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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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that President Donald Trump was just joking when he challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a competitive IQ test.

“The President certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent,” Sanders said at a press briefing. “He made a joke, nothing more than that.”

She added: “He has full confidence in the secretary of state. They had a great visit earlier today. And they are working hand in hand to move the president’s agenda forward.”

Responding to reports that Tillerson had called him a “moron,” Trump told Forbes in an interview published Tuesday: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

Trump has a history of obsessing over his, and others’, IQ.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders late last week said that University of Nevada, Las Vegas administrators should “look into” a professor who said that “people will die” as a result of President Donald Trump’s election.

Sanders was responding to a secretly recorded video of assistant professor Tessa Winkelmann published Friday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Inside Higher Ed flagged Sanders’ statement on Monday.

In the video, recorded on Thursday, Winkelmann is seen telling students that she told her classes “three semesters ago” that “people will die because of this.” She also says “I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected,” which some have interpreted as a reference to the mass shooting committed in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, four days prior to her comments.

“He’s threatened to declare violence against North Korea and other places, and words, especially if they’re coming from someone who is the President, have consequences. Right when he got elected, I told my classes, three semesters ago, that some of us won’t be affected by this presidency, but others are going to die. Other people will die because of this. And you’ve seen this happen, right. I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected, but he has these kind of rhetorical powers every president has, to encourage or to discourage. So far all he’s done is to encourage violence.”

Reached for comment by the Review-Journal, Sanders said on Friday, “It is sad she is teaching students such divisive, inaccurate and irresponsible rhetoric.” Sanders added that Winkelmann “should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students.”

Sanders did not respond to TPM’s questions about that statement, including whether it was appropriate to intervene in the university’s affairs.

A university spokesperson told the Review-Journal, referring to Winkelmann’s remarks, that “[w]hile we respect academic freedom in the classroom and the right to free speech, we believe the comments were insensitive, especially given the series of events this week and the healing process that has begun in the community.”

And Winkelmann herself said that she regretted “that my comments caused more pain during this difficult time. Emotions were running high and I wish I would have been more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation.”

Casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson purchased the Review-Journal in late 2015, and journalists have since left the paper in droves, citing ethics and transparency concerns surrounding their new boss’s position as one of Las Vegas’ — and American politics’ — most powerful men.

Adelson donated millions to support Trump’s campaign and inauguration, and met with Trump privately before and after Election Day.

Sanders has advocated for the firing of the President’s critics before. When ESPN anchor Jemele Hill called Trump a white supremacist, Sanders said from the White House briefing room podium that the remark was “a fireable offense by ESPN.” Two days later, she stood by that judgment.

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President Donald Trump attacked ESPN anchor Jemele Hill Tuesday, one day after the network suspended Hill for two weeks for tweets regarding the movement by some NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

On Sunday, Hill said Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones’ threat to bench players who disrespected the American flag “has created a problem for his players.” She also said fans could protest Jones’ threat by boycotting his advertisers.

The White House has picked on Hill before.

After she was previously disciplined by ESPN for calling Trump a white supremacist, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the commenta fireable offense by ESPN.”

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused the New York Times of setting up Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who said in an on-the-record interview with the paper that the President has acted “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something” and that Trump could set the country “on the path to World War III.”

The President said Corker “[w]as made to sound a fool” by the Times.

The Times’ Jonathan Martin, who conducted the interview, said Tuesday that “Corker had 2 aides on line, also recording, and they made sure after it ended that I was taping, too.” According to the Times’ transcript of the interview, Corker noted at its start: “I understand we’re on the record.” On Tuesday, the Times published audio of Corker telling Martin, referring to the senator’s aides, “I know they’re recording it, and I hope you are, too.”

“Yeah, I am,” Martin replied.

The senator, who announced in late September that his current Senate term would be his last, has been a rare voice within the Republican conference for his open criticism of the President’s conduct in office.

Corker campaigned for Trump in 2016 and was on a long list of options to be Trump’s running mate.

In August, Corker said the White House needed “radical changes.”

And as news broke recently that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” in a meeting with top national security officials, the Tennessee senator called Tillerson one of “those people that help separate our country from chaos.”

This post has been updated.

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general’s office said in a letter dated Thursday that it planned to “expand” a preliminary investigation into agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s air travel.

In late September, the EPA confirmed reports that Pruitt had taken one charter flight and three military flights at taxpayers’ expense. According to multiple reports, the flights together cost more than $58,000.

The announcement Friday expands an investigation that began in late August into Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded flights home to Oklahoma.

In a letter to the EPA’s acting chief financial officer Thursday, of which Pruitt received a copy, the inspector general’s office outlined the probe’s new objectives:

• The frequency, cost and extent of the Administrator’s travel through September 30, 2017.

• Whether applicable EPA travel policies and procedures were followed for Administrator Pruitt’s travel, as well as other EPA staff and security personnel traveling with or in advance of Administrator Pruitt.

• Whether EPA policies and procedures are sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and abuse with the Administrator’s travel.

In a statement to the Washington Post, EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman said that the Trump administration “will work to ensure all officials follow appropriate rules and regulations when traveling, including seeking commercial options at all times appropriate and feasible, to ensure the efficient use of government resources.”

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In August, the FBI’s counterterrorism division published a report warning law enforcement across the country of a new threat. It called the threat “Black Identity Extremism.”

In reality, there is no “Black Identity Extremist” movement, at least not one that goes by that name. It appears to be an invented label, Foreign Policy reported. The publication revealed the existence of the counterterrorism memo Friday and briefly posted the actual document on its website before removing it.

According to the FBI, “it is very likely some BIEs are influenced by a mix of anti-authoritarian, Moorish sovereign citizen ideology, and BIE ideology.”

The report found it “very likely” that the police killing of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown — and the subsequent decision by a grand jury not to indict the officer responsible for his death — “spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.”

“[I]ncidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans since then have continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement,” the report said, referring to Michael Brown’s death.

Running 12 pages — including end notes and citations — the report included six examples of premeditated violence against police officers by black people judged to have been motivated by identity extremism.

“In all six targeted attacks since 2014,” the report said, “the FBI assesses it is very likely the BIE suspects acted in retaliation for perceived past police brutality.”

It noted: “Even though five of these attacks occurred following controversial police shooting of African Americans by white police officers, BIE targeting of officers was not, in every incident, based on their specific race.”

One individual profiled was Micah Johnson, who killed five police officers in a rampage in Dallas in July 2016, firing his first shots during a Black Lives Matter march. “[B]ased on Johnson’s journal writings and statements to police, he appeared to have been influenced by BIE ideology,” the report said.

The term “black identity extremists” doesn’t appear to have been used by counterterrorism officials before the FBI’s August report. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services appears to have been one of the first organizations to employ the new term, in a course description flagged by Foreign Policy for the upcoming training event “Introduction to Domestic Extremism and Hate Groups.”

Domestic extremist movements covered will include white supremacists/white nationalists, black identity extremists, anarchists, animal rights and eco-terrorists, anti-government and other radical separatists groups,” the course description read.

Counterterrorism and homeland security experts interviewed by Foreign Policy expressed skepticism at the new label.

Michael German, a former FBI agent turned Brennan Center fellow, said: “Basically, it’s black people who scare them.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday refused to clarify President Donald Trump’s vague and ominous comment Thursday night, flanked by top-ranking military officials and their spouses in the White House, that the photo-op was the “calm before the storm” and that the American people would have to “wait and see” what he meant.

“We’re never going to say in advance what the President’s going to do and, as he said last night, in addition to those comments, you’ll have to wait and see,” Sanders said Friday.

The nighttime remark set off panic in foreign policy circles: Was Trump warning North Korea? Iran? Would military action be taken in Niger, where four American Green Berets were recently killed?

“I’m simply saying that all options are on the table, as they have been,” Sanders said later of the remark.

Asked about another remark made by Trump Thursday in a separate meeting, that senior military leaders needed to provide him “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace,” Sanders was similarly vague.

“I don’t think you should read into anything beyond that as he wants options on the table so that he can make quick decisions,” she said.

Asked if the comment was in reference to any specific country, Sanders added: “I believe it was just a general comment. I’m not aware of anything specific that that was in reference to.”

She even joked about the comments, when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked if she found it “satisfying” that the President had the power to make people “hold their breath, in this town, when he says something like that.”

Sanders smiled. “Is that somewhat satisfying?” Acosta asked.

“No, I just picture people in this town actually holding their breath,” she said. “That might be a welcome surprise for most of America.”

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A new report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration  sheds a revelatory light on the 2013 controversy that led many to accuse the IRS under the Obama administration of targeting conservative non-profit groups for increased scrutiny.

The IRS singled out progressive groups seeking tax exempt status, too, according to the new report, and did so based on their names or implied political beliefs.

In 2013, an inspector general’s report forced the resignation of IRS Commissioner Steven Miller and Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division for tax exempt groups, over accusations they had targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status.

A new report from the same inspector general office, completed on Sept. 28 and released publicly Thursday, found that the IRS flagged phrases associated with both progressive and conservative groups for further review.

The IRS regularly screens organizations seeking tax exempt status to check that they are not primarily engaged in political advocacy.

The 2013 inspector general’s report provided years of fuel for Tea Party groups who claimed the Obama administration had used the IRS as a political bludgeon, tying up applications with bureaucratic red tape. It exposed the use of terms including “Tea Party” and “patriot” as triggers for further review.

The 2017 report found the same was true for terms associated with left-leaning groups, such as “progressive,” “green energy,” “medical marijuana,” and “occupy.”

For example, one 2012 BOLO listing (short for “Be on the Look Out,” which alerted IRS officials to scrutinize applicants further) included in the 2017 report characterized the occupy movement’s “Current Political Issues” as “Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution, $ocial economic reform/movement.”

“It was included on the BOLO listing after news articles surfaced stating that Occupy organizations were starting to file for I.R.C. § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status,” the report explains.

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee at the time of the 2013 report, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), said in a statement Thursday that the new inspector general report “validates” his assertions in 2013 “that there was no political motivation in the IRS’s processing of tax-exempt applications.”

“Republicans completely politicized an investigation into this issue,” Levin’s statement continued. “They claimed a May 2013 TIGTA report, which it’s now shown was wholly incomplete, to supported their allegations that the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, then led by Lois Lerner, targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups for heightened scrutiny based solely on their political views.”

He added: “Republicans used the faulty May 2013 report to demonstrate the so-called BOLO included criteria singling out conservative organizations; this report confirms that, going back to 2004, a large number of liberal groups were also singled out – 61 containing the word ‘progressive’ in their name, 6 containing the word ‘Emerge,’ 5 ‘Occupy’ and 14 ‘Acorn successors.’ This is similar to conservative groups identified in TIGTA’s May 2013 report – 72 containing ‘Tea Party’ in their name, 11 containing ‘9/12,’ and 13 containing ‘Patriots.’”

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Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who announced his resignation from Congress Thursday, reportedly ran a office rife with the mistreatment of staffers.

Before his resignation, the vocally pro-life Pennsylvania Republican was revealed to have asked a mistress to get an abortion.

Politico reported the behavior on Thursday, following Murphy’s announcement of his resignation. The outlet reported that a potential investigation into Murphy’s treatment of his employees by the House Ethics Committee motivated his resignation as much as the revelations about his mistress.

Multiple unnamed former Murphy staffers told Politico that the behavior of the congressman’s chief of staff, Susan Mosychuk, had moved them to quit.

“It was one of the worst places I have ever worked in my life. There was screaming. Intimidation. Nothing you ever did was right,” a former Murphy district director, Nick Rodondo, told Pittsburgh radio station KDKA, Politico noted.

Every other source was unnamed: Politico reported that Mosychuk called staffers “worthless” and their work “garbage.”

“It’s not like a private company where you have an HR department,” one former staffer told Politico. “It was a culture of abuse and a culture of corruption. There really is no oversight.”

“Screaming was an everyday thing,” said another unnamed former staffer. “The manipulation and the mind games. … Everybody in that office was depressed.”

Multiple unnamed ex-staffers told the publication the chief of staff used white noise machines placed around the congressman’s office in order to mask the sound of her screaming. Staffers were told to take the stairs instead of the elevator as a punishment, according to one former employee, and bathroom breaks were cut short in order to administer verbal disciplining.

Politico also reported that a leaked June 2017 memo by Mosychuk, called “Office Conduct and Behavior: Harassment/Legal Compliance” and outlining supposed abusive behavior by the congressman, more accurately described Mosychuk’s own behavior.

“She was the one who would verbally abuse staff,” one unnamed ex-staffer said. “He was bad, but you can deal with a tough member. She was literally terrorizing people.”

Read Politico’s full story here.

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