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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

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and his wife Candy Carson were involved in the process to select a $31,000 dining set for Carson’s office suite, according to emails obtained by watchdog group American Oversight through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

In an August email about the dining set, a HUD staffer referenced “printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.” Another email to Carson’s chief of staff and executive assistant included a quote for the new dining set, which was originally listed at $24,666. The emails obtained by American Oversight were first reported by CNN.

Carson cancelled the order for the dining set following several reports on the agency’s order for new furniture. In a statement earlier this month, Carson said that he “made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable” and that he was “surprised” to learn that HUD ordered the $31,000 set. When the story first broke, a HUD spokesman said that Carson was unaware of the purchase.

Asked about the newly released emails, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told CNN on Tuesday, “When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles.”

 

 

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced Tuesday afternoon that his last day in the role will be March 31, but that he will transfer most of his duties to his deputy, John Sullivan, on Tuesday.

Tillerson told reporters that President Donald Trump called him early Tuesday afternoon and that he also spoke with chief of staff John Kelly following the announcement that he was fired.

Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will deliver a statement at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, just a few hours after President Donald Trump announced that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would replace Tillerson as secretary of state.

Watch live via NBC News:

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The White House on Tuesday fired a state department official who released a statement revealing that Rex Tillerson did not speak to President Donald Trump about his firing on Tuesday morning and that he was unaware of the reasons for his ouster, according to reports from the Associated Press, NBC News and CNN.

Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, released the statement Tuesday morning, calling into question whether the White House gave Tillerson a heads up ahead of Trump’s tweet announcing his replacement.

Two unnamed officials told the Associated Press that Goldstein was informed by the White House that he was fired shortly after issuing the statement.

The statement contradicted the White House narrative that Tillerson was informed of the decision on Friday. Several reports have indicated that Tillerson was informed by the White House on Friday to expect announcement concerning him, though it’s unclear just how detailed the warning was.

Goldstein confirmed his firing in a statement Tuesday.

“I was proud to speak on behalf of the Secretary of State to the American people and allies throughout the world, and this has been the honor of a lifetime. It’s within the purview, you are appointed by the administration and you are appointed for the time being. That is what is listed on your commission and it is determined by the White House who they want in these roles,” he said. “I don’t have regret, other than you always want to try to do more, but I feel proud of what we achieved and I am so impressed by the Secretary of State. He is truly a great man. I look forward to getting more rest and hopefully winning an indoor rowing competition.”

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President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as secretary of state Tuesday morning was not surprising — the rift between the two had been apparent for months — but it seems that the timing of his firing caught Tillerson himself off guard.

Trump unceremoniously announced Tillerson’s ouster in a Tuesday morning tweet, and the statement that followed focused largely on praising his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

It appears that Trump’s tweet may have been Tillerson’s first indication that he was fired, as a senior State Department official told NBC News.

If Tillerson was given a heads up about his ouster, he did not hear it from the President directly. The Washington Post reported that “Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short a trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.” Post reporter Ashley Parker later tweeted that a White House official told Tillerson on Friday that his days were numbered.

CNN reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly told Tillerson that he would be replaced. Bloomberg News reported that Kelly gave Tillerson the warning on Friday but did not say when Trump would make the announcement. However, the Associated Press reported that Kelly’s warning to Tillerson was more vague. A State Department official told the AP that Kelly only told Tillerson to expect a tweet from Trump that would concern him, without specifying what the tweet would say or when exactly Trump would publish it. Kelly called Tillerson again on Saturday to tell him that Trump’s decision to fire him was “imminent,” a White House official told NBC News.

The State Department issued a statement Tuesday morning indicating that Tillerson was caught off guard by the announcement. Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said that Tillerson did not speak with Trump and that he did not know the reasoning behind his firing. Goldstein was later fired over the statement that contradicted the official White House narrative.

“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” Goldstein said in the statement. “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes that public service is a noble calling.”

Speaking to reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, Trump also suggested that Tillerson had little heads up about his ouster.

“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters.

The announcement that Tillerson would be replaced came after Tillerson broke with the White House in blaming Russia for the poisoning of a former British spy, but it’s not clear whether Trump made the decision to fire Tillerson before then.

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Rex Tillerson will leave his role as secretary of state, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Tuesday morning.

Tillerson’s ouster has been months in the making — the New York Times reported back in November that Trump was working on a plan to replace Tillerson with Pompeo. Trump and Tillerson disagreed on several issues, including on the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. The two publicly butted heads when it came to North Korea, with Trump openly bashing Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in October.

The secretary of state also reportedly called Trump a “moron” after a July meeting and was considering resigning at the time. When Tillerson’s reported comments surfaced in October, Tillerson held an awkward press conference during which he did not deny that he called Trump a moron. Tillerson later told CNN that he “never questioned his mental fitness.”

CIA Director Mike Pompeo will take over as secretary of state, and his deputy, Gina Haspel, will become the new CIA director, according to Trump’s tweet.

The timing of Tillerson’s firing is unclear, with conflicting reports on when and how Tillerson found out that he would step down as secretary of state.

The Washington Post, which was first to report Tillerson’s ouster, reported that Trump asked Tillerson to resign last Friday, prompting Tillerson to cut short his trip in Africa. The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker later clarified that a White House official told Tillerson on Friday that his days were numbered. Bloomberg News reported that Kelly told Tillerson he would be fired without specifying when, however the Associated Press reported that Kelly only gave Tillerson a vague warning about an expected tweet from Trump.

The State Department said that Trump never spoke directly about Tillerson’s departure. NBC and CNN later reported that Tillerson found out he was fired from Trump’s tweet.

“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” the State Department said in a statement. “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes that public service is a noble calling.”

Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, indicated that Tillerson was not very involved in the decision. Trump said that he and Tillerson “have been talking about this for a long time.” However, he also suggested that Tillerson was not given much of a heads up about the final decision.

“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters.

Trump’s announcement that Tillerson would be leaving came shortly after Tillerson broke with the White House to blame Russia for the poisoning of a former British spy, but it’s not clear whether Trump made his decision to fire Tillerson before that statement.

Trump told reporters outside the White House that while he got along well with Tillerson, the two “had a different mindset” and “disagreed on things,” such as the Iran deal. He told reporters that he and Pompeo are “always on the same wavelength.”

“The relationship has been very good. That’s what I need as secretary of state,” Trump said of his rapport with Pompeo.

In a statement released by the White House Tuesday morning, Trump praised Pompeo and thanked Tillerson for his service.

“As Director of the CIA, Mike has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community. I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture,” Trump said in the statement. “He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

“I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well,” Trump added at the end of the statement after praising Haspel.

A senior White House officials told reporters Tuesday that the President announced the change this week because he wants his new team in place ahead of talks with North Korea and negotiations on trade.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY) lamented the “instability” in the Trump administration in a statement on Tillerson’s ouster.

“The instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America,” he said in a statement. “If he’s confirmed, we hope that Mr. Pompeo will turn over a new leaf and will start toughening up our policies towards Russia and Putin.”

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After the House Intelligence Committee on Monday evening released a summary of its findings in the Russia investigation disagreeing with part of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russia’s election meddling, the Office of the Director of National (ODNI) security released a statement reiterating that the Intelligence Community stands by its conclusions.

“The Intelligence Community stands by its January 2017 assessment, ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.’  We will review the HPSCI report findings,” ODNI spokesperson Brian Hale said in a statement.

In the assessment released in January 2017, the Intelligence Community concluded that “the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” over the course of the 2016 campaign.

The House Intelligence Committee said in the summary released Monday evening that the panel concurred with “the Intelligence Community Assessment’s judgments, except with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump.”

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Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) on Monday night indicated that it was time for the House Intelligence Committee to conclude its Russia investigation because the panel has merely become a forum for partisan bickering.

“We’ve gone completely off the rails,” Rooney told CNN’s Erin Burnett when she asked why the committee had concluded its investigation.

“Now we’re just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news,” Rooney added. “We’ve lost all credibility, and we’re going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.”

The committee, which has been roiled by partisan rhetoric, announced Monday evening that it had concluded its Russia investigation. In a one page summary of its findings, the committee said that it found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and that the committee disagrees with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia favored President Donald Trump.

On the issue of preference for Trump, Rooney took a slightly more nuanced view. He told CNN that there’s evidence that Russian hackers favored Trump in some way but that he had doubts that Putin was working to elect Trump.

“I don’t know that necessarily there was a full-fledged campaign to do everything that they could to help elect Donald Trump. I think that their goal was chaos,” he said.

Watch a clip from the interview via CNN:

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President Donald Trump felt vindicated Monday night after the House Intelligence Committee released a one page summary of its Russia probe findings and announced that the panel had found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Trump celebrated with a tweet in all capital letters touting the committee’s findings.

Although the House Intelligence Committee cleared Trump of wrongdoing, he’s not out of the woods yet. Special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee have yet to conclude their Russia investigations. Democrats on the House panel are also expected to pen their own report based on the committee’s Russia probe.

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The House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation is coming to a close, according to a CNN report published Monday afternoon.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, that Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who is leading the panel’s Russia probe, is expected to announce Monday that the committee has finished its interviews in the probe and will begin to craft a report on its findings.

Republican members of the committee have hinted recently that the investigation is winding down, but Democrats on the panel have called for the committee to continue its investigative work and conduct more interviews with witnesses.

The committee is expected to produce separate reports from Republicans and Democrats, according to CNN: Republicans will likely conclude that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, while Democrats will argue “a case for collusion” and note areas that the committee did not investigate.

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