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 and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

A watchdog group on Monday accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of several instances of criminal conflict of interest — in addition to lying in financial filings and to Congress — over his failure to divest millions of dollars in holdings in several companies, the value of which he may have knowingly impacted as secretary.

Much of the Campaign Legal Center’s (CLC) 115-page complaint to the Commerce Department’s inspector general was already known. Still, the report provided a granular view of the facts: that Ross improperly (and possibly illegally) maintained financial interests in several companies, whose value his decisions as secretary then affected, even after declaring that he’d divested from many of them.

One example is Invesco Ltd. Between the time Ross claimed to have sold his shares in the company and when he actually sold his shares, the value of his holdings rose by between roughly $1.2 million and $6 million.

“Ross held Invesco stock throughout most of 2017 while he was participating personally and substantially in the steel investigation,” the report states, referencing the inquiry Ross led into whether the U.S. should apply tariffs to imported steel on national security grounds. (Trump ultimately accepted Ross’ advice that it should.)

Ross and his spokespeople at the Commerce Department have dismissed these multimillion-dollar discrepancies as simple mistakes, something CLC demonstrated was “implausible.”

The complaint goes further, offering new information about specific instances in which Ross’ actions had a “direct and predictable effect” — the criminal definition — on companies in which he had a financial interest.

For example, one wholly-owned subsidiary of Invesco is WL Ross & Co. LLC, known as the company Ross used in a past life to gobble up struggling American steel companies like Bethlehem Steel and Acme Steel. By April 2017, the company had joined forces with China’s largest steel maker and others and was exploring acquisition opportunities in the country.

Even if the steel tariffs question hurt Invesco’s shareholders, the complaint said, “As a sophisticated investor, Ross may have thought his consideration of a steel tariff would advantage WLR’s negotiations, or he may have hoped to minimize the impact of a tariff by recommending a favorable procedure for granting exclusions.”

The same potential criminal conflict of interest applies to Ross’ then-unsold stock in The Greenbrier Companies, a railcar manufacturer dependent on imported steel. CLC’s overview of the timeline presents a clear case of one potential conflict of interest violation:

On Apr. 21, 2017, Ross issued a formal notice soliciting public comments and announcing a hearing on his steel investigation. On May 18, 2017, Ross took Greenbrier CEO William Furman to dine at the White House. On May 24, 2017, Ross presided over the public hearing on the investigation. On May 30, 2017, Furman filed a public comment expressing concern that the investigation would affect Greenbrier and asking that an exception be made for his Japanese steel supplier. On May 31, 2017, Ross divested some of his Greenbrier stock.

Greenbrier was one of a few companies whose stock Ross shorted — a maneuver usually used to bet against a company’s success — rather than following traditional methods to remove conflicts of interest, as he claimed was his intention. The Office of Government Ethics chastised Ross for the short sales and other undivested holdings in July.

Another company whose stock Ross shorted was Navigator Holdings Ltd., a Kremlin-connected shipping company specializing in natural gas products. In over 40 pages extensively detailing Ross’ interests in the company, the board of which he chaired at one point, CLC argued that “Ross participated personally and substantially in several particular matters directly and predictably affecting Navigator’s financial interests: the Trump administration’s effort to promote the LNG trade, seven trade agreements, and an investigation to determine whether the United States should impose a tariff on steel imports.”

In a press release announcing the report Monday, CLC’s ethics counsel, Delaney Marsco, said “Unless the Inspector General finds new information exonerating Ross, he at least appears to have violated the law several times.”

A lawyer for Ross, Theodore Kassinger, told several outlets:

Secretary Ross has not violated any conflict of interest law or regulation. He has not participated personally and substantially in, nor taken any action in regard to a particular matter that would have had a direct and predictable effect on his financial investments. He continues to follow the guidance of Commerce Department ethics officials regarding the matters in which he is personally involved. He has divested a very substantial part of the investments he held when he assumed the office of Secretary, and he has pledged to divest other remaining holdings even though he is not obligated to do so.

Read the full complaint here:

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that she can’t guarantee a recording doesn’t exist of President Donald Trump using the “n-word,” as former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman has claimed in her publicity tour for a new book covering her time in the administration.

Sanders said she’d never asked Trump if he’d used the word, and pointed reporters to the President’s tweet claiming “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary.”

“Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people they will never hear Donald Trump utter the n-word on a recording in any context?” MSNBC’s Kristin Welker asked.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but I can tell you that the President addressed this question directly,” Sanders said. “I can tell you that I’ve never heard it.”

She continued: “I can also tell you that if myself or the people that are in this building serving this country every single day, doing our very best to help people all across this country and make it better, if at any point we felt that the president was who some of his critics claim him to be, we certainly wouldn’t be here.”

Sanders then incorrectly claimed Trump had created more than three times the number of jobs held by African Americans in his first 18 months than Obama did in eight years.

“This President, since he took office, in the year-and-a-half that he’s been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans,” Sanders said. “That’s 700,000 African Americans that are working now that weren’t working when this President took place. When President Obama left, after eight years — eight years in office — he had only created 195,000 jobs for African Americans.”

Let alone the White House’s repeated — and unsubstantiated — claim that African American unemployment is at its lowest in history (it’s only been calculated as such since 1972), and that presidents in general can’t be directly credited with creating jobs. Even with those caveats, Sanders’ employment claim was simply wrong.

Only hours later did Sanders address the error: She meant to compare African American employment numbers in a comparable time period after Obama’s election (after a year of a historic recession) and after Trump’s election, it appeared.

Sanders never responded to TPM’s questions regarding the incorrect claim.

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump calling former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman “a dog,” saying the President was “voicing his frustration” in response to Manigault Newman’s “complete lack of integrity.”

Asked why Trump had hired Manigault Newman for a senior White House position at all, Sanders responded: “The President wanted to give her a chance, and he made clear when General Kelly came on and he voiced concerns that this individual didn’t have the best interest of the White House, and the President and the country at heart, the President said, ‘Do what you can to get along, and if you can’t,’ he gave him full authority to carry out the decision to let her go.”

That seemed to be an attempt at answering a secret recording Manigault Newman made — and has now released publicly to promote her new book — of Trump reacting to her firing.

“Goddamnit!” Trump is heard saying in a recorded phone call with Manigault Newman after Kelly fired her. “I don’t love you leaving at all.”

“As to the fact, whether or not General Kelly had called the President, I don’t think he had at that point,” Sanders said later, explaining why Trump could claim he wasn’t aware of Manigault Newman’s firing.

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The uncle of senior adviser to the President Stephen Miller said Tuesday that “for reasons that I don’t really know,” Miller has made “his entire political and personal career” about restricting the United States’ immigration policy, of which his own family was a beneficiary last century.

Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” David Glosser justified a op-ed he wrote for Politico Magazine that was harshly critical of his nephew.

“If my ancestors had not immigrated to the United States when they did, if they’d waited a few more years until 1924, the door would have been shut,” Glosser told CNN’s John Berman. “My parents would have gone up the crematory chimney, I wouldn’t have been born, my sister wouldn’t have been born and certainly Stephen would never have existed.”

Noting that “dozens” of family members had urged him to speak out, he called the administration’s family separation policy “an act of inexcusable cruelty,” adding: “Had any other country done this in a time of war, it would have been considered a war crime.”

Glosser echoed the sentiment to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “We appear to have made this decision, and it’s been done in our name as a population, without our consent, and without extreme duress. It seems to have been done thoughtlessly.”

“I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses — the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom,” he wrote, referring to his and Miller’s refugee ancestors.

“I want to convince people to open their minds and open their hearts to the realities of immigration,” Glosser added on CNN. “The United States is a large country, a wealthy country, and we’ve been made strong and large and wealthy not just by our natural resources and our geographical situation, but by the strength, the smarts, the muscle, the brains and the enterprise of millions of immigrants.”

“We have to realize that there are other people in the world who are facing crises. We can’t solve the entire world’s problems, and solve all the refugee problems in the world, but we should offer help as we can in proportion to our size, our resources, and our abilities.”

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The Trump campaign has filed an arbitration action against former campaign and White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman over her alleged breach of a nondisclosure agreement she signed in 2016, several outlets have reported.

Manigault Newman has a new tell-all book out about her time in the White House, and she’s promoted it by releasing new, secretly made recordings of her firing by White House chief of staff John Kelly, a call from President Donald Trump the day after her firing, and a campaign-era discussion with campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson and then-Trump family adviser Lynne Patton. She reportedly has other recordings, including of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

An unnamed senior Trump campaign official quoted by ABC News and the Washington Examiner said in a statement: “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. has filed an arbitration against Manigault-Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, for breach of her 2016 confidentiality agreement with the Trump Campaign. President Trump is well known for giving people opportunities to advance in their careers and lives over the decades, but wrong is wrong, and a direct violation of an agreement must be addressed and the violator must be held accountable.”

“It is the American Arbitration Association’s policy not to comment on any arbitrations that may have been administered by the Association,” Laura Simpson of the communications firm JConnelly told TPM.

It’s unclear what specifically the arbitration alleges. The recording Manigault Newman released Tuesday, of Pierson and Patton, includes a discussion of an alleged tape in which Trump uses a slur for African Americans. Though no one on the call claimed to have heard the tape at the time (Manigault Newman has subsequently claimed to have heard it), Pierson is heard saying at one point on the call: “He said it. He is embarrassed.”

The President has responded predictably to Manigault Newman’s book and recordings, calling her “lowlife” and “a dog.”

He also revealed, as did White House staffer Kellyanne Conway on Sunday, the existence of a nondisclosure agreement that White House staffers must sign. The agreement is unenforceable and unconstitutional, experts say, but NDAs for campaign staffers are a different story.

Manigault Newman said Sunday that she’d rejected a $15,000 monthly salary from the 2020 Trump campaign, which she said would have required her to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement.

This post has been updated.

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Omarosa Manigault Newman also recorded phone calls with presidential advisers and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Politico reported Monday, adding to recordings she’s already released of conversations with the President himself and chief of staff John Kelly.

Citing two unnamed sources with whom Manigault Newman had discussed the recordings, Politico reported one of the un-released recordings was of a call she received from the couple a day after her firing in December. The former White House staffer has a new book out, and the recordings are part of an effort to drum up publicity.

According to Politico’s sources, in the publication’s words, “both Trump and Kushner can be heard wishing Manigault Newman the best and telling her they had no idea her head was on the chopping block.”

That matches a recorded phone call Manigault Newman released Monday with the President: Trump claimed he wasn’t aware that Kelly had fired her the day earlier, indicating he’d only heard of her firing from news coverage.

“They run a big operation, but I didn’t know it,” Trump is heard saying on the recording. “I didn’t know that.”

“Goddamn it!” he adds dramatically. “I don’t love you leaving at all.”

On Sunday, NBC’s “Meet the Press” played Manigault Newman’s recording of Kelly firing her, purportedly from the White House’s situation room.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

The FBI has fired agent Peter Strzok, the Washington Post first reported Monday. FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered Strzok’s firing on Friday, according to Strzok’s lawyer.

In a statement, Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman called the firing a “deeply troubling” departure from established precedent, and that “the decision to terminate was taken in response to political pressure, and to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment, not on a fair and independent examination of the facts.” (Read Goelman’s full statement below.)

Goelman said Bowdich had overruled the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which he said recommended a 60-day suspension and a demotion rather than Strzok’s firing.

Strzok’s anti-Trump text messages with ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page — over which he was expelled from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team last year— have become the stuff of conspiratorial Republican hysteria, but there has been no evidence presented that the messages, nor any anti-Trump sentiment Strzok held personally, ever affected his work at the bureau.

In June, Strzok was escorted from the FBI building as part of “ongoing internal proceedings,” Goelman said at the time. “Despite being put through a highly questionable process, Pete has complied with every FBI procedure,” Goelman said.

Strzok’s hearing before the House Oversight and Judiciary committees in July got heated and extremely personal.

Before his work on the bureau’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Strzok played a central role in the FBI’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

He co-wrote an early draft of then-FBI Director James Comey’s letter to members of Congress announcing that the probe had been reopened just 11 days before the 2016 election. That re-opened probe was closed, nothing having changed, just two days before Election Day.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported in June that Strzok was one of several senior FBI officials involved in the probe who believed that fear of leaks from the bureau’s New York field office prompted the letter’s release.

“Even accepting Comey’s assertion that leaks played no role in his decision, we found that, at a minimum, a fear of leaks influenced the thinking of those who were advising him,” Horowitz’s report read.

Read Goelman’s full statement below:

Late Friday afternoon, the Deputy Director of the FBI overruled the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and departed from established precedent by firing 21-year FBI veteran Peter Strzok. In doing so he reversed the decision of the career FBI official responsible for employee discipline who concluded, through an independent review process, that a 60-day suspension and demotion from supervisory duties was the appropriate punishment.

The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts Director Wray’s testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters.

This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans. A lengthy investigation and multiple rounds of Congressional testimony failed to produce a shred of evidence that Special Agent Strzok’s personal views ever affected his work. In fact, in his decades of service, Special Agent Strzok has proved himself to be one of the country’s top counterintelligence officers, leading to only one conclusion – the decision to terminate was taken in response to political pressure, and to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment, not on a fair and independent examination of the facts. It is a decision that produces only one winner – those who seek to harm our country and weaken our democracy.

The FBI and the American people deserve better.

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White House staffer Kellyanne Conway on Sunday struggled to name a single African American colleague of hers in the West Wing.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” host Jonathan Karl asked Conway who, in light of former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman’s recent book, was “the most prominent, high-level African American serving in the West Wing, on President Trump’s staff.” 

After naming Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who doesn’t work in the White House, Conway said “Ja’Ron,” a reference, according to multiple outlets, to Ja’Ron Smith, the administration’s director of urban affairs and revitalization. Smith works in the White House’s East Wing.

“He’s been very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform,” Conway said.

“We have a number of different minorities,” she added later.

Watch below:

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