👋 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/ Trump was involved in “nearly every step” of the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and he may have violated federal campaign-finance laws in the process. David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., offered to use the National Enquirer to buy their silence, eventually paying McDougal $150,000 after Trump asked Pecker to kill her story. As a presidential candidate, Trump “directed deals in phone calls and meetings” related to the two women with Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in August to campaign-finance violations. Cohen also admitted that he arranged payments to Daniels and McDougal at the direction of “a candidate for federal office” with the intention of influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. (Wall Street Journal)
2/ Trump claimed that he did not discuss Robert Mueller’s Russia probe with Matthew Whitaker before appointing him acting attorney general. Trump defended Whitaker, calling him a “highly respected man,” but also said “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.” Trump has been in more than a dozen meetings with Whitaker in the Oval Office. (Washington Post / Politico / CNBC / NBC News)
Whitaker previously served on the advisory board of a company that “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” World Patent Marketing was fined nearly $26 million after the FTC accused it of scamming customers. The FBI is conducting a criminal investigation and Whitaker has “unquestionably recused from any investigation or prosecution of World Patent Marketing.” (New York Times / Washington Post / ABC News / Wall Street Journal)
Trump called George Conway “Mr. Kellyanne Conway” after he wrote an op-ed arguing that Trump’s appointment of Whitaker is unconstitutional because he wasn’t confirmed by the Senate. George is the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. (ABC News)
3/ A federal appellate court panel ordered Mueller to explain how the firing of Jeff Sessions could influence the case between the special counsel and Andrew Miller, the former Roger Stone aide who is challenging Mueller’s appointment on constitutional grounds. The judges will likely ask for supplemental briefing to address the legal issues tied to the handover from Rod Rosenstein to Whitaker. (Politico)
- Mueller’s team is “not getting what they want” from Paul Manafort, despite a cooperation agreement that requires participation in “interviews, briefings, producing documents, [and] testifying in other matters.” (ABC News)
4/ Trump signed a presidential proclamation blocking migrants who cross into the U.S. illegally from seeking asylum. The proclamation is aimed primarily at several thousand migrants traveling north through Mexico in caravans. The new rules will change longstanding asylum laws that allow people who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries to seek protection in the U.S. and prevent people from seeking that protection if they don’t enter the country at an official port of entry. (New York Times / Politico / ABC News)
5/ Before resigning, Jeff Sessions signed a memorandum limiting the use of consent decrees between Justice Department officials and local police departments. Consent decrees allow federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of civil rights abuses and violations. Sessions added three new requirements for the agreements: top political appointees must sign off on the deals, department lawyers must show evidence of additional violations beyond unconstitutional behavior, and the deals must have a sunset date. (New York Times)
6/ Trump threatened to revoke more press passes, saying he doesn’t know how long Jim Acosta’s credentials will be suspended, “but it could be others also.” Trump went on to attack April Ryan from American Urban Radio Networks, calling her a “loser” who “doesn’t know what the hell she is doing,” and then bashed CNN reporter Abby Phillip for asking Trump if he wants Whitaker to “rein in Mueller.” Trump replied: “What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question […] you ask a lot of stupid questions.” (CNN / Politico / The Hill)
Trump is telling people he wants to replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross by the end of the year. Trump is considering former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, as well as Ray Washburne, who he appointed as head of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation as possible replacements. (CNBC)
Trump said he has no plans to fire Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Earlier this week, Trump said he would be “looking at different people for different positions” after the midterms, mentioning Zinke in particular. (Politico)
Zinke is exploring potential roles at Fox News, the energy industry, and other business sectors as it becomes increasingly likely that he will leave his role as Secretary of the Interior as ethics investigations into his behavior in office continue to mount. (Politico)
The Pentagon’s No. 3 official resigned. John Gibson, the Department of Defense’s chief management officer, submitted his resignation on Monday and will leave Nov. 30. Gibson served in the role for less than nine months. (The Hill)
A federal judge blocked construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the Trump administration “simply discarded” and ignored “inconvenient facts” about how the project would impact climate change. Two days after taking office, Trump signed an executive order approving the project that had been blocked by Obama because of environmental concerns. (New York Times / Washington Post)
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