👋 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/ Newly obtained document show Trump signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, contradicting Rudy Giuliani’s claim that the document was never signed. The signed letter is dated Oct. 28, 2015. Trump Jr. testified on Sept. 7, 2017 that his father had signed a letter of intent for the Moscow project, which Michael Cohen worked on, but he knew “very little” about it. Cohen also told congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump had signed the letter. On Sunday, Giuliani claimed: “It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump did not disclose that the Trump Organization explored the business deal with Russia. Instead, he repeatedly claimed he had “nothing to do with Russia.” Read the signed letter of intent. (CNN)
- 📌Day 680: 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)
2/ Giuliani conceded that “of course” Trump signed the “bullshit” letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. “I don’t think I said nobody signed it,” Giuliani claimed, despite telling CNN on Sunday that “no one signed” the letter. The deal would have given Trump’s company $4 million upfront, plus a percentage on all sales, as well as marketing and design oversight. The hotel would have also named the spa after Ivanka Trump. (New York Daily News)
3/ Mitch McConnell introduced a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running into February, which does not include the money Trump wants for his border wall. Both chambers are expected to pass the measure by Friday’s midnight deadline, and avoid a partial shutdown. The White House has not publicly confirmed Trump will sign the measure. (Politico / The Guardian / Washington Post / CNN / New York Times / NBC News)
4/ Trump ordered a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria within 30 days, according to a U.S. defense official. Pentagon officials tried to talk Trump out of the decision, arguing that the move would betray Kurdish allies who have fought alongside American troops in Syria, but “the president said ‘Everybody out,’” a senior administration official said. In announcing the decision, Trump tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.” However, in August the Pentagon estimated that there were still as many as 14,500 ISIS fighters still in Syria. (New York Times / Daily Beast / The Guardian / CNN / Politico / Washington Post)
poll/ 52% of Americans say they are against the country becoming more politically correct and are upset that there are too many things they can’t say anymore. Overall, 55% of Millennials ages 18-29 favor political correctness, while a majority of everybody older than 30 is against political correctness. 76% of Republicans are against the country becoming more politically correct compared to 55% of Democrats. (NPR)
The Trump administration will lift sanctions on three Russian corporations controlled in part by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire who once loaned Paul Manafort $10 million. Deripaska agreed to cut his ownership stake in each company below 50%. In April, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Deripaska, Rusal, En+ Group Plc, and JSC EuroSibEnergo, citing “malign activities” by Russia. (Bloomberg / Reuters)
The Justice Department ordered an unnamed foreign company to comply with Robert Mueller’s grand jury subpoena to turn over information about its commercial activities as part of a secret court case. Very little is known about the details of the case, but the company fighting the subpoena has been identified as a foreign government-owned company tied to Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Court officials have taken drastic steps to ensure the identity of the company remains unknown. The case, referred to in public dockets as 18-3071 with the title Sealed v Sealed, began in August. (CNN / Politico / The Guardian / Vox)
A document that is sealed from public view was placed in a New York federal court vault related to the criminal case against Michael Cohen. The filing came a week after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for his guilty pleas in cases brought separately by federal prosecutors in New York and by Mueller. (CNBC)
Michael Cohen dropped a pair of libel suits against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS over the publication of the Steele dossier, which detailed alleged ties between Trump and Russia. (Politico)
A federal judge tossed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over publication of the Steele dossier. Aleksej Gubarev, a CEO named in the dossier, alleged that the statements in dossier about him were “false” and that BuzzFeed “never contacted” him to confirm the allegations. U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that BuzzFeed was covered by the “fair report privilege” because the site published the dossier in its entirety without editorializing its presentation. (Hollywood Reporter / Daily Beast)
A federal judge dismissed Trump administration policies that turned away asylum seekers who claimed to suffer domestic violence or gang violence. Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled that policies ordered by Jeff Sessions were “arbitrary, capricious and in violation of the immigration laws.” (Politico / NBC News)
The Senate passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The First Step Act would expand job training and other anti-recidivism programs, modify sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, and expand early-release programs. Trump has said he plans to sign it into law. (New York Times / Politico)
The United States was added to list of most dangerous countries for journalists for the first time. At least 63 professional journalists were killed doing their jobs in 2018 – a 15% increase over last year. (NBC News)
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