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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 on Friday distanced the Trump administration from the $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), to rebuild the island’s infrastructure after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September.

Whitefish Energy is only two years old, only has two full-time employees, and has never taken on a task as vast as the one presented by Puerto Rico’s storm-damaged infrastructure. But it shares a hometown with the secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, and is financed by major Trump donors.

This is a contract that was determined by the local authorities in Puerto Rico, not something that the federal government played a role in,” Sanders said at a press briefing Friday, asked if the White House was concerned about the deal. “But as we understand, there is an ongoing audit and we’ll look forward to seeing the results of that later.”

She added, asked about Trump’s donors’ ties to the company: “The federal government has nothing to do with this contract or the process. This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government.”

Zinke met with Trump on Friday to discuss a report from the Interior Department on national monuments (Zinke wants to shrink some of them).

And that was the reason for the meeting,” Sanders assured of the report, before referring to Trump: “But he did ask Secretary Zinke, just for clarification purposes, and he reiterated once again that we have no role, the federal government, and specifically he had no role in that contract.”

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Leon Wieseltier, the former longtime literary editor of The New Republic facing a slew of sexual harassment accusations, will not continue as a contributing editor to The Atlantic, the publication confirmed to TPM on Friday.

“Leon Wieseltier will no longer continue at The Atlantic as a contributing editor,” Editor In Chief Jeffrey Goldberg told The Atlantic’s editorial staff Friday, in a memo shared with TPM.

“Wieseltier’s relationship with The Atlantic has been largely honorary in nature — he last published a piece with us in March of 2016 — but we are, in any case, removing his name from the masthead,” Goldberg continued. “The Atlantic has zero tolerance for workplace harassment of any kind.”

Wieseltier, The New Republic’s literary editor from 1983 until 2014, was accused by several women this week of inappropriate conduct, including kissing New Republic staffers on the mouth, discussing their appearances and asking about their sex lives, the New York Times reported.

“It was never an ‘open secret’ among me and my then-colleagues that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary czar of The New Republic, behaved inappropriately with women in the workplace,” The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle, who worked at The New Republic for 12 years, wrote Friday. “It was simply out in the open.”

“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness,” Wieseltier said in a statement to the Times.

The leaders of the Emerson Collective announced it was cancelling a new magazine Wieseltier had planned to edit after “receiving information related to past inappropriate workplace conduct.”

Over the past week, former New Republic staffers circulated stories of Wieseltier’s alleged misconduct in an email chain, the Times reported.

This post has been updated.

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Former White House aide and self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert Sebastian Gorka on Thursday said that that Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the sale of a uranium mining firm to Russia was “equivalent” to the actions of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Gorka compared Clinton’s actions, into which congressional Republicans announced a probe this week, to the spying convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which resulted in their execution in 1953.

“If this had happened in the 1950s, there would be people up on treason charges right now,” Gorka told Sean Hannity of the so-called “Uranium One” scandal, named for the Canadian mining company whose sale to Russia’s state-run nuclear energy arm Clinton’s State Department approved in 2010. Eight other members of the Committee on Foreign Investments approved also approved the deal.

“The Rosenbergs, okay?” Gorka continued. “This is equivalent to what the Rosenbergs did and those people got the chair. Think about it. Giving away nuclear capability to our enemies, that’s what we’re talking about.”

Gorka, who left the White House in late August, has since been hired as a strategist for the pro-Trump group MAGA Coalition.

In February, Gorka refused to say whether Trump thought Islam was a religion, and he has maintained the provocative, often racist rhetoric that he employed as a Breitbart News editor since leaving the White House.

Last week, for example, he opined that Chicago faced the problem of “black African gun crime against black Africans.”

“Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel,” he said.

Republicans’ intense focus on Clinton’s role in approving the Uranium One sale — widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in support of Donald Trump — began in 2015 with the book “Clinton Cash,” which the New York Times and other outlets then built upon in their own coverage.

Clinton Cash was written by the president and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute, Peter Schweitzer, a Breitbart News senior editor-at-large. The other co-founder of GAI was Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who has since gone back to leading Breitbart. And GAI was bankrolled by the Mercer family, deep-pocketed fundraisers for Trump — and for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and others — who are closely tied to Bannon.

Watch Gorka’s remarks on Clinton below, via the Democratic research group Media Matters:

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Thursday blamed Democrats for what he called “successful” Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying that the “commotion” created by Democrats over a dossier of information about President Donald Trump had played into the Russians’ hands.

“What has allowed them to be successful in this sabotage of an election is that they’re trying to change public opinion,” Nunes told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, referring to Russia.

Nunes attempted to argue that revelations that Hillary Clinton and the DNC partly funded the research on Trump by former MI6 official Michael Steele could have biased the Congress and the intelligence community’s potential use of that information. (Republicans previously funded research about Trump.)

“With all of this commotion, and with all of the nonsense that was put out, don’t you think it would have been important for the Congress to know back in January, when we were first briefed on this Trump dossier, that it was actually paid for by the opposition party?” Nunes asked.

He continued: “So the people that made the Russians successful are the Democrats, and the people who have continued this nonsense over and over and over again, looking for Russians behind every tree. We continue to chase ghosts around and around this place.”

The chairman had said earlier that, if evidence emerged proving that research funded by Democrats served as the basis of investigations pursued by Congress or the intelligence community, “there’s going to be a major problem.”

If that’s the Nunes’ standard, he might have a hard time applying it evenly: Hillary Clinton’s State Department’s role in approving uranium transactions with a Russian company became a fiery talking point during the 2016 election — and now, the subject of a probe by Nunes himself — due in large part to the book “Clinton Cash.”

That book was written by the president of the Government Accountability Institute, a group co-founded by Trump’s former top strategist, Steve Bannon, and bankrolled by Trump’s own deep-pocketed funder, Rebekah Mercer.

Watch Nunes’ comments to Cavuto below:

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Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including the committee’s chair and ranking member, wrote to Whitefish Energy Holdings on Thursday seeking more information on the tiny company’s mysterious contract with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

Beginning in mid-October, a series of reports began raising questions about Whitefish, specifically, how it ended up with the $300 million contract to restore power to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s power grid on Sept. 20.

The company is two years old and has two full time employees, but it is financed by major Trump donors, and its CEO knows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who lives in Whitefish, Montana, where the company is based.

“We understand Whitefish is focused on the critical task of restoring power for the population of Puerto Rico,” the committee said in a letter to Whitefish Energy. “In light of the questions that have been raised about your company’s involvement in recovery efforts, however, it is important to develop a clear understanding of the facts.”

The letter requested, by Nov. 9, copies of Whitefish’s contracts with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a list of entities subcontracting with the company in Puerto Rico, and a map detailing current and future work in Puerto Rico by Whitefish and its subcontractors and subsidiaries.

The Washington Post reported on Oct. 23 that Whitefish was paying its subcontractors large sums for their work on the island — $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319.04 for a lineman — in addition to accommodation and lodging fees.

The company’s CEO told CNN three days earlier that Whitefish had won the contract in Puerto Rico with PREPA after “[w]e just called each other.” On Thursday, Whitefish issued an apology to the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, after the company threatened to withdraw its workers from the city following Cruz’s demands for more transparency about the contact.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s letter’s signatories aren’t the only lawmakers interested in Whitefish’s deal. On Wednesday afternoon, BuzzFeed reported that Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) had requested the Government Accountability Office look into the deal.

Read the letter from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee below. It was signed by Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO).

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that she believed special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and other matters was “getting closer to conclusion.” She did not cite any new evidence to back up the claim, instead referring to vague “reporting” on “more details about why the President has been right all along.”

“I certainly think he has confidence that they are going to close this up soon,” Sanders told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer.

Hemmer asked what made her think Mueller’s probe would conclude.

“I think we are seeing more and more evidence that shows, look, they’ve been working on this and investigating this for well into a year through various committees,” Sanders said.

Mueller’s probe is independent from the congressional probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and indeed has a much broader scope. Mueller was appointed special counsel on May 17.

Sanders did not respond to TPM’s questions about her remarks. Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, declined to comment.

“Every day we find out more and more details about why the President has been right all along and why the Democrats have been wrong all along and I think that each day we’re getting closer and closer to closing the loop on this on our front,” Sanders added.

“Is that based on news reports or is that based on something else?” Hemmer asked. “Some other channel there at the White House?”

“I think it’s based on fact — the fact that there has been no wrongdoing by the Trump campaign and a lot of the reporting that we’re seeing coming out, day in, day out with the collusion you’ve got.”

Sanders was referring two stories, mentioned earlier in the interview, which the White House has said shift suspicion away from President Donald Trump and toward Democrats.

First, the Washington Post’s report this week that the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign paid for part of a dossier on Trump created by the former British intelligence official Christopher Steele (Republicans had previously funded the research). And second, the years-old story of Hillary Clinton’s State Department’s seat on a nine-member board that approved uranium sales to Russia.

Hemmer pressed: “To be clear now, no one from the Department of Justice have told you or anyone at the White House that it should be wrapping up soon. I just want to be clear on that.”

“I have not spoken with anybody at the Department of Justice on that front, but I think that we are seeing that it is getting closer to conclusion,” Sanders said, failing to provide support for the claim.

In fact, far from appearing to reach its conclusion, various reports in recent days have pointed to past efforts by an organization linked to the Trump campaign to gain access to private Democratic emails obtained by Wikileaks.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that the head of a data analytics firm that worked closely with the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had reached out to Julian Assange during the campaign to help with the release of the leaked emails. Assange said the offer was rejected by Wikileaks. The Wall Street Journal reported later in the day that the group had offered to help organize the emails.

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Former President George H.W. Bush’s spokesperson released another statement responding to allegations of sexual assault on Wednesday night, as a second woman said Bush groped her during a photo op.

“I got sent the Heather Lind story by many people this morning,” actress Jordana Grolnick told Deadspin. “And I’m afraid that mine is entirely similar.”

Grolnick was referring to an account from Heather Lind, who said that, four years ago, Bush sexually assaulted her during a photo op. “He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” Lind said in a since-deleted Instagram post. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”

Grolnick described a similar incident, when Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush went backstage to meet the cast of a play he’d seen, and of which she was a member: “We all circled around him and Barbara for a photo, and I was right next to him,” she told Deadspin. “He reached his right hand around to my behind, and as we smiled for the photo he asked the group, ‘Do you want to know who my favorite magician is?’ As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, ‘David Cop-a-Feel!’”

The former first lady, Grolnick said, said something like “He’s going to get himself put into jail!” Lind, in her case, said Barbara Bush had said, “Not again.”

Bush’s spokesperson did not respond to TPM’s questions on Wednesday. He told Deadspin, in his second statement on the matter:

“At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

The previous day, the same spokesperson, Jim McGrath, told various outlets: “President Bush would never — under any circumstance — intentionally cause anyone distress, and he most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humor offended Ms. Lind.”

Deadspin’s Dave McKenna noted in his report on Grolnick’s allegation that he had found, in previous reporting, two women who had tweeted about Bush making the “David Cop-a-feel” joke on Apr. 4, 2014.

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The private prison corporation GEO Group held its annual leadership conference at President Donald Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Florida, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, the latest in a string of efforts seemingly aimed at currying favor with the Trump administration.

The company donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised substantially more than any such committee in history, thanks to a slew of corporate and politically connected donors — and a GEO Group subsidiary donated $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC during the 2016 election, the Post noted. The report added that GEO Group has hired three new lobbyists in the past year: two former aides to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a representative of the Trump Organization in Florida who raised money for Trump’s campaign.

The Post reported that GEO Group had seemingly held only one other event at the same location: a shareholder meeting in 2007, before Trump owned the resort. Last week’s conference, according to the report, included “four days of meetings, dinner receptions and golf outings” for company executives and wardens.

If it’s influence GEO Group is after, it’d be hard to argue the company’s efforts are failing: Jeff Sessions, just a few days after taking the helm of the Justice Department, reversed the previous administration’s decision to reduce the use of private prisons.

A few months earlier, when Trump won the presidency, the entire private prison industry’s stocks spiked.

In April, GEO Group announced it had won a $110 million federal contract to build the first new immigrant detention center of Trump’s administration.

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President Donald Trump said Wednesday that revelations that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee partly funded the creation of a research dossier against him “a very sad commentary on politics in this country.”

The dossier, parts of which have reportedly been corroborated by the intelligence community, was created by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele. He had been paid by Marc Elias, an attorney representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The work had previously been funded by Republican sources.

“Well, I think it’s very sad what they’ve done with this fake dossier,” Trump told reporters before boarding Marine One. “It was made up. And I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money. And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it.”

Trump alleged that “only because it’s going to come out in a court case, they said yes, they did it, they admitted it.”

“And they’re embarrassed by it,” he continued. “But I think it’s a disgrace. It’s just really — it’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday evening called the Post’s reporting “the real Russia scandal,” and Trump quoted Fox News commentary on the Washington’s Post’s reporting early Wednesday.

Multiple sources told the Post it was “standard practice for political campaigns to use law firms to hire outside researchers to ensure their work is protected by attorney-client and work-product privileges.”

Later, Trump told the assembled reporters near his helicopter, referring to the continued investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, “This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election.”

“They lost it by a lot,” he added later. “They didn’t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it’s turning out that the hoax has turned around and you look at what’s happened with Russia and you look at the uranium deal and you look at the fake dossier. So that’s all turned around.”

Trump also suggested he had a hunch about who was originally behind the dossier.

“Well, they say it began with the Republicans. I think I would know but I won’t say. It will be determined. It will be determined,” Trump said of the Republican originator of the research funding, adding: “It might have starred with the Republicans early on in the primaries. I think I would know but let’s find out who it is. I’m sure that will come out.”

“I have one name in mind,” he said. “It will probably be revealed.”

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