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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 cable news networks turned their attention away from the scandals plaguing the White House to a deadly school shooting in Florida last week, one White House aide reportedly felt a sense of relief.

“For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” an unnamed White House official told the Washington Post. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

The comment referring to the school shooting as a “reprieve” invited quick denunciation on Twitter, with several media figures pointing out the insensitive remark.

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After special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday announced that 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities have been indicted as part of the federal Russia probe, top Democrats in Congress said the indictment shows the importance of letting the investigations into Russian election meddling continue uninhibited.

The lengthy indictment from Mueller’s grand jury lays out how Russians systematically worked to interfere in the 2016 election by setting up social media accounts and posing as Americans.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the panel’s work investigating Russia’s use of social media to spread disinformation was “vindicated today by the Special Counsel’s indictment” of a Russian troll farm.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the indictment “reaffirms what our Intelligence Community concluded, what our Committee’s investigation has borne out, and what President Trump denies: that Russia interfered in our election in an effort to assist his presidential campaign and harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that the indictment undermines President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the idea that Russians tried to help him win the 2016 election is a “hoax.”

“For all of those who have been asking ‘where is the evidence of a crime?’—this is it. This is the criminal conspiracy. This is what President Trump and his allies have repeatedly called a ‘hoax’ and ‘fake news.’ This is what they tried to cover up,” Cummings said in a statement. “This is what we might never have known if President Trump had been successful in shutting down this investigation.”

He said that Mueller’s probe “is still ongoing.”

“We don’t know what the next step will be,” Cummings said. “We all must support his ability to complete his investigation independently and prevent anyone from undercutting or interfering with his continued work.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Friday’s indictment shows it is “imperative that the Special Counsel investigation be allowed to continue to follow the facts on the Trump-Russia scandal, unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress.”

“As desperately as President Trump insists that the Special Counsel investigation is a ‘hoax’, these latest indictments build on multiple guilty pleas and indictments of several Trump campaign officials, demonstrating the gravity of the Trump-Russia scandal,” Pelosi said in a statement.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) emphasized that the indictment shows the U.S. must work to prevent further Russian election meddling.

“The indictments are also a reminder that Russia will continue to try to interfere in our Democracy,” he said. “The administration needs to be far more vigilant in protecting the 2018 elections, and alert the American public any time the Russians attempt to interfere.”

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In the wake of Wednesday’s deadly shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, lawmakers were faced with questions as to how they will prevent future tragedies.

As is typical, conservatives are bending over backward to avoid proposing gun control measures, and have instead claimed that it’s “not the time to jump to some conclusion” and argued that gun control laws won’t prevent every tragedy.

In their contortionist dance around the subject of gun control, conservatives have also offered up alternative proposals for preventing such tragedies, some vague, some impossible and some downright bizarre.

Below are some of the worst proposals conservatives have come up with this week:

Monitor ‘all of the social media’

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who is running to challenge Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for his seat, on Thursday morning rebuffed Fox Business host Stuart Varney’s calls for tighter restrictions on who can buy guns and instead proposed a way to track social media platforms for hints that somebody could become violent.

“We’ve got to come up with a model that starts to look over all of the social media and pick up these issues, and then says, ‘Hey we got a problem.’ That’s probably going to be the next best invention coming forward because that is a necessary thing for our country,” Renacci said.

He did not specify what such a monitoring service would look for or how it would alert authorities to those “issues.”

The FBI said on Thursday that it investigated a comment posted by a YouTube user who used the same name as Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman in Wednesday’s shooting, but was unable to identify him.

Report disturbing behavior

President Donald Trump on Thursday called for people to “report” when others show “signs” that they are “mentally disturbed,” but did not define criteria for those behavior or propose a specific law or regulation to parlay such reports into action.

The FBI on Friday acknowledged that it received a tip from somebody concerned about Cruz’s gun ownership and “erratic behavior,” but said officials did not take the appropriate steps to follow up on the tip.

Arm teachers — even if it’s just with a slingshot

Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano on Thursday suggested that teachers should be trained to respond to active shooters and armed — even by the most generous definition.

“The only way to stop this is by superior fire power,” Napolitano said on Fox Business.

On “Fox and Friends,” he also claimed, “You could stop a person with an AR-16 with a slingshot if you know how to use it.”

 

Restrict access to schools

In an interview Thursday morning on Fox Business, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) on Thursday proposed better monitoring the entrances and exits at schools and said that limiting access to schools would help prevent mass shootings.

“We should quit allowing our schools to be soft targets,” he said.

Mullin said that while he does not oppose arming some teachers, they should have to go through the same training that law enforcement officials complete.

 

Keep guns in lockboxes

On his radio show on Wednesday, Sean Hannity pitched a specific brand of lockbox that he claimed would help people be “responsible gun owners.”

“Go to LibertySafe.com. They have fingerprint handgun safes that open in a second. It’s — you can’t get to it any quicker, and you know, put ’em strategically, locate them throughout your house,” Hannity said.

Hold more hearings

Perhaps the most vague proposal came from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who simply said that Congress should hold hearings on mass shootings — but did not specify what issues lawmakers should focus on or what kind of legislation they should propose.

“Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues. And we’ve seen lots of discussion about this every time we’ve had another incident,” she told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday.

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A report out from the New Yorker Friday morning about President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with model Karen McDougal more than a decade ago shows how Trump’s allies paid women who had affairs with him to stay silent.

Trump and McDougal began an affair in 2006 after he met her at a party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, where he taped an episode of “The Apprentice,” according to notes about their relationship the New Yorker obtained from McDougal.

McDougal’s account of her affair with Trump is strikingly similar to reports about Trump’s affair with porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the screen name Stormy Daniels.

According to McDougal’s and Clifford’s accounts, Trump pursued both women while married to Melania Trump, and both women met up with him in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos alleged in 2016 that Trump inappropriately kissed and groped her at the same hotel years earlier.)

His allies also arranged payments to both McDougal and Clifford in exchange for their silence, according to reports, and the same lawyer — Keith Davidson — represented both women.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 as part of an agreement for her to keep quiet about her relationship with Trump. Cohen on Wednesday confirmed that he made a payment in that amount to Clifford, though he would not say why.

According to the New Yorker’s report, American Media, Inc. (AMI), the company that owns the Trump-friendly National Enquirer, purchased the rights to McDougal’s story — for $150,000, as the Wall Street Journal reported in November 2016 — but has yet to run her account.

McDougal told the New Yorker that Davidson represented her when she sold the rights to her story to AMI, and said he encouraged her to sign the deal. McDougal said that she now regrets signing the contract, in which AMI promised to feature her on two covers and publish regular columns by McDougal about fitness.

“It took my rights away,” she told the New Yorker. “At this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. I’m afraid to even mention his name.”

McDougal said that she did not fully understand the contract when she signed it. According to emails obtained by the New Yorker, Davidson pushed her to sign the deal to get things “wrapped up.” She also told the New Yorker that AMI has not upheld its commitment to publish her columns regularly, though AMI contended that McDougal did not submit the promised columns.

Trump has denied that he had an affair with either woman. A White House official in January told the Wall Street Journal that allegations of an affair between Trump and Clifford were “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.” Cohen in January also said that Trump “vehemently” denied having a sexual relationship with Clifford.

A White House spokesperson told the New Yorker that McDougal’s account was “fake news,” and said, “The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”

Read the New Yorker’s full report here.

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Mitt Romney on Friday morning officially announced that he would run for the open Senate seat representing Utah that retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will vacate at the end of the year.

Romney’s announcement was expected this week, but was delayed by a day following a deadly school shooting in Florida.

In his campaign launch video, the former Republican presidential nominee mentioned his work for the 2002 Olympics in Utah and touted the state’s government.

“Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington,” Romney says in the video, noting that Utah has balanced its budget. “Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

Romney, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, has been considering running for Senate since last year, and he has received Hatch’s blessing to run.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began flying first class in May when his security team determined that it would help him avoid confrontations, Henry Barnet, the director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico on Thursday.

Barnet said that Pruitt “was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth.” He did not say what incident in May prompted the switch in protocol, but he offered an example from October.

Someone approached Pruitt and said, “‘Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment,’ those sort of terms,” Barnet told Politico.

Barnet said that Pruitt’s team leader determined that flying first class would help Pruitt avoid any confrontations.

“The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,” Barnet told Politico. “We felt that based on the recommendation from the team leader, the special agent in charge, that it would be better suited to have him in business or first class, away from close proximity from those individuals who were approaching him and being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth.”

Pruitt has faced an uptick in threats from previous EPA administrators, but none of those threats were related to air travel, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General told Politico.

The EPA administrator has come under scrutiny for taking several first class flights, some on short trips up and down the east coast, and another flight across the Atlantic. He is one of several Trump cabinet officials who have taken several first class or non-commercial flights during their short tenure.

Pruitt has also stepped up his security compared to past EPA administrators and is accompanied by a 24/7 security detail.

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After three different plans to restore DACA protections failed in the Senate on Thursday, the White House tried to blame Democrats for the chamber’s inability to agree on a proposal.

“Today, the Schumer Democrats in the Senate demonstrated again that they are not serious about DACA, they are not serious about immigration reform, and they are not serious about homeland security. They filibustered a proposal with an extremely generous path to citizenship because it also contained reforms that secured our border and secured our immigration system,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday night.

Though the White House blamed Democrats for the failure of the legislation Trump favored, a bill Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sponsored that made significant cuts to legal immigration, that bill failed by a 39-60 vote and did not gain the support of all Republicans in the Senate.

Other pieces of legislation with bipartisan support came closer to passing the Senate, but the White House came out strongly against those bills. The White House actually lobbied Republican senators to oppose a bipartisan plan that did not address the visa lottery system.

The Republicans who backed the bipartisan plan that came closest to passing the Senate on Thursday tore into the Trump administration for lobbying against their bill.

“This is the President’s own plan. Unfortunately this administration has resorted to spreading a lot of misinformation about the bill, and that makes it harder,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters after the bill failed in the Senate.

Though Republicans were involved in crafting the bipartisan bills opposed by the Trump administration, the White House claimed that Democrats who voted against the hard-line immigration bill backed by Trump were “radical” and part of an “open border fringe.”

“The Administration will continue advocating for an immigration package that includes border security, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and a reasonable DACA solution—a proposal Americans support overwhelmingly,” Sanders said in the statement. “And while radical Schumer Democrats align themselves with the open border fringe, the Trump Administration will continue advocating for the American people. The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman McCaul.”

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In a change of heart, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) will announce on Friday that he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, challenging Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the Bismarck Tribune reported Thursday.

The paper cited a person close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who spoke to Cramer about the race.

The news would be a boost for the GOP as it seeks to maintain control of the Senate this fall. It currently holds a 51-49 edge.

Cramer’s apparent reversal came only about one month after he confirmed that he would not run and would instead run for re-election in the House.

The congressman had been Republicans’ favorite candidate to challenge Heitkamp, and his decision not to run had been a blow to the GOP’s chances to flip the Senate seat. Cramer is an ally of President Donald Trump, who carried North Dakota 63 to 27 in 2016.

Both Trump and McConnell had urged Cramer to run for the Senate, and it appears McConnell made another appeal since Cramer passed on the race.

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Under fire over reports that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took several first class flights using taxpayer money, the agency defended the flights on Tuesday by claiming that Pruitt had a “blanket waiver” to fly first class for security reasons, only to walk back that claim the next day.

Several reports this week revealed that Pruitt flew first class on flights from Washington, D.C. to Boston and Washington, D.C. to New York, as well as on an Emirates flight from Milan, Italy, to Washington, D.C. Pruitt said on Tuesday that he felt he had to fly first class due to the “level of threat” he faces on planes. EPA Spokesman Jahan Wilcox also said Tuesday that Pruitt had a “blanket waiver” to do so.

However, when Politico pointed out that rules prohibit blanket waivers, Wilcox changed his statement and said that the EPA submits waivers each time Pruitt needs one.

“As such, for every trip Administrator Pruitt submits a waiver to fly in either first or business class,” Wilcox said in a statement to Politico.

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After Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) criticizing the senator’s criminal justice legislation, Grassley tore into the attorney general in a tweet and several interviews.

Grassley followed up in interviews with Politico and Bloomberg News explaining his ire toward Sessions. Grassley told Bloomberg News that he was especially angry with Sessions’ letter considering how much support he gave Sessions through his nomination process and the Russia investigation.

“I think it’s legitimate to be incensed and I resent it, because of what I’ve done for him. He had a tough nomination, a tough hearing in my committee,” Grassley told Bloomberg News.

“They wanted to call him back every other day for additional hearings about his Russian connection, and I shut them off of that until we had the normal oversight hearing in October I believe it was, see? And the President was going to fire him, and I backed him, you know? So why wouldn’t I be irritated?” he added.

In his letter to Grassley, Sessions claimed that the criminal justice bill Grassley worked on with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) would “reduce sentences for a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.” The bill is expected to pass the Judiciary Committee Thursday, but faces tough odds after that.

The bill would give judges more room to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, but the legislation also bolsters punishment for other crimes, such as for those involved in crimes related to the trafficking of opioids.

Grassley complained that Sessions was acting like a senator, not an attorney general by sending the letter.

“It’s Senator Sessions talking, not a person whose job it is to execute law, and quite frankly I’m very incensed,” he told Politico.

Grassley told Politico that if Sessions wanted to undermine the legislation, he “should have done what people suggested to him before: resign from attorney general and run for the Senate in Alabama again.”

He told Bloomberg News that he pitched his bill to the White House, with limited success, but that he feels unsupported by Sessions and President Donald Trump.

“I’ve got people in the White House sympathetic to it but feel corralled by Sessions and a president that hasn’t dug into it,” Grassley said.

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