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

South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong (pictured above), said from the White House lawn Thursday that he had delivered a message to President Donald Trump, from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: Kim, Chung said, was “committed to denuclearization” and would like to meet the President. 

Trump, Chung said after meeting with him, had agreed to meet Kim “by May.”

“I told President Trump that in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he’s committed to denuclearization,” Chung said. “Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests.”

Chung continued: “He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”

“President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.” 

The announcement came shortly after Trump popped his head into the White House briefing room Thursday afternoon to announce Chung’s impending statement. The Associated Press noted it was the President’s first time in the briefing room and reported the announcement came “after hours of consultations at the White House between U.S. and South Korean officials over recent inter-Korean talks.

Chung separately acknowledged that Trump’s “leadership and his maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture.”

“I expressed President Moon Jae-in’s personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership,” he said separately, referring to South Korea’s leader.

A South Korean envoys led by Chung met with Kim earlier this month, the first time South Korean officials had met with the North Korean leader since he took power six years ago.

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A Florida middle school teacher was suspended for 10 days for “using the ‘n’ word” and other offenses, according to an investigation by Duval County Public Schools obtained by WJAX.

Kernan Middle School teacher David Swinyar also called his students dumb and made comments like “You all should not be dating these different African American boys because they are not worth it,” according to Cole Heath, a reporter for WJAX who posted an excerpt of the report online.

According to a letter from Kernan Middle School Principal Julie Hemphill posted online by WJAX’s Danielle Avitable, the investigation into Swinyar began in October.

Swinyar’s suspension without pay began on Thursday, WJAX reported.

Asked Wednesday why Swinyar wasn’t fired, the school district told WJAX in a statement in part that “Teacher discipline is governed by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the district and the union,  which provides for progressive discipline.”

“While the employee has not been the subject of a prior investigation,” the statement added later, “due to the severity of the conduct in the referenced investigation, several steps in the progressive discipline process were skipped. The recommendation for a 10-day suspension without pay was approved by the Board on Tuesday, March 6 during the School Board meeting.”

The school board’s meeting notes from March 6 show that it approved the suspension “for unprofessional conduct.”

Asked for further comment on why Swinyar wasn’t fired, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia S. Willis told TPM in an email Friday that “when employees fail to meet our standards for ethical behavior, we take action as allowable in the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the appropriate bargaining agent.”

“Please note that following Mr. Swinyar’s suspension, he will be reassigned to an assignment with no student contact for the remainder of the year,” Willis added. “As an annual contract employee, Mr. Swinyar’s employment contract with the district expires June 30, 2018.  In May, recommendations for contract renewals for all annual employees will be considered.”

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Thursday assured a steelworker that his father was “looking down” and proud of him, only to learn that the worker’s father was still alive.

Trump made the comment during a proclamation signing ceremony for his plan to institute tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

“Your father Herman is looking down, he’s very proud of you right now,” Trump told Scott Sarge, who identified himself as the president of United Steelworkers Local 2227.

“Oh, he’s still alive,” Sarge responded.

“Then he’s even more proud,” the President said.

Watch below:

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White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday refused to answer questions about the consequences, if any, she would face for violating the Hatch Act by using her government office in a political capacity.

But she said her discretion could be the reason “why I’m still there [in the Trump administration] and will continue to be — I’m not there to read about myself.”

The Office of Special Counsel, a permanent investigative and oversight agency, announced Tuesday that Conway had twice violated the Hatch Act in interviews about the special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat in Alabama. In the television appearances, she advocated for then-Republican candidate Roy Moore and against then-Democratic candidate Doug Jones, improperly using her office to engage in political activity, the office said. 

In an interview with Conway Thursday, which was flagged by Politico, Fox News’ Bill Hemmer asked whether she would face any consequences for the violations, a decision ultimately up to President Donald Trump.

“The President and I have spoken about this,” Conway replied. “I have not made a comment on this at all and I won’t today.”

She noted that the White House had already responded to the Office of Special Counsel — press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Conway “simply expressed the President’s obvious position specific to policy, that he have people in the House and Senate who would support his agenda” — but refused to offer further detail.

I won’t reveal my private conversations with the President about anything except that which he would like me to speak about publicly, including steel and aluminum,” she said, asked what the President wanted to happen next.

“So no punishment given?” Hemmer probed.

I didn’t say that,” Conway responded. “I just said that we’ve spoken about this, but I also recognize every single day — maybe that’s why I’m still there and will continue to be — I’m not there to read about myself.”

Conway was previously “counseled,” according to then White House press secretary Sean Spicer, after she endorsed Ivanka Trump’s products from the White House briefing room.

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Erik Prince, who is again under scrutiny over a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Kremlin-tied Russian businessman and others, will hold a fundraiser for Russophile congressman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), CNN reported Thursday.

The March 18 fundraiser for Rohrabacher, to be held at Prince’s residence, will also feature Reps. Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Dave Brat (R-VA), as well as the retired  Lt. Colonel Oliver North, CNN reported, based on an invitation it obtained. Tickets are $1,000, or $2,700 to attend a VIP event before the fundraiser.

One participant in Prince’s Seychelles meeting, the Lebanese-American businessman and adviser to United Arab Emirates leadership George Nader, told special counsel Robert Mueller that the purpose of the meeting was to establish a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, the Washington Post reported Wednesday night.

Prince had previously told congressional investigators that his conversation with Kirill Dmitriev, who runs a Russian government-controlled wealth fund, was a mere coincidence, and that he had originally just intended to meet with UAE officials. 

Rohrabacher’s affinity for Russia is well-known. In May of last year, the Washington Post released a transcript of a June 2016 conversation between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in which McCarthy quipped: “There’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”

CNN noted that Prince and Rohrabacher have been mutual supporters for decades. Prince’s sister is Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

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President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has sought to prevent adult film actress Stephanie Clifford from speaking publicly about an alleged sexual relationship with Trump through a temporary restraining order and other actions, NBC News reported Wednesday.

Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told NBC News Wednesday that “we do not take kindly to these threats,” and that Clifford would continue to seek to tell her story publicly.

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal in early February, Cohen acknowledged using his own “personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000” to Clifford in late 2016, but he has denied that any relationship existed between Clifford and Trump.

After Cohen’s acknowledgement, Clifford claimed he had violated a non-disclosure agreement she signed covering the alleged affair, and on Tuesday, Clifford sued Trump, alleging that he never signed the non-disclosure agreement, thus voiding it.

Clifford’s suit also alleged that Cohen “initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding” against her on Feb. 27. NBC News reported that Cohen obtained a temporary restraining order against Clifford from a private arbitrator the same day prohibiting her from discussing “confidential information” related to the NDA.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that the President denied “all of these allegations” — she didn’t specify what she meant — saying separately that “this case had already been won in arbitration.”

A temporary restraining order is far from “winning” a case, if Cohen’s action is what Sanders meant to reference. Avenatti noted to NBC News that Trump was not a party to the arbitration, nor had there been any hearing or decision based on the action.

Avenatti also told NBC News Wednesday that Cohen’s attorney had “further threatened my client in an effort to prevent her from telling the truth about what really happened.”

“We do not take kindly to these threats, nor we will be intimidated,” Avenatti told NBC News.

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On the heels of yet another announcement that a senior White House staffer will resign, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that the Trump administration was “a very functioning place of business.”

National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn on Tuesday joined White House Communications Director Hope Hicks in announcing his departure. Hicks announced that she would resign on Feb. 28. White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter left the Trump administration last month after his ex-wives made public allegations of domestic violence against him, though the FBI had told the White House about them months earlier.

“So far this year, six top White House staffers have resigned and the President says there are more names are to come,” a reporter asked Sanders at a press briefing Wednesday. “Why are so many people leaving this administration?”

Sanders said the Trump administration had had an “historic first year” and that it would “continue to do great things.”

“This is an intense place, as is every White House, and it’s not abnormal that you would have people come and go,” she added.

“It is actually abnormal,” the reporter countered. “No administration in recent history has had this much turnover.”

“I said it’s not abnormal to have turnover,” Sanders said, without addressing the reporter’s point.

“If this is not the definition of chaotic, how would you describe what’s happening in these recent weeks?” the reporter asked.

“If it was, then I don’t think we would be able to accomplish everything that we’ve done,” the press secretary replied. “The economy is stronger than it’s been in ages. ISIS is on the run. The re-making of the judiciary. Jobs are coming in at record numbers.”

“There are historic things that have taken place in the first year, sounds like a very functioning place of business to me,” she concluded.

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Wednesday that it was an “oversimplification” and “mischaracterization” to say that President Donald Trump had called for “arming teachers” in response to the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida.

Still, the secretary continued to assert that while arming teachers and other school staff need not “be required or mandated” everywhere, it “should be an option for schools, for states, for communities.”

Though he has shied away from more concrete federal gun control legislation to prevent future mass shootings, Trump has consistently advocated for arming school staff to deter future mass casualty events at schools. During her confirmation hearing in January of last year, DeVos speculated that certain schools used guns to protect from bear attacks. (The example she cited later said that was not the case.)

“I think to say ‘arming teachers’ is an oversimplification and a mischaracterization, really,” DeVos said Wednesday during a press availability following a meeting with Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff Wednesday. A former student of the school is alleged to have carried out the attack, murdering students and teachers before his eventual arrest.

“I think the concept is for those schools and those communities that opt to do this — as they have in Texas and as they have in Polk County and other places around the country — is to have people who are expert in being able to defend, and having lots and lots of training in order to do so,” DeVos added.

Watch below via CBS News:

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An employee of the Department of Housing and Urban Development has accused Secretary Ben Carson of carrying out a “witch-hunt” and “smear campaign” against a whistleblower in the department, and said other HUD employees have “operated in fear” of similar retribution.  

“It was her job to be the conscience of HUD and ask the tough questions,” HUD employee Marcus Smallwood said of Helen Foster, another employee in the department who alleges she was punished for objecting to a $31,000 dining room set that had been ordered for Carson’s office, and for raising concerns about the mishandling of a politically-sensitive FOIA request. (Read Smallwood’s full letter, supplied to TPM by Foster’s lawyer, Joseph Kaplan, below.) 

A spokesperson for HUD, Raffi Williams, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment. He told Politico, which first reported on the letter, “HUD has not officially commented on any of Ms. Foster’s allegations. Ms. Foster has a pending case against the Department. The agency has a policy of not commenting on pending cases.”

After media scrutiny, HUD announced that Carson had directed the department to cancel the dining set order. Now, the House Oversight Committee has requested HUD’s records relating to Foster, as well as those regarding the “redecorating, furnishing, or equipping” of the secretary’s office.

In his letter, Smallwood said he lacked confidence that HUD could sufficiently answer the committee’s evidence requests “because there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters.”

Williams told Politico that the committee “will receive a complete response to their query. We can assure you that email traffic at HUD did not cease on August 1st.”

In a Facebook post responding to the dining set scandal, following HUD’s announcement that the order would be cancelled, Ben and Candy Carson said “the character attacks on us have increased in an attempt to claim that a scandal has occurred.”

Read Smallwood’s letter in full below:

Secretary Carson,

Last week you tweeted from your personal account that Helen Foster’s claims were “unsubstantiated”.  You essentially called a whistle blower a liar not 24 hours after the story broke.  A week has gone by and it is now very clear that Helen Foster was not lying about the furniture purchases.

I have seen nothing from HUD to defend her as a whistle blower with regards to the furniture purchase.  Nothing which speaks to defending her questioning whether a Security System should have been installed at tax payer expense in your personal residence. Nothing to address why undue influence was placed on Helen, and myself to process FOIA request of a political nature in a fashion different from the normal process.  I was directed by Craig Clemmensen (verbally) to approve overtime for employees to process those FOIA request before the end of the day.

Helen Foster is not the only person at HUD that has been persecuted in this witch-hunt under your watch.  She is the only person who has been brave enough to stand on principle and put her career, reputation, and livelihood on the line. The rest of us have operated in fear.  I have had my subordinates and peers also suffer from retribution as leadership has run this campaign against Helen.  Neither I nor any of my over 30 subordinates have performance plans in place for FY 2018, because they are being held up by leadership (Paula Lincoln).  I have several employees who have not had their performance evaluations for FY 2019 because the are being held up by Helen’s replacement.  Originally, I was told there was “glitch” in the system. Most of my harassment has occurred verbally, as Helen’s replacement consistently did not email me or respond to my emails (See Aug 27th email).

As you can see from the attached emails, I have participated in the silencing of employees trying to protect them from the malicious activities of senior leadership at HUD (see July 26th email).

Multiple employees and/or new hires had job selections withdrawn after accepting verbal offers for no other reason (that I can see), then that they were or would become subordinates of Helen.  These were selections vetted and approved by the OCFO and OCHCO at the highest levels.  I was repeatedly told by my new supervisor that the new hires/promotions were being processed until after continual pressure I was told they would not.  I was directed on multiple occasions not to document via email and to “be careful” of who I cc’d when corresponded concerning matters in the Executive Secretariat and its impact on the department (see Sept 7th email).

This has compromised HUD in its’ ability to ensure the protection of citizen personally identifiable information such as social security numbers and banking information.  We are not capable of trustingly responding to the attached congressional inquiry because Helen was and still is our Senior Agency Official for Records Management.  She was our Senior Agency Official for FOIA.  It was her job to be conscience of HUD and ask the tough questions and when she did that, she was not just demoted two levels (she was essentially moved from being over me to under me), she was blocked from other job opportunities at every turn because of the smear campaign that was conducted to prevent her from working in government.

My office was subjected to a “management inquiry” performed by the Departmental Enforcement Center (DEC), headed by Craig Clemmensen.  While this investigation was conducted in November, we still have not seen any results or report regarding the findings.

I’ve known Helen for approximately five years and she believes in the Constitution, she believes in HUD’s mission, and she believes in the law.

As the Departmental Records Officer I’m obligated by law to report to you that I do not have confidence that HUD can truthfully provide the evidence being requested by the House Oversight Committee because there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters prior to August 1st.  I recommend that we search emails going back to Dec 1st of 2016 to answer the first request.  I also am obligated to inform you that the retention for procurement related records is 7 yrs.  We should not expect to find records dating back to 1998, unless we have not been disposing of records in accordance with the law.   It would probably be more prudent to provide HOGR with the records related to inventory of furniture stored in the sub-basement.  Departmental Records Officer is not the position I was hired to fill, see my attached Position Description, but rather the position I have been relegated to, since Helen was ousted. I was eventually replaced as the Director of the Executive Secretariat, however my replacement, your Senior Advisor, was not made aware of the reporting structure or that I was directed to no longer manage Correspondence, FOIA, or Privacy. So those offices went through two weeks of confusion with no leadership.  Correspondence and Privacy still do not have Branch Chiefs (after well over a year) and Privacy does not have a true experience subject matter expert serving as the Privacy Officer.

1)      When are you going to apologize to Helen?

2)      When are you going to reinstate her?

3)      When will you make a public statement that all employees at HUD should feel free to follow the law, ask when they are unsure, and not fear retribution?

4)      I feel this should come from you directly, as you have now participated in the smear campaign against Ms Foster with your tweet.

As your former Director of the Executive Secretariat, and your current Records Officer, I do think a written response directly from you is appropriate.

Marcus Smallwood, CRM

Director of Records & Information Management

Office of Administration

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

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