision to send the letter. Noonan said that Cotton’s office only sent the cease and desist letter to one constituent, and that the constituent called an intern a “c***.”

Activists with Ozark Indivisible published a tweet Wednesday night revealing what appeared to be a cease and desist letter from Cotton’s office. The exact recipient of the letter and the circumstances leading up to the letter are unclear.

The Arkansas Times also reported that Cotton’s office sent the letters to several people, citing a contributor to the Arkansas Times, Bill Fleming. One person who received the letter said that it came after “calling and expressing my grave concerns over his actions and support of this administration’s agenda concerning a wide variety of subjects.”

 

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As Republican leaders in Congress scramble to avoid a federal government shutdown by the end of the week, President Donald Trump on Thursday tried to blame Democrats for a potential shutdown and claim that a shutdown would have the gravest effect on the U.S. military.

However, Trump’s declaration as he entered the Pentagon Thursday morning that “the worst thing” that happens during a shutdown “is what happens to our military” is an exaggeration.

“The group that loses big would be the military, and we’re never letting our military lose at any point. We’re going to fund our military,” Trump said.

It’s true that a federal government shutdown could hurt employees of the federal government, including those serving in the military and working in the Pentagon. A shutdown could delay paychecks for those deemed essential and could jeopardize pay for workers told not to work while the federal government is closed.

However, much of the Defense Department’s work is prioritized over that of other agencies in the event of a shutdown. Active duty troops will not leave their posts, and other key Pentagon employees will continue to work. Some civilian workers at the Defense Department would likely have to stop working temporarily, but so will employees in other federal government departments.

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Ty Cobb, a White House attorney representing President Donald Trump in matters related to the Russia probe, told CBS News this week that Trump’s legal team is engaged in “active discussions” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about a potential interview with the President.

Cobb told CBS that Mueller has yet to formally request an interview with Trump, but he added that it seems likely the special counsel will request one. He made the comments in an interview for CBS correspondent Major Garrett’s podcast “The Takeout,” set to publish in full on Friday.

His comments confirm reports from last week that Trump’s legal team had discussed a potential interview with Mueller. The President’s lawyers are also reportedly discussing strategies for avoiding a sit-down interview with Trump or limiting the interview in some way.

Cobb told CBS that Trump is “very eager” to speak with Mueller and offer “whatever responses are required in connection with wrapping up this investigation.”

He predicted that the special counsel probe should wrap up in four to six weeks, however, that estimate may be optimistic. In November, Cobb said that the probe should end by late 2017 or early 2018. However, he had to adjust his projected timeline this week, as the special counsel team is still conducting interviews.

Cobb also addressed former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s comment in the book “Fire and Fury” that the Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer was “treasonous.”

“I don’t think you should take anything from the Michael Wolff book seriously,” Cobb told CBS News.

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After White House chief of staff John Kelly said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s views on the border wall and immigration have evolved since the election, the President on Thursday morning fired off tweets insisting that nothing has changed.

Trump claimed that he never called for the wall to stretch along the entire southern border and refused to back off his dubious prediction that Mexico will pay for the wall.

Trump did not name Kelly in his tweets, but the frustration in his morning rant was clearly aimed at his chief of staff.

Kelly’s remarks about Trump’s views on immigration were first reported by the Washington Post Wednesday night. Kelly told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting that some of Trump’s immigration policy proposals during the campaign were “uninformed,” per the Washington Post. He said that the U.S. would not build a wall along the entire southern border and that Mexico would not pay for it, the Post reported.

The chief of staff followed up with an interview on Fox News, during which he said he told congressional lawmakers that candidates “all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.” Kelly told Fox that Trump has “very definitely changed his attitude” on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and on the wall.

“So he has evolved in the way he’s looked at things,” Kelly said on Fox News. “Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realms of the possible.”

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As Congress barrels toward a Friday night deadline to keep the federal government open, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that President Donald Trump does not want a shutdown, despite the President’s past comments supporting one.

Sanders also made sure to place any blame for a potential shutdown on Democrats in Congress, who are skeptical of a funding deal that does not restore the protections from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“The President certainly doesn’t want to shut down. If one happens, I think you only have one place to look and that’s to the Democrats, who are holding our military and our national security hostage by trying to push through other policies that have nothing to do with the budget,” Sanders said at the daily press briefing when asked how Trump would feel if the government shut down.

When a reporter jumped in to note that Trump said back in May that a shutdown would be good, Sanders said, “It’s never been a preference of this administration. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now. And again, if that does happen, the blame, the fault will all lie at one place because we’d like to see a budget deal.”

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Former porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name “Stormy Daniels,” told In Touch magazine in a 2011 interview that she had a sexual encounter with President Donald Trump in 2006.

The release of Clifford’s 2011 interview with In Touch on Wednesday follows a report from the Wall Street Journal last week that Trump attorney Michael Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Clifford in October 2016 as part of an agreement for her to stay quiet about her relationship with Trump. In a statement released last week, Clifford denied receiving any hush money from Trump and denied having a sexual relationship with Trump, but she told a different story in 2011.

“I actually don’t even know why I did it, but I do remember while we were having sex, I was like, ‘Please, don’t try to pay me,'” Clifford told In Touch about her July 2006 encounter with Trump.

She said she met Trump at a golf tournament and agreed to have dinner with him. Clifford said that when she arrived at Trump’s hotel room, she was let in by Trump’s body guard at the time, Keith Schiller, who would go on to serve a short stint in the White House. The two ate dinner in Trump’s hotel room and had sex, Clifford told In Touch. She also said that she and Trump met up several more times after their first encounter.

Cohen again denied that Trump had a sexual relationship in a statement to In Touch.

“President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence, as has Ms. Daniels,” Cohen told In Touch in a statement published Wednesday.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »

 

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Updated Jan. 18, 2018 at 12:47 p.m. ET

After CNN reported that Fox News “killed” a story linking President Donald Trump  to porn actress Stephanie Clifford during the 2016 election, the network pushed back on that characterization and said that the network was merely unable to verify the facts in the story.

“Like many other outlets, we were working to report the story of Stephanie Clifford’s account in October 2016 about then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump and a possible payment by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. In doing our due diligence, we were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story,” Noah Kotch, the editor-in chief of Fox News Digital, said in a statement.

Ken LaCorte, the former head of Fox News Digital, followed up on Thursday with a post explaining why he decided against publishing the story. LaCorte said that the reporter did not have strong enough confirmation of the affair between Trump and Stormy Daniels to feel comfortable publishing it, and he argued that “no legitimate news organization would have published what we had.”

CNN reported that a Fox News reporter filed a story about an alleged sexual relationship between Clifford, who uses the stage name “Stormy Daniels,” and Trump with an on-the-record statement from Clifford’s manager right before the November election. However, Fox News “killed” the piece, an unnamed person familiar with the matter told CNN.

The revelation that Fox News and other outlets were tracking down the story about Clifford before the election came after the Wall Street Journal published a report last week on the alleged relationship. Trump attorney Michael Cohen arranged for Clifford to receive $130,000 for agreeing to keep quiet about a relationship with Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a statement circulated by Cohen last week, Clifford denied having a sexual relationship with Trump or receiving payment for her silence.

“My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more,” she wrote in the statement. “When I met Donald Trump, he was gracious, professional and a complete gentleman to me and EVERYONE in my presence. Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false. If indeed I did have a relationship with Donald Trump, trust me, you wouldn’t be reading about in the news, you would be reading about it in my book. But the fact of the matter is, these stories are not true.”

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Nine of the 12 members of a national parks advisory board resigned on Monday, citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s failure to meet with or consult the board in the entire first year of President Donald Trump’s presidency.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” Tony Knowles, the chair of the National Park System Advisory Board (NPSAB), wrote in a letter signed by eight other board members.

In the letter, first obtained by the Washington Post, Knowles wrote that he is concerned that the leadership in the Trump administration has “set aside” the National Park System’s mission.

“I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success. However, from all of the events of this past year I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside,” Knowles wrote.

In an interview with the New York Times, Knowles said that Zinke “appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem.”

The NPSAB is supposed to meet twice a year, but upon becoming interior secretary, Zinke froze all of the department’s advisory committees while he assessed them. Interior has since told the Washington Post that all the committees have restarted, but the department has yet to approve new charters or agendas for some of the committees, effectively prohibiting them from operating.

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) published a blistering op-ed Tuesday night, admonishing President Donald Trump for his constant attempts to undermine the American press and warning that such attacks have an impact around the globe.

“He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with,” McCain wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”

McCain suggested that the Trump administration’s condemnation of violence against reporters abroad has little meaning when the President attacks the press in his own country. Trump’s constant criticism of the media “has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit,” McCain wrote.

“The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens,” the senator wrote.

McCain called on Trump and Congress to protect the freedom of the press, arguing that journalists are essential to democracy.

“Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values,” he wrote. “Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday afternoon made a plea to the Trump administration, calling on President Donald Trump and the secretary of homeland security to reset negotiations on immigration. Graham lamented that the debate over the issue had devolved into an “s-show.”

During a senate hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Graham noted that early last week, Trump seemed open to a comprehensive deal to restore the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program along with some measures to boost border security and change the legal immigration system. The President changed his tune on Thursday afternoon, however, when he reportedly made the infamous “shithole countries” remark in a meeting about a bipartisan DACA proposal.

Graham said that earlier in the week, Trump understood that he had to approach the DACA deal with “compassion.”

“Now, I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back,” Graham said.

Later, the senator noted that Trump was likely watching his televised remarks and asked Trump to call him.

“This has turned into an s-show and we need to get back to being a great country, where Democrats and Republicans will work together to do something that we should have done years ago,” Graham said.

Graham then pledged to help DACA recipients and include in any deal measures that change the immigration system. The senator called on Nielsen to help broker that deal.

After he left the hearing, Graham told reporters in the Capitol that Trump was not “well-served by his staff,” though he would not identify a specific administration aide. He then told reporters that he believes someone on Trump’s staff intervened between 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, when Sen. Dick Durbin (R-IL) called the President about a DACA deal, and noon on Thursday, when the actual meeting began. (Durbin and Graham arrived at the meeting to find two more conservative lawmakers, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also at the gathering.)

“I think somebody on his staff gave him really bad advice between 10 o’clock and  12 o’clock on Thursday. I think the president I saw on Tuesday is the guy I play golf with. I actually like the guy. He’s actually funny. I thought he commanded the room. And the conversation at 10 o’clock was pretty consistent. Something happened between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock,” Graham told reporters.

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