👋 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 attacked the U.S. intelligence community, claiming they’re being “extremely passive and naive” and suggesting his intel chiefs need to “go back to school” because “they are wrong!” The outburst comes a day after senior American intelligence officials briefed Congress on their 2019 worldwide threat assessment, directly contradicted Trump on several of his foreign policy priorities, including Iran, North Korea, Syria, and ISIS. Trump, however, made no mention of Russia, which Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said was likely to target the 2020 elections. (Politico / New York Times / Reuters / CNN)
2/ Trump met Putin at the G20 summit in November without a U.S. translator, notetaker, or staff member present. Melania Trump, however, was there, as well as Putin’s own translator. The White House had previously said meeting was one of several “informal” talks, but didn’t disclose that Trump did not have any official members of his team present. The Russian government said Trump and Putin spoke for roughly 15 minutes about various foreign policy issues, including an incident in the Azov Sea and the war in Syria. (Financial Times / Vox)
- 📌 Day 725: Trump concealed details about his conversations with Putin from administration officials. On at least one occasion in 2017, Trump confiscated the notes from his interpreter and told the interpreter not to discuss the details of his Putin conversation with other administration officials. As a result, there is no record of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with Putin at five locations from the past two years. U.S. officials only learned about Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official requested additional information about the meeting beyond what Rex Tillerson had provided. (Washington Post)
3/ Trump Jr. met with a firm that gamed out how a foreign government could meddle in the U.S. political process. After Trump became the Republican nominee, Trump Jr. met with Wikistrat founder Joel Zamel to discuss simulations the firm conducted in 2015 about how illicit efforts could shape American politics. In April 2016, Rick Gates reviewed a plan by a company called Psy Group, which Zamel reportedly owns. The plan echoed both the real election interference by Russia as well as the scenario Wikistrat had gamed out. It’s unclear if the Psy Group plans ever went forward, with some former employees saying Gates never pursued the campaign, while others said part of the plan was carried out. Wikistrat has been questioned by Robert Mueller’s team. (Daily Beast)
4/ Russians leaked more than 1,000 files Robert Mueller’s office shared confidentially with indicted Russian hackers in an attempt to discredit the investigation into interference in the 2016 election. According to Mueller’s court filing, the names and structure of folders containing the leaked files matched those used by the special counsel’s office when it shared the data with Concord Management. The files appeared to have been uploaded to a filesharing site, which confirmed to the FBI that the account was registered in Russia. A pro-Russian Twitter account used the information as part of a disinformation campaign. (The Guardian / NBC News / CNN)
5/ The NRA claimed “they played no official role” in a December 2015 trip to Moscow to meet with Russian nationals despite internal NRA emails and photos showing that the organization was significantly involved in the planning. Emails show that alleged Russian agent Maria Butina helped make travel arrangements for the NRA delegation, as well as organizing the meetings with senior Kremlin officials. One email suggested that the NRA would pay for travel expenses and provide “gifts” to their Russian hosts. In another, Butina told the delegation she’d meet them at the airport with “a big red sign saying Welcome NRA.” The NRA met with Butina and her Russian handler, Alexander Torshin, who was Deputy Governor of the Russian Central Bank at the time and later sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, Dmitry Rogozin, then-Russian Deputy Prime Minister who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2014, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a member of Putin’s inner circle. (ABC News)
6/ Democrats in Congress raised ethical concerns that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decision to lift sanctions on a Russian oligarch was a conflict of interest. The Treasury Department repeatedly postponed implementing sanctions against Oleg Deripaska’s companies, and later lifted them entirely after striking a deal to restructure the companies. Len Blavatnik is a major investor in Deripaska’s aluminum company, Rusal, as well as a major Republican National Committee donor, where Mnuchin served as finance chairman for Trump’s 2016 campaign. (New York Times)
poll/ 31% of voters support shutting the government down again over funding for Trump’s border wall, while 58% oppose another government shutdown generally. If the government shuts down again, a combined 54% would blame Trump and Republicans, while 33% would blame congressional Democrats. (Politico-Morning Consult)
poll/ 37% of the 2020 electorate will be made up of Millennials and Generation Z. By comparison, Baby Boomers and older generations – those who will be ages 56 and older next year – are also expected to account for 37% of the electorate. Generation X, who will be ages 39 to 55 next year, are expected to make up 25% of the electorate. (Pew Research Center)
The Pentagon is preparing to send “several thousand” additional troops to the southern border at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS officials asked for more troops to help put up concertina wire and conduct border surveillance operations. Roughly 2,300 active-duty troops are currently deployed to the southern border – down from 5,900 in November. An additional 2,200 National Guard troops are also currently deployed to the border. (Politico)
Democrats and Republicans will meet on an exclusive committee for the first time today to begin negotiations over border security funding. The committee has less than three weeks to strike a deal before parts of the government are shut down again. The group has jurisdiction over the language of a bill that would fund DHS, but some Republicans have suggested the group should expand the negotiations to include immigration policy more broadly. (ABC News)
A group of House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill to withhold pay from the president, vice president and members of Congress during government shutdowns. The Solidarity in Salary Act of 2019 aims to “prevent and limit the duration of future shutdowns and ensure that lawmakers feel the harm they cause federal employees when they fail to fund the government.” (The Hill)
The Trump Organization will start using E-Verify after it was reported that its golf club in New York employed undocumented immigrants for years. During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed he used E-Verify across his properties. E-Verify is a federal program to check whether new hires are legally eligible to work in the U.S. (Washington Post)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: God “wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there.” (CNN)
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