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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

The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee said Friday that reports that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer joined a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and members of the Trump campaign “adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting.”

“Today’s report that a former Russian counter-intelligence officer was also present during the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, if accurate, adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a statement.

He added: “Similarly, reports that Jared Kushner had to twice amend his security clearance forms, only recently acknowledging this pivotal meeting, should cause his clearance to be reviewed — and if he was not perfectly candid — immediately revoked.”

The former counterintelligence officer to whom Schiff referred is Rinat Akhmetshin, now a lobbyist, who confirmed to the Associated Press Friday that he was in the meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. NBC News first reported Akhmetshin’s attendance Friday, but did not name him.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. on Tuesday in anticipation of a New York Times story on the same messages, he and the top Trump campaign aides attended the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

In an interview with MSNBC Friday, Schiff added that Akhmetshin “provides yet another conduit back to the Kremlin.”

Read Schiff’s full statement below:

“Today’s report that a former Russian counter-intelligence officer was also present during the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, if accurate, adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting.  Donald Trump, Jr.’s denial of any such meetings, his misleading initial representation that it dealt only with adoptions — a statement evidently approved by the White House — and his later admission that the whole purpose of taking the meeting was to receive the support of the Russian government in the form of damaging information about Hillary Clinton paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit when it comes to the campaign’s meetings with Russian officials and intermediaries.

“Similarly, reports that Jared Kushner had to twice amend his security clearance forms, only recently acknowledging this pivotal meeting, should cause his clearance to be reviewed — and if he was not perfectly candid — immediately revoked.

“Finally, whether the additional party or parties present during the meeting with these top Trump campaign personnel at the time Donald Trump had seized the nomination were connected directly with Russian intelligence or not, it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. This was true not only because Donald Jr. said he would love such help, and, even if we are to believe his account of the meeting, expressed great dismay that he didn’t receive the damaging information he was promised, but also because candidate Trump himself made very clear his desire that the Russian government hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying they would be richly rewarded.  Indeed that has proved all too true.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) said Friday that “there’s nothing wrong with” Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father’s campaign.

“I don’t have an issue with it,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. “Let me take a step back, Alisyn. In politics, if I meet with — whether it’s a citizen or a non-citizen and they give me information or an idea or talk about policy, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not a crime.”

“So to have a potential meeting where this source might give you evidence that the DNC was taking money from Russia or that Hillary Clinton was committing a crime, and then once you find out this is a bogus meeting and after 20 minutes you kick them out of the office, I have no problem with what Don Jr. did,” Duffy continued. “And I don’t think any prosecutor would either.”

Multiple complaints to the Federal Election Commission allege the Trump Campaign illegally solicited a contribution from a foreign national — in this case, damaging information about Hillary Clinton — by accepting the meeting.

Friday brought multiple reports that more people were in attendance at the meeting than Donald Trump Jr. has claimed.

“You’re saying, if you got an e-mail saying this comes from the highest level of the Russian government, we have some information for you, you would take that meeting before you called the FBI?” Camerota asked later in the interview.

Duffy, who said there was nothing wrong with the meeting seconds earlier, wavered.

“There’s two distinctions,” he said. “One, there is politics, and legality. I think politically I would go, well, you know what, I might have someone else take that meeting. I might not take that meeting myself. But I might still want the information.”

“You have a family, the Trumps, who have been wildly involved in business in New York,” he continued. “But these aren’t politicos. These are people who have not been involved in politics. And I think you’ve seen through the course of their campaign there’s been some political stumbles. This would probably be one of them.”

“But I don’t think it’s a bad act on the part of Donald Jr. at all,” he concluded.

Watch below via CNN:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed frustration Thursday at the “fragmented” decision-making processes in the Trump administration, noting the government was “not a highly disciplined organization.”

Tillerson made the comments to pool reporters on the plane ride home from a multi-day trip to the Middle East and Europe, including an attempt at opening discussion between Qatar and other Arab states who accuse it of funding terrorism, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Well it is a lot different than being CEO of Exxon because I was the ultimate decision-maker,” Tillerson told the reporters, adding: “We had very long-standing, disciplined processes and decision-making — I mean, highly structured — that allows you to accomplish a lot, to accomplish a lot in a very efficient way.”

The Times noted that Tillerson said he didn’t meant to criticize the government, but that “it’s largely not a highly disciplined organization.”

“Decision-making is fragmented, and sometimes people don’t want to take decisions. Coordination is difficult through the interagency [process].”

He also noted that his job itself used many of the same skills he developed leading the enormous oil and gas corporation.

“Engagement with the rest of the world is actually very easy for me,” Tillerson said. “None of it is new to me. It is more difficult, it is more difficult, because of just the elements we talked about.”

Various reports have suggested the Trump administration has “sidelined” the Tillerson-led State Department, including with proposed massive budget cuts. Tillerson has himself been criticized for shutting out the press from foreign trips and press conferences.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway accused critics of the Trump administration of moving the goalposts on the ongoing investigations into possible coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

The goalposts have been moved,” Conway told “Fox & Friends” Friday morning. “We were promised systemic — hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome. And one of the only people who says that seriously these days is still Hillary Clinton and nobody believes it.”

However, authorities investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election have long asserted that there is no evidence votes were physically changed as part of the effort.

Conway’s analysis came in response to coverage of Donald Trump Jr., who admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and top aide Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, was also at the meeting — contradicting the Trump administration’s boasts about transparency in acknowledging the meeting. NBC News first reported Akhmetshin’s attendance, but did not name him.

“Would people call you up all the time and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got some dirt on her,’ and would you take a meeting with them?” Steve Doocy asked.

“No,” Conway said. “No.”

But she hedged when Doocy reminded her that the President said the meeting was the type of thing that, in Doocy’s words, “happened all the time.” 

“Sometimes people want to aggrandize their own positions,” she responded in part. “Sometimes they wish to be helpful. Many meetings end up as a bust that aren’t particularly meaningful, consequential or helpful.”

And Conway hedged again when asked why everyone in Trump’s orbit wouldn’t just lay their hands on the table, and extensively list any exchange they had during and since the campaign with Russian nationals.

“Every single colleague I know here at the White House and in the administration, in the campaign, even if they don’t serve here, ladies and gentlemen, have said they are willing to cooperate,” she said. “They are willing to share whatever they know.”

“People would argue that’s not true,” Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt replied. “Because that meeting happened a year and a month ago. And so people are wondering why Don Jr. just didn’t come forward and say that right after it happened?”

“Well, in terms of those who work here, who have been asked to cooperate, they have made very clear through their attorneys that they are willing to cooperate,” Conway said, now making no mention of people in Trump’s orbit who don’t work at the White House, which would include Donald Jr.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he may have previously heard about his son and top campaign staff meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, a stunning contradiction of his earlier statements on the matter.

Emails released Tuesday by Donald Trump Jr., ahead of a New York Times story on the same messages, show the President’s son responding enthusiastically to the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton provided as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father’s campaign.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump told Reuters that “No. That I didn’t know. Until a couple of days ago, when I heard about this. No I didn’t know about that,” referring to the meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

Trump changed his tune later in the day, when he told reporters on Air Force One: “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” referring to the meeting. (Reporters on the plane initially thought the conversation was off-the-record, but the President said otherwise on Thursday.)

Asked whether he had been told the meeting was about Hillary Clinton and dirt against her, Trump said no, according to a White House pool report. On Thursday, Trump called the meeting “very standard.”

Senators on both sides of the aisle, after the emails were published, expressed interest in having Trump Jr. testify about the meeting. And multiple complaints have accused the campaign of illegally accepting a contribution — in the form of the promised damaging information on Clinton — from a foreign national.

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday he was unaware of the meeting.

Trump also mentioned seeing, according to the White House pool, “something about her being in congress recently talking to members,” possibly a reference to a report in The Hill that Veselnitskaya attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, and a dinner at which Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was in attendance, days before meeting with the campaign at Trump Tower.

“She had meetings with various people,” Trump said. “So it’s the same thing.

This post has been updated.

Three advocacy groups on Thursday accused Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — in addition to everyone known to be in attendance at a meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 — of violating election law.

Democracy 21, Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center, and the vice president and policy director at the latter two groups, respectively, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission formally accusing Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner of soliciting a contribution from a foreign national by attending the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016. PBS Newshour first reported the complaint.

“Under federal law, providing anything of value, including the fruits of paid research, hacking, or similar investigatory activity to a campaign is an in-kind ‘contribution,’” the complaint noted, “and expressing approval and requesting a meeting to receive that in-kind contribution is a ‘solicitation.’

Federal law prohibits such contributions, or solicitation thereof, from foreign nationals.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. just before the New York Times published its own report on the messages, a family acquaintance of Trump’s, Rob Goldstone, had promised that Veselnitskaya would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide Donald Trump’s campaign.

The complaint accuses Goldstone of providing “substantial assistance” in soliciting the foreign donation.

The complaint also points to an interview Trump Jr. gave to Fox News’ Sean Hannity in which Trump Jr. affirmed that he pressed Veselnitskaya for the Clinton dirt, after realizing in the meeting that it was unlikely she would provide much useful information.

“[Veselnitskaya] is saying that she had no information to provide,” Hannity told Trump Jr. “Do you remember what she suggested, that you were pressing her a little bit for information?”

“Well, I imagine I did. I mean, I was probably pressing because the pretext of the meeting was, hey, I have information about your opponent,” Trump Jr. replied.

President Trump defended his son again on Thursday, calling the meeting with a foreign national promising dirt on a political opponent as part of a foreign government’s influence campaign “very standard.”

The advocacy groups’ complaint echoes that of Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who on Tuesday similarly accused the Trump campaign of violating the law.

President Donald Trump was noncommittal on the United States’ stance on the Paris Agreement on climate change Thursday, saying it would “be OK” if the U.S. never re-committed to the worldwide effort to combat global warming.

“Something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord, we’ll see what happens,” he said at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. “But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful. And if it doesn’t, that’ll be OK, too. But we’ll see what happens.”

Macron was harshly critical, as were many world leaders, of Trump’s announcement on June 1 that he did not intend to honor the United States’ commitments as part of the climate deal, in which nations set individual emissions goals that are voluntarily enforced.

The same day of Trump’s announcement, Macron appealed to American climate scientists and others concerned about global warming to move to France, delivering a speech and launching a website calling to “make our planet great again,” a sly reference to Trump’s campaign theme, Make America Great Again.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday said he wants Donald Trump Jr. to testify before the committee, following emails showing Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer he believed would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father’s campaign.

What would you want to ask him or learn about?” CNN’s Manu Raju asked Grassley Thursday. “Why is this under your committee’s jurisdiction?”

“Well, very much because our oversight of the Justice Department,” Grassley said. “And I think it’s just — it’s raised a lot of questions, but the real way that I feel comfortable inviting him is ever since I’ve — ever since President Trump was elected, it seems like every conversation that has come from somebody in the family where there’s been some sort of issue, they’ve seemed always to be very, very open, and I just think that he would welcome the opportunity to say whatever he wants to say.”

“Would you subpoena him” if he did not agree to testify voluntarily? Raju asked.

“Let’s wait and see what he does for, from our letter,” Grassley responded before walking away.

Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee, told TPM in an email that the committee had not yet sent an invitation to Trump Jr. to testify.

In emails Trump Jr. released just before a New York Times report on them Tuesday, the then-candidate’s son is seen responding enthusiastically to the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father’s 2016 presidential campaign.

After Trump Jr. published the emails, several senators on both sides of the aisle in the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees said the Trump scion should testify about the resulting June 9 meeting between him, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

On Wednesday, the Des Moines Register reported, Grassley told Iowa reporters on a press call that he intended to bring Manafort in front of the committee to answer questions.

This post has been updated.

A spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence told TPM on Thursday that Pence did not have any meetings with individuals associated with the Russian government before assuming his current office.

“The Vice President had no meetings with any individual associated with the Russian government during the campaign or transition,” Marc Lotter told TPM in an email.

The statement came after a striking interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer on Wednesday, in which Lotter appeared to dodge the same question three times.

“Did the vice president ever meet with representatives from Russia?” Hemmer asked Lotter on Wednesday.

“The vice president is not focused on the areas where — on this campaign — especially things that happened even before he was even on the ticket,” Lotter replied. “As he has said, when he joined the campaign, his entire focus was on talking to the American people.”

Hemmer let Lotter finish and tried again: “Fully aware of the statement there. Just come back to this question. If it wasn’t a private citizen from Russia, did he ever meet with representatives from the Russian government during the campaign?”

“That’s stuff that the special prosecutors and the counsels are all looking at,” Lotter said again. “I can tell you that in all my time with the vice president I knew that he was focused entirely on talking to the American people.”

“Just to nail that down so we’re clear, is that a yes or a no?” Hemmer asked. “Did he or did he not, and was it relevant in fact?”

“I’m not aware of anything that I have seen,” Lotter said. “All of the focus that I saw with vice president Pence during the campaign and since then has been focused on working the agenda that the people sent him to Washington to accomplish.”

The dodges on Wednesday came after two assertions made by Pence on Jan. 15 — that no one in the Trump campaign met with Russians who were trying to meddle in the election, and that then-National Security Adviser designate Michael Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak — were proven to be incorrect.

On Tuesday, Lotter told TPM in an email that “[t]he Vice President was not aware of the meeting,” between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016.

As revealed in emails published by Trump Jr. shortly before a New York Times report on them, the meeting came after an associate of the Trump family, Rob Goldstone, promised Trump Jr. a meeting with a Russian lawyer with dirt on Hillary Clinton provided as part of the Russian government’s effort to aide Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

H/t HuffPost.

This post has been updated.

President Donald Trump expressed frustration on Wednesday at Senate Republicans’ failure, so far, to repeal and replace Obamacare and make deep cuts to Medicaid.

“I am sitting in the Oval Office with a pen in hand, waiting for our senators to give it to me,” Trump told Pat Robertson, the conservative Christian founder of Christian Broadcasting Network. “For years, they’ve been talking about repeal-replace, repeal-replace.”

Mediaite noted it was Trump’s first interview with an outlet that wasn’t Fox News in more than two months.

Trump said congressional Republicans’ votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration “didn’t mean anything,” undercutting Republicans’ frequent boasts that the symbolic repeal votes showed their resolve to get rid of the legislation.

“Now we have a President that’s waiting to sign it,” Trump said, referring to the Obamacare repeal bill. “I have pen in hand, so now it means something. You know, those other times, those many, many times, that they passed it, it didn’t mean anything.”

Senate Republicans have been hesitant to line up behind the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the conference’s bill to repeal Obamacare and make deep cuts to Medicaid. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delayed the Senate’s scheduled August recess for two weeks on Tuesday in an effort to allow more time to wrangle Republican votes for the bill.

“We have 52 senators,” the President added. “It’s very hard to get… We need almost all of them. You need almost all of them and that’s the hold up. And states are somewhat different. But with all of that being said, it has to get passed. They have to do it. They have to get together and get it done.”

“What will happen if they don’t?” Robertson asked.

“Well, I don’t even want to talk about it because I think it would be very bad,” Trump said. “I will be very angry about it, and a lot of people will be very upset. But I’m sitting, waiting for that bill to come to my desk. I hope that they do it. They’ve been promising it for years. They’ve been promising it ever since Obamacare, which is failed. It’s a failed experiment. It is totally gone. It’s out of business and we have to get this done. Repeal and replace.”

“He’s got to pull it off. Mitch has to pull it off,” he added, referring to McConnell. “He’s working very hard. He’s got to pull it off.”

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