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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the Trump administration “give[s] the very best information that we have at the time” — seemingly regardless of whether that information turns out to be inaccurate.

At a press briefing Thursday, the Associated Press’ Zeke Miller asked why Trump had apparently been untruthful when he told reporters he didn’t know about the hush money Michael Cohen paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels to cover up her alleged affair with Trump.

Trump’s outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in interviews Wednesday and Thursday that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment last year. Giuliani claimed Trump didn’t know where the money went when he paid it to Cohen.

As mayor Giuliani stated, and I’ll refer you back to his comments, this was information that the President didn’t know at the time but eventually learned,” Sanders said.

But how could Trump have been ignorant of the recipient of Cohen’s payment once reports broke in January that Cohen had paid off Daniels? Sanders left the question unanswered.

“How could he not have known?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked. “He was paying him back.”

“I’m not going to get into those details,” Sanders said, before referring to Giuliani’s “lengthy” comments and the President’s tweets.

CNN’s Jim Acosta followed up with another unanswered question: “You said on March 7, ‘There was no knowledge of any payments from the President and he’s denied all of these allegations.’ Were you lying to us at the time, or were you in the dark?” he asked.

“The President has denied, and continues to deny, the underlying claim. And, again, I’ve given the best information I had at the time, and I would refer you back to the comments that you yourself just mentioned a few minutes ago about the timeline from Mayor Giuliani,” Sanders said.

Read More →

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to give a press briefing at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Watch below:

NBC News corrected its bombshell report on the wiretapping of Michael Cohen Thursday, saying that President Trump’s longtime personal attorney’s phone calls were monitored, rather than listened to, by federal investigators.

Tom Winter, one of the authors of the report, said on MSNBC Thursday that the original report claiming that Cohen’s phones had been tapped “in the weeks leading up to” raids on his home, office and hotel room were based off of “two independent sources who have a long-term track record of credibility in providing accurate information to this news organization.”

Three unnamed senior U.S. officials, Winters said in his correction, told him that rather than wiretapping Cohen, they had used a device known as a “pen register” to monitor call data. That is, they kept a record of the calls Cohen made, but did not surveil the content of the calls themselves.

The article itself now carries the correction:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier today, NBC News reported that there was a wiretap on the phones of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, citing two separate sources with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.

But three senior U.S. officials now dispute that, saying that the monitoring of Cohen’s phones was limited to a log of calls, known as a pen register, not a wiretap where investigators can actually listen to calls.

NBC News has changed the headline and revised parts of the original article.

The report came after Giuliani admitted in multiple interviews Wednesday and Thursday that Trump paid Cohen back for the hush money payment Cohen sent to porn star Stormy Daniels in October 2016. That payment is one focus of investigators, who raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room early last month.

Cohen initially told the New York Times in February of that hush money payment: “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

He added: “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Giuliani contradicted the latter statement Thursday when he told “Fox and Friends” that Cohen made the payment to help Trump’s campaign avoid scandal.

And the Wall Street Journal reported in March, citing unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” that Cohen had “complained to friends [after the election] that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to Ms. Clifford.”

Cohen recently asserted his Fifth Amendment rights in the civil case over the non-disclosure agreement covering that hush money payment, “due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

Read NBC News’ full report here.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

“Fox and Friends” weekend host Pete Hegseth claimed Thursday that Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016 was not illegal, even if it was a campaign expenditure. But his reasoning didn’t make any legal sense.

“They’re clearing up a ‘gotcha’ moment for legal reasons,” Hegseth told Fox Business host Stuart Varney, referring to the payment that Giuliani admitted was made to protect Trump’s presidential campaign from scandal.

“It wasn’t campaign funds,” Hegseth continued. “Even if it was, you can give unlimited in-kind contributions if you are the candidate yourself. There’s no tactical legal wrongdoing here, even if it doesn’t look great in the public eye. That’s what Rudy Giuliani is doing.”

Giuliani made a similar claim to the Washington Post Wednesday night: “Was the President really wise to take it out of personal funds rather than from campaign funds? Thank God he did, [or else] he’d get a campaign finance violation they’d try to drum up into a felony or something.”

The funds to pay off Stormy Daniels may not have come from the Trump campaign’s coffers, at least to our knowledge, but that’s not very relevant in the eyes of campaign law.

For one thing, if Cohen made the payment in order to aide Trump’s campaign — as Giuliani admitted Thursday morning — it would have violated reporting requirements for such contributions. There’s also a cap for contributions, and it’s much lower than $130,000.

Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, told TPM in an email Thursday that Hegseth’s explanation was “legally flawed and doesn’t clear them of campaign violations.”

First, the fact that the payments did not come from the campaign doesn’t mean it wasn’t a campaign expenditure,” Noble wrote. “It was a campaign expenditure if the purpose of the payment was purpose to prevent Daniels from hurting his election. If it was, not paying out of the campaign is a violation.”

“Second,” Noble continued, “it is true that the candidate can make unlimited contributions to his own campaign. But the campaign has to report receiving the contributions and making the expenditures. Also, if Cohen advanced the $130k, he made an excessive contribution until he was paid back. A loan or advance is a contribution until repaid.”

This is straightforward stuff, so much so that the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pointed it out on Twitter this morning.

Pretty much as soon as the Stormy Daniels hush money was first reported, watchdog organizations began pointing these potential violations out.

“[C]omplainants have reason to believe that the payment of $130,000 from Essential consultants LLC to Ms. Stephanie Clifford was an unreported in-kind contribution to President Trump’s presidential campaign committee […] and an unreported expenditure by the committee—because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election” a January FEC complaint from Common Cause read.

Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation, Paul S. Ryan, appeared dumbstruck Wednesday at Giuliani’s confession:

Hegseth added Thursday: “This is not what people who voted for him care about, ultimately. They understand there’s some ‘there’ there on things. That’s not the issue.”

Read More →

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said Thursday that it had always been obvious Trump lawyer Michael Cohen didn’t make an $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 “out of the goodness of his heart.”

Dent was responding to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s claims in interviews Wednesday and Thursday that, contrary to Cohen and Trump’s previous claims, Cohen was reimbursed for the payment by Trump.

I don’t think there was anybody on the planet who thought that Michael Cohen, out of the goodness of his heart, wrote a $130,000 check to Stormy Daniels without seeking any reimbursement,” Dent told CNN. “I mean, who would do that?”

“I mean, tell me a lawyer who would write a check out of his own pocket for his client without a reimbursement?” he continued. “I mean, come on, I mean, we’re not fools here.”

Giuliani, Dent said, “simply stated what we already expected was the case.”

CNN’s Poppy Harlow noted that Giuliani told the Washington Post that Trump’s reimbursement payments to Cohen were made in 2017. Did that call for oversight hearings? she asked.

“Sure,” Dent said, adding later: “If a Democratic president had done this, we’d be waving a bloody shirt right now.”

Earlier in the interview, seemingly in reference to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ claims that Trump hadn’t known about the payments to Daniels, Dent asked: “How does Sarah Huckabee Sanders go to work everyday, if she was sent out there every day to mislead the American people?”

Watch below via CNN:

Read More →

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was blunt Thursday morning in his assessment of Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s interview on “Fox and Friends” earlier in the day: “That’s a confession!”

Giuliani, after a clumsy and surprisingly news-making interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday, tried to clean up the mess with another appearance on the network Thursday morning. It didn’t help:

“Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said of Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who was paid to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Toobin pointed out that Giuliani had just made the case the money was, contrary to the Trump camp’s claims, a campaign expenditure. Therefore, Toobin reasoned, Giuliani had admitted to Trump and Cohen’s violation of campaign finance law.

I hadn’t heard that clip before,” Toobin said of Giuliani’s “Fox and Friends” comment. “I mean, that’s a confession!”

“That’s a confession that this is a campaign finance violation because they wanted to shut her up in October of 2016.”

“That’s why the payment was made then,” he continued. “Which, it was obvious to all of us, but now you have the President’s lawyer confessing that this was a payment for the benefit of the campaign.”

Depending on the level of intent behind the skirting of campaign finance law, Toobin noted, the Federal Election Commission could handle such violations civilly or criminally.

Watch below via CNN:

Read More →

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) warned Wednesday that Democratic control of the Senate or House of Representatives would lead to “subpoenas.”

If we do lose control of either of the two bodies, then you’ll have absolute gridlock,” Ryan said at the Milken Institute Global Conference, according to multiple reports.

“You’ll have gridlock, you’ll have subpoenas, you’ll have just the system shutting down,” he added. “I don’t think we’re going to lose control, but I think that’s what would happen.”

Ryan announced last month that he would not seek reelection.

He acknowledged Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, that “there’s a great amount of enthusiasm on the other side of the aisle.”

Read More →

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections Ltd., announced in a press release Wednesday that it was ceasing operations.

The press release read in part:

Earlier today, SCL Elections Ltd., as well as certain of its and Cambridge Analytica LLC’s U.K. affiliates (collectively, the “Company” or “Cambridge Analytica”) filed applications to commence insolvency proceedings in the U.K.  The Company is immediately ceasing all operations and the boards have applied to appoint insolvency practitioners Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP to act as the independent administrator for Cambridge Analytica.

Additionally, parallel bankruptcy proceedings will soon be commenced on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and certain of the Company’s U.S. affiliates in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Cambridge Analytica made national news during the 2016 campaign, when it played a role first in Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) Republican presidential primary campaign, and then in the Trump campaign’s digital operations.

Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer was an investor in Cambridge Analytica when it formally began its work for Trump’s campaign in the summer of 2016. Steve Bannon, who lead Trump’s campaign organization, was previously Cambridge Analytica’s vice president.

Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, amended disclosure forms in August last year to reflect a consulting relationship with SCL.

Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer, along with Cambridge Analytica’s suspended CEO Alexander Nix, were named directors earlier this year at a new company called Emerdata, according to documents reported by Business Insider. So was Johnson Chun Shun Ko, which the report identified as the deputy chairman of a private security firm chaired by Blackwater founder and Trump ally Erik Prince.

The filings show Nix resigned as an Emerdata director in late March. Mother Jones noted Wednesday that two other senior employees at Cambridge Analytica, Chief Data Officer Alexander Taylor and recently-named CEO Julian Wheatland, are also directors at Emerdata.

Emerdata, according to the documents, shares an address with SCL.

The spotlight on Cambridge Analytica only grew with the prominence of Mueller’s probe.

In October of last year, the Daily Beast reported that the company’s CEO had reached out to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the presidential campaign, offering to help him publish the thousands of emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The Wall Street Journal reported the same month that Cambridge Analytica had offered to help Assange organize the stolen Democratic emails Wikileaks was publishing at the time.

The Journal reported in December that Mueller had requested documents from the Cambridge Analytica, though an unnamed person familiar with a matter told the outlet the request came before the October reports.

Then, in March of this year, a whistleblower from the company, Christopher Wylie, opened up to media outlets about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data.

Facebook banned the firm, claiming that it had violated a 2015 agreement that it would destroy data initially attained through an academic researcher’s social psychological research app. Hundreds of thousands of people had interacted with the data-gathering app. Tens of millions of Facebook users’ data was revealed to have been compromised.

The British government subsequently announced a probe of both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have mostly escaped heavy scrutiny in the states. Zuckerberg completed two rounds of light questioning from members of Congress in April.

Also in March, just days after Wylie came forward, Nix was suspended after an undercover investigation by BBC’s Channel 4 revealed what he offered an actor posing as a potential political client: Cambridge Analytica, Nix told the actor, employed former intelligence officials and attractive women to entrap its clients’ political opponents and stir up damaging scandals.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price contradicted himself again on Wednesday, reversing his comment the previous day that eliminating the penalties associated with Obamacare’s individual mandate “will harm the pool in the [insurance] exchange market.”

“Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do,” Price said in a statement to Politico Wednesday. “Forcing Americans to buy something they don’t want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets.”

“The only fair and effective way to bring down health care costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses,” his statement continued.

It was a turn back to conservative orthodoxy, given that congressional Republicans eliminated the penalty for not having health coverage (or else receiving a waiver) as part of their tax bill last year. The change will take effect in 2019. 

On Tuesday, Price briefly strayed from that orthodoxy when he said in a speech to the World Health Care Congress that the mandate repeal “will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals that are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market.”

TPM obtained audio of Price’s comments. You can listen to them here.

Read More →

West Virginia Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship said Tuesday that it wasn’t racist to call Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s father (and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s father-in-law) a “Chinaperson.” 

I mean, I’m an Americanperson,” Blankenship said. “I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying a Chinaperson. Some people are Koreanpersons, some of them are Africanpersons.” 

During a debate hosted by Fox News, moderator Bret Baier asked Blankenship about a radio interview he gave in which he called the shipping tycoon James Si-Cheng Chao, an American citizen, “a wealthy Chinaperson.”

Chao, Blankenship said, has “a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China, and we just need for it to be known.”

Elaine Chao, Baier said Tuesday, “is a key decider in infrastructure projects which might be a big deal in West Virginia. How do you get along and get things done by slinging insults like that?”

Blankenship said that while he was “not going to D.C. to get along,” the idea “that calling somebody a Chinaperson — I mean, I’m an Americanperson.”

“I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying a Chinaperson,” he continued. “Some people are Koreanpersons some of them are Africanpersons. It’s not any slander there. But both families are very powerful in both countries. I’ve previously been on the board of four or five major corporations. You do not send family members out to negotiate purchases and deals with other family members. It’s called a conflict of interest.”

Blankenship, a former coal baron who served prison time for conspiring to violate mine safety standards after 29 workers died in one of his mines, has made a strategy of attacking McConnell.

A Democratic super PAC has invested heavily in attacking one of Blankenship’s more polished opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), the Republican sitting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) least wants to face in a general election. 

Read More →

LiveWire