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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 second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in a recorded conversation last summer that he thought then-candidate Donald Trump was being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Spokespeople insist he made the comment in jest.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made the remark in a private conversation with fellow Republican leaders on June 15, according to the report. A month earlier, McCarthy had signed up as a Republican National Convention delegate for Trump.

McCarthy and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had just come from separate meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who spoke with the two leaders about Russian military aggression in his country and that country’s efforts to undercut democracies across Europe, according to the report. They were joined in the private conversation by GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

The Post published a full transcript of the publication tape here, but here’s the relevant portion from the original report:

“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.

Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.

“There’s… there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added.

“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.

Some lawmakers laughed at that.

“No leaks, alright?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” Scalise said.

“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added.

Spokespeople for Ryan and McCarthy told the Post, respectively: “That never happened,” and “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.” Both said the exchange could be called an attempt at humor.

On Twitter, the Ryan spokesman, Brendan Buck, claimed that “I was not originally given quotes – just a crazy assertion that leaders believed Putin was paying Trump and trying to shield it.” Post editor Scott Wilson responded: “This is not true.”

Asked by NBC about the comment, McCarthy said that “it was a bad attempt of a joke. There’s a reason why I’m not a comedian.”

Read the Post’s full report here.

This post has been updated.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, one of the nation’s most controversial and outspoken local law enforcement officials, claimed Wednesday that he’d accepted a position with the Department of Homeland Security. However, in a tweet shortly after his announcement, DHS appeared to distance itself from Clarke.

Clarke, who spoke at the Republican National Convention last summer, is an outspoken critic of anti-police brutality movements like Black Lives Matter and frequently takes to social media to bolster his tough guy image.

He crowed about accepting a position in the Trump administration in an interview with WISN’s Vicki McKenna.

“I will be leaving the position of sheriff to accept an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position by Secretary Kelly, working for the Trump administration.”

Neither the White House nor DHS immediately responded Wednesday afternoon to TPM’s requests for comment. Clarke told McKenna that he would be working in the “Office of Partnership and Programs” (he likely meant the Office of Partnership and Engagement), liaising with state, local governments and tribal governments, as well as the private sector and law enforcement.

That position does not require Senate confirmation, which Juliette Kayyem, who served in the same DHS office during the Obama administration, said was a result of the department’s hasty beginnings.

“No one really ever had an incentive to fix it,” she told TPM in an interview. “Maybe they will now.”

“One of the things that I have heard in speaking to several of those entities is they feel they’re being ignored,” Clarke said later in the interview, stressing his experience at the local level.

“If we’re going to be successful in defending this homeland, then we have to make sure that those gaps don’t exist,” he added, referring to information lapses between different levels of government.

Clarke has had a highly controversial tenure as county sheriff, and that may even be an understatement.

On May 1, an inquest jury recommended charges against seven officials at the Milwaukee County Jail, run by Clarke, where inmate Terrill Thomas died of dehydration after officials cut off the water to his cell for seven days straight.

In March, an former inmate sued the same jail for keeping her shackled during childbirth in 2013 — and for every other hospitalization during her pregnancy — due to a jail policy requiring it.

Four people died in the jail last year, the Associated Press reported in March, including the newborn child of another woman, Shadé Swayzer.

Kayyem told TPM that Clarke’s appointment would be “one hostile act to the homeland,” and predicted he would face difficulty working with the wide range of state and local stakeholders that rely upon the office, given his political volatility and inexperience with the federal government.

“I wish I could be in the room when the New York police commissioner, [James P.] O’Neill, sits in a room with him, and Sheriff Clarke starts going off on the needs of our homeland security,” she said. “It’s going to be fun.”

“Sheriff Clarke, objectively, should not be serving in the federal government,” she added separately. “Everything about him is horrifying.”

This post has been updated.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday called for ousted FBI Director James Comey to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a public setting.

“I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days,” McConnell said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“I think we need to hear from him about whatever he has to say about the events of recent days, as soon as possible, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in public,” he added.

The New York Times and several other outlets reported Tuesday that in February, Trump had urged Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey reportedly documented the request in a memo at the time.

McConnell’s office later said in a statement to the Journal: “It’s appropriate and timely for the Senate to hear directly from former Director James Comey in a public setting as part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation.”

Shortly after he was fired, Comey declined to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. An unnamed close associate of Comey’s later told the New York Times that the ousted FBI director would be willing to testify, but only in a public setting.

Since the Times’ bombshell report on Tuesday, a bipartisan swath of Congress has come out in support of Comey testifying publicly.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) on Wednesday quietly deleted a Twitter post from last week in which she lauded President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

In the original post, Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, posted an image of the letter Trump sent to Comey with the additional commentary: “Best. Termination. Letter. Ever.”

The deletion was flagged by NBC’s Dafna Linzer, who published a screengrab of Cheney’s original post and had earlier commented that the letter “may just turn out to be historic.”

The website Politwoops, a project by ProPublica that tracks politicians’ deleted tweets, marked the post as having been published last week and deleted Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Trump had pressured Comey in mid-February to end the FBI’s investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

President Donald Trump’s son appeared to confirm on Wednesday that his father had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to cut ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “some slack” before quickly backing away from that interpretation.

Donald Trump Jr., who runs the President’s business empire along with his brother, Eric, replied “truth” to a tweet from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera asserting that it would not be obstruction for Donald Trump to ask the FBI director to go easy on a “good man” like Flynn:

When NPR’s Domenico Montanaro‏ asked Trump Jr. if his affirmation meant that he was confirming Rivera’s description of Trump’s actions, Trump Jr. protested the premise of the question:

The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Trump had asked Comey to quash the FBI’s investigation into Flynn during an Oval Office meeting in February, one day after Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey said Trump told him, according to a memo described to the Times and other news outlets. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Trump Jr. later reposted a criticism of the Times and other outlets’ reporting:

The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday accused the Trump White House of “obstructing our investigation” of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) made the charge in a presser with other top House Democrats, where he and the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA), called for an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. House Democrats previously announced their intent to use a procedural maneuver to force an up-or-down vote in that chamber Wednesday on a bill that would establish an independent commission. The maneuver is unlikely to succeed, though, because it would force House Republicans to buck their leadership.

After reports Tuesday that President Donald Trump had urged then-FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Cummings observed “this perhaps provides us with an answer as to why we haven’t been able to get one single syllable from the White House.”

The Oversight Committee’s top Democrat then further Wednesday by saying that the White House was “obstructing” his committee’s investigation. He applauded committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) threat to subpoena the FBI for Comey’s memo laying out Trump’s alleged request to nix the Flynn probe, but Cummings noted that same lever could have been used against the White House months ago—and should be used now.

“In March, just a month after the President allegedly pressured Director Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Chairman Chaffetz and I sent a bipartisan letter to the White House requesting documents relating to General Flynn,” Cummings said. “But the White House completely refused.”

“The White House is obstructing our investigation, covering up for General Flynn, and refusing to provide a single document,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. He looked up from the text and added: “Not a single syllable. Zilch. Nothing.”

Cummings was one signatory on a letter, co-signed by every Democrat on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees Tuesday, demanding from their Republican chairmen a joint investigation of the President and other top White House officials.

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) recounted Flynn’s history with Trump and called for both an independent commission and a independent counsel to look into Trump and his allies’ potential ties to Russia.

“The commission brings an independent body completely removed from political considerations to give the country the confidence of knowing that that body will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

The independent counsel was necessary, Schiff argued, because “the independent commission doesn’t make prosecutorial decisions.” While he said career Justice Department prosecutors were no doubt qualified, he noted the public needed to have buy-in, too.

“Given all of the circumstances I’ve relayed just in this one case, I think the argument for independent counsel is quite profound,” Schiff said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Wednesday that he supported “gathering the facts” with respect to President Donald Trump, while making it known that he believes “there are some people out there who want to harm the President.”

In his weekly press conference, Ryan was asked whether he thought that Trump was trying to “influence or intimidate” then-FBI Director James Comey when he allegedly asked Comey to quash an investigation into Michael Flynn, the day after the former national security adviser had been fired. Comey took down their conversation in a memo at the time, according to the New York Times.

“Do you still have the same level of confidence in President Trump that you had on Inauguration Day?” a reporter asked Ryan.

“Let me tell you what I told our members just this morning: We need the facts,” the House speaker said. “It is obvious that there are some people out there who want to harm the President. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House. And that means, before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information.”

Ryan noted that the House Oversight Committee already had requested Comey’s memo.

“And I’m sure we’re going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why he didn’t take action at the time,” he continued. “So there are a lot of unanswered questions. What I told our members is, now is the time to gather all the pertinent information. Our job is to be responsible, sober and focus only on gathering the facts.”

A reporter asked Ryan if he thought Comey should testify before Congress in an open hearing.

“I will leave it to the committees that are doing these investigations,” Ryan said, noting that there were investigations ongoing in the House, Senate and FBI, and that he would not “micromanage” them.

“The point is this,” he said. “We can’t deal with speculation and innuendo, and there is clearly a lot of politics being played. Our job is to get the facts and t0 be sober about doing that.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Tuesday night described the scandals currently roiling the White House as “of Watergate size and scale.”

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to quash his bureau’s investigation of Michael Flynn the day after Flynn’s firing as national security adviser. Comey documented the request in a memo at the time, according to the report.

Later in the evening, McCain spoke to CBS’ Bob Schieffer about the news at the International Republican Institute’s Freedom Dinner.

“The only thing I can say is, I think we’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “I think it’s reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It’s a centipede that the shoe continues to drop. And every couple of days, there’s a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.”

“And you know, my friends, none of us — no matter what our political leanings are, no matter how we feel about Trump — feel this is not good for America,” McCain continued. “We’ve got a crowded agenda, particularly speaking as a Republican. We have to do reform of Obamacare and replacement. We have to work on the tax reform. We have a number of agenda items, and I have to honestly speak the truth to my Republican friends, I don’t see how you can say that just the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is enough of a record for us to stand before the American people in 2018.”

Watch below via CBS:

During a discussion of recent revelations surrounding the White House, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) made it clear Tuesday that he thought the only clear criminals so far in the Trump administration was the “weasel” who leaked information to the press about Trump’s recent meeting with Russian diplomats, and other leakers.

In an interview, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum asked Risch, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, how he would respond to Democrats’ calls for an independent or special prosecutor to investigate the President and his associates’ possible ties to Russia, in light of two bombshell stories Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared highly classified information with two top Russian officials that the United States’ had been provided by an ally, which the New York Times identified Tuesday as Israel.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Times reported that Trump had asked Comey to stop the FBI’s investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Risch downplayed Trump’s sharing of classified intelligence with the Russians, saying that he was within his legal right and that Presidents often discuss classified information with other nations. He emphasized, rather, that someone had committed a crime by leaking details of Trump’s exchange with the Russians to the media.

“Now, someone committed a crime here,” he said. “There is a weasel. And that person is the person who got a hold of the information that happened in that meeting between the President and the foreign minister of Russia. And that was classified information that this person got a hold of and they leaked it to the New York Times. That’s a felony. It is un-American. They endangered the lives of their families and other Americans. That person is guilty of treason and should be held to answer for it.”

He called on the Times — though the Post first reported the story on Trump sharing classified intelligence with Russia — to identify their source so that the person could be charged criminally.

In an interview with CNN a few minutes before his Fox appearance, Risch named the publication correctly as the Washington Post.

Earlier, Risch told MacCallum that he didn’t “know anything about the latest on the FBI situation,” but that “it strikes me that I used to be a prosecutor. If somebody came to me and asked me to squelch an investigation, I would have been screaming bloody murder about it and told the world. So I don’t know.”

He later said that he thought Comey would have an obligation to share evidence of obstruction of justice should he have thought that was what Trump was doing.

The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday described a New York Times report that President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to stop his investigation of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as “a smoking gun with a lot of dark smoke.”

In an interview, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD): “Do you see that potentially as an obstruction of justice?”

“Yes I do, simple as that,” Cummings said. “I think the President has been — has had basically — he hasn’t had to answer to anybody, really, up to now. And now he stepped over the line. Clearly we’ve got a smoking gun with a lot of dark smoke. And it is very, very unfortunate and I think it’s a sad day for our country.”

Blitzer asked if the report described an incident that was “potentially impeachable, if it’s an obstruction of justice?”

“I think we’re going to have to look into it a little bit further, Wolf. But I would think so,” Cummings said.

He added that his committee had requested records from the White House on Flynn’s hiring and firing, among other issues.

“Now this perhaps provides us with an answer as to why we haven’t been able to get one single syllable from the White House,” he said.

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