April 23, 2014

A new government report states that more than 1,100 Internal Revenue Service employees who failed to pay their taxes were collectively rewarded with more than $1 million in cash bonuses and over 10,000 hours in paid vacation.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's report, released Tuesday, even showed that at least five employees who received performance awards wound up with the money even after being disciplined for intentionally paying taxes late and underreporting income and tax liabilities for multiple years. In total, from Oct. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012, $2.8 million in bonuses were handed out to employees who had been cited for everything from drug use to misusing government credit cards.

"While not specifically prohibited by IRS policies, providing awards to employees with conduct issues, especially the failure to pay taxes owed to the federal government, appears to be in conflict with the IRS's charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration," the report said. "In addition, awards provided to these employees could be put to better use by providing employees who are compliant additional opportunities for awards."

According to The Washington Post, the IRS is now looking into linking conduct to performance awards, a change that would be subject to union approval. Catherine Garcia

11:53 a.m. ET
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

A stunningly large percentage of President Trump's supporters approve of his decision to compromise with Democrats on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A new The Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday revealed that 49 percent of Trump voters approve of Trump's decision to cut a deal over dinner with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass a law granting permanent legal status to DREAMers, immigrants protected under DACA who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children. Thirty-nine percent disapprove of the compromise Trump struck just days after rescinding DACA.

That wasn't all that Trump's supporters approved of him working on with the Democrats. The poll also revealed that 72 percent of Trump voters approve of the president working with Democrats on health care, 73 percent approve of across-the aisle work on tax reform, 66 percent approve of bipartisan efforts on immigration issues, and 62 percent approve of Trump teaming up with Democrats on the environment.

The poll surveyed 1,500 respondents from Sept. 17-19. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Becca Stanek

11:18 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The first reviews of the new Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE are in, and people are ... less than dazzled. Apple announced the latest model of its wearable gadget earlier this month in a demonstration that involved phoning a person on a paddle board and testimonies from people whose lives have been saved by the heart rate-detecting technology. But when the $399 watch, which comes out on Friday, was put to use by real-world reviewers, many shared common complaints, particularly when it came to the built-in cellular capabilities actually working.

"On more than one occasion, I detached myself from the phone, traveled blocks away from my home or office, and watched the Watch struggle to connect to LTE," wrote Lauren Goode for The Verge. "It would appear to pick up a single bar of some random Wi-Fi signal, and hang on that, rather than switching to LTE."

CNET's Scott Stein shared Goode's frustrations. "If you're pushing the unique features of the Series 3 with cellular, you're going to wipe out your battery quickly," he wrote. "I made a half-hour call to my mom as I walked into town a half mile away to get an iced coffee. A walk there, a walk back, checking email, and listening to music (and using GPS with heart rate for the walks), I ended up at 50 percent battery by 3 p.m. Sure, I was using everything. But isn't that the point?"

"Apple's latest has all the ingredients of the future we were promised," wrote Joanna Stern for The Wall Street Journal, although she added: "Except, after I spent a week testing these new models … the future feels even further away. You're lucky if the battery allows you to roam on cellular for longer than half a day — especially if you're making calls. And only a limited number of third-party apps work without the phone close by. (No Instagram, Twitter, Uber.)"

Not everyone was disappointed. BuzzFeed News' Nicole Nguyen was a fan, although she admitted "the bar is low." Still, "the Apple Watch has gone from being a glorified pager to a decent fitness watch to, now, what a smartwatch is supposed to be: a phone on your wrist."

"I did manage to make one phone call from a surfboard," added Goode. "That was kind of wild." Jeva Lange

10:39 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, Vox interviewed nine Republican senators about the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal ObamaCare. Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill with a simple majority vote, but 10 days out they seemed to be struggling to pin down exactly why the Graham-Cassidy bill should pass.

Though senators generally agreed that the bill would return power to the states, they had less to say on the finer points of how this could happen without millions of Americans losing insurance coverage and why the bill calls for such drastic cuts to federal spending.

Below, catch some particularly illustrative tidbits from Vox writer Jeff Stein's conversations with these lawmakers. And then head over to Vox to read the rest. Becca Stanek

  • Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on why Graham-Cassidy makes "things better" for Americans:

Pat Roberts
"Look, we're in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we're headed toward the canyon. That's a movie that you've probably never seen — "

Jeff Stein
"I do know Thelma and Louise, sir."

Pat Roberts
"So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is." [Vox]

  • Sen. Richard Shelby, on the bill's proposed cuts to federal funding for states by 34 percent over the next decade: "But it wouldn't cut Alabama, though."
  • Roberts on why Republicans are pushing a bill that could cause millions to lose insurance: "If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections."
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on what this bill does "right, policy-wise":

John Kennedy
"I think it's an improvement over ObamaCare."

Jeff Stein

John Kennedy
"My position has always been that, number one, I think ObamaCare has been a failure.

Number two: First chance I get to vote for repeal it, I'll do it.

And number three: If it's replacement, if replacement is better than ObamaCare, I will vote for it." [Vox]

  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on how he knows the "savings" from federal funding cuts "will be close to enough to protect everyone": "Well, nothing protects everyone."
9:44 a.m. ET

Fox News host Tucker Carlson had a "witch" on his show Tuesday night. He wanted to explore whether President Trump doesn't keep his promises to his supporters because he's "unpredictable," or whether there could "be another cause, perhaps a magical one."

As it turns out, Amanda Yates Garcia, self-described "oracle of Los Angeles," among other things, just helped cast a binding spell on Trump to "prevent him from causing harm to others." According to the Fox News chyron, the witches used "orange candles, tarot cards, rope, and feathers" to complete the Trump binding spell.

"Is this legal? Can you run around and cast spells? Are you allowed to cast spells on people? Is there any federal regulation of this?" Carlson asked. The "witch" explained that the spell, which is simply a "symbolic action" intended to "galvanize people who resist," isn't intended to cause Trump harm, but rather to stop him from harming others and instituting harmful policies.

With that out of the way, Carlson asked the question he'd clearly been dying to ask: "Since you are the only witch — I have interviewed a lot of people, but I've never interviewed a witch — sincere question: Is eye of newt an actual ingredient?"

The "witch" tried to keep a straight face as she explained to Carlson that the real issue isn't eye of newt, but that we're "about to have some kind of big nuclear extravaganza with North Korea," that "we're punishing immigrant children," and that "we're causing students to go into deep debt."

"Well yeah, there are lots of problems," Carlson agreed, before asking once again if "eye of newt is an actual thing or not."

"Isn't that from Shakespeare?" she replied. "I think he was probably using a bit of poetic license."

Watch it below. Becca Stanek

9:11 a.m. ET

In his Tuesday night monologue, Jimmy Kimmel accused Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) of lying "right to my face," harshly contrasting the Louisiana senator's promises to Kimmel with the terms in the health-care bill he has co-authored with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Earlier this year, Cassidy assured Kimmel that he would follow the "Jimmy Kimmel Test," meaning families with children like Kimmel's son, who required emergency open-heart surgery shortly after birth, shouldn't be denied affordable health care.

Kimmel said the Cassidy-Graham bill fails this test. Cassidy responded Wednesday, saying: "I'm sorry [Kimmel] does not understand."

Under the Republican bill, "more people will have coverage and we protect those with pre-existing conditions," Cassidy told CNN's New Day — a claim critics say is patently false.

"The counterargument will be, pre-existing conditions will be up to the pricing of the particular state and market," CNN's Chris Cuomo replied. "So it's not what it is now, where you can't allow insurance companies to cherry pick and punish people for pre-existing conditions. So the protection is not the same, senator, on that one point." Watch below, and catch up on Kimmel's monologue here. Jeva Lange

9:08 a.m. ET

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour, made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning, and it is expected to lash the U.S. territory with dangerous winds and rain for 12 to 24 hours. Maria, which was a Category 5 hurricane on Monday, is the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1932, and just shy of Hurricane San Felipe, which battered Puerto Rico with 160 mph winds in 1928. "This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon," said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. "We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history."

Already on Puerto Rico, metal roofs have been seen flying in the wind, a tree fell on an ambulance, and 900,000 people are without power. Maria has been blamed for at least one death, on Guadeloupe, and the island of Dominica, which took a direct hit Sunday night, is still incommunicado but believed to be badly wrecked. Overnight, the hurricane passed over or near St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands that was largely spared by Hurricane Irma. Peter Weber

8:05 a.m. ET

President Trump may have the pockets of the Republican National Committee and his re-election campaign to dip into for legal bills stemming from the Russia probe, but not everyone else is so lucky, Bloomberg reports. Michael Caputo, who only briefly served as an adviser to the Trump campaign, reports that being a person of interest in the Russia investigation has led to more than $30,000 in legal fees, money he's had to pull from his children's college funds. "It's very expensive and nobody's called me and offered to help," he recently told the Washington Examiner.

After all, not everyone gets the same treatment as Donald Trump Jr., who had $50,000 in legal fees paid off by the Trump campaign, Bloomberg reports. Dozens of other more peripheral people may yet be roped into the probe, including staffers like Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and even Jared Kushner's spokesman.

The psychological toll is also not insignificant. Caputo told Bloomberg that he has bought a new security system and several guns due to threats. Internally, staffers and aides must also cope with the paranoia that comes from lawyers advising them not to talk to each other about the investigation.

"Everyone is facing this," said Caputo. "I talk to them all. I know they are worried and I think it is awful. We heard about this happening during the Clinton investigations. Those stories loom heavily over us." Read more about the financial and psychological toll of the Russia investigation at Bloomberg. Jeva Lange

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