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

Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner appeared agitated and disinterested after it became clear that the Russians in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting could provide little of value, according to testimony from those who attended the meeting released on Wednesday.

As the emails previously released by Trump Jr. revealed, members of the Trump campaign attended a meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and several Russian businesspeople with the promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

However, Veselnitskaya apparently spent most of the meeting alleging that she had discovered the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as well as inveighing against the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. sanctions law that prompted Russia to ban U.S. adoptions of Russian children. This frustrated some of the Trump campaign officials in the room, according to testimony from three people there — Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, Russian businessman Irakly Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone, the publicist who helped set up the meeting.

“You could tell that they were not interested, and they were like looking at their phones or like, you know, just looking the other way, their watch,” Akhmetshin told the committee.

Kushner and Trump Jr. seemed particularly irked by Veselnitskaya’s presentation, meeting attendees said.

As Veselnitskaya was giving her presentation, Trump Jr. specifically asked her if she had any information on Hillary Clinton, suggesting he was frustrated by the lack of dirt about his father’s opponent, according to both Akhmetshin and Kaveladze. Veselnitskaya replied that she did not have information on Clinton and suggested that the Trump campaign research it, Akhmetshin and Kaveladze said.

After that, Trump Jr. “instantly lost interest,” Akhmetshin told the committee. As Veselnitskaya moved on to discuss Russian adoption it was “palpable” that Trump Jr. was no longer interested in the meeting, Akhmetshin added.

“You could kind of see it,” Akhmetshin said.

Goldstone said that Trump Jr. told Veselnitskaya to raise her concerns about the Magnitsky Act “to the Obama administration because they actually are in power” before ending the meeting.

And as the meeting attendees left, Goldstone appeared to apologize to Trump Jr., Kaveladze said.

Kushner left before the end of the meeting, and Kaveladze told the committee that Kushner appeared “very frustrated that he was in the meeting,” asking at one point why Veselnitskaya was discussing the Magnitsky Act.

Goldstone said that Kushner appeared confused and asked Veselnitskaya to give a more focused presentation. Veselnitskaya started over with very similar comments, irking Kushner even more, Goldstone said.

“After a few minutes of this labored presentation, Jared Kushner, who is sitting next to me, appeared somewhat agitated by this and said, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Could you please focus a bit more and maybe just start again?” Goldstone said in his testimony. “And I recall that she began the presentation exactly where she had begun it last time, almost word for word, which seemed, by his body language, to infuriate him even more.”

While Trump Jr. and Kushner appeared visibly agitated, Paul Manafort seemed disinterested and spent the entire meeting looking at his Blackberry, according to Akhmetshin.

“[H]e was sitting in the chair which kind of goes back. He was almost like lying there, like, you know, on his phone, and it’s through the whole meeting,” Akhmetshin said.

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Four top congressional Democratic on Friday called out Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for failing to report to Congress that the agency’s spending on a $43,000 phone booth without congressional approval violated federal law.

The lawmakers called on Pruitt to report the violation regarding the phone booth expenditure and to report other funds spent to refurnish his office to Congress as soon as possible.

In April, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the EPA violated two separate laws by purchasing and installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office. The EPA failed to give Congress advance notice of the purchase, and exceeded legally available funds with the purchase, the GAO found.

Upon learning the GAO’s finding that the EPA had violated the Anti-Deficiency Act by overspending, the EPA was required to report that violation to Congress, the lawmakers wrote in the letter. However, the EPA has not reported the violation and has not alerted Congress to other expenditures.

“Several weeks have passed, yet EPA has not transmitted the statutorily-required Antideficiency Act report regarding this violation, nor has the agency fulfilled related notification requirements regarding other expenditures made to furnish or redecorate your office, such as biometric locks and a ‘Captain’s Desk.'” the lawmakers wrote. “We are writing to urge you to immediately comply with the law by providing Congress and the GAO all statutorily-required information to enable our Committees to conduct proper oversight of these expenditures of taxpayer dollars.”

The letter was signed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), all Democratic leaders on committees that oversee the EPA.

Pruitt has faced intense scrutiny over his spending habits since taking over the helm at the EPA. He has flown on several first class flights, installed biometric locks in his office, and purchased the infamous phone booth.

Read the letter:

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday attempted to paint this week’s revelation about AT&T’s contract with Michael Cohen into a positive story for the Trump administration.

Asked if President Donald Trump believes it was a mistake for Cohen to advise AT&T, Sanders said that the episode only shows how committed Trump is to “draining the swamp.”

“I think that this further proves that the President is not going to be influenced by special interests. This is actually the definition of draining the swamp, something the President talked about repeatedly during the campaign,” Sanders said. “For anything beyond that I would direct you to the president’s outside counsel.”

She added that because the Justice Department opposed AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, it’s clear Trump was not “influenced by any outside special interests.”

Cohen’s contract with AT&T specified that he would consult the company on its proposed merger with Time warner, according to the Washington Post. AT&T now says it was a mistake to enter into the contract.

Watch the clip via C-SPAN:

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Michael Cohen reached out to pharmaceutical company Novartis in early 2017 and promised the company help in gaining access to President Donald Trump and his administration, STAT News reported Wednesday, citing a Novartis employee.

The revelation follows Novartis’ acknowledgement on Wednesday that the company signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen in early 2017 to advise the company on how best to navigate health care issues with the new administration. The company claimed that after one meeting with Cohen, they concluded that he “would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated.” The company was not able to leave its contract, so it continued to pay Cohen without engaging with him.

“He reached out to us,” the Novartis employee told STAT News. “With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players. We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

The employee told STAT News that Novartis decided against attempting to cancel its contract with Cohen in part because the company did not want to irk Trump.

Novartis was one of several companies to reveal this week that they paid Cohen through his firm Essential Consultants LLC, the same firm he used to pay porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000. The U.S. affiliate company of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg also reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cohen after the election. Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly questioned Vekselberg about the transactions.

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Since Rudy Giuliani claimed to Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week that President Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for his hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, the former New York City mayor’s explanation of the matter has evolved several times over.

Giuliani, a new addition to Trump’s personal legal team, has twisted himself into a pretzel since his initial comments on Daniels, changing his story on Trump’s knowledge of the payment and offering conflicting story lines on why the hush agreement with Daniels was arranged.

With Giuliani appearing on television left and right, it’s hard to keep track of his comments, so we’ve pulled them together into one handy guide:

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg about two months ago at an airport in the New York area, the New York Times reported on Friday afternoon.

CNN had reported in April that Mueller’s team had questioned at least one Russian oligarch and searched his electronic devices, and the New York Times now names the oligarch confronted by investigators. The Times gave few details about investigators’ encounter with Vekselberg.

Vekselberg is one of the wealthy Russians subject to U.S. sanctions over Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The New York Times reported that there’s no indication Mueller’s team suspects Vekselberg of any wrongdoing, but instead framed the revelation as an indication that Mueller is looking closely at any ties between the Trump campaign and Russian oligarchs. Vekselberg also attended the 2015 RT dinner in Moscow also attended by former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

Read the New York Times’ full report here.

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Judge T.S. Ellis has been basking in the limelight as he presides over the criminal case brought against Paul Manfort in Virginia.

In between his tough questions and pointed jabs, Ellis goes off on tangents, reminisces about the way things used to be, and jokes about his old age. Sitting in the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, it can sometimes feel as though Ellis is primarily there to entertain us with his quips and stories, until he returns to the matter at hand, prompting the journalists in the courtroom to resume furiously scribbling in our notebooks. Reporters look forward to his asides, as they offer extra entertainment during proceedings that can be dry and complicated at times.

“I reminisce a lot,” Ellis told the courtroom Friday morning as he began one of his tangents during the hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the indictment brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller.

After the attorney representing Manafort noted that he would not spend time detailing the contents of his motion to dismiss the indictment, Ellis offered his thoughts on his time in England in the 1960s. The judge noted that the barristers wore wigs and robes and would not use briefs, instead offering their arguments orally.

“I thought that was a charming but ineffective way to do things,” Ellis said.

Later in today’s hearing, he mentioned the methods used by the British once more, noting that in England, the government would have formed a commission to investigate Russian election interference. Ellis said that such a commission would not work well in the U.S., but that “it sure is less disruptive.”

Ellis also likes to point out that he’s been a judge for 30 years and joke about his age. While questioning the prosecutors Friday, Ellis commented on how long the hearing may last and how long the trial could ultimately take.

“I’m an old man,” he said, joking that the trial could last longer than he could. He then took the joke further, telling the lawyers, “This proceeding could outlive me.”

The judge even made one popular cultural reference that my editor had to explain to me once I emerged from the hearing. Ellis brought up the ESPN segment “C’Mon, Man!” in which commentators mock dumb plays or moments during NFL games.

He used the ESPN segment to tell the prosecutors that one of their arguments about the authority granted to the special counsel invited the reaction, “C’mon, man!”

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President Donald Trump has a new hero.

Just a few hours after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis grilled Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on how the indictment brought against Paul Manafort in Virginia is relevant to the Russia probe, Trump tried to use Ellis’ comments from the hearing to support his claim that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt.”

On the stage at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Trump read headlines from news stories on Friday’s hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the federal grand jury indictment against him in Virginia. He quoted the Wall Street Journal‘s headline, “Judge Questions Mueller’s Authority to Prosecute Manafort,” and the headline run by CNN, “Judge in Manafort case says Mueller’s aim is to hurt Trump.”

“You believe that? This is what we’re up — it is called the witch hunt,” Trump said.

He then started to read the first few lines from the Wall Street Journal’s story, making several interjections to praise Manafort, downplay Manafort’s role in the 2016 campaign, and call the judge a “very special” and “respected person.”

Trump noted that the judge asked prosecutors how the charges brought against Manafort — which stem from his work in Ukraine before the 2016 election — were relevant to the core of the Russia probe and that the judge hypothesized that prosecutors only went after Manafort to secure his cooperation for other parts of the probe.

“I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said.

“We’re all fighting,” the President added. “It’s a disgrace.”

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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — The federal judge presiding over the criminal case against Paul Manafort in the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday quizzed the attorneys representing special counsel Robert Mueller on how the charges they brought against Manafort were linked to their core investigation into Russian election interference and any potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

“I don’t see what relation this indictment has” to the special counsel’s authority, Ellis told prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked several pointed questions to prosecutors during the Friday morning hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the federal grand jury indictment, and he spent more time pushing the prosecution to parse out their reasoning than he did pushing Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, to do so.

At the beginning of the hearing, Ellis noted that the Justice Department was aware of some of Manafort’s activities in Ukraine that led to the charges in the Virginia indictment before Mueller was appointed and pointed out several times that the charges against Manafort were not related to Russian election interference.

“That seems to me to be obvious,” Ellis said of his belief that the indictment against Manafort is unrelated to Russian election interference.

Ellis also hypothesized several times that Mueller’s team brought charges against Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates in order to push them to turn over information on the Trump campaign. The lawyer arguing for Mueller’s team, Michael Dreeben, would not say that Ellis’ hypothesis was correct, but he did admit that Mueller’s team received some kind of information from the Justice Department on Manafort when Mueller took over the Russia probe.

Ellis told the prosecutors that it seemed they were using the Manafort indictment “to exert leverage on a defendant” so that they will flip and provide information on the core issues of the investigation. He said that the indictment is about pressure and argued that Mueller team is trying to make Manafort “sing.” The judge told prosecutors that they “don’t really care” about Manafort and the charges they brought against him.

Though Ellis appeared to go tougher on prosecutors, he acknowledged that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did spell out Mueller’s authority to investigate Manafort’s Ukraine work in a memo issued on Aug. 2, 2017, more than two months after the initial order appointing Mueller. The memo made public by Mueller’s team in its response to Manafort’s push to dismiss the indictments against him is heavily redacted, only revealing details related to Manafort.

Ellis asked prosecutors to submit the full unredacted memo to the court under seal so that he could determine whether the parts made public by Mueller’s team were indeed the only portions relevant to Manafort.

Manafort is seeking dismissal of the indictment brought against him in Virginia, arguing that Mueller did not have the authority to bring the charges against him. In the motion to dismiss, Manafort’s attorney made a two-part argument pushing for dismissal. They argued that Rosenstein did not have the power to give Mueller the broad authority to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” They also argued that even if Rosenstein did have that authority, Mueller overstepped the investigation’s parameters by bringing charges stemming from activities the Justice Department was aware of before Mueller was appointed.

Also at issue is the gap between Rosenstein’s initial order in May 2017 appointing Mueller and the Aug. 2 memo detailing the boundaries of the investigation. In between the May and August documentation, the FBI raided Manafort’s home.

During the hearing, Ellis also quizzed the prosecutors on why they referred some investigative material to the Southern District of New York, an apparent reference to the probe into Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, but did not refer the Manafort investigation to U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia.

“I don’t see the difference,” Ellis said.

Dreeben, the lawyer arguing for Mueller’s team, responded that the Manafort indictment falls within the Russia investigation because he was an official in the Trump campaign and had connections to Ukraine.

Ellis also asked Downing why he was not simply seeking to transfer the case from the special counsel’s office to the regular federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia. In response, Downing said he was also arguing in the motion to dismiss that Mueller did not have the authority to take some of the investigative steps he had taken against Manafort in the case, including obtaining subpoenas.

During a back and forth with prosecutors on Mueller’s investigative authority, Ellis told Dreeben, “We don’t want anyone with unfettered power.”

“We are not operating with unfettered power,” Dreeben told Ellis, noting that the Mueller investigation is accountable to Rosenstein and that Rosenstein laid out their authority to investigate Manafort in the Aug. 2 memo.

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During his streak of interviews Wednesday night and Thursday, Rudy Giuliani brazenly called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in both the Russia probe and the investigation into Michael Cohen, escalating the Trump legal team’s rhetoric about about the federal investigations involving President Donald Trump.

First, during his interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Giuliani called on Sessions to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

“I know the President is heartbroken over this. It isn’t that he’s angry, he’s heartbroken. He never expected this from Jeff,” he said. “The two of them can redeem themselves, Sessions and Rosenstein: They should order the investigation over.”

“I believe that Attorney General Sessions, my good friend, and Rosenstein, who I don’t know, I believe they should come in the interest of justice, and end this investigation,” Giuliani added. “There’s been too much government misconduct.”

Trump himself has long labeled the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” and his legal team has pushed for Mueller’s team to bring the probe to a quick conclusion. But Giuliani upped the ante Wednesday night by calling on Sessions to step in and shut the probe down, despite his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Giuliani then told The Hill on Thursday that Sessions should investigate those carrying out the probe into Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. Giuliani was angered by an NBC News report that federal investigators wiretapped Cohen’s phones.

“I am waiting for the attorney general to step in, in his role as defender of justice, and put these people under investigation,” Giuliani told The Hill.

He argued that investigators breached attorney-client privilege by spying on Cohen. In an interview with The Hill, he predicted a conversation with Trump on the news.

“He is going to say to me, ‘Isn’t there an attorney-client privilege?’” Giuliani said Trump would ask him. “And I am going to tell him, ‘No, the Department of Justice seems to want to trample all over the Constitution of the United States.’”

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