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

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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In an attempt to rehabilitate his image as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation intensifies, Felix Sater is touting the years he spent serving as a source for U.S. intelligence officials, according to a Buzzfeed News report published Monday.

Buzzfeed News’ report on Sater (pictured above on the right), one of President Donald Trump’s former business partners and a figure in the Russia probe, details the years he spent as an intelligence asset for the U.S. government. During that time, according to the report, Sater provided information on several foreign adversaries, including al Qaeda and Russian criminals.

Buzzfeed News spoke to Sater in Los Angeles and reviewed congressional testimony and court documents from the U.S. government about Sater’s work to confirm that:

  • He obtained five of the personal satellite telephone numbers for Osama bin Laden before 9/11 and he helped flip the personal secretary to Mullah Omar, then the head of the Taliban and an ally of bin Laden, into a source who provided the location of al-Qaeda training camps and weapons caches.
  • In 2004, he persuaded a source in Russia’s foreign military intelligence to hand over the name and photographs of a North Korean military operative who was purchasing equipment to build the country’s nuclear arsenal.
  • Sater provided US intelligence with details about possible assassination threats against former president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell. Sater reported that jihadists were hiding in a hut outside Bagram Air Base and planned to shoot down Powell’s plane during a January 2002 visit. He later told his handlers that two female al-Qaeda members were trying to recruit an Afghan woman working in the Senate barbershop to poison President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • He went undercover in Cyprus and Istanbul to catch Russian and Ukrainian cybercriminals around 2005. After the FBI set him up with a fake name and background, Sater posed as a money launderer to help nab the suspects for washing funds stolen from US financial institutions.

Sater in 1998 was convicted for stock fraud. He later went on to work for the Trump Organization, where he helped secure funding for Trump Soho and tried to broker a deal for a Trump building in Moscow.

In 2017, as Sater was working on a deal to sell energy abroad from Ukrainian power plants, he and Andrii Artemenko, then a Ukrainian parliamentarian, approached longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen about a “peace plan” between Russia and Ukraine. Cohen delivered the plan, a Russia-friendly policy that would have led to the easing of sanctions, to the White House after Trump took office.

Read Buzzfeed News’ entire report here.

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Porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the professional name Stormy Daniels, on Monday offered to pay back the $130,000 she received from President Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen so that she can publicly discuss her alleged affair with Trump, NBC News and the New York Times reported.

In a letter sent to Cohen, Clifford’s lawyer Michael Avenatti offered to wire the money to an account designated by Trump and said that the transfer would invalidate the non-disclosure agreement Clifford signed in October 2016, according to the reports. Avenatti also sent the letter to Lawrence Rosen, the lawyer Cohen reportedly brought on last week, and the company Cohen formed to facilitate his payment to Clifford.

Avenatti gave Cohen until noon on Tuesday to decide whether to accept the offer and said that he would wire the money by Friday if Cohen agrees, according to the reports.

In October 2016, shortly before the presidential election, Cohen paid Clifford $130,000, reportedly in exchange for her silence on her alleged sexual relationship with Trump. Cohen has acknowledged the payment but denied that the payment was linked to his boss.

Clifford sued Trump last week over the non-disclose agreement she signed, which she alleged was invalid because Trump never signed it. Since Clifford filed the lawsuit, her attorney Avenatti has gone on a media blitz. On Friday, he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he and Clifford just want the “facts to come to light.”

In Avenatti’s letter to Cohen, according to NBC News, he said that if Cohen and Trump accept the returned $130,000 payment, Clifford will be able to “speak openly and freely about her prior relationship with the president and the attempts to silence her and use and publish and text messages, photos and videos relating to the President that she may have in her possession, all without fear of retribution or legal liability.”

The letter also asks Cohen and Trump to allow a “60 Minutes” interview with Clifford to air if the payment is accepted, according to the New York Times. BuzzFeed News reported Sunday that lawyers associated with Trump have considered legal action to prevent CBS from broadcasting the interview.

Avenatti did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is nearly done with his investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice but may wait to publicize his findings until he has completed other parts of the Russia probe, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

Bloomberg News reported, citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials, that Mueller could finish the obstruction portion of the investigation once he has interviewed key officials like the President and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

Trump’s lawyers have been in discussions with the special counsel’s team about the possibility of an interview for weeks, but it’s not clear when one might take place or what form it would take.

Mueller has so far brought charges against former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, though those indictments did not stem from their activity on Trump’s campaign. He has also indicted several Russians for election meddling and secured a few plea agreements, but has yet to bring any charges related to the collusion aspect of the investigation.

Mueller may hold off on revealing his findings on obstruction so that the results don’t prompt Trump to attempt to shut down the special counsel investigation or fuel other pressure for Mueller to end the probe, as Bloomberg News noted.

Read Bloomberg News’ entire report here.

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat down with CBS’ Lesley Stahl for a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday evening, and DeVos repeatedly stumbled as she faced simple yet pointed questions from Stahl.

DeVos is known for her advocacy for school choice, but she was unable to say whether her push to allow students to obtain vouchers and use taxpayer money to attend private schools has improved the public school system. Facing questions about her school choice advocacy from Stahl, DeVos cited a Florida study that she claims shows that the voucher system does improve the public schools that children flee.

“Now, has that happened in Michigan?” Stahl asked, referencing DeVos’ home state.

“Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here,” DeVos replied.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl followed up.

DeVos couldn’t say.

“I don’t know. Overall, I, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” she said.

Later, Stahl asked DeVos if she had visited the schools performing the worst.

“I have not, I have not, I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” DeVos replied.

“Maybe I should,” DeVos then said when Stahl suggested she visit those schools.

The education secretary was unable to say whether the number of false accusations of sexual assaults in schools was higher than the number of assaults.

“Are you in any way, do you think, suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?” Stahl asked.

“Well, one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is one too many,” DeVos replied.

“Yeah, but are they the same?” Stahl pressed.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” DeVos answered. “But I’m committed to a process that’s fair for everyone involved.”

DeVos also said that states should have the “option” of allowing teachers to carry guns but admitted she had trouble picturing her first grade teacher carrying a weapon.


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Although President Donald Trump held a rally for Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate running for an open House seat in a Trump-friendly Pennsylvania district, the President has trashed Saccone behind closed doors, according to Axios.

Four sources who have spoken to Trump about Saccone told Axios that Trump has called the candidate “weak.”

Saccone is running about even with the Democratic candidate ahead of Tuesday’s special election, despite the fact that Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016. Republicans are unhappy with Saccone’s performance, and conservative groups have been forced to dump money into a race for a deep red district.

Trump held a rally for Saccone on Saturday night, and Vice President Mike Pence has also been dispatched to help the struggling candidate.

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