👋 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 personally dictated Trump Jr.’s statement about his meeting with the Russian lawyer, saying they had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016. Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledged that he met with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Trump’s advisers fear his direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to potential obstruction of justice and could place members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy. (Washington Post)
2/ The White House said Trump only “weighed in” on Trump Jr.’s statement about the Russia meeting. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “The statement that Don Jr. issued is true, there’s no inaccuracy in the statement. The President weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.” The White House response contradicts what Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in July: “The president did not draft the response…I can’t say whether the president was told the statement was going to be coming.” (CNN / Axios)
3/ George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer says Trump “very likely” obstructed justice by drafting a “knowingly false” statement for Trump Jr. “You’re boxing in a witness into a false story,” Richard Painter said. “That puts them under enormous pressure to turn around and lie under oath to be consistent with their story. I think it’s obstruction of justice.” (The Guardian)
4/ Senate Republicans intend to move on from health care, despite Trump’s continued pressure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have signaled that they were looking for other victories, as the 50 votes needed to roll back Obamacare appears unlikely. (Washington Post)
- Ryan Zinke said it’s “laughable” to suggest he threatened Alaska’s senators over the health care vote. Zinke had threatened retribution against Alaska over Lisa Murkowski’s no vote on health care. (Associated Press)
5/ A GOP House member called on special counsel Robert Mueller to resign, saying he has a “conflict of interest” since Comey was the deputy attorney general in 2003 when Mueller served as the FBI director. Trent Franks is attempting to cast Mueller and Comey as “longtime allies” who is “in clear violation of the law.” (The Hill / Washington Post)
- A former Justice Department official joins Mueller’s team. Greg Andres is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer who served at the Justice Department from 2010 to 2012. He was deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, where he oversaw the fraud unit and managed the program that targeted illegal foreign bribery. (Reuters)
6/ The Senate confirmed Christopher Wray as the new FBI director, filling the post that has remained vacant since Trump fired James Comey in May. The vote was 92 to 5 with five Democrats voting against his nomination. The FBI has been run by Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, whom Trump has attacked repeatedly because his wife is a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Virginia Legislature. (New York Times / Washington Post)
7/ The Senate and House have 12 working days to raise the debt ceiling before the Treasury Department defaults on its obligations. A default would likely set off a major disruption to the world financial system, with a stock market crash and surging interest rates that could send the economy into a recession. Congress has to raise the debt ceiling by September 29th to ensure the government can continue paying all of its bills. (Washington Post)
8/ Multiple White House officials were tricked by an email prankster masquerading as Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, and Eric Trump. The UK prankster fooled Anthony Scaramucci, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, and others into responding. In Bossert’s case, he revealed his personal email address. Real Scaramucci responded to Fake Priebus: “You know what you did. We all do. Even today. But rest assured we were prepared. A Man would apologize.” (CNN)
9/ Jared Kushner told congressional interns that Trump’s election team was too disorganized to collude with Russia. “They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner said, adding: “I’m a lot more comfortable talking to you guys today ’cause there isn’t any press.” (Foreign Policy / WIRED)
10/ Fox News and a Trump donor created a fake news story to deflect attention from the administration’s ties to Russia, a lawsuit alleges. The story is about the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, which first aired in May, but was retracted a week later. The lawsuit, filed by Rod Wheeler, a paid commentator for the news network, claims a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him in order to propel the story. A month before the story ran, Trump donor Ed Butowsky and Wheeler met at the White House with Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering. At a press gaggle after the story ran, Spicer claimed to have no knowledge of the Rich story. Spicer now confirms meeting with the two. (NPR)
11/ A former Fox News executive who helped Roger Ailes cover up sexual harassment could be joining Trump’s communications team. Bill Shine has been named in lawsuits that accuse him of abetting Ailes’s harassing behavior toward women. The former co-president of Fox News and top lieutenant to Ailes has denied knowing that Ailes had sexually harassed employees. (New York Times)
12/ The military will test launch an ICBM early Wednesday morning. The test launch comes days after North Korea’s second ICBM test and is meant “to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system.” Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, said that military options are “inevitable if North Korea continues.” He added that “there is a military option to destroy North Korea’s (missile) program and North Korea itself. If there’s going to be a war to stop them, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there, they’re not going to die here and (Trump) told me that to my face.” (NBC News / CNN)
- The US military has detected “highly unusual and unprecedented levels” of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an “ejection test” in the days following Pyongyang’s second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month. (CNN)
poll/ 60% of voters believe the White House is in chaos, compared with 33% who say it is running well. 29% believe Trump’s staff serves him well, compared with 39% who say his staff doesn’t serve him well. (Politico)
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