👋 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/ Mitch McConnell said he supports the Mueller investigation and that nothing in Thursday’s secret briefing on the Russia probe changed his mind. “The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise — the [inspector general] investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation,” McConnell said. “I support both of them, and I don’t really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified.” (NPR / NBC News)
After a closed-door briefing with top Justice Department officials, Congressional Democrats said there is “no evidence” that the FBI placed a spy in the Trump campaign. “Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols,” said Adam Schiff. (The Hill)
Lindsey Graham: “A confidential informant is not a spy.” Graham undercut Trump during an interview and issued a subtly strong rebuke of Trump’s evidence-free claim that the FBI was “spying” on his presidential campaign. (Washington Post)
2/ The head of the national Border Patrol union called Trump’s decision to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border “a colossal waste of resources.” Roughly 1,600 National Guard troops were deployed to the border in April. “We have seen no benefit,” said union president Brandon Judd. Another 750 troops may soon be added to fill support roles and the total deployment could reach nearly 4,000 troops, according to Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis. (Los Angeles Times)
3/ Trump wanted to call off the North Korean summit before Kim Jong Un could beat him to the punch. “There was no hint of this yesterday,” said a person briefed on the summit preparations. Defense Secretary James Mattis was not involved in the discussions on Wednesday about canceling the meeting, but Trump said he called Mattis about it Thursday morning. The decision happened so quickly that the White House was unable to give congressional leaders and key allies advance notice, and the letter to Kim was sent out while more than two dozen foreign journalists and several U.S. citizens were still inside North Korea covering the demolition of a nuclear test site. (NBC News / Politico)
A day after he bailed on a summit with North Korea’s leader, Trump is now saying that the meeting could still take place after all. “We’ll see what happens. We are talking to them now,” Trump said. “They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it.” He added: “It could even be the 12th.” (Washington Post)
Trump’s cancellation of the summit with Kim raises fears of renewed tensions and destabilization between the two countries. Trump left the door open for the summit to be rescheduled, but senior White House aides said rescheduling the meeting was highly unlikely, at least not any time soon. (Washington Post)
‘A lot of dial tones’: The inside story of how Trump’s North Korea summit fell apart. “Trump has a morbid fear of being humiliated and shamed,” said Tony Schwartz, who co-authored “The Art of the Deal” with Trump. “This is showing who’s the biggest and the strongest, so he is exquisitely sensitive to the possibility that he would end up looking weak and small. There is nothing more unacceptable to Trump than that.” (Washington Post)
4/ Mueller’s team has been investigating Roger Stone’s finances as part of the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the 2016 election. Mueller has questioned Stone’s associates about his finances, including his tax returns. Stone claims he has not been contacted by the special counsel’s office, and that he played no role in colluding with Russia. (CNN)
5/ Roger Stone tried to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton from Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign. Emails revealed that Stone used a mutual acquaintance as an intermediary between himself and Assange in order to ask Assange for any emails related to Clinton’s role in disrupting a purported peace deal in Libya while she was serving as secretary of state in 2011. Stone testified last year that he had only “wanted confirmation” that Assange had information about Clinton in his possession. (Wall Street Journal / CNN)
- Assange’s refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London is “in jeopardy.” Sources say his current situation is “unusually bad” and that Assange could leave the embassy “any day now,” either because he will be forced out or made to feel so restricted that he might just choose to leave on his own. (CNN)
6/ A Russian billionaire with ties to the Kremlin met with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration. Viktor Vekselberg met with Cohen to discuss their mutual desire to improve Russia’s relationship with the U.S. under the incoming Trump administration, according to Andrew Intrater. Intrater is an American businessman who invests money on behalf of Vekselberg and was present at the meeting in question. A few days after Trump’s inauguration, Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen. (New York Times)
7/ The Trump administration told lawmakers that it has reached a deal to keep Chinese telecom giant ZTE alive. The deal would allow ZTE to pay a fine as punishment for violating international sanctions against Iran and North Korea. ZTE would also have to make changes to its management team, hire American compliance officers and place them at the firm. In exchange, ZTE would be again able to do business with American companies. The deal is expected to face considerable resistance from Congress. (New York Times)
8/ Someone has been circulating letters to dozens of wealthy entrepreneurs in China and offering access to the Trump administration in exchange for a $100,000 contribution to Trump’s reelection campaign. Republican Party officials say they had nothing to do with the letter, which is one of at least three such offers that have been circulated in the past week. The letter promises a handshake and a one-on-one photo with the president in exchange for $100,000 donation — a “VVIP” trip “to be remembered for a lifetime.” (Washington Post)
9/ Internal documents from inside a shadowy Israeli firm reveal details of a plot to discredit Obama officials involved in the Iran deal and, ultimately, the deal itself. Black Cube operatives befriended architects of the deal and their associates and tried to obtain evidence of improper behavior, including financial or sexual impropriety. Black Cube has two arms, one for corporate clients and one for government and political actors, and is the same Israeli private intelligence and investigation firm hired by Harvey Weinstein to intimidate and disparage his accusers. The plan to sabotage the Iran deal is the first public example of the firm’s attempts to meddle in U.S. politics. (NBC News)
The suspect in the shooting that injured three people at an Indiana middle school is now in custody. At least three people, including a teacher and a student, were injured in the shooting. (CNN)
A group of Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups plan to release a new proposal in yet another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a different plan. The replacement plan is aimed at giving individual states more control over healthcare policy and is the product of eight months of behind-the-scenes planning by a coalition of conservative organizations. (Wall Street Journal / MarketWatch)
Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to police and was arrested by the NYPD on charges of rape, criminal sex acts, and other lower level sex abuse and sexual misconduct charges. The charges stem from his 2004 encounters with actress Lucia Evans and another woman who has not been identified or spoken publicly. Evans confirmed that she was pressing charges. “At a certain point,” Evans said, “you have to think about the greater good of humanity, of womankind.” (NBC News / CBS News / CNN)
Former staffers for Republican Congressman Tom Garrett say Garrett and his wife made them their personal servants, often ordering them to pick up groceries, clothes, and even dog poop — all during work hours. Garrett and his wife are both known to have explosive tempers, and the aides say they were afraid that Garrett might prevent them from advancing in their careers if they refused his or his wife’s orders. (Politico)
Trump nominated immigration hard-liner Ronald Mortensen to become the next assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Mortensen has been highly critical of the DACA program. Among other things, Mortensen has claimed that “Illegal aliens commit felonies in order to get jobs,” that “illegal immigration and high levels of identity theft go hand-in-hand,” and that “children are prime targets” of identity theft committed by undocumented immigrants. (CNN)
The Republican nominee for a US House seat in Illinois is a 9/11 truther who once claimed that Beyonce had ties to the Illuminati. Bill Fawell, who is running against incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos in Illinois’ 17th District, won an uncontested primary in March. Fawell said Jay-Z “has a long history of serving up the godless Illuminati” and shared a YouTube video that claimed Beyonce’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl used Illuminati symbolism. (CNN)
Montana Democrats called for a Congressional ethics probe of Rep. Greg Gianforte to determine whether he “violated House Ethics Rules by making false statements to the police and the public” regarding Gianforte’s assault of a reporter and other actions last year. (CNN)
A turf war between Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions drove the director of the federal prison system to resign. Mark Inch told Rod Rosenstein that he was tired of administration officials flouting “departmental norms,” and complained that Sessions had excluded him from major staffing, budget, and policy decisions. Inch also felt excluded by Kushner when it came to drafting prison reform legislation. (New York Times)
🙃 WTF, right?
Don’t forget: We’re off next Monday for Memorial Day. We’ll pick things back up again on Tuesday.
Editor’s note: This post originally stated that Vekselberg met with Cohen 11 days before Trump’s election. Vekselberg actually met with Cohen 11 days before Trump’s inauguration.
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