👋 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 former Soviet counterintelligence officer attended the Trump Jr. meeting. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was accompanied by Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected by some US officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. The revelation brings the total in attendance to eight: Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the meeting, and at least two other people: a translator and a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. Senator Charles Grassley said Akhmetshin failed to register as a foreign agent even though he had been lobbying in the US for Russian interests. Grassley also said that Akhmetshin had been working with the opposition-research firm that compiled the highly disputed dossier on Trump. Akhmetshin has denied ever working as an intelligence agent. (NBC News / Associated Press / CNN / Washington Post)
- Government watchdogs filed a complaint against Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort with the Federal Election Commission, arguing the three violated the law by meeting with a Russian who was offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The complaint said the emails provided evidence that Trump Jr. violated the law by asking a foreign national for something of value. (Reuters)
- The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probe. “The possibility of presidential pardons in this process concerns me and also would be, I think, a really, really bad move,” Mark Warner said. (The Hill)
- Kushner was angry that the White House wasn’t more aggressive in its defense of the Trump Jr. meeting. Kushner wanted the White House to complain about chyrons on cable news, call reporters to update stories with White House statements, and push out surrogates with talking points to change the narrative around the latest twist in the Russia scandal. Sean Spicer and other senior staffers have expressed reservations, saying it’s best to leave it to outside counsel. (Politico)
2/ The former intel officer was accused of hacking a Russian mining company and stealing documents. Court papers from 2015 say Rinat Akhmetshin was paid $140,000 to organize a public relations smear campaign targeting International Mineral Resources. Shortly after he began that work, IMR was hacked and gigabytes of data were allegedly stolen. Akhmetshin has denied the accusation, but admitted to passing around a “hard drive” filled with data on IMR’s owners he’d gotten from the former prime minister of Kazakhstan. The charges were later withdrawn. (The Daily Beast)
3/ Veselnitskaya presented the Trump team with documents that she believed showed people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton. Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder with printed-out documents detailing the flow of illicit funds to the DNC and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign. Trump Jr. said he did not receive the information he was promised. (Associated Press)
4/ The lawyer Trump Jr. met with was in contact with Russia’s top prosecutor. Natalia Veselnitskaya said she wasn’t working for Russia, but regularly met with and shared information with the Russian prosecutor general’s office, which included Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika. Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who arranged the meeting, wrote in an email to Trump Jr. that Aras Agalarov had met with Russia’s “crown” prosecutor – Yuri Chaika – and offered to provide the Trump campaign with incriminating information on Clinton. Veselnitskaya said she asked Agalarov to help arrange the meeting with the Trump campaign. Both Veselnitskaya and Agalarov denied that the meeting was arranged at Chaika’s request. Agalarov also denied meeting with Chaika as described in Goldstone’s email. (Wall Street Journal)
5/ Trump’s lawyers learned of Trump Jr.’s email chain more than three weeks ago. The White House has said Trump heard about the meeting “in the last couple of days” and hadn’t see the emails until Trump Jr. released them. Trump’s lawyer for the Russia investigation, Marc Kasowitz, and the chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, were both informed about the emails in the third week of June, after they were discovered by lawyers for Kushner. (Yahoo)
6/ The White House is shaking up its legal team, bringing on board a veteran Washington criminal defense lawyer. Ty Cobb will join the White House staff as a special counsel to the president and will handle all legal and media-related issues relating to the Russia probe. Fun fact: The attorney is a relative of the baseball legend of same name. (Yahoo / Bloomberg)
7/ Kushner’s lawyer dropped the Russia case and turned over all responsibilities to Kushner’s other attorney, Abbe Lowell, a well-known Washington criminal defense lawyer. Jamie Gorelick will continue to represent Kushner on issues relating to ethics and his security clearance form. Gorelick was a partner at WilmerHale, where Bob Mueller was also a partner until becoming the special counsel. (Politico / National Law Journal)
8/ Homeland Security contradicted Trump’s claim that Loretta Lynch let the Russian lawyer into the US. “DHS paroled Natalia Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in concurrence with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, allowing her to participate in a client’s legal proceedings,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. In Paris, Trump said that “that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch […] So, she was here because of Lynch.” Almost immediately, a spokesperson for Lynch put out a statement insisting that she had no authority over whether or not the Russian lawyer was allowed to enter the country. (BuzzFeed News)
9/ A Hawaiian judge loosened Trump’s travel ban, changing the definition of a “bona fide” relationship. The decision means that “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States” will now count as close family relationships and can gain entry into the country. (Wall Street Journal / CNN)
10/ Jeff Sessions said the Trump administration will appeal the latest travel ban ruling to the Supreme Court. Sessions said “the district court has improperly substituted its policy preferences for the national security judgments of the executive branch in a time of grave threats, defying both the lawful prerogatives of the executive branch and the directive of the Supreme Court.” (Reuters / Politico / Associated Press)
11/ Trump’s lawyer threatened a critic in a series of emails to “watch your back, bitch… I already know where you live.” The email was in a response to a retired public relations professional sending Marc Kasowitz an email with the subject line: “Resign Now.’’ Kasowitz initially replied with “Fuck you,” before sending series of angry messages. Kasowitz has since apologized, saying “the email [exchange] came at the end of a very long day.” (ProPublica / Politico)
12/ Trump takes the upper hand in the Battle of the Handshakes with Macron, unleashing yet another awkward handshake that lasted for a 29-seconds. At one point, while still holding Macron’s hand, Trump reached over to kiss Macron’s wife, on her cheek and grabbed her hand as well, holding both Macron and his wife’s hands at the same time. The never-ending handshake between Trump and the French president is par for the course between the two. In May, Macron out-Trump’d Trump in a “fierce” handshake that lasted six seconds. Yesterday, Trump greeted Brigitte Macron by tugging her hand around in the air. He later told the French first lady that she’s “in such good shape.” (CNN)
poll/ 53% think Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer was inappropriate, while 22% thought it was appropriate and 25% were unsure. 47% of Republican respondents said the meeting was appropriate. (The Hill)
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