👋 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/ Michael Flynn promised that sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to a whistleblower. Flynn worked with Russia until June 2016 on a business venture to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. Ending the sanctions would have allowed the project to move forward. During Trump’s inaugural address, Flynn sent the whistleblower a text message directing him to tell those involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans and that the project was “good to go.” The whistleblower approached the House Oversight Committee in June, but Robert Mueller’s investigators asked him to “hold on the public release of this information until they completed certain investigative steps.” (New York Times / Politico / CNN)
2/ Trump Jr. met with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today. He told the committee that he spoke with Hope Hicks – not his father – about how to respond to news reports of his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. While aboard Air Force One, Trump helped write Trump Jr.’s initial response, which was sent through the Trump Organization under Trump Jr.’s name. The voluntary appearance is Trump Jr.’s first face-to-face meeting with Congress since Robert Mueller charged Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Rick Gates. Trump Jr. met with the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. He is expected to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee soon, although a date has not been set. (CNN / Bloomberg / ABC News)
3/ Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump Jr. asked her for evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation during the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Veselnitskaya said she told Trump Jr. that she didn’t have any meaningful information about the Clintons, at which point Trump Jr. lost interest and the meeting fizzled out. Veselnitskaya said that she wasn’t working for the Russian government and that her motivation for contacting the Trump campaign was to convince them to reexamine the incident that led to the Magnitsky Act. (NBC News)
4/ Trump’s voter fraud commission wants to create a centralized voter database. The commission intends to aggregate the names, addresses, party affiliation, and partial social security numbers of millions of American voters in a central location, which more than a half-dozen technology experts and former national security officials say could become a target for hackers. Rules defining who can access the database and how it should be protected have not been established. (Washington Post)
5/ The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reversed its position on a nearly concluded case less than 48 hours after Mick Mulvaney was named acting director. Lawyers withdrew their earlier brief and said they would no longer take a position on whether Nationwide should pay $8 million in penalties for misleading more than 100,000 mortgage customers. Mulvaney has also stopped approval of some payments to some victims of financial crime, halted hiring, and ordered a review of active investigations and lawsuits. (New York Times)
6/ The wealthiest 1% of American households own 40% of the country’s total wealth, up nearly three percentage points since 2013 and the highest percentage since 1962. As a result, the top 1% of households now own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. (Washington Post)
7/ Trump said a government shutdown “could happen,” blaming Democrats for derailing the budget process. Democrats are vowing to vote against spending legislation if it doesn’t address so-called “Dreamers,” who may lose their ability to live and work in the US after Trump’s decision to end DACA. They also want the spending bill to include parity for defense and non-defense programs. The House Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, said they won’t support the funding bill if it includes increases in non-defense spending or deportation relief for Dreamers. The government is scheduled to run out of funding on Friday. (Politico / The Hill / Business Insider)
poll/ 63% of voters want Congress to avoid shutting down the federal government in order to enact policy changes. 18% of voters said members of Congress should allow a temporary government shutdown if it helps them achieve their policy goals. (Politico)
A House vote to impeach Trump overwhelmingly failed as Democrats joined Republicans in a 364-58 vote to sideline the measure. (Politico)
Experts find the GOP tax plan riddled with bugs, loopholes, and other potential problems. Some provisions are so vaguely written that one expert asked, “holy crap, what’s this?” (Politico)
The Senate confirmed Kirstjen Nielsen as the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Nielsen was previously John Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS. (Washington Post)
Illegal border crossings along the Mexico border drop to their lowest level in 46 years. Border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24% from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971. (Washington Post)
The Supreme Court appeared divided over a Colorado baker’s refusal to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Justice Kennedy will likely cast the deciding vote. (USA Today)
Germany’s acting foreign minister said relations between the US and Germany “will never be the same” after Trump and that the Trump administration looks at Europe as a “competitor or economic rival” instead of as an ally. (New York Times)
Britain’s intelligence agency MI5 foiled a terrorist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Theresa May. Two men have been charged in connection with a plot to use improvised explosives to blow up the gate to the prime minister’s residence and kill May in the chaos. (NPR)
Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy. The US Embassy in Tel Aviv will move to Jerusalem. (New York Times)
Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s endorsement of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, saying “president has tremendous moral standards.” (The Hill)
Senate Democrats called on Al Franken to resign amid more allegations of sexual harassment after a sixth woman came forward to charge that the Minnesota Democrat had sexually harassed her. (Washington Post / New York Times)
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