Mattshuhambiopic_zprsqx

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

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.

Read More →

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:

Read More →

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.”

Read More →

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.”

Read More →

Leon Wieseltier, the former longtime literary editor of The New Republic facing a slew of sexual harassment accusations, will not continue as a contributing editor to The Atlantic, the publication confirmed to TPM on Friday.

“Leon Wieseltier will no longer continue at The Atlantic as a contributing editor,” Editor In Chief Jeffrey Goldberg told The Atlantic’s editorial staff Friday, in a memo shared with TPM.

“Wieseltier’s relationship with The Atlantic has been largely honorary in nature — he last published a piece with us in March of 2016 — but we are, in any case, removing his name from the masthead,” Goldberg continued. “The Atlantic has zero tolerance for workplace harassment of any kind.”

Wieseltier, The New Republic’s literary editor from 1983 until 2014, was accused by several women this week of inappropriate conduct, including kissing New Republic staffers on the mouth, discussing their appearances and asking about their sex lives, the New York Times reported.

“It was never an ‘open secret’ among me and my then-colleagues that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary czar of The New Republic, behaved inappropriately with women in the workplace,” The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle, who worked at The New Republic for 12 years, wrote Friday. “It was simply out in the open.”

“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness,” Wieseltier said in a statement to the Times.

The leaders of the Emerson Collective announced it was cancelling a new magazine Wieseltier had planned to edit after “receiving information related to past inappropriate workplace conduct.”

Over the past week, former New Republic staffers circulated stories of Wieseltier’s alleged misconduct in an email chain, the Times reported.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

Former White House aide and self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert Sebastian Gorka on Thursday said that that Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the sale of a uranium mining firm to Russia was “equivalent” to the actions of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Gorka compared Clinton’s actions, into which congressional Republicans announced a probe this week, to the spying convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which resulted in their execution in 1953.

“If this had happened in the 1950s, there would be people up on treason charges right now,” Gorka told Sean Hannity of the so-called “Uranium One” scandal, named for the Canadian mining company whose sale to Russia’s state-run nuclear energy arm Clinton’s State Department approved in 2010. Eight other members of the Committee on Foreign Investments approved also approved the deal.

“The Rosenbergs, okay?” Gorka continued. “This is equivalent to what the Rosenbergs did and those people got the chair. Think about it. Giving away nuclear capability to our enemies, that’s what we’re talking about.”

Gorka, who left the White House in late August, has since been hired as a strategist for the pro-Trump group MAGA Coalition.

In February, Gorka refused to say whether Trump thought Islam was a religion, and he has maintained the provocative, often racist rhetoric that he employed as a Breitbart News editor since leaving the White House.

Last week, for example, he opined that Chicago faced the problem of “black African gun crime against black Africans.”

“Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel,” he said.

Republicans’ intense focus on Clinton’s role in approving the Uranium One sale — widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in support of Donald Trump — began in 2015 with the book “Clinton Cash,” which the New York Times and other outlets then built upon in their own coverage.

Clinton Cash was written by the president and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute, Peter Schweitzer, a Breitbart News senior editor-at-large. The other co-founder of GAI was Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who has since gone back to leading Breitbart. And GAI was bankrolled by the Mercer family, deep-pocketed fundraisers for Trump — and for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and others — who are closely tied to Bannon.

Watch Gorka’s remarks on Clinton below, via the Democratic research group Media Matters:

Read More →

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Thursday blamed Democrats for what he called “successful” Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying that the “commotion” created by Democrats over a dossier of information about President Donald Trump had played into the Russians’ hands.

“What has allowed them to be successful in this sabotage of an election is that they’re trying to change public opinion,” Nunes told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, referring to Russia.

Nunes attempted to argue that revelations that Hillary Clinton and the DNC partly funded the research on Trump by former MI6 official Michael Steele could have biased the Congress and the intelligence community’s potential use of that information. (Republicans previously funded research about Trump.)

“With all of this commotion, and with all of the nonsense that was put out, don’t you think it would have been important for the Congress to know back in January, when we were first briefed on this Trump dossier, that it was actually paid for by the opposition party?” Nunes asked.

He continued: “So the people that made the Russians successful are the Democrats, and the people who have continued this nonsense over and over and over again, looking for Russians behind every tree. We continue to chase ghosts around and around this place.”

The chairman had said earlier that, if evidence emerged proving that research funded by Democrats served as the basis of investigations pursued by Congress or the intelligence community, “there’s going to be a major problem.”

If that’s the Nunes’ standard, he might have a hard time applying it evenly: Hillary Clinton’s State Department’s role in approving uranium transactions with a Russian company became a fiery talking point during the 2016 election — and now, the subject of a probe by Nunes himself — due in large part to the book “Clinton Cash.”

That book was written by the president of the Government Accountability Institute, a group co-founded by Trump’s former top strategist, Steve Bannon, and bankrolled by Trump’s own deep-pocketed funder, Rebekah Mercer.

Watch Nunes’ comments to Cavuto below:

Read More →

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including the committee’s chair and ranking member, wrote to Whitefish Energy Holdings on Thursday seeking more information on the tiny company’s mysterious contract with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

Beginning in mid-October, a series of reports began raising questions about Whitefish, specifically, how it ended up with the $300 million contract to restore power to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s power grid on Sept. 20.

The company is two years old and has two full time employees, but it is financed by major Trump donors, and its CEO knows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who lives in Whitefish, Montana, where the company is based.

“We understand Whitefish is focused on the critical task of restoring power for the population of Puerto Rico,” the committee said in a letter to Whitefish Energy. “In light of the questions that have been raised about your company’s involvement in recovery efforts, however, it is important to develop a clear understanding of the facts.”

The letter requested, by Nov. 9, copies of Whitefish’s contracts with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a list of entities subcontracting with the company in Puerto Rico, and a map detailing current and future work in Puerto Rico by Whitefish and its subcontractors and subsidiaries.

The Washington Post reported on Oct. 23 that Whitefish was paying its subcontractors large sums for their work on the island — $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319.04 for a lineman — in addition to accommodation and lodging fees.

The company’s CEO told CNN three days earlier that Whitefish had won the contract in Puerto Rico with PREPA after “[w]e just called each other.” On Thursday, Whitefish issued an apology to the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, after the company threatened to withdraw its workers from the city following Cruz’s demands for more transparency about the contact.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s letter’s signatories aren’t the only lawmakers interested in Whitefish’s deal. On Wednesday afternoon, BuzzFeed reported that Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) had requested the Government Accountability Office look into the deal.

Read the letter from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee below. It was signed by Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO).

Read More →

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that she believed special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and other matters was “getting closer to conclusion.” She did not cite any new evidence to back up the claim, instead referring to vague “reporting” on “more details about why the President has been right all along.”

“I certainly think he has confidence that they are going to close this up soon,” Sanders told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer.

Hemmer asked what made her think Mueller’s probe would conclude.

“I think we are seeing more and more evidence that shows, look, they’ve been working on this and investigating this for well into a year through various committees,” Sanders said.

Mueller’s probe is independent from the congressional probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and indeed has a much broader scope. Mueller was appointed special counsel on May 17.

Sanders did not respond to TPM’s questions about her remarks. Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, declined to comment.

“Every day we find out more and more details about why the President has been right all along and why the Democrats have been wrong all along and I think that each day we’re getting closer and closer to closing the loop on this on our front,” Sanders added.

“Is that based on news reports or is that based on something else?” Hemmer asked. “Some other channel there at the White House?”

“I think it’s based on fact — the fact that there has been no wrongdoing by the Trump campaign and a lot of the reporting that we’re seeing coming out, day in, day out with the collusion you’ve got.”

Sanders was referring two stories, mentioned earlier in the interview, which the White House has said shift suspicion away from President Donald Trump and toward Democrats.

First, the Washington Post’s report this week that the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign paid for part of a dossier on Trump created by the former British intelligence official Christopher Steele (Republicans had previously funded the research). And second, the years-old story of Hillary Clinton’s State Department’s seat on a nine-member board that approved uranium sales to Russia.

Hemmer pressed: “To be clear now, no one from the Department of Justice have told you or anyone at the White House that it should be wrapping up soon. I just want to be clear on that.”

“I have not spoken with anybody at the Department of Justice on that front, but I think that we are seeing that it is getting closer to conclusion,” Sanders said, failing to provide support for the claim.

In fact, far from appearing to reach its conclusion, various reports in recent days have pointed to past efforts by an organization linked to the Trump campaign to gain access to private Democratic emails obtained by Wikileaks.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that the head of a data analytics firm that worked closely with the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had reached out to Julian Assange during the campaign to help with the release of the leaked emails. Assange said the offer was rejected by Wikileaks. The Wall Street Journal reported later in the day that the group had offered to help organize the emails.

Read More →

LiveWire