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

The internet fervor over Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s last campaign ad hadn’t even had a chance to die down before his release of a new one Wednesday.

Kemp, a perpetually scowling Republican candidate for governor, most recently made news for pointing a shotgun at a teenager to make a point about … something.

Kemp appears to relish the free media coverage. “It’s driving the liberal media crazy,” he told Fox News earlier this month, adding: “People, they love that.”

“I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself,” Kemp says in his latest ad, slamming the door on a downright compensatory Ford F350. “Yep, I just said that.”

The Hill on Thursday noted a poll late last month showing Kemp trailing in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

But Kemp has made a serious and well-financed effort to appeal to Georgia’s Trump voters, aping Trump’s rhetoric (“Georgia First”) and saying that “Trump is right” about deporting undocumented immigrants.

In his first campaign ad, Kemp promised to create a state-wide database of undocumented people to “track and immediately deport all criminal aliens so our kids don’t become the next victims.”

In February of last year, Georgia settled a lawsuit with the NAACP and other advocacy over Kemp’s alleged disenfranchisement of minority voters. The groups had argued that minority voter registration applicants were far likelier to be rejected than white applicants over to small discrepancies on registration forms. 

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his meeting with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un would take place on June 12 in Singapore.

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Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself on Thursday from revelations of Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s millions of dollars in contracts with various entities, including the American affiliate of a Russian company and large corporations like AT&T and Novartis. Pence called Cohen’s situation a “private matter.”

“You now have the President’s lawyer getting millions of dollars from companies that he says he can get access, including one company that had a Russian connection,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Pence during an interview that aired Thursday. “Is that draining the swamp?”

“Well, what I can say is that that private matter is something I don’t have any knowledge about, and I think the White House issued a statement saying the same,” Pence replied.

Earlier in the interview, Pence said of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe: “It’s time to wrap it up.”

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Lawyers for Michael Cohen on Wednesday disputed several claims made by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti in an unsourced document Tuesday, but admitted some of Avenatti’s information appeared to be accurate.

Avenatti alleged in the document Tuesday that the shell company Cohen had established to pay Daniels $130,000 in hush money, Essential Consultants, had received millions of dollars from a variety of entities. Several large companies, including AT&T and drugmaker Novartis, confirmed that they had had agreements with Cohen.

“While Mr. Avenatti has published numerous incorrect statements regarding Mr. Cohen, he appears to be in possession of some information from Mr. Cohen’s actual bank records,” Cohen’s lawyers said in the filing, naming AT&T and Novartis specifically. (Read the full filing below.)

“If Mr. Avenatti wishes to be admitted pro hac vice before this Court, he should be required to explain to this Court how he came to possess and release this information,” they added.

The filing also pointed to several of what it identified as mistakes in Avenatti’s filing, such as two instances where it claimed Avenatti incorrectly identified other Michael Cohens — namely, one Michael Cohen in Toronto and one in Israel — as their client.

“We are not going to list every incorrect statement” contained in Avenatti’s document, they say at one point.

The letter concluded by naming the Russian oligarch at the center of the much of the attention paid to Avenatti’s document, Viktor Vekselberg. Though the American affililate, Columbus Nova, of Vekselberg’s company Renova did confirm the payments Avenatti identified, both Columbus Nova and Renova have denied any involvement from Vekselberg.

“Avenatti has also deliberately distorted information from the records which appear to be in his possession for the purpose of creating a toxic mix of misinformation,” Cohen’s lawyers said in the filing.

“For example,” they added later, “Mr. Avenatti stated that ‘Mr. [Viktor] Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC (‘Columbus’) beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.’ Ex. A at 3. Mr. Avenatti’s statements are incorrect, as can be seen from the public response of Columbus Nova” denying Vekselberg’s involvement.

Avenatti, responding to the filing, said Cohen’s lawyers “fail to address, let alone contradict, 99% of the statements in what we released.”

Read the Cohen’s lawyers’ filing below:

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday swatted away questions about President Donald Trump’s tweeted threat to revoke “negative” reporters’ press credentials.

“Is that a line that as press secretary you would be willing to cross?” a reporter asked Sanders Wednesday, referring to a tweet earlier in the day from Trump.

“I’m standing up in front of you right now taking your questions,” Sanders replied, claiming that journalists have told her that “this is one of the most accessible White Houses.”

Though Trump does sometimes answer reporters’ questions in impromptu scrums and during joint press conferences with foreign leaders, the President has not held a solo press conference since February 2017, setting a record for the last half century.

Sanders continued by saying that “at the same time, the press has a responsibility to put out accurate information.”

That appeared to be a reference to Trump’s equation, in his tweet, of “negative” and “fake” news.

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Blackwater founder Erik Prince has spoken to investigators on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, the Daily Beast reported Wednesday, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

A spokesperson for Prince, Marc Cohen, did not confirm or deny the meeting to the publication.

“Erik gave a full and frank public account of events as they concern him to the intelligence committee and he has nothing else to add on this topic,” Cohen said. Prince testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November of last year.

The Daily Beast said it wasn’t clear what Mueller’s team discussed with Prince.

But several outlets have reported in the past on Mueller’s interest in a meeting days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration in the Seychelles between Prince; Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian sovereign investment fund; and, reportedly, George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates with deep ties in Trump’s circles.

The New York Times reported in March that Mueller’s team had questioned Nader, and Nader has since testified before a grand jury for Mueller’s probe, the Washington Post reported.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to give a press briefing at 3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. Watch live below:

The pharmaceutical company Novartis acknowledged Wednesday that it paid Trump fixer Michael Cohen more than $1 million starting last year and that the company has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators.

“In February 2017, shortly after the election of President Trump, Novartis entered into a one year agreement with Essential Consultants,” Novartis said in a statement Wednesday, it’s second statement regarding its agreement with Cohen. “With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act.”

USA Today, reporting on the initial statement Novartis made Tuesday, said Novartis “paid Trump attorney Michael Cohen nearly $400,000 from late 2017 to early 2018.”

“The agreement was for a term of one year, and paid Essential Consultants 100,000 USD per month,” Novartis said in its second statement.

Novartis said that it had determined after first meeting Cohen in March of last year that Cohen and his shell company, Essential Consultants, “would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.”

But, the statement continued, “[a]s the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018.”

“In terms of the Special Counsel’s office, Novartis was contacted in November 2017 regarding the company’s agreement with Essential Consultants,” the statement added later. “Novartis cooperated fully with the Special Counsel’s office and provided all the information requested.

Novartis is one of several companies, along with AT&T, Korea Aerospace Industries and the investment firm Columbus Nova, to reveal that they paid Cohen large sums following the election. The payments line up with some claims in an unsourced document released Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels. That document cited “four payments in late 2017 and early 2018 totaling $399,920” from Novartis to Essential Consultants.

Columbus Nova is the American affiliate of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group. Vekselberg was reportedly questioned by Mueller’s team at a New York area airport earlier this year over the payments to Cohen. His cousin, the American head of Columbus Nova, was also reportedly questioned, CNN reported Tuesday.

Vekselberg attended Trump’s inauguration and was on a list of Russian oligarchs facing additional sanctions by the Trump administration last month.

CNBC posted the text of Novartis’ second statement Wednesday:

In February 2017, shortly after the election of President Trump, Novartis entered into a one year agreement with Essential Consultants. With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act. The agreement was for a term of one year, and paid Essential Consultants 100,000 USD per month. In March 2017, Novartis had its first meeting with Michael Cohen under this agreement. Following this initial meeting, Novartis determined that Michael Cohen and Essential Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further. As the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018.

The engagement of Essential Consultants predated Vas Narasimhan becoming Novartis CEO and he was in no way involved with this agreement. Contrary to recent media reports, this agreement was also in no way related to the group dinner Dr. Narasimhan had at the World Economic Forum in Davos with President Trump and 15 Europe based industry leaders. Suggestions to the contrary clearly misrepresent the facts and can only be intended to further personal or political agendas as to which Novartis should not be a part.

In terms of the Special Counsel’s office, Novartis was contacted in November 2017 regarding the company’s agreement with Essential Consultants. Novartis cooperated fully with the Special Counsel’s office and provided all the information requested. Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement.

 This post has been updated. 

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned one of the wealthiest men in Russia about post-election payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars made to President Donald Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, CNN reported Tuesday, citing one unnamed source familiar with the matter.

The Russian oligarch in question, Viktor Vekselberg, was reportedly questioned at a New York area airport this year, and he was in attendance at Trump’s inauguration. He was also on a list of Russians who faced additional sanctions from the Trump administration last month.

The payments, according to CNN, were made by Vekselberg’s company’s U.S. affiliate. Mueller’s team is also probing payments the head of that affiliate made to Trump’s inaugural and campaign funds, according to CNN.

Cohen’s home, office and hotel were raided recently as part of a months-long criminal probe.

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who is suing Cohen separately from the criminal probe, posted a document Tuesday that appeared similar to CNN’s reporting.

In it, Avenatti alleged that an account controlled by Cohen had received $500,000 in payments from Vekselberg (via Vekselberg himself, Vekselberg’s American cousin, Andrew Intrater, and the firm Columbus Nova LLC) in eight payments between January and “at least August” 2017. Avenatti identified Columbus Nova as the U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg-controlled company Renova Group firm and Intrater as Columbus Nova’s CEO. 

The Daily Beast subsequently reported that it had confirmed Avenatti’s allegation — at least, the portion of Avenatti’s document dealing with the Vekselberg-related payments — with an unnamed source familiar with the matter.

And AT&T confirmed another part of Avenatti’s document: that Essential Consulting, the company used by Cohen to make a hush money payment to Daniels, “was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”

CNN said that it had “reviewed documents that appear to show these payments,” but that it had not independently authenticated them.

Later in the report, CNN cited unnamed sources who said Mueller’s investigators questioned Vekselberg about $300,000 in political donations made by Intrater. And Intrater himself was questioned, according to two unnamed sources cited by CNN.

Richard Owens, Columbus Nova’s attorney, said in a statement shared sent to TPM that the company is “solely owned and controlled by Americans.”
“After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” the statement continued.
“Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Coehn [sic] is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”

Read CNN’s full report here.

This post has been updated.

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In a statement Tuesday following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw from the Iran deal and re-instate sanctions on Iran, former President Barack Obama called the decision a “serious mistake.”

“Without the JCPOA,” Obama wrote, “the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”

Read the statement below, posted online by Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur:

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