👋 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 Jr.‘s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee conflicts with Michael Cohen’s version of events regarding negotiations of a prospective Trump Tower in Moscow. In Cohen’s version, he says the discussions with at least one Russian government official continued through June 2016. Trump Jr. testified in September 2017 that talks surrounding a Trump Tower in Moscow concluded without result “at the end” of 2014 and “certainly not 16. There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue.” Trump Jr. told the Senate committee that he “wasn’t involved,” knew “very little,” and was only “peripherally aware” of the deal other than a letter of intent was signed by Trump. He also said he didn’t know that Cohen had sent an email to Putin’s aide, Dmitry Peskov. In Cohen’s guilty plea, he said he briefed Trump’s family members about the continued negotiations. (NPR / USA Today)
📌 The Re-up: Day 223. The Senate Intelligence Committee wants Michael Cohen to testify as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling. Cohen has been in the spotlight this week following new revelations about his outreach to Russian officials for help with a proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort are also likely to appear for closed-door interviews. Trump Jr. agreed to testify privately before the Senate judiciary committee in the “next few weeks.” (Politico)
📌 Day 229. The House and Senate intelligence committees are expected to conduct closed-door interviews with Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Trump Jr. in the coming weeks now that Congress has returned from the August recess. The two panels could possibly hold public hearings this fall. In addition, Trump Jr. is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The three committees are competing for information and witnesses with little coordination between them and Mueller’s investigation, leading to conflicts over how they can share information. (Politico / CNN)
📌 Day 230. Trump Jr. will meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. It’s the first time someone from Trump’s inner circle will speak with the committee members about the campaign’s alleged attempts to engage with Kremlin surrogates. Committee members still hope to interview Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner about the meeting they held at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer claiming to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Kushner and Manafort have already spoken to the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Washington Post)
📌 Day 482. Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee he never mentioned the Trump Tower meeting to his father or the offer of compromising information about Hillary Clinton. He also said he couldn’t “recall” if he discussed the Russia investigation with his father. Trump Jr. told the committee he didn’t think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 presidential election, saying “I didn’t think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no.” (Associated Press)
2/ The Trump Organization wanted to give Putin a $50 million penthouse in the proposed Trump Tower Moscow as the company continued to negotiate the real estate development during the 2016 campaign. Michael Cohen discussed the idea with Dmitry Peskov, who serves as Putin’s press secretary, hoping that giving the penthouse to Putin would encourage other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. The plan fizzled when the project failed to materialize, and it is not clear whether Trump knew about the plan to give the penthouse to Putin. (BuzzFeed News / CNN)
- The House Intelligence Committee wants to investigate the Trump Organization’s plan to give Putin a $50 million penthouse when Democrats take control of the committee in the new year. (BuzzFeed News / The Guardian / Politico)
3/ Ivanka and Trump Jr. are both under increased scrutiny for their roles in the proposed Moscow project. Trump Jr. and Ivanka were involved in the project at some point before Jan. 2016, but it is still unclear how deeply they were involved or how long they worked on the project after that. It is also unclear whether or not they worked with Michael Cohen on the deal. (CNN / Yahoo News)
4/ Investigators have publicly cast Trump as a central figure in Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. Trump even has his own legal code name: “Individual 1.” Documents reveal that investigators have evidence that Trump was in close contact with his most trusted aides and advisers as they dealt with both Russia and WikiLeaks, as well as evidence that they tried to cover their tracks. (Washington Post)
- “Trump was totally caught off guard by the Cohen plea,” according to a former White House staffer. “The Cohen news is very bad,” and the Trump team is worried that Mueller may have laid a perjury trap. A person close to the president described the White House as “an untethered situation.” (Vanity Fair)
5/ Mueller is also bearing down on Roger Stone and his relationship with WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. Mueller is focusing on Stone’s role as a potential go-between for the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which published thousands of DNC emails that were stolen by Russian intelligence officers. Mueller’s team has evidence that Stone may have known in advance about the release of the emails, and investigators may also be looking into potential witness intimidation by Stone. (Wall Street Journal)
6/ Mueller’s office is considering retrying Paul Manafort and bringing new criminal charges, contending that he obstructed justice and committed additional federal crimes since entering a plea agreement with the special counsel in September. Prosecutors will file a more detailed explanation of what they believe Manafort lied about to investigators on Dec. 7. Manafort will be sentenced in March 2019 after he pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy and witness tampering. Manafort is currently in jail in Alexandria, Virginia. (Politico / CNN / CNBC / ABC News)
- James Comey asked a U.S. court to block a subpoena from House Republicans for his testimony, saying he wants to testify in public rather than behind closed doors. (Bloomberg)
The acting attorney general championed a patent firm in 2014 while fielding fraud complaints about it. Matthew Whitaker was an advisory board member of World Patent Marketing, which the FTC sanctioned in 2017 and described as an “invention promotion scheme” that was “bilking millions of dollars from consumers.” (Washington Post / Bloomberg)
Ryan Zinke responded to criticism about his various ethical scandals by calling a Democratic lawmaker a drunk, accusing Rep. Raúl Grijalva of using “$50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior.” Grijalva had called on Zinke to resign. (Politico)
The number of children who were uninsured in the U.S. in Trump’s first year in office rose for the first time in nearly a decade. 276,000 more children were without health insurance due to GOP-led efforts to curb Medicaid expansion. (ABC News)
Six Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act for tweeting support for Republicans or Trump on their government Twitter accounts, according to the Office of Special Counsel, which declined to take disciplinary action. (NBC News)
Roughly two million federal workers were warned that it may be illegal for them to discuss impeaching or resisting Trump, according to a memo distributed by the Office of Special Counsel. (New York Times)
The Trump administration approved five requests from companies to conduct seismic tests off the Atlantic shore that could kill tens of thousands of dolphins, whales, and other marine animals. Seismic testing maps the ocean floor and estimates the location of oil and gas. (Washington Post)
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico signed a new North American trade pact, ending 15 months of contentious talks between three countries. The agreement faces uncertain prospects in Congress next year, where Democrats will control the House. (Politico / Reuters / Washington Post)
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