Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has a novel proposal for improving global air quality: burn more American coal.

In an interview with Pruitt published Wednesday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington noted President Donald Trump’s affinity for the term “clean coal” and asked “How is coal doing?”

Pruitt pointed to “the demand for Powder River Basin coal,” referring to the basin straddling Wyoming and Montana that accounts for a large chunk of American coal production, as an example of exported American coal.

“I was in Wyoming recently,” he continued. “And if we really care about clean air, we would allow Indonesia to buy our coal from Wyoming, because it’s far cleaner than what they’re using now.”

Indonesia’s air quality has certainly suffered as a result of coal-fired powered plants. So has America’s.

Pruitt, meanwhile, has prioritized eliminating or weakening a number of air and water quality regulations despite the protests of public health advocates. And he’s developed close relationships with the coal industry over the years.

A former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, currently serves as the EPA’s second-in-command.

“So we need to be exporting LNG [Liquid Natural Gas], and we need to be exporting coal to the rest of the world,” Pruitt continued. “We need to be sharing with them our technology to access natural gas through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Those are things that will help air quality across the globe.”

“What most people don’t realize,” he added, “is that the challenges we have domestically with respect to air quality, a lot of it is because of what happens internationally. And if those countries would simply adopt what we’re doing here, air quality in the United States would be better, and it would be better in those areas as well.”

“So we should share that information. We should partner in that regard, not be about agreements in Paris that put us at a disadvantage and penalize certain sectors of our economy.”

The EPA did not respond to TPM’s questions about Pruitt’s remarks.

Read More →

On Wednesday morning, at 500 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan, I traded my cell phone for a legal pad to cover a hearing in the developing Michael Cohen case. (Meanwhile, TPM’s Allegra Kirkland, who normally covers all things Cohen, swapped her professional responsibilities for much-deserved vacation days.)

It was my first time reporting from federal court, and the stakes made even a fairly minor procedural date feel important, worthy of the rows of media that filled the courtroom. “Avenatti is going crazy on Twitter,” one reporter said over my shoulder as we waited for the hearing to begin, referring to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti. “If only I had my phone I could pre-write this.” Cell phones and laptops are barred from the federal courtroom. 

Next to me sat a grizzled defense attorney who’d decided to stop by the hearing. He’d long known some of the lawyers in the case, he said.

“I’ve represented bad guys, like doctors and lawyers, and good guys like murderers,” he joked, before pivoting. “You remember Serpico?”

Such was the atmosphere: Absurd, on some level, despite the weight of the proceedings before us.

Avenatti, alone, and Cohen, flanked by lawyers, appeared within a few minutes of each other. I never saw them make eye contact; Cohen, for the most part, stared straight ahead with his head tilted slightly back, elbows resting on the table in front of him. He seemed tired, or pissed. Probably both. 

Avenatti, forehead a perpetual wrinkle, occasionally donned sleek, black-framed reading glasses, over which he glared at the lawyers representing Trump and the Trump Organization, to his right, and those representing Cohen, in the row ahead of them. 

Rather than standing to address the court from his seat as most other lawyers did, Avenatti asked permission several times to use a podium at the other side of the courtroom. 

Judge Kimba Wood, while quashing Cohen’s team’s eager requests for more time to review seized documents, was no friend of Avenatti’s, either.

“That was quite the tale,” Avenatti said at one point, in response to Cohen lawyer Stephen Ryan’s impassioned argument against Avenatti’s pro hac vice motion to admit him to a court where he doesn’t practice.

“Let’s not comment on it,” Wood said, silencing him.

Avenatti appeared to recognize fairly quickly that Wood was lukewarm on his schtick. (The defense lawyer seated next to me commented before the hearing, with some foresight, that Avenatti didn’t really have any business being a part of the case. A few hours later, Avenatti would announce the same, withdrawing his pro hac vice motion.)

At one point, Joanna Hendon, representing Donald Trump at the hearing, noted that she’d walked by a camera bank and eight microphones in front of the court house on her way in. The reporters, she indicated, were there for the Avenatti show.

Avenatti countered a few minutes later: “If anyone believes those mics are going away” if he withdraws his motion to join the case, he said, “they’re fooling themselves.”

And he was right: The reporters in the room cared, for the most part, about the potential criminal charges hanging over the head of the President’s personal fixer.

Avenatti was simply a bonus. But a significant one. As I hurried from the courtroom and into a Chinatown cafe to write this report, I found myself dodging a shuffling mass of cameras, each tussling for a better view of the celebrity litigator.

Avenatti was back in his natural habitat, beamed into homes worldwide. “Hey, it’s Stormy’s lawyer!” a passing New Yorker shouted.

Read More →

After a contentious federal court hearing, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, on Wednesday withdrew his motion to be allowed to intervene in the case arising out of an ongoing criminal probe into Michael Cohen’s business dealings.

Avenatti argued in court filings and in a court hearing earlier Wednesday that he wanted to be able to protect Daniels’ privileged communications with Keith Davidson, the attorney who represented her when she made her October 2016 hush money agreement with Cohen, President Trump’s longtime fixer. 

But at the hearing, U.S. Judge Kimba Wood expressed concern about Avenatti’s outsized media presence and frequent public criticisms of Cohen. And lawyers for Cohen argued strongly against allowing Avenatti to intervene.

Daniels says she had an affair with Trump, which Trump denies. She wants to be released from the agreement, allowing her to speak publicly about the alleged affair.

Ahead of the hearing, Avenatti had accused Cohen’s team of selectively leaking to the media a recorded conversation that may have pertained to his client. Avenatti elaborated Wednesday that he’d received calls from journalists about a taped conversation between Davidson and Cohen regarding information that ought to have been privileged between Davidson and Clifford.

“Why would Davidson be having these discussions” with Cohen? Avenatti wondered aloud. Daniels, he assured the court, had never waived her attorney-client privilege with Davidson.

The recording, Avenatti posited, “had to have come from Michael Cohen, or someone associated with Michael Cohen.”

Later, Cohen lawyer Stephen Ryan said any such recordings would be under “lock and key” at his office. The leak Avenatti alleged “had not occurred,” Ryan said, and he was “unaware of the release of any audio at this time.”

Avenatti claimed victory after the hearing Wednesday, asserting that Cohen’s lawyers had confirmed the existence of the privileged audio recordings. But it was unclear whether Ryan had confirmed the tapes’ existence or merely confirmed that his team was being careful to protect the files seized in the the April raids, whatever those files may be. 

Raising his voice at times, Ryan said that in 27 years, he hadn’t opposed a lawyer’s motion to intervene, but that Avenatti had turned the case “on its head” with his outsized media presence and the release recently of an unsourced document detailing much of Cohen’s post-election consulting deals with huge corporations like AT&T and Novartis. Ryan said it was “inevitable” that the document was based on an illegally leaked Suspicious Activity Reports, the highly sensitive documents banks use to flag fishy behavior.

The same document, Ryan said, had constituted a “drive-by shooting of anyone named ‘Michael Cohen”. The document mistakenly listed the financial data of other people named Michael Cohen. The move, Ryan said, was “entirely reckless and improper.”

Ryan also brought up the recent $10 million judgement against Avenatti’s firm, Eagan Avenatti, which he said showed Avenatti “cannot keep his agreements.”

Avenatti argued in response — after calling Ryan’s remarks “quite the tale,” earning a quick rebuke from Wood — that Eagan Avenatti was irrelevant to the hearing at hand, because it was not involved in Daniels’ representation.

In response, Trump lawyer Joanna Hendon accused Avenatti of obscuring the fact that lawyers from the firm were in fact involved in Daniels’ representation. She presented emails to Wood that she said showed as much.

“I have no idea what this is,” Avenatti objected as Hendon passed on the documents.

“You don’t need to speak yet,” Wood responded quickly. 

That exchange typified Wood’s tone toward Avenatti Wednesday.

Acknowledging that she had no say over Avenatti’s media presence, Wood said she didn’t want Avenatti to be in a “limbo” in which he could “denigrate” Cohen and therefore “potentially deprive him of a fair trial, if there is one,” by tainting the jury pool.

She emphasized at one point that Avenatti would need to play by the rules were he admitted to argue in the case, including those against potentially prejudicial comments outside of court — a reference to Avenatti’s frequent cable news appearances. On that point, Wood said Avenatti would need to stop his “publicity tour” were he to involve himself in the case at hand.

“I say publicity tour not in a derogatory sense,” she said. “You’re entitled to publicity. I can’t stop you, unless you’re participating in a matter before me.” 

Read More →

U.S. Judge Kimba Wood on Wednesday rejected Michael Cohen’s attempts to slow the schedule of the attorney-client privilege review process for the millions of items seized from his home, office and hotel room last month. 

At a court hearing in Lower Manhattan, Wood sided with prosecutors in announcing a June 15 deadline for Cohen, President Trump’s long-time fixer, to make all remaining claims of attorney-client privilege. Cohen’s lawyers argued for mid July. Prosecutors called that an “unreasonable delay.”

Wood said Cohen’s wish to methodologically sort through potentially privileged documents needed to be balanced with “the need for the investigation to go forward.”

Cohen looked tired Wednesday, elbows resting on the table in front of him and head cocked slightly back. He sat in the middle seat in the middle of three rows of tables and stared straight ahead, moving very little throughout the hearing.

At one point, Cohen whispered something to his lawyer in response to a question from Wood. Todd Harrison then told the court that two Blackberrys now in the government’s possession were eight years old, at least. Harrison added that the phones may have belonged to Cohen’s wife, and that they were unsure what material, if any, was on them.

Harrison, sitting to his client’s right, told the court Cohen’s team had received 3.7 million files from the government to review, and had processed 1.3 million of them.

Harrison said Cohen’s legal team included 15 lawyers and two data specialists working “all night” and through the Memorial Day weekend. One associate even “developed a tremor in his hand,” Harrison said.

At times, lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization acknowledged the document review work of Cohen’s team, and of special master Barbara Jones, appointed by the court to review Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization’s privilege claims.

“When you get into it, you realize how much time it takes,” said Alan Futerfas, who represents the Trump Organization, referring to Cohen’s team’s work.

But prosecutors pushed for the privilege claims to conclude by mid-June, and Wood agreed, setting the June 15 deadline with the balance of material left unprocessed by Cohen’s lawyers going to a taint team within the prosecutors’ office at that time.

Investigators raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on April 9 as part of a months-long criminal probe into Cohen’s business practices. The probe of Trump’s fixer reportedly includes potential campaign finance violations and bank fraud connected to the $130,000 hush money payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels in October 2016.

There has been widespread speculation that any charges against Cohen could induce him to cooperate with the investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

This post has been updated. 

Read More →

The special master assigned in the criminal case against Michael Cohen announced Tuesday that Cohen, President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization had made 252 claims of privileged or “highly personal” material out of the initial items reviewed.

Investigators seized the materials during raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on April 9.

“The 292,006 items from the first two productions that have not been designated privileged or highly personal by the parties were released to the Government on May 23rd,” wrote Special Master Barbara Jones, a former federal judge, in a court filing Tuesday.

“On or before June 4th, the Special Master will provide the Court with a Report and Recommendation with respect to the privilege determinations as to these first two productions.”

That covers material collected from Cohen on May 4, 8 and 9, Jones said, but not material collected on May 11, 17, 21 and 22, which has yet to be processed. “[A]pproximately 1,025,363 items from these phones have not been designated privileged or highly personal by the parties,” Jones noted of the May 11 production.

The May 11 materials without privilege claims will be released to the government on Wednesday, Jones said, the same day Judge Kimba Wood will hold a hearing on the document review process. 

“The Special Master’s review of the remaining items contained in the May 11th, 17th, 21st and 22nd productions is ongoing,” Jones concluded.

In a separate filing, Jones billed $47,390.00 in total legal fees for her first week, charging $700 per hour except for her preparation of background materials, for which she charged $670 per hour. Politico noted that the government is paying half that amount — Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization are covering the rest.

Read the filing below:

Read More →

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) announced his resignation Tuesday amid a political firestorm in his state.

“Today, I am announcing that I will resign as governor of Missouri effective Friday, June 1st, at 5 p.m.,” Greitens said from his office during a hastily-arranged news conference. He took no questions.

“This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family,” he added. “Millions of dollars of mounting legal bills; endless personal attacks designed to cause maximum damage to family and friends; legal harassment of colleagues, friends, and campaign workers; and it’s clear for the forces that oppose us, there’s no end in sight.”

Greitens maintained that he had “not broken any laws, nor committed any offense worthy of this treatment.”

“The time has come, though, to tend to those who have been wounded, and to care for those who need us most,” he said, his voice breaking. “So for the moment, let us walk off the battlefield with our heads held high.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, whose office is handling one of two felony charges against the governor, said in a statement shortly after Greitens’ announcement that her office and his defense team “have reached a fair and just resolution of the pending charges,” and that she would “provide more information tomorrow.”

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said of her investigation into the other charge, which Gardner dropped last month and which Baker is now reviewing as a special prosecutor: “In the interest of pursing justice to its fullest lengths, we will continue until our work on the case is completed.”

“Specifically regarding any deals we made with Governor Greitens’ attorneys, no deals were made by my office,” Baker added. “Our review of this case, as I have stated before, will be pursued without fear or favor.”

In February, a grand jury indicted the governor for invasion of privacy over accusations that he’d taken a nude photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair and used it to blackmail her.

A Missouri House committee reported in April that Greitens held the woman down in a “bear hug” during the March 2015 encounter before pulling out his penis, among other allegations. The woman testified anonymously that she performed oral sex on him because she thought “that would allow me to leave” and she feared for her “physical self.”

Greitens faced his second felony charge in April for allegedly obtaining a donor list from a charity he founded to use for political fundraising.

Earlier this month, Gardner suddenly dropped the invasion of privacy charge and asked that a special prosecutor be appointed in the case, given that the governor’s legal team planned to call Gardner herself as a witness.

Baker was named special prosecutor last week. She said she would review the case and decide whether or not to refile the invasion of privacy charge.

Greitens also faced possible impeachment: the Missouri legislature opened an historic special session to consider the question on May 18.

Watch below:

This post has been updated.

Read More →

Former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett responded Tuesday to the the racist comment Roseanne Barr made about her, and which led to the cancellation of Barr’s sitcom reboot on ABC.

“I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment,” Jarrett said during an appearance on the MSNBC special “Everyday Racism In America,” a clip of which the network aired Tuesday.

“I’m fine,” Jarrett continued. “I’m worried about all the people out there who don’t have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense: the person who’s walking down the street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or want to cross the street, or every black parent I know who has a boy who has to sit down and have a conversation, ‘the talk’ as we call it.”

“As you say, those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day. And I think that’s why I’m so glad to be here this evening talking with all of you.”

Barr on Tuesday tweeted of Jarrett: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Read More →

The Trump administration has a response to the recent revelation that the government lost track of nearly 1,500 undocumented minors: more detention centers, quicker deportations, and more intrusive vetting for sponsors who sign up to act as fosters for the so-called “undocumented alien children,” or UACs.

Officials on a press call Tuesday — representing the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, a subagency of which is responsible for finding temporary homes for unaccompanied migrant kids — mostly dismissed concerns about the fallout from such a hardline approach.

For example, the officials referenced an upcoming agreement between DHS and HHS requiring sponsors for the children to submit to a fingerprint-based background check.

NBC News’ Julia Ainsley noted that the move could discourage undocumented parents from applying to take custody of their children, given their reasonable fear of potentially handing information over to the agency that also houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Parents who balk at giving their fingerprints to the government could be forced to leave their children in long-term foster care.

“If somebody is unwilling to claim their child from custody because they’re concerned about their own immigration status, I think that, de facto, calls into question whether they’re an adequate sponsor and whether we should be releasing a child to that person,” said Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at HHS.

The same agreement would make it easier to prevent unaccompanied minors from entering the “general population,” in Wagner’s words, if they had a known gang affiliation. Pinning down such affiliations, though, has proven difficult and prone to abuse by government officials.

“We’re really looking forward to the implementation of this MOA so DHS helps us to our job even more effectively,” Wagner said.

He also criticized much of the reporting on 1,475 “missing” undocumented immigrant kids residing with American sponsors, saying that the term was “inaccurate” and that the number reflected those whose sponsors didn’t answer HHS’ check-up phone calls. The story arose out of Wagner’s own testimony to Congress last month.

“If you call a friend and they don’t answer the phone, you don’t assume that they’ve been kidnapped,” he said Tuesday.

Separately, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller expressed the administration’s desire to eliminate a slew of regulations, some implemented by courts, that apply to undocumented immigrant children.

The Flores Settlement, for example, prevents the long-term detention of undocumented immigrant children. It’s the reason that the new Trump administration policy of criminally prosecuting illegal border crossers will result in children being separated from their parents, even if they are arrested together.

Rather than returning to the status quo of trying such cases in civil courts, Miller argued that children should be put in long-term detention, as well. He also advocated for increased construction of detention facilities, to accommodate the existing shortage of beds for undocumented people in the government’s custody.

“The [Flores] settlement prevents a family unit from being detained together past a certain period of time,” he said. “The point is, the administration has said, we would like to terminate or modify the Flores settlement agreement, and also to fund detention space sufficient to maintain the entire the entire family unit together in continuous custody until their removal,” unless they qualify for certain immigration relief like asylum, he said.

Miller also argued that the government should be allowed to treat migrants from Central America just as it does those from Mexico and Canada — that is, able to be deported quickly rather than after waiting for a formal hearing, as required by a 2008 law.

“We need to change the law so families arriving illegally can be sent home swiftly, and so there can be an actual border protecting the country, and protecting American communities,” he said.

Read More →

Emails released as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request show the former president and CEO of a climate-science-denying think tank celebrating Scott Pruitt’s EPA.

“This is what victory looks like,” Joe Bast wrote in an email in October, after the EPA neglected to mention global warming in a four-year strategic plan.

In January, he called 2017 “a great year for climate realists.”

E&E News highlighted the emails, which were released in response to a FOIA request from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a Tuesday report. The two groups sued in March for access to correspondence between the Heartland Institute and the EPA, though E&E News noted Tuesday that “[i]t’s sometimes unclear whom the recipients of Bast’s messages are.”

Bast has said as much in public, as well. At a conference hosted by the institute in March 2017, he said it was “a wonderful time to be a global warming realist.”

But the FOIA’d emails show the group’s extensive access to EPA officials. The Associated Press reported Saturday that John Konkus, the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, reached out to the organization in May of last year asking for names of individuals to invite to hearings on the EPA’s scientific standards, which was eventually cancelled.

Bast, per AP, later emailed the EPA that he believed the meeting had been nixed because “skeptics planned to attend.” The former CEO was replaced in that role earlier this year by the Tea Party-aligned former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)

In June of last year, according to E&E News, Bast praised Trump’s “current tactic of simply not mentioning global warming, even when talking about the Paris Accord.”

The Washington Post reported last week on a September memo by Trump’s special assistant for domestic energy and environmental policy, Michael Catanzaro, that laid out a similar analysis. Per the Post:

The memo presented three options without endorsing any of them: conducting a “red team/blue team” exercise to “highlight uncertainties in climate science”; more formally reviewing the science under the Administrative Procedure Act; or deciding to just “ignore, and not seek to characterize or question, the science being conducted by Federal agencies and outside entities.”

In the emails quoted by E&E News, Bast said he “led the applause on several occasions, and even hooted and whistled a few times” at the Trump’s June Rose Garden announcement that he intended to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Heartland, Bast added, “poured millions of dollars and thousands of hours into making the case that global warming is not a crisis.”

“We deserve some recognition, though the liberal media won’t give us that.”

Read E&E News’ report here.

Read More →

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Sunday demanded access to FBI documents on a confidential informant as a condition of the President speaking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators.

“I want to know, did they get any evidence in that counterintelligence probe?” Giuliani told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, adding later: “If they don’t show us these documents, we’re just going to have to say no.”

Trump has branded as “Spygate” the news that an FBI informant reportedly contacted members of his campaign in 2016. Giuliani’s remarks Sunday were part of a frequently contradictory discussion about the informant.

While Giuliani maintained that he was not aware of what was discussed during recent briefings between top intelligence and national security officials and members of Congress (at the outset of which White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House lawyer Emmet Flood were also present), he said that Trump was.

“What I know is just what I speculate, not anything that’s been said to me,” he said. “No one has shared it with me.”

“I’m positive that they shared it with the President.”

“But probably at this point it’s better that we don’t know,” Giuliani continued. “We have to know, however, before we can recommend to the President whether or not to be interviewed.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee who attended the briefings this past week, said in a separate interview Sunday that the Trump legal team’s tactics were “completely improper.”

“This was supposed to be, ostensibly, about congressional oversight,” he told ABC’s Martha Raddatz. “But of course, the meeting was always intended for something very different, and that is the Trump defense team’s effort to get information in an investigation implicating the President.”

Read More →