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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 press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday refused to answer questions about Jared Kushner’s reported efforts to establish a secret communications channel with the Kremlin using Russian facilities.

He never denied the Washington Post’s reporting from Friday, which was based on unnamed U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. The Post reported the claim originated in intercepted Russian communications.

The Post’s Philip Rucker kicked off Spicer’s daily press briefing Tuesday, his first on-camera in two weeks, by asking if President Donald Trump “knew at the time that Jared Kushner was seeking to establish back channel communications at the Russian embassy to the Russian government, and if he didn’t know at the time, when did he find out?”

“I think that assumes a lot, and I would just say that Mr. Kushner’s attorney has said that Mr. Kushner’s volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings, and he will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” Spicer responded.

“Did the President discuss it, though?”

“I’m not going to get into what the President did or did not discuss,” Spicer said. “What your question assumes a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out.”

Rucker kept asking, and Spicer kept stonewalling, except to say that “[Homeland Security] Sec. Kelly and [National Security Adviser] Gen. McMaster have both discussed that in general terms, back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.”

That echoed the justification given by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway Tuesday morning.

However, using Russian facilities for such back channels is not normal.

The Daily Mail’s Francesca Chambers challenged Spicer’s criticism of anonymous sources in news reports: Trump himself retweeted on Tuesday an unbylined Fox News report, which cited one unnamed source, claiming that Russia had instigated the discussion of a secret backchannel with Kushner, not the other way around, as the Post had reported.

“Was the President not confirming that — that there was an effort, and the facts that I just said?” she asked, after describing Fox News’ reporting.

“I think what I said just speaks for itself,” Spicer said, referring to his responses to Rucker.

“But you say that, first of all, that the article was based on anonymous sources,” she interjected, pointing to Trump’s own seeming double standard on citing anonymous sources.

“Which it is,” Spicer said, referring to the Post’s anonymous sources.

“But the Fox article that the President retweeted was also based on anonymous sources,” she pressed. “Why is the source that they used more credible than the Washington Post article?”

Spicer dodged, eventually moving on without commenting directly on any report: “Again, I’m not going to get into confirming stuff. There is an ongoing investigation.”

Asked again later how it could have been appropriate for Kushner, as a private citizen, to attempt to establish a channel to the Kremlin through Russian facilities, Spicer referred to Kelly and McMaster again.

“I think that both of those individuals who are steeped in national security and foreign policy have said that that can be an effective tool, generally speaking, in diplomacy,” he said.

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Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway defended senior adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday, saying his reported proposal to establish a secret channel with the Kremlin in December, using Russian facilities, was part of “the regular course of business.”

In an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Conway referred to the national security adviser and homeland security secretary’s dismissal of the Washington Post’s reporting.

“The facts are that Jared Kushner has said from the very beginning he is willing do go and share any information that he has with Congress, with the FBI,” she said. “And as you heard Gen. McMaster, as you heard Sec. Kelly over this weekend say, they are not concerned. Backchannels like this are the regular course of business.”

However, as some have pointed out, Kushner’s reported suggestion that the channel be established using Russian facilities in the United States is abnormal.

“Obviously, the relationships that Jared was able to establish during transition helped develop this phenomenal international trip that they just came back from,” she said, though it is unclear if she was making a direct reference to the reporting on his attempts to secretly communicate with the Kremlin.

Host Brian Kilmeade asked about an unbylined report from his network, which claimed, citing a single unnamed “source familiar with the matter,” that the Russians had raised the idea of a establishing a secure line of communication with Kushner, rather than the other way around. President Donald Trump retweeted the report from his personal Twitter account Tuesday morning.

Kilmeade also asked about a Monday New York Times report that investigators were looking into the motivation for Kushner’s meeting with the Putin-aligned Russian banker Sergey Gorkov in December.

Conway dismissed the entire question immediately, citing “many news reports very recently that had the facts wrong.”

“I’m not going to comment on any of that, because there’s no reason to, frankly,” she said.

Watch below via Fox News:

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said Tuesday that senior adviser to the President Jared Kushner had engaged in a “serious breach” of protocol when he reportedly sought to set up a communications backchannel with the Russian government using Russian facilities.

“Look, these guys, the administration, they’re not acting like people who have nothing to hide,” Franken said.

Franken’s remarks came in an appearance on CBS’ “This Morning.”

“He didn’t disclose a lot of his contacts with mainly, I guess, Russians,” Franken said, noting it was illegal not to list such meetings on a security clearance application. Kushner later amended his clearance application.

“And then there’s this peculiar one where he was trying to set up a thing within the Russian communications system so that our own intelligence couldn’t be part of it, which is very unusual,” Franken added. “Look, we have a special prosecutor. We’re going to be looking at this. This might come out to, you know, what did the President know, and when did his son-in-law tell him?”

The Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials briefed on intercepted Russian conversations, that Kushner had discussed establishing a secret backchannel to the Kremlin, using equipment in Russian facilities in the United States, with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in December.

CBS’ Charlie Rose asked Franken if he thought Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.

“I think we should look at that,” Franken responded. “This is a pretty bad breach.”

Watch below via CBS:

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The President on Tuesday urged Senate Republicans to change the chamber’s legislative filibuster rules in order to pass big-ticket agenda items with a simple majority.

Trump argued that “Dems would do it, no doubt!” In fact, Democrats never exercised that option the last time they were in the Senate majority, from 2007 to 2015.

While Democrats resorted to the so-called “nuclear option” in 2013 to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch and judicial nominees — except those to the Supreme Court — they did not change the rules for legislative filibusters.

In April, Senate Republicans voted to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, confirming Justice Neil Gorsuch shortly thereafter.

Senators on both sides of the aisle voiced opposition to changing the legislative filibuster rules after a similar call from the President in early May:

While Republicans haven’t yet released their tax proposal, House Republicans’ health care bill was designed to meet the legislative rules required to pass the Senate with a simple majority. Even after Senate Republicans announced they would be drafting their own health bill, though, it is unclear if the conference has the votes it needs to pass a bill.

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What appeared to be a spray of small-caliber bullets left several windows shattered at the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday.

Three windows shattered and two more that didn’t shatter showed damage consistent with small-caliber bullets, the paper’s staff reported. Investigators with the Lexington Police agreed with that assessment, and told the paper they were investigating the incident as criminal mischief, according to the same report.

The paper’s editor and vice president, Peter Baniak, told the Huffington Post: “We at the Herald-Leader want to be cautious about speculating and we don’t want to connect the dots until there are dots to be connected,” referring to any possible motive for the incident.

“We’re going to be vigilant and continue to do what we do,” the paper’s publisher, Rufus M. Friday, said in its own report. “We’re not going to be deterred by this senseless act of vandalism.”

Reached for comment Tuesday, both Baniak and a representative for Friday referred TPM to Friday’s statement in the paper’s own report on the suspected shooting.

“It’s my understanding that our facilities folks will be meeting with the police again later this morning,” Baniak added.

The incident came on the heels of then-congressional candidate Greg Gianforte of Montana allegedly bodyslamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs a a day before the state’s special election, earning himself a misdemeanor charge. Gianforte issued a vague apology to Jacobs on Thursday night, after he won the election.

On Friday, the Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) showed off his own bullet hole ridden target sheet to a press scrum, reportedly joking, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”

On Saturday evening, a newspaper printing plant in London, Kentucky was temporarily evacuated after an unidentified person called in a bomb threat, demanding $25,000.

On Monday, Lexington police arrested 19-year-old Layne Chadwell for allegedly firing at random at several locations in Lexington, WKYT reported. The Herald-Leader reported that it was unclear whether Chadwell was involved in the suspected shooting of its office.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was celebrating the passage of a bill to lower the fees required to carry a handgun in the state when he reportedly joked about shooting reporters.

“I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters,” Abbott joked, according to the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, as he showed his work on a target sheet riddled with bullet holes.

A spokesman for the governor, John Wittman, told TPM over the phone to email him about the story. He has yet to respond to written questions.

Abbott’s remark came barely a day after then-candidate for Congress Greg Gianforte allegedly body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after Jacobs pressed him about Republicans’ health care bill. Gianforte was later charged with misdemeanor assault.

Some on the right have found the alleged assault comedic, even laudable.

In immediate aftermath of the alleged assault, Gianforte’s campaign released a statement at odds with Jacobs’ audio recording of the event, blaming Jacobs for creating “this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.” After he won the election the following night, however, Gianforte issued a vague apology to Jacobs.

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Hillary Clinton believes she would have won the 2016 election if not for the “unprecedented attacks” by former FBI Director James Comey and Russian hackers.

The former senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate was blunt in interviews for a lengthy New York Magazine profile published Friday.

Clinton didn’t back away from her heavily criticized analysis of the election in early May — that then-FBI Director James Comey’s last-minute intervention in the election swung a critical mass of undecided voters to Donald Trump’s side. “If the election had been on October 27,” she said at the time, “I’d be your president.”

“I would have won had I not been subjected to the unprecedented attacks by Comey and the Russians, aided and abetted by the suppression of the vote, particularly in Wisconsin,” she told New York in the new profile.

Criticism of Wisconsin’s strict voter ID laws has gained steam in recent months after a series of reports on the hundreds of thousands of people in that state who did not have sufficient identification to vote.

Clinton also reflected on the sexism, blatant and not, she faced as by far the most successful female candidate for president in American history.

“Once I moved from serving someone — a man, the president — to seeking that job on my own, I was once again vulnerable to the barrage of innuendo and negativity and attacks that come with the territory of a woman who is striving to go further,” she said, noting that her approval rating had been 69 percent as secretary of state in the Obama administration.

One particularly difficult moment, she recalled, came during the second presidential debate. News outlets noted afterward that Trump had frequently stalked behind Clinton as she walked around a staged town hall floor, answering questions.

“[W]hat he was doing was so … uh …” she began, pausing. “So personally invasive: following me, eyeing me.”

Clinton decided that addressing the situation in the moment — “Get away from me!” — would have delivered Trump a victory.

“I saw him destroy all of his Republican opposition who eventually tried to confront him on a debate stage and he reacted with such contempt. He will gain points, and I will lose points,” she said.

Still, Clinton noted, Trump had won the debate among his most macho fans.

“But I also ended up with him really satisfying a lot of his potential voters. One of these guys, I can’t remember who, said, ‘Oh, he was the alpha male! He was the big gorilla in the …’ — whatever they call gorilla groups!” she said. “I think that for people already committed to him, they loved it.”

New York noted that commentary came from Nigel Farage, the Brexit cheerleader, who compared Trump to a silverback gorilla.

Interestingly, Clinton seemed to confirm former President George W. Bush’s pointed commentary on Trump’s inaugural address, in which the President declared: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Three unnamed sources told New York in January that Bush remarked afterward: “That was some weird shit.”

Did he say that? the magazine asked Clinton.

“Put it in your article,” she said. “They tried to walk back from it, but…”

Did she hear it herself? New York’s Rebecca Traister asked.

She transcribed Clinton’s response: “She raises her eyebrows and grins.”

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If it’s Friday, it’s time to analyze another round of the President of the United States’ domineering handshakes.

Trump has spent much of his young presidency’s photo-ops seemingly attempting to literally pull concessions out of his foreign counterparts, stretching elbows and triggering some grimaces along the way.

Thursday brought a new twist in Trump’s handshake hall of fame: the President met his match.

Appearing in a photo-op with the investment-banker-turned-French-President Emmanuel Macron, Trump found himself in a stone faced, white-knuckled stand-off. He attempted to release his hand not once, not twice, but three times. Macron, barely containing a triumphant smile, finally let go.

“They shook hands for an extended period of time,” the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker wrote in a pool report. “Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.”

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart took credit for warning France’s ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, about Trump’s gamesmanship.

“‘Did you warn him about Trump’s handshakes?’ my philanthropist friend asked,” Capehart wrote Friday, recalling a party on Monday night. “A look of surprise popped on Araud’s face as he inquired what exactly did that mean. Both of us told him about Trump’s affinity for the alpha male, grab-and-pull power pump that always seemed to reduce the other person to a rag doll. Forewarned, Araud said he would alert Macron.”

Macron later head-faked Trump, choosing instead to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and then, crossing back to his right, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, before turning to the American President.

Macron subsequently posted the evidence online:

Trump’s tough guy greeting ritual is by now well known. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch offered an example when, as the President introduced him to the world as his nominee to the high court, Trump vigorously yanked on his arm.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rolled his eyes theatrically in response to a similar treatment.

But other world leaders have held their own, perhaps most notably Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Former House Speaker John Boehner engaged in some schadenfreude Wednesday at the setbacks experienced by the Trump administration.

Boehner resigned the speakership in 2015 and promptly joined the board of Reynolds American Inc., the tobacco company, and lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs as a strategic adviser.

In an interview at the KPMG Global Energy Conference reported by industry publication Rigzone, Boehner expressed a familiar relief at trading government for corporate work.

“I wake up every day, drink my morning coffee and say hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,” he said.

“Everything else he’s done [in office] has been a complete disaster,” Boehner said, referring to President Donald Trump. “He’s still learning how to be president.”

Boehner added, referring to Trump entering the presidency, that he “just never envisioned him in that role.” He suggested the President not be allowed to tweet overnight, the publication said.

Rigzone failed to note that Squire Patton Boggs represents oodles of health care interests. But it included Boehner’s response to Republicans’ tumultuous attempts to repeal Obamacare: Trump “did what he could” with health care, Boehner said, but he should have focused on repairing Obamacare, rather than repealing and replacing it.

The publication quoted many of Boehner’s response verbatim.  You can read them here.

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