👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ A Kremlin-linked Russian politician spent six years building leverage and connections in order to influence the NRA and gain access to American politics. Alexander Torshin, a Putin ally, also claimed that his ties to the NRA afforded him access to Trump. Robert Mueller’s team is investigating whether Torshin, who serves as the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA in order to help the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election. (NPR)
2/ Georgia lawmakers stripped Delta Air Lines of a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel in retaliation for Delta ending its NRA member discount. The Georgia House and Senate had previously approved the tax break. The Atlanta-based airline said only 13 passengers have ever bought tickets with the NRA discount. (New York Times / USA Today)
3/ Mitch McConnell said the Senate will skip debate on gun legislation and instead turn to a banking bill next week, reflecting the reality that negotiators have not settled on legislation that can pass the House and Senate. (CNN)
4/ The NRA said it persuaded Trump to back away from his embrace of gun control. After a meeting with both Trump and Pence, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox tweeted that the two “support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.” (New York Times)
5/ A large cache of internal documents from a Russian troll farm were leaked and put up for auction on a Russian “information exchange” in February 2017. The auction received no bids for the Internet Research Agency documents, which promised “working data from the department focused on the United States.” The listing revealed details about the Kremlin-backed troll farm’s efforts to push propaganda and disinformation in the U.S. (The Daily Beast)
6/ Trump defended his plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, tweeting that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” According to two officials, however, Trump’s decision was born out of his frustration with an internal process that didn’t provide him with consensus advice from his team. As one official familiar with Trump’s state of mind said: the president became “unglued.” Investors are concerned that the tariffs could invite U.S. trade partners to retaliate. Paul Ryan and Trump’s economic advisors asked the president to reconsider the tariffs in order to avoid “unintended consequences.” (CNN / NBC News)
7/ A week before Trump announced his intention to impose tariffs on steel imports, his friend and former adviser Carl Icahn sold almost 1 million shares of Manitowoc Company Inc. – a steel-dependent company and the “leading global manufacturer of cranes and lifting solutions.” (ThinkProgress)
8/ FBI Counterintelligence is investigating Ivanka Trump’s role in the negotiations and financing surrounding the Trump Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, which opened just after Trump took office. The Trump Organization received more than $5 million in royalties and $21,500 in management fees from the Vancouver property. (CNN)
9/ Jared Kushner’s real estate firm appealed directly to Qatar’s minister of finance in an attempt to secure investment for a critically distressed property — the Kushners’ signature development located at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The deal fell through, and a month later Kushner supported Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – Qatar’s neighbors – in a Middle East blockade of Qatar. Kushner also undermined Rex Tillerson’s efforts to bring an end to the impasse. (The Intercept)
- Inside the 28 days of tumult that left Jared Kushner badly diminished. “Once the prince of Trump’s Washington, Kushner is now stripped of his access to the nation’s deepest secrets, isolated and badly weakened inside the administration, under scrutiny for his mixing of business and government work and facing the possibility of grave legal peril in the Russia probe.” (Washington Post)
10/ Robert Mueller’s team is investigating whether any of Jared Kushner’s foreign business ties influenced White House policies. Investigators want to know if Kushner’s discussions during the presidential transition later led to policies designed to either benefit or retaliate against those he spoke with. (NBC News)
The possibility of oil and gas exploration in Bears Ears National Monument in Utah was central to the Interior Department’s shrinking the monument by 85%, according to internal documents. Utah’s senator Orrin Hatch asked a senior Interior Department official to consider reducing the Bears Ears boundaries about a month before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke started his review of national monuments. Bears Ears was subsequently reduced to conform to a map Hatch had provided. (New York Times)
A Justice Department review is expected to criticize the former FBI deputy director for authorizing the disclosure of information about a continuing investigation. Andrew McCabe is at the center of Trump’s theory that the “deep state” has been working to sabotage his presidency. McCabe’s disclosures, however, contributed to a negative article about Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration – not Trump. (New York Times)
Former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates canceled a planned trip after an online commenter invoked the Russian mafia. Gates told a federal court that he and his wife believe it’s “not prudent” to travel with their four children to Boston for spring break. (CNN)
Trump’s pick for the Sentencing Commission has publicly called for the commission to be abolished and has a history of making racially charged remarks about crime. The commission sets policy used to punish 70,000 federal criminals every year. (NPR)
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