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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

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is considering a run for Minnesota attorney general, Politico reported Friday, citing four unnamed people with whom he’d discussed the possibility.

Ellison, a progressive and an ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is currently the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Lori Swanson, the state’s current attorney general, is expected to run for governor, Politico noted.

The publication added, citing multiple unnamed people with whom Ellison has spoken in recent months, that the congressman “has grown listless and bored in the House.”

Politico also reported that though Ellison has reached out to the Democratic campaign organization for attorneys general, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, he has told several people that he’s “less likely to run, [though] he finds the idea enticing.” 

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The White House asked the Guggenheim Museum to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for use in President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s private quarters. They were offered, instead, a golden toilet.

They Washington Post reported Thursday that curator Nancy Spector responded to White House staffer Donna Hayashi Smith’s request with a counter-offer: “America,” by the conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan — “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by the Post.

The toilet was installed for visitor use in the Guggenheim for nearly a year, according to the museum, a commentary on America’s glittering excesses, stood — or sat — in contrast to what makes us all human.

“It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care,” Spector added, noting that Cattelan “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan.”

The artist told the Post, “It’s a very delicate subject.” Asked about his offer to the Trumps, he wondered aloud “[w]hat’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”

The museum says in its description of the work: “Its participatory nature, in which viewers are invited to make use of the fixture individually and privately, allows for an experience of unprecedented intimacy with a work of art. Cattelan’s toilet offers a wink to the excesses of the art market but also evokes the American dream of opportunity for all—its utility ultimately reminding us of the inescapable physical realities of our shared humanity.”

The White House did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

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The inexperienced 24-year-old who quickly ascended from Trump campaign volunteer to the highest levels of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will leave that office by the end of the month, the White House confirmed to the Washington Post Wednesday night.

The Post first profiled Taylor Weyeneth 11 days ago, reporting based on public records requests that his resumes misleadingly included a masters degree from Fordham University (one he never completed) and a claim that he’d worked at a New York law firm for eight months longer than he had (he was “discharged” after not showing up for work), among other irregularities.

Weyeneth joined the ONDCP, the director of which is known as the White House’s “drug czar,” in March, from a job at the Treasury Department, where he’d begun shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Having graduated from St. John’s University in May 2016, the Post reported, Weyeneth’s only professional experience after college had been with the Trump campaign.

Within months, due to staff turnover and vacancies, the Post reported, Weyeneth was named deputy chief of staff of the office. According to a memo from Jan. 3 of this year, his responsibilities in that role included covering for the vacant chief of staff role, along with the office’s acting director — the drug czar himself.

“ONDCP leadership recognizes that we have lost a few talented staff members and that the organization would benefit from an infusion of new expert staff,” OBDCP Acting Director Richard Baum wrote in the memo, obtained by the Post. “The functions of the Chief of Staff will be picked up by me and the Deputy Chief of Staff.”

The Post’s reporting seemingly pushed the White House to demote Weyeneth back to his former post, as White House liaison for the office. Less than two weeks later, the White House has announced his departure.

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Media mogul Oprah Winfrey put an end to rumors that she could run for president in an interview with InStyle published Thursday, saying “it’s not something that interests me.”

“How do you feel when people say, ‘Oprah 2020’?” InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown asked during an interview Winfrey did with the magazine.

“I actually saw a mug the other day … I thought it was a cute mug,” she replied. “All you need is a mug and some campaign literature and a T-shirt.”

“I’ve always felt very secure and confident with myself in knowing what I could do and what I could not. And so it’s not something that interests me. I don’t have the DNA for it.”

“[CBS This Morning anchor] Gayle [King] — who knows me as well as I know myself practically — has been calling me regularly and texting me things, like a woman in the airport saying, ‘When’s Oprah going to run?’” she continued. “So Gayle sends me these things, and then she’ll go, ‘I know, I know, I know! It wouldn’t be good for you—it would be good for everyone else.’ I met with someone the other day who said that they would help me with a campaign. That’s not for me.”

Winfrey hinted in an interview in March last year that she was considering a political career, and speculation increased after she delivered an energetic tribute to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements at the Golden Globes. Her partner Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times at the time: “It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that she couldn’t say one way or another whether President Donald Trump had asked then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe whom he voted for.

“I wasn’t in the room, I don’t know what was discussed,” she said at a press briefing Wednesday. “I know he didn’t ask me. I can tell you that.”

Sanders was responding to a reporter’s question about multiple reports that Trump asked McCabe who he voted for, shortly after the President fired James Comey from his position as FBI director, while McCabe was acting director.

“Look, the President and Andrew McCabe have had limited and pretty non-substantive conversations,” she said. “I can’t get into the details of what was discussed. I wasn’t there. There are widespread reports of his retirement. We’re making sure that we’re focused on the FBI and DOJ is serving all Americans fairly and efficiently. And we’re going to move forward from there.”

“It’s not the leading story that most Americans care about,” she added later in the press briefing.

On CNN on Wednesday, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniels did not discount that Trump could have asked McCabe about his vote. (McCabe reportedly told Trump he hadn’t voted.)

“I don’t know, I ask people who they vote for sometimes,” McDaniel said. “I think it’s just trying to get to know somebody, I don’t think the intentions are as bad as are being put out.”

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The Arizona State University associate professor facing a felony charge for allegedly harboring undocumented immigrants near the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t the only humanitarian volunteer facing federal charges.

The Intercept and KVOA first reported that Scott Daniel Warren and several other volunteers with No More Deaths, the humanitarian aid organization focused on “end[ing] death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative,” also face federal misdemeanor charges for their work.

The charges, according to court documents reviewed by TPM, are varied and include “operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area,” “entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit,” and “abandonment of property.” Nine volunteers face misdemeanor charges in total, including Warren, who also faces the felony charge.

The “abandonment of property” charge refers to No More Deaths volunteers’ practice of leaving humanitarian supplies for migrants. In an affidavit filed Tuesday by a officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the officer claimed, referring to four of the defendants: “I asked if they had left the stash of water and food at Charlie Bell Well, to which they openly admitted they did.” 

“The charges come amidst an escalation of interference toward No More Deaths and its efforts to provide humanitarian aid in the deadly migration corridor,” the group said in a press release Wednesday. (Read it in full below.)

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona told TPM Wednesday: “All defendants (except one) had their IA/Detention hearing yesterday in Tucson.”

Such charges have been brought against volunteers on the border in the past — but rarely, with some being dismissed or overturned.

Warren was arrested on suspicion of harboring two migrants the same day the group, along with La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, released video of U.S. Border Patrol agents destroying gallons of water left for border crossers, who face staggering heat and, often, deadly dehydration and other hazards on their trip to the United States. An accompanying report said the group had found more than 3,500 destroyed gallons of water between 2012 and 2015.

William Walker, Warren’s attorney and a source of counsel for the other volunteers, according to the Intercept, told the publication of the misdemeanor charges: “They’re definitely connected.”

“Border Patrol — and the U.S. Attorney — knows about the activities, has surveilled the activities, has permitted the activities, has recognized that we’re out there helping to save lives,” Walker said. “And now all of the sudden it’s all changed.”

He told TPM in a phone call Wednesday afternoon that he hadn’t seen anything like the charges in his 10 years with No More Deaths. He called them “politically motivated” and said that in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s office has declined to pursue such charges against No More Deaths and other humanitarian groups on the border.

“My own view of this is that this is a change in policy by the government, and that it’s totally political. This is racist. Why would they do this otherwise?” he said, adding later: “I’ll tell you one thing about this, if this is the new policy, then the new policy will lead to more deaths in the desert. That will be the result of this policy, is more deaths in the desert, and they have to know it.”

No More Deaths said Warren’s arrest came “during a nationwide targeting of migrant justice organizers in NYC, Colorado, etc.” and pointed to a June raid of a camp in Arizona used by the group to provide humanitarian aide. The camp has existed since 2005.

Asked about the misdemeanor charges Wednesday, a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona declined to comment, “[a]s this is an on-going investigation (case).”

A Border Patrol spokesperson, Steven Passement, told the Intercept that his agents “work together” with No More Deaths “where it involves saving lives.”

He told Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller on Tuesday: “Our stance is still the same” and “Our concern is probably the same as theirs.”

Read No More Deaths’ press release below:

Humanitarian Aid Workers To Begin Fight Against New Charges, Continue to Provide Aid in Ajo.

Tucson AZ- On Tuesday, January 23rd, eight humanitarian aid providers with No More Deaths appeared in court for federal misdemeanor charges relating to their work with the organization in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a vast and remote stretch of land near Ajo, AZ that shares 56 miles with the US-Mexico border. One of the eight individuals is Scott Warren, who was also arrested last week by US Border Patrol and now faces felony ‘harboring’ charges.

The preliminary charges for each of the eight individuals are varied and include “driving on a wilderness area,” “abandonment of property,” and “entering a wildlife refuge without a permit.” The charges come amidst an escalation of interference toward No More Deaths and its efforts to provide humanitarian aid in the deadly migration corridor. No More Deaths has been providing humanitarian aid on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge for the last 3 years.

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge covers over 803,000 acres of remote desert wilderness with no towns and only one publicly-accessible road, known as the Devil’s Highway. Many individuals attempt to cross the US-Mexico border through this corridor, which can take anywhere from four days to several weeks. The area has virtually no natural water sources, and summertime temperatures can top 120ºF. Over the past several years, human remains of someone crossing the border have been consistently recovered on the refuge. In 2017, 32 sets of human remains were found there according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Cabeza Prieta has denied No More Deaths access to administrative roads that would enable volunteers to bring higher volumes of water to crucial remote wilderness areas. Despite this, Border Patrol has indiscriminately driven on all parts of the refuge, according to a report by the refuge itself. In response to the number of human remains, specifically on Cabeza Prieta, No More Deaths has intensified its efforts to deliver aid there, while Cabeza Prieta changed language on the access-permit application in July of 2017 to specifically prohibit leaving humanitarian aid supplies on the refuge.

The charges also come during a nationwide crackdown on immigrant rights organizers, while the Trump administration seeks to end DACA, and increase deportations, potentially forcing thousands more into the dangerous desert journey.

No More Deaths published a report last week detailing how Border Patrol agents routinely sabotaged humanitarian aid left in the desert. The group, founded in 2004 to address rising deaths in the US-Mexico borderlands, continues to provide humanitarian aid in spite of the increase in surveillance and interference by federal agencies.

This post has been updated.

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The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee said Wednesday that President Donald Trump was just making conversation when he asked the acting FBI director who he voted for.

According to the New York Times and the Washington Post on Tuesday, Trump asked then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for shortly after the President fired James Comey as FBI director.

McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, ran for the Virginia state senate in 2015 and received a large donation from the super PAC affiliated with Terry McAuliffe, then the state’s governor and a Hillary Clinton ally. Republicans, led by Trump, have seized on the donation to attack McCabe.

McCabe reportedly told the President he didn’t vote.

“I know this is a big story, I think it’s just a conversation,” RNC chair Ronna McDaniel told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Wednesday. “I don’t think it intends [sic] all these terrible things that people are trying to put forward.”

“But was it inappropriate?” Camerota asked.

“I don’t know, I ask people who they vote for sometimes,” McDaniel said. “I think it’s just trying to get to know somebody, I don’t think the intentions are as bad as are being put out.”

Camerota pressed: “You don’t think it’s that President Trump thinks that if anybody voted for a Democrat, they cannot do their jobs impartially?”

“I don’t think so,” McDaniel said. “I really don’t think so. He’s certainly not going around to every single FBI agent and saying, ‘Did you vote for me?’ It’s a conversation. He had someone in his office. He kept people on who I know— I’m sure he thinks didn’t support him. I mean, this is a President who’s just getting to know people and that’s part of those conversations.”

In fact, Trump has shown a consistent pattern of expecting loyalty from those he believes to be his underlings. James Comey swore under oath that Trump asked for his loyalty when they met alone in the Oval Office. Trump has denied doing so. Trump also reportedly personally interviewed potential U.S. attorneys for New York.

Watch below:

H/t Mediaite

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office interviewed former FBI Director James Comey last year, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Times cited two unnamed people briefed on the matter, and specified that the interview focused on memos that Comey wrote, while he was still FBI director, documenting his encounters with Trump.

The Times reported earlier Tuesday that the special counsel’s office had also interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, amid reports that Trump and Sessions were pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to dismiss Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

As Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June of last year, a month after Trump fired him, the memos include an account of Trump pressuring him to drop the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, in addition to Trump’s request for Comey’s “loyalty.”

In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt after he fired Comey, Trump acknowledged that the FBI’s probe into Russian election meddling had motivated his decision.

“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” he said.

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Florida voters will decide this November whether to restore the voting rights of the vast majority of about 1.7 million Floridians with felony convictions who have completed their sentences.

The Orlando Sentinel first reported Tuesday that Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade, had successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures to get the issue on the ballot, surpassing the necessary threshold by tens of thousands and counting. The measure wouldn’t affect those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, the Sentinel noted.

“The moment I found out, tears just started streaming down my face,” Meade told the paper. “As someone directly impacted, I cannot quantify the level of emotion moving through me right now.”

Floridians make up roughly a quarter of all Americans who have permanently lost their right to vote due to a past felony conviction, according to the ACLU

The group was one of several to support Florida’s Voting Restoration Amendment. An ACLU press release Tuesday read: “Florida has the most restrictive policies in the nation with respect to limiting the ability to vote for citizens who have paid their debts to society. It is one of only four states with a lifetime ban on voting. Current law outlines a long and difficult process to restore an individual’s ability vote.”

In addition to Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa permanently bar convicted felons from voting unless they are granted clemency, ThinkProgress notedIn May last year, comedian Samantha Bee highlighted the arduous process by which those Floridians with felony convictions can attempt to regain their rights — it rarely works.

The law as it stands deeply affects communities of color: More than 21 percent of African American adults in Florida have lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, compared to 10 percent of the state as a whole.

People believe in forgiveness, redemption, restoration and, ultimately, second chances,” Christian Coalition of Florida Chairman Ash Mason said, as quoted by the ACLU.

The measure needs support from 60 percent of the state to amend Florida’s constitution.

Meade told the Sentinel that while nearly 800,000 signatures had been certified, more than 1.1 million had been gathered total “and petitions are still pouring in.”

He posted a triumphant video to Facebook Tuesday morning:

This post has been updated.

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