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 and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

The White House on Sunday continued to lie and evade about its new policy of splitting up migrant families at the border.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday refused to admit a simple truth about the policy: President Donald Trump can immediately end it with a phone call.

At the start of an interview with Conway, NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd played a recording of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying just that: “President Trump could stop this policy with the phone call. […] If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS: Stop doing it.”

“Is the President ready to make that phone call to the attorney general, to DHS, to stop this policy?” Todd asked.

“The President is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board,” Conway said, tying the fate of thousands of children (and counting) who have been separated from their families in recent weeks to the complex and politically fraught congressional immigration debate.

Like Trump, she laid the responsibility for the separation of families at the border — a new policy declared in an April memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and subsequently detailed in speeches by him early the next month — at the feet of congressional Democrats.

“If people really cared about [migrant children], we would figure out a way to get the funding to expand the centers, and to close the loopholes. These loopholes are allowing open border policies. I think what the President is saying is that, if the Democrats are serious, they’ll come together, again, and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”

Congress had nothing to do with instituting Sessions’ so-called “prosecution initiative.” The attorney general has ordered U.S. Attorneys to systematically pursue criminal charges against all migrant adults who cross the border in between designated ports of entry, including those who declare asylum. (Customs and Border Protection agents have reportedly told asylum-seekers at designated ports of entry, meanwhile, that they are at capacity.)

Because children cannot be held in criminal detention, the Trump administration’s new policy has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families in recent weeks.

If and when parents are released from criminal detention, some lawyers and activists have described a Kafkaesque nightmare that follows: Parents are given little information about the process for reunifying with their children, who by then have been handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services and treated as though they are “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs.

Todd told Conway it sounded like the White House was treating the children like “hostages” and using them to put political pressure on Democrats. 

“I certainly don’t want anyone to use these kids as leverage,” she said. “I saw a headline that breathlessly screamed as much and I object to that very forcefully.”

Todd noted the headline came from an Washington Post article that included an unnamed White House official who said “the thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”

Conway said she wanted “that person to say that to my face.”

But, over and over, she tied Trump’s separation policy to congressional negotiations.

“I would tell everybody, this week, when the President goes to Congress at 5:30 on Tuesday, get together,” Conway said at one point, before an astonishing attempt to blame Democrats for not bringing the issue up during a televised meeting between Trump and members of Congress in January, three months before the new policy was announced.

“One hour! Did this issue come up?” she asked. “The Democrats only want to talk about DACA.”

“Kids weren’t being separated from their parents then!” Todd said. “This policy [was] implemented in April!”

Conway was unfazed: “What they should have said is, look, we had a surge over the border in 2014, Mr. President, under President Obama, and it shocked everyone, and we simply didn’t have the capacity. We want to avoid that in the future and work with you.”

She quickly changed the topic. “Look, the Democrats ought to just own it. Why don’t they say ‘We’re for open borders?’ But they have to be serious.”

She again, falsely, claimed Congress had to act to end the practice of separating families at the border.

“Nobody likes this policy. You saw the President on camera that he wants this to end. But Congress has to act.”

“He can end it on his own!” Todd objected.

Conway ignored him, accurately pointing out that it is a crime, a misdemeanor, to cross the border illegally. But, following the White House line, she refused to acknowledge the simple fact that the Trump administration has only recently insisted on separating families, and that the new policy could end today. 

Citing the President’s demand for the construction of more detention centers along the border, including those that could house families, she again put the onus on Congress to act: “If the Democrats are serious, and if a lot of Republicans are serious, they’ll come together. They won’t just talk about, this week, the Dreamers, or just the wall, or just catch and release. It’s all of the above. There are ways to repatriate these families back to their home countries expeditiously.”

Todd moved on, the White House having committed, essentially, to continuing the new policy for the foreseeable future.

Watch below via NBC News:

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After saying that President Donald Trump “is not going to issue pardons in this investigation,” and that he would advise against the President offering pardons related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani left the door open for Trump to do just that.

In an interview with Giuliani Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked about a quote Giuliani gave the New York Daily News Friday: “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” the Trump lawyer said.

“My advice to him, as long as I’m his lawyer, is not to do it,” Giuliani said Sunday, “because you’ll just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no criminality involved of any kind.”

In fact, Mueller’s probe has so far produced a long list of plea deals and indictments.

Tapper asked whether Giuliani’s talk about pardons was meant to send a signal to defendants in the Mueller probe: “Some people think that this is the President and you suggesting, signaling really, ‘Don’t cooperate with prosecutors because a pardon is there if you just hold on.'”

“I don’t think that’s the interpretation,” Giuliani responded. “It’s certainly not intended that way.”

“What I mean is, you’re not going to get a pardon just because you’re involved in this investigation,” he said. “You probably have a higher burden if you’re involved in this investigation as compared to the others who get pardons, but you’re certainly not excluded from it, if in fact the President and his advisers — not me — come to the conclusion that you’ve been treated unfairly.”

“Doesn’t mean that anybody should rely on it,” Giuliani added later in his answer, noting other presidents who he said had issued pardons “in these political investigations.”

“Please, listen to what I’m saying, and the President: The big signal is, nobody’s been pardoned yet. If you’re going to do it, probably this is the time to do it, to cut it off. There’s nothing to cut off. But there is a lot of unfairness out there.”

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Despite his past claims to the contrary, Trump confidant Roger Stone did in fact meet with a Russian national during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

The man, Henry Greenberg — though he has used other names in the past, the Post reported, including as an apparent information source for the FBI — asked Stone for $2 million from Trump in exchange for damaging information about Hillary Clinton during a May 2016 meeting at a Miami area restaurant.

Stone told the Post he rejected the offer, saying that Trump “doesn’t pay for anything.” The paper also reviewed a text message exchange between Stone and Michael Caputo following the meeting; the Trump campaign communications staffer had arranged the meeting between Greenberg and Stone, the Post reported, after Greenberg first met with Caputo’s business partner.

Caputo told the Post prosecutors on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team brought up the meeting in an interview last month. Caputo remembered Mueller’s team seeming to have “intense interest” in the meeting, the paper said. 

“How crazy is the Russian?” Caputo texted Stone following the 2016 meeting, according to text messages reviewed by the Post.

“Wants big &$ for the info- waste of time” Stone responded.

“The Russian way,” Caputo said. “Anything at all interesting?”

“No” Stone said.

Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he “certainly” did not have any knowledge of the 2016 meeting, nor did he believe Trump had been aware of it.

Though the Post reported there’s no evidence that Greenberg was working on the FBI’s behalf in the meeting, the paper said it had reviewed a 2015 immigration filing for the same man using a different name, Henry Oknyansky, in which he claimed to have provided information to the FBI for 17 years. Greenberg told the Post he stopped cooperating with the FBI “sometime after 2013,” in the paper’s words.

After initially denying the story, the Post said, Greenberg essentially confirmed Stone’s version of it with one exception: Greenberg claimed to have been accompanied by a man named Alexei who he claimed had once worked for the Clinton Foundation, though the foundation told the Post that it had never employed a man with that first name. Greenberg also denied having personally asked Stone for money. 

Caputo’s attorney, the Post said, sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee Friday correcting earlier testimony about whether he was ever offered information about Clinton by a Russian. He also told the paper he would tell the DOJ inspector general about the meeting, as well. Stone’s attorney, Stone told the Post, “has done the same.”

The May 2016 meeting, the Post noted, came before Wikileaks began publishing stolen Democratic emails, before the acknowledged start of the FBI counterintelligence investigation, and before the Trump Tower meeting between several top Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer similarly promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Read the Post’s full report here.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began feeling the heat from disgruntled allies of his deregulatory agenda this week: Laura Ingraham called for his resignation; Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate dean of climate-change denial, wants a word; and the Koch-affiliated American Future Fund says he’s “embarrassing President Trump.” 

The denunciations mostly followed a report that Pruitt had an EPA staffer reach out to Republican donors in search of a job for his wife, Marlyn. Days before that, Democrats called for a criminal probe of the administrator, and House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) accused him of using a “first in, first out” FOIA policy in order to delay document requests related to his leadership.

Deregulators may be somewhat bullish on Pruitt’s departure due to the April confirmation of his deputy, Andrew Wheeler. The former coal lobbyist, Inhofe told Ingraham in an interview, is “really qualified, too” so “that might be a good swap.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported late last week on the EPA’s decision to focus solely on the potential harm caused by direct contact with certain chemicals when assessing their compliance with a 2016 law, ignoring the effects of humans’ second-hand exposure to the chemicals (say, in drinking water).

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — the same body that rejected Rick Perry’s proposal months ago to subsidize failing coal and nuclear energy plants — voiced their opposition again to a proposal, this time from the President, to prop up the plants. Such an effort would, a commission Republican told the Senate on Tuesday, result in “significant rate increases without any corresponding reliability, resilience or cybersecurity benefits.”

Personnel is policy, the saying goes: A former wine blogger has reportedly been vetting career officials at the State Department for their loyalty to the President, leading to resignations. And a “second-tier political appointee” at the Interior Department, Pacific Standard reported, pursued the cancellation of a study on the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining after several meetings with industry insiders.

At the Department of Education, Secretary Betsy DeVos has reinstated a deeply discredited accrediting body.” The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is known for looking the other way when it comes to shady for-profit colleges, and a lawsuit against the DOE makes clear that DeVos pointedly ignored her staff’s damning assessment of the institution.

White House budget director and interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney has succeeded in a surprisingly persistent effort of his: changing the sign at the building entrance from “CFPB” to “BCFP,”  just in time for the June 22 deadline for Trump to nominate a permanent director. “CFPB doesn’t exist,” he recently told some bankers.

Finally, the Trump family: White House officials Jared and Ivanka continue to make millions, according to newly released financial disclosures. And Ivanka was named — along with her two brothers and father — in a lawsuit from the New York Attorney General alleging widespread criminal activity at the Trump Foundation, including self-dealing and in-kind contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign.

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Hillary Clinton responded to the news that former FBI Director James Comey used a personal email address for official business by re-phrasing a classic meme of the Trump administration: But her emails!

In a report released Thursday, the Department of Justice inspector general found that Comey and other FBI officials used personal email addresses for official business. The IG probe, ironically, examined the FBI’s handling of the probe into Clinton’s own use of a private email server.

Especially bad news during the Trump administration has often been met with the sarcastic phrase “But her emails!” to emphasize, in Clinton supporters’ minds, the extreme cost to the republic of reporters’ and Republicans’ focus on Clinton’s emails.

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The Trump administration says it’s downright biblical to separate undocumented immigrant children from their families.

That’s what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday during a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I thought I’d take a little bit of a digression here to discuss some concerns raised by our church friends about separation of families,” Sessions said. “Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair or logical, and some are contrary to law.”

“First, illegal entry into the United States is a crime: It should be, it must be, if you’re going to have a system of any limits whatsoever! Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. If you violate the law, you subject yourself to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

He added later, according to his prepared remarks: “I have given the idea of immigration much thought and have considered the arguments of our church leaders. I do not believe scripture or church history or reason condemns a secular nation state for having reasonable immigration laws.”

Asked about Sessions’ references to the Bible later on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the attorney general.

“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” she said. “That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

Later, she mischaracterized the child separation issue, attempting to make it seem as though the Trump administration had not changed its policy last month.

Family separations have spiked since Sessions announced the administration’s new policy of criminally prosecuting all illegal border crossers.

That is a change. Though it has always been a misdemeanor to illegally cross the border, it was policy before Sessions’ “zero tolerance” announcement to handle border crossers in civil immigration courts, rather than in criminal courts. Because children cannot be held in criminal detention, the new policy has resulted in the spike of family separations.

“There is no law that requires families be separated at the border. This was the administration’s choice, to move from civil matters in immigration, to criminal, to criminally prosecute people who come across the border illegally, and therefore you have to separate families,” a reporter told Sanders Thursday.

“So why did the administration find that this was necessary, and if it continues to not have much of a deterrent effect, will you continue this policy?”

Sanders repeatedly refused to engage with the question’s premise, that there had been a change in policy.

“Again, the laws are the ones that have been on the books for over a decade, and the President is enforcing them,” she said. 

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FBI Director Christopher Wray announced Thursday, following the release of a Department of Justice inspector general’s report on DOJ and FBI actions before the 2016 election, that everyone in the FBI will undergo a training based on the report.

The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman published the contents of an internal FBI memo detailing the news: “Because change starts at the top — including right here with me — we’re going to start by requiring all of our senior executives, from around the world, to convene for in-depth training on the lessons we should learn from this report,” Wray wrote.

“Then, we’re going to train every single employee — new hires and veterans alike — on what went wrong, so those mistakes will never be repeated.”

Ackerman reported that Wray added: “We’ve been under attack on a number of fronts, the rumor mill has been swirling around us, and there’s been a lot of upheaval. It’s not easy. Trust me: I get it.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that President Donald Trump was simply displaying “common courtesy” when he saluted a North Korean general earlier this week.

“It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes that you return that,” she said.

Video from North Korean state television showed Trump saluting the North Korean general.

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An attorney for Peter Strzok hit back at a Department of Justice inspector general’s report Thursday, calling it “critically flawed” in some respects.

The attorney, Aitan Goelman, acknowledged that the report, in its own words, “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” but he took issue with another section.

“[T]he report is critically flawed in its bizarre conclusion that the IG cannot rule out ‘with confidence’ the possibility that Special Agent Strzok’s political ‘bias’ may have been a cause of the FBI’s failure, between September 29 and October 25, 2016, to seek a second search warrant for the Anthony Weiner laptop.”

That’s a reference to a delay in the FBI’s seeking emails potentially relevant to the Clinton email server investigation on Weiner’s computer. “[W]e did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias,” the IG report read. 

That delay, Goelman asserts, was caused by other “factors and miscommunications that had nothing to do with Special Agent Strzok’s political views.” (Emphasis his).

Read the full response below via ABC:

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House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Thursday criticized the FBI and its former director, James Comey, after receiving an Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the FBI and DOJ’s actions during the 2016 election.

This is not the FBI I know,” Gowdy said. “This is not the FBI our country needs. This is not the FBI citizens and suspects alike deserve.”

The rest of Gowdy’s statement (read it in full below) addresses the major headlines out of the IG report so far, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, as the IG did.

“The investigation was mishandled,” Gowdy said. “The investigatory conclusions were reached before the end of the witness interviews. The July 5th press conference marked a serious violation of policy and process. And the letters to Congress in the fall of 2016 were both delayed in substance and unnecessary in form.”

He additionally criticized the FBI for the “[v]oluntariness and consent” it showed Clinton and other “potential subjects and targets” in the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, contrasting them to the “search warrants, subpoenas, and other compulsory processes” in the investigation of the Trump campaign.

Read Gowdy’s full statement below:

“I am alarmed, angered, and deeply disappointed by the Inspector General’s finding of numerous failures by DOJ and FBI in investigating potential Espionage Act violations by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This report confirms investigative decisions made by the FBI during the pendency of this investigation were unprecedented and deviated from traditional investigative procedures in favor of a much more permissive and voluntary approach. This is not the way normal investigations are run. 

The investigation was mishandled. The investigatory conclusions were reached before the end of the witness interviews. The July 5th press conference marked a serious violation of policy and process. And the letters to Congress in the fall of 2016 were both delayed in substance and unnecessary in form. 

Moreover, the treatment afforded to former Secretary Clinton and other potential subjects and targets was starkly different from the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign officials. Voluntariness and consent in the former were replaced with search warrants, subpoenas, and other compulsory processes in the latter. Many of the investigators and supervisors were the same in both investigations but the investigatory tactics were not. 

Former Director Comey violated Department policy in several significant ways. The FBI’s actions and those of former Director Comey severely damaged the credibility of the investigation, the public’s ability to rely on the results of the investigation, and the very institutions he claims to revere. 

The report also conclusively shows an alarming and destructive level of animus displayed by top officials at the FBI. Peter Strzok’s manifest bias trending toward animus casts a pall on this investigation. Bias is so pernicious and malignant as to both taint the process, the result, and the ability to have confidence in either. His bias was so pervasive and toxic as to call into question any other investigations he was part of including his role in the investigation of what Russia did in 2016. His bias impacted his decision making and he assigned to himself the role of stopping the Trump campaign or ending a Trump Presidency. 

The law enforcement community has no greater ally in Congress than me. But continued revelations of questionable decision making by FBI and DOJ leadership destroys confidence in the impartiality of the institutions I have long served, respected, and believed in. 

This is not the FBI I know. This is not the FBI our country needs. This is not the FBI citizens and suspects alike deserve. 

It is now urgently incumbent on Attorney General Sessions and Director Wray to take decisive action to restore Americans’ confidence in our justice system.”

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