John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

Hello Prime members. Welcome to the end of another action-packed week. Next week will likely be similarly crammed with news: Paul Manafort’s first trial is scheduled to get underway in the Eastern District of Virginia on Wednesday.

Here’s what happened in Prime.

  • Tucker Carlson gave Matt Shuham a piece of his mind.
  • It was an insane week for Russia-probe-related storylines. Allegra Kirkland’s weekly primer is required reading for all those who feel that they are struggling to keep up.
  • At Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s now-infamous press, \ Putin responded to a question about whether he had compromising information on Trump by saying that he didn’t even know that Trump was in Moscow in 2013. We have good reason to believe that isn’t true.
  • Josh Marshall notes that the Mariia Butina case is not being dealt with by the special counsel’s office, and offers a few theories as to why. He also runs through the Butina complaint, including text messages between Butina and Alexander Torshin, the Russian official who was managing her project in the U.S. In one message to Butina, David Kurtz notes, Torshin claimed she had upstaged Anna Chapman, the Russian spy arrested in the U.S. in 2010.
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders has held markedly fewer press conferences in the last 30 days. Kate Riga runs through some of the things the White House did not give reporters the opportunity to ask about.
  • Arkansas is the first state to implement Trump-administration-approved Medicaid work requirements, and thousands of people stand to lose their health care, Alice Ollstein writes in her weekly primer on Obamacare.
  • Dark money is now ever darker: The IRS will require 501c “social welfare” groups that can spend unlimited sums on elections to disclose even less information than they had been, Matt writes.
  • Donald Trump is insisting there was “no collusion,” “no phone call.” Wait. Who said anything about a phone call?
  • On Friday, we learned that Michael Cohen had tapes of his conversations with Donald Trump. But there’s some discrepancy about what was discussed on the tapes, David Kurtz notes.
  • Tierney Sneed writes in her weekly primer on voting rights that Alabama Republicans are suing to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census count that’s used to apportion U.S. congressional districts. Success would dramatically decrease the political power of Democratic-voting areas.
  • Each time Trump meets Putin, he has similar things to say about Russia’s election meddling. Here’s a look back.

One of the ways the Trump administration has been chipping away at Obamacare is by approving state plans to attach work requirements to Medicaid. Now, one set of work requirement is going into effect: Arkansas is requiring Medicaid recipients to submit proof online that they work or searched for a job at least 80 hours per month. But Arkansas has the second-worst rate of home internet in the country; thousands of people missed the deadline and could lose their health care.

Get the full story, and catch up on other assaults on Obamacare, in Alice Ollstein’s Weekly Primer on health care (Prime access) →

During today’s joint press conference between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, one fearless reporter asked Putin if he had any “compromising material” on Trump. As TPM’s Kate Riga writes, that was a clear allusion to the so-called “pee tape,” alleged in the Steele dossier.

Trump’s supposed liaison with prostitutes documented on the pee tape supposedly occurred in November 2013, when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. In response to the reporter’s question today, Putin said “when President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”

That response goes against quite a bit of reporting on what happened back in 2013. First and foremost, Trump reportedly invited Putin to the pageant himself. In March of this year, The Washington Post reported:

Donald Trump was so eager to have Vladi­mir Putin attend the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow that he wrote a personal letter to the Russian president inviting him to the event, according to multiple people familiar with the document.

The Post continued that the letter “has been turned over to investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.”

It’s unclear whether Putin received the invitation. Perhaps it got lost in the mail. But Trump’s desire to meet Putin was no secret.

According to other reports, Putin wasn’t just personally invited to the Miss Universe Pageant — for awhile, it looked as if he might attend. Reporters David Corn and Michael Isikoff tell part of the story in their book “Russian Roulette”: Trump had been anxiously waiting for Putin to show up at the pageant when he received a call from Putin’s spokesperson and right-hand man, Dmitry Peskov. Corn and Isikoff write:

Trump and Peskov spoke for a few minutes. Afterward, Trump recounted the conversation to Goldstone. Peskov, he said, was apologetic. Putin very much wanted to meet Trump. But there was a problem nobody had anticipated: a Moscow traffic jam. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands were in town, and Putin was obligated to meet them at the Kremlin. But the royal couple had gotten stuck in traffic and was late, making it impossible for the Russian president to find time for Trump. Nor would he be able to attend the Miss Universe pageant that evening.

Putin wanted to make amends, though. Peskov conveyed an invitation for Trump to attend the upcoming Olympics, where perhaps he and Putin could then meet. He also told Trump that Putin would be sending a high-level emissary to the evening’s event—Vladimir Kozhin, a senior Putin aide. And, Peskov told Trump, Putin had a gift for him.

Trump repeatedly claimed during the Miss Universe Pageant and in the years that followed that he had a relationship with Putin, and, at times, even claimed he had met him. On the campaign trail in June 2016, however, he changed his tone. “I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said.

The nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin before they met publicly for the first time in July 2017 remains unclear. But it does seem extremely unlikely that Putin did not know that Trump was in Moscow four years earlier.

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President Trump today said that Russian President Vladimir Putin denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. election — and said that he found that denial persuasive.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.

This is a familiar script.

Trump has met with Putin twice before, and after both meetings, had similar comments — Putin said he didn’t do it, and Trump believed him.

July 2017

The two presidents’ first meeting occurred during the G-20 summit last year in Germany. According to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson said.

But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in a separate press conference, cast some doubt on how “robust and lengthy” that exchange was — and said Trump “accepts” Putin statements that Russia did not meddle in the election.

“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements,” Lavrov said, according to a translation by CNN. “That’s all.”

Trump went on to have further, undisclosed conversations with Putin during the G-20, and, a few days later, tweeted that the two leaders were considering teaming up to form “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

November 2017

Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last year, but the two did speak on the sidelines of the summit three times.

After the summit, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had raised the issue of election meddling with Putin. “He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” he continued. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Read More →

Good morning; happy Monday. President Donald Trump is meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin this morning before returning to Washington, D.C., this evening. Here’s more on that, and on the other things our team has its eyes on.

Read More →

Welcome to the weekend, Prime members. It was a week that ended with a bang — the latest round of indictments in the Russia probe — and next week will likely start with one as President Donald Trump meets with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what happened in Prime.

  • Indictments! We’ve got more of ’em. Allegra Kirkland has what you need to know in the weekly primer on the Russia probe. Josh Marshall, meanwhile, makes his working notes on the indictments available.
  • Speaking of which… we’ve got a rundown of all the times Trump said the hackers named in the indictments did not exist.
  • The indictment relies heavily on shorthand to describe the individuals and entitites in the story — terms such as “organization 1” and “Candidate for U.S. Congress.” We know who many of these people actually are; Allegra has your glossary.
  • When the Russia government sought to distribute the information it had collected on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, it turned to a freelancer for The New York Observer, a publication owned, at the time, by none other than Jared Kushner, Josh notes.
  • Josh on why interpreting what’s actually going on with the Trump Russia story is like “looking at geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system.”
  • Tierney Sneed provides some color from Michael Flynn’s first appearance in court in half a year, including the chants of “lock him up” — parodying his words about Hillary Clinton — that met him at the courthouse.
  • What did Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have to do with Russia’s attempts to meddle in the U.S. election? Thanks to reporting from the New Yorker, we now know, writes Josh — and “it’s all been there in plain sight all along.”
  • The Trump administration announced an end to its family separation policies this week — but we already have hints it won’t last, I write.
  • Two weird threads of the Trump-Russia story become interwoven: Michael Flynn is, apparently, considering going into business with a man who is being sued by Elliot Broidy, for whom Michael Cohen brokered a hush-money deal.
  • The GOP members of Congress lining up to support Jim Jordan certainly know he’s lying, writes Josh. Nonetheless, they continue to line up.
  • If you’re not a high finance type, it might not be clear exactly what Wilbur Ross is up to with his very tardy divestiture from stocks he owns. Matt Shuham gives you a Michael Lewis-worthy explainer.
  • Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has decided, after screwing up repeatedly and being ordered by a judge to take remedial law classes, that he will no longer represent himself as his state defends his proof of citizenship voter registration laws in court, Tierney writes in the weekly voting rights primer.
  • Donald Trump just threw another giant wrench in the gears of Obamacare, Alice Ollstein writes in the weekly primer on the topic.
  • Pruitt’s gone, but he’s not off the hook. Investigations into his behavior will continue, Matt writes in the weekly primer on Trump Swamp.