👋 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/ A federal judge criticized Robert Mueller’s criminal case in Virginia against Paul Manafort, and questioned whether Mueller exceeded his prosecutorial powers. U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis said he believes that Mueller’s motivation is to oust Trump from office, adding that “we don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power.” Ellis also charged that lawyers from the special counsel’s office “don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” but rather “getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” (Reuters / Washington Post / CNN / ABC News)
2/ Rudy Giuliani insisted Thursday night that Trump only recently found out that he had reimbursed Michael Cohen for the $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election in return for a nondisclosure agreement. Giuliani said he shared details of the payment with Trump about a week ago, and that Trump didn’t realize he had paid Cohen back, responding: “Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.” (NBC News)
3/ Giuliani released a statement to “clarify views” about his remarks regarding Trump Friday afternoon, walking back his previous comments about the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels as well as about Trump’s reason for firing James Comey. Giuliani maintained that the payment to Daniels doesn’t constitute a violation of campaign finance laws, because “it would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.” Giuliani added that his “references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.” (CNBC / ABC News)
4/ Trump on Giuliani: He’s still “learning the subject matter,” “he knows it’s a witch hunt,” and “he’ll get his facts straight.” Trump added that “virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it’s been said wrong, or it’s been covered wrong by the press.” Giuliani gave a series of interviews this week, claiming Trump had paid back Michael Cohen for the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Trump previously said he wasn’t aware of the payment. “Rudy is a great guy,” Trump said, “but he just started a day ago.” Giuliani started last month. (Washington Post / New York Times / CNN)
5/ Trump would “love to speak” with Robert Mueller, but only if he’s “treated fairly.” Trump said his lawyers have advised him against any talks, but he “would override my lawyer” if he “thought it was fair.” He added: “We’ve done nothing wrong.” (Reuters / CNN)
6/ Rudy Giuliani “think[s] it’s 50/50” that Mueller will subpoena Trump to testify before a grand jury, “but I got to prepare for that 50 percent.” Earlier this week, Mueller told Trump’s legal team that he could “compel” Trump to testify before a grand jury. (ABC News)
7/ Scott Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 in reimbursements from two of his campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general. At least one election watchdog says the 2010 and 2014 payments are so vague that there is no way to tell if the payments were legal or not. The payments could be a violation of two key pillars of campaign finance regulation: campaign spending transparency and a prohibition on using campaign funds for personal purchases. (CNN)
- Pruitt’s scheduled trip to Israel was arranged by Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israel, casino magnate, and Republican megadonor. The Israel trip was canceled days before his planned departure, after Pruitt’s penchant for first-class travel on the taxpayers’ dime was revealed. (Washington Post)
Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare for a drawdown of American troops in South Korea. The move comes weeks before a planned meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Trump told reporters that a time and date has been set for his summit with Kim and “we’ll be announcing soon.” (New York Times / ABC News)
The State Department froze all funding for a Syrian humanitarian group known as the White Helmets. State Department support for the group is now “under active review” as part of a larger $200 million reduction in funding for recovery efforts in Syria. (CBS News)
House Republicans plan to support Trump’s military parade in the nation’s capital, saying it will honor “a century of military service” and focus on those “who sacrificed to secure America’s freedoms.” The proposal is scheduled to be taken up by the House Armed Services Committee on May 9th. (Bloomberg)
Qatar purchased a $6.5m apartment in one of Trump’s New York towers after a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit alleging that Trump was breaching the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution by collecting $3,151 a month from Qatar for the three apartments it already owned in the building. (The Guardian)
Mike Pence’s physician resigned following the collapse of Ronny Jackson’s nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jennifer Peña was among those who detailed Jackson’s professional misconduct to senators considering his nomination. (Politico)
Devin Nunes opted not to read Justice Department records after publicly demanding a fully uncensored version of the documents that explain how the Russia investigation began in 2016. Nunes threatened Rod Rosenstein with contempt of Congress if he didn’t comply. (CNN)
The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9%, falling below 4% for the first time since 2000. (CNN Money)
Trump plans to appoint Dr. Mehmet Oz to the Sport, Fitness, and Nutrition council. Doctors and lawmakers have criticized Oz for promoting unscientific medical approaches on his show. (Washington Examiner)
Mitt Romney’s “favorite meat is hot dog.” His “second favorite meat is hamburger.” (Washington Examiner)
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