Mshuham2

Matt Shuham

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 mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

President Donald Trump on Monday conceded that he made mistakes when filling out his Cabinet.

During a roundtable event in Florida, Trump said that “not all of my choices were good, but they were great ones,” referring to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, respectively.

Dozens of senior administration officials have left the White House for greener pastures or been fired.

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The Government Accountability Office declared Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law by spending more than $43,000 on a soundproof booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office.

“[W]e conclude that EPA violated section 710 [of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act] when it obligated $43,238.68 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without providing advance notice to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Thomas H. Armstrong, the GAO’s general counsel, wrote. “Further, because EPA obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law, we conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act.”

The ruling came in response to several letters — from Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Udall (D-NM) — asking office to look into the expense. But they’re far from the only lawmakers asking tough questions about Pruitt’s behavior as EPA administrator.

The Washington Post first reported on the sound booth’s construction in September of last year. A spokesperson for the agency told the paper that it would serve as a SCIF — a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — and that such secure rooms were “something which a number, if not all, Cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated.”

Still, agency employees told the paper that the EPA already had such a facility, and the Associated Press later reported that EPA employees rarely handle sensitive government secrets.

Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment in December that the expense was justified.

“Cabinet level officials need to have access to secure communications,” Pruitt said. “It’s necessary for me to be able to do my job.” Later that month, the EPA’s investigator general said his office would investigate the expense.

In March, the Post reported that, rather than costing around $25,000, as was previously reported, the secure booth would add up to $43,000 including installation and other expenses.

The GAO didn’t rule on the necessity of a secure room for Pruitt to make private calls, only the legality of the EPA’s paying for it. “We draw no conclusions regarding whether the installation of the privacy booth was the only, or the best, way for EPA to provide a secure telephone line for the Administrator,” its letter to lawmakers said.

Still, the necessity of the booth is itself in question, and part of a larger pattern of expenses (and unfulfilled requests of Pruitt’s) that critics have said are excessive. The EPA has spent millions of dollars on an oversized security detail for Pruitt, for example, and has justified excessive travel costs by arguing that Pruitt needed to fly first class because he faced an “unprecedented” number of death threats. That claim is now severely in question, to say the least.

And an Associated Press reported earlier this month point to a pattern of retribution against EPA officials who spoke out against unusual spending requests, like a bulletproof desk or a $100,000 monthly private jet membership.

Behind it all: Pruitt’s chief of security, Nino Perrotta, who has, according to EPA employees, both authorized the extreme expenses and lashed out at those who question them.

Last week, lawmakers revealed that a former Trump campaign official and now-sidelined EPA staffer, Kevin Chmielewski, had alleged that Perrotta threatened him after he refused to retroactively authorize Pruitt’s decision to fly first class with an EPA staffer from Morocco to the United States.

Perotta “said that he was going to go to Mr. Chmielewski’s home and forcibly retrieve his EPA parking pass and that he ‘didn’t give a f—k who is on this call,’” Chmielewski said, according to lawmakers whose staffs had interviewed him.

Read the GAO’s opinion below:

This post has been updated.

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Despite President Donald Trump’s increasingly aggressive positioning on Russia in recent months, he has been reluctant or even angry about confronting that country, the Washington Post reported Sunday night.

The Post painted a picture of Trump in a stand-off with top foreign policy advisers on moves seen to be anti-Russian: expelling a large number of Russian diplomats following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, for example, or allowing the sale of weapons to Ukraine.

“For some reason, when it comes to Russia, he doesn’t hear the praise,” an unnamed senior administration official said, referring to the weapons sales to Ukraine. “Politically speaking, the best thing for him to do is to be tough. . . . On that one issue, he cannot hear the praise.”

The Post described Trump’s rage at discovering, after the fact, that the United States’ expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats following the Skripal poisonings far outnumbered key European allies.

“If you had told me France and Germany were only doing [four], that’s what we would have done,” Trump said, one unnamed official told the Post.

It may have been a simple misunderstanding. Trump had previously instructed aides to “match their numbers,” according to a unnamed senior administration official, presumably referring to individual countries, rather than the European sum.

Still, the President was reportedly furious: “There were curse words,” the unnamed official recalled, “a lot of curse words.”

Read the Post’s full report here.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) issued a wordy apology on Sunday after he essentially said, two days earlier, that protesting teachers were partially responsible for the sexual abuse of children.

“Clearly, a tremendous number of people did not fully appreciate what it was that I was communicating,” Bevin said, referring to his earlier comments.

Schools shut down across the state Friday as teachers protested for additional education funding and against recent changes to the state’s pension system.

Bevin said of the protesters: “Children were harmed — some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time — because they were vulnerable and left alone.”

On Sunday, Bevin said “I’m sorry,” but buffered the apology with about four minutes of wordy passive voice.

“I apologize for those who have been hurt by the things that were said. It was not my intent whatsoever,” the governor said.

“It’s my responsibility to represent you — not only when I’m speaking to you, but when I’m speaking on your behalf — in ways that are clear, that are understood, that don’t hurt people and don’t confuse people,” he added, addressing public employees. “And so to the extent that I do that well, great, and to the times when I don’t do it well, that’s on me.”

“I do again— I’m sorry for those of you, every single of one of you, that has been hurt by things that I have said.”

Watch below:

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House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Sunday defended special counsel Robert Mueller from attacks by President Donald Trump following the Monday raids of Trump’s lawyer’s home, hotel and office.

Trump called the raids, which were later revealed to be part of a months-long criminal probe of his lawyer, Michael Cohen, “disgraceful” and “a whole new level of unfairness.”

Trump has blamed Mueller for what he characterized — incorrectly — as a break in. As Gowdy pointed out, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York actually oversaw the raids, after a referral from Mueller and approvals from the Justice Department and a judge.

“I don’t know what Mueller was supposed to do other than what he did,” Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday”’s Chris Wallace. “When a prosecutor comes in contact with information or evidence of a crime, what are you supposed to do, other than to refer it to the appropriate jurisdiction?”

“How this is Mueller’s fault just defies logic to me,” he added later.

Gowdy announced in January that he would not seek another term in Congress. He’s said a number of times that Trump should cooperate with Mueller’s probe.

At one point in the Sunday interview, Wallace asked about a proposal floated recently by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon advised Trump to “make this political” by firing Rosenstein, one among a number of hugely controversial potential moves.

“I don’t know who would take advice from Steve Bannon,” Gowdy said, before noting that while Trump had the authority to fire Rosenstein, he didn’t think such a move would be wise.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that President Donald Trump had no plans to fire special counsel Robert Mueller or remove Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from overseeing Mueller’s investigation, at least to her knowledge.

“I’m not aware of any plans to make those movements,” Sanders told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

“We’re continuing to be cooperative, but we do have some real concerns with some of the activities and some of the scope that the investigation has gone,” she added.

And, despite the multiple guilty pleas Mueller has secured, Sanders asserted that his office and the several congressional committees investigating Russian election interference have “come up with nothing.”

“I think it really is getting time to move on,” Sanders said.

She later declined to discuss the specifics of Trump’s call with Michael Cohen on Friday.

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Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Sunday that he expected criminal charges to be revealed against President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, within 90 days.

“I strongly believe that within the next 90 days we’re going to see an unsealing of an indictment against Mr. Cohen for a host of very serious offenses, and I believe, Jake, that is going to be a significant domino that’s going to fall in connection with this,” Avenatti said told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday.

“I think he can be indicted for bank fraud, wire fraud, campaign finance violations,” Avenatti added. “I think there is a whole host of potential criminal conduct that could be charged. According to his attorneys, the FBI seized thousands if not millions of pages of documents in connection with the raids going back some 30 years. This guy is radioactive right now, and this is not going to end well.”

Avenatti and his client, who goes by the name Stormy Daniels professionally, had previously sued Trump over Clifford’s right to tell the story of her alleged affair with the President. In 2016, Clifford signed an NDA covering the alleged affair that she now argues is invalid because Trump didn’t sign it. Clifford also sued Cohen for defamation after, she said, Cohen implied she was lying about the affair.

Cohen’s home, office and hotel room were raided Monday as part of what prosecutors later revealed was a months-long investigation of his business practices, among other matters.

Avenatti said Clifford is set to attend the Monday hearing at which Cohen will present a client list to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, part of his attempt to argue that documents seized in the raids are protected under attorney-client privilege.

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In several tweets Sunday morning, President Donald Trump mentioned the recent military strikes he ordered in Syria — and obsessed over former FBI Director James Comey.

Some of these points are misleading, if well-worn by the President. For example, Trump has said before that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “got $700,000 from H[illary Clinton]” for his wife Dr. Jill McCabe’s campaign for the Virginia state senate. In reality, that money came from the Virginia Democratic Party and a political action committee associated with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

And James Comey said in a soon-to-air interview that his assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency affected his behavior before the election, but in a manner that helped Trump. Comey decided to release a letter, days before the presidential election, that the FBI was re-opening its probe of Clinton’s email server. That helped Trump and hurt Clinton, not the other way around.

“I don’t remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been because I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I’m sure that it was a factor,” Comey told George Stephanopoulos in an interview set to air Sunday ahead of the release of his new book. 

After the former FBI director told the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath last year that Trump asked for his loyalty, Trump responded by saying he would be willing to refute that claim under oath. Since then, despite his tweet Sunday, he’s appeared less likely to fulfill that promise.

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The President’s personal lawyer announced his intention to potentially plead the Fifth Amendment in a defamation suit involving the President’s alleged affair with a porn star, the porn star’s lawyer said Thursday.

“We’ve learned moments ago, within the last two hours, that Michael Cohen will be filing a motion tomorrow in our case, an emergency motion to stay — or temporarily stop — our case,” Michael Avenatti, adult film star Stephanie Clifford’s attorney, told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace.

“The grounds for that motion are going to be that it is his intention to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if our case goes forward, in light of potential criminal jeopardy that he finds himself in,” Avenatti continued. “So this is a stunning development.”

Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, sued Trump for the right to tell her story despite a non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2016 covering the alleged affair. She’s argued that the agreement is invalid without Trump’s signature. She also recently sued Trump and Cohen for defamation over their implications, she asserted, that she was lying about the affair. The suit includes several other assertions.

Cohen’s home, hotel room and office were raided Monday. Several outlets reported that investigators were looking for, among other things, details regarding the hush money payment he made to Clifford.

Avenatti told Wallace that he and Clifford would oppose the stay, noting that Cohen “knows where a lot of bodies are buried.”

“We’re cooperating extensively with attorneys from the Southern District of New York office of the U.S. Attorney,” he added later, referring to the U.S. attorney’s office that oversaw the Cohen raids. Avenatti did not elaborate on the extent of that cooperation.

Watch below via MSNBC’s “Deadline White House:”

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On Wednesday, conservative radio host Erick Erickson published something utterly captivating: a transcribed conversation, while strolling through a Washington, D.C. Safeway, with an unnamed Republican congressman.

The congressman, to say the least, was feeling frustrated with the President.

“I say a lot of shit on TV defending him, even over this. But honestly, I wish the motherf*cker would just go away. We’re going to lose the House, lose the Senate, and lose a bunch of states because of him. All his supporters will blame us for what we have or have not done, but he hasn’t led. He wakes up in the morning, sh*ts all over Twitter, sh*ts all over us, sh*ts all over his staff, then hits golf balls. F*ck him. Of course, I can’t say that in public or I’d get run out of town.”

Indeed.

Well, we’re going to try to introduce some accountability here. It’s impolite to speak about our commander in chief that way, and TPM believes this Republican’s constituents have a right to know what he really thinks.

Erickson and his anonymous interlocutor, as it happened, left a trail of breadcrumbs:

The congressman — not a congresswoman — comes from a “very Republican” “district Trump won,” “has been a regular supporter [of Trump] on Fox News and elsewhere” and remembers the congressional cafeteria during Nancy Pelosi’s speakership (either as a lawmaker, a congressional staffer or a guest).

He also shops at Safeway, has known Erickson for some time, can’t believe Forrest Gump won the Oscar over The Shawshank Redemption, may drink Folgers and uses expressions like “like a green fly circling shit.”

In an interview Wednesday night on CNN, Erickson narrowed it down some more: the congressman isn’t a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he had come back to D.C. for the Facebook hearing, and “he doesn’t want to lose re-election or have a primary challenge” — an indication that he does not currently face a primary challenger.

Will this congressman’s career end in a Safeway? If you’re interested in finding out, join our investigative effort here.

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