👋 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/ Michael Cohen’s business partner took a plea deal that requires him to cooperate with the government as a potential witness in state and federal investigations. Evgeny Freidman is a Russian immigrant known as the “Taxi King,” and he specifically agreed to assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, according to a person briefed on the matter. Freidman was disbarred earlier this month, has been accused of failing to pay $5 million in taxes, and is facing multiple counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny. Freidman’s cooperation is seen as potential leverage to pressure Cohen into working with Mueller’s team on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / CNBC / Vox)
Cohen distances himself from business associate who struck plea deal. (The Hill)
Who is Evgeny Freidman? Michael Cohen’s “Taxi King” business partner may be key to Russia investigation. (Newsweek)
2/ Cohen received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to arrange talks between Trump and the president of Ukraine. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting on behalf of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. The meetings occurred at the White House last June. Cohen has denied the allegation. There is no indication that Trump was aware of the payment. (BBC)
3/ Robert Mueller asked the courts to begin the sentencing process for former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Mueller asked the judge to order a standard investigative report and to begin moving forward with sentencing process. The judge will ultimately decide what Papadopoulos’ sentence will be. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with the special counsel for months, but the move suggests that his cooperation may no longer be necessary. (CNN)
4/ A federal district court judge ruled that Trump can’t block people on Twitter over their political views. Judge Buchwald of the Southern District of New York said Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and blocking people based on their political opinions amounts to viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (The Hill)
5/ Trump said he constantly bashes the press in order to “demean” and “discredit” journalists so the public won’t believe “negative stories” about him. Lesley Stahl says she asked Trump, “Why are you doing it over and over?” She continued: “And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.’” (Yahoo! Finance)
6/ The White House did not invite Democrats to a private briefing on the FBI informant involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians during and after the 2016 election. Two senior House Republicans were invited to the briefing, which was coordinated by John Kelly and will be held on Thursday. Democrats are demanding that Democratic lawmakers be included in the briefing. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said Democrats weren’t invited because they didn’t specifically ask for details about the informant. (Politico)
- Donald Trump turned a rumor into a full-blown government conspiracy in just 5 days. Trump went from having heard a rumor about the FBI’s use of a confidential source to claiming that it was an intentional and political attempt to install a “spy” within his ranks on behalf of Obama’s Justice Department. (Politico)
7/ John Kelly signed off on a plan to fire a handful of mid-level and junior aides after Trump demanded changes to the White House communications team in order to limit the leaks coming out of his administration. The plan would remove some of the department’s low-level employees, while keeping high-level staffers such as Sarah Huckabee-Sanders and other officials on board. (Politico)
8/ Jared Kushner’s prison reform plan passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The “First Step Act,” which has Trump’s support, passed with a 360-59 vote. The bill would provide training programs for prisoners and would be the first major bipartisan success for the Trump administration. Mitch McConnell, however, has indicated that he is unlikely to bring up the bill in the Senate unless Republicans can find a way to resolve their differences. (Politico)
Congress’s prison reform bill, explained: The First Step Act has Trump’s support — but faces some Democratic opposition. (Vox)
Is the “First Step Act” real reform? The bill addresses the dire need for rehabilitative services in the federal prison system, proves there is strong bipartisan support for at least modest criminal justice reform and underscores a strategic debate that has split the Democratic Party. (The Marshall Project)
9/ Scott Pruitt spent at least $9,600 on decorations and furniture for his personal office. Pruitt bought Smithsonian artwork, a refurbished desk, and other framed items. He paid the Smithsonian Institution $1,950 in labor and delivery charges to rent out three art pieces for his executive suite, and spent more than $2,500 on frames for various items, including a photo of himself with Trump and an American flag. The internal document with the list of expenditures also confirmed earlier reports that Pruitt spent $2,963 on a standing “captain’s” desk and $2,075 on a different desk. (The Hill)
poll/ A majority of Americans — 59% — don’t think Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign has uncovered evidence of any crimes, even though the special counsel has already secured five guilty pleas and issued 17 criminal indictments. (Vox / Navigator Research)
poll/ Thirty-six percent of voters say they would vote for Trump over a generic Democratic candidate in 2020. Forty-four percent would choose the generic Democrat, and 20 percent of voters remain undecided. (Politico)
NFL teams will be fined if players kneel during the national anthem. Players will be allowed to remain in the locker room during the anthem, but their teams will be fined by the NFL if they go out and kneel on the field. (New York Times)
Mike Pompeo says the U.S. will fight back against what he called “continued efforts” by Russia to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. Pompeo did not provide any details as to what the “appropriate measures” would entail, but he said the U.S. has so far been unable to establish “effective deterrence” to halt Russia’s efforts. (Associated Press)
Senate negotiators have released legislation to overhaul policies for handling sexual harassment complaints in Congress. The deal includes requirements that lawmakers be held personally liable for some financial settlements, and requires lawmakers to repay any awards and settlements stemming from acts of harassment that they personally commit. (NPR)
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says he is ready to fill the prosecutorial void left in the wake of Eric Schneiderman’s sudden resignation earlier this month. Grewal has jurisdiction over 20 Trump properties. (Politico)
A sinkhole appeared on the White House lawn near the office of White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gridley. (CBS News)
Michael Avenatti’s law firm was hit with a $10-million judgment in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. (Los Angeles Times)
Trump offered his support to Tomi Lahren after someone threw a drink at the Fox News pundit while she was eating at a restaurant in Minneapolis over the weekend. (Washington Post)
Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination to become the next governor of Georgia, making her the first African American woman to be a major party nominee in the state. (New York Times)
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