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Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant 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

Steve Bannon, the Trump administration’s former chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News reported Thursday, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the proceedings.

Bannon served as the Trump campaign’s chief executive from August 2016 through the end of the campaign, and was in Trump’s ear until he left his White House post in August 2017, making him a valuable interview for Mueller’s investigators.

NBC News reported that Bannon spent “some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller.”

Bannon returned to his job leading the far-right outlet Breitbart News after leaving the White House, only to leave that role early this year after losing favor in Trump’s circles for criticizing the President’s son in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

NBC News also noted that Bannon had appeared before the House Intelligence Committee again on Thursday to answer Russia-related questions. Members of both parties in that committee have openly considered sanctioning Bannon for refusing to answer their questions. CNN reported Thursday that Bannon claimed to have been instructed by the White House to invoke executive privilege in response to a broad range of questions. 

“The only questions he would answer were questions that had been scripted, literally scripted for him by the White House,” NBC News quoted the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), as saying Thursday. “Whenever we sought to probe anything beyond the four corners of the specific wording of the question, he refused to answer. That’s not how executive privilege works.”

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Editor’s Note: Numerous news outlets, including TPM, reported Thursday on claims made by Jordan Jereb, the leader of a Florida white supremacist group, that Nikolas Cruz, the alleged shooter in the Parkland school shooting, was a member of Jereb’s group. Within hours, several experts and observers had cast doubt on those claims. And on Thursday afternoon, Jereb appeared to walk back the claims in social media posts. As a result, we’ve substantially updated our original story on Jereb’s claims to reflect the new information.

 

Jordan Jereb, the leader of a Florida white nationalist group, initially claimed on Thursday that Nikolas Cruz, who is alleged to have killed 17 people in a school shooting on Wednesday, was a member of his organization.

But within hours, it appeared that Jereb had walked back that claim. Jereb says he leads the group Republic of Florida (ROF), a white supremacist organization seeking the “creation of a white ethnostate.”

Someone posting under the name “Jordan Jereb” on Gab, a social media website frequently used by white nationalists, suggested he had been mistaken in claiming Cruz was a member of the group.

The Anti-Defamation League first relayed Jereb’s claims that Cruz was a member of ROF.

Jereb repeated the claim to the Daily Beast, the Associated Press and the Tallahassee Democrat.

And ABC News reported that three former schoolmates of Cruz’s, who were unnamed in the report, had said he was a member of the group, too. The report said the schoolmates claimed Cruz “marched with the group frequently,” and that they’d seen Cruz and Jereb “often” together.

However, soon after these reports emerged, Lt. Grady Jordan of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office told the Tallahassee Democrat that the office hadn’t found a connection between Cruz and the group.

Experts and reporters who follow the white nationalist movement expressed doubt over Jereb’s claims, and commenters on servers known for movement chatter have claimed the stories of Cruz’s affiliation with the group are a hoax.

Asked about the reports later Thursday afternoon, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is investigating the school shooting, said “it’s not confirmed at this time. There’s so much– we’ve heard that. We’re looking into that. And we’ll just keep following on with that.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a blog post on its website, said of Jereb: “It may seem odd that Jereb would bring attention to his group by claiming a connection to Cruz, but Jereb has always been somewhat of a publicity seeker. In 2014, in fact, he wrote us to complain that we had not already listed ROF as a hate group. In April 2017, Michael Tubbs, the leader of the Florida chapter of the League of the South, a well-known hate group, wrote that Jereb ‘never misses a photo op’ and called him ‘a nut job who should be avoided.’”

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Thursday fell short of calling for any kind of additional restriction on the purchase of high-powered semi-automatic rifles, like the one allegedly used to murder 17 people on Wednesday.

Though he didn’t entirely rule out such efforts in a speech on the Senate floor — “I‘m not saying don’t focus on the gun part,” he said at one point — Rubio repeatedly emphasized that new gun laws were unlikely to prevent shooting massacres like Wednesday’s. 

The senator, an ally of the gun manufacturers’ lobby, was criticized Wednesday for again failing to offer legislative answers to America’s frequent gun massacres.

“I do think that in some circles, it isn’t fair or right to create this impression that somehow this attack happened yesterday because there is some law out there that we could have passed to prevent it,” Rubio said toward the end of a lengthy speech in which he wavered between dismissing gun control efforts and advising against saying “there is nothing we can do.”

“If there was such a law that could have prevented yesterday, I think a lot of people would have supported it,” he said.

“You read in the newspaper that they used a certain kind of gun and therefore let’s make it harder to get those kinds of guns,” Rubio said earlier in his remarks, referring to the AR-15 that police said Nikolas Cruz used Wednesday, and which is responsible for many of the deadliest shooting incidents in modern American history.

“I don’t have some sort of de facto religious objection to that, or some ideological commitment to that per se,” Rubio said. “There’s all kinds of guns that are outlawed and weaponry that’s outlawed and/or special category.”

“The problem is we did that once, and it didn’t work for a lot of reasons,” he continued. “One of them is there is already millions of these on the street. And those things, they last 100 years. And so you could pass a law that makes it hard to get this kind of gun in a new condition, but you’re going to struggle to keep it out of the hands of someone who’s decided that’s what they want to use, because there are so many of them out there already that would be grandfathered in.”

Rubio listed the ways gun restrictions would fail.

“You can do a background check,” he said. “The truth is in almost all these cases I cited, the individual either erroneously passed a background check or would have passed it or did.”

“Even if they couldn’t pass the background check, then they could buy them the way MS-13 does, and other gangs and other street elements do, from the black market.” 

“Again, not because we shouldn’t have a background check. I’m just trying to be clear and honest here,” he said. “If someone has decided I’m going to commit this crime, they will find a way to get the gun to do it.”

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a law that makes it harder. It just means understand, to be honest, it isn’t going to stop this from happening. You could still pass the law, per se, but you’re still going to have these horrible attacks.”

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In remarks from the White House Thursday on the mass shooting that left 17 dead in South Florida the previous day, President Donald Trump offered no legislative solutions to address America’s epidemic of gun deaths but insisted that Americans “must actually make [a] difference.”

Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can,” he said. “We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

“Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorney generals where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority,” Trump continued. “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.” 

Earlier in his remarks, Trump urged troubled youth to “turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader” and to “answer hate with love, answer cruelty with kindness.”

He added: “We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin broke with the rest of the Trump administration in appearing to voice support for some level of congressional action to confront shooting massacres.

A gunman killed 17 people and injured more than a dozen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in south Florida Wednesday.

In a House Ways and Means Committee hearing to discuss the White House’s proposed 2019 budget, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) brought up the shooting and asked Mnuchin whether there was “any money in the budget to deal with the proliferation of gun violence?”

“I’m not aware of that level of detail in the budget for me to be the expert to attest on that,” Mnuchin began.

“In light of what happened yesterday,” Lewis interjected.

“I will say, personally, I think the gun violence— It’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues,” Mnuchin said.

“Do you propose to do something?” Lewis asked.

“I have vast responsibility as Treasury Secretary, but this is out of my lane of responsibility,” Mnuchin said.

Lewis pressed again, telling the Treasury Secretary “You’re part of this administration” and noting that the Centers for Disease Control, which is headquartered in Lewis’ district, has been prevented for years by Congress from studying gun violence as a public health issue.

“So do you have anything?” Lewis asked.

“I assure you, I appreciate the severity and the tragedy,” Mnuchin said. “And I will speak to the president and the Cabinet members.”

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Police on Wednesday said that at least 17 people had died following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The alleged shooter remained at large for more than an hour before his arrest, according to police.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, speaking to reporters at around 6:30 p.m. ET, said that “17 people lost their lives.”

“Twelve people within the building, two people just outside the building, one person on Pine Island Road and two people lost their lives in the hospital,” he said. “There are people that are still undergoing surgery.” 

“There are certainly students and there are certainly adults” among the dead, Israel said later.

He identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, 19, and said investigators were looking into Cruz’s online profiles. “Some of the things that have come to mind are very very disturbing,” he said of Cruz’s online presence, noting that Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas for disciplinary reasons.

“We believe he had one AR-15 rifle, I don’t know if he had a second one,” Israel said, referring to the popular semi-automatic weapon used in numerous mass shootings in the past. He said Cruz had “countless magazines, multiple magazines” of ammunition.

He added separately: “We continually ask you in the media to continually put out the message: If you see something, say something. If anybody has any indicator that someone’s going through a behavioral change, or on their social media that there are disturbing photos, perhaps bombs or firearms or just videos or pictures that are just not right, please make sure law enforcement knows about it.” 

Earlier, just after 5:00 p.m., Israel told reporters that “from what I understand, there was a time where he did attend the school. I don’t know why he left. I don’t know when he left,” Israel said, adding: “He was taken into arrest without incident.”

“I don’t know how many injuries there were, but we know 14 people were transported to area hospitals with varying degrees of wounds,” he said.

“He carried multiple guns,” one student told WFOR in an interview later aired by CNN. “He showed me his guns. I was kicked out of school myself and I saw what guns he had. He showed me personally. A lot of time the kids wouldn’t pick on him because they knew what could go on. They were scared.”

“A lot of people were saying that it was going to be him,” the student added. “Everyone predicted it, that’s crazy.”

The Miami Herald first identified Cruz as the suspect. According to the Herald, Cruz had been identified as a potential threat to other students in the past. Stoneman Douglas math teacher Jim Gard, who said he taught Cruz last year, told the Herald, “We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him.”

“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard said.

Two people inside the school at the time of the shooting told WSVN on air that they heard the fire alarm and then, as they evacuated, heard shots fired.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told pool reporters slightly after 3:00 p.m.: “The President has been made aware of the school shooting in Florida. We are monitoring the situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.”

Trump expressed his condolences to affected families shortly afterward:

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday finally said that he is opposed to domestic violence, on the heels of the scandal surrounding one former White House staffer’s resignation over allegations of domestic violence.

“I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that,” Trump told reporters during a photo opportunity with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So now you hear it but you all know it.”

Trump has stayed silent on the scandal so far, except for wishing Porter well and publishing a tweet in which he expressed sympathy with those whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”

The White House has said Porter’s background check — which reportedly included interviews that Porter’s ex-wives gave to the FBI in which they accused him of abuse — was incomplete at the time of Porter’s resignation.

But FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted that claim during testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday. Afterward, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that White House had meant that the White House Personnel Security Office — staffed by “career officials,” she specified — hadn’t finished their own work with Porter’s clearance.

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday ignored questions about the White House’s response to former White House senior staffer Rob Porter’s resignation last week after Porter’s two ex-wives publicly discussed domestic violence allegations against him.

“Mr. President, did your staff handle the Porter allegations properly?” a reporter asked Trump during a photo opportunity.

“Is Gen. Kelly’s job safe?” another asked, referring to White House chief of staff John Kelly, as White House staff ushered them out of the room.

Trump did not answer any questions on the subject.

According to multiple reports, White House officials knew about the allegations against Porter before they surfaced publicly last week. Since Porter’s resignation, the White House has offered various justifications for keeping him on staff.

At least one of those explanations has been contradicted by another official account. Though the White House claimed that Porter’s background check — which included interviews with both of his ex-wives — was “ongoing,” FBI Director Christopher Wray testified on Tuesday that the bureau sent the results of a completed background check to the White House in July 2017.

Kelly in particular offered a strong defense of Porter after the allegations became public. According to several reports, Kelly initially urged Porter to stay in his job, but has since told staff members to communicate — against their disbelief — that he acted immediately to terminate Porter.

Trump has neither personally addressed the scandal nor expressed sympathies to Porter’s ex-wives, though he wished Porter well last week and tweeted sympathetically about people whose lives are “shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”

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The Washington Post on Tuesday reported on the ongoing turmoil within the White House over a senior staffer’s ouster following accusations of domestic violence.

White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose handling of the scandal has come under intense scrutiny, is a “big fat liar,” one unnamed White House official told the Post, which cited “a dozen top White House officials and outside advisers and confidants,” mostly anonymously, for the report.

“To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty,” the source added.

Various reports have asserted that the White House knew about the multiple allegations of domestic violence made against former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter before the allegations became public in media reports last week. And FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Tuesday that the bureau’s background investigation had concluded before Porter’s resignation, despite the White House’s recent excuse that the check was ongoing.

One unnamed White House aide told the Post that Wray’s testimony was “a killer” and, asked if Kelly could have been more truthful about the scandal, said: “In this White House, it’s simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don’t even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday pinned responsibility on a middleman: The White House Personnel Security Office, “staffed by career officials,” she said, had not completed their own process at the time of Porter’s resignation.

President Donald Trump, the Post said, has expressed frustration in private with the fallout from the scandal, and he has mused in recent days about a replacement for Kelly, two unnamed people with knowledge of the conversation told the Post. The paper noted, though, that Trump often muses about personnel changes he ultimately does not make.

Unnamed aides told the Post that Kelly’s response to the breaking Porter story included instructing staff to communicate what many believed to be a false version of events last Friday.

White House counsel Don McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin also face scrutiny over the scandal, the Post said.

Unnamed officials told the Post that, rather than being forthcoming about their mistakes in vetting Porter, Kelly and McGahn sought to avoid blame. Kelly told at least one unnamed confidant, the Post said, that the White House communications office ought to take some responsibility for the fallout. He said separately that the media overplayed the story, the Post reported.

At a press briefing Tuesday, a reporter asked Sanders if she was “telling us that no senior staff — not Don McGahn, not Joe Hagin, not John Kelly — nobody in the senior staff in the West Wing was involved in that decision to tell [the FBI] to go back and see if they could get more information” on Porter, after the bureau completed its initial background check.

“Again, not that I’m aware of,” Sanders replied. “I can’t say with 100 percent certainty, but not that I’m aware of, of any conversations between those individuals.”

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