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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

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday offered a meek defense of the FBI, which has faced harsh criticism from President Donald Trump in recent days.

“I got to tell you, sometimes, things that might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations,” Sessions said cryptically during a press conference Friday. “And so fairness and justice should also be provided to our personnel.”

He was more explicit when a reporter asked if he shared Trump’s view that the FBI’s reputation and status is “in tatters.”

“I don’t share the view that the FBI is not functioning at a high level all over the country,” Sessions said.

“In my view, the FBI has huge national security requirements. It is also fulfilling a fabulously important role of working to fight against violent crime.”

Sessions noted that Trump had spoken to the FBI National Academy’s graduating class — the first time a president had done so in 47 years, he said — and assured them that “we are going to be a law enforcement administration that helps law enforcement be successful.”

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Rupert Murdoch, the co-executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, said Thursday that the multiple sexual harassment scandals that rocked Fox News were “all nonsense,” aside from that of the network’s late chairman Roger Ailes.

“How harmful has the whole raft of allegations about sexual harassment at Fox News been for the business?” Sky News’ Ian King asked Murdoch, during a discussion of his multibillion dollar deal with Disney. Murdoch is in the middle of a years-long effort to purchase Sky, the British satellite broadcasting company in which he already has a partial stake.

“Oh, that’s all nonsense,” Murdoch said. “There was a problem with our chief executive, sort of over the years, but isolated instances. As soon as we investigated it, he was out of the place within hours.”

“Well, three or four days,” Murdoch hedged.

That vastly downplays the scope of the allegations against Ailes, which included more than two dozen women and went back decades. Ailes hired private investigators to trail his accusers and the journalists covering them and pursued those who spoke out, as journalist Gabriel Sherman so thoroughly documented. The company paid tens of millions of dollars to keep Ailes’ and others’ accusers quiet.

Murdoch continued: “And there’s been nothing else since then. But that was largely political, because we’re conservative. Of course, all the liberals are going down the drain: NBC is in deep trouble, CBS, their stars. You know, I think it’s a very interesting subject we could go into at length, but there are really bad cases that people should be moved aside, and there are other things which probably amount to a bit of flirting.”

The media mogul’s references to his competitors are likely nods to NBC and CBS severing their relationships with star anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, respectively, each accused with habitual sexual harassment of their coworkers, including sexual assault in Lauer’s case.

But Murdoch’s claim that there was “nothing else” aside from the sexual harassment allegations against Ailes is false.

Prominent Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling left the network amid such allegations, and co-president Bill Shine left amid revelations he helped cover them up.

Charles Payne was briefly suspended during an investigation of claims made by Scottie Nell Hughes, who accused Payne of raping her and Fox News of punishing her for the accusation. And tape recently resurfaced of Bette Milder accusing Geraldo Rivera and a producer of sexually assaulting her decades ago. Rivera issued a non-apology. Payne maintains his innocence.

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President Donald Trump on Friday continued the White House’s stonewalling on when exactly he knew former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“When did you find out Michael Flynn lied to the FBI? When did you find out?” an inquiring reporter asked, as Trump answered questions before boarding Marine One on his way to deliver a speech at the FBI National Academy graduation.

“What else is there?” he asked, sounding exasperated.

“You know the answer,” he said. “How many times has that question been asked?”

But journalists don’t know the answer; the White House has repeatedly refused to answer the question.

Flynn was fired, the White House said at the time, for lying to the vice president about his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak before the current administration took office. But after he pleaded guilty this month as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe to lying to the FBI about those conversations, Trump said in a tweet that he’d known that Flynn lied to the FBI — a new claim which further opened the President up to accusations of obstructing justice. Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, later claimed to have written the tweet:

Reporters have repeatedly asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about when Trump first knew Flynn had lied to the FBI. She’s directed those questions to Trump’s personal lawyers, who haven’t offered any answers, except when Dowd told Axios: “the tweet did not admit obstruction,” and that the President “cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.”

Trump also told reporters Friday that “it’s a shame what’s happened to the FBI, but we’re going to rebuild the FBI.”

“There is absolutely no collusion, that has been proven,” he said, criticizing the cost of the investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “I didn’t make a phone call to Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.”

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Satirist and radio host Randy Credico was released from an interview with the House Intelligence Committee after his lawyer told the committee he planned on pleading the Fifth Amendment, Mother Jones reported Wednesday.

“Since your client will be pleading the 5th Amendment, the Committee does not require his presence for the scheduled interview,” the committee’s senior counterterrorism counsel, Kashyap Patel, wrote to Credico’s lawyer, Mother Jones reported. The lawyer, Martin Stolar, shared the email with Mother Jones.

Credico, who created a multi-part series this year on Wikileaks and Julian Assange for his radio show on WBAI, came to the committee’s attention when Roger Stone claimed that Credico had been his intermediary with Assange. Stone emphasized that Credico hadn’t transferred anything secret or privileged to him.

On Nov. 27 the committee subpoenaed Credico to testify on Dec. 15 (he tweeted an image of the subpoena on Nov. 28), reportedly after he told them he would not be interviewed voluntarily.

Stolar told Mother Jones that he didn’t want Credico “walking into an opening question,” given how “radioactive” Julian Assange is, and that Credico wanted to protect conversations with Assange that the Wikileaks founder “didn’t talk about on the air.”

“If they want to go charge Randy with something, then let them do it, not with his own words,” Stolar told Mother Jones. “I’m not saying he’s a criminal suspect in anything. But that is what the Fifth Amendment is for, to protect against self-incrimination.”

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On the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and just two months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the White House refused to acknowledge that regulating access to guns would have prevented the massacres.

“What has President Trump done to try to protect the American people against a similar type of massacre?” CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked Sanders, after referring to the two mass shootings.

Sanders said the administration’s goal of severely limiting immigration — even though the Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shooters were both born in the United States — would help “protect our citizens every single day.”

“One of the areas that the President has been outspoken about, not necessarily to those two instances but more broadly speaking in terms of national security and protecting individuals, certainly through border security, stronger vetting processes, and looking at whether or not there are other regulations that we can put in place that would offer protection,” she said.

“These were domestic shooters,” Brennan corrected her.

“Right, and I said I’m speaking more broadly in terms of national security as a whole,” Sanders said.

Sanders added, referring to the shootings: “Whether or not there is a regulation that could be put in place or not that could have prevented those things, frankly, I’m not aware of what that would be.”

Brennan pressed: Has the President highlighted any priorities to prevent further tragedies like these shooting massacres?

“I don’t think there is any one thing that you could do that could have prevented either one of those instances, horrible, horrible tragedies,” Sanders said.  

“But your prescription was given very quickly just the other day for this failed terrorist attack,” Brennan pushed back, referring to a poorly made pipe bomb detonated in a subway station in New York City on Monday. Hours later, the White House called for immigration restrictions, citing the bombing, and the following day the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Francis Cissna, laid out the same plan in a White House briefing.

“I mean, this is the worst shooting on U.S. soil on President Trump’s watch,” Brennan said.

“I understand that, and that’s why I think you have to take these matters obviously very seriously,” Sanders replied. “But if you could name a single thing that would have prevented both of these I would love to hear it because I don’t know what that would look like.”

“In terms of New York we know for a fact this individual came through chain migration system, this is something the president has been outspokenly against and something he wants to stop,” Sanders said. “So that’s a fact that we do know.”

Brennan tried one last time: “An assault weapons ban, any kind of regulation, any kind of mental health concern? The President specifically mentioned that as a possibility?”

Sanders dodged yet again.

“I know that they are looking at some of the mental health issues, it’s something the President has raised before. But in terms of a specific policy that we are moving forward with that would have prevented that, I’m not aware what that would be.”

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) thinks America has a people problem.

“I’m riffing here,” the speaker admitted, before listing three bullet points of “things we’re trying to do right now to get this economy humming to reach its potential”: Fixing the “regulatory problem,” passing Republicans’ bill to slash taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and people.

“People,” Ryan said bluntly. “This is going to be the new economic challenge for America. People. Baby boomers are retiring. I did my part, but, you know, we need to have higher birth rates in this country, meaning, baby boomers are retiring and we have fewer people following them in the work force.”

By doing “his part,” Ryan seemed to be referring to his three children. Low birthrates negatively affect tax revenue: If there are fewer people paying taxes the government will take in less money, especially if Republicans succeed in massively lowering taxes for the country’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

According to disclosures they made during the 2012 presidential election, Paul and Janna Ryan paid an effective tax rate of 15.9 and 20 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“We have something like a 90 percent increase in the retirement population in America, but only a 19 percent increase in the working population in America,” he continued. “So what do we have to do? Be smarter, more efficient, more technology? Still going to need more people. And when we have tens of millions of people right here in this country falling short of their potential, not working, not looking for a job, or not in school getting a skill to get a job, that’s a problem.”

It’s true that America’s birth rate has dipped over the past decade since the Great Recession, according to World Bank data. But, after a dramatic drop between 1960 and 1975 — reflected worldwide — it has stayed mostly fairly in the following decades.

A spokesperson for Ryan did not respond to TPM’s request to clarify his comments.

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Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-AL) urged his defeated Republican competitor to give it up on Thursday, saying he was “very confident in the outcome of this race.”

“I understand the frustration a little bit, it is a close race,” Jones told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “But I’d say, look, it’s time to move on. Every race is tough, it’s bitter sometimes. I think this one was one that the people of Alabama have now spoken a little bit, and they decided to heal.”

“I think he would do well to just, go ahead, let’s get this behind us so the people of Alabama can get someone in there and start working for them,” he added.

Moore has so far refused to concede the race despite a margin of victory for Jones well beyond what would trigger an automatic recount.

“In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots,” Moore said in a YouTube video Wednesday night. “This has been a very close race – and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Jones said of his victory. “We’ve looked at these numbers, and we’ve had folks. We feel very confident in the outcome of this race.”

Guthrie asked later about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call for Mitch McConnell to wait for Jones to be seated before the vote on Republicans’ tax bill, which would dramatically change the tax code in favor of the wealthy and corporations.

“I’m going to just let that play out, I really don’t have a position on that,” Jones said. “With the holidays and everything going on, this is a big deal. I want to make sure it’s done right, so let’s just see how it plays out.”

Watch below:

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The inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency will inspect EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s construction of a $24,570 “privacy booth” in his office, the IG said in a letter published Tuesday.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, published a letter from EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Tuesday, in which Elkins said a probe of Pruitt’s construction of a “secure, soundproof communications booth” in his office is “within the authority of the IG to review, and we will do so.”

In a hearing last week, Pruitt confirmed that he’d constructed a SCIF — short for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — in his office for conversations of classified information and for “secure conversations that need to take place,” including with the White House. He didn’t put a number on what percentage of his time he spent in the SCIF.

“The use of a secure phone line is strongly preferred for cabinet-level officials, especially when discussing sensitive matters,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told ABC News in a report published Wednesday.

Elkins noted in his letter to Pallone that “[a]s you know, we have numerous pending matters, and are not sure when we can begin with this engagement” and that his office “has been funded at less than the levels we deem adequate to do all of the work that should be done, and therefore we have to make difficult decisions about whether to accept any given potential undertaking.”

It’s true: the EPA’s self-investigating body is swamped. The office is already probing investigating Pruitt’s use of charter and military flights at taxpayers’ expense, including on trips home to Oklahoma.

And in a letter to Pallone dated four days prior to his message about Pruitt’s secure phone booth, Elkins confirmed that his office would look into a meeting between Pruitt and the National Mining Association in April 2017, to establish whether Pruitt or his staff may have violated lobbying laws by communicating their opposition to the Paris climate accord.

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Rep. Keith Ellison has ruled out running to serve the remainder of outgoing Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) term in a special election in 2018, a spokesperson confirmed to TPM Wednesday.

“He has ruled it out,” Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for Ellison, wrote in an email to TPM.

In a Facebook post, Ellison congratulated Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith for her appointment to the Senate in an interim capacity and said she had his “full support both now and when she runs in the 2018 special election.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source close to Ellison, that he would not run in the 2018 special election.

On Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton named Smith to fill Sen. Al Franken’s seat until a special election on Nov. 6, 2018, and Smith will reportedly run in that election to serve the remaining two years of Franken’s original term, until the 2020 election when a senator will be elected to serve a full term.

Franken announced his resignation Thursday after several women accused him of sexual harassment.

Ellison is also the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

This post has been updated.

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The USA Today editorial board on Tuesday pilloried President Donald Trump for his sexually suggestive attack against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

With his latest tweet, clearly implying that a United States senator would trade sexual favors for campaign cash, President Trump has shown he is not fit for office,” the editorial read. “Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.”

Trump had tweeted that Gillibrand — who is calling for him to resign over numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and assault — “would do anything” for political donations, including “begging,” which he wrote in quotation marks. “USED!” he exclaimed of New York’s junior senator.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Trump’s comment wasn’t sexist, and that it was meant to call attention to the administration’s commitment to ethics, a claim which doesn’t hold much water given the administration’s record on the matter.

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush,” USA Today’s editorial board wrote.

Presidents Bush and Obama each had their failures, the editorial asserted, but Trump is “uniquely awful.”

“His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.”

The editorial outlined Trump’s frequent tactic, during the 2016 presidential campaign, of asserting that the women accusing him of sexual assault weren’t attractive enough to be his victims, and listed a series of points which underlined, it said, the President’s “utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity”: supporting Roy Moore; habitually lying; stirring division along racial, ethnic and religious lines; and cozying up to white supremacists, to name a few of the paper’s examples.

“The nation doesn’t seek nor expect perfect presidents, and some have certainly been deeply flawed,” the editorial concluded. “But a president who shows such disrespect for the truth, for ethics, for the basic duties of the job and for decency toward others fails at the very essence of what has always made America great.”

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