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 and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Early in his presidency, Donald Trump pressured White House staff to sign non-disclosure agreements meant to last beyond his time in office, the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor wrote in a column Sunday.

The editor, Ruth Marcus, wrote that a draft of the non-disclosure agreement she saw carried $10 million penalties — “payable to the federal government,” she wrote — for each violation. Marcus acknowledged, based on conversations with unnamed people who didn’t remember that number, that the final agreement’s penalty may have been “watered down.” 

In her column Sunday, Marcus called the document “constitutionally repugnant” and “laughably unconstitutional” and reported that an unspecified number of senior White House staff who initially hesitated to sign the NDAs ultimately did because, in her words, they’d concluded “the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.”

According to Marcus, senior White House staff were pressured by the President himself, then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office to sign the documents.

One unnamed person who Marcus said signed a nondisclosure agreement told her the documents “were meant to be very similar to the ones that some of us signed during the campaign and during the transition.”

“I remember the president saying, ‘Has everybody signed a confidentiality agreement like they did during the campaign or we had at Trump Tower?’” the source continued.

The source added, referring to the time frame to which the documents applied: “It’s not meant to be constrained by the four years or eight years he’s president — or the four months or eight months somebody works there. It is meant to survive that.”

Marcus wrote that the draft agreement she’d seen defined relevant “confidential” information — information that the NDA asserted it covered — as “all nonpublic information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties in the service of the United States Government on White House staff.”

Marcus said the White House never responded to multiple requests for comment. Representatives of the White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s questions Sunday. 

Read Ruth Marcus’ full column here. 

Read More →

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee under oath in November that he “pushed back” on a 2016 proposal from George Papadopoulos, then a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, that members of the campaign meet with Russians.

According to three unnamed meeting attendees who spoke to Reuters, however, that sworn statement was inaccurate.

The sources — whom Reuters described as “[t]hree people who attended the March campaign meeting” and subsequently “gave their version of events to FBI agents or congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election” — said, in Reuters’ words, that “Sessions had expressed no objections to Papadopoulos’ idea.”

One unnamed source recalled Sessions’ response to Papadopoulos‘ proposal as “something to the effect of ‘okay, interesting,'” Reuters said, while another said Sessions’ response “was almost like, ‘Well, thank you and let’s move on to the next person.'” The third source had a similar account, Reuters said.

The outlet noted that one named source who attended the meeting, J.D. Gordon, the Trump campaign’s director of national security, stood by a November statement in which he said Sessions had strongly opposed the idea.

Sessions’ Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment, Reuters said.

Sessions’ first misrepresentation to Congress ultimately resulted in the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel in charge of an independent Russia investigation.

In March of last year, Sessions recused himself from matters relating to the 2016 presidential election and Russia following revelations that, counter to his earlier testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he’d met twice prior to the election with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, under whose supervision campaign- and Russia-related matters fell after Sessions’ recusal, appointed Mueller as special counsel in May.

The New York Times first reported in January that Mueller had interviewed Sessions for several hours earlier that month. 

Read More →

Michael Bromwich, an attorney representing ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (pictured above), said Sunday that President Donald Trump’s tweets on the matter had proven the firing process to be “illegitimate.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday night, when McCabe was fired, that the action was the result of an Justice Department Inspector General’s Office report and a recommendation from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Both offices, Sessions said, “concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions.”

McCabe countered by saying he was authorized to make certain media disclosures, that others including then-FBI Director James Comey had known about the disputed communications in question, and that he answered investigators’ questions “truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me.”

He further argued that his firing was an attempt to discredit him as a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election meddling and other matters.

Trump, in tweets on Saturday and Sunday, tried to connect McCabe’s firing to Mueller’s probe and said the deputy director’s ouster was “great day for Democracy” [sic].

Read More →

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Saturday dismissed the criticisms that followed his using “konnichiwa” to a greet a congresswoman with Japanese ancestry. 

“How could ever saying ‘Good morning’ be bad?” Zinke told reporters, according to the Arizona Republic.

The interior secretary made the remark to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) during a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, just after she finished telling the story of her two grandfathers’ interment during World War II. Hanabusa had pressed Zinke to protect funding for a National Park Service program aimed at researching and preserving historical internment sites.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke began in response to Hanabusa.

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” she replied, specifying the Japanese greeting used in the morning, rather than in the afternoon.

Hanabusa noted later that “no one else was greeted in their ancestral language,” and that she understood “this is precisely why Japanese Americans were treated as they were more than 75 years ago. It is racial stereotyping.” 

Read More →

The Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe gave inconsistent answers during an interview Sunday regarding whether the committee investigated potential collusion between the Trump campaign in Russia.

At one point, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) distinguished between “evidence” of collusion and collusion itself.

“That’s a different statement,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “We found no evidence of collusion.”

Conaway, who took over leadership of the probe after committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) became the subject of an ethics investigation, announced last week that he was ending the fact-gathering stage of the probe and sending a draft report to committee Democrats for their review.

Among the conclusions listed on a one-page summary of Republicans’ draft: “We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

Conaway seemed to back away from that claim Sunday.

In his interview with the Republican congressman, Todd asked whether ousted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s closed-door testimony before the committee in December had backed up ousted FBI Director James Comey’s contention that Comey was fired because of the Russia probe. 

“It’s been a while since I sat through that testimony, I haven’t read it recently,” Conaway said.

He continued, tellingly: “We were focused not so much on that, because that feeds into the collusion issue, and our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea, so we really weren’t focused on that direction.” 

“No evidence of collusion,” Conaway said later, repeating a point that Democrats on the committee have said was not sufficiently investigated. Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said separately Sunday that Democrats will “certainly be able to show the facts supporting the issue of collusion,” and he’s previously said committee Democrats will release their own report on the probe.

“No evidence of collusion,” Todd repeated back to Conaway. “But if you’re not investigating collusion, then you haven’t sought the evidence.”

“That’s all we investigated,” Conaway said, contradicting himself. “We didn’t investigate his obstruction of justice issue. That’s what we investigated: Was there collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or between the Clinton campaign and the Russians?”

Among the committee’s March 2017 agreement on the parameters of its probe was the question: “Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. Persons?”

Schiff on Tuesday released a lengthy document outlining what he said were insufficiently-pursued leads and interviews following Conaway’s announcement that the probe would conclude.

Todd asked Conaway about one person on Schiff’s list whom the committee never interviewed: George Papadopoulos, a named member of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team who’s pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s investigators about his 2016 contacts with several Kremlin-tied Russians.

Papadopoulos, Conaway responded, had been “caught up in the Mueller investigation” and unavailable to be interviewed. Besides, he said, Papadopoulos “was kind of at the edge of the circumstances.”

“How do you know that if you didn’t interview him?” Todd asked.

“All the other information we got, and all the information we got about him, that talked about him, he was not somebody that seemed to be a player in the long term,” Conaway responded.

“Do you now regret trying to draw a conclusion about collusion?” Todd asked.

“No,” Conaway said before explaining: “Well, we haven’t drawn that. What we said, Chuck, is that we found no evidence of it. There may– That’s a different statement. We found no evidence of collusion.”

Conaway said later, characterizing Democrats’ protests about the committee ending its probe: “The collusion issue, we found no evidence of it. The Democrats think they have. They’ve not shared that with us, if they have. I’ve shared all of my evidence we’ve got with them, but if they’ve got evidence of collusion, they haven’t shared it with us.”

Read More →

Several Republican lawmakers on Sunday urged President Donald Trump and his legal team to stop attacking the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday night fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and on Saturday one of the President’s attorneys, John Dowd, urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to follow Sessions’ “courageous” example and end Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump celebrated McCabe’s firing as “a great day for Democracy” [sic] and on Sunday continued his attacks against McCabe, Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey.

Republicans — at least, those booked to discuss the Russia investigation and other topics on Sunday talk shows — urged the President and his team to show some restraint.

“If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told CNN’s Jake Tapper that, contrary to Trump’s earlier tweet, McCabe’s firing was a “horrible day of democracy” and that he expected to “see considerable pushback” from Congress in response to Trump’s “designs” on Robert Mueller.

“I don’t know what the designs are on Mueller, but it seems to be building toward that,” Flake said, after referencing “firings like this happening at the top from the President and the attorney general.”

“And I just hope it doesn’t go there, because it can’t,” he said. “We can’t, in Congress, accept that.”

Tapper pressed, saying that with a few exceptions, “I haven’t seen a lot of pushback from Republicans” in response to Trump’s attacks against the Russia probe.

“Do you really think that [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] Paul Ryan will stand up and say ‘No, Mr. President, you can’t do this’?” he asked.

“I hope so,” Flake responded. “Talking to my colleagues all along, it was, ‘Once he goes after Mueller, then we’ll take action.’ I think that people see that as a massive red line that can’t be crossed.”

“I would just hope that enough people would prevail on the President now: Don’t go there,” Flake added.

Flake said earlier, referring to Trump’s response to McCabe’s firing: “I’m just puzzled by why the White House is going so hard at this, other than they’re very afraid of what might come out. I don’t know how you can have any other conclusion.”

Later in the show, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reaffirmed to Tapper what he’s said before: If Trump fires Mueller, “that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule of law nation.”

“I think we owe it to the average American to have a hearing in the [Senate] Judiciary Committee where Attorney General Sessions comes forward with whatever documentation he has about the firing and give Mr. Mccabe a cans to defend himself,” Graham said separately.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Sunday morning continued to make personal the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday night.

First, while it is true some of Mueller’s team has made political contributions to Democrats in the past, it is misleading to say the team consists of “13 hardened Democrats.” As the Washington Post pointed out, Mueller is prohibited by federal regulations from making politically-motivated hiring decisions. And Mueller himself is a Republican.

Also, as the Washington Post pointed out, Comey was not asked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) whether he had known someone else to be an anonymous source. Grassley actually asked whether Comey had “ever been an anonymous source” in reports relating to the investigations of Trump or Hillary Clinton, and whether Comey had “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source” regarding the same investigations. Comey answered in the negative to both questions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who carried out McCabe’s firing, said in a statement Friday night that both the office of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility “concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions,” presumably during a previously-reported inspector general probe of the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

In a lengthy response, McCabe said he had been singled out, and his credibility attacked, as “part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”

McCabe maintained that he was authorized to share information with the media through his staff; that “others, including [then-FBI Director James Comey], were aware of the interaction with the reporter;” and that he answered the inspector general’s questions “truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me.”

Following the firing, various outlets reported that McCabe had kept written memos detailing his interactions with Trump, and that he had been in touch with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

The Sunday tweets were a continuation of what Trump started the day before: a series of stinging statements that mixed justifications for McCabe’s firing with attacks against him personally, and against his former boss, ousted FBI Director James Comey.

Read Trump’s Saturday tweets related to the firing below:

This post has been updated. 

Read More →

The wife of the founder of Oath Keepers, a right wing anti-government militia group, alleged that he was abusive and violent in a petition for a temporary restraining order filed last month.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which flagged Tosha Vonn Adams Rhodes’s petition Thursday, noted that her request was denied and no hearing was scheduled.

In the hand-written petition, Vonn Adams Rhodes alleged her husband Stewart Rhodes has in the past waved his gun around, and pointed it at his own head and through the car door at their neighbors’ home when he drove by it, “despite the fact that some of our children are often in and out of their house.”

She recently filed for a divorce, she said, and was “terrified of his response.”

She described one incident in which Rhodes waved his gun around in 2016, “each time increasing the threat level to me, by waving the gun around a little more each time before claiming he was suicidal.”

“Whenever the respondent is unhappy with my behavior (say I want to leave the house — he doesn’t like me to leave) he will draw his handgun (which he always wears), rack the slide, wave it around, and then point it at his own head, telling me my behavior has caused this,” Vonn Adams Rhodes wrote.

At one point in the summer of 2016, she wrote, Rhodes “grabbed my teenage daughter by the throat until stopped by my son.”

Vonn Adams Rhodes noted that while her husband’s rifles are “stored with a friend,” he likely has handguns and “several knives” on his person.

The Oath Keepers most recently made headlines when Rhodes called on members to serve as armed security guards at schools following the Valentines’ Day mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“What I tell our people is don’t ask for permission,” he told TPM in an interview on the proposal. “Let ‘em know what you’re doing and be as friendly as you can. But this is the reality we’re in right now.”

Rhodes previously called on Oath Keepers to patrol polling locations on Election Day in 2016. The group was an armed presence during the 2014 standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and rancher Cliven Bundy, and during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the police killing of Mike Brown.

They have law enforcement officers among their members, as well: In 2o16, a police officer in Maryland was suspended over a photograph of an Oath Keepers hat prominently displayed in his cruiser.

Read More →

The New York Times reported Thursday on a handful of administration officials who could face imminent departures from the White House.

The report came hours after President Donald Trump said Thursday morning that “there will always be change, but very little” in his administration. He was responding to a question about the numerous recent firings and resignations among senior White House staffers.

Citing knowledgeable unnamed sources — and sometimes not citing any — the Times listed five officials who could face career trouble.

White House chief of staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster “are on thin ice,” the Times’ Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman reported, “having angered the president by privately saying ‘no’ to the boss too often.”

Separately, the Times cited several unnamed people familiar with phone calls Trump made following reporting on domestic violence allegations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter. For months, long after the FBI delivered the results of his background check to the White House, Porter kept his senior-level position despite the allegations.

Trump’s language about Kelly’s botching of “the Porter issue,” in the Times’ words, was “unfit for publication.”

Unnamed “White House insiders,” the Times said, predict Kelly or McMaster, or both, could be fired “soon.”

The same goes for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, the Times said, without citing specific sources.

Both officials, the paper wrote, “have both embarrassed the president by generating scandalous headlines” — an eye-popping dining room set, the order for which has now been cancelled, and a $122,000 European trip, respectively.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a frequent target for presidential attacks, is another official whom “Mr. Trump could act as early as Friday to remove,” the Times said, without citing specific sources.

Some unnamed White House officials, the Times reported, believe that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is behind rumors of Sessions’ ouster (and, in turn, rumors of Pruitt’s own move to lead the Justice Department).

Yet other unnamed associates, the Times said, “speculate” that Trump knows firing Sessions would constitute a step too far in the eyes of many, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Left unscathed by the President’s potential wrath: Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Despite his defiance on Trump’s wishes to ban transgender people from the military, the Times wrote, Mattis is safe “in part because he is a general who in Mr. Trump’s mind ‘looks the part’ of a military leader.”

Read More →

In October 2017, the Treasury Department inspector general released a report on Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes, and it wasn’t pretty: While Mnuchin hadn’t technically broken any laws in booking more than $800,000 of government plane travel, the report said, “in almost all cases a single boilerplate statement constituted the whole analysis and justification for designation and use of military aircraft.”

On Thursday, the watchdog group Citizens of Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) published documents the inspector general would have used to reach that conclusion, including numerous communications between Mnuchin’s office and officials at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Much of the time, the Treasury Department’s justifications for the expensive travel stayed the same: some version of “scheduling, logistics, costs, and secure communications needs.”

CREW was blunt in its conclusions: “Secretary Mnuchin has legitimately earned a place in the rogues’ gallery of cabinet secretaries who have abused their all too easy access to military and other non-commercial aircraft for both business travel and what, upon closer inspection, appears to sometimes include personal travel,” the group wrote in an introduction to a report attached to the documents.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has billed taxpayers for the most expensive flight options available at every turn, appearing to never even consider flying commercial as his predecessors did,” a press release accompanying the report read separately.

Read CREW’s report here, and read the documents it received in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit here, here and here.

Read More →