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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

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee did not rule out pursuing an obstruction of justice investigation on Tuesday, saying only that he would speak with the committee’s ranking member to determine the next steps forward.

Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “says that she wants the Judiciary Committee to investigate potential obstruction of justice,” CNN’s Manu Raju told committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the Senate’s hallways.

“Let me give you a process answer because this is where we are,” Grassley responded. “Sen. Feinstein wanted to talk to me by phone today. I sent word back that I’d like to have her and I sit down face-to-face and we’ll work out all of the subpoenas and all the stuff we have to do in the future and work out a whole program.”

“Are you OK, though, looking into the potential of obstruction of justice? Is that something for your committee?” Raju asked.

“We’re going to leave that to a conversation with Feinstein,” Grassley responded.

Raju was asking about a letter from Feinstein to Grassley on Friday, in which the ranking member urged that the committee “investigate all issues that raise a question of obstruction of justice. These issues should be developed by our legal staff, presented to us, and be subject to full Committee hearings.”

Feinstein focused specifically on fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates — who warned White House counsel on Jan. 26 and 27 that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States and could be blackmailed — and Flynn’s forced resignation on Feb. 13.

On Jan. 27 and Feb. 14, Feinstein noted, citing recent testimony by fired FBI Director James Comey, Trump met with Comey privately to first ask for his loyalty and then to ask him to drop the federal probe into Flynn.

The subpoenas Grassley mentioned could have been a reference to Feinstein’s letter as well. In it, she advised that the committee subpoena Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, if necessary, following their tight-lipped responses to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Watch Raju’s exchange with Grassley below:

Two top Republicans on Tuesday accused journalists of “creating a debate” and “creating a rumor that’s not happening” regarding President Donald Trump’s potential firing of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Asked about Mueller during his weekly press briefing Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) echoed his comment to radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier Tuesday — that Mueller should be allowed to work independently.

“Yeah, I mean all I’ve heard —  much are rumors, but I think, in the best case for the President, is to be vindicated by allowing this investigation to go on thoroughly and independently. So I think the best advice would be to let Robert Mueller do his job.”

Ryan dodged a question about whether he would stand by the President if he decided to sack Mueller.

Later, when Ryan was asked if he had shared his thoughts about Mueller with Trump, Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pitched in from off-stage.

“There’s no debate that’s going on here, you’re saying,” Ryan responded, looking at McCarthy.

The majority leader piped up, off mic: “You’re creating a debate that’s not happening.”

Ryan added: “This is — I heard this is like a rumor we heard last night. So there’s really not some big debate that’s occurring on this.”

The reporter pressed: “And would Congress be interested in re-upping the special prosecutor law?”

“You’re creating — like I said, Kevin just said it, you’re creating a debate that’s not occurring here. This is something that I think is a rumor that came out last night.”

“You’re creating a rumor that’s not happening,” McCarthy said.

Ryan returned to recapping the House Republican conference’s recent policy victories, frustrated at having been derailed.

“I am not saying this isn’t important,” he added later. “These investigations are important. They need to be independent. They need to be thorough. They need to go where the facts go, but we also have a duty to serve the people that elected us to fix the problems that they’re confronting in their daily lives and that’s what we’re doing.”

The rumor Ryan referenced may have been Newsmax CEO and friend of Trump’s Christopher Ruddy, who said Monday, “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he’s weighing that option,” referring to Trump. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said of the claim that Rudy “never spoke to the President regarding this issue.” But Rudy didn’t change his position, and in fact scolded Spicer to Politico, writing: “Don’t waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) said Monday that Mueller’s investigation “seems more like an effort to prosecute Donald Trump than it is to investigate.”

“What the hell are we investigating?” he said. “Why are we going through with this charade?”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday joined a handful of Republicans urging conservative critics of the special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation to back off.

“I’d be surprised” if Trump interfered with Mueller’s work, or fired him, Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think he should let Bob Mueller do his job, do his job independently and do his job quickly, because I think that that’s what he would want to have happen. So I just — I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. I’d be surprised if he would do that.”

Hewitt asked how Ryan would advise the President to interact with Mueller.

“I think he should let Bob Mueller do his work,” Ryan said. “I think we should let Bob Mueller do his work and get to the bottom of it, and get to the bottom of it quickly so that he can be vindicated, get to these things. Let’s not forget what this is originally all about. Russia is up to no good. Russia is trying to meddle into our elections.”

On Monday, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a friend of President Donald Trump, said “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he’s weighing that option.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the claim by saying that Ruddy “never spoke to the President regarding this issue.” But Ruddy didn’t back down from his assertion.

Asked if Trump would pledge not to interfere with Mueller’s work, a lawyer representing the President said Sunday, “I’m not going to speculate on what he will, or will not, do.”

Some influential conservatives, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter, have joined the attempt to undermine Mueller.

Still, Ryan joins Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ), who have either expressed confidence in Mueller, or concern at talk of Trump dismissing him.

The deputy attorney general appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel nine days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had acknowledged he was leading an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) defended the special counsel now in charge of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Monday, calling attacks by some powerful conservative personalities against him “a shameful, shameful ploy.”

Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in mid-May to lead the investigation, “won’t do a thing to deter Director Mueller from finding out the truth.”

Over the weekend and on Monday, conservative heavyweights, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, began attacking Mueller’s impartiality. Ann Coulter, the conservative provocateur, said fired FBI Director James Comey’s acknowledgements to Trump that he wasn’t under investigation had made Mueller’s position unnecessary. Coulter and Gingrich both welcomed Mueller’s appointment at the time.

“Already, former Speaker Gingrich and others have said negative things about Mueller just weeks after praising his selection,” Schumer said. “They know that Mr. Mueller is the man now responsible for following up on Mr. Comey’s testimony, so the hard right is trying to discredit him in advance. They know they can’t debate the facts or the issues or defend the actions of the White House on the merits, so what do they do? They attack the referee and try to besmirch the reputation of someone like Mr. Mueller.”

Schumer added later: “The right must be afraid of what Mr. Mueller’s going to find. I would ask Speaker Gingrich a question: Is he afraid of what Mr. Mueller is going to find out? Is that why he is attacking his reputation? The baseless attacks on former Director Mueller ring hollow.”

As the special counsel in charge of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election assembled key staff, several prominent Trump supporters questioned his impartiality, and whether the appointment was necessary at all.

Bloomberg first reported on June 1, citing two unnamed people, that Department of Justice fraud chief and former FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman would join special counsel Robert Mueller’s so-called “murderer’s row” of prosecutors. And the National Law Journal reported Friday, citing unnamed people familiar with the arrangement, that Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben — who in 2016 argued his 100th case in front of the Supreme Court — would assist Mueller on a part-time basis.

Perhaps the biggest flip-flop among high-profile Trump supporters came from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who changed justifications multiple times for his new opposition to Mueller.

When Mueller was first announced as the special counsel, Gingrich strongly praised him:

However, speaking to radio host John Catsimatidis Sunday, as quoted by The Hill, Gingrich said Mueller’s position had been compromised by fired FBI Director James Comey’s admission that he had authorized a friend to pass details of his meetings with Trump to the press in order to justify a special counsel.

“I think Congress should now intervene and they should abolish the independent counsel, because Comey makes so clear that it’s the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation by the FBI director leaking to the New York Times, deliberately set up this particular situation,” Gingrich said. “It’s very sick.”

The next day, he said evidence that Mueller wouldn’t be fair could be found in his new hires’ political donations.

Conservative provocateur Ann Coulter jumped on board Sunday, writing that Comey’s acknowledgement that he told Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation was grounds for dismissing Mueller altogether.

Weeks ago, Coulter celebrated Mueller’s appointment as a chance to target Democrats in Hillary Clinton’s circle involved in the investigation of her use of a private email server.

Radio host and LifeZette Editor-in-Chief Laura Ingraham posted a column from the Washington Examiner’s Byron York to her 1.5 million Twitter followers early Monday. York asked five unnamed Washington lawyers if they thought Comey’s reported friendship with Mueller presented a conflict. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting in his capacity as the then-lead of the Russia investigation at the Justice Department, chose Mueller to lead the investigation.

The Hill noted Monday that four members of Mueller’s investigative team, each seasoned criminal prosecutors with extensive experience at the Justice Deparment or Washington, D.C. law firms, had donated to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to specify when President Donald Trump would potentially release tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.

Trump, Spicer said, would further address the tapes “in due time,” “as soon as possible” and “when he’s ready to further discuss it.”

Spicer noted, though, that Trump was “not waiting for anything.”

Trump first brought up the existence of possible taped conversations with Comey three days after he abruptly fired him.

On Thursday, Comey said Trump’s tweet was his motivation for telling a friend to relay the contents of memos detailing his meetings with Trump to the press — which, Comey said, he hoped would in turn prompt the appointment of a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

At a press conference Friday, Trump said he would reveal whether he had taped his conversations with Comey “in the very near future” and “over a fairly short period of time.” Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa recently noted that Trump has often made and missed deadlines as a way of delaying or avoiding answering tough questions.

“Why leave open this question of whether there are tapes?” Reuters’ Ayesha Rascoe asked Spicer at his press briefing Monday. “Don’t the American people — Do they deserve to know whether Comey was lying to the Senate? Why leave this question open?”

“I think the President made it clear what his intention is on Friday,” Spicer said.

“It’s an open question,”Rascoe pressed.

“I understand that,” Spicer replied. “And he said he would answer that question in due time.”

NBC News’ Hallie Jackson followed up later: “If the President does have evidence that the FBI director lied under oath, what is he waiting for?” she asked.

“I think the President made it very clear on Friday that he would get back as soon as possible on this and his position on that conversation,” Spicer said.

“So what is he waiting for?” Jackson asked. “What’s the delay?”

“He’s not waiting for anything,” Spicer said. “When he’s ready to further discuss it, he will, but I think he laid out his position very clearly, very concisely on Friday.”

At the first full Cabinet meeting of his administration Monday, President Donald Trump blamed Senate Democrats for slowing the nomination process for members of his administration, despite his own failure to nominate anyone for the vast majority of presidential appointments he has left to fill.

“Due to a record long delay in confirmation, and the confirmation process, by the Senate Democrats, which I call the obstructionists — maybe they’ll change, but I doubt it for a while, but they are truly obstructionists — this is our first Cabinet meeting with the entire Cabinet present,” Trump said. “The confirmation process has been record-setting long, and I mean record-setting long, with some of the finest people in our country being delayed and delayed and delayed.

“But that’s — Much of that is over, and now we are going through, as you know, the regular process with people at other levels of government,” he added. “And that’s a very long process also, including ethics committee, which has become very difficult to deal with.”

He congratulated Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their Senate confirmations. Coats was confirmed on March 15; Perdue and Acosta were confirmed in late April; and Lighthizer was confirmed on May 11.

However, despite their lengthy confirmation processes, Trump also nominated the four individuals weeks after their Obama administration counterparts were nominated following the 2008 election.

And according to the Washington Post’s count of hundreds of key nominations, produced in partnership with the non-profit group Partnership for Public Service, Trump is lagging significantly behind his four most recent predecessors in the nominations his administration has sent to the Senate for consideration.

The lack of nominees for important vacancies appears to be partly by design. Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that one of the administration’s top three priorities was “deconstruction of the administrative state,” which included, he said, picking a Cabinet dedicated to that goal.

“The way the progressive left runs is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put it in some kind of regulation in an agency,” he said at the time. “That’s all going to be deconstructed.”

CNN Money reported June 7, citing the same Partnership for Public Service data, that Trump had nominated individuals to fill just 111 of more-than-1,100 positions requiring Senate approval. The publication reported that “[n]o president in modern history has fallen so far behind” in filling key positions.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway said Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was willing to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding the ongoing investigations into Russian election meddling.

“I know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was going to testify before some other committee this week to talk about the budget for the Department of Justice,” “Fox & Friends” presenter Steve Doocey asked Conway on Monday. “And now they’ve decided, because so many people were going to ask him about Comey and Mueller and all that other stuff, they’ve decided to put him out in front of the Senate Intel Committee?”

“Yes,” Conway answered. “Well, he is willing to cooperate and share what he knows.”

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The fired FBI director’s father said James Comey was “holding up well” Sunday, and criticized President Donald Trump’s Twitter volleys at his son.

“Jim was not aware of what Trump said this morning,” J. Brien Comey Sr. told the Bergen Record Sunday. “It’s a good thing he didn’t know.”

He was referring to a Sunday tweet in which Trump claimed Comey’s admitted passing off of unclassified records of his meetings with the President to a friend could be illegal.

“He just laughs when I talk about leaking,” the elder Comey said of his son. “He turned over one of his own documents to a friend. That’s not leaking.”

J. Brien Comey said James Comey was “holding up well – very well” and that he was a “happy camper. He wants to cool it for a while.”

He also said James Comey had enjoyed his recent testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which Comey accused the Trump administration of defaming him and told his former FBI colleagues: “I am so sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you properly.”

“He likes to bring people up to date on what he’s done,” Comey’s father said.

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