👋 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’s lawyers are discussing his authority to grant pardons to aides, family members, and himself in connection with the Russia probe. Because no president has ever pardoned himself, there is no precedent, which leaves the question open: can a president use their constitutional power to pardon themselves? The power to pardon is granted in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the president the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” (Washington Post)
2/ Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to stymie Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. They’re scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation or force members of the team to recuse themselves – and possibly build a case to fire Mueller. Trump has been particularly upset that Mueller could access his personal tax returns, which he has repeatedly declined to release to the public. (New York Times / The Hill)
3/ Trump tapped Anthony Scaramucci to be the new White House communications director, a wealthy Wall Street financier, schmoozer, and fixture on the global financial scene. Trump sees Scaramucci as a strong defender of him on television and wants him to focus on the surrogate strategy as communications director. Scaramucci supported Trump’s campaign, dealing with fundraising and appearing on cable TV as a frequent defender of the president. The role has been open since Mike Dubke resigned in May. (Axios / Washington Post / NBC News / Politico)
Scaramucci once called Trump a “hack politician” and said his rhetoric was “anti-American.” In August 2015, then-candidate Trump railed against “hedge-fund guys paying nothing” in taxes. Scaramucci shot back, calling him “another hack politician,” whose remarks “anti-American and divisive.” (Time)
4/ Sean Spicer resigned as the White House Press Secretary, telling Trump he “vehemently disagreed” with the appointment of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. After offering the job to Scaramucci, Trump asked Spicer to stay on. Spicer declined, telling Trump he believed the appointment was a major mistake. Spicer was largely left in the dark, unaware of Trump’s intention to hire Scaramucci until this morning, as were Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, both of whom fiercely opposed Scaramucci’s hire. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump encouraged the move. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was named White House press secretary. (New York Times / CNN / ABC News / Politico)
5/ Robert Mueller asked White House staff to preserve all documents relating to Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer. The notice, called a document preservation request, asked White House staff to save any text messages, emails, notes, voicemails, and other communications and documentation from the June 2016 meeting. (CNN)
6/ The Russian lawyer Trump Jr. met with had Russian intelligence connections. Natalia Veselnitskaya had previously represented Russia’s top spy agency, the Federal Security Service, in a land dispute in Moscow. There is no information that Veselnitskaya is an intelligence agent or an employee of the Russian government. (Washington Post)
7/ Russia’s foreign minister suggested Trump may have had more meetings with Putin at the G-20 summit. Sergey Lavrov shrugged off the importance of the encounters, dismissing speculation about the leaders’ meetings, and joking that “maybe they went to the toilet together.” Trump and Putin met three times at the summit. (NBC News)
8/ Susan Rice privately met with the Senate intelligence committee as part of the committee’s investigation into Russia meddling in the election. Rice, who served as Obama’s national security adviser, is under scrutiny from House Republicans because they believe she improperly “unmasked” the identities of Trump associates in US intelligence reports. (CNN)
9/ Trump reshuffled his legal team. Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s longtime personal attorney who has been the lead lawyer on the Russia investigation, will step aside as the role requires Washington-centric expertise. John Dowd and Jay Sekulow will now be Trump’s primary personal attorneys for the investigation, with Dowd in the lead. From inside the White House, Ty Cobb will take the lead on the investigation from a legal and communications perspective. (CNN)
10/ The spokesman for Trump’s legal team resigned two months after starting. Mark Corallo said the dynamics in the White House were untenable and that there was “too much fighting all the time.” He had grown frustrated with the operation and was concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters. (Politico)
poll/ 57% of all Americans say Trump Jr. shouldn’t have taken the meeting with the Russian lawyer. 83% of Democrats say the group should not have taken the meeting, while 48% of Republicans say they should have. (CNN)
poll/ Trump averaged a 38.8% job approval during his second quarter in office. No other president has had a worse second-quarter average. The historical average second-quarter rating is 62%. (Gallup)
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