Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn't like to release his appointment calendar, and to ensure that his phone conversations remain private as well, the EPA is spending close to $25,000 to install a soundproof communications booth in his office.
This type of booth is typically used to conduct hearing tests, but the EPA wanted "a secure phone booth that couldn't be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping," Steve Snider, an acoustic sales consultant with the company building the booth, told The Washington Post. An EPA spokeswoman told the Post that the booth, called a "Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility," is something most, if not all, Cabinet offices have. Former EPA employees said the agency has always had a SCIF, on a floor away from Pruitt's office.
Under Pruitt, the EPA is becoming a more secretive place — some employees have been asked to hand over their cellphones before meetings, and Pruitt rarely uses email, instead giving directives to people in person and during meetings, the Post reports. His emails have been scrutinized before — messages from his time as Oklahoma's attorney general show he worked closely with oil and gas companies to fight against the Obama administration's environmental protections.
Additionally, Pruitt has not followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, who posted their appointment calendars; it wasn't until last week that details from months of meetings were released, due to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by several media outlets. The calendars show that Pruitt has been meeting with car, mining, and fossil fuel company executives, oftentimes just before making decisions in favor of those industries, the Post says. Pruitt has also tripled the number of people to his security detail, and now special agents that would otherwise be investigating environmental crimes are instead protecting Pruitt. You can read more about Pruitt's EPA impact at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia
While driving to Philadelphia in October, Kate McClure ran out of gas. The 27-year-old was stranded and alone on the side of I-95 when a homeless man approached her. The man, whose name was Johnny, told her to get back in the car and lock the doors while he went to get help.
Johnny returned with a can of gas he bought with his last $20, according to the Associated Press.
McClure got to her destination safely but couldn't stop thinking about her savior. So she launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $10,000 goal to get Johnny set up with an apartment, a reliable car, and a few months-worth of expenses.
As of Thanksgiving day, McClure's campaign has reached more than $200,000. "It just blew up," McClure told the Associated Press.
Johnny, 34, who has been without a home in the Philadelphia area for about a year, says he hopes to get a job at the nearby Amazon warehouse in Robinson, New Jersey. Lauren Hansen
Two more women have accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of groping their butts, The Huffington Post reported Wednesday.
The new allegations come days after radio host and model Leeann Tweeden said Franken kissed and groped her during a 2006 USA tour, and another woman, Lindsay Menz, said Franken squeezed her buttocks while they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.
The two new accusers spoke on the condition of anonymity, and said they did not know about each other's stories. Franken told HuffPost: "It's difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events." Harold Maass
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Thursday morning, President Trump offered words of gratitude and praise to the country's troops stationed abroad.
"For each of you I know it's hard to be away from home at this time of the year," Trump said via video, touting — on the plus side — the "great economy" the troops will eventually return home to. "When you come back you're going to see with the jobs and companies coming back into our country."
"Now we're working on tax cuts, big fat beautiful tax cuts," he continued. "And hopefully we'll get that and then you're really going to see things happen."
Before thanking the military families, Trump offered this last assurance: "We totally support you. In fact, we love you, we really do." Lauren Hansen
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on Thursday to allow an unspecified number of Rohingya Muslims, who fled across the border to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state, to return home.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when an army crackdown started in response to attacks on a police post by Rohingya insurgents. Bangladesh said the first repatriations would start in two months.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who served as Zimbabwe's vice president until ousted leader Robert Mugabe fired him on Nov. 6, will chair his first meeting as head of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party Thursday and will be sworn in as the new president Friday, the speaker of the country's parliament announced Wednesday.
Mnangagwa's firing had triggered the chain of events that led to Mugabe's forced resignation Tuesday. Mnangagwa's ascension marks the country's first transfer of power since independence in 1980.
Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe Wednesday, after fleeing for safety, and addressed the public from the ruling party's headquarters. He said the military's intervention was the start of a "new democracy," one that required all Zimbabweans to work together to turn the country around. "We want to grow our economy, we want jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. Lauren Hansen
In 2015, after a sexually explicit, mainly online relationship with a woman ended, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) threatened to report the woman to the Capitol Police, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. Barton had reportedly sent the woman sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages over the course of their relationship, which began on Facebook in 2011.
The woman, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, recorded the 2015 conversation in which Barton confronted her about communications she had with other women connected to Barton. "I am ready if I have to, I don't want to, but I should take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation," he said, according to the recording.
On Wednesday, Barton apologized to his constituents after naked photos of him circulated on social media. In a statement, Barton, who is the longest-serving member of Congress from Texas, said he had sexual relationships "with other mature adult women" while separated from his second wife, before their divorce in 2015. "I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days," he said. But Barton, who has reportedly hired a crisis communications firm, also said that he had suffered a potential crime over the released lewd photos. In Texas, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally publicize images or videos of someone's genitals or sexual activity without consent. Barton said the Capitol Police may be launching an investigation. Lauren Hansen
In their quest to cut taxes while not running up huge deficits, Senate Republicans have had to find creative ways to save money in their forthcoming tax reform bill. Although some estimates say that the Republican tax bill would add $1.8 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years, you can rest assured that the Republican Party is committed to cutting irresponsible spending: In an effort to save money, the new plan will prevent your employer from being able to write off lunches purchased for workers or workplace entertainment, HuffPost reported Wednesday.
The move would save $23 billion over 10 years, HuffPost reported — or just 1.3 percent of the total expected deficit increase. Under the current tax code, employers who give the majority of their workers free lunches can deduct 50 percent of the cost. The House version of the bill does not touch free workplace lunch, but it would eliminate tax breaks for employer-paid day care assistance programs, as well as employee-sponsored moving expenses and achievement awards, all for the sake of saving $12 billion.
But the Senate tax bill isn't all bad news! The exemption for the estate tax will be doubled, so if you happen to inherit less than $10 million from a dead relative, you won't have to pay any taxes on the money — which should definitely help you pay for lunch if your employer won't give it to you. Kelly O'Meara Morales