👋 Away Message: So we had a little scheduling snafu here at WTF HQ, where both myself and Joe (voice of the pod) double-booked ourselves with personal and professional obligations next week. Oopsie! Not a very great job using a calendar on my part, I guess. On the other hand, it appears the government isn't going to be open for business anyway... Unless something truly WTF-y happens, I'll see you all again on Tuesday, October 10th, because Monday is a holiday (Indigenous Peoples' Day).
In the mean time, try our little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding and for being here. I'm going to miss you.
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1/ Trump and Sean Hannity often speak by phone several times a day, and the two speak most weeknights after Hannity’s show on Fox News is over. Current and former White House officials say the conversations help Trump “decompress” at the end of the day since “he doesn’t live with his wife.” One former White House official called the talks with Hannity “a fucked-up feedback loop” that puts Trump “in a weird headspace.” Hannity is one of a few dozen callers who have been cleared to use Trump’s official White House phone line. (New York Magazine)
2/ The White House declined to apologize for Kelly Sadler’s “joke” that John McCain’s opinion “doesn’t matter, because he’s dying anyway.” Instead, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “selfish” for her staff to use the “inappropriate” comment as justification for leaking it to the press. “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.” (ABC News / New York Times / Axios)
3/ A Trump administration official proposed collecting and analyzing the communications of White House staff in order to identify leakers last year. Ezra Cohen-Watnick wanted to implement the “insider threat” detection program in order to find leakers or those disloyal to Trump. Cohen-Watnick worked as the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council at the time. One current White House official said, “To cover my tracks [when leaking], I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me.” (Daily Beast / Axios)
4/ A former senior Trump campaign and transition aide is helping a Russian oligarch’s company shed US sanctions. Bryan Lanza is lobbying on behalf of the chairman of EN+ Group, an energy and aluminum firm controlled by Oleg Deripaska, who was the target of US sanctions imposed last month. The company wants to reduce Deripaska’s ownership in the company enough to be freed from US sanctions. (CNN)
5/ A Russian company indicted by Robert Mueller accused the special counsel of inventing a “make-believe crime” in order “to justify his own existence.” Concord Management is challenging the legal basis of Mueller’s charge that the company funded Moscow’s effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Concord is one of three Russian businesses and 13 Russian individuals indicted in February for funding for a Russian troll farm that directed a social media campaign aimed at sowing discord among Americans and at favoring Trump over Hillary Clinton. Concord is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman who is known as Putin’s chef. (New York Times / Politico)
6/ Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is going to work for Mike Pence’s political action committee. Trump asked Lewandowski to join Pence’s Great America Committee PAC, which is aimed at helping the Trump re-election effort as well as enhancing Pence’s profile with both Republicans and Trump’s base. Some Republicans, however, see Pence’s moves as an attempt to take control over the party and separate Trump from his base. (NBC News / New York Times)
7/ Betsy DeVos scaled back the Education Department team responsible for investigating for-profit colleges accused of widespread fraud. The rollback “effectively killed investigations” into for-profit colleges where DeVos’ top hires previously worked. (New York Times)
Trump is required to disclose all liabilities that exceeded $10,000 at any time during calendar year 2017, even if he repaid them later that year, under the Ethics in Government Act. This includes his debt to Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels and any others he may have left out on the financial disclosure report he filed on June 14, 2017. (USA Today)
Scott Pruitt and the White House blocked the publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, because it would cause a “public relations nightmare.” The draft study remains unpublished three months later, and the Department of Health and Human Services says it has no scheduled date to release for public comment the study on a class of toxic chemicals that have contaminated water supplies. (Politico)
Melania Trump underwent kidney surgery for a “benign kidney condition” and is reportedly recovering without trouble at a military hospital outside the capital. (New York Times)
In December 2016, members of the Trump transition team met with a Qatari diplomat who was recently accused in a lawsuit of attempting to bribe Trump officials. Michael Avenatti shared photos of Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn meeting with a person who appears to be Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the man in charge of a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. The meeting was previously unreported. Rapper and actor Ice Cube, along with his business partner Jeff Kwatinetz, recently filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit alleging that Al-Rumaihi and other Qatari officials tried to buy access to people connected to Trump. (Mother Jones)
Top Republican donors have withheld their support for Senate and House Republicans over frustration with the new tax law. While the corporate tax rate was slashed from 35% to 21%, hedge funds are largely taxed at the top individual rate, which dropped from 39.6% to 37%. (CNN)
National security adviser John Bolton doubled down on Trump’s threat that European countries could be sanctioned by the US if they continue to be involved with Iran. (Politico)
Trump instructed the Commerce Department to help ZTE – the world’s fourth-largest maker of cellphones – get “back into business” after the Chinese company was penalized for violating U.S. sanctions against North Korea and Iran. Trump said he was working with President Xi to end a ban on export privileges, because “too many jobs in China lost.” (NPR)
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