👋 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/ Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC received illegal donations from individuals from Middle Eastern nations who were hoping to buy influence over U.S. policy. The inquiry focuses on whether people from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two Trump funds. Foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees, and inaugural funds are illegal. The inaugural committee was headed by Thomas Barrack, and Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, believed that Barrack could help raise funds for the super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, which could collect unlimited amounts of money. Barrack said that Manafort viewed the super PAC as an arm of the campaign, despite laws meant to prevent coordination. The committee raised $23 million on Trump’s behalf. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
📌 Day 693: Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent the $107 million it raised and whether some of the donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions, or to influence administration positions. The committee said in its tax documents that it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, $4 million on ticketing, $9 million on travel, $4.5 million on salaries and wages, and other expenses. Nearly a quarter of the money was paid to a firm led by a friend of Melania Trump that was formed 45 days before the inauguration. (Wall Street Journal)
📌 Day 389: Trump’s inaugural committee won’t reveal what it’s doing with tens of millions of dollars it pledged to charity last year. The committee raised about $107 million, but only spent about half of it. The rest, it said, would go to charity. (Daily Beast)
📌 Day 392: Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by Melania’s adviser and longtime friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. The firm was created in December 2016 – 45 days before the inauguration. Trump’s inauguration committee raised $107 million and paid to WIS Media Partners $25.8 million. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
📌 Day 404: Melania Trump parted ways with her senior adviser and friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, after news surfaced that Wolkoff’s firm had received $26 million to plan Trump’s inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017. Wolkoff was terminated last week because the Trumps were unhappy with the news reports about the contract. (New York Times)
2/ Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Trump had nothing to do with his inaugural committee’s spending. “The biggest thing the president did, his engagement in the inauguration, was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office,” Sanders said. (Politico)
3/ Ivanka Trump negotiated the prices that Trump’s inauguration committee paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals, and event space at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces and asking what would happen “when this is audited.” It could violate tax law if the hotel charged more than the going rate for the event spaces. (ProPublica)
4/ Michael Cohen says “of course” Trump knew it was wrong to make the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, because Trump “was very concerned about how this would affect the election.” Cohen admitted that he “knew what I was doing was wrong,” adding that the whole purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.” Cohen also noted that “nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.” (ABC News / CNN / New York Times)
📌Day 441: Trump denied knowing about the $130,000 payment his lawyer made to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to buy her silence. Trump said he didn’t know where Michael Cohen got the money from and he declined to say if he ever set up a fund for Cohen to cover expenses like that. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael,” Trump said. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, tweeted: “We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath.” (USA Today / Bloomberg / New York Times / Washington Post)
📌Day 471: Trump knew about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April. While it’s not clear when Trump learned of the payment, which Michael Cohen made in October 2016, Trump did know that Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public when he denied it. Last week, Giuliani said Cohen was reimbursed between $460,000 and $470,000 for various payments. Cohen was mainly reimbursed through payments of $35,000 per month – or about $420,000 over 12 months – from Trump’s personal trust. (New York Times)
5/ Rudy Giuliani contends that the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal are overblown, because “nobody got killed, nobody got robbed […] This was not a big crime.” Trump continues to insist that he is innocent of any crimes because he never explicitly asked for Cohen or AMI to violate campaign finance law. (Daily Beast)
6/ Paul Manafort advised the White House about how to undermine and discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation in the spring and summer of 2017. Manafort urged Trump to attack the FBI, Hillary Clinton and the Steele dossier, and to allege without evidence that the Ukrainian government had colluded with the Democratic National Committee to try to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election. “After signing the plea agreement, Manafort stated he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the administration while they were in the administration,” Mueller said in a court filing, “and that he never asked anyone to try and communicate a message to anyone in the administration on any subject.” (Vox)
7/ Mueller rejected Michael Flynn’s suggestion that he was tricked into lying to FBI agents about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “The interview was voluntary, and lacked any indicia of coercion,” Mueller’s team wrote in new court documents, referring to the Jan. 24, 2017 interview at the White House four days after Trump’s inauguration. Neither Flynn nor his lawyers have explained why he lied. (New York Times / USA Today / NBC News / Washington Post)
A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock while detained by U.S. Border Patrol after crossing into the U.S. illegally with her father. The girl was taken into custody and separated from her father on Dec. 6 around 10 p.m. More than eight hours later, the girl began having seizures around 6:25 a.m. the next morning. (Washington Post)
The White House deflected blame for the death of the 7-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody, calling it a “tragic situation” that was “100 percent preventable” if Congress would Congress “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border. (Washington Post)
The 7-year-old migrant who died in U.S. custody didn’t receive medical care for more than 90 minutes after her father reported that she was sick. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the death of the girl “a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.” (Bloomberg)
Betsy DeVos will cancel $150 million in federal student loan debt for for 15,000 borrowers after losing a court battle. The move comes two months after a federal judge ordered the immediate implementation of the “borrower defense” rule, which was designed to help students cheated by for-profit colleges get relief on their education debt. (Politico / CNN)
Chris Christie told Trump he doesn’t want to be considered for the chief of staff job. (Axios)
George Papadopoulos is considering a run for Congress. The former Trump campaign foreign policy aide just spent 12 days in prison after pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI about contacts with a professor, Joseph Mifsud, who claimed to know that Russia had thousands of emails connected to Hillary Clinton. (Politico)
Reince Priebus is joining the Navy on a recommendation from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. A Navy review board “professionally recommended” the former Trump chief of staff to join the service. (Washington Post)
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