👋 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 still “intends to” meet with special counsel Robert Mueller under oath, according to White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah. He added that Trump doesn’t plan on firing Mueller, yet. “There’s no intention whatsoever to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, right now,” he said. “We’ve been fully cooperative. We respect their process. We’re hoping it will come to a conclusion in the near future.” (ABC News)
2/ Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation is said to be near completion, but the special counsel may wait until other parts of his probe are completed. The calculus: Any clear outcomes in the obstruction of justice case might undercut the broader investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Mueller “is not an unguided missile. I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.” (Bloomberg / USA Today)
3/ Trump is considering whether to add Bill Clinton’s impeachment lawyer to his legal team. Emmet Flood met with Trump in the Oval Office last week to discuss the possibility, but no final decision has been made. (New York Times)
4/ The Qatari government chose not to provide information to Robert Mueller for fear of hurting their relationship with the Trump administration. Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings. (NBC News)
5/ Ivanka Trump received $1.5 million in 2017 from three companies affiliated with the Trump Organization. Ivanka’s continued ties to the family business and work as a special assistant to the president has created numerous potential conflicts of interest prohibited by federal law. Some Trump-branded developments have hired state-owned companies for construction, received public land or relaxed regulations from foreign governments, and accepted payments from foreign officials. Ivanka has been accused of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government officials to accept gifts from foreign governments without the approval of Congress. (McClatchy DC)
- Trump Jr. has a previously undisclosed business relationship with a friend who helped raise millions of dollars for his father’s 2016 presidential campaign. Gentry Beach last year met with top National Security Council officials to push a plan that would curb U.S. sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies in the oil-rich nation. (Associated Press)
6/ The Trump administration promised to fund “rigorous firearms training” for schoolteachers while walking back its commitment to raising the legal purchasing age for firearms to 21. The White House also formally endorsed a bill to improve the federal background check system, and Trump plans to establish a Federal Commission on School Safety to explore possible solutions, which will be chaired by Betsy DeVos. (Washington Post / NBC News)
7/ Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled to answer basic questions about education policy and schools during a “60 Minutes” interview. In particular, DeVos had a hard time explaining why public schools in her home state of Michigan have performed poorly despite the school choice policies she’s championed. A student who survived last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school mocked DeVos on Twitter, saying “It’s unfair to put the United States Secretary of Education on the spot like that.” (CBS News / Washington Post / The Hill)
Everybody please give @BetsyDeVosED a break in regards to the 60 Minutes video...— Cam (@cameron_kasky) March 12, 2018
Answering questions about education is hard. It’s unfair to put the United States Secretary of Education on the spot like that.
Secretary DeVos, you are in an office, so I will stand by you.
8/ White House lawyers are considering legal action to prevent “60 Minutes” from airing an interview with adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. The legal argument behind the move to suppress the footage remains unclear. To stop the interview from airing, Trump would need to secure a restraining order against CBS, which makes it almost certainly too late for Trump to disrupt the telecast. The interview is slated to air on Sunday, March 18, on CBS. (BuzzFeed News / Washington Post)
9/ Stormy Daniels offered to return the $130,000 she received from Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 for agreeing not to discuss her alleged relationship with Trump. In the letter sent to Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, Stephanie Clifford would wire the money into an account of Trump’s choosing by Friday. (New York Times / Reuters)
10/ Putin suggested that Jews were responsible for the cyberattacks during the 2016 election when asked about 13 Russian citizens charged by the special counsel Robert Mueller. “Maybe they are not even Russians,” Putin mused, “but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship or a Green Card. Maybe the U.S. paid them for this. How can you know that? I do not know either.” Top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate urged Trump to employ “all resources available” to extradite the 13 Russians. (New York Times / NBC News)
11/ More than two-thirds of House Democrats have signed a letter “strongly urging” Trump to enact sanctions on Russia and adhere to the law he signed last summer. At least 137 of the Democrats in the House have signed the letter, which urges Trump to “reverse course, follow the letter and spirit of the law, and demonstrate that the security of our country and integrity of elections are sacrosanct.” (Reuters)
- In 2013, Trump personally invited Putin to the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. At the bottom of the typed letter, Trump added that he looked forward to seeing “beautiful” women during his trip. (Washington Post)
12/ The House Intelligence Committee has finished interviewing witnesses in its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Republican-run committee is preparing a report based on witness testimony and thousands of pages of documents. The panel is unlikely to come to a bipartisan conclusion on some of the central questions in the probe. (Wall Street Journal)
13/ Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for poisoning a former Russian double agent and his daughter last week in the U.K. The British leader said the poison was identified as a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia” and that Russia either engaged in an “indiscriminate and reckless” attack against Britain or it lost control of the nerve agent it developed. Russian officials called May’s remarks “a provocation” and “circus show.” (The Guardian / BBC / Washington Post)
poll/ Democrat Conor Lamb has a 6-point lead over Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s special election. Lamb holds a 51% to 45% lead over Saccone if the Democratic turnout is similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year. (Monmouth University Polling Institute)
Steve Bannon: “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists,” he told a crowd of far-right French politicians. “Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day, we get stronger and they get weaker.” (ABC News)
Trump thinks Republican Rick Saccone is a terrible, “weak” candidate despite appearing at a rally for Saccone’s campaign in the Pennsylvania special congressional election. Trump barely mentioned Saccone during his 80-minute speech. Instead, he focused on Oprah, his plan to deal with drug dealers, and unveiling his new campaign slogan for 2020: “Keep America Great.” (Axios / CNN)
Some White House officials believe the chances of a Trump-Kim Jong-un meeting happening are less than 50%. The administration is deliberating over the logistics and location of the meeting although it hasn’t established direct contact with North Korea. (New York Times)
The White House “scolded” four Cabinet-level officials last month for embarrassing stories about questionable ethical behavior at their respective agencies. (CNN)
The Trump administration is studying a new policy that could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers. The White House wants to make trafficking large quantities of fentanyl a capital crime because even small amounts of the drug can be fatal. A final announcement could come within weeks. (Washington Post)
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