Mshuham2

Matt Shuham

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 mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that presidential aides had been granted a blanket waiver from the President Donald Trump’s ethics pledge in order to speak to news organizations “to continue having those discussions and advancing the President’s agenda and priorities.”

At a press briefing Friday, Spicer was asked about one aide specifically, Steve Bannon, and the news outlet he led before working for Trump, Breitbart News. Spicer answered without mentioning either specifically.

“Did White House have Steve Bannon’s communications with Breitbart News in mind?” one reporter asked of the ethics waiver. “Was that applied retroactively to address those communications?”

The reporter added: “And any response to Director [of the Office of Government Ethics Walter] Shaub’s claim that if you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule?”

“There’s two pieces to that that are important,” Spicer responded. “One is, remember, this didn’t have to do with the law or regulations. This had to do with the President’s pledge. His ethics pledge. He is the ultimate decider on that. This isn’t with respect to a law or regulation.”

He didn’t directly address Shaub’s criticism that the waiver had been retroactive. The White House’s disclosure did not say when it was granted.

Spicer continued: “What we discovered was that several individuals on staff had previously worked for media organizations, and in order to continue having those discussions and advancing the President’s agenda and priorities, it was important to make sure that all individuals had the opportunity to be able to speak to the media about what the President was doing to make the country stronger.”

In March, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an transparency group, argued that Bannon was violating the pledge by “repeatedly communicating about official matters with Breitbart News.”

The White House’s disclosure shows presidential appointees were granted a waiver from Paragraph 6 of Executive Order 13770, signed in Trump’s first week, which read: “I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

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A day after President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt again added his name to a long list of administration officials who refuse to say whether the President believes the science behind climate change, dodging the question Friday. Sean Spicer dodged the question as well.

“Just hoping you can clear this up once and for all,” ABC’s Mary Bruce asked Pruitt Friday, the first question he was posed at a press briefing with White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

“Yes or no, does the President believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?”

“You know, it’s interesting, all of the discussions we had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue, is Paris good or not for this country?” Pruitt answered, moving on without answering on Trump’s behalf.

NBC News’ Kristen Welker followed up later: “You’re the EPA administrator,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be able to tell the American people whether or not the resident still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?” 

“As I indicated several times in the process,” Pruitt responded, visibly annoyed, “there is enough to deal with with respect to the Paris Agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That’s what our focus has been over the last several weeks. I’ve answered the question a couple times.”

Spicer followed up when he took the podium: “I have not had the opportunity to have that discussion,” he said, asked about Trump’s beliefs on the science behind climate change.

“Don’t the American people deserves to know” what the President believes? a reporter pressed.

“I think Administrator Pruitt pointed out that what the President is focused on is making sure we have clean water, clean air and making sure we have the best deal for American workers,” he said.

Spicer has consistently dodged that question. Top White House aide Kellyanne Conway has refused to answer the question as well, as has the director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn.

Trump has said “I’m not a believer in global warming. I’m not a believer in man-made global warming.” And he has called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese in order to economically damage America.

In his speech announcing that the United States would withdraw from the Paris accord Thursday, Trump used similarly conspiratorial language, saying, “A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound.”

However, if Trump’s decisions on climate policy are driven by his disbelief in the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting man-made climate change, his White House doesn’t want to admit it.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed charges of meddling in the United States’ 2016 election on Friday, saying that a young child could have manufactured evidence to support the assertion of U.S. intelligence agencies.

“IP addresses can be invented, a child can do that! Your underage daughter could do that. That is not proof,” Putin told NBC’s Megyn Kelly in a roundtable discussion Friday alongside the leaders of India, Austria and Moldova, according to the network.

Putin also said that United States’ intelligence agencies blaming Russia for the interference “reminds me of anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews.”

At various points, he called the allegations “disinformation,” “idle prattle” and “harmful,” according to the network.

Putin has, intentionally or not, frequently echoed President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the focus on potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the presidential election.

On Monday, Putin told a French newspaper that the allegations of Russian meddling were a “fiction” driven by Democrats’ “desire … to improve their standing by accusing Russia of interfering.” Trump has similarly accused Democrats of politicizing congressional and federal investigations into the interference.

And Putin’s remark to Kelly that the TV host’s young daughter could have pinned responsibility on Russia is reminiscent of Trump’s remark, during a debate, that “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” could have hacked Democratic National Committee during the campaign, not Russian operatives.

On multiple occasions, Trump has compared leaks that he said originated in the intelligence community to what occurred in Nazi Germany.

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The White House is telling federal agencies not to cooperate with congressional Democrats’ oversight requests, for fear the information would be used to attack the President, Politico reported Friday.

Citing unnamed “Republican sources inside and outside the administration,” Politico reported that Special Assistant to the President Uttam Dhillon had instructed various agencies not to cooperate with Democrats’ requests in meetings this Spring.

“You have Republicans leading the House, the Senate and the White House,” an unnamed White House official told Politico. “I don’t think you’d have the Democrats responding to every minority member request if they were in the same position.”

A White House spokeswoman, commenting on background despite the administration’s repeated criticism of anonymous sources, contested to Politico that the administration’s policy was “to accommodate the requests of chairmen, regardless of their political party.”

Two House Democrats told the publication that they had been told, in response to oversight requests, that the administration would only respond to requests from Republican chairmen. Acting General Services Administrator Tim Horne confirmed as much in sworn testimony this month, Politico noted. Senate Democrats have run into similar obstructionism. 

Citing unnamed “Democrats and Republicans,” Politico reported that some requests were still honored, particularly those to national security-related agencies.

Read Politico’s full report here.

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Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that “for some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world.”

In an interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday, a day after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Pence expressed bewilderment at the “long been a goal of the liberal left in this country” to advance a “climate change agenda.”

“For some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world,” Pence said. “And through Kyoto, through President Obama’s cap-and-trade agenda, and then through the, in the last year of his administration to have America saddled in an international agreement in the Paris accord, I think put a real burden on our economy and our people. It was a bad deal for America.”

The government acknowledges — or, at least, NASA does — that global temperatures “will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities.”

Likely effects, according to NASA, will include more heat waves and droughts, more and more powerful hurricanes, dramatic sea level rise and an Arctic Ocean that is “essentially ice free in the summer before mid-century,” the implications of which are profound.

On Thursday, Trump minimized the impact of the Paris accord on climate, instead painting it as a global economic conspiracy against the United States.

“A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound,” he said.

Under the agreement, for which the United States’ participation was a crucial element, nations submitted emissions targets, which are voluntarily enforced.

The United States’ goal was to lower emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. President Barack Obama also transferred $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund, meant to help developing countries address the effects of climate change, by which they are likely to be disproportionately impacted. He had pledged a total of $3 billion.

Trump initiated a review, early in his administration, of the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s central effort to address emissions in the United States. Overall, in executive orders, laws, and in his proposed budget, he has been extremely effective in marginalizing federal efforts to protect the planet.

Watch below via Fox News:

This post has been updated to more accurately describe the Green Climate Fund

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The mayor of Pittsburgh clapped back at President Donald Trump on Thursday after Trump cited the city as a justification for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The United States joins two nations — Syria, in a civil war, and Nicaragua, who thought the accord didn’t go far enough — in not participating in the voluntary, historic agreement.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said, arguing that “We want fair treatment for its citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be.”

Bill Peduto, the city’s mayor, answered quickly:

The chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Nancy Patton Mills, piled on:

So did the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, for that matter:

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President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, making America one of three countries not to participate in the historic agreement to combat climate change.

“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “But begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a, really, entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.” 

“So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” he continued. “And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

The President complained about China and India’s own stated emissions targets under the deal, saying they were unfair to the United States. And he suggested that the rest of the world had duped the United States into signing onto the deal — which the United States itself, under President Barack Obama, was instrumental in establishing — in order to deal an economic blow.

“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States,” he said. “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. They went wild. They were so happy, for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

“A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound,” he said.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt — who once as Oklahoma’s attorney general used an oil and gas lobbyist’s letter almost word-for-word in an objection to the Interior Department — delivered brief remarks after Trump.

Pruitt said that Trump had “corrected a view that was paramount in Paris, that somehow the United States should penalize its own economy, be apologetic, lead with our chin, while the rest of the world does little.”

The United States’ withdrawal from the agreement could encourage other nations to back away from their enforcement of the voluntary arrangement, which is non-binding and has no penalties for missing the mark on emissions goals. Rather, it works through peer pressure and diplomacy.

Every nation on Earth signed on to the deal except for two: Syria, still in the midst of a brutal, years-long civil war; and Nicaragua, who insisted the deal didn’t go far enough.

The agreement, adopted in late 2015 at the COP 21, went into force in late 2016. The Obama administration formally joined the agreement in August of 2016.

We are here together because we believe that for all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge,” President Obama said at the time.

The United States’ announced goal was to lower emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Obama also pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a voluntary global effort to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change. However, his administration ultimately approved a total of only $1 billion in transfers to the fund.

Trump railed against the fund for several minutes Thursday. And his proposed budget would slash funding to other global efforts to combat climate change, and research and preservation efforts stateside.

Obama released a muted statement Thursday, saying the agreement was the result of global cooperation and “American’s private innovation and public investment” renewable energy sources.

“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created,” he said. “I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

Watch Trump’s announcement, via NBC:

This post has been updated.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said Wednesday that he had asked the FBI whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions met more frequently than he admitted with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign

Franken — whose question to Sessions during his confirmation hearing in January prompted Sessions to say, incorrectly, “I did not have communications with the Russians” during the campaign— said the attorney general’s letter correcting that testimony in March was “very unsatisfactory.”

The senator told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Wednesday night that he and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who is also on the Judiciary Committee, had even sent a letter to then-FBI Director James Comey, “asking him and the FBI to investigate whether in fact Sessions had met other times with Russians, including this meeting that we’re talking about in the Mayflower.”

Franken was referring to a CNN report Wednesday that congressional investigators were investigating whether Sessions may have had a third meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the 2016 campaign — in addition to the two he admitted to in the letter correcting his testimony.

CNN cited unnamed “Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation.”

CNN reported that Kislyak and Sessions attended a VIP reception at the Mayflower, where Trump was delivering a foreign policy address in April 2016, but also that the FBI was investigating whether there was an additional, private meeting between the two that day.

On Thursday morning, Leahy released three letters that he and Franken sent to the FBI in March, April and May, the first two to Comey and the last to the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe. The first asked Comey to investigate “all contacts the Russian ambassador, or any other Russian officials, may have had with Attorney General Sessions or with his staff, and whether any laws were broken in the course of those contacts or in any subsequent discussion of whether they occurred.”

“We served with the Attorney General in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee for many years,” Leahy and Franken wrote in a statement accompanying the release. “We know he would not tolerate dishonesty if he were in our shoes.  If it is determined that the Attorney General still has not been truthful with Congress and the American people about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, he needs to resign.”

“It had been characterized one way, but we had some reason to believe that that wasn’t the case,” Franken told O’Donnell Wednesday, referring to the gathering at the Mayflower. “It had been described in a way that he could plausibly say ‘I don’t remember that.’ But what’s coming out today I believe is that that may not be the case. And if this the true, that would be extremely disturbing.”

Franken added: “Our office has been in contact with the FBI on this. And they said they were crafting a response to us. It sounded to us that something was about to break on this.” He said that he wasn’t surprised at how the story had developed publicly.

Later on in the interview, Franken returned to Sessions’ letter correcting his testimony. 

Sen. Sessions’ letter to us was insulting our intelligence when he said why he didn’t do this,” he said, referring to Sessions’ failure to disclose the meetings with the Russian ambassador. “It actually contradicted his own explanations in the press conference.”

Watch below via MSNBC:

This post has been updated.

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