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

FBI counterintelligence officials are looking into the financing and negotiations surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, which opened in February 2017 and was spearheaded by Ivanka Trump, CNN reported Thursday, citing unnamed current and former officials.

The tower attracted foreign buyers quickly after it opened, CNN reported, though the network noted that it was not clear why investigators have focused in on the project.

CNN and NBC News reported last month that Ivanka Trump was among the scores of White House aides still operating under interim security clearances as of November of last year.

The Trump Organization has a licensing deal with the tower’s developer, Joo Kim Tiah. Both Tiah and Ivanka Trump acknowledged working closely together on the project during the 2015 launch of a Trump-branded VIP service for condo residents, CNN reported.

The Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told CNN that “the company’s role was and is limited to licensing its brand and managing the hotel. Accordingly, the company would have had no involvement in the financing of the project or the sale of units.”

A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump’s legal team said in part, referring to her security clearance, that “Nothing in the new White House policy has changed Ms. Trump’s ability to do the same work she has been doing since she joined the Administration.”

The report comes after dozens of White House staff with interim security clearances — most notably Jared Kushner — were reportedly downgraded to Secret level access recently. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that at least four nations had discussed ways to manipulate Kushner based on his overseas business dealings.

The New York Times reported Wednesday night that Kushner’s family’s company got two major loans from Apollo Global Management and Citigroup, respectively, after Kushner met with officials from those companies at the White House.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is “assembling” a case against the Russians who hacked and leaked top Democrats’ emails during the 2016 campaign, NBC News reported Thursday, citing multiple unnamed current and former officials familiar with the matter.

NBC News hedged that, according to its sources, the potential charges weren’t imminent but could come within weeks or the next few months. Mueller could keep the charges under seal or, the report said, he could choose not to file them at all in order to protect intelligence sources, or for other reasons.

The network reported the potential charges include conspiracy-related statutes and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The indictment against Russian hackers, if it occurs, would add to the 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities Mueller indicted last month for charges related to interference in the 2016 election.

The Russian nationals are unlikely to be extradited to the United States to face the charges. An unnamed government official told NBC that the potential charges would “send a message” to others who may have participated in the email theft.

NBC reported that “it could not be learned” if Mueller would make allegations about Russian President Vladimir Putin in the potential indictment, but one unnamed former FBI official told the network that Russian government officials would likely be charged.

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The White House is preparing to replace National Security Adivser H.R. McMaster as early as next month, NBC News reported Thursday, citing five unnamed people familiar with the discussions.

The move, according to NBC News, has been orchestrated by White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

CNN reported last week, citing a half dozen unnamed administration and defense officials, that McMaster was considering options to return to the military.

McMaster became national security adviser after Michael Flynn’s ouster. Flynn was pushed out after reports revealed that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about sanctions before Trump took office and lied about the conversations to other senior administration officials. Since then, Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations, and he is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that, as far as she knows, the President still wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the job.

“Does the President want to get rid of his attorney general?” a reporter asked at the press briefing Thursday.

“Not that I know of,” Sanders replied.

It was hardly a ringing endorsement after days of increased tensions between the President and attorney general.

On Wednesday morning, after Trump said Sessions’ performance in the job was “DISGRACEFUL,” Sessions responded by saying that as long as he was attorney general, “I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”

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A spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development told TPM Thursday that Secretary Ben Carson had ordered the agency to rescind an order for $31,561 worth of dining room furniture.

“At the request of the Secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams told TPM in an email.

In a statement reported by CNN, Carson said that after trying unsuccessfully to fix his office’s aging dining room furniture, he was told it “was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.”

“We were told there was a $25,000 budget that had to be used by a certain time or it would be lost,” Carson added later. He noted that he “made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable.”

Carson continued: “I left this matter alone to concentrate on bigger issues. I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered. I have requested that the order be canceled. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement.”

HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams told the New York Times when the paper first reported on the $31,561 expense that while Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” he did not find the cost excessive and he didn’t plan on returning the furniture.

The saga began when HUD employee Helen Foster alleged that she was demoted in retaliation after insisting that office decoration expenses costing more than $5,000 required congressional approval.

In an email to TPM Wednesday, a HUD spokesperson said in part that “[i]t’s not unusual for Senior Executive Service (SES) employees to be rotated” and called the furniture a “building expense.”

TPM published photos on Wednesday, provided by HUD, of the current furniture the department was spending $31,561 to replace. CNN on Thursday published details on the new furniture, just prior to HUD’s announcement that it would rescind the order.

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White House chief of staff John Kelly joked Thursday that leaving his post as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for his current position was the result of God’s wrath.

I miss every one of you, every day,” Kelly told attendees with an eye roll during a celebration of DHS’ 15th anniversary. Kelly became DHS secretary when Trump took office, and took over the White House chief of staff position from Reince Priebus six months later. Kelly had earlier commanded the United States Southern Command through early 2016.

Kelly continued Thursday: “Truly, at six months, the last thing I wanted to do is walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.”

Kelly has faced a tumultuous tenure, most recently due to a spate of senior staff departures: White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned earlier this month after allegations (and photos) of spousal abuse went public. The FBI later said it had told the White House months ago about the allegations, increasing scrutiny over why Kelly hadn’t acted sooner.

And White House Communications Director Hope Hicks announced Wednesday that she would soon resign from that position, one day after an interview with the House Intelligence Committee.

Watch below via ABC News:

This post has been updated.

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The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, on Wednesday, to ask about a $30,000 dining room set destined for Carson’s office.

The Committee is aware of a complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) by Department of Housing and Urban Development employee Helen Foster alleging retaliation when Foster refused to abet exceeding a spending cap on redecorating your office,” Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) wrote. 

Foster alleges she was demoted in retaliation after she insisted that a HUD order for a $31,561 dining room set would require congressional approval, because it exceeded a $5,000 decorating budget.

Gowdy asked Carson to supply relevant records relating to Foster, as well as those regarding the “redecorating, furnishing, or equipping” of the secretary’s office.

A spokesperson for HUD told TPM Wednesday, referring to Foster: “It’s not unusual for Senior Executive Service (SES) employees to be rotated.”

The same spokesperson said the furniture for Carson’s office was a “building expense” and was not part of the decorating budget. They also acknowledged spending $165,000 on lounge sofas and chairs “for various offices around the agency,” flagged first by the Guardian.

TPM published photos Wednesday, supplied by HUD, of the dining set the agency is spending big to replace. HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams told the New York Times that while Carson did not order the furniture, he did not see the price and excessive and was not planning on returning the order.

Read Gowdy’s letter to HUD below:

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Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke faced even more scrutiny Tuesday night over his travel habits.

In September of last year, Zinke called the initial scrutiny of his travel as a Cabinet secretary “a little BS.” Since then, to say the leastmore has emerged.

CNN reviewed departmental travel records and flagged several examples that ethics experts told the network raised additional questions of propriety. A spokesperson for the department, Heather Swift, defended Zinke in each case. The secretary currently faces two inspector general investigations.

In one example, Zinke stayed at a Dallas Four Seasons resort and attended an “NRA Luncheon with Community Leaders” which included Republican donors and fundraisers. He attended the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum Dinner that night, CNN reported, according to now-public records. Asked about the trip by CNN, Swift said in part that “trips are reviewed and approved in advance by both the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law.”

In April of last year, the National Park Service spent nearly $2,000 — as previously reported by the Washington Post — to re-position a Park Service boat near Zinke’s California home, so he and his family could take a trip to the Channel Islands, five of which constitute Channel Islands National Park. CNN reported, citing Park Service emails, that some of the related travel hubbub “centered on making sure Zinke stayed on schedule to make it back to the mainland for a speech in Santa Barbara to the conservative group Young America’s Foundation on April 17.”

One of Zinke’s guests on that boat, CNN reported, was the latest in a family of ranchers who had once held a fundraiser for him when he was running for Congress, in 2014. The rancher’s family had once had a large operation on Santa Rosa Island, CNN reported, which is part of Channel Island National Park. The network said documents showed Zinke had talked about opening a “working demonstration ranch” on the same island to “highlight the island’s ranching heritage.”

Swift told CNN in part: “You may have missed the recent news that the Secretary is working on a national reorganization of the Department and has proposed a multi-billion infrastructure proposal targeting parks. He went to several parks last year leading up to drafting those historic initiatives and will continue to meet his team and learn more about local offices.”

CNN also gave the example of a private helicopter tour the secretary took in Nevada. As wildfires raged in the same state, according to the report, Zinke visited multiple stops with a crew supervisor who, his social media profile shows, was otherwise working to battle flames “through September,” according to the network.

Swift told CNN that regulations required the secretary to have a qualified helicopter manager accompany him on the flights.

Read CNN’s full report here.

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White House Communications Director Hope Hicks will resign in the coming weeks, the New York Times’ first reported Wednesday.

The announcement comes one day after Hicks testified before the House Intelligence Committee for its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

She reportedly told the committee she sometimes tells “white lies” in her official capacity.

But Hicks’ falsehoods, as CNN commentator and former Ted Cruz aide Amanda Carpenter pointed out on air, weren’t always small, like when a top Russian diplomat claimed days after Trump’s electoral victory that Russian officials had been in touch with Trump campaign officials.

“It never happened,” Hicks told the Associated Press of the claim. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

She broke into headlines again on Jan. 31 of this year, when the New York Times reported that she’d told Donald Trump Jr. in July 2017 that his emails with British publicist Rob Goldstone “will never get out.” Goldstone had set up a Trump Tower meeting during the campaign between a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton and an enthusiastic Trump Jr.

The younger Trump eventually released the emails himself a few days after Hicks’ assurance, beating the New York Times to the punch. Hicks’ lawyer told the Times of the quoted remark that she “never said that. And the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.”

Hicks is the fourth person to serve as communications director in the Trump administration, in addition to Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke and Anthony Scaramucci. She was named to the position in September of last year, after serving in an interim capacity the previous month.

“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “I wish the President and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country.”

“Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future.”

Hicks was one of Trump’s closest advisers in the White House and on the campaign trail before that. She began working for Ivanka Trump as an employee of the Trump Organization in 2014, after having met and worked with her while working for a PR firm.

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday voiced his support for allowing law enforcement officers to seize guns from people they think pose an immediate public threat or are dangerously mentally ill.

“Number one, you can take the guns away immediately from people that you can adjudge easily are mentally ill, like this guy,” he told a bipartisan group of legislators durning a televised meeting.

The President was referring to Nikolas Cruz, who allegedly murdered 17 people during a Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Vice President Mike Pence said later that “the focus is to literally give families and give local law enforcement additional tools if an individual is reported to be a potential danger to themselves or others.”

“Allow due process so no one’s rights are trampled but the ability to go to court, obtain an order and then collect not only the firearms but any weapons in the possession—”

Trump cut him off: “Or, Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court, because that’s another system.”

“Because a lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures, I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida,” he continued. “He had a lot of firearms. They saw everything. To go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you’re saying but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

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