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

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “very thankful” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for Putin’s order that the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia cut its staff by 755 people.

“Do you have any response to the Russian president expelling 755 workers from our embassy?” one journalist asked during a pool spray Thursday.

“No, I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, responding to a question about the Putin-mandated cut. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”

Trump didn’t show any sign that he was joking about the statement, which reflected the opposite of Putin’s stated goal in ordering a cut: to harm the United States.

“Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” Putin said in his announcement of the cut, according to the New York Times. “That is biting,” he added.

Putin had ordered the cut in response to the United States Senate passing a new round of sanctions against Russia. President Trump ultimately signed the sanctions — and sanctions against Iran and North Korea — into law.

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White House adviser Sebastian Gorka dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s apparent attempts to smooth over President Trump’s aggressive threats toward North Korea on Thursday. Hours later, however, Gorka claimed his anger was meant to be directed at journalists who “forced” Tillerson to answer questions about military policy.

“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Gorka said in an interview with BBC radio Thursday morning.

It was a surprising rebuke from a White House staffer of Gorka’s position aimed at America’s top diplomat — even considering Tillerson’s low favor among many in the Trump White House.

Gorka went on to say, according to audio of the BBC radio interview transcribed by the Washington Post: “It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. He said, ‘Woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States,’ and that is his portfolio. That is his mandate.”

“Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States, and it is his portfolio to handle those issues,” Gorka added.

Speaking To Fox News’ Liz Claman Thursday afternoon, though, Gorka said his ire was meant to be directed at journalists who “forced” Tillerson to answer questions about military policy, not Tillerson himself.

“I said for reporters to force our chief diplomat, the amazing Rex Tillerson, to give details of military options is nonsensical,” he said. “He is the Secretary of State. That means you don’t understand what the words secretaries of state means. It is fake news. Classic example.”

Claman prodded: “To some people, forget back-stabbing, it looks like you front-stabbed the secretary of state.”

“I was admonishing the journalists of the fake news industrial complex who are forcing our chief diplomat into a position where they are demanding he makes the military case for action when that is not the mandate of the secretary of state,” Gorka responded. “That’s why we have a Department of Defense. If a journalist doesn’t know the difference between the secretary of state and the Department of Defense, they should hand in their credentials.”

He added: “When reporters try to force him to make statements regarding military options, they have no idea what they’re talking about and if they think that’s a story, they’re not journalists.

“He didn’t look like he was forced,” Claman remarked before moving on.

Asked about Gorka’s initial statement to BBC Thursday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Tillerson and Mattis “have a good, close, cooperative relationship” and that “we do diplomacy here out of this building. Secretary Tillerson has not spoken about U.S. military capabilities.” 

“He’s a Cabinet secretary,” she added. “He’s the fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.” 

On Tuesday, during a vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said nuclear threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” He reportedly made up the remark on the spot.

Speaking to reporters later, Tillerson seemed to try to lessen the blow of Trump’s threat, saying the President was just “sending a message in language Kim Jong-un can understand.”

The comment to BBC is especially rich coming from Gorka, whose credentials as a so-called counterterrorism expert have repeatedly come into question. Andrew Reynolds, a professor at the University of North Carolina who spoke to Rolling Stone about Gorka’s academic background, said of the White House adviser’s Ph.D. dissertation: “Gorka’s thesis is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University.”

Nauert said of her relationship with Gorka: “I don’t work with Dr. — with Sebastian Gorka. I have known him from a previous life and a previous career but I have not spoken to him about the comments he made.”

On Thursday, according to the Associated Press, Trump continued to pile on, reportedly telling the AP that his “fire and fury” threat wasn’t strong enough.

This post has been updated.

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Global banking records belonging to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The subpoenas highlight just how prominent a focus of Mueller’s investigation Manafort has become. The former campaign chairman’s house was raided in late July, and Mueller has reached out to Manafort’s son-in-law to seek his cooperation, Politico reported Wednesday.

Per Bloomberg:

Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the FBI agents searching Manafort’s home sought “tax documents and foreign banking records,” citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal reported back in May that the Justice Department had requested Manafort’s banking records from Citizens Financial Group Inc., citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. That report noted “[i]t isn’t clear whether Citizens is the only bank that received such a request or whether it came in the form of a subpoena.”

Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, was involved in Manafort’s firm Davis Manafort. Gates, Manafort and the Republican lobbyist Rick Davis worked to reform the image of the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Read Bloomberg’s full report here.

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An attorney for President Donald Trump called the July raid of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “gross abuse of the judicial process” and more like something “found and employed in Russia not America,” according to a report from Fox News Thursday. The Wall Street Journal later corroborated the report.

Fox News reported that Trump attorney John Dowd made the statement in an email “to a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the Manafort raid.” Two Journal reporters who wrote about the raid told TPM they hadn’t received such an email from Dowd.

However, reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, a third Journal reporter who wrote about the raid, Jacob Gershman, said he had received Dowd’s email. The Journal published its own story on the email just past 5 p.m. ET. “In an email to the Journal at 3:48 a.m. Eastern Thursday, Mr. Dowd sharply criticized Mr. Mueller for what he called an unnecessary move,” the Journal wrote.

Reached by phone Thursday, Dowd declined to speak to TPM. “I’m sorry, I’m tired out, my friend,” he said.

Fox News reported that it had “obtained” the email. It’s not clear how Fox obtained Dowd’s email to a Journal reporter.

According to Fox News — whose parent company, News Corp, also owns the Journal — Dowd wrote that the raid, which would have required a federal judge’s approval, was carried out for “shock value” and wasn’t necessary, given Manafort’s cooperation with investigators.

“These failures by Special Counsel to exhaust less intrusive methods is a fatal flaw in the warrant process and would call for a Motion to Suppress the fruits of the search,” he wrote, alleging that the FBI agents who carried out the raid collected “privileged and confidential materials prepared for Mr. Manafort by his counsel to aid him in his cooperation with the Congressional committees.”

A day before the raid, which was first reported by the Washington Post, Manafort had met with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers. On the day of the raid, Manafort met with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“[I]t appears the Search Warrant here was obtained by a gross abuse of the judicial process by the Special Counsel’s office,” Dowd wrote. “In addition, given the obvious unlawful deficiencies, this extraordinary invasive tool was employed for its shock value to try to intimidate Mr. Manafort and bring him to his needs [sic]. These methods are normally found and employed in Russia not America.”

The raid has largely been interpreted as a a sign that the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller did not fully trust Manafort to provide all requested materials to investigators.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said news of the raid was “stunning” and “typical of serious criminal investigations dealing w uncooperative or untrusted targets.”

“This kind of raid- in early morning hours w no advance notice- shows astonishing & alarming distrust for Pres’s former campaign chairman,” he added.

Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment in an email to TPM.

Byron Tau, one of the two Journal reporters who wrote the paper’s initial report on the raid, wrote: “Can’t speak for [co-author Del Quentin Wilber,] but I have no idea what’s going on. I am not in possession of such an email.” Wilber wrote seperately: “First I learned was from your email.”

Two spokespeople for the Journal were not available to comment.

Jason Maloni, a spokesperson for Manafort, wrote in an email, “we have nothing to add.”

This post has been updated.

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Ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Wednesday attacked the journalist whose interview may have cost “The Mooch” his job.

That journalist, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, recorded Scaramucci as he trashed his colleagues — including accusing chief strategist Steve Bannon of a particularly inventive feat of onanism — and subsequently published the shocking transcript and tape. Lizza has maintained that all of his reporting came from on-the-record statements.

Nonetheless, Scaramucci says his trust was betrayed. On Wednesday evening, he compared Lizza to Linda Tripp, who played a key role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal during Bill Clinton’s second term as president. Tripp surreptitiously recorded phone calls with Lewinsky as the young staffer described her affair with Clinton.

Lewinsky responded to Scaramucci with a single emoji:

Scaramucci has never claimed his conversation with Lizza was explicitly off the record. But he has aired various grievances against the New Yorker journalist.

After Lizza’s initial report, Scaramucci said he “made a mistake in trusting a reporter,” and that the phone call was “[l]egally” on the record, though in “spirit,” “it was off.”

New York requires only “one-party consent” to tape conversations, meaning Lizza did not need Scaramucci’s permission to record.

Lizza did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment, but he has maintained Scaramucci knew the bulk of the call was on the record. After he published the interview, he noted that Scaramucci even requested a segment of the conversation be off the record, “and we respected that.”

Lizza separately said that he spoke to Scaramucci before publishing the story, and that Scaramucci told him, “Look I understand that interview was not off the record, totally within your rights to publish it.”

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Walmart apologized Wednesday after photos surfaced on social media of a gun rack at one of its stores topped with a sign that read: “Own the school year like a hero.”

Images of the gun rack began appearing on Twitter early Wednesday morning. Initially, Walmart’s social media team claimed in response to the images that the incident had taken place at store #1341, in Evansville, Indiana.

However, in a phone call with TPM, spokesperson Charles Crowson said the company had identified the wrong store.

“We incorrectly identified the Evansville store,” Crowson said. “We’ve corrected that and are now trying to find the accurate store.”

Correcting Walmart’s initial claims on social media, Crowson said he didn’t know for sure that the sign — the placement of which recalled numerous deadly school shootings — had been taken down.

This sign had no business there and was taken down as soon as we were alerted,” the company had tweeted initially.

This post has been updated.

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Defense Secretary James Mattis issued an aggressive warning to North Korea following President Donald Trump’s own threat of “fire and fury” in response to the reported advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

“The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Mattis said in a statement provided to TPM. “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

The statement follows similar language from Trump on Tuesday, and again Wednesday morning, when he wrote: “Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” referring to the United States’ nuclear capabilities.

White House aide Sebastian Gorka said Thursday, explaining Trump’s comments, that “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower,” and that “the message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Trump was using “ language Kim Jong-un can understand.”

Read Mattis’ full statement below:

The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack. Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability.  The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

President Trump was informed of the growing threat last December and on taking office his first orders to me emphasized the readiness of our ballistic missile defense and nuclear deterrent forces. While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.  The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.

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Before his sudden departure as communications adviser on July 31, Anthony Scaramucci implied in an interview that Mike Pence’s new chief of staff was hired to protect the vice president from the political turmoil roiling the Trump administration, perhaps to set up a bid for the presidency in 2020.

In an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza — the very same interview in which the Mooch said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s self-regard was comparable to a stunning feat of bodily gymnastics — Scaramucci called attention to the man Pence announced as his new chief of staff on June 29, Nick Ayers.

“Why do you think Nick’s there, bro?” Scaramucci asked Lizza, referring to Ayers. 

“Are you stupid?” Scaramucci continued. “Why is Nick there? Nick’s there to protect the vice president because the vice president can’t believe what the fuck is going on.”

Lizza published the quotes on Tuesday.

Ayers, a longtime political operative but a novice in government, was mentioned in a recent New York Times profile on Republicans — Pence, principally — who have engaged in what the Times called “a shadow campaign for 2020.”

Mr. Ayers has signaled to multiple major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready” for a potential presidential bid, the Times reported.

Pence slammed the New York Times’ reporting.

But Scaramucci’s quote to Lizza — and Scaramucci’s post-facto claims that he incorrectly believed the interview was off-the-record — lends some credence to the claim that Ayers’ presence in the White House is motivated at least partly by Pence’s political ambitions.

Scaramucci did not respond to Lizza’s requests for comment, so the reporter reflected on the comment with an open question: “Was Scaramucci suggesting that Ayers was meant to protect Pence from the fallout if and when Trump collapses politically, resigns, decides not to run for reelection, or is impeached?”

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The Wall Street Journal editorial board took aim at the Trump White House on Tuesday, calling out chief strategist Steve Bannon for fueling infighting aimed at new chief of staff John Kelly and others.

“[N]otice the alt-right brigades who seem to rise up as if on call to smite some White House policy opponent of aide Steve Bannon,” the paper wrote, adding: “The former Breitbart publisher has been a White House survivor, but his warring habits have also been responsible for much of the White House dysfunction.”

“Mr. Trump may worry about the damage Mr. Bannon and his allies could do to his Administration if he is no longer part of the White House team,” the editorial concluded. “But if his minions continue to vilify his colleagues inside the White House, how can anyone tell the difference?”

The rebuke of Bannon — and, more notably, of Trump’s leadership — comes after reports that media properties owned by conservative mogul Rupert Murdoch, including the Journal, have soured on Trump, despite the pair’s reportedly active phone habit.

Murdoch’s properties still strongly embrace the fringe elements of Trump economic and political support. In a May 31 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, for example, Blackwater founder Erik Prince made the argument for an “East India Company approach” of privatizing the war in Afghanistan (and likely enriching himself).

And Fox News’ coverage of Democratic staffer Seth Rich’s murder — which conspiracists allege was the result of Rich leaking internal communications to Wikileaks — has prompted even more calls in the UK for further scrutiny of Murdoch’s proposed purchase of Sky Television.

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White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s threatening of North Korea with “fire and fury” and nuclear weapons over its alleged advancement of nuclear capabilities distinguished the United States as a “hyperpower.”

Responding to bipartisan criticism of Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, Gorka said: “These are the moments when we have to come together as the nation and support the executive.”

In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” — which Trump is known to watch nearly daily — co-host Steve Doocy asked Gorka what Trump meant with a new round of threats on Twitter earlier that morning.

“He’s saying don’t test America, and don’t test Donald J. Trump,” Gorka responded. “We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities. Whether they’re conventional, whether they’re nuclear or whether they’re special forces. So the message is very clear: Don’t test this White House, Pyongyang.”

Gorka later said, referring to his own bombastic rhetoric: “Believe it or not, I got great talking points for this interview.”

He also characterized North Korea’s actions as an attempt to “blackmail the West” into concessions and called on the country to stop its missile testing and militaristic rhetoric.

“This is extortion, nothing less,” he said, referring to North Korea.

“Are you saying they have built an atomic bomb to shake us down for stuff?” Doocy asked bluntly.

“It’s absolutely clear,” Gorka said. “It’s absolutely clear.”

And, responding to critics of Trump’s rhetoric including Democratic leadership and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Gorka was blunt: You’re either with Trump, or you’re not a patriot.

“These are the moments when we have to come together as the nation and support the executive,” he said. “Whether you voted for him or not, whether they’re a Democrat, whether they’re a Republican, these are the trying times. During the Cuban missile crisis, we stood behind JFK. This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.” 

Gorka added: “Anybody, whether they’re a member of a Congress, whether they’re a journalist: If you think your party politics, your ideology trumps the national security of America, that is an indictment of you.”

This post has been updated.

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