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

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Wednesday defended the extremely good deal he got on a Washington, D.C. condo lease last year — from one half of a lobbyist power couple — by saying his landlord’s husband wasn’t subsequently listed as an EPA lobbyist.

Except he was.

“Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017,” Pruitt told Sen. Tom Udall (D-MN) during a budget hearing Wednesday. “He’s a longtime associate and friend.”

Udall pointed out that Hart was listed as a lobbyist this year, and that the lobbying giant Hart chaired until very recently, Williams & Jensen, said in a statement on the day of Hart’s resignation that “Mr. Hart had lobbying contact with the Environmental Protection Agency in the first quarter of 2018.”

“Do you think that’s acceptable? To have this individual, Mr. Hart, who’s a lobbyist, and then you rent a room from him at a pretty good deal?” Udall pressed.

“The filing that you’re referring to was for the first quarter of 2018, and it was for the firm, and Mr. Hart was not listed on that disclosure.”

Below is a screenshot of the filing in question, with Mr. Hart listed as lobbying the EPA about “[i]ssues relating to support for EPA Chesapeake Bay Programs” on behalf of Smithfield Foods, the meat processing corporation, in the first quarter of this year.

On the same lobbying disclosure, Hart is listed as a Smithfield Foods lobbyist for the Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to the EPA.

And in 2017, Pruitt met with Hart in person, along with a former executive at Smithfield Foods who now sits on the board of the Smithfield Foundation, the company’s charitable arm. Hart met with Pruitt and the former Smithfield Food executive, Dennis Treacy, in early 2017 as part of a meeting about the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, the New York Times and Politico reported.

Both Hart and Smithfield Foods have denied any EPA lobbying relationship, despite the disclosure from Williams & Jensen.

Later on Wednesday, Pruitt admitted in response to Udall’s questioning that an aide of his, Millan Hupp, had searched for apartments for Pruitt and his wife “on personal time” without being compensated for the work.

“Then that’s a gift,” Udall said. “That’s in violation of federal law.”

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that North Korea’s threat the previous night to withdraw from planned negotiations with President Donald Trump was “something that we fully expected.”

“The President is very used (sic) and ready for tough negotiations, and if they want to meet, we’ll be ready, and if they don’t, that’s okay too,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House. “And we’ll continue with the campaign of maximum pressure if that’s the case. But like I just said, if they want to meet, the President will certainly be ready, and we will be prepared, but if not, that’s okay.”

“[I]f the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” North Korean negotiator Kim Gye Gwan said Wednesday.

Kim specifically noted National Security Adviser John Bolton’s talk of following the “Libyan model” for disarmament in North Korea: Libya disarmed and complied with international inspections, but, left unsaid by Bolton, its dictator was later violently murdered in the streets.

Sanders distanced herself from Bolton’s comments Wednesday, saying “I know that that comment was made. There’s not a cookie cutter model on how this would work.”

“This is the President Trump model,” she added. “He’s going to run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100 percent confident, as we’ve said many times before, and as we all know that you’re aware, he’s the best negotiator. And we’re very confident on that front.”

A reporter asked if the White House had expected North Korea to “pull back at some point.”

“We know that this is kind of a standard function that can often happen, and we’re not surprised by it, but we’re going to continue moving forward,” Sanders said.

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The Trump administration is considering forming an organization to promote coal and natural gas, E&E News reported Tuesday.

Citing a document it obtained from a Trump administration source, E&E News described draft talking points for a “Clean and Advanced Fossil Fuel Alliance.” The publication reported that the proposal came in response to a coalition of more than 20 countries, launched at the United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany last year, aiming to phase out coal power.

The United States, at the same conference in Bonn, hosted an event called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” It was interrupted by anti-coal protesters. David Banks, who presented at the event as a representative of the Trump administration, told E&E News that French President Emmanuel Macron’s “head essentially exploded” over the White House’s fossil fuel advocacy.

“That sent us a very clear signal that if we were to have a rational discussion about energy and climate discussion, we were going to have to create a new platform,” Banks told E&E News, seemingly referring to the proposed organization.

The proposed organization, the document obtained by E&E News said, is “particularly important as many nations seek aggressive energy policies, which call for the decreased reliance on traditional baseload capacity” through “narrowly focused and often unrealistic policies within international energy fora.” It would “explore the vast potential of clean and advanced fossil fuels, specifically clean coal and natural gas.” 

The document reviewed by E&E News says international institutions “should be celebrating all forms of energy and seek to constantly improve on them all.”

Read E&E News’ full report here.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday sent his “greetings and best wishes to all Muslims observing Ramadan in the United States and around the world,” part of a statement marking the holiday that was notably different from last year’s.

Trump last year became the first President in decades not to mark Ramadan with an Iftar meal or Eid Al-Fitr celebration at the White House. And his statement on the holiday was, several outlets noted at the time, fixated on terrorism.

After referencing two recent terrorism incidents last year — the suicide bomber who attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, United Kingdom, four days earlier and the gunmen who ambushed a bus of Coptic Christians in Egypt earlier that morning — Trump wrote in his statement that “such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology” and “America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it.”

By contrast, former President George W. Bush made no mention of terrorism in a statement marking Ramadan just weeks after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

TPM asked the White House in an email Tuesday whether the Trump administration would hold a Ramadan celebration this year. The White House did not immediately respond.

Compare Trump’s two Ramadan messages below:

May 26, 2017:

On behalf of the American people, I would like to wish all Muslims a joyful Ramadan.

During this month of fasting from dawn to dusk, many Muslims in America and around the world will find meaning and inspiration in acts of charity and meditation that strengthen our communities.  At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict.

This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.  Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.

On my recent visit to Saudi Arabia, I had the honor of meeting with the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations.  There, in the land of the two holiest sites in the Muslim world, we gathered to deliver together an emphatic message of partnership for the sake of peace, security, and prosperity for our countries and for the world.

I reiterate my message delivered in Riyadh:  America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it.  During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace.

I extend my best wishes to Muslims everywhere for a blessed month as you observe the Ramadan traditions of charity, fasting, and prayer.  May God bless you and your families.

May 15, 2018:

With the rising of tonight’s moon, I send my greetings and best wishes to all Muslims observing Ramadan in the United States and around the world.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad through fellowship and prayer.  Many observe this holy time by fasting, performing acts of charity, reciting prayers, and reading the Quran.

Ramadan is a time of self-reflection intended to deepen one’s spiritual growth and renew a sense of appreciation for the many blessings God provides.  In this spirit of thanksgiving and reflection, those observing Ramadan can strengthen our communities, help those in need, and serve as good examples for how to live a holy life.

Ramadan reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life.  In the United States, we are all blessed to live under a Constitution that fosters religious liberty and respects religious practice.  Our Constitution ensures Muslims can observe Ramadan in accordance with the dictates of conscience and unimpeded by government.  By doing so, the Constitution also furnishes varied opportunities for all Americans to deepen their understanding of the human soul.

As so many people unite to celebrate Ramadan, Melania and I join in the hope for a blessed month.  Ramadan Mubarak.

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CIA director nominee Gina Haspel wrote Monday that the agency’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program, also known as torture, “is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

“While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote in a letter to the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). CNN obtained and published the letter.

Haspel was criticized following her confirmation hearing last week for refusing to say whether the United States’ use of torture following the September 11, 2001 attacks was immoral, instead asserting that “I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.”

“As Director,” she wrote in her letter to Warner on Monday, “I would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values.”

She still has not defined what those values are.

Haspel became the chief of base at a Thai black site in 2002. Though she was not in charge during the now infamous repeated waterboarding of detainee Abu Zubaydah, she was in charge when another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was reportedly slammed against a wall, locked in a tiny “confinement box” and waterboarded while in the CIA’s custody, according to CIA documents reviewed and published recently by ProPublica.

Haspel also later wrote, on the orders of a superior, the cable instructing staff at the black site to destroy tapes of the interrogations of al-Nashiri and Zubaydah. CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, in a 2011 review, found no fault on Haspel’s part.

In a New York Times op-ed last week, Fatima Boudchar wrote that the black site led by Haspel “sounds like the one where I was tortured” in 2004.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail “once he was confirmed” to lead the agency, the EPA’s inspector general said Monday.

The 24/7 protection, which has cost taxpayers $3 million, began “the first day he arrived” at the agency, Inspector General Arthur Elkins told Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE).

The Inspector General was responding to specific questions from the senators about Pruitt’s justifications to Congress for his security expenses.

Pruitt cited a report he claimed had come from the inspector general in congressional hearings last month when asked to justify his security costs. The inspector general clarified Monday that his office plays no role in determining Pruitt’s security detail, and that the document Pruitt cited was not a formal “threat assessment,” but rather a one-off document, a “discretionary choice” made by the OIG Office of Investigations.

That office gave the information to Pruitt’s then-head of security Nino Perrotta, according to the inspector general. “It was marked ‘For Official Use Only’ and was not to be distributed to anyone outside of the EPA,” he wrote. Perrotta announced his resignation earlier this month.

“The OIG plays no role in determining how the agency protects the Administrator or other employees or facilities,” Elkins wrote.

Pruitt’s EPA has claimed before that the administrator faces “an unprecedented amount of death threats against him.” But the fact that Pruitt’s 24/7 detail began its work on his first day as administrator suggests that the security detail was not requested in response to any specific threats.

“A threat to a federal employee’s personal security is extremely serious, but so is using security as pretext for special treatment on the public dime,” Carper and Whitehouse said in a statement responding to to the inspector general’s letter.

“This letter raises troubling questions about whether Administrator Pruitt told the truth during his testimony before the House. Now more than ever, Mr. Pruitt should come clean about his spending of taxpayer dollars on all manner of extravagances, and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle should demand he do so.”

“As the report says, EPA’s Office of Inspector General does not determine security assessments,” Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesperson, told the Washington Post in response to the inspector general’s letter. “EPA’s Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA.”

Wilcox’s use of the passive voice aside, the statement does not dispute the inspector general’s finding that Pruitt himself requested the security, and that it was not the result of any recommendation by the inspector general.

This post has been updated.

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Trump loyalist and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski announced Monday that he would join Vice President Mike Pence’s political action committee, Great America Committee.

Fox News first reported the news, which Lewandowski then confirmed in a tweet.

The New York Times reported that the hire was an attempt by unnamed “Pence allies” totamp down any suspicions of disunity” between Pence and Trump.

Great America’s co-founder, Pence chief of staff Nick Ayers, told Bloomberg last year that planning for it had begun in December, weeks after Trump’s electoral victory.

As a leadership PAC, Great America Committee must comply with contribution and spending limits and maintain public records of its donors. It can use its funds to help other candidates and political parties. Pence has so far used the vehicle to contribute to dozens of House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

Lewandowski was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in June of 2016. He was charged in assaulting a reporter, Breitbart’s Michelle Fields, in March of that year. Charges were dropped in mid-April. In December of last year, singer and Trump supporter Joy Villa accused Lewandowski of sexually assaulting her the previous month.

After the election, Lewandowski started a lobbying and consulting firm that he eventually left after facing allegations that the was simply selling access to the President.

A couple months later, in August of last year, Lewandowski was hired as a senior adviser and spokesman for the super PAC “America First Action.”

This post has been updated.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting

Former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) underwent surgery Monday to remove a tumor from his pancreas, Reid’s family said in a statement Monday.

Reid served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015, and then as minority leader for the last two years of his Senate career. He announced in March 2015 that he would not seek re-election the following year. 

“Harry Reid is a fighter,” former Reid staffer Zac Petkanas told TPM. “Cancer won’t know what punched it in the face.”

“Like everything in his life, Reid is underestimated only to come out on top and stronger,” former staffer Kristen Orthman added. “I expect this to be no different.”

Former Reid staffer Adam Jentleson posted the statement online.

This post has been updated.

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White House spokesman Raj Shah on Monday refused to condemn or further explain White House staffer Kelly Sadler’s closed-door remark last week that mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as “dying.”

But in any work environment, Shah said at one point during a press briefing Monday, “if you aren’t able in internal meetings to speak your mind, or convey thoughts or say anything that you feel without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that creates a very difficult work environment.”

The reported comment — McCain’s opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel didn’t matter, Sadler told other communications staffers during a meeting, because “he’s dying anyway” — has caused an uproar. McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, said Sunday that Sadler promised her in a phone call that she would apologize publicly. That hasn’t happened.

“I understand the focus on this issue but it’s going to be dealt with, and has been dealt with, internally,” Shah said separately Monday. “I was told Kelly Sadler called the McCain family late last week and did apologize, and beyond that I don’t have further comment.”

A reporter pressed on why the White House seems more concerned that the comment was leaked than the comment itself.

“Well, I think we’re concerned about all sorts of matters, but this is an internal matter, it’s being addressed internally,” Shah said. 

“Can you explain how it’s being addressed internally?” another reporter asked.

“Obviously, if I explain all that, then it won’t remain internal,” Shah replied.

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