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Matt Shuham

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

Articles by Matt

News Monday that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election carried with it a juicy question: Who on the Trump campaign corresponded with Papadopoulos regarding his efforts to pursue meetings with Kremlin-linked Russians?

Court documents unsealed Monday described Papadopoulos’ relationship with three individuals who claimed to have ties to the Kremlin, including one whom the erstwhile Trump campaign aide incorrectly believed to be Vladimir Putin’s niece and one who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails,” months before hacked Democratic emails had been published by Wikileaks. Papadopoulos lied about the nature of his communications with the individuals, which he ultimately admitted to federal investigators.

The court documents detailed Papadopoulos’ communications with other campaign staff — who remain nameless in the documents — about potential meetings between campaign officials, including Trump himself, and Russians.

According to the court documents, Papadopoulos emailed someone referred to as “another high-ranking Campaign official” in May 2016 with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” and said: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

A footnote on that paragraph notes that “the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another campaign official,” without Papadopoulos included, stating: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

In August, the Washington Post published the same email mentioned in the court document: “the high-ranking Campaign official” is Paul Manafort, according to the Post’s report, and “another campaign official” is his longtime deputy and business partner, Rick Gates. Citing an unnamed “Trump campaign source,” Yahoo News also reported Monday that Manafort was the source of the email urging Gates to find “someone low level” to deal with the situation.

Both Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI on Monday, and the pair pleaded not guilty to 12 counts against them, including Foreign Agents Registration Act violations and money laundering.

Another mysterious unnamed figure in the court documents: one unnamed “Campaign Supervisor” who told Papadopoulos in August 2016 that “I would encourage you” to meet with the Russian officials.

According to Yahoo News’ campaign source, the “Campaign Supervisor” is Sam Clovis, the non-scientist currently nominated by the Trump administration to be the USDA’s chief scientist. Clovis, an Iowan conservative radio host and Tea Party activist, joined the Trump campaign in August 2015 as a co-chair and policy adviser.

In the Washington Post’s August report on Papadopoulos’ emails, Clovis expressed wariness a few months earlier, in March 2016, at the prospect of what Papadopoulos described as “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump.”

According to the Post, Clovis said he thought “NATO allies should be consulted before any plans were made.”

In May, Clovis was similarly circumspect when responding to a forwarded email from Papadopoulos, from an official in a Russian government-funded organization who proposed the Trump campaign write a formal letter outlining a potential trip by Trump to Russia.

“There are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen,” Clovis wrote.

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The FBI is investigating Whitefish Energy Holdings’ now-canceled contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The FBI’s San Juan field office is “looking into circumstances surrounding the deal,” the Journal reported, citing three unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Whitefish’s contract was canceled Sunday amid increasing scrutiny of the contract’s extremely generous terms, its restriction against government auditing of its “cost and profit elements” and the lack of approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, despite the contract stating that FEMA needed to sign off on the deal.

PREPA’s executive director, Ricardo Ramos, told the Journal that the language requiring FEMA’s authorization of the contract’s terms had mistakenly been left in the contract.

“By executing this contract, PREPA hereby represents and warrants that FEMA has reviewed and approved of this Contract, and confirmed that this Contract is in an acceptable form to qualify for funding from FEMA or other U.S. Governmental agencies,” the contract read. FEMA said Friday that it had offered no such approval.

The contract noted that, even without securing “approvals or funding from FEMA or some other source,” PREPA would still owe Whitefish for its work. PREPA effectively filed for bankruptcy in July.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said prior to the contract’s cancellation that Whitefish had been paid $8 million, the Associated Press reported.

Whitefish was two years old and had two full time employees when it inked the deal with PREPA. About 70 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power.

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Tony Podesta is stepping down from the lobbying giant The Podesta Group, Politico first reported Monday. NBC News also reported Podesta was stepping down.

The firm came under scrutiny for its undisclosed lobbying on behalf of the political party of the pro-Putin Ukranian leader, Viktor Yanukovych, the details of which were explored as part of Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 and a wide range of related matters.

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of a firm-wide meeting Monday morning, Politico reported that Podesta — the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta — would hand over control of the firm to CEO Kimberley Fritts. Fritts and a “senior group of the Podesta team,” Politico reported, would be forming a new firm within days, the result of a reportedly months-long transition in the works.

NBC News reported last week, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter, that Tony Podesta had come under the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for his and his firm’s failure to properly disclose lobbying in 2012-2014 on behalf of a Ukranian group, the European Centre For a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), formed to represent the interests of Yanukovych and his political party, the Party of Regions.

According to NBC News’ report, Mueller’s interest in Podesta arose as part of fact-finding about Paul Manafort’s work for the Party of Regions: Manafort’s longtime business partner, Rick Gates, reportedly directed Podesta’s firm’s lobbying, as well as the Republican-leaning firm Mercury LLC’s lobbying, for ECFMU.

Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI on Monday, as 12 felony counts against the pair were unsealed. The charges included violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which regulates lobbying for foreign powers. The indictment called ECFMU a “mouth piece” for the Party of Regions.

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Former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski blamed the FBI on Monday for not warning the Trump campaign about one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A 12-count indictment against Manafort was unsealed Monday.

“If the public reports are true, and there was a time where Paul Manafort was under a FISA warrant before coming to the Trump campaign, why is it the FBI never reached out to me as the campaign manager, never reached out to Donald Trump, and said: ‘Look, you might want to pause for a second and take a look before you bring this guy on board as a volunteer to hunt delegates to you,’” Lewandowski told Fox Business Network’s Charles Payne.

CNN first reported in September that investigators wiretapped Manafort before and after the campaign, citing unnamed sources.

Another former Trump campaign official, Rick Gates, was also indicted on Friday, according to unsealed records released Monday. The felony charges against Gates and Manafort include money laundering and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier in October to making false statements to the FBI, in a case unsealed Monday.

“If Paul Manafort did something in 2006, a decade before he was brought on as volunteer to the Trump campaign, then he should be accountable for that, and he and his associate, Rick Gates, have been indicted on 12 counts of money laundering and probably tax evasion and other things which have absolutely nothing to do with the campaign, have nothing to do with the Russia investigation and have nothing to do with the President,” Lewandowski said separately.

Lewandowski and Manafort’s behind-the-scenes disagreements were the subject of multiple reports during their time together on the campaign. In September of this year, Lewandowksi said that that “anybody” — including, he said, “Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, or Rick Gates or Carter Page” — attempted to improperly influence the election, “I hope they go to jail for the rest of their lives.”

Lewandowski added Monday, referring to Manafort: “He was under a FISA warrant, supposedly, both before and after his tenure at the campaign, and the FBI never notified the leading presidential candidate for a major Republican party race? Never notified him of a potential problem? This is a problem with the FBI if you ask me.”

Lewandowski also implied that the indictments were political in nature, and that they had been used to secure the position of special counsel Robert Mueller.

He noted that Trump is expected to announce a new Federal Reserve chairman as soon as this week, and that Trump was advocating for an overhaul of the tax code. He also said there had been “a significant amount of pressure from members of Congress” for Trump to dismiss Mueller.

“All of the sudden, at the last minute, at the last hour on a Friday night, charges have been brought forward?” he asked.

Lewandowski concluded: “Look, if Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are guilty of tax evasion, money laundering, or hiding their accounts in Cyprus, or whatever it is, they should absolutely be held accountable. But they should be held accountable independent of the President, because the President had nothing to do with coordination, collusion or cooperation with Russia, nobody at the campaign did that I’m aware of.”

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At least one source close to the White House had a straightforward reaction to the unsealed indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates Monday morning: “Today has zero to do with the White House.”

That’s what the unnamed source told CNN, in what the network called “a preview of some of the talking points we will hear from the White House and its surrogates.”

Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI’s custody Monday, each charged with multiple counts related to money laundering and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Manafort and Gates were deeply tied to Trump’s campaign: the former was its campaign chairman at one point and oversaw the Republican National Convention for Trump’s campaign. And Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, also worked for the campaign and, later, on Trump’s inaugural committee.

CNN’s John Berman later read another reaction on air, from an unnamed “source close to the White House”: “The bad behavior of Manafort/Gates has little to do with the Trump campaign or Russia investigation,” the source said.

The statement continued: “These guys were bad guys when they started. They were bad guys when they left. The indictment has nothing to do with any relationship to Russia.”

Berman then seemed to paraphrase some of the statement: that the President “takes the information on its face” in that it has “nothing to do with him.”

The source added, per Berman: “The President is not planning to try to fire Robert Mueller.”

CNN also reported Monday, citing an unnamed official, that White House lawyers were discussing Manafort and Gates’ indictment with Trump the President Monday morning.

The White House did not reply to TPM’s request for comment.

The indictment against Manafort and Gates does not include any references to Trump or the 2016 presidential campaign, but it does partially describe criminal activity that took place at the same time as the campaign.

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President Donald Trump on Friday handed out candy to the children of members of the White House press corps, all the while lightly needling their parents.

“I cannot believe the media produced such beautiful children,” he joked, unsmiling. “How the media did this, I don’t know.”

“Do you know who they are? They’re the friendly media,” he told the children surrounding his desk, pointing to clicking cameras. “That’s the press. Are you crying? Come here, sweetheart.”

“Are you going to grow up to be like your parents?” the President asked costumed kids to his right. “Mmm,” he wavered. “Don’t answer. That can only get me in trouble, that question.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought in a box of White House-branded Hershey’s Kisses.

“You have no weight problems, that’s the good news, right?” Trump told one child as he passed out the treats.

“So how does the press treat you? I bet you get treated better by the press than anybody in the world,” he added to another.

Watch the event below:

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday said he welcomed all investigations into Whitefish Energy Holdings, an electric company based in his hometown that was recently awarded a $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s badly damaged electricity infrastructure.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” Zinke said in his statement. “Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless.”

Zinke acknowledged that he “was contacted by the company” after the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded Whitefish the contract, but, he said, “I took no action.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders similarly distanced the White House from the Whitefish contract on Friday.

The company has defended the propriety of its agreement with PREPA, which came under suspicion after revelations that Whitefish was financed by major donors to President Donald Trump, and that the company is headquartered in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana.

On Oct. 24, the Interior Department said in a statement that neither Zinke nor his office “have taken any meetings or action on behalf of this company,” referring to Whitefish.

The same statement acknowledged that Zinke knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanskis, “because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday distanced the Trump administration from the $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), to rebuild the island’s infrastructure after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September.

Whitefish Energy is only two years old, only has two full-time employees, and has never taken on a task as vast as the one presented by Puerto Rico’s storm-damaged infrastructure. But it shares a hometown with the secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, and is financed by major Trump donors.

This is a contract that was determined by the local authorities in Puerto Rico, not something that the federal government played a role in,” Sanders said at a press briefing Friday, asked if the White House was concerned about the deal. “But as we understand, there is an ongoing audit and we’ll look forward to seeing the results of that later.”

She added, asked about Trump’s donors’ ties to the company: “The federal government has nothing to do with this contract or the process. This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government.”

Zinke met with Trump on Friday to discuss a report from the Interior Department on national monuments (Zinke wants to shrink some of them).

And that was the reason for the meeting,” Sanders assured of the report, before referring to Trump: “But he did ask Secretary Zinke, just for clarification purposes, and he reiterated once again that we have no role, the federal government, and specifically he had no role in that contract.”

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