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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday defended the Trump administration’s treatment of the press in light of the United States falling two places on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, from 43 to 45 out of 180, in 2018. 

Still, she didn’t address a reporter’s question about what affect President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press may have had on that ranking.

“According to Reporters Without Borders, much of the blame for that goes to the President for his attacks on the media,” a reporter asked Sanders during the press briefing Wednesday. “What’s the reaction of the White House, and does it accept that the President’s comments has [sic] denigrated freedom of the press in the United States?”

“Certainly would reject the idea that the President or this administration has halted freedom of the press,” Sanders replied. “I think we’re one of the most accessible administrations that we’ve seen in decades. I think by my mere presence of standing up here and taking your questions unvetted is a pretty good example of freedom of the press. And I think it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.”

She added later, responding to a different question: “I certainly think that, as I stated a moment ago, we support a free press, but we also support a fair press. And I think that those things should go hand-in-hand, and there’s a certain responsibility by the press to report accurate information.”

In 2017, following Trump’s election, the same organization dropped the U.S. from 41 to 43 in its ranking.

Read More →

Michael Anton, the recently departed spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, defended Trump’s Tuesday reference to North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un as “honorable.”

“What he specifically said was that Kim Jong Un had been honorable in the negotiation over the summit, so he limited it to that one very narrow topic,” Anton told CNN’s Kate Bolduan in an interview Wednesday, though Trump did not specify that he was referring to the negotiations.

Trump said of the North Korea’s ruler: “We’re having very good discussions. Kim Jong Un, he really has been very open and, I think, very honorable from everything we’re seeing. Now a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they’ve never been in this position.”

Asked about the comment at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron later, Trump spoke generally about the negotiations with North Korea.

Anton told Bolduan: “I think you’re making much too much of this. The President said that in a very narrow context about the setting up of the talks.”

“Trying to extend it beyond that to a macro comment about the North Korean regime, which he clearly didn’t mean, I just don’t think that’s accurate,” he added.

Anton is best known for anonymously writing “The Flight 93 Election,” a pre-election argument for conservatives to line up behind Trump’s campaign. In it, he compared the Washington status quo — including “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty” — to the terrorists who hijacked United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

“Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity,” he wrote separately in the essay, referring to “mass migration.”

Watch below via CNN:

Read More →

Democratic lobbyist and former Port Authority commissioner Caren Z. Turner cursed out police officers who’d pulled over a car with her daughter in it this past Easter weekend. She resigned as commissioner on Monday.

On Tuesday, Politico and published dashcam video of the traffic stop released by Tenafly, New Jersey police. In it, Turner is seen confronting the officers and flashing her Port Authority badge.

“You may shut the fuck up,” Turner is seen telling an officer in the dashcam video at one point. The confrontation began after the officers informed the car’s driver that it would be impounded because it was not registered.

“I am the commissioner of the Port Authority and I am heading up over 4,000 police officers, okay?” Turner said separately. “So if there’s a problem—

“There’s no problem,” the officer responds. “It’s an unregistered vehicle.”

Announcing Turner’s resignation Monday, the Port Authority said in part: “Immediately upon learning of allegations that Commissioner Turner violated the Board’s newly-enacted Code of Ethics, an Inspector General investigation was begun.  The investigation revealed conduct that was profoundly disturbing.” Turner had served as chair of the Port Authority board’s ethics committee. 

Watch below via Politico:

Read More →

The Environmental Protection Agency turned down the White House’s offer to help its administrator, Scott Pruitt, prepare for two congressional hearings later this week, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.

The publication cited two unnamed sources familiar with Pruitt’s preparation for the Thursday hearings, which will be held before subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

One unnamed source told the Daily Beast that the EPA’s reaction to the White House’s offer of help was, essentially, “get lost.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment on the report.

TPM asked the White House about the report about whether Pruitt had the President’s confidence.

“We refer you back to Sarah’s response regarding Administrator Pruitt at the briefing yesterday,” assistant White House press secretary Kelly Love wrote in response to TPM’s request for comment. “Nothing further to add.

On Monday, reporters asked Sanders about the multiple scandals currently facing Pruitt, from handing close advisers five-figure raises using a loophole in administrative law to renting a dirt-cheap townhouse from a lobbyist power couple whose clients had business before the EPA.

Sanders said the White House was “continuing to review” and “monitoring” the various reports on Pruitt’s alleged misconduct.

A waterfall of damaging scandals in recent months has marred the administrator’s reputation as a fierce deregulator dutifully carrying out the White House’s policy goals.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the White House had told congressional Republicans to soften their defenses of Pruitt, one sign that the administrator’s future is uncertain.

Read More →

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are scheduled to hold a joint press conference on Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. ET.

Watch live below via NBC News: 

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said it was a “stupid question” for a reporter to ask if he’d consider a pardon for his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

“Are you considering a pardon for Michael Cohen,” a reporter was heard asking during a pool spray in the Oval Office, as Trump sat next to French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Stupid question,” Trump responded.

Cohen’s home, office and hotel were raided earlier this month as part of a months-long criminal probe. Trump called the raids “an attack on our country” and “a whole new level of unfairness.”

Trump has so far used his pardon power on two people: Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a close political ally, and former George W. Bush administration official Scooter Libby.

Both pardons raised questions about whether the President meant to broadcast his willingness to pardon political allies caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. On Saturday, Trump wrote that he was considering a pardon for the late boxer Jack Johnson.

This post has been updated. 

Read More →

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) should be excluded from the 2018 congressional primary ballot because petition circulators he’d hired through a third party to collect signatures for ballot placement were not technically residents of Colorado.

“We reverse the district court’s ruling that [signature collector Ryan] Tipple is a resident of Colorado,” the court’s decision read in part. “The district court improperly focused on Tipple’s stated future intent to move to Colorado, rather than considering whether Tipple presently has a primary or principal place of abode in Colorado to which he intends to return, as confirmed by objective indicia of such residency.”

Earlier this month, five Republican residents of El Paso County, CO filed a lawsuit against Colorado’s secretary of state alleging several signature-collectors for Lamborn didn’t actually reside in Colorado, despite being registered to vote there.

Denver District Court Judge Judge Brian Whitney, in a ruling from the bench, threw out 58 signatures from one circulator, Jeffrey Carter, but kept the rest, leaving Lamborn with enough valid signatures—more than 1,000—to qualify for the ballot. The plaintiffs appealed to the state’s supreme court.

That court ruled Monday that Tipple, another of the circulators named in the lawsuit, was not a Colorado resident.

A spokesperson for the Colorado secretary of state’s office, Lynn Bartels, published a statement from Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert indicating the office could pursue the case in federal court: “The Colorado Supreme Court just provided an avenue to have a federal judge strike the residency requirement for candidate circulators.”

“Federal court already has struck down a ruling that circulators for ballot measures must live in state,” Staiert added. “A sitting congressman was just knocked off the ballot without a vote of the people.”

Read More →

Reporters, members of Congress, government ethics officials and everyday taxpayers have given EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt a lot of flak for wasting money faster than a Russian oligarch.

In fact, as I wrote up this report, five Democrats wrote a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) with a compelling argument that two particular expenses, a $43,000 phone booth and a sweep for surveillance devices in Pruitt’s office, were useless and conducted through an improperly awarded contract, respectively.

But is it really that bad, all told? Like Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said earlier this month, “it may add up to more than what the previous guy did. But what about the big picture of how he’s taking care of the taxpayer’s dollars with the department, the EPA?”

Pruitt has defended his spending time and time again.

Well, let’s tally it up:

  • A soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office, even though the EPA already has so-called “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities”: $43,000, including installation.
  • Bullet-resistant seat covers, alongside plenty of other unnecessary additions on a new SUV lease that was itself unnecessary, because the EPA already had one: $10,200 yearly lease.
  • Five-digit raises for seven EPA staffers featured in a recent EPA IG document who had mostly worked at the EPA for less than a year: $204,693, despite Pruitt’s professed ignorance of the raises.
  • Well-funded trips abroad, including to Italy ($120,000) and a planning trip to Australia by two staffers and three security officers ($45,000) even though the actual trip by Pruitt never happened.
  • An unprecedentedly massive, 24/7 security detail that Pruitt’s taken along to venues like the Rose Bowl and Disneyland: At least $3,000,000.
  • Cost to repair the door to Pruitt’s former townhouse, after said security detail smashed through it in a panic, only to find Pruitt napping inside$2,460.
  • Sweep for surveillance devices in the administrator’s office: $3,000.
  • A now-cancelled contract for media monitoring with a GOP opposition research firm: $120,000.
  • Subsequent contract to another GOP-aligned media firm to produce a reporting touting Pruitt’s accomplishments: $6,500.
  • Private, charter and business-class flights justified as security expenses because Pruitt was apparently getting cursed at on airplanes: Tens of thousands of dollars, at least.

Did I forget anything?

Read More →

Five Democrats wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) Monday arguing that two well-publicized purchases by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — a $43,000 phone booth in his office and a $3,000 sweep of the same office for surveillance devices — were useless and improper.

Though the EPA has argued that Pruitt’s phone booth, the purchase of which was recently deemed illegal by the Government Accountability Office, “enables him to use this area to make and receive classified telephone calls (up to the top secret level) for the purpose of conducting agency business,” the Democrats said it might not be able to serve even that purpose.

“Documents provided to us from within EPA indicate that as of March 2017, the Administrator’s office was not cleared for classified communications,” they wrote. “The phone booth, which was installed months later, appears to be a ‘privacy booth’ installed by a vendor that describes itself as a ‘manufacturer and distributor of acoustical products’ whose mission is ‘to solve sound and noise control problems to improve every environment of your life.’”

“Even if the phone booth itself is authorized to receive top secret communications, that would mean classified information is being received in an otherwise not-secured location, preventing the Administrator from discussing it with any other cleared person,” the Democrats, Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Don Beyer (D-VA), said.

Separately, the letter discussed the $3,000 sweep for surveillance devices in Pruitt’s office conducted last year by a business partner of Pruitt’s security chief, Nino Perrotta.

The five Democrats said that they had been “informed that this contract [for the security sweep] may have been paid for through the use of an EPA credit card without first obtaining the required pre-approval.”

The sweep came after the EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management wrote in an email, cited in the letter, that such sweeps are subject to a number of National Security Council regulations.

“Please wait on any further movement on this thanks!” Perrotta responded to that office’s email, according to the letter. “The front office will advise shortly.” 

And after the sweep, the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security concluded that it “did not employ the equipment, proper certification, or necessary processes to be approved by the [United States Government] for certifying a USG facility or space for classified information systems or classified discussion.”   

For what it’s worth, the lawmakers cited the resulting security sweep report itself, which found that “no covert surveillance devices were present” in Pruitt’s office.

The lawmakers, as others have in recent weeks, called on Gowdy to hold hearings and request more documents related to the EPA’s security expenditures and “the role Mr. Perrotta played selecting Mr. Steinmetz for a security sweep, particularly after being advised by EPA officials that such sweeps are governed by National Security Council Regulations.”

Read More →

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday walked back President Donald Trump’s claim the previous day that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization” ahead of a planned meeting between Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. 

Based on what is known publicly, Trump’s claim appears to be false. So far, North Korea has only announced that it has halted nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing and suspended a nuclear test site. South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters last week that “North Korea is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” but that’s a long way from actually acting on such a desire.

At a press briefing Monday, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked about Trump’s tweet. “Where did they [agree to denuclearize]?” he asked. “Have they already agreed to do that?” 

“Certainly in a number of the conversations, including the comments I would refer you back to,” Sanders said, without specifying which comments she was referencing. “Also, South Korean President Moon, who has said that North Korea has expressed a will for complete denuclearization, and certainly that’s the focus of any conversation and negotiation that the United States will have with North Korea.”

She assured the press later, though, that “we’re not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word” in the course of the negotiations — though that appeared to be what Trump did in his tweet.

NPR’s Mara Liasson asked separately about the difference between Trump’s comment and Sanders’. “What is the President’s definition of complete denuclearization?” she asked.

“I’m not going to negotiate with you guys,” Sanders said. “I’m going to leave that to the President and Kim Jong Un to walk through what some of those details would look like when that meeting takes place. But I can be very clear that we expect it not to just be mentioned in words, but there have to be concrete actions that take place towards total denuclearization of the peninsula.”

“Does that mean removing all nukes, our nukes and theirs?” Liasson pressed, touching on what could be a crucial sticking point for the North Koreans.

Sanders didn’t get into the distinction, saying only that “there have to be concrete actions that stop the denuclearization [sic] of the peninsula.”

She added later, in response to a different question: “The President wants to do what is in the best interest of our country, and even in the world, and particularly having North Korea and the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, I think is a good thing for everybody.”

Read More →