- President Donald Trump’s longtime personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout abruptly stepped down on Thursday.
- Her resignation follows reports of Trump allegedly learning she disclosed private information about his family and the Oval Office in an off-the-record dinner with reporters.
- Neither Westerhout or the White House have officially commented on her departure.
President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, abruptly resigned Thursday after the president allegedly learned she had shared details about his family during an off-the-record conversation with journalists.
The 29-year-old, who had worked for Trump since he assumed office, also reportedly shared details of Oval Office operations during that same conversation. Both incidents allegedly occurred earlier this month during a dinner in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, while Trump visited his Bedminster club as part of a working vacation.
According to CBS News, at the dinner, Westerhout also gossiped about broadcast journalists who were seeking to sit down with the president.
Though the White House has yet to comment on her departure, the New York Times quoted a source who said Westerhout is now a “separated employee” and is barred from returning to the White House. Westerhout has also not made any public comments regarding her departure.
As Trump’s personal assistant, her office was situated directly in front of the Oval Office in the West Wing, with many media outlets dubbing her a “gatekeeper” to the president. During a farewell event for Sarah Sanders, the Trump Administration’s former press secretary, sources said Westerhout bragged about her role as a gatekeeper.
At the time of her resignation, she was earning $145,000 annually.
Westerhout’s History with Trump
Westerhout previously worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, having taken off the fall semester of her senior year at the College of Charleston to work as an intern.
She is also a former Republican National Committee assistant to Kate Walsh. Walsh later served on Trump’s transition team and accepted the role of White House Deputy Chief of Staff before resigning after two months.
At first, Westerhout was reportedly not in favor of a Trump administration, with Tim Alberta of Politico writing in his book American Carnage that she was so upset on election night in 2016, she cried. It also states Trump had reservations about Westerhout working as part of his staff. Because of this, some White House officials also feared she would be disloyal to the president.
“She was a spy from day one who sought to use her proximity to the president to curry favor with his detractors,” a former White House official said of her.
A different former White House official rebuked comments about her intentions, saying she had been singled out by long-term members of Trump’s team for her past with the RNC. The same official also denied reports that she cried on election night.
Yet another former official compared her resignation to a “mob hit,” claiming Alberta’s book stoked questions about her loyalty to the president.
During Trump’s transition, she gained traction from the media for her role in escorting potential administration officials and even Leonardo DiCaprio through Trump Tower.
“The President-elect wanted to make sure all of his meetings were very transparent, so it became a little bit more public than I originally thought it was going to be,” she told CNN in 2016.
Later in her role, she reportedly enjoyed her access to the president, sharing photos of herself at rallies on her private Instagram account or joking that she printed a piece of paper Trump held up during a speech. Trump, in turn, has often called her “my beauty.”
Politico reported that Westerhout, this year, had been working to expand her job to include aspects like foreign travel. One White House staffer claimed she had been acting like a de facto chief of staff and described her recent dinner with reporters in Bedminster as the “final straw.”
While writing Fire and Fury, journalist Bob Woodward reached out to interview Trump several times but never received the opportunity. Later, speaking with the president, Trump asked him, “Did you speak to Madeleine?”
Woodward then indicated he had not, to which Trump said, “Madeleine is the key. She’s the secret.”
Hatch Act Violation
In 2018, Westerhout was found to have violated the Hatch Act, along with deputy press secretary Raj Shah, deputy director of communications Jessica Ditto, and three other White House officials.
The Hatch Act, written into law in 1939, constitutes that federal employees cannot distribute partisan messages on channels of communication used for official government business. That includes social media accounts.
The violation came from the Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and found that four of the six staffers — including Westerhout — either tweeted “#MAGA” or “Make America Great Again!”
The OSC argued that since she and others used the political slogan of Trump in his re-election campaign for 2020, they had violated the act to keep federal employees politically neutral in their jobs.
No action was taken against Westerhout or the five other staffers.
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.