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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 email@example.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) former chief of staff struggled on Monday to distinguish between President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that of West Virginia Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship.
Despite a more mutually beneficial relationship years ago, Blankenship has cultivated a public feud with McConnell for the GOP primary coming up Tuesday. He’s called McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and her family “Chinapeople” and dubbed McConnell himself “Cocaine Mitch” over a stash of cocaine once found in one of Chao’s father’s shipping vessels.
McConnell’s former chief of staff, Josh Holmes, now runs a public affairs firm. But he’s still known for his ties to McConnell. When he tried to distinguish between Trump’s brand of rhetoric and Don Blankenship’s, though, MSNBC’s Katy Tur wasn’t having it. Watch below:
Months of scandal and unending public scrutiny have turned Scott Pruitt’s EPA into what one unnamed political appointee called “a dry wall prison.”
Now, the public has even more insight into Pruitt’s notoriously secretive and industry-friendly EPA. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Sierra Club recently resulted in more than 10,000 pages of documents from Millan and Sydney Hupp, current and former EPA schedulers, respectively, and sisters. The New York Times reported on the documents Monday.
The Times noted that the 10,000 new pages were “among a total of 18,350 pages released via this lawsuit so far.”
The Times pared the documents down to 391 noteworthy pages here. You can download all of the Hupp sisters’ released documents by following these links for Sydney Hupp and Millan Hupp and downloading the files yourself. You can find all released files here.
Given what one expert told Politico was “the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented,” the document dump is newsworthy in itself.
Take a look at the emails and if anything strikes you as newsworthy, tell us.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised the Washington Post on Monday for reporting a rumor that first lady Melania Trump resides with her parents in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
In a lengthy profile on the first lady published Monday, the Post noted “a persistent rumor [floating] around Washington that Melania doesn’t really live in the White House and stays in a house with her parents and Barron near his suburban Washington school.” Named White House officials denied the rumor to the Post on the record.
“What do you make of those rumors?” a reporter asked Sanders at a press briefing Monday.
“I make of the fact that just when you think the Washington Post can’t get things any more wrong, they do,” Sanders responded. “And that that is an outrageous and ridiculous claim.”
“The first lady lives here at the White House,” she continued. “We see her regularly, and I think that’s something that belongs in tabloid gossip, not on the front pages of the Washington Post and I hope that they’ll do better next time.”
The Scott Pruitt-led Environmental Protection Agency has sorted guests at public events into “friendly” and “unfriendly” camps in an effort to anticipate tough questions, according to now-public records detailed in a New York Times report Monday.
These details and others were reported for the first time thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Sierra Club that resulted in more than 10,000pages of documents from an EPA known for its over-the-top secrecy. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton, who broke down some of the documents in the Monday report, also sued the EPA for access to Pruitt’s calendar.
In one representative effort to pre-empt questions from the public, Pruitt’s scheduling director told a cattle rancher who was organizing an event for Pruitt in Iowa: “With a crowd of 300 people plus open press, we have to stick with the questions we currently have.”
That means, according to the report, that Pruitt would answer questions written by his own EPA employees instead of event attendees.
A spokeswoman for Christine Todd Whitman, former President George W. Bush’s EPA administrator, told the Times of the Whitman-led EPA: “They didn’t selectively inform the press or take any steps to keep things secret.”
In several instances, according to the report, Pruitt’s staff sought to sort event attendees and media outlets into those “friendly” and “unfriendly” to the administrator.
“Sixteen friendly Industry leaders will be invited to attend” an event, according to one memo. After the details of a separate meeting were made public by Missouri Network Television, an EPA staffer asked an event organizer if the news organization was “the friendly outlet.”
“It is,” the organizer, Barry Hart of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, responded, “but since it’s a public tweet you have to assume the world now knows including all news media … even unfriendly.”
President Donald Trump on Monday condemned what he called the “shadow diplomacy” of former Secretary of State John Kerry, borrowing a phrase from a Boston Globe report last week on Kerry’s continued advocacy on behalf of the Iran nuclear deal.
The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!
The Globe reported that Kerry and others were engaged in “shadow diplomacy” with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, top European Union official Federica Mogherini and others including French President Emmanuel Macron.
One source quoted by the Globe noted the effort was kept quiet in part to avoid a spiteful reaction from Trump, who has long opposed the nuclear deal.
After repeatedly affirming that Iran had complied with the deal, which requires the President’s sign-off every 120 days, Trump decertified the deal in October, citing Iran’s violations of the “spirit” of the agreement. Still, Congress did not take the opportunity to reinstate sanctions on Iran. And in January, Trump continued waiving sanctions on Iran.
The President has threatened to nuke the deal and reinstate sanctions on the next deadline, May 12.
Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be CIA director, told the White House she intended to abandon that nomination Friday over concerns about a potentially tough Senate confirmation hearing, the Washington Post reported Sunday citing four unnamed U.S. officials.
But by Saturday, according to the Post’s sources, Haspel agreed to stick with the nomination. The Associated Press followed the Post’s report with a similar account, citing two unnamed senior administration officials.
Haspel had been summoned to the White House on Friday to explain records from the George W. Bush-era torture program that “show that Haspel was an enthusiastic supporter of what the CIA was doing,” in the Post’s words.
Haspel’s oversaw a secret CIA black site in Thailand during Bush’s presidency. She later penned a cable for a superior instructing staff at the site to destroy tapes showing the torture of detainees there.
At the West Wing on Friday, Haspel said she didn’t want her nomination to hurt the CIA, according to the Post, nor did she want to be “the next Ronny Jackson,” one unnamed source said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House legislative affairs aide Marc Short went to the CIA after that meeting to speak further with Haspel, the Post reported. And Trump ancouraged Haspel to continue as his nominee.
Haspel’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that the President may not comply with a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and that Trump could assert his Fifth Amendment rights in an interview with Mueller.
“What happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the President?” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani at one point in a lengthy, bizarre interview. “Will he comply?”
“Well, we don’t have to,” Giuliani said. “He’s the President of the United States, we can assert the same privilege as other presidents have.”
Stephanopoulos asked later whether Giuliani was “confident the President will not take the Fifth [Amendment] in this case?” “How could I ever be confident in that?” Giuliani said. “When I’m facing a situation with the President and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify.”
“He may testify, we may actually work things out with Bob Mueller,” the attorney added.
Giuliani had said earlier that he wasn’t prepared to have Trump answer Mueller’s questions, “not after the way they’ve acted.”
“I came into this case with the desire to do that, and they just keep convincing me not to do it,” Giuliani said, though he’s worked as Trump’s attorney for less than a month.
In a conversation with BuzzFeed News, Giuliani later said that Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, “had complained to some people” after the 2016 election that he’d not been fully paid by Trump. At some point — Giuliani said he did not know when or where specifically — Cohen met with Trump and told him of his complaint. Giuliani said that Trump told Cohen, “We’ll cover your expenses,” and agreed to pay him $35,000 a month “out of his personal funds” over the course of a year-long period that began in the first few months of 2017 and has since ended.
“So the President did know about this after the campaign?” Stephanopoulos asked, pressing the Giuliani on Trump’s astonishing claim last month that he didn’t know the source of the payment to Daniels, months after the story broke.
“Can’t say that,” Giuliani said. “At some point, yes, but it could have been recently, it could have been awhile back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on and that, you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than anything else.”
“But that’s what you said,” Stephanopoulos interjected. “You said that to Buzzfeed.”
“Well yeah,” Giuliani said. “That’s one of the possibilities, and one of the rumors.”
“You stated it as fact,” Stephanopoulos said.
“Well, maybe I did,” Giuliani admitted. “But right now, I’m at the point where I’m learning. And I can’t prove that. I can just say it’s rumored. I can prove it’s rumor. But I can’t prove it’s fact. Maybe we will.”
Stephanopoulos persisted: “You said, as a matter of fact, on “Hannity” and Buzzfeed, you talked to the Washington Post about it–”
“Well, I don’t know, how do you separate fact and opinion?” said Giuliani. “When I state an opinion, I’ll say this is my opinion. When I state a fact, I’ll say this is a fact.”
Later in the interview, Giuliani contradicted his statement to BuzzFeed again, saying that the agreement between Trump and Cohen was “longstanding” rather than something the two established after the election.
“The agreement with Michael Cohen, as far as I know, is a longstanding agreement, that Michael Cohen takes care of situations like this, then gets paid for them, sometimes,” he said. “Gets paid for them sometimes, gets reimbursed in another way. It depends on whether it’s business or personal.”
Stephanopoulos eventually asked whether Michael Cohen had made payments to other women on Trump’s behalf.
“I have no knowledge of that,” Giulini replied. “But I would think if it was necessary, yes. He made payments for the President. He conducted business for the President.”
“On the two main facts,” he continued. “Was it for another purpose, other than just campaign? Even if it was campaign? Yes, it was to settle a personal issue that would be embarrassing for him and his wife.”
“Number two, did he repay it over a period of time, and then find out, ultimately, what it was about? Yes, I’m comfortable with that. That’s 100 percent.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway dipped and dodged for several minutes on Sunday, refusing to answer for President Donald Trump’s contradictory statements about his knowledge of a hush money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago.
“There you want to look at the President’s tweets, where he says ‘through reimbursement,” Conway told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview Sunday, asked why Trump claimed last month that he did not know where his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, got the money to make the payment.
“You’ve got to look at his tweets, because he responds to that. And that’s, honestly Jake, that’s the best I can do given my limited visibility in the legal matters.”
In the tweets to which Conway was referring, Trump claims that Cohen was paid a monthly retainer from which he drew the funds to pay Daniels. But Trump hasn’t explained why, months after the story of the payment broke publicly, he denied knowing where the money for the payment came from.
While claiming during the interview that she had no reason to believe Trump was lying about the payment — which may have constituted a violation of campaign finance law — Conway simultaneously claimed she did not know enough about it to defend Trump’s contradictory statements.
In interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed that Trump had paid Cohen back for the $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, to stay quiet about the affair.
The New York Times reported Friday that Trump knew about the hush money payment months before denying knowledge of it.
Watch part of the exchange below via CNN:
Kellyanne Conway says she is not aware of any other hush payments and claims that President Trump did not know “when the payment occurred” about the $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels when asked about it in April https://t.co/AGC7romMH8https://t.co/vYTAcuDca5
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Thursday that he would allow House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy to remain in that position after Conroy rescinded his earlier resignation.
The House chaplain announced his resignation last month after being pressured to do so by Ryan’s office. He alleged Thursday that Ryan’s chief of staff cited his religion, Catholicism, as one reason Ryan wanted him to resign.
“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House Chaplain,” Conroy, who has been House chaplain since 2011, wrote in his letter to Ryan. (View a copy of the letter, published online by NBC News’ Alex Moe, below.)
Ryan responded Thursday by saying he had “accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.” (Read Ryan’s full statement below.)
“My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution,” Ryan continued, noting he intended to meet with Conroy next week. “To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.”
“It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post,” Ryan added.
Conroy’s resignation announcement and subsequent public feuding with Ryan ballooned into scandal. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) stepped down from the committee to select the next chaplain after suggesting the next candidate be married with children, a requirement that would exclude Catholic priests.
Conroy alleged Thursday that when Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, informed him Ryan was asking for his resignation, he “mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we have a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’”
Conroy, a Jesuit, is the second Catholic to ever serve as House chaplain.
“He mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily,” Conroy added, referring to Burks.
Conroy appeared to be referring to his Nov. 6 prayer, in which he said:
As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.
Burks responded Thursday to Conroy’s claims, according to NBC News, by saying “I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation. I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House.”
Conroy specifically disputed Ryan’s public justification for asking for his resignation, in which Ryan said that “a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served, or offered.” Ryan also mentioned inadequate “spiritual counseling,” Conroy said.
“This is not the reason that Mr. Burks gave me when asking for my ‘resignation,’” the reverend wrote.
“You may wish to outright ‘fire’ me,” Conroy added, “if you have the authority to do so, but should you wish to terminate my services, it will be without my offer of resignation, as you requested.”
View a copy of Conroy’s letter below via NBC News’ Alex Moe:
Here is the full letter Father Pat Conroy sent to Speaker Ryan today rescinding his resignation as House chaplain pic.twitter.com/UekWoGVykY
WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) today issued the following statement:
“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House. My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post. I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House.”