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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 reminded farmers on Monday how lucky they were to have had the chance to vote for him.

Speaking to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Trump celebrated the repeal of the estate tax contained in Republicans’ tax cut bill, which he signed into law in December.

Fewer than 700 estates rich enough to pay the tax in 2016 had any farm assets at all, CNN reported in October, but that didn’t stop the wave of applause that greeted Trump when he claimed to have “spared” his audience the “punishment of the deeply unfair estate tax, known as the death tax.”

“Get up!” he urged his audience, who obliged.

“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” Trump purred later. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”

He brought up the farm bill, which is passed every five years and, among many other things, provides financial assistance to the agricultural sector through subsidies and other programs.

“And I support a bill that includes crop insurance, unless you don’t want me to,” he half joked, again to applause.

“I guess you like it right? Good. Because if I heard no applause I’d say ‘Forget it, give it up.’ Now I can’t do that.”

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Former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka wrote Monday that he had been told to participate in Michael Wolff’s blockbuster book, “Fire and Fury,” which asserts that President Donald Trump’s own inner circle believes him to be unfit to serve.

Gorka, now a contributor at Fox News, admitted in an op-ed in the Hill that he hadn’t read the book — “I refuse to buy the book of a man who so avowedly holds what, in a previous age, we would have called treasonous goals, but I have read the publicly released excerpts” — but described his interactions with Wolff, who he called “oleaginous.”

He wrote that he had been “told” to speak to Wolff.

“[W]hen I met Michael Wolff in Reince Priebus’ office, where he was waiting to talk to Steve Bannon, and after I had been told to also speak to him for his book, my attitude was polite but firm: ‘Thanks but no thanks,’” Gorka wrote.

Given that top White House staffer Stephen Miller on Sunday called the book a “grotesque work of fiction” and President Donald Trump himself called the work “boring and untruthful” and “Fake,” the admission from Gorka, who left his White House job in August under contested circumstances, is notable. Gorka and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were colleagues at Breitbart before working in the White House. 

Bannon — now fully out of the Trump circle after telling Wolff that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians was “treasonous” — hasn’t denied that he spoke to Wolff.

Trump has denied talking to Wolff for the book, though the author counted three hours that he’d had with the President before and after the 2016 election.

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NBC on Monday deleted and explained away a tweet it had published during the Golden Globes Sunday night referring to Oprah Winfrey as “OUR future president.”

“Nothing but respect for OUR future president #GoldenGlobes” the tweet read, above a photo of Oprah at the awards show, where she received the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

A follow-up dispatch came the next morning:

During his monologue Sunday night, Golden Globes host Seth Meyers recounted jokes he made at Donald Trump’s expense during the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.

“In 2011, I told some jokes about our current President at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, jokes about how he was unqualified to be president. Some have said that night convinced him to run,”  Meyers said. ”So if that’s true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes!”

Oprah’s speech, a hopeful rumination on the impact of the #MeToo movement and recent reporting on workplace sexual harassment, was seen by some political commentators as the opening move for a 2020 presidential bid.

Winfrey’s partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times that “[i]t’s up to the people” if she runs for president. “She would absolutely do it,” he said.

And CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that two unnamed close friends of Winfrey’s said she was “actively thinking” of running — a possibility she didn’t rule out in a March 2017 interview.

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Update, 1:47 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect a new statement from the New Jersey Department of Corrections reversing a ban at some prisons on “The New Jim Crow.”

The New Jersey Department of Corrections lifted a ban at some state prisons on Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed 2010 book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” following scrutiny that began with an ACLU public records request.

In a statement reported by WHYY’s Joe Hernandez, NJDOC said it would lift book’s ban in all facilities where it had been in effect, in addition to reviewing the department’s policy and current banned books lists.

The restriction had been notable, given the book’s focus on what it characterizes as a racial caste system perpetuated through harsh drug laws and mass incarceration, even as thousands of books are banned from prisons nationwide.

Several outlets reported Monday on the open records request, and on the ACLU’s response: that the prisons were illegally blocking the book based on its content, rather than any danger or hinderance it posed to the facilities’ operation.

“It is one thing to prevent incarcerated people from reading how-to manuals about lock picking; it is something altogether different to deny people access to a book that ‘offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration,’” ACLU-NJ staff attorney Tess Borden and senior supervising attorney Alexander Shalom wrote Monday to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, quoting a review of Alexander’s book from Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP.

“The banning of a particular book such as The New Jim Crow — as compared, for example, to a ban on hardcovers — represents content-based censorship on publications,” they added later, before citing the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley and Thornburgh v. Abbott. “Such censorship is lawful only upon a showing that the prohibition is ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'”

Aside from First Amendment violations, the ACLU lawyers wrote that the ban also violated the New Jersey Administrative Code, which specifies that prisons can only ban publications containing information about drugs when the material “is detrimental to the secure and orderly operation” of the prisons.

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Tina Johnson, who accused failed Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her in his office in 1991, lost everything she and her family owned when her home was destroyed in a fire Tuesday, Al.com reported.

“I am devastated, just devastated,” she told the outlet Friday. “We have just the clothes on our backs.”

“That fire is still under investigation by the Etowah County Arson Task Force,” a public information officer for the Etowah County Sherriff’s Department, Natalie Barton, told Al.com. “A suspect of interest is being spoken to. But there have been no charges, to my knowledge, related to the fire at this time.”

Johnson and a neighbor, Kevin Tallant, told Al.com that other neighbors had seen someone the publication described as “a young man who had a history of public intoxication” walking around Johnson’s home before the fire.

Johnson said another neighbor, who was not named, told her the unnamed man asked her “if he thought Johnson’s house was going to burn,” in the publication’s words. The neighbor didn’t know what he was talking about because the flames weren’t visible at the time, Al.com reported.

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Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was hospitalized Friday for a bacterial infection in his knee, his office confirmed to TPM. 

“Congressman Cummings was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital for a bacterial infection in his knee,” press secretary Molly Forgey said in a statement emailed to TPM. “Doctors drained the infection in a minor procedure today. He is resting comfortably and expects a full recovery.”

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s wife, suspended her bid for Maryland’s governorship shortly before news surfaced of his condition, Politico reported. The outlet first reported his hospitalization, citing three unnamed sources.

“Making a positive and direct contribution to the state of Maryland and to our nation was my greatest motivating factor for stepping into the public arena. Unfortunately, due to personal considerations, I am suspending my bid for governor of Maryland,” Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said in a statement quoted by Politico.

The Baltimore Sun reported that a spokesperson for Cummings’ campaign didn’t answer whether the suspension was related to her husband’s heath, but multiple unnamed sources told Politico that it was.

Cummings, the 66-year-old ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, underwent what aides said was a minimally invasive heart surgery in May, and was sidelined for several months by an infection afterwards.

It’s unclear whether Cummings’ hospitalization Monday was related to his health troubles from last year.

This post has been updated. 

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday of President Donald Trump: “I’ve never questioned his mental fitness.”

CNN, to whom the United States’ top diplomat gave the remark in an interview, said Tillerson was responding to a question about Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump’s White House.”

In an interview Friday morning, Wolff told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that “100 percent” of the people around Trump question his intelligence and fitness for office.

Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” at a July meeting at the Pentagon, a report he did not deny when given the chance. (“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he told an inquiring reporter.)

Tillerson told CNN that he intended to stay in his job “for the whole year” and that his relationship with the President “is a developing one.”

“In terms of what I would do different, I’m going to build on my ability to communicate with the President better,” he told the outlet. “I had to learn is what is effective with this President. He is not a typical of Presidents of the past. I think that’s well recognized. That’s also the why the American people chose him.”

Responding to Wolff’s reporting on Trump’s apparently short attention span, CNN reported, Tillerson said “I have never seen the President leave a meeting with a foreign leader.”

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Friday that President Donald Trump “has a legitimate right to say that he was betrayed” by Attorney General Jeff Sessions due to Sessions’ recusal from matters relating to Russia, which in turn led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The American people, now, are getting a taste of what people in Washington have known over this last year, and that is Jeff Sessions betrays the people who have had faith in him,” Rohrabacher told CNN’s Ana Cabrera in an interview.

The New York Times reported Thursday, citing two unnamed people’s knowledge of the episode, that Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to lobby Sessions not to recuse himself.

“When he recused himself from this whole Russia thing,” Rohrabacher said of Sessions, “he knew he was setting in motion the establishment of a special prosecutor. And a special prosecutor, as happens in Washington, we understand, is just giving unlimited power to someone to go after you, and not just you but to go after anybody they want to go after.”

Rohrabacher — who is known in the context of the Russia investigation for his favorable view of Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange and others — said he’s been an “open book” with “everybody who wants to talk to me,” when asked if he had spoken to Mueller’s investigators.

But the special counsel’s investigation, he said, had gone much further than the issue at hand.

“No, I don’t have confidence in Robert Mueller,” he said. “Special prosecutors should be brought in specifically to look at specific actions.”

Rohrabacher, a longtime advocate for states’ rights to determine their own marijuana laws, also faulted Sessions for betraying President Trump’s stated commitment during the 2016 campaign to maintain a hands-off policy when it came to marijuana laws.

“It’s not Trump who is betraying the campaign promise, it’s Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, [who] is betraying Trump and the rest of us,” Rohrabacher said. “The President made his position clear. Jeff Sessions now is going in the opposite direction from what the President actually committed during the election.”

“This shows you what happens when you have an attorney general who is not loyal to someone who has been elected by the people on a specific issue,” he added. “And Sessions betrayed us on this, and he’s betrayed the President on the special prosecutor for the Russia collusion that never existed.”

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The President is mad online.

That in itself isn’t unusual, but perhaps Donald Trump’s anger is slightly more pronounced after the early publication of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolff’s access-fueled accounting of the President’s tumultuous tenure, based on the named and unnamed testimony of those who work with him.

“I never spoke to him for book,” the President grunted Thursday night. (Wolff said that isn’t true.)

It continued: 

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Michael Wolff, author of the buzzy book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” said Friday that President Donald Trump’s protestations about the book’s accuracy — including a cease and desist letter from Trump’s lawyers to Wolff’s publisher — come from someone “who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point.”

“He’s helping me prove the point of the book,” Wolff said on NBC’s “Today,” referring to Trump’s attempts to shut it down. “This is extraordinary that a President of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book.”

NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Wolff about Trump’s claim, in a tweet Thursday night, that “I never spoke to him for book.”

“I absolutely spoke to the President,” Wolff said. “Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know. But it certainly was not off the record.”

“I’ve spent about three hours with the President over the course of the campaign and in the White House,” he continued. “So my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”

The author admitted to saying “whatever was necessary to get the story,” when asked about his incredible access to the White House and its staff, and acknowledged that his reporting was necessarily based on obscuring the sources of individual tidbits of information.

I want to be careful about who I spoke to, because the nature of this kind of book is you kind of grant everyone a veil,” he said.

“I work like every journalist works,” Wolff said. “I have recordings, I have notes. I am certainly and absolutely, in every way, comfortable with everything I’ve reported in this book.”

“One hundred percent of the people around him” questioned the President’s intelligence and fitness for office, Wolff said.

That apparently includes his family: Jared and Ivanka Trump, Wolff said, are in a “deep legal quagmire” and “put everything on him,” referring to the President.

“They all say he is like a child,” Wolff said, characterizing the descriptions of Trump by those around him. “He has a need for immediate gratification.”

Wolff offered one extraordinary observation: The President’s closest advisers notice him repeating stories after increasingly short intervals of time.

“What’s the suggestion there?” Guthrie asked. “That goes beyond saying ‘Okay, the President’s not an intellectual.’ What are you arguing there? You say, for example, that he was at Mar-a-Lago and didn’t recognize lifelong friends.”

“I will quote Steve Bannon,” Wolff said. “He’s lost it.”

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