Dont ever miss an article again. New To You shows you everything posted since your last visit in a simple, scrollable list.
More Info →
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mattshuham.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday applied pressure on Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to vote for Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of state, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Paul is the only Republican senator to publicly oppose Pompeo’s nomination. Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Tuesday said he was “still waiting for some information from him.”
“I will say this about Rand Paul,” Trump told reporters at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe sitting across from him. “He’s never let me down. Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I’m concerned. He’s never let me down, and I don’t think he’ll let us down again. So let’s see what happens.”
The director of the Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday that his office would investigate the construction of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, the spending on which was found to be illegal by the Government Accountability Office recently.
Aside from that announcement, though, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney had few details to offer the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services during a hearing.
Asked what role his office played in overseeing such agency purchases, Mulvaney pointed to two recent scandals over expensive office furnishings: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s purchase — and then cancellation — of a $31,000 dining room set for his office; and Pruitt’s phone booth, which his agency has insisted is needed for secure phone calls, even though the EPA already has secure communications facilities.
“We take the antideficiency statute very, very seriously, and if they’ve been broken, we’ll follow the rules,” Mulvaney said, referring to the law prohibiting spending more money than what’s been appropriated. “We will enforce the law, and we’ll do so in a transparent fashion, Mr. Quigley. I’m not interested in covering for anybody else.”
The subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), asked where the investigations stood.
“That I don’t know,” Mulvaney said. “I know we just got the GAO thing. I was more prepared about the EPA because we just got that report this week. And I know we have not started our work. Have we—” he turned over his left shoulder to a staffer, who shook her head.
“Either we have not or we have just started our work on that.”
“Wait, I’m sorry, on which one?” Quigley asked.
“The EPA report, the GAO report,” Mulvaney said. “I don’t know where we are on the HUD one. It’s a little bit older, so my guess is we’re already into that one, but I can get back to you on that.”
After Quigley asked about possible repercussions for violating the Antideficiency Act, though, Mulvaney turned over his right shoulder to another staffer.
“HUD procurement didn’t happen?” he asked, seemingly confused.
“He stopped it,” the staffer said off-mic.
“That’s why I’m not aware about HUD,” Mulvaney said.
He said that while the Antideficiency Act is “technically” a criminal law, “I don’t think anybody has ever been charged criminally with a violation of the antideficiency statue.”
“But we would talk to the lawyers and figure out what the appropriate statutory steps are that we are supposed to take,” Mulvaney continued. “Again, we are going to be completely above-board on this one. I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
Quigley asked if there was any “education” that other Cabinet officials needed about the law.
“Are you taking a tack now to put the others on notice that they ought to be aware of this, but if not, here are the rules?”
“I think there’s a misunderstanding of the role that OMB plays,” Mulvaney said.
“It would not surprise me that something like this could happen at HUD or at EPA without us knowing about it,” he added. “That would be very unusual, I think, for us to know about something— Again, a large sum of money when you consider what was done, but in the greater scheme of government, not something that might rise to the level of sharing with the Office of Management and Budget.”
Quigley tried again: “Given what you’ve seen here and these episodes not standing in isolation, does it make sense to let the other agencies know that you’re concerned about this, and are you contemplating that?”
“Let me answer it this way,” Mulvaney said. “Earlier on we had some issues within the administration regarding the use of private air travel. And what we did there was, under the auspices of the chief of staff, was put out specific rules, guidelines, and also bringing to [folks’ attention] that the rules already exist. There are rules on this, just like for me, there are for you, in terms of when you can buy business-class travel, when I can pay for business-class travel. There are rules, I think they come out of [the Office of Personnel Management], on when we can do that.”
“To remind people of those rules, to clarify those rules, and to the extent the administration wants to go further on those rules, which I believe we have, to let folks know about that as well.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) on Tuesday said that President Donald Trump’s tendency to take advice from “all over the country” without the supervision of his chief of staff had led to a chaotic environment in the White House.
At a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Corker said that the Trump administration had “actually done a pretty good job implementing” congressionally-mandated sanctions on Russia, but also that Trump was inconsistent in his beliefs.
“Forget sanctions on Russia, I can name probably 10 other things where one day we’re doing one thing, the next day we’re doing another,” he said.
The Tennessee senator, who has sparred with the President in the past and announced his retirement in September of last year, said the fact that Trump gets “a lot” of unvetted input has “got to be a nightmare” for Chief of Staff John Kelly.
“At night there are people calling in from all over the country [and] he’s calling them. The chief of staff doesn’t know who he’s talking with. It’s a different kind of environment,” Corker said.
“My staff spends the whole week making sure I’m meeting with people that are not crackpots,” he added. “The President is very entrepreneurial, he gets input at 11 o’clock at night, let’s say, comes in in the morning and he’s got a different mindset.”
The comments came in response to a question about the recent dissonance between the White House and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s statements on additional planned sanctions on Russia. Haley said Sunday that more sanctions were on the way. Trump reportedly paused those sanctions just hours later. The President’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Tuesday that there may have been “some momentary confusion” on Haley’s part. Haley responded later in the day: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Kudlow reportedly apologized to Haley for his comments.
Referring specifically to the administration’s mixed messages on additional sanctions, Corker said “some of it could be that he’s getting some cautionary advice from people who are around him who care about us not getting into a world war right now, and some of it I would attribute to just the constant chaos that occurs, and just the way the decision-making process is, or isn’t.”
“I wish he’d be tougher rhetorically on Russia, but I see the things we’re actually doing and they’re pretty strong,” he added later.
Toward the end of the breakfast, reporters asked Corker about his plans after leaving the Senate. Perhaps he could be Trump’s next chief of staff?
“Conjecture is bad for your health,” Corker said. “I go to bed early, too.”
Nikki Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, shot back at President Donald Trump’s new top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, on Tuesday after Kudlow said “there might have been some momentary confusion” when Haley claimed Sunday that the United States would sanction Russia.
“With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” she said, according to Fox News’ Dana Perino. Perino said around 6:00 pm ET that’d she’d been in touch with Haley “in the last half hour.” The news broke on the show Perino co-hosts, Fox News’ “The Five.”
The confusion — or lack thereof — began when Haley said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that the United States would soon sanction Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those [Russian sanctions] on Monday, if he hasn’t already, and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use,” Haley said Sunday.
The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump told advisers he was “upset” and “not yet comfortable executing” sanctions later on Sunday, and by Monday, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the paper: “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”
Kudlow, still in the early days as Trump’s chief economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that Haley had gotten “ahead of the curve.”
“She’s done a great job,” Kudlow added. “She’s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary confusion about that. But if you talk to Steve Mnuchin at Treasury and so forth, he will tell you the same thing. They are in charge of this. We have had sanctions. Additional sanctions are under consideration but not have been determined.”
Haley, Perino said, was responding to that comment.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday used a photo op with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to promote his club.
“Now [Mar-a-Lago] is indeed the Southern White House,” Trump said. “And, again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically.”
Trump on his private club: Mar-a-Lago is “now it is indeed the Southern White House. And, again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically.” pic.twitter.com/2t6jbSRPAn
In June, according to government documents and unnamed current and former agency officials cited by the Post, Pruitt leased a Chevy Suburban with a leather interior, GPS navigation and, added subsequently, “Kevlar-like seat covers to the vehicle at a cost of hundreds of dollars.”
The latter addition came with the approval of Nino Perrotta, who leads Pruitt’s sprawling, 24/7security detail. Perrotta was reportedly also behind the installation of a $43,000 secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office. The Government Accountability Office said Monday that the EPA’s payment for the phone booth was illegal.
The Chevy Tahoe former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy used “has largely sat idle,” at the EPA’s headquarters, the Post reported, despite its lease being renewed in February of last year. The report also found yet another SUV lease contract for the administrator’s office, though the leasing company told the paper that it appeared the EPA hadn’t yet picked the vehicle.
The EPA’s inspector general released documents Monday showing how a small handful of senior advisers to Administrator Scott Pruitt received five-figure raises, most within months of their hirings.
Two staffers to receive huge raises have already been reported: The EPA went behind the White House’s back to increase senior counsel to the administrator Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling director Millan Hupp’s pay by $56,765 and $28,130, respectively, according to initial reporting. Hupp’s total salary increase since her hiring, documents now show, was actually $48,080, and Greenwalt’s was actually $66,244.
The pair were hired as “administratively determined” staffers under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which does not require congressional or White House approval. They were then changed to “Schedule C” staffers a few months later, and then changed back to administratively determined staffers. Despite reported emails showing Pruitt’s approval of Greenwalt’s raises, his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, took the fall for approving them.
Documents released Monday by the inspector general’s office show something in between: Jackson did in fact request the raises and appointment changes for Greenwalt, Hupp and several other staffers whose raises were previously unreported. Jackson also authorized them by signing “Ryan Jackson for Scott Pruitt.”
Pruitt personally signed off on Greenwalt, Hupp, senior staffer Brittany Bolen and speechwriter Lincoln Ferguson’s initial hirings, and on Ferguson’s raise, but his signature doesn’t appear on the other personnel documents.
The Inspector General’s “management alert,” which was published Monday as part of the office’s larger continuing probe of Pruitt’s hiring practices, traced those staffers’ internal moves from administrative hires to “Schedule C” and noncareer Senior Executive Service positions:
Nick Surgey, a journalist who co-directs the watchdog group Documented, matched up the anonymized letters in the OIG’s management alert with data from a separate list of administrative hires. According to Surgey, Employee “A” is Greenwalt; “B” is Hupp; “C” is Forrest McMurray, a special assistant for scheduling and advance; “D” is Elizabeth Bowman, the agency’s lead spokesperson; “E” is Kevin Chmielewski, the former Trump campaign staffer who was allegedly sidelined from his EPA job after blowing the whistle on Pruitt and his chief of security, Nino Perrotta; “F” is Bolen, senior deputy associate administrator for policy; and “G” is Ferguson, the speechwriter.
Despite Pruitt’s claim to Fox News that he’d halted Greenwalt and Hupp’s raises, the management alert said that EPA leadership could not provide evidence to support that claim.
“We requested from the agency any documentation indicating modifications to the salary of any of the employees subsequent to the personnel actions noted above,” the alert read. “As of report issuance, the agency was unable to provide us with complete information or confirmation of any modifications.”
The inspector general noted that the EPA provided the following response to a draft of the management alert: “These salary determinations for appointees were made by the Agency chief of staff, White House liaison, and Agency human resources staff based on previous salary history and increases in salary were made due to either new and additional responsibilities or promotions.”
“The salaries involved were meant to correspond directly with the responsibilities the individual held and to attempt to ensure no salary disparities among positions of equivalent or similar responsibilities with other political appointees as much as possible,” the EPA’s response continued. “As employees continue to work in the agency reaching milestones like one year of employment and/or continue to take on new responsibilities, we will further evaluate their salaries to ensure the employees compensation is commensurate with their seniority and work.”
President Donald Trump on Sunday paused his administration’s plans to sanction Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Trump’s move to halt the sanctions, which the Post described as “under serious consideration,” flew in the face of United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s comments on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that “Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those [Russian sanctions] on Monday, if he hasn’t already, and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.”
Not so fast. “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Post Monday.
Unnamed White House officials gave the paper differing accounts of what happened: Haley made “an error that needs to be mopped up,” one said. Another was skeptical that the UN ambassador had “merely misspoken,” in the paper’s words, given how careful she normally is to check in with the President. One official, the Post reported, said that there had been “confusion internally” about the plan.
The bottom line, according to the Post, is that Trump told advisers Sunday night that he was “upset” about the sanctions and “not yet comfortable executing them,” according to several unnamed people familiar with the plan.
“She’ll usually talk to the president without the rest of the White House and get her remarks cleared directly,” an unnamed senior administration official said, referring to Haley. “Often we don’t know about them.”
Porn actress Stormy Daniels had harsh words for President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, on Monday, saying that the lawyer has acted like he is “above the law.”
“For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” Clifford told reporters outside a Manhattan courthouse. “He has considered himself and openly referred to himself as Mr. Trump’s fixer. He has played by a different set of rules, or shall we say no rules at all.”
Daniels attended the hearing Monday at which Cohen disclosed recent clients of his — including Fox News host Sean Hannity — in an effort to assert attorney-client privilege over documents seized by investigators during raids last week. His request for a temporary restraining order was denied Monday.
Cohen paid Daniels$130,000 as part of a hush agreement in 2016 over an alleged affair she had with Trump.
“He has never thought that the little man, or, especially women, even more, women like me, mattered,” Daniels continued. “That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone find out the truth and the facts of what happened. And I give my word that we will not rest until that happens. Thank you very much.”
After Fox News host Sean Hannity was revealed in court Monday to be a client of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, attention turned to Hannity’s past comments about the raid last week on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room.
“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees,” Hannity said in a statement to TPM provided by Fox News. “I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third party.”
“It is very strange to watch my own television network having my name up as the lower third, in terms of it being a story,” Hannity said on his radio show after the news broke. “There is a part of me that really wants to build this up into something massive and make the media goes nuts. I had no idea all these media people liked me so much, and now they have to listen to the program.”
“I actually think it’s pretty funny,” he added. He told the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus: “We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael.”
It’s not yet clear when Cohen began representing Hannity. The Fox News host was characterized by Cohen’s lawyers, along with two others, as a client of Cohen’s between 2017 and 2018. But in TPM’s review of interviews between the two, and of Hannity’s discussions of news relating to Cohen, the Fox News host has never made a disclosure about the attorney-client relationship.
Last week, the day of the Cohen raids, Hannity spoke on his radio show about Cohen’s hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she once had an affair with Trump.
“I do remember Michael saying it publicly and saying to me at the time that, in fact, he never told the President about this, that it was something that he had a pretty wide discretion on his own to handle matters without bringing it to his attention, and it might seem unusual for most people but if you’re a billionaire, I guess it’s not,” Hannity said.
On his television show the same day, Hannity said: “Cohen was never part of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign.” (That’s not true. Cohen frequently acted as a television surrogate for Trump.)
Hannity added: “This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States.”
“A source close to President Trump tonight is telling Fox News that Mueller’s investigation is way out of control,” he said, without naming his source.
On Aug. 10, 2015, two months after Trump announced his candidacy, Cohen made a quadruply-conflicted announcement in an interview with Hannity on Fox News. The squabble Trump cultivated with then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Cohen said, “is now over.”
“Mr. Trump has been assured by Roger Ailes that he is going to be treated fairly and equally,” Cohen told Hannity, referring to the Fox News chief. Media Matters flagged the comment, and several others cited in this article.
In January 2016, Cohen was a guest on Hannity’s show. “I guess you could argue that Bill Cosby probably helped women in their career,” Hannity said, at the end of a discussion about the allegations of assault against former President Bill Clinton.
“I’m sure he did,” Cohen responded. “One had a pill that knocked them out, the other one had the power. Right?”
A year later, on Jan. 11, Hannity interviewed Cohen about the Steele dossier, which BuzzFeed had then published for the first time, and said that despite the dossier’s assertions, “Michael Cohen has never been to Prague.” (Late last week, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, McClatchy reported that Cohen did in fact that make that trip.) Cohen had sued BuzzFeed and FusionGPS for defamation over the release on Jan. 10.
“Who would have ever thought that there could be two Michael Cohens in this world,” Cohen joked, stone-faced. “Impossible.”
“One of my best friends growing up, Michael Cohen,” Hannity responded. “And you’re one of my better friends in life. I’ve known you for a long time.”
“You were in Los Angeles. Now, I have to give a little insight here,” Hannity told Cohen later in the interview.
“You know I was in Los Angeles because—” Cohen interjected.
“You sent me a video,” Hannity said.
Since 2015, Hannity has mentioned Cohen eight times on his Twitter account:
Michael Cohen, the Trump Organization: “We have a real immigration problem in this country and reform is necessary.” #Hannity