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

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) on Sunday defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt against those who have called for his resignation after a series of damaging scandals. Rounds said Pruitt’s critics were “nitpick[ing] little things.”

Pruitt has faced numerous reports of impropriety in recent days, from using a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give two senior aides huge raises (Pruitt denied he knew about the raises) to reportedly reassigning or demoting internal EPA employees who questioned some of his behavior and spending.

Asked whether Pruitt should still be EPA administrator, Rounds told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday that he should and that Pruitt was “following through with the policies that the President said he wanted to implement.”

“When does ethics matter, though?” Todd asked. “Because Tom Price did less and was fired.”

Rounds was dismissive.

“The reason why all of the emphasis right now is on Mr. Pruitt is because he is executing these policies, and they’re not real popular policies with a lot of people,” he said. “But he is executing the policies that this President said he would put in place.”

“Does that justify this behavior?” Todd asked.

Rounds said some of the Pruitt coverage could be “overblown,” and added: “Mr. Pruitt has been doing a good job as the secretary of the EPA. He’s moving forward exactly as this President said he would.”

What about the “mixed message,” Todd asked, of ignoring ethics concerns if a Cabinet secretary is advancing Republicans’ favored agenda?

“Which one of the challenges would you like to start?” Rounds asked, before referring to Pruitt’s multimillion dollar security detail. “Would you like to say, oh, he has too big of a security detail? Is that suddenly the reason why you fire someone?”

“At what point, though, does that accumulate and you wonder if he’s not a steward of the taxpayer dollar?” Todd asked.

“Let’s take a look at how many dollars the EPA can actually save, the big picture,” Rounds said, frustrated. “We’ll nitpick little things. ‘He has too many people on the security detail.’ It may add up to more than what the previous guy did. But what about the big picture of how he’s taking care of the taxpayer’s dollars with the department, the EPA?”

“And what about the regulations that he said he’s going to clean up on that he is?” Rounds continued. “And what about the response directly back out to allow businesses to actually grow and expand. This President said number one, we had to have tax policy, we’ve got it. We said we had to have regulatory reform, we’ve got it. Scott Pruitt is a big part of that. He’s executing what the President wants him to execute.”

He had a point: Despite the White House’s light protestations of Pruitt’s reported behavior, Trump has defended his EPA administrator publicly as recently as Saturday night.

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President Donald Trump on Sunday denounced the alleged “mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” but neither the President himself nor many members of Congress explicitly said that Trump would, nor should, respond as he did a year ago, with a military strike of his own.

Beginning on Saturday, according to the Associated Press, reports of a gas attack began streaming out of the rebel-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, outside of the country’s capital, Damascus. At least 40 people have died, according to AP. A joint statement from the Syrian Civil Defense and the Syrian American Medical Society, according to the report, claimed that hundreds of people had shown signs of a chemical attack, including a chlorine-like smell.

Just more than a year ago, Trump ordered an missile strike on a Syrian air base — after the United States gave Russia advanced warning — following the Syrian regime’s alleged use of the nerve gas sarin in an attack on civilians. Trump has criticized President Barack Obama (though not at the time) for not responding militarily over similar alleged chemical weapon use by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2013, after Obama called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” in 2012.

The White House homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that he “wouldn’t take anything off the table” when asked if Trump could order another missile attack in response to the alleged chemical weapon use.

Not long after that comment, though, Raddatz asked about Trump’s recent line during a speech in Ohio that  “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon” — a claim that his administration soon walked back.

“American troops aren’t going to fix the six or seven different ongoing conflicts and wars going on in the Middle East or in Syria at this stage,” Bossert said. “We need regional partnership increased and we need U.S. presence decreased.”

Several Senate Republicans voiced their support for a military strike in statements and Sunday show appearances. Some encouraged an American or international response without specifying what they meant.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Trump’s comments about withdrawing from Syria had “emboldened” Assad “and his Russian and Iranian backers.”

“President Trump was quick to call out Assad today, along with the Russian and Iranian governments, on Twitter,” McCain added. “The question now is whether he will do anything about it. The President responded decisively when Assad used chemical weapons last year. He should do so again, and demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes.”

“It’s a defining moment in his presidency, because he has challenged Assad in the past not to use chemical weapons,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a separate interview with Raddatz. “We had a one-and-done missile attack. So Assad is at it again.”

“They see us, our resolve, breaking,” he said. “They see our determination to stay in Syria waning. And it’s no accident they used chemical weapons.”

“To me, I would destroy Assad’s air force,” Graham suggested, one of several aggressive responses he laid out.

The senator added: “If it becomes a tweet without meaning, then he has hurt himself in North Korea. If he doesn’t follow through and live up to that tweet, he’s going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran. So this is a defining moment, Mr. President.  You need to follow through with that tweet. Show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said that Trump was “a new sheriff in town” when he ordered the 2017 missile strike and added: “He’s got to send a message once again that what he said, he meant.”

“It was appropriate a year ago, it would be appropriate today,” the senator added. “But let’s get all our facts together.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told CNN’s Jake Tapper that a military response “may be an option that we should consider now.”

“But it is further reason why it is so important that the President ramp up the pressure and the sanctions on the Russian government,” she added. “Because without the support of Russia, I do not believe that Assad would still be in office.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in a statement Sunday morning, said in part that “[t]he world must hold Assad and his enablers in Russia and Iran responsible for this.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), without explicitly supporting a military response, said in a tweet that the alleged attack “is a horror that cannot be tolerated by responsible nations” and that “[t]he U.S. must continue to lead an international effort to hold the Assad regime and Russia accountable for their actions.” 

“The President is now obligated to act,” Republican strategist and former Bush administration official Karl Rove told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, adding later: “He’s on the line.”

Democrats were less explicit.

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), said in a statement that “[t]his latest catastrophe is proof that a limited use of military force in Syria without a broad and fully-resourced diplomatic strategy, as President Trump chose to do in April of 2017, was ineffective.”

“To make matters worse, the President’s recent plans to freeze U.S. assistance to the Syrian people, and the administration’s failure to put forth a comprehensive plan, other than calling for an ‘immediate response’, are the latest missteps in their calamitous retreat from American leadership around the world,” Menendez added.

The senator said the United States “must not waiver” in its rejection of the use of chemical weapons but called for Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director, “to articulate an actual policy for Syria.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he hoped Congress would be briefed on the alleged chemical weapons use.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot known because the Syrian regime has closed the area,” he added. “So we’re not going to have the direct information, so it will be challenging for us to know. Everything points to that this was controlled by President Assad and again a violation of international norms, and there needs to be an international response.”

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser on Sunday had little to say about a so-called “trade coalition of the willing” he’d previously outlined amid heightened tensions over a potential trade war between the United States and China.

“You said on Friday that you were going to announce a ‘trade coalition of the willing’ today; other countries that were going to join us in taking on China,” Fox News’ Chris Wallace told Larry Kudlow, Trump’s newly-appointed director of the National Economic Council, during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Who are they?” Wallace asked.

Kudlow, an experienced TV commentator before his White House hiring, seemed to hesitate.

“I didn’t make this announcement,” he said. “I’m just observing.”

In fact, he had. When Fox News Fox Business’ Stuart Varney asked Kudlow Friday if he’d “heard from the Europeans or the Japanese that, yes, they’re on board with this escalation of the tariff threat” against China, Kudlow said he couldn’t speak for Europe, but that Japan was “supporting us on this.”

Kudlow added Friday: “Just give us another 24 to 48 hours, you’re going to see what I call a trade coalition of the willing to change and get China back into the world by abiding by the laws.” It echoed a comment he made on CNBC in mid-March. The phrase is seemingly a reference to the “coalition of the willing,” former President George W. Bush’s term for countries that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of the country. 

Wallace pressed: “No, no, no, you said on Friday, between 24 and 48 hours I’m going to announce a trade coalition of the willing. Do you have them?”

“They are coming to us,” Kudlow said.

“Well who are they?” Wallace asked.

“Japan, Europe, Australia, Canada. They have come to us,” Kudlow said, vaguely.

“But they are not talking about tariffs,” Wallace said.

“Sure they are,” Kudlow shot back.

“No they’re not,” Wallace said.

The trade partners Kudlow listed have not threatened to join the U.S. in slapping new tariffs on China. In fact, Japan wasn’t even among the U.S. allies exempted from Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Wallace pointed out that Japan had merely announced its intent to join the United States in complaining to the World Trade Organization about China, “just as free traders have done for years.”

“Just to press this,” Wallace asked later. “Has any other country joined us in threatening tariffs if China doesn’t clean up its act?”

“I can’t answer that,” Kudlow said. “I don’t even want to answer that. All I’m saying is my trade coalition of the willing will put the whole world behind the United States’ actions against China, and this is going to have a big effect on China.”

“China does not want to lose face, but China does not want to be regarded as the enemy in trade for the entire world,” he continued. “The WTO, by the way, is one of the processes. Ambassador Lighthizer has that in his releases, so we will work there. We will work directly with the Chinese. But I want to make this clear, President Trump is a great negotiator. The tariffs, which none of us particularly want, may — I say may — have to be part of this discussion and argument, they may.”

Trump himself on Sunday seemed to attempt to assuage fears of a trade war resulting from recent tariffs and tariff threats exchanged with China. 

And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” reaffirmed his earlier sentiment that while he did not think there would be a trade war with China, “it could be.”

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said Sunday that, based “on policy grounds alone,” Scott Pruitt should never have been administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt has faced scandal after scandal in recent weeks, including over the $50-a-night townhouse lease he signed with a prominent lobbyist couple and the two top aides of his who were given raises using a loophole in a law typically used to hire environmental experts.

President Donald Trump has supported Pruitt publicly, and Pruitt reportedly met with Trump on Friday in a bid to keep his job.

In an interview with Collins, CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that she had been the lone Republican senator to vote against Pruitt’s confirmation and asked if she thought Pruitt should lose his job.

“First of all, let me say that the actions taken by Scott Pruitt in the environmental arena, whether it’s trying to undermine the Clean Power Plan, or weaken the restrictions on lead, or undermine the methane rules, are reasons enough to validate my decision to oppose his confirmation,” Collins replied.

Collins said the “daily drip” of accusations against Pruitt had distracted the EPA from its mission, and that Congress should “do some oversight,” including on the recommendations made by Pruitt’s incredibly expensive security detail.

“But on policy grounds alone I think Scott Pruitt is the wrong person to head the EPA,” Collins said.

“Should he resign or be fired?” Tapper asked.

“Well, that is a position that only the President can take at this point,” Collins said. “The Congress has no role now that he has been confirmed. I voted against confirming him but I believe that my position was the correct one and has been validated by his actions.”

So far, three House Republicans have called on Pruitt to resign.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was either lying or ignorant when he claimed that his former landlord’s lobbyist husband doesn’t have any clients with business before the EPA.

That’s according to the Daily Beast. The website looked into lobbying records and determined that yes, powerful energy lobbyist Steven Hart — a friend of Pruitt’s from Oklahoma — has clients with business before Pruitt’s agency. Hart is chairman and CEO if Williams & Jensen, one of the most prominent lobbying firms in the country. His wife, Vicki Hart, is a health care lobbyist and Pruitt’s former landlord. 

Steven Hart was part of a four-member team at Williams & Jensen to represent glass bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois as an EPA lobbyist, according to the the Daily Beast report. Owens-Illinois’ joint venture with MillerCoors, Rocky Mountain Bottle Company, announced a settlement with the EPA, DOJ and state of Colorado in June 2017, while Pruitt was living in the townhouse.

Contrary to Pruitt’s claims, according to the Daily Beast, Hart also represents Cheniere Energy, the liquid natural gas exporter that Pruitt championed during a December trip to Morocco.

Hart has more energy clients, according to the Daily Beast, including Black & Decker subsidiary Stanley Oil and Gas; and Smithfield Foods, which burns animal waste to create energy. 

The report also listed others of Hart’s clients regulated in part by the EPA: Coca-Cola, United Airlines and, until recently, a trade group representing Chrysler, Ford Motor Company and General Motors.

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President Donald Trump on Thursday asserted he was unaware that his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016 for her to keep quiet about an alleged affair she’d had years earlier with Trump.

Asked if he knew about the payment while traveling on Air Force One, Trump said “no,” according to pool reporter Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal.

A reporter asked why Cohen made the payment.

“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” Trump said. “Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”

Do you know where the money came from? a reporter asked.

“No, I don’t know,” Trump said.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, responded with a statement to TPM within minutes of the breaking news.

“Our case just got that much better,” he said. “And we very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as he stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath.”

Ballhaus later reported: “Trump ignored a question on whether he ever set up a fund of money that Cohen could draw from.”

Watch below:

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced scandal after career-damaging scandal in recent weeks, and now faces open speculation among the chattering class that his Trump administration job is on the line.

It’s difficult to say whether that speculation is correct: The White House has a habit of sending mixed and misleading signals when it comes to President Donald Trump’s feelings on his Cabinet members and senior staff, and the President himself is known to change his mind on such matters quickly and often.

While we wait to learn the fate of the nation’s top environmental (de-)regulator, here’s a timeline of Pruitt’s recent scandals and how the administration and prominent Republicans have responded to them. We’ll start with some background:

2/16: The director of the EPA’s office of criminal enforcement says Pruitt started flying first class to avoid people yelling profanities at him.

3/1: Pruitt vows that “there’s change coming,” and that his “next flight” will be coach.

3/14: The Washington Post reports Pruitt’s soundproof office phone booth actually cost closer to $43,000, including installation.

3/20: The Associated Press reports Pruitt spent $120,000 in public funds for a meeting in Italy that included a private Vatican tour.

3/29: ABC News reports Pruitt lived in a townhouse co-owned by an energy lobbyist’s lobbyist wife.

3/30: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reveals Pruitt used his massive security detail on trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland and a University of Kentucky basketball game.

3/30: ABC News reports that Pruitt’s security detail once broke down the door to his townhouse in a panic, only to find him napping inside.

4/1: Former New Jersey governor and short-lived Trump transition leader Chris Christie says Pruitt never should have been hired in the first place.

4/2: The Wall Street Journal and CNN report, citing an unnamed White House official and a person familiar with the matter, respectively, that the White House is reviewing Pruitt’s living arrangement in a townhouse leased for a favorable rate from a lobbyist.

Politico reports, citing an unnamed senior administration official, that White House chief of staff John Kelly had considered Pruitt’s firing even before the townhouse scandal, but held off in anticipation of the EPA inspector general’s report on Pruitt’s expensive travel habit.

According to a Tuesday Bloomberg report citing two unnamed administration officials, Trump called Pruitt on Monday. One unnamed official said the President told his EPA administrator to “keep your head up” and “keep fighting.”

Days later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will say of the call: “It’s pretty routine that the President would speak to members of his own staff and Cabinet.”

4/3: The Atlantic reports that Pruitt used a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give two top aides huge raises. An EPA official later denies Pruitt was aware that the raises went behind the White House’s back.

Asked about Pruitt during a photo-op with Baltic leaders, Trump addresses the brewing scandals for the first time by saying of Pruitt, cryptically: “I hope he’s going to be great.

South Floridian GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) call on Pruitt to step down.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Pruitt addresses the scrutiny over his townhouse deal: “[D]o I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes. … It’s toxic here in that regard.”

4/4: In an interview with Fox News, Pruitt says he found out about the five-figure raises two of his senior advisers were given “yesterday.” He says he can’t yet name anyone responsible.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that President Donald Trump is “not” okay with the townhouse deal, and that “we’re reviewing the situation.”

“When we have had the chance to have a deeper dive on it we’ll let you know the outcomes of that, but we’re currently reviewing that here at the White House,” Sanders says.

The EPA ethics official who said last week that Pruitt’s townhouse deal complied with ethics guidelines now says he didn’t have all the necessary facts available when he made that assessment.

4/5: Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley says “I can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt.

“The White House is aware of these reports and we’re looking into those,” Gidley says, adding: “We don’t have any announcements to make in regards to staffing right now.”

Asked if he has confidence in Pruitt, Trump says: “I do.

A third House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), says “Pruitt should resign.

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The vice president of a border patrol union that endorsed Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary said Thursday that “Obama holdovers” within U.S. Border Patrol are undermining the President’s agenda.

“There’s several things that need to be taken care of,” Art Del Cueto (above, left), who also serves as the National Border Patrol Council’s Tuscon local president, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

“I think there’s people even still within our leadership in Border Patrol that are still Obama holdovers and, you know, maybe their plans — maybe their way of doing business is not necessarily the way that President Trump has asked.”

Del Cueto continued: “I think that’s what needs to be done to begin with to also secure the border. We need to get rid of some of the Obama holdovers that are still within our organization that are not following some of President Trump’s plan.”

Pressed several times by Keilar to name names, Del Cueto refused.

“Those individuals are still within our leadership, and I think they are undermining some of the things that need to be done,” he said at one point.

“There’s different members within the organization,” he said later.

Watch below via CNN:

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The secretive dark money group behind an Islamophobic ad campaign run during the 2016 election was unmasked Thursday as being funded by rightwing mega-donors, in a Center for Responsive Politics report on its 2016 tax return.

In three ads — “Islamic State of France,” “Islamic State of Germany” and “Islamic States of America” — Secure America Now spliced violent imagery, including of an execution-style murder and Islamic State fighters, in between doctored images of the three countries re-imagined as theocracies. The group has been prolific on YouTube for years, as well as on several social media channels.

Screenshot/Secure America Now

In 2016, the tax return revealed, Secure America Now was funded primarily by Robert Mercer, the hugely influential Trump donor and far-right activist; 45Committee, another dark money group reportedly started by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Todd Ricketts, the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and son of TD Amitrade founder-billionaire Joe Ricketts; and Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder fortune who is also active in Israeli politics.

Mercer, 45Comittee and Lauder gave Secure America Now $2 million, $2 million, and $1.1 million in 2016, respectively. The group counted donations in slightly smaller numbers from yet more well-known donors: Brad Anderson, former Best Buy CEO; Foster Friess; and Olympus Ventures LLC, which the Center for Responsive Politics reported is tied to the founder of Best Buy, Dick Schulze.

Secure America Now is categorized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization and therefore does not have to disclose donor information publicly. However, it does report its donors to the IRS, and the Center for Response Politics obtained a copy of Secure America Now’s 2016 tax return from its accounting firm.

In October of last year, Bloomberg reported that Facebook and Google poured extensive resources into helping Secure America Now target specific audiences in swing states with the Islamophobic ads.

The two companies, according to the report, “worked closely” with Secure America Now as the group spent “millions” on election ads.

“On June 16 of last year,” the report continued, “sales managers from Google’s elections team hunkered down in its New York offices with officials from Secure America Now and Harris Media to talk about how to improve their digital ad campaigns.”

Facebook, according to the report, went so far as to test new targeting technology with the Secure America Now campaign.

Facebook in recent weeks has received heavy criticism for the access to millions of users’ data that another Mercer-funded group had during the 2016 election: Cambridge Analytica. Mercer, along with former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, founded the group. According to the New York Times, Mercer put at least $15 million into the venture.

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Samantha Dravis (above, center), the senior counsel and associate administrator of the EPA’s office of policy, submitted her resignation last week, Politico and several other outlets reported Thursday.

CNN characterized Dravis as a top aide to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and reported that she was responsible for executing much of Pruitt’s deregulatory agenda over the past year. The Washington Post noted that her resignation comes as Pruitt relies on an ever-smaller group of advisers to make decisions.

“It has been an honor to serve in this role at EPA, and I am enormously grateful for the opportunity,” Dravis told CNN. “I wish Administrator Pruitt and all of the public servants at EPA the very best.”

Dravis had previously worked in George W. Bush’s White House as associate director of political affairs, according to her EPA bio, and then became president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund.

Pruitt himself resigned as chairman of that organization, an advocacy group tied to the Republican Attorneys General Association, before joining the Trump administration.

The Rule of Law Defense Fund opposes regulations the EPA put in place during the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan, and has received funding from the Koch brothers’ group Freedom Partners, according to a Bloomberg reportDemocrats were critical of Pruitt’s leadership of the group during his confirmation process, painting him as a prime example of a Trump Cabinet nominee who’d worked to dismantle the agency he was tasked with leading.

The Post reported, citing several unnamed agency officials “with firsthand knowledge of the matter,” that Dravis’ resignation announcement last week was not connected to the numerous scandals currently afflicting her boss at EPA. A deputy White House press secretary, Hogan Gidley, said Thursday that he “can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt.” 

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