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

Amid a wave of expert litigators declining offers to join President Donald Trump’s Russia probe team, the White House defended the team Tuesday.

During a press briefing Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the “number of high-profile lawyers” who have declined Trump’s offers to join his legal team, naming Dan Webb and Ted Olson, the former solicitor general, as well as unnamed “others.”

“I’m wondering why the President has had so much trouble finding an experienced lawyer willing to take him on?” Rucker asked. “And who at this hour is his lead counsel in negotiating with Robert Mueller and the special counsel’s [office]?”

“The President has a highly qualified team with several individuals that have been part of this process,” Sanders responded, naming Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow.

“For specific details on any search process outside of the White House, I would refer you to his outside counsel.”

Rucker pointed out that Ty Cobb works for the White House, rather than for Trump personally. John Dowd recently resigned as Trump’s top personal lawyer taking on the Russia probe.

“Outside of the White House, I would refer you to Jay Sekulow, who can address any detailed questions on that front,” Sanders said.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that Sekulow was the only lawyer of Trump’s “who is working full time on the special counsel’s investigation.”

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In December, the double murder allegedly carried out by a neo-Nazi teenager of his ex-girlfriend’s parents made national headlines, days after one of the victims had warned of the accused’s radical beliefs and potential for violence.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported the first public comments by the alleged murderer’s mother. Her son, she described, had long ago been diagnosed with mental illness and had shown signs of extreme social isolation. The alleged killer’s mental competency to stand trial is currently under discussion in hearings, the Post said. He shot himself in the head after allegedly murdering his ex-girlfriend’s parents but did not die.

The alleged murderer’s mother recounted missed warning signs to the Post, including when — a day after the slain mother, Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, notified a school principal of the teen’s suspected secret, Nazi-centric Twitter account — she dismissed a warning from a school administrator.

The administrator, the teen’s mother told the Post, told the alleged killer’s mother he’d been wearing an Iron Cross, a known Nazi symbol. The administrator, the mother said, called her son a Nazi.

“[T]hat’s just ridiculous,” the mother responded, she told the Post. “He’s just obsessed with reading about history.”

Then, the night of the murder, and after the ex-girlfriend’s mother warned her alleged future killer to stop seeing her daughter, he made a troubling comment.

“He was telling me something is going to happen to the [girlfriend] and that I didn’t understand,” the alleged’s mother told the Post.

Hours later, after speaking with her son for hours, the Post said, the mother drifted to sleep, only to awake to find him missing. She texted the ex-girlfriend’s mother and received the response: “He is here. We are calling police.”

The alleged killer, the mother told the Post, had taken his father’s gun — which was left “unsecured,” the Post said — along with a knife and a hammer.

“They truly didn’t deserve it. It comes back on me,” the alleged killer’s mother said.

A neighbor recounted another missed warning. In October, Penny Potter told the Post, the alleged killer mowed what the paper described as “a roughly 40-foot swastika” into a neighborhood common area. Contradicting her earlier memory of the incident, Potter now says she didn’t tell the teen’s family about the swastika, the Post reported. The alleged killer’s family never saw it, the paper said.

But the alleged killer’s mother defended her son against charges of Naziism, even though, according to an investigation of the teen’s suspected pseudonymous Twitter account by HuffPost in January, that’s how he referred to himself.

“Instead,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday, “she thinks he is someone broken by years of isolation, bullying and mental illness. She said the things he wrote online were intended to get a rise out of people, the kind of impact he didn’t have in the real world.”

HuffPost also reported in January that it had obtained screenshots of the mother’s Facebook page, where “she posted tributes to Confederate generals and argued in favor of keeping Confederate statues in various cities. She also posted a photo of her son at a shooting range, holding what the caption says is a Thompson submachine gun.”

A note the mother found in the alleged killer’s room following the double murder seems to make a strong case for taking his online behavior seriously: “I use ironic memes as a way to cover up the fact how badly I want to blow my brains out,” he wrote.

This post has been updated.

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Former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview published Monday that John Bolton, the hawkish former U.N. ambassador President Donald Trump recently picked to be his next national security adviser, would be “a disaster for our country.”

In an interview with USA Today, Carter said he was “very must distressed,” at the news that current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would leave that role on April 9th. Trump announced the change in a tweet Thursday. 

“And particularly with the choice of his replacement,” Carter continued.

“I think John Bolton is a disaster for our country,” he said. “Maybe one of the worst mistakes that President Trump has made since he’s been in office is the employment of John Bolton, who has been advocating a war with North Korea for a long time and even promoting an attack on Iran, and who has been one of the leading figures on orchestrating the decision to invade Iraq.”

“So he’s a warlike figure and I’m just afraid that his influence on President Trump will be deleterious for our country.”

Asked by USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, what advice he’d have for Trump in his dealings with North Korea, Carter hammered the point home.

“You mean other than fire John Bolton?” he asked. “That would be my first advice.”

Carter separately told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell on Monday, in an interview set to air Tuesday, that Trump’s choice of Bolton as his top national security adviser “was very ill-advised.”

“I think John Bolton has been the worst mistake he’s made,” he said.

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Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, sued President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, on Monday.

Clifford alleged Cohen defamed her by implying she was lying about an alleged affair with Trump, the Washington Post first reported.

Clifford and attorney Michael Avenatti added the defamation complaint to their previous suit against Trump, and Essential Consultants, LLC, the corporate body Cohen used to send $130,000 in hush money to Clifford.

In the original suit, Clifford argued that a nondisclosure agreement she signed covering the alleged affair isn’t valid because Trump never signed it.

The amended complaint quotes Cohen’s denial of any affair between Trump and Clifford in a Feb. 13 statement. “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage,” Cohen said at the time, after acknowledging he’d used his personal funds to “facilitate” the payment to Clifford.

“I will always protect Mr. Trump,” Cohen added.

After Cohen released that statement, Clifford’s amended complaint reads, “it was reasonably understood Mr. Cohen meant to convey that Ms. Clifford is a liar, someone who should not be trusted, and that her claims about her relationship with Mr. Trump is ‘something [that] isn’t true.’”

“Mr. Cohen’s statement exposed Mr. Clifford to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and shame, and discouraged others from associating or dealing with her.”

The amended suit also added quite a bit of information regarding Clifford’s original claim that the NDA she signed is invalid.

Among them: that the NDA’s $1 million penalties for “each breach” bear “no reasonable relationship to the range of actual damages that the parties could have anticipated would flow from a breach.” The amended suit labels the penalties “unconscionable” and “designed to intimidate and financially cripple Plaintiff.”

Also, if Cohen’s hush money payment is deemed an illegally large and secretive in-kind political contribution to Trump — as the amended suit and several watchdog groups claim — then the NDA governing it was not created for a lawful purpose but rather in order to suppress Clifford’s speech “on a matter of enormous public concern.”

Indeed, were a porn star to have exposed a presidential candidate’s affair with her weeks before an election, and days after he was revealed to have bragged about sexual assault during a taping of “Access Hollywood,” it may have changed the course of the election.

Avenatti explained the new action on MSNBC shortly after news of the amended complaint broke:

Read the amended lawsuit below. The allegation against Cohen is made on pp. 17:

This post has been updated. 

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White House spokesman Raj Shah (pictured above) on Monday dodged questions on whether Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin would join the growing list of Cabinet members and senior advisers to lose their jobs.

Several outlets have reported in recent days, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Shulkin could soon be on his way out. He would join Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and other senior administration officials whose firings or resignations made news recently.

Christopher Ruddy, the Newsmax Media CEO and Trump confidante, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, after speaking to Trump the previous day, that Shulkin was “likely to depart the Cabinet very soon,” 

Shah sped by questions about Shulkin Monday.

“I have no personnel announcements to make at this time,” he told one inquiring reporter, repeating the phrase in response to another question later.

Later, another reporter asked about Shulkin and Trump’s relationship.

“I haven’t asked the President about it directly today, so I don’t want to comment on it too specifically,” Shah said.

That’s a retreat from deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley’s message on Fox News Monday morning.

“At this point in time though, he does have confidence in Dr. Shulkin,” Gidley said. “He is a secretary and he has done some great things at the VA. As you know, the President wants to put the right people in the right place at the right time and that could change.”

Unlike the rest of Trump’s Cabinet, Shulkin’s nomination was unanimously supported in a 100-0 Senate vote. He’s also the only Obama administration holdover — Shulkin served as the VA’s under secretary for health from 2015 to 2017 — to serve in the current Cabinet.

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Megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress said Sunday that addressing gun violence with new legislation alone was akin to putting a Band-Aid on a cancer.”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday to promote his church’s “March for Eternal Life,” which marked Palm Sunday with a march through downtown Dallas, Jeffress noted it came a day after the “March for our Lives,” in which young people nationwide advocated for gun control legislation.

We don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said of the gun control march. “That’s great, but if we’re depending on legislation alone to solve the problem of gun violence, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer.”

“It doesn’t deal with the root problem,” Jeffress continued. “The root problem is we need to change people’s behavior and that can only happen with a change of heart, and we believe only the gospel of Christ can do that.”

The pastor is a close ally of President Donald Trump: Jeffress delivered the pre-inaugural sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has defended Trump during some of his most difficult moments in politics.

“I would remind people that for the last 70 years there has been a crusade by secularists to remove any acknowledgment from God from the public square, including our schools, saying that we can be good without God,” Jeffress said Sunday. “Well, that’s been a dismal failure.”

He recalled the days when schoolchildren prayed, read scripture and memorized the Ten Commandments in schools, “including the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

“I think we need to return to that,” Jeffress said. “Teaching people, starting with our children, that there is a God to whom they’re accountable is not the only thing we need to do to end gun violence, but it’s the first thing we need to do.”

h/t Dallas Morning News.

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Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford’s attorney on Monday said he believed someone connected to the Trump Organization threatened his client in a parking lot in 2011.

Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that a man threatened her after she gave an interview about an alleged affair with Trump that had occurred years earlier.

The man, who Clifford said she would be able to identify today, “walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,’” she recalled. Clifford said the man then “leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’”

Though Clifford didn’t say who she thought the man was, nor whether he had any connections to Trump, an attorney representing Michael Cohen — Trump’s personal lawyer who wrote up the nondisclosure agreement Clifford signed in 2016 — sent her a cease and desist letter regarding that portion of the interview, writing that Cohen “had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that such incident ever occurred.”

After tweeting Sunday that the threat “could only have come from one place,” Avenatti made his claim explicit in a round of interviews Monday morning: the man who threatened Clifford, he said, had a connection to Trump or Cohen, who was then an executive at the Trump Organization. 

“It had to have come from someone associated with Mr. Trump,” he told “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos.

“There’s no other place for it to have come from,” he continued. “It didn’t come from the magazine, that makes no sense. It certainly didn’t come from my client.”

Asked if he had any evidence tying Trump or his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to the threat, Avenatti said “other than common sense, no.”

“We are in the process of running to ground exactly who that was, and I am confident, at the end of this, that we’re going to discover it,” he told NBC’s “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. 

“She can describe that person in great detail,” he added, referring to Clifford. “She remembers it like it was yesterday, because, like any mother in that situation, it was terrifying.”

“Have you shown her pictures of people that have worked for Donald Trump?” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked on “Morning Joe.” “Has she identified the person that made the threat to you?”

“She has not identified the person as of yet,” Avenatti said, adding that aside from Clifford and the magazine, “there’s only one other party involved in this, and that’s the Trump Organization.

“We’re going to seek all kinds of records relating to this from them, no doubt,” he said, asked by Scarborough if he would seek phone records from the Trump Organization to Las Vegas around the time of the threat.

“Do you have any apology for Michael Cohen, for suggesting that he was connected to a thug in a garage somewhere?” CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked, after reading Cohen’s attorney’s cease and desist letter.

“None,” Avenatti said.

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Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress who goes by Stormy Daniels professionally, detailed a threat she received to stay quiet about an alleged affair with President Donald Trump in an interview aired Sunday.

Clifford told Anderson Cooper, in a pre-taped and highly anticipated interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot after she’d given an interview about the alleged affair to a sister publication of In Touch magazine in 2011.

“I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter,” Clifford said, according to a transcript of the broadcast. “Taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, gettin’ all the stuff out. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.’”

“And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ And then he was gone.”

“You took it as a direct threat?” Cooper asked.

“Absolutely,” Clifford answered. “I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class. And my hands are shaking so much, I was afraid I was gonna drop her.”

Clifford said she never saw the man who threatened her again, but that “if I did, I would know it right away.”

“Even now, all these years later,” she would recognize him, she said. “If he walked in this door right now, I would instantly know.” 

She said she did not report the incident to police “because I was scared.”

Clifford first made political headlines in January, when the Wall Street Journal revealed that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had used an LLC to “facilitate” a $130,000 payment to her, part of a nondisclosure agreement covering the alleged affair between Clifford and Trump years earlier, in 2006 and 2007. Cohen later claimed he was not, nor had he expected to be, reimbursed by Trump for the payment.

Clifford told Cooper she felt pressured to sign the NDA, even though she claims it was not in her financial best interest.

“They made it sound like I had no choice,” she said, referring to the NDA.

“The exact sentence used was, ‘They can make your life hell in many different ways,'” she added, admitting when pressed by Cooper that “I’m not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen.”

“I felt intimidated and s– honestly bullied,” Clifford said later in the interview. “And I didn’t know what to do. And so I signed it. Even though I had repeatedly expressed that I wouldn’t break the agreement, but I was not comfortable lying.”

Cohen has maintained that the agreement, which was negotiated in the final weeks of the 2016 election, is not itself an acknowledgement of any affair between Clifford and Trump. He has denied that it broke campaign finance laws, a claim some watchdog groups have questioned. And he has denied ever threatening Clifford.

Clifford detailed aspects of her relationship with Trump to Cooper, but stayed mum about one particularly interesting clause in the NDA, that required her to hand over all “video images, still images, email messages, and text messages” related to the encounter in question. Did she comply with that aspect of the agreement? Cooper asked.

“I can’t answer that right now,” Clifford said, adding: “My attorney has recommended that I don’t discuss those things.”

She did describe the alleged affair, though: After meeting Trump at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006, she said, Trump invited her to his suite. There, she said, he showed her a magazine with his face on the cover.

“And so I was like, ‘Does this– does this normally work for you?'” Clifford recalled. “And he looked very taken– taken back, like, he didn’t really understand what I was saying.”

Clifford said she joking suggested she should spank Trump with the magazine.

“And I said, you know, ‘Give me that,’ and I just remember him going, ‘You wouldn’t.’ ‘Hand it over.’ And– so he did, and I was like, turn around, drop ’em,” she said.

She continued: “So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know had underwear on and stuff and I just gave him a couple swats.”

Eventually, Clifford said Trump told her “‘Wow, you– you are special. You remind me of my daughter,'” and “‘You’re smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you.'”

After using Trump’s bathroom later that night, Clifford said, she returned to Trump’s room to find him “perched” at the edge of his bed.

I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go,” she said. “And I just felt like maybe– it was sort of– I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone and I just heard the voice in my head, ‘well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.'”

Clifford wasn’t attracted to Trump and didn’t want to have sex with him, she said, but she answered affirmatively when Cooper asked if their sexual encounter was consensual. Trump didn’t use a condom, she said.

In response to Cohen’s acknowledgement of the $130,000 payment, Clifford’s former manager, Gina Rodriguez, said on Feb. 14 that “Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story.”

On Feb. 27, as NBC News first reported, Cohen won a temporary restraining order from a private arbitrator in an attempt to add pressure on Clifford. Cohen emailed it to Clifford’s attorney the next day.

A week later, on March 7, the White House appeared to acknowledge Trump’s involvement in that proceeding when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a briefing that “this case had already been won in arbitration,” even though Trump is not listed by name in the NDA. In that document, both he and Clifford are referred to by pseudonyms — “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson,” respectively.

Trump was reportedly upset with Sanders’ comment.

A day earlier, on March 6, Clifford sued Trump, saying the NDA was invalid because the then-candidate never signed the document. The complaint also referred to what Clifford alleges was Cohen’s “bogus arbitration proceeding” to keep her quiet, a reference to the restraining order he’d won a week earlier.

All the while, two interviews Clifford gave years before signing the NDA appeared to corroborate her claims of an affair: a 2007 exchange with radio host Bubba the Love Sponge and the 2011 interview with In Touch magazine. A close friend of Clifford’s who is listed on the NDA, the porn photographer Keith Munyan, also told the Washington Post earlier this month that he listened in to phone calls between Clifford and Trump.

“He never asked me not to tell anyone,” Clifford told Cooper. “He called several times when I was in front of many people and I would be like, ‘Oh my God, he’s calling.'”

“They were like, ‘Shut up, the Donald?’ And I’d put him on speakerphone.”

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Rick Santorum on Sunday criticized students organizing for gun control, saying they wanted “someone else to solve their problem” with legislation.

During a panel discussion on CNN, the former Republican senator and current CNN commentator said “Hollywood elites and liberal billionaires” had funded the gun control marches that took place Saturday and told politically-active students to, “instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that– where there is a violent shooter.”

Trauma surgeons explained in the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School — the catalyst for the recent nationwide, student-led calls for action — that wounds from high-velocity bullets like those delivered by alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz’s AR-15 are much more difficult to treat than those from handguns. 

The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively,” Dr. Heather Sher wrote in the Atlantic of one Stoneman Douglas victim whose CT scan she saw, and whose injuries proved to be fatal.

“How are they looking at other people?” host Brianna Keilar interjected. “They took action.”

“They took action to ask someone to pass a law,” Santorum said.

“They didn’t take action to say ‘How do I as an individual deal with this problem? How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to a shooter?’”

He said students should articulate “how I’m going to help the situation instead of going and protesting and saying, ‘Oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.’”

Indeed, one common theme of students’ protests is that they follow adult lawmakers’ failure to act in any meaningful way to regulate gun ownership.

Fellow commentator Van Jones mentioned his son, who he said is about to start high school.

“If his main way to survive high school is learning CPR so when his friends get shot he can keep– That, to me, we have gone too far,” Jones said. “I’m proud of these kids. I know you’re proud of these kids, too.”

“I’m proud of them but I think everyone should be responsible and deal with the problems that we have to confront in our lives, and ignoring those problems and saying they’re not going to come to me, and saying some phony gun law is going to solve it– Phony gun laws don’t solve these problems, that’s what we found out,” Santorum responded.

Watch below via CNN:

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Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Sunday that he could imagine President Donald Trump serving as his own chief of staff in the event of John Kelly’s ouster.

In an interview with Lewanowsi, NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked about a recent comment from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon regarding such an arrangement.

Kelly’s “very ordered, very structured” style, Bannon told the Financial Times, was “probably too much.”

“There’s only about six or seven people who really have to see the President every day to make the place function. Like Jack Kennedy didn’t have a chief of staff, I predict you are going to a model where you don’t have a chief of staff,” Bannon, who once called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” said.

“I think that’s a scenario that could very well play out,” Lewandowski told Todd of Bannon’s proposal. 

“I see him as the hub with a number of spokes coming out,” he added later, referring to Trump. “And candidly, and I’m not advocating for General Kelly to leave, I think he should stay, but if he were to go, I don’t think there’s one person who is the chosen one to step in and fill that role, so I could see a scenario where the President is giving instructions to a small core group of individuals who are then implementing on his behalf.”

Lewandowski said he could imagine a small group — “call it four, five, six people” — taking orders directly from Trump instead of a chief of staff.

That model, Lewandowski said, “is something that he’s very comfortable with over his 40 years of business experience doing that.”

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