👋 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/ Robert Mueller’s team pushed Rick Gates last year to help them connect the Trump campaign to the Russians. Mueller’s team plans to use information from Gates to tie Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, directly to a Russian intelligence agency. As part of Gates’ agreement to cooperate with the special counsel last month, he earned a reduced potential sentence and had several charges against him dropped. (CNN)
2/ Mueller’s team has also been questioning witnesses about an event attended by both Jeff Sessions and Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention. The team also has been asking if Sessions had private discussions with the now former Russian Ambassador to the United States on the sidelines of a Trump campaign speech at the Washington Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. (Reuters)
3/ Trump’s outside advisers told him he doesn’t need a chief of staff or a communications director. While John Kelly has tried to bring order to the policymaking process, Trump has grown frustrated by the long-established West Wing management structure, because it doesn’t fit his freewheeling style. As a result, Kelly has been absent from several key decisions lately. Since Hope Hicks’ departure, Trump has been open to rethinking the traditional communications director role. He’d like Kellyanne Conway to assume the role. (CNN / Bloomberg)
4/ EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lived in a condo tied to an energy industry lobbyist. The townhouse near the U.S. Capitol is co-owned by J. Steven Hart, who wouldn’t say how much Pruitt paid to live there. Hart’s firm has lobbied on “issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas.” During a December 2017 trip to Morocco, Pruitt pitched “the potential benefit of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy.” (ABC News)
5/ Michael Cohen’s attorney denied that Trump knew about the $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels, saying that “the president was not aware of the agreement.” David Schwartz added: “At least Michael Cohen never told him about the agreement. I can tell you that.” Experts suggest the denial could insulate Trump, but could also undermine the nondisclosure agreement that Daniels signed, which prevented her from disclosing her alleged affair with Trump. (Washington Post)
- A federal judge in California temporarily stopped efforts by Stormy Daniels’ attorney to depose Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The court denied Michael Avenatti’s motion for an expedited trial and discovery process because Trump and Essential Consultants LLC have not yet filed a petition to compel arbitration, which they have stated they’re going to do. Essential Consultants LLC is the company established by Cohen to pay Daniels the $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair between her and Trump. (CNN)
6/ David Shulkin said he was fired as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs because he was standing in the way of the Trump administration privatizing the VA, with “some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans.” The former secretary said the “people who want to put VA health care in the hands of the private sector … saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed.” (New York Times / NPR)
7/ Trump’s nominee to run the VA has never managed a large bureaucracy. White House physician Ronny Jackson is the doctor who gave Trump a positive physical and mental health assessment in a televised briefing in January. Trump liked the way Jackson handled himself with reporters during the briefing, which played a part in Jackson’s nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs. (Politico / CNN)
8/ The Department of Housing and Urban Development is attempting to reverse federal efforts to enforce fair housing laws. Under Ben Carson, HUD has been freezing enforcement actions against local governments and businesses while sidelining officials who have attempted to pursue civil rights cases. The goal is to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to reverse racial, ethnic, and income segregation in housing and development projects subsidized by the federal government. (New York Times)
9/ The Justice Department will investigate the surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official. The inspector general has faced increasing political pressure from Republicans in Congress and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to examine whether law enforcement officials complied with the law and DoJ policies while seeking approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page. (New York Times)
10/ Jeff Sessions said he will not name a second special counsel at this time. Instead, Sessions revealed that Utah’s top federal prosecutor, John Huber, is investigating allegations that the FBI abused its powers in surveilling Carter Page, and that more should have been done to investigate Hillary Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear energy agency. (CNN / Washington Post)
poll/ 54% of Americans expect Trump to lose his campaign for re-election. 79% of Republicans expect Trump to win his 2020 re-election bid, while 87% of Democrats expect him to lose. (CNN)
Six House Democrats are calling for the FBI to investigate whether Jared Kushner leaked classified information to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Intercept reported that the Saudi prince told confidants last year that Kushner had discussed Saudi leaders who are disloyal to the crown prince. (CNN)
The FBI investigated Trump’s plans to build a hotel in Latvia following Latvia’s request for assistance with an anti-corruption investigation. The investigation targeted Igor Krutoy, a wealthy Putin supporter who was in on the plans and with whom Trump and daughter Ivanka met for several hours at Trump Tower in 2010. The hotel plan was abandoned after the investigation began. (The Guardian)
Russia will close the American consulate in St. Petersburg and kick out 60 U.S. diplomats. The move comes in response to the coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S. and several European countries. (Washington Post)
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is raising funds to help cover costs defending against ongoing government probes. McCabe was fired by Jeff Sessions but says he was terminated because he is a witness in the Russia investigation. (Reuters)
Mike Pence’s hometown will host its first gay pride parade next month. A high school student who is hosting the parade said that just because Pence is “openly anti-LGBT, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us in his hometown are.” A spokeswoman for Pence says he supports the young activist’s efforts. (CNN)
Trump tweeted photos taken in 2009 and tried to claim that they were “the start of our Southern Border WALL”. The photos were from an ongoing project to replace sections of an existing border wall in California. (BuzzFeed News)
Trump took time out of his busy presidential schedule to congratulate Roseanne Barr on the “huge” ratings “Roseanne” had received. The show returned to the air this week more than two decades after it ended its run. The first episode attracted 18.2 million viewers. (New York Times)
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