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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

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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The White House’s talking points on the departure of David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs secretary shifted slightly Monday morning, with Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications, telling Fox News that Shulkin was given the “opportunity to resign.”

Over the weekend, as Shulkin insisted he was fired from the Trump administration, the White House insisted that he resigned. Yet pressed on his ouster Monday morning, Schlapp did not say that Shulkin resigned, just that he was asked to.

“Gen. Kelly called Shulkin and gave him the opportunity to resign,” she said on “Fox and Friends” when asked whether Shulkin resigned. “Obviously the key here is that the President has made a decision. He wanted a change in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He felt it was time. He wanted more results coming out of that particular department, which as we know is incredibly bureaucratic. And so that is why he moved to make this change.”

Pressed again on whether Shulkin resigned, Schlapp said, “Gen. Kelly offered him the opportunity to resign. At this point the President said it was time to move on in terms of Veterans Affairs. He thanked Secretary Shulkin for his service.”

The distinction between a firing and a resignation could be important. If an official resigns, the White House has the power appoint an interim official, but the rules are less clear on what the White House can do if someone is fired.

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning continued a rant about immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that he started on Sunday, blaming the failure to restore DACA, a program he decided to end, on Democrats.

Trump’s Monday morning tweets echoed comments he made Sunday on Twitter, when he blamed Democrats and Mexico for weak security at the border.

His angry weekend tweets about immigration came after he huddled with Fox News personalities at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, as CNN noted. Trump met with both Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity, per CNN, two conservative personalities who push hard-line immigration views.

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Sunday argued that the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation to quickly because it’s hampering the congressional probes.

“The special counsel was named far too soon. I would’ve much rather had the Senate and House Intelligence Committees complete their report,” Johnson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that the special counsel investigation makes it hard for Congress to obtain information.

“There, there are completely different goals of a special counsel versus congressional oversight. I think, in this case, the most important thing is public disclosure,” he said. “And that is harmed when you start having special counsels, and all the information is, is gathered and is held close and sometimes never disclosed.”

The House Intelligence Committee has already completed its investigation, though that probe was mired in partisanship from the start. The Senate Intelligence Committee is still investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Watch a clip of Johnson via NBC:

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The office in the White House tasked with vetting and selecting candidates for key administration posts has struggled to recruit top candidates at a quick pace due to a small team and top staff with little experience, according to a new report from the Washington Post.

Two young staffers with top positions at the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) have records of previous arrests for drunk driving and assault, the Post reported Friday.

Caroline Wiles, the daughter of a Florida lobbyist, started work on the Trump campaign when she was 30 years old, according to the Washington Post. She originally joined the Trump administration as a deputy assistant to the president but had to leave that job when she failed the background check. She was then moved to the PPO as a special assistant to the president, per the Washington Post. Wiles never completed her college degree and had her license suspended for drunk driving and was arrested over a bad check, according to the Washington Post.

Max Miller, a 29-year-old former Trump campaign staffer, is also a special assistant to the president at PPO. He has previously been charged with assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, according to the Washington Post.

The Washington Post’s report also described the culture of the office as social, noting that it has become a gathering place for White House staff. From the Post’s report:

Even as the demands to fill government mounted, the PPO offices on the first floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building became something of a social hub, where young staffers from throughout the administration stopped by to hang out on couches and smoke electronic cigarettes, known as vaping, current and former White House officials said.

PPO leaders hosted happy hours last year in their offices that included beer, wine and snacks for dozens of PPO employees and White House liaisons who work in federal agencies, White House officials confirmed. In January, they played a drinking game in the office called “Icing” to celebrate the deputy director’s 30th birthday. Icing involves hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, a flavored malt liquor, and demanding that the person who discovers it, in this case the deputy director, guzzle it.

Read the entire Washington Post report here.

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George Conway, a lawyer and husband to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, this week deleted a few tweets critical of the Trump administration.

In one since-deleted tweet, he agreed with a CNN reporter’s assessment that White House employees are hesitant to speak for President Donald Trump because he changes his mind frequently. Conway suggested this issue made it challenging for Trump to find a communications director.

In another deleted tweet captured by CNN, Conway retweeted a Washington Post piece titled “The White House’s brutally dishonest denials on McMaster and Dowd.”

“depends on what the meaning of the word ‘are’ is,” Conway wrote in the retweet, per CNN, a reference to former President Bill Clinton’s grand jury testimony.

Asked by CNN why he deleted the tweets, Conway said, “No reason.”

His wife, Kellyanne Conway, is under consideration to be the next communications director at the White House, which may have led George Conway to cull through his twitter feed.

One tweet about the Trump administration still remains — Conway called the report that Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, discussed pardoning Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn “flabbergasting.”

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