👋 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/ Trump would have never hired Jeff Sessions had he known he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. “Sessions should have never recused himself,” Trump said, “and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” Trump called the decision “very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?” Asked if Robert Mueller’s investigation would cross a line if it started to look at his family’s finances beyond Russia, Trump said, “I would say yes,” but declined to say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.” (New York Times)
Excerpts from Trump’s interview with the New York Times. Trump spoke on Wednesday with three New York Times reporters — Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman — in an exclusive interview in the Oval Office. Also in attendance was Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman. (New York Times)
Trump’s blast of Sessions has a “chilling” effect inside the West Wing. White House officials are thinking: If this kind could happen to Sessions, it could happen to anyone. One official described the President’s blasting of Sessions as only intensifying the already low morale inside the West Wing. (CNN)
GOP senators rebuked Trump’s criticism of Sessions. “The attorney general is America’s top law enforcement official,” one GOP senator said. “It’s unclear if he understands that, and that’s pretty disturbing.” (CNN)
2/ Jeff Sessions plans to stay in his role despite Trump’s comments that he’d have picked someone else had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions said he’s had the “honor of serving as attorney general,” and he planned “to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.” (Washington Post / CNN)
3/ The White House says Trump still has confidence in Sessions, despite being “disappointed” in Sessions’ decision to recuse himself. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump “clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the Attorney General,” adding “if he wanted somebody to take an action, he would make that quite clear.” (NBC News)
4/ Robert Mueller expanded his probe to include Trump’s business transactions, ignoring Trump’s warning not to dig into matters beyond Russia. Investigators are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008. In Trump’s interview with the New York Times, he defended his involvement with Russia saying, “it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia.” (Bloomberg)
5/ Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Trump Jr. will testify before Senate committees next week. Kushner will appear before the Senate intelligence committee on Monday, while Trump Jr. and Manafort are scheduled to testify before the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday. (CNN / ABC News)
6/ Paul Manafort was in debt to pro-Russia interests when he joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016. Shell companies linked to Manafort’s businesses in Ukraine owed as much as $17 million. (New York Times)
7/ Mueller is investigating Manafort for possible money laundering. The inquiry began several weeks ago and looks at how Manafort spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with properties in the US over the past decade. The Senate and House intelligence committees also are probing possible money laundering by Manafort. (Wall Street Journal)
8/ Trump’s embrace of Russia places him at odds with his national security and foreign policy advisers. “Deep divisions” are growing in the White House on the best way to approach Moscow. Foreign officials have said Trump and his team have sent “mixed signals” with regards to their Russia policy, leaving diplomats and intelligence officials “dumbfounded” by Trump’s approach. (Associated Press)
9/ The Trump team used Obamacare money to run ads that undermined the health care law. The Trump administration requested $574 million from the Department of Health and Human Services’ “consumer information and outreach” budget, which is supposed to be used for advertising the ACA and encouraging enrollment. Instead, they bought social media ads and produced more than 130 videos designed to damage public opinion of Obamacare. (The Daily Beast)
10/ John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer. McCain had a blood clot removed from above his left eye last week and “subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma.” McCain and his family are reviewing further treatment options, including potential chemotherapy and radiation. (BuzzFeed News)
11/ After their White House meeting, Senate Republicans are still unlikely to repeal Obamacare in the coming days. Mitch McConnell needs 51 votes (or 50 plus Pence as a tie-breaker) to begin debate. There are 52 Senate Republicans and at least four Republican senators having announced opposition to starting debate on the current health care replacement plan: Susan Collins, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jerry Moran. John McCain’s diagnosis of brain cancer also has the GOP down a vote. McCain has privately indicated that he would not support a repeal-only bill. Shelley Moore Capito and Lisa Murkowski say they would also oppose a repeal-only bill. The path to 50 votes is extremely unlikely. (Politico / HuffPost)
12/ The Senate confirmed a federal judge who once compared abortion to slavery, calling them “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” The Senate confirmed John K. Bush’s lifetime appointment as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth. The vote was 51-47. (HuffPost / The Daily Beast)
13/ Trump ended a covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow. Closing the program is an acknowledgment of Trump’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power. (Washington Post)
poll/ 88% percent of Trump voters would vote for him again. 12% said they would not vote for Trump “if the 2016 presidential election were held today.” (Reuters)
poll/ 47% of liberal Democrats can’t stand friends who voted for Trump, saying it puts a strain on their friendships. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters more broadly, the number is 35%. White and more-educated Democrats are more likely to feel that it’s tough to even be friends with a Trump supporter. (Pew Research Center / Washington Post)
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