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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

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, reportedly intervened on Saudi Arabia’s behalf to negotiate down a pricey antimissile radar system from Lockheed Martin.

A New York Times report out Friday, citing several unnamed administration officials, described a meeting between Kushner and a delegation from the Gulf nation on May 1.

“Let’s get this done today,” Kushner is quoted as saying of the more than $100 billion arms deal on the table, which both sides wanted to finalize before Trump’s visit to the nation this weekend as part of his first trip overseas as President. One American official raised the possibility that the Saudis add a Lockheed-made radar system to the bill.

From the Times:

Sensing that the cost might be a problem, several administration officials said, Mr. Kushner picked up the phone and called Marillyn A. Hewson — the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, which makes the radar system — and asked her whether she could cut the price. As his guests watched slack-jawed, Ms. Hewson told him she would look into it, officials said.

The incident recalled a frequent boast by President Trump that he had personally pressured Lockheed to lower costs on an order of F-35 fighter jets.

Former President Barack Obama signed off on $115 billion in arms offerings to Saudi Arabia over 42 separate deals, according to a report from the Center for International Policy in December. The Times noted that “several” of the weapons in the Trump administration’s arms deal with the nation had already been approved for sale by the Obama administration.

Human rights advocates have objected to those sales in light of Saudi Arabia’s relentless air and ground campaign in Yemen, where millions of people are now on the brink of famine, according to the World Food Program.

Anthony Weiner is expected to plead guilty Friday to a federal charge of transferring obscene material to a minor, the New York Times reported.

The Times cited two unnamed people who had been briefed on the matter.

The charge stemmed from Weiner’s explicit text messaging in January 2016 with a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina, the Times reported. The paper noted the plea will cover his conduct from January through March of last year.

The British tabloid Daily Mail first reported the explicit texts in September 2016. Other sexting scandals, though not with underage women, led to Weiner’s resignation from Congress in 2011, and then derailed his New York City mayoral campaign in 2013.

Weiner’s sexts also had a profound effect on the 2016 presidential race.

Eleven days before the election, then-FBI Director James Comey notified congressional leaders that he was revisiting the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, breaking longstanding Justice Department policy.

“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote.

The “unrelated case” turned out to be the FBI’s investigation into Weiner’s sexting with the 15-year-old girl. The bureau had found emails originating from Clinton’s private server on Weiner’s laptop, which Huma Abedin, Weiner’s estranged partner and a top Clinton aide, had also used.

Two days before the election, Comey announced that the newly discovered emails did not in fact change the FBI’s previous decision not to recommend charges against Clinton.

This post has been updated.

In his first press conference since a bombshell report dropped alleging that he pressured James Comey to drop the FBI probe into his ousted national security adviser, President Donald Trump on Thursday contradicted his own previously stated rationale—not to mention the various media accounts—surrounding Comey’s firing.

During a joint appearance with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump called the federal investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russian officials who interfered in the U.S. election “ridiculous” and made a point of noting he got a “very very strong recommendation” from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein regarding Comey’s termination.

Yet while Trump’s communications staff had pinned the decision to fire Comey on Rosenstein’s recommendation in the days following Comey’s abrupt ouster last week, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt two days after Comey’s firing Trump acknowledged that he “was going to fire” the FBI director “regardless of recommendation.”

For his part, Rosenstein, who briefed the full Senate behind closed doors shortly before Trump and Santos held their press conference Thursday, said that he “knew that Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” according to the account Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) gave reporters.

Trump also asserted in the joint press conference that Comey’s erroneous Senate testimony earlier this month on the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server—which the FBI corrected in a letter just half an hour before Comey was fired—was the reason “why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter.”

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire Comey, according to the New York Times, which reported that officials in the White House and DOJ began building a case against the former FBI chief the week prior to his ouster.

Comey’s firing prompted anger from congressional Democrats who accused Trump of wanting to quash the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. The New York Times report on Tuesday that revealed Comey documented Trump’s request that the bureau lay off its probe of Michael Flynn brought accusations of obstruction of justice to a fever pitch.

Trump also asserted Thursday that the FBI’s “special reputation” had been damaged with “what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign.” While Rosenstein sharply criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email server probe in his memo to Trump, the President himself heaped praise on Comey during the campaign for his actions.

Trump closed his argument against the investigation, which he has called a “hoax,” by declaring that “even my enemies have said there is no collusion.”

The three federal and congressional investigations into that very question belie Trump’s boast.

President Donald Trump on Thursday categorically denied pressuring former FBI director James Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He went on to sharply criticize the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials to influence the U.S. election.

During a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a reporter offered Trump “a chance to go on record” about some of this week’s bombshell reports on his administration.

“Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey, in any way shape or form, to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back —”

“No. No. Next question,” Trump interrupted tersely.

“Next question,” the reporter continued. “As you look back over the past six months or a year, have you had any recollection where you have wondered if anything you have done has been something that might be worthy of criminal charges in these investigations or impeachment, as some on the left are implying?”

Trump then launched into a lengthy response.

“I think it is totally ridiculous,” he began. “Everybody thinks so. And again, we have to get back to working our country properly so that we can take care of the problems that we have. We have plenty of problems.”

The President also described Comey as “very unpopular with most people,” and said he was surprised that there wasn’t bipartisan support for Comey’s ouster.

“We need a great director of the FBI,” Trump said. “I cherish the FBI. It’s special.”

The FBI’s reputation, he said, had been damaged during the presidential campaign, given “what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign. And even, you could say, directly or indirectly, with respect to the much more successful Trump campaign.”

From there he veered into a wide-ranging policy discussion, touching on tax cuts, military spending and health care. Obamacare, he declared, “is a fallacy.”

The investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials, Trump said, was the last thing he wanted to focus his attention on.

“Everybody, even my enemies, have said there is no collusion,” he said.

This post has been updated.

Fox News host Shepard Smith briefly discussed the sexual harassment scandal that led to Roger Ailes’ ouster from the network in an 13-minute long eulogy for the network’s former CEO on Thursday afternoon. Ailes died Thursday at age 77.

Ailes had resigned in July 2016 amid a storm of allegations of sexual harassment from several women at the network, including fired host Gretchen Carlson, who sued Ailes. Ailes received a $40 million “exit package” from Fox News.

The allegations of sexual harassment against the late Fox News boss were rarely ever acknowledged on the network. But on Thursday, Smith addressed them, even as he got emotional recalling his last conversation with Ailes over the phone at the July Republican National Convention in Cleveland:

Last year we began to learn of another side of Roger Ailes, another part of his life. I didn’t believe it could be true at first. This man I so admired, despite our differences. It all came to a head as hundreds of us were in Cleveland for the Republican convention. The accusations were mortifying. All cameras were trained on us, all of them. We were the news. Tears flowed daily off camera, so far from headquarters, confused and helpless, unnerved and under attack. Roger would want us to perform, to serve our audience, and we did, somehow. In our private work space there, by then surrounded by guards keeping prying reporters away from us, a cell phone was being passed around. Roger was on the line. I took it in my hand and said, ‘Roger?’ ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ His voice was firm and reassuring. ‘I’m okay, Roger. We’re all working hard.’ There was a private exchange then, and he told me, ‘Keep up the good work. Keep everybody motivated and on point. We’ll get through this. I love you.’ That was the last we spoke. He left the company and the rest is history unfolding. To the true victims, respect and comfort. It’s all so complicated. Everything here was and is, as he was.

Watch below via Fox News:

A Republican congressman called Michael Flynn’s brief stint as national security adviser “indefensible” in light of a fresh report that the Trump administration knew before inauguration that he was under investigation for failing to register as a foreign agent.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) was pressed in an interview Thursday morning on the point that the torrent of scandalous White House news is “self-inflicted.” CNN’s Chris Cuomo referenced a Wednesday night New York Times report that in early January, Flynn informed Trump transition team lawyer Don McGahn that he was under investigation for acting as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.

“Look, certainly that’s a failure of vetting, it’s a failure of judgment,” Dent told Cuomo. “There was certainly a lot of questions about General Flynn’s suitability for that position even before this revelation of the Turkish connection. So yeah, I really can’t defend that, that’s indefensible, and it’s just a terrible failure of judgment and vetting.”

Flynn was named national security adviser on Nov. 17, and he served officially in the position from Jan. 20-Feb. 13, when he was fired. McGahn, for his part, went on to be White House counsel.

Flynn only was fired after media organizations reported that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about his conversations regarding sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. The firing came 18 days after then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned McGahn that Flynn had lied to White House officials about the same conversations.

Two days after threatening to use his “subpoena pen” to get his hands on James Comey’s reported memos describing his encounters with President Donald Trump, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on Thursday expressed skepticism as to whether they actually existed.

Chaffetz — in addition to many other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle — has called on Comey to testify in a public setting and provide his memos to Congress. He serves as the powerful chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

This came on the heels of a New York Times report, based on one of the fired FBI director’s memos, that Trump had attempted to suppress the FBI’s investigation of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in February.

“I do think in the light of day in a public setting he should be able to tell us about not only the materials, if they’re there, and I question whether or not they’re actually there, but if they’re there, and then how did he take them?” Chaffetz told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“Why do you question that?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Well, nobody’s seen them,” Chaffetz said. “Even the reporter that did the story hasn’t seen them. Nobody I know of, even the reporter, has not [sic] actually seen these documents.”

The New York Times report described how Comey shared the memos with senior F.B.I. officials. An unnamed associate of Comey’s read parts of one memo to a Times reporter.

Chaffetz’s interview with Stephanopoulos came after the Justice Department late Wednesday announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

The House Oversight Committee chairman told Stephanopoulos that “I don’t know that a special counsel was warranted at this point. I have not seen the direct, full evidence of an actual crime.”

He went further speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Wednesday night.

“I don’t think they should have actually appointed somebody,” Chaffetz said.

“I have not seen any evidence of actual collusion. Where is the actual crime that they think they need a special prosecutor to prosecute?” he added. “I haven’t seen that. There’s been a lot of flailing, but that flailing started before Jan. 20.”

Watch below via ABC:

In two tweets Thursday morning, President Donald Trump dispensed with the notion that he had taken in stride the news of the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel for the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

After the DOJ announced late Wednesday that former FBI Director Robert Mueller had been chosen as special counsel in the investigation, which is also looking into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian operatives, Trump reportedly huddled with aides before releasing a fairly mild, one-paragraph reaction.

But speaking directly to his supporters Thursday, he called the investigation a “witch hunt” yet again and lashed out at the Obama administration and his opponent Hillary Clinton:

(The original version of the above tweet spelled counsel “councel” but was otherwise the same.)

The tweets recalled the advice he gave to graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy hours before Mueller’s appointment was first announced.

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” he complained, after telling the cadets to never give up in the face of adversity. “Especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

This post has been updated.

President Donald Trump responded Wednesday to the appointment of a special counsel to head the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying the development would “confirm” that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” Trump said in a statement. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”

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