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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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are scheduled to hold an on camera press briefing at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Watch live below:

Conservative billionaire and mega-fundraiser Robert Mercer is stepping down as co-CEO of the hedge fund giant Renaissance Technologies.

Mercer will also resign from the fund’s board, the New York Times and several other outlets reported Thursday, citing a memo Mercer sent to investors and pension advisers. He will remain a member of the company’s technical and research staff.

In the memo — published by BuzzFeed and available below — Mercer also distanced himself from the conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopolis and said he would sell his stake in Breitbart News to his daughters.

Mercer is known for his bankrolling of the Trump-allied wing of the Republican Party, and specifically of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The Mercer family — Robert’s daughter, Rebekah, is a hugely influential political player — holds a major stake in the far-right website Breitbart News. But the Mercers have funded a number of other projects with which Bannon has ties: Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm hired by the Trump campaign during the 2016 election; the Government Accountability Institute, which first dug up the so-called Uranium One scandal; and others.

The Mercers reportedly had a substantial role in shaping Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including urging Trump to bring on Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to lead the campaign. Conway, like Bannon, had long been a political adviser to the family. Mercer also bankrolled a super PAC, Make America Number 1, that generously supported Trump.

Trump attended a costume party at Mercer’s estate in December last year.

Mercer’s political activities reportedly generated tension within Renaissance Technologies: Bloomberg noted Thursday that co-CEO Peter Brown — who will be the firm’s sole CEO after Mercer steps down on Jan. 1, 2018 — was one of Hillary Clinton’s top financial backers in the 2016 race. One former Renaissance employee, David Magerman, has sued the firm for what he says was wrongful termination after he criticized Mercer’s political activities.

BuzzFeed reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources familiar with Renaissance, that there was “significant anger within the company” after an explosive report the outlet published revealing the connections between Milo Yiannopolis, a former Breitbart staffer and conservative provocateur, and white nationalists. BuzzFeed confirmed in July that the Mercers funded Yiannopolis’ speaking tour, and seemed to be a major funder of an upcoming projects, as well.

Mercer’s memo mentions his support of Yiannopolis, whom Mercer now says he disavows, and expands upon his political beliefs and well-heeled activism. Read it below:

Dear Colleagues,

During the past year, I have been the object of a great deal of scrutiny from the press. I have declined to comment on what has been written about me, imagining that with time the attention would dissipate. Because that has yet to happen, I have decided to correct some of the misinformation that has been published about me. It is not my intention to impose the views I describe below on anyone else.

My goal is simply to explain my thinking, the very essence of which is that all of us should think for ourselves.
I believe that individuals are happiest and most fulfilled when they form their own opinions, assume responsibility for their own actions, and spend the fruits of their own labor as they see fit. I believe that a collection of individuals making their own decisions within the confines of a clear and concise set of laws that they have determined for themselves will advance society much more effectively than will a collection of experts who are confident in their knowledge of what is best for everyone else. This is why I support conservatives, who favor a smaller, less powerful government.

A society founded on the basis of the individual freedom that flourishes under a limited federal government has no place for discrimination. Of the many mischaracterizations made of me by the press, the most repugnant to me have been the intimations that I am a white supremacist or a member of some other noxious group.

Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, or anything of that sort is abhorrent to me. But more than that, it is ignorant.

The press has also intimated that my politics marches in lockstep with Steve Bannon’s. I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him. However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon’s.

Without individuals thinking for themselves, society as a whole will struggle to distinguish the signal of truth from the correlated noise of conformity. I supported Milo Yiannopoulos in the hope and expectation that his expression of views contrary to the social mainstream and his spotlighting of the hypocrisy of those who would close down free speech in the name of political correctness would promote the type of open debate and freedom of thought that is being throttled on many American college campuses today. But in my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate. I was mistaken to have supported him, and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him.

For personal reasons, I have also decided to sell my stake in Breitbart News to my daughters.

I would also like to inform you of a decision I have reached with respect to my role at Renaissance, an organization I adore with colleagues whom I deeply respect and admire. I am 71 years old, the same age that Jim Simons was when he retired. I do not plan to retire, but I do plan to relinquish my management responsibilities.

Peter Brown and I have been Co-CEOs for the past eight years. On January 1, 2018, I will step down from my position as Co-CEO and resign from the board of directors. I will continue with the firm as a member of its technical staff, focusing on the research work that I find most fulfilling. Peter will continue on as CEO, and I will provide him with my counsel whenever he feels that I can be helpful to him and to the company where I have spent so many wonderful years.

RLM

This post has been updated.

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Former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele’s company was paid $168,000 for its work creating a dossier on Donald Trump, Reuters reported Thursday.

Citing a statement from the research firm that paid Steele’s company, Fusion GPS, Reuters reported that the money paid to Steele was part of $1.02 million in fees Fusion GPS had received from Perkins Coie, a law firm representing the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Prior to Democrats hiring Fusion GPS for research, conservatives funded the firm’s work: Editors of the conservative news site Washington Free Beacon admitted Saturday that the outlet first contracted Fusion GPS to research Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “We do not apologize for our methods,” they wrote. “The First Amendment guarantees our right to engage in news-gathering as we see fit.”

Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, however, have focused on Democrats’ work funding the research firm. On Sunday, Trump baselessly claimed the dossier cost $12 million.

The dossier, though still largely unverified, alleged that Russians had compromising information on Trump. Republicans have raged at the possibility that the dossier influenced, and perhaps initiated, congressional and federal investigations of Trump and his associates.

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Former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile has accused the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign of exerting improper financial and decision-making control over the Democratic National Committee well before Clinton became the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

In a scathing piece in Politico Magazine Thursday, Brazile wrote that Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, signed an agreement with the DNC and the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising operation between the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, in August 2015 — nearly a year before the July 2016 Democratic National Convention — pledging financial support for the DNC in exchange for the Clinton campaign controlling large swaths of the DNC’s internal operations:

The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.

Later in the piece, Brazile recalled a phone call she had with Bernie Sanders following Clinton’s nomination: “[T]he cancer was that [Clinton] had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee,” she told Sanders. Sanders, she said, “took this stoically.”

Politico reported on Hillary Victory Fund in May 2016. The joint fundraising operation, Politico reported, citing FEC filings, had claimed to fundraise on behalf of state Democratic parties. In reality, according to Politico, those states benefitted little from the operation. The vast majority of the funds went to the national Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign.

Brazile said her own investigation of the DNC’s fundraising operation had confirmed Politico’s work:

I kept asking the party lawyers and the DNC staff to show me the agreements that the party had made for sharing the money they raised, but there was a lot of shuffling of feet and looking the other way.

When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.

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The Trump administration significantly cut down on the volume and effectiveness of communications about Obamacare’s open enrollment period, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Citing internal documents it had obtained, the Post described notable changes to emails sent by the Trump administration advertising Obamacare’s open enrollment period, during which time anyone can sign up for insurance coverage through the law’s individual marketplace. This year, that period runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

The Post reported that, this year, emails advertising the period went “only to people with current health plans through marketplaces created under the law,” leaving out the majority of the roughly 20 million consumers known to the government, who used to have coverage or had otherwise explored HealthCare.gov.

And the emails that were sent, according to the Post, were stripped of perhaps their most convincing element, determined by the Obama administration through extensive research: cost savings.

Whereas a 2016 open enrollment email advertised that “[n]ew, better or more affordable plans may be available to you,” and “[y]ou could save money by switching to a new plan,” an email sent last week and obtained by the Post lacked any mention of cost savings.

The changes to the open enrollment emails contribute to the Trump administration’s already rocky administration of the law.

At the end of August, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a 90 percent cut in the department’s budget to promote Obamacare and educate the public about it. And last month, Trump ended key payments to insurance companies, called cost-sharing reductions, meant to subsidize insurance coverage for lower income people.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said that President Donald Trump had not personally blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for the terrorist attack Tuesday in New York City.

On Wednesday morning, Trump attacked Schumer on Twitter, blaming the attack in part on a law Schumer supported. At lease one report at the time indicated the terrorist suspect came to the United States seven years ago under that law.

One reporter at a press briefing Wednesday asked Sanders about Trump saying that Schumer “was responsible, at least in part, for this attack.”

“Before you go any further, let me be really clear,” Sanders said. “The President has not blamed Sen. Schumer and doesn’t feel that the senator is responsible for the attack.”

“We believe very strongly that the individual who carried out the attack is responsible and no one else,” she continued. “However, we do think that there are policies that could be put in place that help protect American citizens.”

Earlier in the briefing, Sanders said Trump’s attack on Schumer “wasn’t about going the political route.”

“This is something that, frankly, the President has been talking about for a long time,” she said.

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A non-profit legal advocacy group with a long history of defending Guantanamo Bay detainees slammed President Donald Trump on Wednesday for the suggestion that the suspect behind a terrorist attack in New York City on Tuesday should be detained there.

“Guantanamo Bay is and always has been a prison exclusively for Muslims, which is undoubtedly the only reason Donald Trump made the idiotic suggestion to send Sayfullo Saipov there,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a press release.

The group, then led by the late Michael Ratner, was the first to successfully challenge former President George W. Bush’s use of Guantanamo Bay as a detention center for foreign nationals, and has continued to coordinate the representation of detainees there.

Sayfullo Saipov, who authorities have identified as the man who carried out the attack on Tuesday, is a legal permanent resident of the United States.

“He did this in the name of ISIS,” the deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department said at a press conference Wednesday, referring to Saipov. “And along with the other items recovered at the scene [were] some notes that further indicate that.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights added: “Fifteen years has proven no one will ever be successfully tried or ‘brought to justice’ at Guantanamo, and the President and his supporters within his own party are deluded if they believe otherwise.”

Trump on Wednesday said he “would certainly consider” sending the suspect behind Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York City, which left eight dead, to Guantanamo Bay. He also said that the “punishment” doled out by America’s justice system needed to be “far quicker and far greater.” Trump has previously advocated for the use of torture.

There are currently 41 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, according to a list maintained by the Miami Herald.

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President Donald Trump has not yet called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the two officials said Wednesday, a day after eight people were killed in a terrorist attack in downtown Manhattan.

Cuomo and de Blasio were asked whether they had received a call during a press conference nearly 21 hours after the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Trump spent the morning on Twitter, attacking Democrats and calling for stricter controls on immigration in response to the attack.

“I received calls yesterday from the homeland security secretary and from the homeland security adviser in the White House, Mr. Bossert,” de Blasio said.

“Both offered any and all help to New York City in this moment, and said they would be 100 percent available to us in any way going forward,” the mayor continued. “So those calls happened give or take 7 o’clock yesterday evening.” 

He added, responding to a question: “Not from the President directly, no.”

Cuomo also said that he had “received no call from the President,” but noted that, like de Blasio, he had been in touch with the current acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke. Duke also called New York City’s police Commissioner, James O’Neill, he said.

The New York leaders took the questions in stride.

“Look, I’m not bothered at all because two senior officials called promptly and offered help, and I think that was appropriate,” de Blasio said, responding to a reporter’s question about not hearing from Trump. “I think we are here to talk about this situation, the facts, and no one up here wants to politicize any of this.”

Cuomo agreed: “I am not bothered that the President didn’t call. I am bothered by an attempt by anyone to try to politicize this situation.”

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After the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since September 11, 2001, New York’s senior senator criticized President Donald Trump on Wednesday for using the attack to advocate for stricter immigration policies, as opposed to using his office to unify the country.

“President Trump, where is your leadership?” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said from the Senate floor. “The contrast between President Bush’s actions after 9/11 and President’s Trump’s actions this morning could not be starker.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump used the truck ramming incident, which left eight dead, to attack Schumer for supporting the immigration program that, according to at least one unconfirmed report, the suspect had used to enter the United States seven years ago.

Schumer compared Trump’s response to former President George W. Bush’s response to 9/11.

“I’ve seen the tweets from President Trump,” he said. “After September 11th, the first thing that President Bush did was invite Sen. Clinton and me to the White House, where he pledged to do what was ever in his power to help our city. President Bush, in a moment of national tragedy, understood the meaning of his high office, and sought to bring our country together.”

Schumer added later: “I have always believed that immigration is good for America, I believe it today. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be bringing us together and focusing on the real solution, anti-terrorism funding, which he proposed to cut in his most recent budget.”

Trump’s most recent proposed budget cut millions from various domestic anti-terrorism and -extremism programs.

Schumer concluded: “Instead of dividing, instead of politicizing, do something real, Mr. President. Restore these funds, now.”

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The mayor of New York City and governor of New York state on Wednesday criticized President Donald Trump for his political maneuvering in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in New York City.

“The last thing the President or anyone else should do is politicize this tragedy,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday morning, asked about Trump’s blaming Democrats for the attack in tweets Wednesday morning, and his advocacy for stricter controls on immigration.

“We have to find out what happened here,” de Blasio continued. “That work is going to be done by the FBI, by the NYPD and all of our partners to determine exactly who this man is, what moved him to this horrible act, what’s going on here? Is there any bigger ramifications? That’s what we should be focused on. But look, in the end, the last thing we should do is start casting aspersions on whole races of people, or whole religions or whole nations. That only makes the situation worse.”

The mayor added: “The minute you start generalizing it, especially to a whole religion, then, unfortunately, we are sending the exact negative message that a lot of our enemies want, and the terrorists want to affirm — that this nation is somehow anti-Muslim. We’ve got to do the exact opposite. We’ve got to show we respect all people in America.” 

In a separate interview with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski asked “Are the President’s tweets helpful, hurtful or not impactful, given the situation?”

“I think the first question, Mika, is, are they factual?” Cuomo replied. “But I don’t think this is the time to get political.” 

“We had a policy, an immigration policy in place in the ’90s. It was a bipartisan policy, it signed by a Republican president. There’s no doubt that we have to be smarter and have more intelligence, but there’s also no doubt that this is not the time to play politics.” 

He continued: “This is not the time to foment hate. This is not the time to divide. Because they all exacerbate the situation, right?”

Different public officials, Cuomo said, “will handle it differently.” 

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