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 and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

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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Two conspiracy theorists who have claimed that the gun massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas late last year was a hoax were arrested at First Baptist Church, the site of the mass shooting, the San Antonio Express-News first reported Monday night.

In documents shared with TPM by Tom Caldwell, the Wilson County Attorney, police allege that both Robert Ussery (pictured above, left) and Jodi Mann (above, right) trespassed on church property by refusing to leave when asked by pastor Frank Pomeroy, and that both resisted arrest.

Police also allege that Ussery made terroristic threats, a Class B misdemeanor, against both Pomeroy and another man, Rod Green by threatening to hang them. Ussery also had less than two ounces of marijuana in his glove box at the time of his arrest, police said.

Pomeroy told the Express-News that he saw the pair approach the church and intervened when Mann began to write “the truth shall set you free” on a nearby poster designated for visitors’ notes to the church. 

Ussery “continually yelled and screamed and hollered and told me he was gonna hang me from a tree, and pee on me while I’m hanging,” Pomeroy told the paper. 

The pastor, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the massacre, added, referring to Ussery: “He said, ‘Your daughter never even existed. Show me her birth certificate. Show me anything to say she was here.'”

“I just told him there was enough evidence already visible, so if he chooses not to see that, how would I know he would believe anything else?” Pomeroy told the Express-News.

In an email to TPM Tuesday night, Ussery said in part, “we are 100% innocent of all charges expect the possession of marijuana charge which we proudly accept.”

“As far threats there were never any specific threats made by us towards them,” he added. “The only thing we said was that for the lies he has told we hoped one day to see the people hang those involved for their treason against the American people for participating in the Department Of Homeland Security Capstone Exercises (community drills).”

On Nov. 5 of last year, Devin Patrick Kelley killed himself and 26 people, including an unborn child, after he opened fire inside First Baptist Church. Years earlier, Kelley pleaded guilty in a military court to domestic assault charges related to his physical abuse of his wife and stepson. The conviction should have prevented him from purchasing firearms and body armor. Following the shooting, the Air Force revealed it had not shared Kelley’s conviction with the FBI.

Ussery is the founder of Side Thorn, a conspiracy website, and Mann refers to herself as “Conspiracy Granny” online, the Express-News reported. alleges that dozens of mass casualty events are “Department Of Homeland Security Capstone Exercises & U.N. Drills” and offers a $100,000 reward from “proof of death” for the events.

“Before talking to him today, I thought he was trying to play some angle,” Pomeroy told the Express-News Monday, referring to Ussery. “But I think he’s truly demented. I think he truly believes his own rhetoric. I can’t explain it.”

This post has been updated.

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Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) said Monday he will resign on April 1.

“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” the 80-year-old senator said in a statement Monday. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.”

The Associated Press first reported the resignation announcement.

Politico reported in December on the 80-year-old senator’s “physical and mental decline” and noted he hadn’t presided over a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee in months nor delivered a speech from the Senate floor all year.

Cochran joins Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in choosing not to seek re-election. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) resigned his office in January following allegations that he kissed and groped women without their consent, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned his senate seat to take his current position in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) won a special election to fill Sessions’ seat in December.

The Washington Post reported in early February that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had asked Mississippi’s governor, Republican Phil Bryant, to appoint himself to Cochran’s senate in the event of the senator’s resignation, according to two unnamed people familiar with the conversations. The Post, citing one unnamed person familiar with the situation, said Trump supported McConnell’s proposal.

The Post noted that Cochran’s resignation, according to Mississippi law, would trigger a special election to be held on Nov. 6. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote at first, the top two vote-getters compete in a run-off election, the Post reported.

The governor told the Post at the time that “speculation” about Cochran’s service was “insensitive, irresponsible and unfair.”

In a statement Monday, McConnell made no mention of any plan to fill Cochran’s seat but applauded the senator’s “well-earned reputation as a ‘quiet persuader’” and “his unfailingly even keel, sober expertise, and respectful demeanor.”

This post has been updated. 

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sander blamed Congress on Monday for not acting to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, but said that President Donald Trump’s administration “fully” expects to win its legal case to end the program that previously did so.

Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September 2017, but allowed a brief window for DACA recipients whose work authorizations were set to expire before March 5 to renew their status. Since then, courts have ruled that DACA recipients must continue to be allowed to re-apply for legal protections, at least temporarily, and that DACA recipients must be notified and given a chance to respond if their status is revoked.

“Look, I think it is absolutely terrible that Congress has failed to act,” Sanders told reporters at her daily press briefing. “The President gave Congress six months and he also gave them a plan. He gave them four pillars that he wanted to see in legislation, legislation and principles that the majority of members of Congress have supported in the past.”

Though the White House did list four overarching principles it wanted to include in its immigration policy — including protecting DACA recipients, providing border security funding, ending family reunification immigration outside the most immediate relatives and ending the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program — Trump has proven to be a wildly inconsistent negotiator.

Though he initially told a bipartisan group of legislators in a televised meeting that he would “take the heat” and sign any legislation Congress sent his way, Trump later took numerous potshots at bipartisan legislation, added his own conditions to potential legislation and then blamed Democrats for the standstill.

On Monday, he once again blamed Democrats and claimed they are “nowhere to be found on DACA.”

Sanders on Monday said that members of Congress “claim to want to fix DACA” but that they have so far “failed to address it.”

“But we’re still hopeful that Congress will actually do their jobs, show up and get something done and fix this problem, not kick it down the road and ignore it,” she said.

Asked about the government’s ongoing legal case to end DACA, Sanders said, “We fully expect to win on an appeal.”

“The sad part is, is that both Republicans and Democrats don’t disagree on most of the merits of this legislation,” she said. “The fact that they can’t actually come together and get something done is pathetic, and now they’re using the courts as an excuse. They need to come to work and actually do what they were elected to do.”

Asked whether Trump will change his position about rescinding DACA if a court clears his way, Sanders said “I’m not going to get ahead of what the President may or may not do on that front.”

“We’re still asking Congress to actually do their jobs,” she added.

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The bank that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen used to pay $130,000 in hush money to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford — known as Stormy Daniels in the industry — flagged the payment as suspicious, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

An LLC that Cohen established used First Republic Bank to pay Clifford in order to keep an alleged sexual encounter between her and Trump under wraps; First Republic later reported the payment to the Treasury Department, one unnamed person with knowledge of the matter told the Journal.

The Journal said it was unclear when First Republic first reported the payment. Cohen previously told the paper, while declining to say why he used his own money to “facilitate a payment” to Clifford, that “just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

Days before the 2016 election, Clifford’s lawyer threatened to cancel her nondisclosure agreement with Cohen because Clifford hadn’t yet received the promised money, the Washington Post reported FridayTen days later, the Post reported, the money arrived. The timing, according the paper, could support two groups’ complaints that the payment was essentially undocumented election spending.

In January, the campaign finance group Common Cause said Cohen’s payment to Clifford violated election law because the hush money “was an unreported in-kind contribution to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” The advocacy group filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, as did American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, a Democratic Party-aligned advocacy group.

Mr. Cohen had missed two payment deadlines earlier in October “because he couldn’t reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign,” the Journal reported, citing another unnamed person familiar with the matter. Anonymous sources told the Journal that, following the election, Cohen complained to friends that Trump hadn’t reimbursed him for the expense.

Cohen replied to the Journal’s request for comment with two words: “Fake News.”

Clifford acknowledged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump in a 2011 interview with In Touch magazine.

Clifford and her attorney were using a client-trust account with City National Bank, which received Cohen’s payment on Oct. 27 2016, the Journal reported. The bank asked Clifford’s attorney in September of 2017 about the source of the payment, the Post reported. The Journal noted that the gap between the payment and City National’s internal investigation of it, nearly one year, was unusual.

Read the Journal’s full report here.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office said Monday that it was “extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war.”

“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong said in a statement. “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”

That directly contradicted President Donald Trump, who last week announced his plan to apply 25 and 10 percent tariffs to steel and aluminum imports, respectively.

Trump claimed following the announcement that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

A GOP source told TPM that congressional leaders won’t rule out potential action down the line.

This post has been updated.

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