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

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway dipped and dodged for several minutes on Sunday, refusing to answer for President Donald Trump’s contradictory statements about his knowledge of a hush money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago.

“There you want to look at the President’s tweets, where he says ‘through reimbursement,” Conway told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview Sunday, asked why Trump claimed last month that he did not know where his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, got the money to make the payment.

“You’ve got to look at his tweets, because he responds to that. And that’s, honestly Jake, that’s the best I can do given my limited visibility in the legal matters.”

In the tweets to which Conway was referring, Trump claims that Cohen was paid a monthly retainer from which he drew the funds to pay Daniels. But Trump hasn’t explained why, months after the story of the payment broke publicly, he denied knowing where the money for the payment came from.

While claiming during the interview that she had no reason to believe Trump was lying about the payment — which may have constituted a violation of campaign finance law — Conway simultaneously claimed she did not know enough about it to defend Trump’s contradictory statements.

In interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed that Trump had paid Cohen back for the $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, to stay quiet about the affair.

The New York Times reported Friday that Trump knew about the hush money payment months before denying knowledge of it.

Watch part of the exchange below via CNN:

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Thursday that he would allow House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy to remain in that position after Conroy rescinded his earlier resignation.

The House chaplain announced his resignation last month after being pressured to do so by Ryan’s office. He alleged Thursday that Ryan’s chief of staff cited his religion, Catholicism, as one reason Ryan wanted him to resign.

“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House Chaplain,” Conroy, who has been House chaplain since 2011, wrote in his letter to Ryan. (View a copy of the letter, published online by NBC News’ Alex Moe, below.)

Ryan responded Thursday by saying he had “accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.” (Read Ryan’s full statement below.)

“My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution,” Ryan continued, noting he intended to meet with Conroy next week. “To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.”

“It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post,” Ryan added.

Conroy’s resignation announcement and subsequent public feuding with Ryan ballooned into scandal. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) stepped down from the committee to select the next chaplain after suggesting the next candidate be married with children, a requirement that would exclude Catholic priests.

Conroy alleged Thursday that when Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, informed him Ryan was asking for his resignation, he “mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we have a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’”

Conroy, a Jesuit, is the second Catholic to ever serve as House chaplain.

“He mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily,” Conroy added, referring to Burks.

Conroy appeared to be referring to his Nov. 6 prayer, in which he said:

As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.

Burks responded Thursday to Conroy’s claims, according to NBC News, by saying “I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation. I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House.”

Conroy specifically disputed Ryan’s public justification for asking for his resignation, in which Ryan said that “a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served, or offered.” Ryan also mentioned inadequate “spiritual counseling,” Conroy said.

“This is not the reason that Mr. Burks gave me when asking for my ‘resignation,’” the reverend wrote.

“You may wish to outright ‘fire’ me,” Conroy added, “if you have the authority to do so, but should you wish to terminate my services, it will be without my offer of resignation, as you requested.”

View a copy of Conroy’s letter below via NBC News’ Alex Moe:

Read Ryan’s response to Conroy’s letter below:

Speaker Ryan Statement on the House Chaplain

WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) today issued the following statement:

“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House. My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post. I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House.”

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the Trump administration “give[s] the very best information that we have at the time” — seemingly regardless of whether that information turns out to be inaccurate.

At a press briefing Thursday, the Associated Press’ Zeke Miller asked why Trump had apparently been untruthful when he told reporters he didn’t know about the hush money Michael Cohen paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels to cover up her alleged affair with Trump.

Trump’s outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in interviews Wednesday and Thursday that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment last year. Giuliani claimed Trump didn’t know where the money went when he paid it to Cohen.

As mayor Giuliani stated, and I’ll refer you back to his comments, this was information that the President didn’t know at the time but eventually learned,” Sanders said.

But how could Trump have been ignorant of the recipient of Cohen’s payment once reports broke in January that Cohen had paid off Daniels? Sanders left the question unanswered.

“How could he not have known?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked. “He was paying him back.”

“I’m not going to get into those details,” Sanders said, before referring to Giuliani’s “lengthy” comments and the President’s tweets.

CNN’s Jim Acosta followed up with another unanswered question: “You said on March 7, ‘There was no knowledge of any payments from the President and he’s denied all of these allegations.’ Were you lying to us at the time, or were you in the dark?” he asked.

“The President has denied, and continues to deny, the underlying claim. And, again, I’ve given the best information I had at the time, and I would refer you back to the comments that you yourself just mentioned a few minutes ago about the timeline from Mayor Giuliani,” Sanders said.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to give a press briefing at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Watch below:

NBC News corrected its bombshell report on the wiretapping of Michael Cohen Thursday, saying that President Trump’s longtime personal attorney’s phone calls were monitored, rather than listened to, by federal investigators.

Tom Winter, one of the authors of the report, said on MSNBC Thursday that the original report claiming that Cohen’s phones had been tapped “in the weeks leading up to” raids on his home, office and hotel room were based off of “two independent sources who have a long-term track record of credibility in providing accurate information to this news organization.”

Three unnamed senior U.S. officials, Winters said in his correction, told him that rather than wiretapping Cohen, they had used a device known as a “pen register” to monitor call data. That is, they kept a record of the calls Cohen made, but did not surveil the content of the calls themselves.

The article itself now carries the correction:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier today, NBC News reported that there was a wiretap on the phones of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, citing two separate sources with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.

But three senior U.S. officials now dispute that, saying that the monitoring of Cohen’s phones was limited to a log of calls, known as a pen register, not a wiretap where investigators can actually listen to calls.

NBC News has changed the headline and revised parts of the original article.

The report came after Giuliani admitted in multiple interviews Wednesday and Thursday that Trump paid Cohen back for the hush money payment Cohen sent to porn star Stormy Daniels in October 2016. That payment is one focus of investigators, who raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room early last month.

Cohen initially told the New York Times in February of that hush money payment: “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

He added: “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Giuliani contradicted the latter statement Thursday when he told “Fox and Friends” that Cohen made the payment to help Trump’s campaign avoid scandal.

And the Wall Street Journal reported in March, citing unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” that Cohen had “complained to friends [after the election] that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to Ms. Clifford.”

Cohen recently asserted his Fifth Amendment rights in the civil case over the non-disclosure agreement covering that hush money payment, “due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

Read NBC News’ full report here.

This post has been updated.

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“Fox and Friends” weekend host Pete Hegseth claimed Thursday that Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016 was not illegal, even if it was a campaign expenditure. But his reasoning didn’t make any legal sense.

“They’re clearing up a ‘gotcha’ moment for legal reasons,” Hegseth told Fox Business host Stuart Varney, referring to the payment that Giuliani admitted was made to protect Trump’s presidential campaign from scandal.

“It wasn’t campaign funds,” Hegseth continued. “Even if it was, you can give unlimited in-kind contributions if you are the candidate yourself. There’s no tactical legal wrongdoing here, even if it doesn’t look great in the public eye. That’s what Rudy Giuliani is doing.”

Giuliani made a similar claim to the Washington Post Wednesday night: “Was the President really wise to take it out of personal funds rather than from campaign funds? Thank God he did, [or else] he’d get a campaign finance violation they’d try to drum up into a felony or something.”

The funds to pay off Stormy Daniels may not have come from the Trump campaign’s coffers, at least to our knowledge, but that’s not very relevant in the eyes of campaign law.

For one thing, if Cohen made the payment in order to aide Trump’s campaign — as Giuliani admitted Thursday morning — it would have violated reporting requirements for such contributions. There’s also a cap for contributions, and it’s much lower than $130,000.

Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, told TPM in an email Thursday that Hegseth’s explanation was “legally flawed and doesn’t clear them of campaign violations.”

First, the fact that the payments did not come from the campaign doesn’t mean it wasn’t a campaign expenditure,” Noble wrote. “It was a campaign expenditure if the purpose of the payment was purpose to prevent Daniels from hurting his election. If it was, not paying out of the campaign is a violation.”

“Second,” Noble continued, “it is true that the candidate can make unlimited contributions to his own campaign. But the campaign has to report receiving the contributions and making the expenditures. Also, if Cohen advanced the $130k, he made an excessive contribution until he was paid back. A loan or advance is a contribution until repaid.”

This is straightforward stuff, so much so that the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pointed it out on Twitter this morning.

Pretty much as soon as the Stormy Daniels hush money was first reported, watchdog organizations began pointing these potential violations out.

“[C]omplainants have reason to believe that the payment of $130,000 from Essential consultants LLC to Ms. Stephanie Clifford was an unreported in-kind contribution to President Trump’s presidential campaign committee […] and an unreported expenditure by the committee—because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election” a January FEC complaint from Common Cause read.

Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation, Paul S. Ryan, appeared dumbstruck Wednesday at Giuliani’s confession:

Hegseth added Thursday: “This is not what people who voted for him care about, ultimately. They understand there’s some ‘there’ there on things. That’s not the issue.”

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Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said Thursday that it had always been obvious Trump lawyer Michael Cohen didn’t make an $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 “out of the goodness of his heart.”

Dent was responding to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s claims in interviews Wednesday and Thursday that, contrary to Cohen and Trump’s previous claims, Cohen was reimbursed for the payment by Trump.

I don’t think there was anybody on the planet who thought that Michael Cohen, out of the goodness of his heart, wrote a $130,000 check to Stormy Daniels without seeking any reimbursement,” Dent told CNN. “I mean, who would do that?”

“I mean, tell me a lawyer who would write a check out of his own pocket for his client without a reimbursement?” he continued. “I mean, come on, I mean, we’re not fools here.”

Giuliani, Dent said, “simply stated what we already expected was the case.”

CNN’s Poppy Harlow noted that Giuliani told the Washington Post that Trump’s reimbursement payments to Cohen were made in 2017. Did that call for oversight hearings? she asked.

“Sure,” Dent said, adding later: “If a Democratic president had done this, we’d be waving a bloody shirt right now.”

Earlier in the interview, seemingly in reference to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ claims that Trump hadn’t known about the payments to Daniels, Dent asked: “How does Sarah Huckabee Sanders go to work everyday, if she was sent out there every day to mislead the American people?”

Watch below via CNN:

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CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was blunt Thursday morning in his assessment of Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s interview on “Fox and Friends” earlier in the day: “That’s a confession!”

Giuliani, after a clumsy and surprisingly news-making interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday, tried to clean up the mess with another appearance on the network Thursday morning. It didn’t help:

“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said of Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who was paid to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Toobin pointed out that Giuliani had just made the case the money was, contrary to the Trump camp’s claims, a campaign expenditure. Therefore, Toobin reasoned, Giuliani had admitted to Trump and Cohen’s violation of campaign finance law.

I hadn’t heard that clip before,” Toobin said of Giuliani’s “Fox and Friends” comment. “I mean, that’s a confession!”

“That’s a confession that this is a campaign finance violation because they wanted to shut her up in October of 2016.”

“That’s why the payment was made then,” he continued. “Which, it was obvious to all of us, but now you have the President’s lawyer confessing that this was a payment for the benefit of the campaign.”

Depending on the level of intent behind the skirting of campaign finance law, Toobin noted, the Federal Election Commission could handle such violations civilly or criminally.

Watch below via CNN:

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) warned Wednesday that Democratic control of the Senate or House of Representatives would lead to “subpoenas.”

If we do lose control of either of the two bodies, then you’ll have absolute gridlock,” Ryan said at the Milken Institute Global Conference, according to multiple reports.

“You’ll have gridlock, you’ll have subpoenas, you’ll have just the system shutting down,” he added. “I don’t think we’re going to lose control, but I think that’s what would happen.”

Ryan announced last month that he would not seek reelection.

He acknowledged Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, that “there’s a great amount of enthusiasm on the other side of the aisle.”

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Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections Ltd., announced in a press release Wednesday that it was ceasing operations.

The press release read in part:

Earlier today, SCL Elections Ltd., as well as certain of its and Cambridge Analytica LLC’s U.K. affiliates (collectively, the “Company” or “Cambridge Analytica”) filed applications to commence insolvency proceedings in the U.K.  The Company is immediately ceasing all operations and the boards have applied to appoint insolvency practitioners Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP to act as the independent administrator for Cambridge Analytica.

Additionally, parallel bankruptcy proceedings will soon be commenced on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and certain of the Company’s U.S. affiliates in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Cambridge Analytica made national news during the 2016 campaign, when it played a role first in Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) Republican presidential primary campaign, and then in the Trump campaign’s digital operations.

Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer was an investor in Cambridge Analytica when it formally began its work for Trump’s campaign in the summer of 2016. Steve Bannon, who lead Trump’s campaign organization, was previously Cambridge Analytica’s vice president.

Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, amended disclosure forms in August last year to reflect a consulting relationship with SCL.

Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer, along with Cambridge Analytica’s suspended CEO Alexander Nix, were named directors earlier this year at a new company called Emerdata, according to documents reported by Business Insider. So was Johnson Chun Shun Ko, which the report identified as the deputy chairman of a private security firm chaired by Blackwater founder and Trump ally Erik Prince.

The filings show Nix resigned as an Emerdata director in late March. Mother Jones noted Wednesday that two other senior employees at Cambridge Analytica, Chief Data Officer Alexander Taylor and recently-named CEO Julian Wheatland, are also directors at Emerdata.

Emerdata, according to the documents, shares an address with SCL.

The spotlight on Cambridge Analytica only grew with the prominence of Mueller’s probe.

In October of last year, the Daily Beast reported that the company’s CEO had reached out to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the presidential campaign, offering to help him publish the thousands of emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The Wall Street Journal reported the same month that Cambridge Analytica had offered to help Assange organize the stolen Democratic emails Wikileaks was publishing at the time.

The Journal reported in December that Mueller had requested documents from the Cambridge Analytica, though an unnamed person familiar with a matter told the outlet the request came before the October reports.

Then, in March of this year, a whistleblower from the company, Christopher Wylie, opened up to media outlets about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data.

Facebook banned the firm, claiming that it had violated a 2015 agreement that it would destroy data initially attained through an academic researcher’s social psychological research app. Hundreds of thousands of people had interacted with the data-gathering app. Tens of millions of Facebook users’ data was revealed to have been compromised.

The British government subsequently announced a probe of both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have mostly escaped heavy scrutiny in the states. Zuckerberg completed two rounds of light questioning from members of Congress in April.

Also in March, just days after Wylie came forward, Nix was suspended after an undercover investigation by BBC’s Channel 4 revealed what he offered an actor posing as a potential political client: Cambridge Analytica, Nix told the actor, employed former intelligence officials and attractive women to entrap its clients’ political opponents and stir up damaging scandals.

This post has been updated.

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