×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
September 26, 2017
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

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

3:01 p.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rick Gates, a former adviser to President Trump's 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy and another of lying to the FBI, charges brought against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sentencing guidelines put Gates in the range of a prison term of 57 to 71 months, Reuters reports, although those numbers could be brought down based on cooperation in the investigation.

"Gates could provide the special counsel with valuable information about the inner workings of Trump's operation: He served as a senior figure in the campaign and had access to the White House as an outside adviser in the early months of the administration," The Washington Post writes.

Mueller's office had filed 32 additional charges against Gates and Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on Thursday. The pair had additionally been indicted on 12 counts of financial crimes last October. Gates had reportedly been working to finalize a plea deal with Mueller last week, making him potentially the third person known to be cooperating with the special counsel's investigation, after Trump's former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Jeva Lange

2:45 p.m. ET

Fourteen-year-old Lauren Hogg, who survived the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last week but lost four of her friends, rebuked first lady Melania Trump on Friday after Donald Trump Jr. "liked" tweets pushing conspiracy theories about the students.

Hogg's older brother, 17-year-old David Hogg, was the target of such tweets liked by Donald Trump Jr. earlier this week. The conspiracy theories allege Hogg, who has made powerful statements calling for bipartisan action on gun violence, is "running cover for his dad," who is a former FBI agent.

"Hey @FLOTUS, you say that your mission as first lady is to stop cyber bullying," Lauren Hogg tweeted, "well then, don't you think it would have been smart to have a convo with your stepson, @DonaldJTrumpJr, before he liked a post about a false conspiracy theory, which in turn put a target on my back and created a safe space for people all over the world to call me and my family horrific things that constantly re-victimizes us and our community?"

Hogg added: "I'm 14, I should never have had to deal with any of this and even though I thought it couldn't get worse, it has because of your family." Jeva Lange

2:06 p.m. ET

The White House announced Friday that President Trump has authorized an extension of the disaster declaration in Puerto Rico. Under the extension, the island will receive 90 more days of federal funding for "debris removal" and 60 more days of funding for "emergency protective measures," to help continue recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria last September. The announcement amends Trump's previous disaster declaration, under which federal aid would have ended in mid-March.

The Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria has been heavily criticized, and recovery efforts have been marred by bungled federal contracts for disaster relief. Almost half a year after the Category 5 hurricane hit Puerto Rico, 15 percent of the island remains without power. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:57 p.m. ET
ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images

InfoWars is just two strikes away from being kicked off YouTube for good after posting a video claiming the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting are "crisis actors," CNN reports. YouTube removed the offending video, titled "David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines In TV Interview," on Wednesday, citing the violation of its policies on harassment and bullying.

YouTube's guidelines state that if an account receives two strikes in a three-month period, it will be banned for two weeks, and if it receives two more strikes in three months, the account will be permanently banned. InfoWars founder Alex Jones has spread conspiracy theories about school shootings before, including claiming the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was fake. Jones has said there is "officially … about a 90 percent chance" the attack in Florida was a "deep state false flag operation."

CNN reached out to YouTube after identifying three more instances of InfoWars pushing hoaxes on its account, and YouTube confirmed it would investigate. Of the Parkland video, a YouYube spokesperson said: "Last summer we updated the application of our harassment policy to include hoax videos that target the victims of these tragedies. Any video flagged to us that violates this policy is reviewed and then removed."

Read more about why the Parkland conspiracy theories are different from ones that have come before at The Week. Jeva Lange

Trump administration hits North Korea with new set of sanctions

12:49 p.m. ET
ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

The United States announced a new set of sanctions on North Korea on Friday. The sanctions are specifically aimed at 27 entities, 28 vessels, and one lone individual accused of shipping goods illegally to North Korea and helping further leader Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons program. In a statement, the Treasury Department called the actions "the largest North Korea-related sanctions tranche to date." President Trump's administration has enacted various sets of sanctions against North Korea in ongoing efforts to curb their nuclear ambitions.

Those punished in this new round of sanctions will be prohibited from doing business with people in the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "This will significantly hinder the Kim regime's capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters."

Trump was expected to detail the sanctions during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, but he only referenced them in passing, describing them as "the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before." Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:57 a.m. ET

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced Friday that the age to buy firearms in the Sunshine State will be raised to 21. The minimum age was previously 18.

Scott said active and reserve military members as well as law enforcement officers will be granted an exemption from the new rules. His remarks came during a press conference where he also proposed various other reforms to prevent mass shootings like the one that happened last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

ABC News reports that Scott also wants to put law enforcement officers in every Florida public school, ban the sale and purchase of modified bump stocks that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, and implement a "Violent Threat Restraining Order," which would legally "prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm."

Scott declared: "Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do." Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:34 a.m. ET

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump bashed the "fake news" media, reiterated his support of the Second Amendment, and joked about his "bald spot" during a freewheeling, high-energy address. Calling his speech boring and admitting to going off script, the president was frequently interrupted by chants of "USA," "lock her up," and "build the wall."

In addition to discussing job growth and the border wall, Trump doubled down on his divisive proposal to arm schoolteachers. Addressing reports that the armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School didn't engage the shooter as the attack was unfolding, Trump claimed that an armed teacher "would have shot the hell out of [the gunman] before he knew it."

The president explained: "I'd rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that … doesn't know the students." While he also called for stricter background checks on gun purchases, Trump warned the audience: "If [Democrats] get in, they'll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow that to happen."

Trump wrapped up his address with the recitation of an anti-immigration poem called "The Snake," a staple during his 2016 campaign rallies. "We are going to make America great again," he said just before he walked off the stage. "And I will never, ever, ever let you down." Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads