👋 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.
Send your thoughts, suggestions, or complaints to:
1/ The chief financial officer at the Trump Organization was given immunity by federal prosecutors in New York as part of their criminal investigation into hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign. Allen Weisselberg, who is identified in court filings as “Executive-1,” helped authorize $420,000 in reimbursements to Michael Cohen and was granted immunity last month in exchange for his grand jury testimony about his role in the payments. According to prosecutors, Cohen – then Trump’s attorney – sent an invoice to Weisselberg in January 2017 for “Payment for services rendered for the month of January and February, 2017,” which reflected Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in October 2016, as well as an additional $50,000 for “tech services.” Weisselberg directed another Trump Organization executive to “pay from the Trust” and to “post to legal expenses.” Executives at the Trump Organization “‘grossed up’ for tax purposes” the reimbursement, doubling the invoice to $360,000, adding a $60,000 bonus. After he was elected, Trump handed over control of his financial assets and business interests to Eric Trump, Trump Jr., and Weisselberg. (Wall Street Journal / NBC News / Washington Post)
2/ The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Cohen’s hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. The state’s investigation would focus on whether the Trump Organization violated state tax law for listing Cohen’s reimbursement as a legal expense. Federal prosecutors have said the payments were based on “sham” legal invoices in connection with a nonexistent retainer agreement, and that Cohen did no legal work in connection with the matter. The New York State attorney general’s office is seeking a referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which is needed to conduct the inquiry and to prosecute any violations of state tax law. Trump does not have the power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes. (New York Times / Los Angeles Times / CNN)
Spiro Agnew’s lawyer: Trump should resign from office to keep federal prosecutors from prosecuting his family. “We already have everybody, you know,” Martin London said. “The rats are leaving the ship. He’s lost [Richard] Gates, [George] Papadopoulos, [Michael] Cohen, [Michael] Flynn, now [David] Pecker. He’ll probably lose others from the Trump Organization.” (The Hill)
New York prosecutors may now pose a more immediate threat to Trump than Robert Mueller does. The offer of immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer is reminiscent to process law enforcement used to take down organized-crime. (The Atlantic)
3/ After Jeff Sessions said he would not be influenced by politics, Trump tweeted that Sessions must “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side,’” adding: “Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!” On Thursday, Trump criticized Sessions in a Fox News interview for failing to control the Justice Department, after which Sessions said the Department of Justice “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Trump mocked Sessions’ response, tweeting, “Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants.” In particular, Trump wants Sessions to investigate “deleted Emails, Comey lies and leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr, FISA abuse, Christopher Steele and his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems - and so much more.” Nearly all which Sessions has recused himself from. (Associated Press / New York Times)
- “Moves are being made” to remove Sessions after the midterm elections, according to Sen. Bob Corker. “It’s apparent that after the midterms, [Trump] will make a change and choose someone to do what he wants done.” (Politico)
4/ CIA informants close to the Kremlin have largely gone silent ahead of November’s midterms, leaving the spy agency in the dark about what Putin’s plans for the upcoming elections. Officials said the expulsion of American intelligence officers from Moscow and the outing of an FBI informant has had a chilling effect on intelligence collection. Putin has also said he is intent on killing spies, like the poisoning in March in Britain of a former Russian intelligence. Earlier this year, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, demanded that the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees be given access to documents about the FBI informant’s role in the Trump campaign. Trump and the White House encouraged the FBI to make the classified information available. (New York Times)
poll/ 35% of Americans think Trump’s tariffs will leave them worse off financially, while 19% expect improvement. 40% expect the tariffs to help the economy, while 44% expect them to hurt, and 16% expect them to make no difference. 38% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency. (Associated Press)
Trump canceled Mike Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea citing a lack of “progress” on denuclearization. Trump blamed the canceled meeting to China, which he said was not “helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were.” (New York Times / CNBC / Washington Post)
Trump told the Italian prime minister that he is ready to help fund the country’s public debt next year by buying Italian government bonds. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told officials about Trump’s offer after attending a meeting in Washington about three weeks ago. Conte didn’t give any additional details about the plan or say whether he believes it would work. (Il Corriere della Sera / Reuters / NBC News / Bloomberg)
Blackwater founder Erik Prince is still trying to convince Trump to let him privatize the war in Afghanistan. Prince hasn’t spoken with Trump recently, but he has been making the rounds in the media and talking up his plan to replace U.S. and coalition forces with private contractors. Very few defense officials think Prince’s plan will work, but some are concerned that Trump might entertain the idea. Prince is the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (The Hill)
The former Air Force contractor who leaked a top-secret government report in 2017 on Russian hacking efforts was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison. Reality Winner pleaded guilty in June, and is the first person to be sentenced under the Espionage Act since Trump became president. She received the longest sentence ever imposed by a federal court for the unauthorized released of classified information to the media. Trump tweeted about Winner’s sentence, comparing her actions to Hillary Clinton’s. (New York Times / Gizmodo / Time)
Become a member.
Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.