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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 said Thursday that he was thinking about the investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia when he fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.

Trump began an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, which the network aired in full Thursday night, by saying that he would have fired Comey regardless of Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation to him, “knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” he continued, adding: “This was an excuse for having lost an election.”

He said later that he simply wanted a “competent” FBI director, and that “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” referring to the investigation.

But he added, contradicting himself, that he had considered unilaterally attempting to “lengthen” the investigation, seemingly in order to contradict the negative optics of firing Comey. 

“When I did this now I said, I probably, maybe will confuse people, maybe I’ll expand that, you know, I’ll lengthen the time, because it should be over with, in my opinion, it should have been over with a long time ago, because all it is, is, an excuse.” 

“But I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people,” he continued, adding of Comey: “He’s the wrong man for that position.”

Watch Holt’s extended interview with Trump below. Discussion of the Democrats begins at 1:00:

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday to Rosie O’Donnell, a frequent target of his attacks, saying the pair finally agreed on something: firing James Comey.

O’Donnell wrote her tweet — in December 2016 — in response to a tweet from the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Brian Fallon. He wrote on Dec. 20 that Comey’s announcement that the FBI was re-opening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which eventually failed to change his prior conclusions about the investigation, “was as utterly unjustified as we suspected at time.”

Trump frequently antagonized O’Donnell during the presidential campaign.

However, Trump openly praised the same event — Comey’s re-opening of the Clinton email investigation just before Election Day — that prompted O’Donnell to call for Comey’s firing before Trump began his presidency.

And various anonymously sourced reports now indicate that Trump’s frustration with the investigation of his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia, not the Clinton email investigation, prompted Comey’s ouster.

The eagle-eyed Brandon Wall, who works for BuzzFeed, pointed out that O’Donnell’s tweet was posted to the group dedicated to Trump on the popular message board website Reddit around 20 minutes before Trump’s tweet.

O’Donnell seemed to respond to Trump around 30 minutes after his tweet:

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed Thursday that “legal minds,” “legal scholars” and attorneys has said that it was not improper for President Donald Trump to ask the FBI director whether or not he was under investigation.

Trump admitted in an interview Thursday that he asked now-ousted FBI Director James Comey that very question. Trump said Comey told him on three occasions he was not the target of a probe.

During the daily White House press briefing Thursday, CBS News’ Major Garrett asked Sanders why she thought it was proper for Trump to have asked Comey whether he was under investigation given that the Justice Department’s own protocols advise against the President communicating with the FBI about anything that might involve him.

Comey has never said that he told the President he wasn’t under investigation, and one unnamed associate of Comey’s told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday that Trump’s claim that Comey told him he wasn’t under investigation was “literally farcical.”

“Why is it appropriate if that’s not consistent with the guidelines at the Justice Department to avoid that very encounter?” Garrett asked.

“We’ve talked to — again, several legal scholars have weighed in on this and said there was nothing wrong with the President asking that question,” Sanders responded.

“So the Justice Department should change their protocol?” Garrett asked.

“I haven’t seen their protocol. I’m only speaking to the information I have — ” Sanders said.

“Is that what you think, or the President thinks?” Garrett interjected.

“No, it’s not what I think,” she said, noting television pundits’ analyses of Trump’s admission after the interview excerpt aired Thursday afternoon. She didn’t name anyone who supported her argument.

“I’m not an attorney. I don’t even play one on TV, but what I can tell you is what I’ve heard from legal minds and people that actually are attorneys and that’s their opinion, so I have to trust the justice system on that fact, too,” she said.

Why would President Donald Trump nominate to lead the FBI the same judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court Senate Republicans effectively filibustered a year ago?

It’s a good question. But Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) floated the idea on Twitter Thursday that Merrick Garland should be the next FBI director after James Comey’s sudden ouster.

It’s almost inconceivable that Trump would nominate Garland to lead the FBI, and in turn to take charge of the same investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia that reportedly pushed Trump to fire Comey.

But at least one Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), appeared to be on board with the proposal. (Klobuchar later hedged, noting “to be clear, this isn’t going to happen,” but that it was “a good idea for Rs to think about consensus FBI candidates.”)

The notion seems to have sprouted Wednesday night on the conservative website The Daily Caller. Kevin Daley wrote, “The strength of his resume alone could make Garland a serious candidate.”

Way down at the bottom of his piece, Daley noted what seemed like a more earnest calculation: “His appointment would also open a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Democratic appointees have a 7-4 advantage on the court, widely considered the second most important in the country, as it has jurisdiction over most federal agencies,” he wrote. “Trump’s allies in conservative legal circles would relish the prospect of another GOP appointee on the panel.

A spokesperson for Lee, Conn Carroll, told the Daily Beast: “He’s been sharing this idea with other Senate staff, and communicated this to the White House. It’s something we want the administration to take seriously. There was some interest [from White House staff].”

Klobuchar responded eagerly, at first

Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes pointed out the obvious flaw, already noted as a benefit by Daley: Garland would think twice before giving up a lifetime appointment on the extremely influential D.C. Court of Appeals to serve a 10-year term as FBI director, one which Trump demonstrated Tuesday he is willing to abruptly cut short.

This post has been updated.

A moderate Republican largely credited with cinching conservative support for House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill answered to an angry town hall Wednesday night.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) spoke to constituents in a heavily Democratic area of his district for more than four hours, largely attempting to justify the amendment he made to the American Health Care Act, credited with bringing over conservatives anxious that the bill’s first, failed iteration didn’t do enough to dismantle Obamacare. Attendees to the town hall also spent a considerable amount of time on the recent ouster of fired FBI Director James Comey.

“This is your health care bill. It was dead in the water, it could have stayed dead in the water, and now it’s the MacArthur Amendment that brought this thing forward,” attendee Derek Reichenbecher told MacArthur at one point, WNYC reported.

An amendment penned by MacArthur, the moderate Tuesday Group co-chair, and the House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) would allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s required Essential Health Benefits, and its pricing protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, under certain circumstances.

MacArthur told angry constituents Wednesday that the pricing protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions would only be waived in states that had opted out if individuals experienced a 63-day gap in insurance coverage. Critics of the amendment point out that spurts of unemployment or economic hardship often result in those gaps. Also, even insured individuals protected by Obamacare’s regulations could face higher costs as a result of the amendment’s incentivizing of dual insurance markets for healthier and sicker people.

“You have been the single greatest threat to my family in the entire world. You are the reason I stay up at night. You are the reason that I can’t sleep,” Geoff Ginter told MacArthur, Philly.com reported.

Ginter’s wife, he said, was recovering from breast cancer. But, he said, “now she also has to contend with, what if my husband loses his job?”

The Republican plan would also severely cut the expansion of Medicaid authorized by Obamacare, and would cap the program via a per capita block grant to the states, in turn limiting funds further.

“It’s not easy to stay clean,” said one attendee struggling with drug addiction, per WNYC. “And with the help that I received in Medicaid, it kept me clean for this long. What’s going to happen to us if you cut this bill? What’s going to happen with our recovery? Without it, it’s jails, institutions or death.”

“I am trying to save a system so it continues to help you,” MacArthur said, repeating the Republican line that the program’s expansion had created unsustainable growth.

Attendees also pointed out that Republicans have undermined and even sabotaged the same individual insurance market they’ve claimed their bill is an attempt to save.

“Here is my concern. After 30 years in insurance, I am watching an insurance market that is collapsing. And here is why it’s collapsing—” MacArthur began, as captured by ABC, before being cut off.

“Because you drilled holes in it!” someone yelled.

“I have a question in regards to Russia,” one attendee asked sometime later. “We seem to have a pattern that most people investigating it seem to be getting fired. Do you support an independent group investigating Russia’s ties into the 2016 election?”

“The answer is no, not yet,” MacArthur said after waiting for an outburst of cheering and heckles to die down, though his answer prompted even more heckling.

In response to a similar question, captured by the network, he explained his reasoning: “The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee did recuse himself, but that investigation is now continuing in a bipartisan manner.” The room erupted, negatively.

“It is,” he continued. “The Senate chair and the ranking member have both publicly declared that they’re working closely together on their investigation. Publicly. So you asked what I want to see. I want to see the results of their investigation.”

“How is it ever going to get finished if you keep firing the people that are conducting the investigation?” someone asked to applause.

“Well, you asked and I answered,” he said.

Former FBI Director James Comey sent a goodbye note to FBI employees Wednesday, one day after he was abruptly fired by President Donald Trump.

Comey’s letter, published first by CNN, assured agency staff that “It is done, and I will be fine,” referring to his abrupt ouster.

He also urged the agency to maintain its “competence, honestly, and independence” and live up to what he said was its image as a “rock for America.”

As justification for Comey’s firing, Trump cited a memo by the newly-minted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that was sharply critical of Comey’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Yet Trump had earlier praised Comey for his actions in that investigation, and various reports citing scores of unnamed sources paint a picture of a President increasingly uncomfortable with the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s potential collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 election.

Various reports also indicate Trump asked Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find a rationale for Comey’s firing. The Washington Post, citing an unnamed person close to the White House, reported that Rosenstein had threatened to resign as a result of Trump’s attempts to pin Comey’s firing on him.

Read Comey’s letter below in full, via CNN:

To all:
I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.
I have said to you before that, in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence. What makes leaving the FBI hard is the nature and quality of its people, who together make it that rock for America.
It is very hard to leave a group of people who are committed only to doing the right thing. My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.
If you do that, you too will be sad when you leave, and the American people will be safer.
Working with you has been one of the great joys of my life. Thank you for that gift.
Jim Comey

North Carolina’s governor criticized Congress and the Trump administration Wednesday for authorizing less than 1 percent of a request for disaster relief funds after Hurricane Matthew devastated the state in October 2016.

“I am deeply disappointed that Washington isn’t making North Carolina’s urgent need a top priority,” Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said at a news conference Wednesday.

In a Wednesday letter to the White House, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Cooper conveyed “shock and disappointment in the lack of federal funding for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts in North Carolina.”

“As we look ahead to the 2018 budget cycle and the prospect of drastic reductions in domestic spending, the need in North Carolina is still very real,” he added. “Many affected North Carolinians feel that they have been forgotten, and though the flood waters may have receded, I refuse to let their needs go unmet.”

In January, the state requested nearly $930 million in relief funds, much in the form of Community Development Block Grants for disaster recovery, through HUD.

North Carolina received just $6.1 million in disaster relief funding as part of federal lawmakers’ recent short-term spending agreement to fund the government through September, the governor said Wednesday.

The request was North Carolina’s second to the federal government after the storm — Congress authorized about $300 million in immediate aid to the state in its December. However, the Charlotte Observer reported in January, state officials had had less than two months to assess the damage left in the storm’s wake at that point before submitting their request in time for December’s short-term spending agreement to avoid a government shutdown.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said ousted FBI Director James Comey’s actions in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server were “atrocities” that justified Comey’s abrupt firing.

During a daily press briefing Wednesday, Sanders specifically pointed to Comey’s decision, ahead of his July 5, 2016 press conference announcing that he would not recommend charges against Clinton, not to tell the Justice Department what he would say in the press conference.

“I think one of the big catalysts that we saw was last week, on Wednesday, Director Comey made a pretty startling revelation that he had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice,” Sanders said, “by going around the chain of command when he decided to take steps without talking to the attorney general or the deputy attorney general when holding a press conference and telling them that he would not let them know what he was going to say, and that is simply not allowed.”

Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3 that, on July 5, “That was a hard call for me to make, to the call the attorney general that morning and say I’m about to do a press conference and I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to say. And I said to her, hope someday you’ll understand why I think I have to do this.”

Comey indeed faced criticism for his actions in that press conference, but the Trump White House never cited it as a valid critique of the ousted official until his firing.

One reporter later asked Sanders when it was that the President lost confidence in Comey, given that he had applauded Comey’s actions in the email investigation in October 2016 — and that the memo he cited to fire Comey criticized the same actions.

Sanders said being a candidate for president and actually serving in the office were “two very different things.” She also referenced the memo, written by the newly minted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“I think also having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic, just, atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice,” she said. “Any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is, particularly in the Department of Justice, particularly for somebody like the deputy attorney general who has been part of the Justice Department for 30 years and is such a respected person. When he saw that, he had to speak up on that action, and I think that was the final catalyst.”

President Donald Trump’s meeting Wednesday morning with two top Russian officials was closed to all press — except, apparently, state-owned news outlets.

Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

The Lavrov meeting was closed to the press and the only visual account we have of it thus far is via handout photos from the Russian government,” The Hill’s Jordan Fabian wrote in a pool report Wednesday morning. “Those images show Trump also met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”

Gizmodo’s Matt Novak noted on Twitter that Getty wire images of the meeting were credited to TASS, which is commonly described as state-run or state-owned.

Fabian later reported that an unnamed White House official told him: “On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it.”

The Associated Press noted that photos it distributed from the meeting were government hand-outs and credited the Russian Foreign Ministry, though it did not list the photographer Alexander Shcherbak, as Getty did.

White House spokespeople did not respond to TPM’s questions about the press arrangement Wednesday. TASS’ Washington bureau chief, Andrei Sitov, told TPM that no one from his bureau was present at the meeting.

“Apparently the TASS person was admitted at the request of the Russian Foreign Ministry as the official photographer for the Russian side,” Sitov added in a later email. “He is permanently assigned to cover FM Lavrov. His pictures from the meeting are available at the Russian FM’s Flickr. I was not even aware of this.” The Foreign Ministry’s Flickr page can be found here.

An unnamed White House official later told the Washington Post: “We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency.”

The White House published it’s own official readout of the meeting:

President Donald J. Trump met today with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, following on the visit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow last month. President Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran, and Iranian proxies. The President raised Ukraine, and expressed his Administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict and stressed Russia’s responsibility to fully implement the Minsk agreements.  He also raised the possibility of broader cooperation on resolving conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. The President further emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.

This post has been updated with additional information.

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