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

Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to agreements made between the Justice Department and a number of police departments during the Obama administration on Thursday, saying that the consent decree agreements “can reduce the morale of police officers.”

“I do share your concern that these investigations and consent decrees have the, can turn bad,” Sessions told radio host Howie Carr, in an interview surfaced by CNN. “They can reduce morale of the police officers. They can push back against being out on the street in a proactive way.”

Sessions has long stated his opposition to the agreements, which are court-enforceable. The Obama Justice Department turned to the agreements in the wake of high-profile events like the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; or Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland at the hands of police.

“We’ve got to be careful, protect people’s civil rights. You can’t have police officers abusing their power. We will not have that,” he said later in the interview, after referring to the so-called “broken windows”-style of policing in New York, which prioritizes low-level offenses.

“But there are lawful approved, constitutional policies that places – New York is – the murder rate is well below a lot of these other cities that aren’t following these tactics,” he said.

Last week, Sessions ordered the Justice Department to review the agreements it had reached with police departments across the country during the Obama administration.

A federal judge in Baltimore signed off on the city’s consent decree with the government a few days later, calling Sessions’ request for more time to consider the agreement “problematic.”

“The parties have already agreed to the draft before the Court,” U.S. District Judge James Bredar wrote. “It would be extraordinary for the Court to permit one side to unilaterally amend an agreement already jointly reached and signed.”

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Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said Friday that he believed the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner intentionally left off dozens of meetings with foreign officials on his application for a top secret security clearance.

The New York Times reported on April 6, citing unnamed people with direct knowledge of the omissions, that Kushner had left out “dozens” of contacts with foreign leaders on officials on the application form. Excluded from the form, the Times reported, were a December meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States and another meeting the same month, arranged at the ambassador’s behest, with the leader of a Russian state-owned bank.

“It’s hard to imagine that when you have a form that says you answer completely under penalty of perjury, you don’t omit anything under penalty of perjury, that you omit dozens of meetings with foreign officials, when they specifically ask about that,” Nadler told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Friday.

Nadler was one of five signatories of a letter to the FBI and the National Background Investigations Bureau Thursday requesting that Kushner’s interim security clearance be revoked until the omissions were answered for.

“In a normal administration, I would say if he weren’t the President’s son-in-law, this wouldn’t be tolerated,” Nadler said, comparing Kushner to ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled the Vice President and the Senate Judiciary Committee about their contact with the Russian ambassador, respectively.

Bolduan asked Nadler if he thought Kushner had intentionally misled on the security form.

“I think he intentionally omitted,” Nadler replied. “When you’ve had dozens of meetings with foreign officials, and they specifically ask you about that and you don’t put it down, yes, that’s intentional.”

“But when they clear it up, then you’re fine with it?” she asked.

“No, I’m not fine with it,” Nadler said.

Knowingly falsifying or concealing material facts on the security clearance form is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail. Kushner’s lawyer told the Times supplementary information would be provided to correct the form.

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) faced a raucous and often combative town hall Thursday night, when he fielded questions well past the event’s planned ending from constituents who seemed to know he faces re-election in less than two years.

“Health care for all!” chants began before the event even started, the Arizona Republic reported. And it didn’t let up from there.

Flake had set out rules for the town hall ahead of time, including that signs and other “objects that create a disturbance” would not be allowed in. Many attendees brought red and green sheets of paper to indicate their agreement instead.

The first-term senator answered questions on everything from gun rights to single-payer health care, to perhaps predictable protests.

“I will continue to support, as much as I can, our free-market system of health care,” he said at one point, per the Arizona Republic. “[S]orry we have a disagreement about this” he said in response to questions about Planned Parenthood funding.

The pseudo-filibuster of former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, he said to boos, was “not without precedent.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the Washington Examiner reported, Flake said it “doesn’t have to be a wall all the way through Texas and Arizona,” contradicting the President’s stance.

Still, he was largely deferential to the President’s prerogatives. Pressured on the mounting costs of Trump’s near-constant weekend travel, according to Business Insider, the senator said he wasn’t “going to to tell the President where he can and cannot spend his weekends.”

“That’s something we’ll deal with when we deal with the budget,” he said.

Flake ended up extending the event an hour past its 8:30 p.m. deadline. At one point a school counselor asked him to stand up for common decency in the face of a President often seemingly lacking it.

“For the first time I’ve had to go to classrooms to deal with the Trump effect,” she said. “I’m horrified by students who are feeling harassed because they are disenfranchised. I need strong leaders in Washington, D.C., and in my state to stand up, especially as a white man, to protect my students by saying, ‘This is not allowed. This is not allowed.’”

The event received plenty of attention from Democratic and progressive groups as well.

The Democratic National Committee reportedly sent emails asking supporters to “get in Jeff Flake’s grill.”

“Cash in your retirement folks…the world’s about to end,” Indivisible Arizona wrote on its Facebook page when the event was announced Monday. “Senator Jeff Flake is holding a real-life, in-person, town hall.”

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Iowa’s Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said Monday that he wanted polls to close earlier so as to “not have to wait up so late to see what the election results are.”

Branstad discussed the hypothetical change in an interview with the Globe Gazette on HF 516, which would require voters to present an ID to vote and would shorten the absentee voting period from 40 to 29 days, among other changes.

“It’s not in the legislation, but it’s something I would like to see and I think a lot of people who work an Election Day would love to see the Iowa polls close at 8 and I think the public would, too, like to see the returns and not have to wait up so late to see what the election results are,” Branstad said.

The Iowa House passed the bill last week after 12 hours of debate. The state’s Senate passed it on Thursday, sending it to Branstad’s desk.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis said of the bill, “Make no mistake: This is only the latest in a broad strategy to make it harder for qualified voters to vote and roll back decades of progress to expand participation in our elections by all eligible voters.”

Then-President-elect Donald Trump announced in December that he would nominate Branstad to be his ambassador to China.

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A state appeals court in Florida on Thursday affirmed a circuit court’s decision to order Trump National Doral Miami golf resort to pay a small paint company and its attorney hundreds of thousands of dollars after failing to pay a tenth of that for paint and other materials during a renovation project.

Lawyer fees — in addition to the initial missing payment of $32,535.87 — were originally awarded to The Paint Spot, a local store nearby Trump National, in July 2016, as reported by the Miami Herald. Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto applied a 75 percent additional fee on top of the attorney Daniel Vega’s billed time as well, because his firm, Taylor Espino Vega & Touron, had taken the case on a contingency fee basis. The total at the time was $282,949.91.

But the Trump Organization appealed the decision, alleging that the paint company had filed a construction lien incorrectly, naming a contractor who had worked on a separate project. On Wednesday, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals ruled that “Trump failed to establish that it was adversely affected by the error.”

The court also pointed to an unfortunate bit of testimony from contractor Straticon’s construction manager, Jamie Gram.

“[T]he decision not to pay [Paint Spot] had nothing to do with a defective Notice to Owner,” Gram said, according to the decision. “They weren’t paid because Mr. Trump had already paid [subcontractor] M&P a decent amount of money of the contract … and there was still a lot of work that needed to be completed, so we used the money, M&P’s remaining balance, plus additional funds to pay to get the work done.”

Vega told Daily Business Review on Thursday that he expected the appeals court legal fees to be similarly multiplied by 1.75.

The result is a massive bill for a relatively small disagreement over paint.

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After a day full of policy flip-flops from President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the President isn’t changing his positions — rather, the issues have shifted to fit his worldview.

At his daily press briefing Thursday, Spicer was asked about a series of issues Trump had flip-flopped recently: labeling China a currency manipulator, staffing and funding the export-import bank and passing health care legislation before moving on to tax policy.

Spicer answered by referring only to NATO.

In a joint press conference with the treaty organization’s secretary general on Wednesday, Trump said: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

From the podium Thursday, Spicer said: “I think you can look at what you’re referring to as a shift in a lot of ways, and by that I mean I saw a couple instances with respect to NATO being one of those shifts yesterday, and if you look at what’s happened, it’s those entities or individuals, in some cases, or issues evolving towards the President’s position.”

“NATO in particular, he talked about the need of countries to pay their fair share, to live up to their commitments of 2 percent of GDP,” Spicer continued. “He talked about the need for NATO to focus more on terrorism. NATO has done just that. And it is something that he pointed out in the debate, the first debate in September of last year. He talked about the fact that NATO is moving towards what he has been calling for. I think in some cases the issues evolve that it’s not just a clear and fast statement that the entity itself is moving towards his — or the issue is evolving towards the position that he articulated.”

However, NATO has changed very little about how it operates with regard to terrorism, and especially so as a result of Trump’s nearly universally vague criticisms of it.

Also, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg thanked Trump on Wednesday for his applying pressure on NATO countries to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, sayingwe are already seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of fair burden-sharing in the alliance,” Stoltenberg specified that the pledge to reach spending goals dates to 2014.

And, further, many nations are unlikely to reach that level of spending despite Trump’s complaints.

The German foreign minister, for example, said of the 2 percent goal on March 31: “I don’t know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable.”

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A group of Democratic members of Congress has requested that President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have his interim top secret security clearance revoked following revelations that he omitted meetings with foreign officials on his application for the clearance.

The New York Times reported on April 6, citing unnamed people with direct knowledge of the omissions, that Kushner had not included a December meeting with the Russian ambassador in Trump Tower on his application, and a meeting with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank, the same month.

“Given the severity of the allegations and still unanswered questions about this administration’s recently uncovered covert dealings with Russian government and intelligence officials, we are requesting that Mr. Kushner’s interim top-secret security clearance be suspended pending a review of Mr. Kushner’s compliance with the laws and regulation governing security clearances,” a letter from five Democratic congressmen to the FBI and the National Background Investigations Bureau read.

Its signatories are Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The congressmen also asked Kushner himself to make public all meetings he had with foreign officials during his father-in-law’s presidential campaign and transition period.

Kushner’s lawyer responded to the April 6 Times report by saying that the initial security clearance application had been made in error, and that Kushner would provide supplementary information to account for them.

In late March, the Times reported, citing unnamed administration and congressional officials, that the Senate Intelligence Committee had told the White House it wanted to interview Kushner about his meetings with Russian officials, as part of its investigation between possible ties between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

“The fact that Kushner is President Trump’s son-in-law does not place him above the law,” the congressmen wrote in a statement accompanying the letter. “Anyone else would face severe discipline for failing to disclose meetings with foreign officials, a material omission which potentially amounts to a criminal offense.”

“We are gravely concerned about the larger context within which this omission occurred,” they added later. “Mr. Kushner’s lack of candor about meetings with Russian officials appears to be part of a larger pattern of dissembling and deception on Russian contacts from the Trump team, and we believe the public deserves the truth about why these meetings took place and what they mean for U.S. foreign policy.”

Read the letter below:

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A Republican congressman said at a town hall that it was “bullcrap” that his constituents paid his salary, because he had paid enough federal taxes to have effectively paid his own way.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) made that claim, and a similar one about effectively paying for his own health care, in two town hall events, recordings of which were later posted online.

“You said you pay for me to do this,” he said in one recorded exchange, posted online Monday. “Bull crap, I paid for myself. I paid enough taxes before I ever got here and continue to through my company to pay my own salary. This is a service. No one here pays me to do it. I do it as an honor and a service.”

“I’m just saying, this is a service for me, not a career, and I thank God this isn’t how I make a living,” he added upon protest from attendees.

One constituent demanded that Mullin “give up the $178,000 then,” presumably referring to the salary for members of Congress and senators, which is $174,000.

“I have before, I’ve actually paid it back,” Mullin responded.

The congressman’s communications director, Amy Lawrence, has not responded to TPM’s request to confirm that Mullin actually refuses a congressional salary, or otherwise pays it back in some way.

Lawrence said in a statement to the Tulsa World that “the congressman is referencing the federal taxes that he and his businesses have paid to the government over the years, prior to his being in office. Like all business owners, Congressman Mullin pays his taxes, which contribute to congressional salaries.”

“The congressman reiterates in the video that his work as the representative of the Second District of Oklahoma is a service,” she continued. “His aspiration is to be a career legislator and not a career politician. He is not, nor does he ever aspire to be, a career politician. His priority will always be to serve his constituents to the best of his ability.”

In another town hall exchange, posted online Tuesday, Mullin told a constituent: “You don’t pay for my health insurance. You never have paid for my health insurance. I pay for myself.”

“Who pays your salary?” someone asks.

“Me, I have self-employed,” he responded. “And I’ve been self-employed, and I’ve paid more taxes inside my own company and personally than I’ll ever receive from being in Congress. I pay own, and I pay my own insurance.”

On Tuesday, Mullin cancelled a town hall planned for the same night, citing disagreements with the planned venue over “our protocols that guaranteed the safety of everyone.” He pledged to reschedule the event.

In 2014, the Washington Post reported, Mullin received some scrutiny from the Office of Congressional Ethics for his continuing to advertise for and serve as an officer or on the board of Mullin Plumbing, Inc., and related companies while he served in Congress. An OCE report found that Mullin received $600,000 from the companies in income in 2013.

The House Ethics Committee did not establish a special committee to investigate the allegations, the Post reported. Mullin’s lawyer said at the time that the report contained “entirely meritless allegations,” and that the income Mullin received was through distributions from those businesses, rather than earned or personally received income, and that other services were subject to an exemption for family businesses.

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President Donald Trump said Thursday that “[t]hings will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia.”

“At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” Trump continued, in a tweet.

It was an optimistic reading of the situation a day after Trump said, “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking alongside Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said that relations between the two countries were at “a low point.”

Tillerson said last Thursday, in the wake of alleged gas attack from the Syrian regime, that Russia was either “complicit or simply incompetent,” because the country had pledged after a 2013 gas attack to rid Syria of chemical weapons. 

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to mend relations with Russia, especially over what he described as the shared goal of combatting religious extremism. FBI Director James Comey confirmed in March that his agency was investigating possible ties between members of Trump’s campaign and Russia.

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President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Club, known in his administration as the “Winter White House” or “Southern White House,” was cited for a number of sanitation violations in a January inspection.

First reported by the Miami Herald Wednesday afternoon, the club’s most recent inspection report listed “high priority” violations including keeping meat and fish at temperatures that were too high and not following protocols to destroy parasites in fish served raw or undercooked.

The Herald noted that, compared to past publicly available reports, Mar-a-Lago’s most recent inspection, during Trump’s first week in office, had yielded a record number of violations.

Trump has hosted high-profile visits at the club, including with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Luckily for Trump and Xi, nothing in the report indicates any liabilities in Mar-a-Lago’s chocolate cake, which Trump recently bragged was at the dinner table when he told Xi he had ordered a military strike against a Syrian airfield.

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