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

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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President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation, the New York Times first reported Tuesday, followed by several other outlets.

“It has been an honor to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform,” Cohn told CNBC in a statement. “I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the Administration great success in the future.”

The Times reported that several unnamed White House officials said “no single factor” was behind Cohn’s decision, though it comes as Trump pushes forward with a plan to impose 25 and 10 percent tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, respectively.

“Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Trump said in a statement to the Times. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”

The Times noted that Cohn is expected to leave in the coming weeks.

The news came less than two hours after Trump insisted, at a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven Tuesday, that “everybody wants to work in the White House” and “I can take any position in the White House and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position.”

Cohn told the Financial Times in August of last year that he was “under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position,” following the President’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia days earlier.

The New York Times reported at the time that Cohn had drafted a resignation letter but ultimately did not deliver it, citing unnamed people familiar with the document.

This post has been updated. 

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Asked about potential White House staff shake-ups at a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven Tuesday, President Donald Trump didn’t get into specifics but said “I like conflict.”

On the heels of White House communications adviser Hope Hicks announcing her impending resignation, a reporter asked the President about the future of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom Trump has frequently clashed.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Trump said before referencing a tweet Tuesday morning that the White House that while “[p]eople will always come & go […] There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

“Many, many people want every single job,” Trump said of his staffing prospects, adding: “They all want a piece of that Oval Office, they want a piece of the West Wing.”

“There will be people, I’m not going to be specific, but there will be people that change,” the President added later in his answer. “They always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else. But they all want to be in the White House.”

“I can take any position in the White House and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position,” he emphasized.

This post has been updated.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller has focused his attention on President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and in particular on the role Cohen played in two specific incidents involving Russia and Ukraine, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The Post cited several unnamed people familiar with document subpoenas and interviews performed by Mueller’s office.

One episode of Mueller’s focus, according to the Post’s sources, is the role Cohen played in attempting to advance a Trump Organization project in Moscow. In January 2016, the Post first reported last year, Cohen reached out to Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesperson to ask for help with the stalled project, which never reached fruition.

Mueller is also scrutinizing Cohen’s role in passing along a pro-Russian peace proposal from Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko to then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the Post reported Tuesday.

Read the Post’s full report here.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in a memo late last week that it will grant hunters permits to import remains from elephants and other species from certain African nations on a “case-by-case” basis

On Thursday, as E&E News first reported, the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the Department of the Interior, announced its “Withdrawal of Certain Findings For [Endangered Species Act]-listed Species Taken as Sport-hunted Trophies.”

In a memo, the agency’s principal deputy director announced, “The service intends to grant permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis pursuant to its authorities under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and CITES [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora].”

The agency withdrew Endangered Species Act enhancement findings on the trophy hunting of African elephants, lions and bontebok in certain countries, which the agency claimed “are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports.”

In the memo, the agency also cited a federal appeals court’s ruling in December 2017 that the Obama administration didn’t follow the proper protocol when it instituted a permit ban on the import of trophies from African elephants hunted in Zimbabwe.

While the agency did not go into detail about what criteria will be used to perform a “case-by-case” evaluation of permit applications, a spokesperson told HuffPost and NBC News“The President has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2017 announced that it was rolling back Obama-era bans preventing the import of trophies from elephants hunted in Zambia and Zimbabwe. After intense public backlash, however, President Donald Trump said that he would put the decision to do so “on hold.”

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