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

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Thursday that while Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be “free to do his job,” he would like to see the probe reach its conclusion.

In a press briefing Thursday, a reporter asked Ryan about Vice President Mike Pence’s comment last week, referring to Mueller’s probe, that “it’s time to wrap it up.”

“I think he should be free to do his job, but I would like to see it get wrapped up, of course,” Ryan responded. “I mean, we want to see this thing come to its conclusion, but again, I’ve always said he should be free to finish his job.”

“It’s been a year, my guess is he’s probably coming to a conclusion,” Ryan added in a response to another question. “I can’t speak for that.”

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Thursday that if there had been collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, “it would have been leaked a long time ago.”

Rubio is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which this week announced that it concurred with a 2017 assessment by various intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

“Russia has meddled in other elections, and propaganda isn’t new,” Rubio told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer in an interview. “They went to a new level last year, primarily to sow instability and chaos in our society, but ultimately they may have grown into a preference for the President.”

“What do you think? Do you think there was collusion during this election or not?” Hemmer asked.

“We’ve seen no evidence of that to this point,” Rubio said, repeating a Republican talking point with regard to the various probes of Trump’s campaign. He argued that “the best thing that can happen here for the President is for all the facts to come out.”

“Even it takes another year or even two years?” Hemmer asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”

“Let me tell you this,” Rubio responded, “if there was anything about collusion, it would have been leaked a long time ago and everybody would have been talking about it.”

“But, you know, we’re still doing our work. Mueller’s still doing his work. We’ll see. But let me just reiterate what I said, and read into it what you might. Let the truth come out. I think that’s the best thing for the country and the President, believe me.”

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When it was revealed earlier this month that Trump fixer Michael Cohen had accepted six-figure payments (and morefrom various corporations in the wake of the 2017 election, attention turned to the mysterious source of that information.

Stormy Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, was the first to publish detailed allegations, in an unsourced document, that Cohen had used the same shell company from which Daniels received a hush money payment in 2016 to accept the corporate cash.

On Wednesday, the New Yorker revealed that Cohen’s leaked banking data came from a so-called “suspicious activity report,” which are used in the financial industry to flag suspicious activity to Treasury Department regulators. A TPM reader surmised as much earlier this month.

The unnamed law enforcement official who came forward to the New Yorker also said that the report he leaked referenced two other SARs, both of which are missing. The two missing SARs “documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account,” the New Yorker reported: more than $3 million in total.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in March that First Republic Bank had filed an SAR covering Cohen’s payment to Daniels via Essential Consultants, LLC, a shell company he’d recently set up.

The report detailed by the New Yorker’s source showed payments to Cohen from the American affiliate of a Russian investment firm, AT&T, the drugmaker Novartis and others months later.

It was also filed by First Republic Bank, but it examined transactions, the publication said, from September 2017 to January 2018. The two missing reports reportedly covered earlier periods.

“I have never seen something pulled off the system,” the New Yorker’s source said, referring to the potential removal of the SARs from the Treasury Department’s searchable database. “That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.”

The New Yorker reported that several other institutions filed SARs about accounts of Cohen’s, in addition to First Republic. Those were also covered in Avenatti’s document

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney flagged two accounts of Cohen’s for possible “bribery or gratuity” and “suspicious use of third-party transactors (straw-man).” 

And City National Bank flagged payments by Elliott Broidy that appeared to show that the former RNC deputy finance chair paid both his own attorney, Cohen, and Keith Davidson, the attorney representing Shera Bechard, a Playboy model Broidy had impregnated.

“Mr. Broidy is not going to detail his payments for legal services to Mr. Cohen,” a representative told the New Yorker, asserting that the description of the payments was “not correct.”

Read the New Yorker’s full report here.

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Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team had acknowledged that his probe will not conclude with Trump’s indictment, but rather with a report to Congress on Trump’s potential crimes.

“All they get to do is write a report,” Giuliani told CNN. “They can’t indict. At least they acknowledged that to us after some battling, they acknowledged that to us.”

That echoed comments, noted by CNN, from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein earlier this month.

“The Department of Justice has in the past, when the issue arose, has opined that a sitting President cannot be indicted,” Rosenstein said, noting he was speaking generally. “There’s been a lot of speculation in the media about this, I just don’t have anything more to say about it.”

“The Justice Department memos going back to before Nixon say that you cannot indict a sitting president, you have to impeach him,” Giuliani added to CNN. “Now there was a little time in which there was some dispute about that, but they acknowledged to us orally that they understand that they can’t violate the Justice Department rules.”

Giuliani said that while Trump’s team believed the indictment of a President to be unconstitutional, “I don’t think you’re ever going to confront that because nobody’s ever going to indict a sitting president.”

“So, what does that leave them with? That leaves them with writing a report,” he told CNN.

Faced with a potential report on Trump’s crimes, Giuliani appeared to say, the House of Representatives would then vote on whether or not to impeach the President.

This post has been updated. 

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Special counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas late last week to a social media consultant for Trump confidante Roger Stone, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Stone hired the consultant, Jason Sullivan, “to work for an independent political action committee [Stone] set up to support Trump,” Reuters reported, citing Sullivan’s lawyer.

Sullivan told Reuters that he “worked on the Trump campaign serving as chief strategist directly to Roger J. Stone Jr.”

The two subpoenas, Reuters reported, request Sullivan’s appearance before a grand jury on May 18 and order him to bring documents and other information, respectively.

The subpoenas, Reuters reported, imply Mueller is focused on whether Stone had advanced knowledge of hacked Democratic emails that were eventually published by Wikileaks.

Stone has denied having advanced knowledge of the Wikileaks publications, despite documented Twitter communications during the campaign between him and Wikileaks, and with the hacker persona Guccifer 2.0Stone also claimed during the campaign that he’d communicated with Assange.

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Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently released financial disclosure report shows he could have committed a crime.

If DOJ investigates and determines that President Trump knew of his debt to Cohen when he filed last year’s report, there will be reason to suspect that his omission of the debt from last year’s report was ‘knowing and willful,’ which would be a crime,” Shaub, now the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, told TPM in a statement Wednesday.

Shaub was referring to OGE’s letter to the Department of Justice Wednesday citing Trump’s financial disclosure.

Trump’s payment of between $100,000 and $250,000 to his personal attorney Michael Cohen last year, the OGE’s acting director wrote, is “required to be reported as a liability.”

In a tweet Wednesday, Shaub wrote that the letter was “tantamount to a criminal referral.”

Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has said the President “didn’t know the details” of the payment to Daniels. Shaub said in an interview with CNN Wednesday that it was “implausible” Trump didn’t know the details of the payment.

In his letter to the DOJ, Apol referenced a complaint from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington over Trump’s non-disclosure of the debt he owed Cohen.

On Wednesday, that group filed another complaint

“The president has an obligation to be transparent and truthful about his financial interests, and knowingly failing to do so can be a serious criminal offense,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.

Read Shaub’s full statement below:

“The release of President Trump’s financial disclosure report today confirms that his debt to Michael Cohen should have been disclosed in last year’s report. President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claims the president didn’t know about the payment when he filed that report last year, but this explanation seems implausible. For one thing, Giuliani admits that the president started repaying his debt to Cohen months before he filed his financial disclosure report.

In this context, we at the Campaign Legal Center were heartened to see that the acting Director of the Office of Government Ethics, David Apol, referred the matter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) will step up and do its job. If DOJ investigates and determines that president Trump knew of his debt to Cohen when he filed last year’s report, there will be reason to suspect that his omission of the debt from last year’s report was ‘knowing and willful,’ which would be a crime. I note that no one from the Trump camp asked OGE last year whether the debt was reportable and that, instead, President Trump’s attorney asked OGE to allow him to be the first filer in history to be excused from the obligation to certify that his report was true.”

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday released his annual financial disclosure, including in it a note that he paid his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, back for an expense listed at between “$100,001–250,000.”

The note appeared to reflect the hush money payment Cohen sent adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016, and for which, according to Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, Trump paid Cohen back personally.

Read Trump’s financial disclosure in full here (or see the relevant page below).

Despite Trump’s claim in a footnote attached to the disclosure that the payment was “not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’” — in other words, that Trump contests it was not technically a debt he owed Cohen — the Office of Government Ethics said differently.

A note by “Reviewing Officials” at OGE on the disclosure reads: “OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability.”

In a letter to the Department of Justice, OGE’s Acting Director David Apol noted: “I am providing both [the 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure] reports to you because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President’s prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017.”

Walter Shaub, the former director of OGE now at the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said in a tweet that Apol’s letter to the Justice Department was “tantamount to a criminal referral.”

See Trump’s footnote below:

This post has been updated.

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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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