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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

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday appeared to contradict the Trump administration’s claims about the background investigation into a former White House staffer who left the administration last week amid allegations of domestic violence.

Various outlets have reported that the FBI alerted the White House to the allegations of domestic violence made against former staff secretary Rob Porter by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend before those allegations were made public last week. The administration has said in its defense that Porter’s background check was incomplete at the time of his ouster, and that they wanted to allow the FBI to finish its investigation before passing judgement on Porter.

But Wray’s account of the FBI’s communications with the Trump administration, told to the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, seemed to differ from the White House’s.

“What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” he said, noting that the FBI “followed the established protocol” with Porter.

“Soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January,” he continued. “And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”

White House spokesperson Raj Shah told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday, describing the White House’s position, that Porter’s background check “had not been completed yet. It was still in the investigative process and had yet to be adjudicated. So prior to an adjudication, the White House is not going to step into the middle of a process and short circuit it.”

This post has been updated.

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The hosts of “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday pressed a White House spokesperson over the Trump administration’s failure to vet two former staffers who left amid allegations of domestic abuse.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter kept his job until allegations of his domestic violence were published in the press, despite the White House reportedly being notified by the FBI of the allegations made by Porter’s two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend. Another White House staffer, David Sorenson, who worked under senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, resigned Friday amid allegations of domestic violence.

Interviewing White House spokesperson Raj Shah Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade asked: “What is going on behind the scenes in terms of FBI background checks that might change the staff this week?”

Shah dodged: “Well again, the FBI background check process is one that, again, the FBI runs, and we are a part of it,” he said. “It is operated throughout the federal government. It goes across agencies, and it’s been used from previous administrations, and will be used in future administrations. If any changes need to be made, we’ll look at that, but, you know, this is a process that we trust.”

“Raj, did you change anything?” Kilmeade interjected. “You relied upon it and you got burned because you had a two-time accused domestic abuser there at very sensitive position where perhaps he shouldn’t have been had that been fully exposed. So what changes now?”

It was a notably pointed line of questioning from the President’s favorite morning show, whose hosts normally step delicately into criticism of the White House. On Monday, they pressed another White House spokesperson, Hogan Gidley, on the same topic.

“I appreciate that point,” Shah replied Tuesday, without addressing it. “But we also need to look at the process and how it’s worked on historically. If changes need to be made, we’ll look at that and review the processes. But right now we do trust the process. It has been used time and again for decades to protect our national security, and we trust the FBI in these processes.”

“Raj, there’s a story out that somebody at FBI told somebody at the White House back in November that this guy was a problem,” co-host Steve Doocy asked. “Do you know who that person might be?”

“That is not accurate,” Shah replied. “The FBI would not give a background check investigation directly to senior White House officials.”

“It goes to a security office where then it is relayed, maybe up the chain, maybe not. But what we know about Rob Porter specifically, and that’s the incident that everybody is talking about, is that his background check investigation had not been completed yet. It was still in the investigative process and had yet to be adjudicated. So prior to an adjudication, the White House is not going to step into the middle of a process and short circuit it. These investigations are complex. They’re lengthy for a reason. We need to get it right.”

The remarks echoed President Donald Trump’s on Twitter, made in response to the resignations from his staff, that “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.” Neither Trump, nor Shah, mentioned the victims of domestic violence in their defense of the White House.

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The President on Thursday again called for an end of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, citing a years-old criminal case the Justice Department announced Wednesday it would use in an attempt to revoke one American’s citizenship.

The press release to which Trump linked concerns the case of Mubarak Ahmed Hamed. In 2010, according to the release, Hamed “pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally transfer more than $1 million to Iraq in violation of federal sanctions, and to obstructing administration of the laws governing tax-exempt charities” during his time as executive director of the Islamic American Relief Agency. 

The Department of Justice is now seeking to revoke Hamed’s citizenship in federal court, a process called denaturalization. The process made headlines last year when the Supreme Court ruled that lying to citizenship officials could result in a loss of citizenship — as the DOJ claims Hamed did — but only if the government can prove that the lie affected its decision to grant citizenship in the first place.

The Daily Caller noted Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sought to bring attention to high-profile denaturalization cases, which have historically been fairly rare.

Trump has identified the elimination of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program — which offers visas at random to a pool of migrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States — as one of his priorities in immigration reform, along with resolving the status of DACA recipients, providing funds for border security including his promised wall, and ending family reunification — or “chain migration” as Republicans have begun calling it. 

The DOJ’s press release cites a recent report — widely panned as misleading — that it said found “that nearly three out of every four individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2016 were foreign-born.”

This muddies the waters: “international terrorism-related charges” can include crimes committed overseas by foreign nationals. And the “related” crimes include those far beyond terrorism itself. It also, obviously, does not count domestic terrorism: Doing so would significantly alter the balance of foreign- to domestic-born defendants.

One Justice Department official, during a presentation of the report to the White House briefing room last month, couldn’t say how many of the report’s 549 cases were immigrants — damaging the government’s argument that the data should affect the immigration debate.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach sits on the advisory board of a non-profit veterans’ group that spends the vast majority of donations it receives on fundraising and received a failing grade from the Better Business Bureau, the Kansas City Star reported Thursday.

The Better Business Bureau of St. Louis said Wednesday, in a report flagged by the paper, that the group, Veterans in Defense of Liberty, handed the vast majority of donations it collected right back over to professional fundraisers.

Fundraisers kept more than 94 percent of money raised for Veterans in Defense of Liberty in 2014 and 2015,” the group’s report said. “Veterans in Defense of Liberty, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, received $49,028 of $1.07 million raised in 2014 and 2015 according to the group’s IRS 990 reports.”

Kobach, who is running to be governor of Kansas, was the vice chair of the White House’s now-defunct voter fraud commission. He has a long history of pushing for restrictive voting laws, often those that disproportionately affect low income people and people of color.

Kobach noted to the Kansas City Star that his board position is unpaid. He told the paper: “This is the first I’ve heard of any suggestion that the monies raised by the charity aren’t going to the various causes for veterans.”

He said he joined the group because he cares “deeply about veterans and veterans’ issues” and said “I’m going to ask the executive director to give me a full accounting of the organization’s resources. … I want to see the numbers myself before I make any decision.”

He told the paper that he believed donations to the group went “to a variety of causes for veterans … and also to support political causes and issues important to veterans as well.”

The Better Business Bureau quoted the group’s executive director, Dr. William Scott Magill, as saying, referring to the extreme overhead expenses: “I’m afraid that is the cost of doing business.”

“We’re not an organization that buys wheelchairs or prosthetics,” he told BBB. “We are pushing Congress to get every vet a ‘Freedom Card,’ so that they can go wherever they want to (for medical treatment).”

The group’s website includes a list of commitments: “Maintaining the integrity of our Republic,” “Promoting  conservatism,” and “identify[ing] and oppos[ing] those individuals, groups and agendas that would, knowingly or otherwise, bring about the loss of our freedoms and the destruction of our Republic through, [sic] the violation of the Constitution and the erosion of the traditional founding values and morals.”

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The White House on Thursday did not deny reports that top Trump administration officials knew that ousted White House staff secretary Rob Porter had been accused by multiple women of domestic abuse.

Rather, White House spokesperson Raj Shah said that White House chief of staff John Kelly “became fully aware” of the allegations on Wednesday. He refused to get further into specifics.

“He had not seen images prior to the statement on Tuesday night,” Shah said.

A reporter pressed: What did “fully aware” mean? What did Kelly know about the allegations before a Tuesday night report in the Daily Mail broke the story publicly?

“Again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of what may have emerged from the investigation,” Shah said, not denying reports that Kelly — who vouched for Porter even after the first reports surfaced publicly — knew about the allegations of abuse well before this week.

Separately, a reporter asked how White House officials had stood behind Porter even after Porter had said in a statement that he had personally taken the photos of his ex-wife showing apparent signs of domestic abuse — namely, a black eye.

I think it’s fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours— or last few days in dealing with this situation,” Shah said. “But, you know, this was the Rob Porter that I and many others have dealt with. That Sarah dealt with, that other officials including the chief of staff have dealt with, and the emerging reports were not reflective of the individual we had come to know.”

Shah said Porter’s background investigation was “ongoing” at the time of his resignation, and that he was working on an interim security clearance during his time at the White House. Wednesday was Porter’s last day, Shah said.

“Over the course of any investigation, some information may arise that seems troubling or complicated and requires additional investigating,” Shah said at the top of the briefing, reading a description of the background check process from a prepared remark. “It’s important to allow that process to continue in order for a fulsome understanding of the information.”

He added later: “It’s important to remember that Rob Porter has repeatedly denied these allegations and done so publicly. That doesn’t change how serious and disturbing these allegations are. They’re upsetting. And the background check investigates both the allegations and the denials.”

This post has been updated.

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The New York Times on Thursday dismissed a video in which an NRA spokesperson threatens to burn the paper, calling it a cry for attention. 

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for the Times, told TPM in an email that “This stunt proves a point made in a recent Times interview with Ms. Loesch — she appears willing to do anything to entertain followers on Twitter.”

In a brief video posted Wednesday by the gun group’s video wing, NRATV, spokesperson Dana Loesch holds a lighter to the paper before pulling it away.

“You know, I don’t even have to do this,” Loesch says to camera. “You guys are doing a good enough job burning down your reputations all by yourselves.”

Text flashes on screen: “Fight their violence of lies with the fire of truth. To be continued…”

The Times has proven a favored target of NRATV, which specializes in high-octane sneers at bastions of the mainstream.

In August last year, Loesch addressed the paper against her familiar black backdrop: “We’ve had it with your pretentious, tone-deaf assertion that you are, in any way, truth- or fact-based journalism,” she said, adding: “We’re coming for you.”

Later on Thursday, NRATV published their previewed segment:

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday floated a simple solution to the opioid epidemic that currently affects millions of Americans: “Take some aspirin.”

“I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids,” Sessions said during a speech at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. “People need to take some aspirin sometimes.”

Sessions claimed White House chief of staff John Kelly refused pain relief medication after a minor surgery in order to avoid using opioids, and imitated Kelly’s voice: “I’m not taking any drugs.”

“But, I mean, a lot of people — you can get through these things,” Sessions added.

In an email to TPM, Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said that Sessions’ off-the-cuff remark was one line out of a 20 minute speech in which he outlined law enforcement priorities for combating the epidemic.

Asked whether Sessions’ recommendation was official Justice Department policy, Flores said, “You’re joking I assume?”

“You’re focused on a single line that anyone would understand to mean that the best way to avoid getting addicted to opioids is not to start taking them in the first place (something he also said today btw)?” she added. “This really should be able to be a non partisan issue.”

Sessions’ remark Wednesday was not the first time he’s recommended over-the-counter alternatives to address the opioid crisis. On Tuesday, he told attendees at a celebration of Ronald Reagan’s birthday at the Heritage Foundation: “Sometimes you just need to take two Bufferin or something and go to bed.”

He also questioned the Drug Enforcement Administration assertion that nearly 80 percent of heroin users in the United States reported that they first misused prescription opioids.

“That may be an exaggerated number. They had it as high as 80 percent. We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs,” Sessions said, “but we’ll see what the facts show.”

Studies do not support Sessions’ claim of a correlation between marijuana use and opioid abuse.

Politico reported on Tuesday that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration with the White House’s response to the opioid crisis. Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who has no expertise in the field, is leading one White House effort, an “opioids cabinet,” and the Office of National Drug Control Policy “has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” one unnamed former Trump administration staffer told Politico.

While President Donald Trump belatedly declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017, his announcement did not bring any additional dollars to fight the epidemic, and the Public Health Emergency Fund is still not adequately funded to address the crisis in any significant way.

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Wednesday that he’d “thought a lot about” inviting the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, before his committee to discuss the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Nunes charged in a classified memo — made public last week with President Donald Trump’s approval — that the government improperly politicized its request for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. In reality, Nunes’ memo doesn’t really support his argument. The committee has sent Democrats’ counter-memo to Trump to obtain his approval for release.

In an interview with Nunes Wednesday flagged by the Hill, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked if he’d gotten “a chance to chat with [Roberts] or any of the FISA judges about what went on at the FISA Court with regard to the Page application?”

The chief justice of the Supreme Court appoints FISA court judges.

“This is something that we grappled with, that we’ve been grappling with all through this investigation,” Nunes responded. “We decided that we wanted to complete the FISA abuse portion before we approached the courts. Our next step with the courts is to make them aware, if they’re not aware already that this happened by watching the news. So we will be sending a letter to the court.”

“There is a, there’s a debate now into whether just send it to the Supreme Court or to send it to the FISA Court,” he continued, because “if, somehow, this case ends up at the Supreme Court, somehow, some way, by sending a letter to Roberts, do you conflict the Court?

Hewitt said he didn’t think that was the case, and asked Nunes if he would invite Roberts to speak to the committee in a closed session.

“This is something that we have, like I said, we have thought a lot about this,” Nunes responded. “And the answer is we don’t know the correct way to proceed because of the separation of powers issue.”

“I’m not aware of— I’m aware of members of Congress going to the Supreme Court and having coffee with the judges, just to shoot the bull,” he continued. “I’m aware of, you know, dinners where congressmen have been with Supreme Court justices. But I’m not aware of any time where a judge has, for lack of a better term, testified before the Congress.”

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Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, wondered aloud Tuesday whether climate change might actually be good for humans in the long run — a proposition unsupported by the conclusions of climate science.

“We know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends,” Pruitt told KSNV’s Gerard Ramalho in an interview flagged by the Guardian. So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming that that necessarily is a bad thing.”

“Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018?” Pruitt went on. “That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

Pruitt is not the only member of the Trump administration to question whether climate change might actually be a good thing. On a particularly cold day last year, Trump tweeted, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”

Pruitt himself told Reuters in January, “The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?”

Climate scientists agree, however, that the negative effects of climate change are potentially catastrophic in the long run, even if it also results in changes like a longer frost-free growing season. Those effects include a massive rise in the global sea level, which would affect tens of millions of Americans living on the coasts, and an increased number in extreme weather events, including stronger and more intense storms.

The impacts of climate change on human health are likely to be similarly dramatic, as a previous iteration of the EPA’s website acknowledged — not to mention the potential social and military conflicts that could occur as a result of climate-related displacement and other factors. 

Pruitt called on Tuesday, as he’s done in the past while ignoring climate science, for an “honest, open, transparent debate” about climate science “so the American people can be informed” and “make decisions on their own with respect to these issues.”

Although Pruitt has called for open debate, an open records request this month revealed that in April 2017 he personally oversaw a laundry list of changes to the EPA’s website aimed at removing information about climate change.

Watch the interview below, with remarks about climate change starting at 3:40:

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The White House’s public schedule for Wednesday stated that President Donald Trump was set to receive his daily intelligence briefing at 11 a.m. ET.

It appears more likely, though, that Trump was watching Fox News: The channel covered newly released text messages between two FBI employees — messages which have become ready fodder for right-wing conspiracists — mere minutes before Trump raved about them to his nearly 50 million Twitter followers.

More revelations today from the text message chain between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and his then-lover, FBI Attorney Lisa page,” Fox News’ John Roberts reported at 11:03 a.m. ET.

The network has obsessed over the texts, noting in a report early Wednesday that the FBI employees both worked at one point for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The texts come from the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), which noted in a statement upon their release Wednesday that an accompanying report “raises serious questions about how the FBI applied the rule of law in its investigation” of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Roberts picked a few to read, out of context, on air: “potus wants to know everything we’re doing,” (pp. 356), a comment on the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer (pp. 390), the pair’s lamentations on Election Day — “OMG THIS IS F*CKING TERRIFYING,” “Omg, I am so depressed” — (pp. 437-438), and Page’s note that “we have OUR task ahead of us” (pp. 440).

It raises questions as to why these text messages disappeared for so long. Was it innocuous, was it something else?” Fox News’ Jon Scott said before moving on. 

This post has been updated.

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