Mshuham2

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 mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Walmart apologized Wednesday after photos surfaced on social media of a gun rack at one of its stores topped with a sign that read: “Own the school year like a hero.”

Images of the gun rack began appearing on Twitter early Wednesday morning. Initially, Walmart’s social media team claimed in response to the images that the incident had taken place at store #1341, in Evansville, Indiana.

However, in a phone call with TPM, spokesperson Charles Crowson said the company had identified the wrong store.

“We incorrectly identified the Evansville store,” Crowson said. “We’ve corrected that and are now trying to find the accurate store.”

Correcting Walmart’s initial claims on social media, Crowson said he didn’t know for sure that the sign — the placement of which recalled numerous deadly school shootings — had been taken down.

This sign had no business there and was taken down as soon as we were alerted,” the company had tweeted initially.

This post has been updated.

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Defense Secretary James Mattis issued an aggressive warning to North Korea following President Donald Trump’s own threat of “fire and fury” in response to the reported advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

“The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Mattis said in a statement provided to TPM. “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

The statement follows similar language from Trump on Tuesday, and again Wednesday morning, when he wrote: “Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” referring to the United States’ nuclear capabilities.

White House aide Sebastian Gorka said Thursday, explaining Trump’s comments, that “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower,” and that “the message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Trump was using “ language Kim Jong-un can understand.”

Read Mattis’ full statement below:

The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack. Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability.  The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

President Trump was informed of the growing threat last December and on taking office his first orders to me emphasized the readiness of our ballistic missile defense and nuclear deterrent forces. While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.  The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.

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Before his sudden departure as communications adviser on July 31, Anthony Scaramucci implied in an interview that Mike Pence’s new chief of staff was hired to protect the vice president from the political turmoil roiling the Trump administration, perhaps to set up a bid for the presidency in 2020.

In an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza — the very same interview in which the Mooch said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s self-regard was comparable to a stunning feat of bodily gymnastics — Scaramucci called attention to the man Pence announced as his new chief of staff on June 29, Nick Ayers.

“Why do you think Nick’s there, bro?” Scaramucci asked Lizza, referring to Ayers. 

“Are you stupid?” Scaramucci continued. “Why is Nick there? Nick’s there to protect the vice president because the vice president can’t believe what the fuck is going on.”

Lizza published the quotes on Tuesday.

Ayers, a longtime political operative but a novice in government, was mentioned in a recent New York Times profile on Republicans — Pence, principally — who have engaged in what the Times called “a shadow campaign for 2020.”

Mr. Ayers has signaled to multiple major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready” for a potential presidential bid, the Times reported.

Pence slammed the New York Times’ reporting.

But Scaramucci’s quote to Lizza — and Scaramucci’s post-facto claims that he incorrectly believed the interview was off-the-record — lends some credence to the claim that Ayers’ presence in the White House is motivated at least partly by Pence’s political ambitions.

Scaramucci did not respond to Lizza’s requests for comment, so the reporter reflected on the comment with an open question: “Was Scaramucci suggesting that Ayers was meant to protect Pence from the fallout if and when Trump collapses politically, resigns, decides not to run for reelection, or is impeached?”

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The Wall Street Journal editorial board took aim at the Trump White House on Tuesday, calling out chief strategist Steve Bannon for fueling infighting aimed at new chief of staff John Kelly and others.

“[N]otice the alt-right brigades who seem to rise up as if on call to smite some White House policy opponent of aide Steve Bannon,” the paper wrote, adding: “The former Breitbart publisher has been a White House survivor, but his warring habits have also been responsible for much of the White House dysfunction.”

“Mr. Trump may worry about the damage Mr. Bannon and his allies could do to his Administration if he is no longer part of the White House team,” the editorial concluded. “But if his minions continue to vilify his colleagues inside the White House, how can anyone tell the difference?”

The rebuke of Bannon — and, more notably, of Trump’s leadership — comes after reports that media properties owned by conservative mogul Rupert Murdoch, including the Journal, have soured on Trump, despite the pair’s reportedly active phone habit.

Murdoch’s properties still strongly embrace the fringe elements of Trump economic and political support. In a May 31 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, for example, Blackwater founder Erik Prince made the argument for an “East India Company approach” of privatizing the war in Afghanistan (and likely enriching himself).

And Fox News’ coverage of Democratic staffer Seth Rich’s murder — which conspiracists allege was the result of Rich leaking internal communications to Wikileaks — has prompted even more calls in the UK for further scrutiny of Murdoch’s proposed purchase of Sky Television.

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White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s threatening of North Korea with “fire and fury” and nuclear weapons over its alleged advancement of nuclear capabilities distinguished the United States as a “hyperpower.”

Responding to bipartisan criticism of Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, Gorka said: “These are the moments when we have to come together as the nation and support the executive.”

In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” — which Trump is known to watch nearly daily — co-host Steve Doocy asked Gorka what Trump meant with a new round of threats on Twitter earlier that morning.

“He’s saying don’t test America, and don’t test Donald J. Trump,” Gorka responded. “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities. Whether they’re conventional, whether they’re nuclear or whether they’re special forces. So the message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”

Gorka later said, referring to his own bombastic rhetoric: “Believe it or not, I got great talking points for this interview.”

He also characterized North Korea’s actions as an attempt to “blackmail the West” into concessions and called on the country to stop its missile testing and militaristic rhetoric.

“This is extortion, nothing less,” he said, referring to North Korea.

“Are you saying they have built an atomic bomb to shake us down for stuff?” Doocy asked bluntly.

“It’s absolutely clear,” Gorka said. “It’s absolutely clear.”

And, responding to critics of Trump’s rhetoric including Democratic leadership and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Gorka was blunt: You’re either with Trump, or you’re not a patriot.

“These are the moments when we have to come together as the nation and support the executive,” he said. “Whether you voted for him or not, whether they’re a Democrat, whether they’re a Republican, these are the trying times. During the Cuban missile crisis, we stood behind JFK. This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.” 

Gorka added: “Anybody, whether they’re a member of a Congress, whether they’re a journalist: If you think your party politics, your ideology trumps the national security of America, that is an indictment of you.”

This post has been updated.

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The Republican National Committee and White House communications staff produce what’s known by some in the White House as the “Propaganda Document” for President Donald Trump twice a day, Vice News reported Tuesday.

The documents are exclusively composed of positive media coverage. Citing three unnamed current and former White House officials, Vice News described them:

[T]he folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.

Citing unnamed White House sources, Vice News reported that Trump was delivered the documents at around 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily. Though the publication noted that the documents had come to be delivered less frequently “and more typically after public events” after the departure of ousted communications director Sean Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to unnamed sources.

According to Vice News, the documents follow much the same pathway as political communications-related materials in other recent presidencies — starting with information monitoring at the Republican National Committee in the early morning, and progressing through the White House communications staff and onto the President’s desk.

The difference, of course, is that purely positive information would seem to serve little purpose for the White House other than boosting the President’s mood.

“Maybe it’s good for the country that the president is in a good mood in the morning,” an unnamed former RNC official told Vice News.

An unnamed White House official told Vice News the only feedback the communications shop had ever gotten regarding the document was: “It needs to be more fucking positive.”

Yet another source said the document could have been an effort from Priebus and Spicer to prove that their efforts were resulting in positive coverage.

Spicer told Vice News that “While I won’t comment on materials we share with the president, this is not accurate on several levels,” but wouldn’t specify any inaccuracies.

Neither White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders nor Deputy RNC Rapid Response Director Steve Guest responded to TPM’s request for comment.

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A presidential retweet brings lots of attention, whether you want it or not.

But for “Nicole Mincey,” who until recently was associated with the online merchandise store ProTrump45.com, you’d think the attention would be a boon for business and a well-deserved reward for collecting more than 100,000 Twitter followers.

Instead, the Twitter account associated with the store, @ProTrump45, has since been suspended from the site, along with a pool of accounts that acted as bots to amplify advertisements for Trump gear. The t-shirt mockup company Placeit had complained to Twitter that the accounts had used its models, with their own pro-Trump designs super-imposed on Placeit’s placeholder clothing, to advertise ProTrump45. It was identity fraud, Placeit said. Twitter acted with surprising speed, taking down a large number of accounts.

“So far, we’ve only reported to Twitter,” Placeit CEO Navid Safabakhs told TPM in an email Monday. “Our current plan is to report to federal authorities via https://www.identitytheft.gov/ Once we know for sure the identity of the person, we will know what we will do. We may use legal action if it makes sense.”

TPM reached Mincy via email Monday. Her real last name is slightly different than her former online persona’s. “Not responding to media inquiries,” she replied. “Please don’t post my name on any article. This has been one large headache. Hope you understand. Also won’t be answering any questions.”

She added in a separate email: “My apologies but I’ve had a bad experience with a media outlet and do not wish to interact with any more. Please respect my privacy. Thanks for understanding.”

But Mincy did eventually speak to two other news outlets, confirming that she was in fact behind the Twitter account, along with a handful of others who used it and its associated accounts as a promotional network. Though her story still isn’t completely straight or verifiable, it sheds light on how a small group of cunning, and deceptive, entrepreneurs gamed the rich social media ecosystem of Trump shoppers.

“It grew pretty fast and then [a group member] bought some Twitter followers and it grew even faster,” Mincy told BuzzFeed, referring to the @ProTrump45 Twitter handle. Mincy was a “marketing tool,” she told BuzzFeed, “because I’m black, so it’s easier to market black people [as Trump supporters].”

Mincy told the Daily Beast that there were about “10 of us” behind the network of accounts, with individuals writing and blogging on behalf of multiple online personas. One partner, who Mincy told the Daily Beast was named Naijana, represented herself as Mincey in an audio interview on the Trending Today USA radio show, Mincy said.

“Everything is pro-Trump, pro-Republican, and it’s all made in America,” the person presenting herself as Mincey said in the interview.

Mincy told BuzzFeed that the Twitter account took off when they bought fake followers and Twitter advertisements. Mincy told the Daily Beast that, in the publication’s words, “all of @ProTrump45’s Twitter followers were entirely invented,” except for the group of people in on the operation.

And in an odd Twist, just as Mincy had moved Placeit to report the bots to Twitter for what it claimed was identity fraud, Mincy claims to have had a falling out with the group over its use of her identity, even before that identity was retweeted by the President.

It started, Mincy claimed, with her college dean calling her about a scam being run under her name, and with the college’s address. She told the Daily Beast that she left the group in early June. A July 4 press release for ProTrump45 included an address that matches Mincy’s college.

She sent the Daily Beast screenshots of what she said was a text exchange with two individuals — whose identity the publication couldn’t confirm — in which she argued unsuccessfully for her name to be disassociated with the scheme.

“Nicole mincey generates more traffic, sorry hun,” the screenshots purported to show one business partner, Lorraine, responding.

Mincy told the Daily Beast that her associates kept her account up, but that “they altered the spelling of my last name so it would be hard of me to find it,” and “I’m very angry at them because I told them to stop using my identity before. They would temporarily stop and then start back up again. This isn’t my first time telling them to stop. They wrote articles about a fake identity that doesn’t exist.”

She claimed that she found out about Trump’s retweet from her aunt, on Sunday.

“[ProTrump45] started trolling Trump’s twitter, saying nice things in the replies. Everyone is tracing it back to me, but it isn’t my picture,” she said. “We all joined the group to be anonymous Trump supporters.”

Mincy told the Daily Beast that she’d first gotten involved at Lorraine’s request, after she posted pro-Trump memes on her Instagram account. Lorraine and someone named William were already running the ProTrump45.com blog and store, she said.

“They asked did I want to be part of a group where you could be a [Trump] supporter and not disclose your identity, and I joined and here I am today in the middle of this mess,” she told BuzzFeed.

Eventually, it appears, Mincy’s identity became the primary vehicle through which ProTrump45 was advertised. On May 14, the popular conservative website World Net Daily declared: “Black, Liberal Woman Dumps Obama To Run Trump Store.”

Mincy told both publications that she never made any money from the venture. Rather, she said, she “wanted to write blogs and get the conservative view out.”

Still, Mincy’s business partners are still little more than digital ghosts. Few reporters have heard from them directly.

“I’m declining all interviews at this time,” Lorraine told the Daily Beast.

Responding to Yahoo Finance’s emails for a report published Tuesday, however, a person claiming to be Lorraine Elijah confirmed part of Mincy’s story: “We used an alteration of the real girl’s name for attention,” she wrote, referring to Mincy.

Mincy had claimed to the publication that her partners’ names were Lorraine Elijah and Dr. William Byrd. “We came up with this idea to make some money off of this. We bought advertising. We bought articles,” she said, referring to ProTrump45.com and its corresponding Twitter account.

But, this time, Mincy cited different reasons for Yahoo for leaving the venture.

“The store was getting disorganized,” she said. “They weren’t keeping up with the orders. I wasn’t getting paid.”

Yahoo itself ran into problems when they attempted to purchase a flag from ProTrump45.com. After paying $47.40 via PayPal for the flag, tax and shipping, the item was never delivered.

In an email to the publication, Lorraine Elijah blamed it on her supposed business partner: “William forgot to mail it out.”

This post has been updated.

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) responded to yet more attacks from President Donald Trump on Monday by re-directing attention back to the possibility that President Donald Trump would fire special counsel Robert Mueller, spurring what Blumenthal described would be a constitutional crisis.

Following similar attacks Monday morning after Blumenthal voiced support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into “potential collusion by the Trump campaign and then obstruction of justice,” Trump let out another attack against the senator Monday afternoon:

Blumenthal appeared on CNN less than an hour after Trump’s encore jab, and responded to it by promoting legislation meant to shield Mueller from being fired by Trump.

“Our national security and rule of law are at risk. And that’s where our focus should be,” Blumenthal responded, echoing the original line that likely prompted Trump’s attack. “It is not about me.”

“I have no idea about what is in his mind,” Blumenthal said, asked about the personal nature of Trump’s attacks. “What I do know is I will not be distracted by this bullying. And these bullying tweets reinforce, for me, the need for a piece of legislation that I am helping to lead with Thom Tillis and others, a bipartisan coalition, to prevent firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whom he has also sought to intimidate.”

Trump’s statements, Blumenthal said, “all point to a looming constitutional crisis if the President proceeds with firing Robert Mueller, and that’s why preventing it, forestalling that kind of constitutional conflagration, is the objective of a group of us.”

Trump’s attacks are based on Blumenthal’s fudging of his service record during the Vietnam War, for which he apologized years ago. Blumenthal had said he served “in” Vietnam during the war. In fact, he served stateside and never went to Vietnam as a member of the military.

Watch below via CNN:

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Conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) let it be known Sunday that he wasn’t afraid of a Republican challenger’s attempts to tie him to the Washington, D.C. Democratic establishment.

Manchin was responding to a letter from Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s attorney general and a contender for the Republican nomination to challenge Manchin for his seat in 2018. Morrisey had called on Manchin to give up his place in the Senate’s Democratic leadership team, to which Manchin was appointed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in November of last year.

West Virginia could not be more different from Chuck Schumer’s New York,” Morrisey wrote. “And many in West Virginia wonder how you can put West Virginia first when you are beholden to Chuck Schumer and his team.”

“I don’t give a s–t, you understand? I just don’t give a shit,” Manchin told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the paper reported Sunday. “Don’t care if I get elected, don’t care if I get defeated, how about that. If they think because I’m up for election, that I can be wrangled into voting for shit that I don’t like and can’t explain, they’re all crazy.”

“I’m not scared of an election, let’s put it that way,” Manchin continued. “Elections do not bother me or scare me. I’m going to continue to do the same thing I’ve always done, extremely independent.”

The Gazette-Mail had asked if Morrisey’s letter had influenced Manchin’s decision to become one of just three Democratic senators not to sign on to a letter outlining the party’s principles ahead of a Republican effort to pass a tax cut bill.

Morissey responded to the quote on his Twitter page:

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Listen up, internet: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wants you to know there’s nothing sexual about “shooting wads.”

It all started with a colorful quote Hatch gave to Politico last week.

“We’re not going back to health care,” Hatch said, referring to Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal Obamacare. “We’re in tax now. As far as I’m concerned, they shot their wad on health care and that’s the way it is. I’m sick of it.”

Political observers were quick to snicker on Twitter. But a few hours after the article was published Monday, Hatch’s office clarified exactly what the 83-year-old senator meant.

The Mormon Republican’s office said he’d been channelling the Civil War-era term for the barrier between one’s gunpowder and corresponding musket projectile:

Hatch’s communications director, Matt Whitlock, seemed at least partly amused at the mix-up:

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