👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ A White House official close to Trump is now a person of interest in the Russia probe. The senior adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to multiple sources, who would not further identify the official. Investigators are also interested in people who were previously part of the Trump campaign and administration, including Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (Washington Post)
2/ Trump told the Russians in the Oval Office last week that firing Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him. A document summarizing the meeting quotes Trump as saying “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” (New York Times)
3/ The Trump-Russia probe now includes a possible cover-up. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, “has been given the authority to investigate the possibility of a cover-up,” though that “does not mean that is part of the investigation” currently. (McClatchy)
4/ Mike Pence wasn’t informed about Flynn’s alleged wrongdoings, a source close to the administration said. It’s the second time that Pence claims he was kept in the dark about Flynn. The source said there is concern about “a pattern” of keeping the vice president distant from information about possible Flynn wrongdoings, calling it “malpractice or intentional, and either are unacceptable.” (NBC News)
5/ James Comey has agreed to testify in a public session at the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing will occur after Memorial Day, committee leaders said. (Politico)
🚨🚨🚨 COMEY agrees to testify in open session before Senate Intel pic.twitter.com/PXktidhJyI— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 19, 2017
- Comey tried to preserve distance between the FBI and the White House, by educating the administration on the proper way to interact with the bureau. Comey told Trump that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department. (New York Times)
- Comey may testify as soon as next week despite the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling into last year’s election. (The Hill)
- The FBI warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him. Dana Rohrabacher of California, has been known for years as one of Moscow’s biggest defenders in Washington and as a vocal opponent of American economic sanctions against Russia. He is one of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. (New York Times)
6/ Trump heads out on his first foreign trip since taking office, to meet with some of the most important figures in the Middle East and Europe during a nine-day, five-country journey. He’s bucking tradition by not visiting Canada or Mexico with his first visits abroad, which the past five presidents have all done. The trip will conclude with the president meeting with NATO and attending a G7 summit, where leaders have been told that he prefers short presentations and lots of visual aids. White House aides fear that a difficult trip might lead Trump to hand off future traveling duties to Pence. (ABC News / Associated Press / (Wall Street Journal)
7/ Kushner intervened to help seal a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis - just in time for Trump’s visit to the kingdom this weekend where he hopes to frame it as a symbol of America’s renewed commitment to security in the Persian Gulf. (New York Times)
8/ Trump said he is “very close” to choosing a new FBI director. A senior White House official said the odds of a selection coming today were “better than 50-50.” Former Sen. Joe Lieberman is his top choice. (CNN / NBC News)
9/ Trump’s attorney didn’t want him to sign his financial disclosure to certify the information was true, because he was filing voluntarily. Trump’s 2016 disclosures will span his general election candidacy, election, and transition to power, which would potentially shed light on the impact his nomination and election had on his Trump Organization. (Associated Press)
10/ Health insurers are planning rate hikes on Obamacare — and they blame Trump. State insurance regulators — both Democrat and Republican — have concluded they cannot count on the Trump administration to help them ensure that consumers will have access to a health plan next year, which is forcing them to make plans to raise premiums to account for the turmoil. (Los Angeles Times)
11/ Nearly 700 positions at the CDC are vacant because of Trump’s hiring freeze. Programs supporting local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control and chronic disease prevention are all affected. At least 125 job categories have been blocked from being filled. (Washington Post)
12/ American warplanes attacked a pro-Syrian government convoy, which ignored warnings and violated a restricted zone around a base where US and British Special Forces train rebels to fight the Islamic State. The Syria and its Russian allies condemned the attack, which marked an escalation in hostile US action toward Bashar al-Assad. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
13/ Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice are telling lawyers to stop representing immigrants in deportation proceedings. They’re accusing immigrant-rights lawyers of breaking a rule that was put in place to protect people from lawyers who take their money and then drop their case. The cease and desist letter could dissuade law firms from letting their lawyers volunteer for these cases, scaring those firms away by convincing them that immigration-related projects are too risky pro-bono projects. (The Nation)
14/ White House lawyers are researching impeachment procedures in an effort to prepare for what officials believe is a distant possibility that Trump could have to fend off attempts to remove him from office. (CNN)
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