Mshuham2

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 mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

The Republican National Committee and White House communications staff produce what’s known by some in the White House as the “Propaganda Document” for President Donald Trump twice a day, Vice News reported Tuesday.

The documents are exclusively composed of positive media coverage. Citing three unnamed current and former White House officials, Vice News described them:

[T]he folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.

Citing unnamed White House sources, Vice News reported that Trump was delivered the documents at around 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily. Though the publication noted that the documents had come to be delivered less frequently “and more typically after public events” after the departure of ousted communications director Sean Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to unnamed sources.

According to Vice News, the documents follow much the same pathway as political communications-related materials in other recent presidencies — starting with information monitoring at the Republican National Committee in the early morning, and progressing through the White House communications staff and onto the President’s desk.

The difference, of course, is that purely positive information would seem to serve little purpose for the White House other than boosting the President’s mood.

“Maybe it’s good for the country that the president is in a good mood in the morning,” an unnamed former RNC official told Vice News.

An unnamed White House official told Vice News the only feedback the communications shop had ever gotten regarding the document was: “It needs to be more fucking positive.”

Yet another source said the document could have been an effort from Priebus and Spicer to prove that their efforts were resulting in positive coverage.

Spicer told Vice News that “While I won’t comment on materials we share with the president, this is not accurate on several levels,” but wouldn’t specify any inaccuracies.

Neither White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders nor Deputy RNC Rapid Response Director Steve Guest responded to TPM’s request for comment.

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A presidential retweet brings lots of attention, whether you want it or not.

But for “Nicole Mincey,” who until recently was associated with the online merchandise store ProTrump45.com, you’d think the attention would be a boon for business and a well-deserved reward for collecting more than 100,000 Twitter followers.

Instead, the Twitter account associated with the store, @ProTrump45, has since been suspended from the site, along with a pool of accounts that acted as bots to amplify advertisements for Trump gear. The t-shirt mockup company Placeit had complained to Twitter that the accounts had used its models, with their own pro-Trump designs super-imposed on Placeit’s placeholder clothing, to advertise ProTrump45. It was identity fraud, Placeit said. Twitter acted with surprising speed, taking down a large number of accounts.

“So far, we’ve only reported to Twitter,” Placeit CEO Navid Safabakhs told TPM in an email Monday. “Our current plan is to report to federal authorities via https://www.identitytheft.gov/ Once we know for sure the identity of the person, we will know what we will do. We may use legal action if it makes sense.”

TPM reached Mincy via email Monday. Her real last name is slightly different than her former online persona’s. “Not responding to media inquiries,” she replied. “Please don’t post my name on any article. This has been one large headache. Hope you understand. Also won’t be answering any questions.”

She added in a separate email: “My apologies but I’ve had a bad experience with a media outlet and do not wish to interact with any more. Please respect my privacy. Thanks for understanding.”

But Mincy did eventually speak to two other news outlets, confirming that she was in fact behind the Twitter account, along with a handful of others who used it and its associated accounts as a promotional network. Though her story still isn’t completely straight or verifiable, it sheds light on how a small group of cunning, and deceptive, entrepreneurs gamed the rich social media ecosystem of Trump shoppers.

“It grew pretty fast and then [a group member] bought some Twitter followers and it grew even faster,” Mincy told BuzzFeed, referring to the @ProTrump45 Twitter handle. Mincy was a “marketing tool,” she told BuzzFeed, “because I’m black, so it’s easier to market black people [as Trump supporters].”

Mincy told the Daily Beast that there were about “10 of us” behind the network of accounts, with individuals writing and blogging on behalf of multiple online personas. One partner, who Mincy told the Daily Beast was named Naijana, represented herself as Mincey in an audio interview on the Trending Today USA radio show, Mincy said.

“Everything is pro-Trump, pro-Republican, and it’s all made in America,” the person presenting herself as Mincey said in the interview.

Mincy told BuzzFeed that the Twitter account took off when they bought fake followers and Twitter advertisements. Mincy told the Daily Beast that, in the publication’s words, “all of @ProTrump45’s Twitter followers were entirely invented,” except for the group of people in on the operation.

And in an odd Twist, just as Mincy had moved Placeit to report the bots to Twitter for what it claimed was identity fraud, Mincy claims to have had a falling out with the group over its use of her identity, even before that identity was retweeted by the President.

It started, Mincy claimed, with her college dean calling her about a scam being run under her name, and with the college’s address. She told the Daily Beast that she left the group in early June. A July 4 press release for ProTrump45 included an address that matches Mincy’s college.

She sent the Daily Beast screenshots of what she said was a text exchange with two individuals — whose identity the publication couldn’t confirm — in which she argued unsuccessfully for her name to be disassociated with the scheme.

“Nicole mincey generates more traffic, sorry hun,” the screenshots purported to show one business partner, Lorraine, responding.

Mincy told the Daily Beast that her associates kept her account up, but that “they altered the spelling of my last name so it would be hard of me to find it,” and “I’m very angry at them because I told them to stop using my identity before. They would temporarily stop and then start back up again. This isn’t my first time telling them to stop. They wrote articles about a fake identity that doesn’t exist.”

She claimed that she found out about Trump’s retweet from her aunt, on Sunday.

“[ProTrump45] started trolling Trump’s twitter, saying nice things in the replies. Everyone is tracing it back to me, but it isn’t my picture,” she said. “We all joined the group to be anonymous Trump supporters.”

Mincy told the Daily Beast that she’d first gotten involved at Lorraine’s request, after she posted pro-Trump memes on her Instagram account. Lorraine and someone named William were already running the ProTrump45.com blog and store, she said.

“They asked did I want to be part of a group where you could be a [Trump] supporter and not disclose your identity, and I joined and here I am today in the middle of this mess,” she told BuzzFeed.

Eventually, it appears, Mincy’s identity became the primary vehicle through which ProTrump45 was advertised. On May 14, the popular conservative website World Net Daily declared: “Black, Liberal Woman Dumps Obama To Run Trump Store.”

Mincy told both publications that she never made any money from the venture. Rather, she said, she “wanted to write blogs and get the conservative view out.”

Still, Mincy’s business partners are still little more than digital ghosts. Few reporters have heard from them directly.

“I’m declining all interviews at this time,” Lorraine told the Daily Beast.

Responding to Yahoo Finance’s emails for a report published Tuesday, however, a person claiming to be Lorraine Elijah confirmed part of Mincy’s story: “We used an alteration of the real girl’s name for attention,” she wrote, referring to Mincy.

Mincy had claimed to the publication that her partners’ names were Lorraine Elijah and Dr. William Byrd. “We came up with this idea to make some money off of this. We bought advertising. We bought articles,” she said, referring to ProTrump45.com and its corresponding Twitter account.

But, this time, Mincy cited different reasons for Yahoo for leaving the venture.

“The store was getting disorganized,” she said. “They weren’t keeping up with the orders. I wasn’t getting paid.”

Yahoo itself ran into problems when they attempted to purchase a flag from ProTrump45.com. After paying $47.40 via PayPal for the flag, tax and shipping, the item was never delivered.

In an email to the publication, Lorraine Elijah blamed it on her supposed business partner: “William forgot to mail it out.”

This post has been updated.

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) responded to yet more attacks from President Donald Trump on Monday by re-directing attention back to the possibility that President Donald Trump would fire special counsel Robert Mueller, spurring what Blumenthal described would be a constitutional crisis.

Following similar attacks Monday morning after Blumenthal voiced support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into “potential collusion by the Trump campaign and then obstruction of justice,” Trump let out another attack against the senator Monday afternoon:

Blumenthal appeared on CNN less than an hour after Trump’s encore jab, and responded to it by promoting legislation meant to shield Mueller from being fired by Trump.

“Our national security and rule of law are at risk. And that’s where our focus should be,” Blumenthal responded, echoing the original line that likely prompted Trump’s attack. “It is not about me.”

“I have no idea about what is in his mind,” Blumenthal said, asked about the personal nature of Trump’s attacks. “What I do know is I will not be distracted by this bullying. And these bullying tweets reinforce, for me, the need for a piece of legislation that I am helping to lead with Thom Tillis and others, a bipartisan coalition, to prevent firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whom he has also sought to intimidate.”

Trump’s statements, Blumenthal said, “all point to a looming constitutional crisis if the President proceeds with firing Robert Mueller, and that’s why preventing it, forestalling that kind of constitutional conflagration, is the objective of a group of us.”

Trump’s attacks are based on Blumenthal’s fudging of his service record during the Vietnam War, for which he apologized years ago. Blumenthal had said he served “in” Vietnam during the war. In fact, he served stateside and never went to Vietnam as a member of the military.

Watch below via CNN:

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Conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) let it be known Sunday that he wasn’t afraid of a Republican challenger’s attempts to tie him to the Washington, D.C. Democratic establishment.

Manchin was responding to a letter from Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s attorney general and a contender for the Republican nomination to challenge Manchin for his seat in 2018. Morrisey had called on Manchin to give up his place in the Senate’s Democratic leadership team, to which Manchin was appointed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in November of last year.

West Virginia could not be more different from Chuck Schumer’s New York,” Morrisey wrote. “And many in West Virginia wonder how you can put West Virginia first when you are beholden to Chuck Schumer and his team.”

“I don’t give a s–t, you understand? I just don’t give a shit,” Manchin told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the paper reported Sunday. “Don’t care if I get elected, don’t care if I get defeated, how about that. If they think because I’m up for election, that I can be wrangled into voting for shit that I don’t like and can’t explain, they’re all crazy.”

“I’m not scared of an election, let’s put it that way,” Manchin continued. “Elections do not bother me or scare me. I’m going to continue to do the same thing I’ve always done, extremely independent.”

The Gazette-Mail had asked if Morrisey’s letter had influenced Manchin’s decision to become one of just three Democratic senators not to sign on to a letter outlining the party’s principles ahead of a Republican effort to pass a tax cut bill.

Morissey responded to the quote on his Twitter page:

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Listen up, internet: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wants you to know there’s nothing sexual about “shooting wads.”

It all started with a colorful quote Hatch gave to Politico last week.

“We’re not going back to health care,” Hatch said, referring to Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal Obamacare. “We’re in tax now. As far as I’m concerned, they shot their wad on health care and that’s the way it is. I’m sick of it.”

Political observers were quick to snicker on Twitter. But a few hours after the article was published Monday, Hatch’s office clarified exactly what the 83-year-old senator meant.

The Mormon Republican’s office said he’d been channelling the Civil War-era term for the barrier between one’s gunpowder and corresponding musket projectile:

Hatch’s communications director, Matt Whitlock, seemed at least partly amused at the mix-up:

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On Twitter, President Donald Trump is known for shining a spotlight on obscure accounts with a deep devotion to him, reposting their content on his own page and vaulting enthusiastic supporters onto the world’s largest cyber stage.

On Saturday, the supposed real-life identity behind one such account —@ProTrump45, which operates a pro-Trump merchandise website by the same name — unraveled in spectacular fashion. @ProTrump45 has been suspended from Twitter, as have a slew of accounts associated with it.

But important questions remain unanswered: Who created all those sham accounts hawking Trump gear? And how did they end up on the President’s radar?

President Trump thanked @ProTrump45 — who also used the name “Nicole Mincey” — for her support on Saturday afternoon.

Soon after, various Twitter accounts began to piece together that the ProTrump account wasn’t what it claimed.

Mincey’s profile photo was actually an image of a model advertising a “Your Image Here” t-shirt mockup company, Twitter user @Rschooley noticed. That turned out to be true for lots of accounts, many of which had posted on the ProTrump45.com blog, and who spoke to “each other” on Twitter.

The mockup company, Placeit, accused the accounts of identity fraud when the news broke, and said it would be in touch with law enforcement. It also posted a list of fraud accounts using its software.

Much of ProTrump45’s initial legitimacy reads like a tutorial in digital smoke and mirrors.

On March 20, YouTube user Pro Trump45 posted the video “GOP Shirts Available,” which shows an unnamed model wearing a “GOP” t-shirt — a “Placeit” watermark covers the video. A link to ProTrump45’s store appears in the video’s description.

On May 14, the popular conservative website World Net Daily published “Black, Liberal Woman Dumps Obama To Run Trump Store,” which featured an interview with someone claiming to be Mincey.

“I saw a financial opportunity and took it. That’s the perks of capitalism,” she told the website, explaining why she turned her popular Twitter account into an online store.

The interview quickly spread across the web. A portrait of “Nicole,” with a red “Make America Great Again” cap covering most of her face, even ended up on the “HottiesForTrump” subreddit (NSFW).

The author of the World Net Daily interview, Bob Unruh, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

On June 5, Mashable pointed out, the Daily Caller published a sponsored post under the byline “ProTrump45,” with the headline: “ProTrump45: Black Pro-Trump Conservative Begins Pro-Trump Empire.” The post was a mix of supposed biographical matter about the person claiming to be Nicole Mincey and arguments for black voters to support President Trump.

“ProTrump45 and Nicole are beautiful representations of black Republicans and overall minority conservatives,” ProTrump45 wrote.

The Daily Caller’s Jack Kocsis, who run’s the website’s “Daily Dealer” section and is named under the post, did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

A publisher’s note added to the post just before 6:00 p.m. ET Monday reads: The advertiser story below might be completely fake, but their deals are 100% real! Get your Trump swag while you can!”

A few weeks later, an identical post showed up on BuzzFeed’s “Community” section — where nearly anyone can post nearly anything — under the byline “vccdfrty,” that account’s only posting.

On June 30, YouTube user Pro Trump45 posted another video, this time of what appeared to be a spokesperson-for-hire reading off stats about the merchandise store. The video is produced to appear like a breaking news report, glossy newsroom and all.

On August 5, when Trump retweeted @ProTrump45, heavy.com — known for its lightening-fast profiles of suddenly famous people — slapped together a quick list of facts about Mincey, or at least, the persona that Trump highlighted.

As Mincey’s professed identity began to dissolve in the face of scrutiny, Heavy’s profile of her changed with the breaking news.

Now, the website reports that there is a real Nicole Mincey — a college student who claims her identity was stolen and used without her permission. She said she would be filing a police report alleging identity theft. A page on ProTrump45.com that included the real Mincey’s contact information has been deleted, Heavy reported.

In a separate post, Heavy published the only recorded audio available online of the person claiming to be Mincey. In a May 25 interview with an radio show called Trending Today USA, she said: “I used to be a liberal, and I used to be a Democrat, and I used to be an Obama supporter, but things have changed. I realized the facts.” She said she started her store in January. “Everything is pro-Trump, pro-Republican, and it’s all made in America,” she added.

The person claiming to be Mincey also gave an interview on WVOX in June, Heavy noted. A representative at WVOX’s office said the shows aired on the station are independently produced. He said the time slot described in a web listing for the interview could have belonged to Peter Moses.

Moses told Heavy “I have no interest in this story” and said he couldn’t recall if he had interviewed Mincey. Responding to an email from TPM, Moses wrote: “She never called in and I know nothing about her.”

In a subsequent phone call, Moses added: “A colleague of mine communicated with Mincey to appear on our show in June. She never called. My colleague tried to reach out to her, and did not receive any reply whatsoever, and we moved on with the show. The reason why I didn’t remember her is because she never appeared on the show.”

And on July 4, DigitalJournal.com published a press release advertising ProTrump45, with a physical address Heavy noted belonged to the college student whose identity she claims was stolen. TPM’s calls to the phone number listed in the press release have gone unanswered.

The website Whois, which documents public domain website ownership information, records ProTrump45.com’s registrant organization as Perfect Privacy, LLC, which advertises itself as a go-between website registrar to keep website owners’ personal information in the dark. Whois records that the ProTrump45.com went public in January.

@ProTrump45 and its associated accounts would be far from the first case of political messaging-associated identity fraud. In October, for example, a pro-Trump campaign mailer meant to show the diversity of his supporters showed a Sikh man, Gurinder Singh Khalsa, below the label “Muslims.” In fact, not only was Singh Khalsa not a Muslim, nor a Trump supporter — he leads a political action committee called “Sikhs PAC” meant to educate the public about the religion. In December, Racked profiled caucasian models whose images had been used without their permission to advocate white supremacy.

And Trump’s habit of re-posting Twitter accounts with tiny followings, and sometimes no tweets except for those to which he responded, has raised plenty of suspicion. Think of it as the 21st century version of “John Barron,” the persona Trump used to call tabloid reporters and pretend to be his own agent.

This post has been updated.

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The National Rifle Association continued a streak of publishing decidedly aggressive video content Thursday.

This time, the group’s video wing, NRATV, said they were going to “fisk” the New York Times, a slang journalism term for uncovering factual inaccuracies in reporting.

“We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords,” spokeswoman Dana Loesch says to camera, in a clenched-teeth, Sorkin-esque rant, adding: “We’ve had it with your pretentious, tone-deaf assertion that you are, in any way, truth- or fact-based journalism.”

There was some confusion over Loesch’s assertion that NRATV viewers were going to fisk the Times — to many, it sounded like she was advocating a much more familiar relationship:

But Loesch quickly put that speculation to bed.

The video comes after another in late June, which advocated fighting the “violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth,” seen by many as a call for actual violence.

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FBI agents monitored social media on Election Day for what they believed were Russian government-backed efforts to spread disinformation, CNN reported Friday.

Citing two unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, CNN reported that FBI analysts identified social media accounts they believed were pushing fake news articles on Election Day, and that “the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign.”

One unnamed person briefed on the investigation told CNN the FBI’s operation was “right on the edge of Constitutional legality” because “we were monitoring news.”

The effort was part of a larger push to monitor cyber threats on Election Day, according to the report, with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence holding regular calls with the White House’s situation room.

Top officials ultimately congratulated each other after the day’s vote went uninterrupted, according to the report.

One unnamed Obama White House official disagreed, however: “What they did worked!”, the official told CNN they recalled saying.

Read CNN’s full report here.

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Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza on Friday posted pictures of top White House staffers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka posing with him and his new book, which argues that the modern Democratic Party practices tactics promoted by fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler.

Promotional material for “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” reads: “The Democratic left has an ideology virtually identical with fascism and routinely borrows tactics of intimidation and political terror from the Nazi Brownshirts.” Ironically, Gorka has received a lot of press attention for his ties to ultranationalist groups in his parents’ native Hungary that have been accused of anti-Semitism.

It is illegal for federal employees to use their public offices to endorse a product, and executive branch conduct rules prohibit accepting gifts worth more than $20.

D’Souza’s book retails for less than that, but Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, said the pictures still raised “serious issues” about whether Bannon and Gorka had endorsed it.

Gorka and Bannon each posing for a picture in their office with D’Souza while holding his book raises a serious issues of whether they violated the ban,” Noble told TPM in an email. “I think a reasonable person would assume that the picture would be used to publicly suggest endorsement of the book.”

“I wonder whether they warned him it could not be used for publicity,” Noble added.

The White House press office did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the photos.

D’Souza deleted the pictures from his Twitter account soon after he posted them, but later shared a cropped version of the photo with Bannon, alongside a graphic with a link to the book’s website.

The original photos appear to have been taken in Bannon’s office; the large white board checklist in the background has made news before, when rabbi Shmuley Boteach posted a photo of himself and Bannon posing in front of it, prompting analysis of Bannon’s prioritized agenda items.

Previously, at the urging of the Office of Government Ethics, the White House “counseled” Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on national TV from the White House briefing room, with official White House imagery in the background.

This post has been updated.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Friday delivered a warning to potential leakers of intelligence information: “Don’t do it.”

“Those disclosures have been disseminated to both the media and to our foreign adversaries,” Coats said from the Justice Department. “Let me be absolutely clear this morning. These disclosures have resulted in a major threat to our national security.”

Coats noted that criminal leaks have not come out of the intelligence community alone, but also the executive branch and Congress. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center had been tasked with making “recommendations to strengthen the security clearance process,” he said.

The press conference announcing the DOJ’s crackdown on intelligence leaks came a day after the Washington Post published full transcripts of phone calls between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia, respectively. President Donald Trump has ceaselessly criticized his attorney general in recent weeks, including for being “very weak” on investigating leaks. 

Sessions on Friday emphasized that he had invested resources into addressing the issue, saying the agency “has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations, compared to the number pending at the end of the last administration,” he said.

The attorney general outlined three steps to combat the leaks: directing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to oversee all leak investigations; instructing the DOJ’s National Security Division and U.S. attorneys to prioritize leak investigations; and increasing resources devoted to leak investigations, including by creating a “new counterintelligence unit” within the FBI to address them.

He also said that, at the suggestion of “career investigators,” he would be “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” hinting at a pursuing journalists in court in order to reveal their sources.

“We respect the important role that the press plays and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said.

Neither Sessions nor Coats responded to a shouted question from a reporter: “Do you plan to prosecute journalists?”

Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Rosenstein said that the review of subpoena policy was part of a “fresh look” and that “leaks to the media are not whistleblowing,” according to the Washington Examiner. He said he would “consult” with the News Media Dialogue Group, a group of media representatives established during the Obama administration, on potential changes.

Rosenstein would not rule out changing the department’s practice of not prosecuting journalists, calling it a hypothetical question, according to CNN.

Journalists were subpoenaed during George W. Bush’s presidency as part of the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative. And the Obama administration used various tactics, including subpoenaing journalists and naming a Fox News reporter a criminal co-conspirator, in one instance, in attempts to reveal journalists’ sources.

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