👋 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/ In a wide-ranging interview in the Oval Office, Trump called negotiating with Congress over his border wall “a waste of time” (again), brushed off the Russia investigation and claimed that Rod Rosenstein told him he was not a target in the probe, dismissed the importance of the proposed Trump Tower his team was trying to build in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, denied he ever spoke with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen Democratic emails, and insisted that he played no role in Jared Kushner receiving a security clearance despite concerns by both the FBI and CIA. The interview was arranged after Trump reached out to A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, inviting him for an off-the-record dinner. Sulzberger initially declined, saying he would prefer an on-the-record interview that included two of his reporters. Trump agreed. During the interview, Trump told the Times “I love this job,” but also complained that he’s “lost massive amounts of money” since becoming president. He called the job of being president “one of the great losers of all time. You know, fortunately, I don’t need money. This is one of the great losers of all time.” [Editor’s note: Just read the interview. Podcast and excerpt links below.] (New York Times)
🎧 LISTEN: Trump spoke with the New York Times about the Russia investigation, the government shutdown, and his plans for border security. Trump also spoke about the role of a free press. (New York Times)
✏️ EXCERPTS: Trump’s Oval Office interview with two White House correspondents, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. (New York Times)
✏️ EXCERPTS: Trump about his “anti-press rhetoric.” (New York Times)
2/ Trump took credit for popularizing the term “fake news,” calling the news media “important” and “beautiful,” but also “so bad” and “unfair.” He called himself “a victim” of unfair coverage. (New York Times)
3/ Trump claimed that the Trump Tower Moscow development was “not important” and he was “not even sure they had a site.” Hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans, however, show that the Trump Organization proposed building the skyscraper on an industrial complex near the Moscow River. Earlier this month, Rudy Giuliani also claimed that “No plans were ever made. There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.” (BuzzFeed News)
- 📌 Day 734: Rudy Giuliani claimed that “no plans were ever made” for Trump Tower Moscow, despite hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans proving otherwise. For instance, by September 2015, an architect had completed plans for a 100 story high tower, and when Trump signed a finalized letter of intent on Oct. 28 2015, the tower would have “approximately 250 first class, luxury residential condominiums” and “approximately 15 floors” and contain “not fewer than 150 hotel rooms.” The Trump team also considered an option to open “The Spa By Ivanka Trump,” as well as giving a “$50 million penthouse to Putin.” Trump’s lawyer characterized this by saying “the proposal was in the earliest stage” and later adding “There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.” (BuzzFeed News)
4/ Trump Jr.’s mysterious phone calls ahead of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were not with his father, according to new evidence obtained by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The same day Trump Jr. spoke on the phone with Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father set up the June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower, he also talked to two business associates who used blocked numbers – Brian France, the chief executive of Nascar, and the investor Howard Lorber, who has made significant investments in Russia. Lorber also traveled to Moscow in 1996 with Trump as they considered building a Trump Tower there. A spokesman for Lorber said the real estate developer “does not recall conversations with Donald Trump Jr. in the summer of 2016,” and that Lorber never discussed “any Russian matters” with Trump Jr. (CNN / ABC News / New York Times / Washington Post)
5/ The U.S. will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia has been violating the 1987 arms control treaty for more than five years, and the U.S. gave Russia 60 days to return to compliance in December. The treaty prohibits the U.S. and Russia from possessing any land-based cruise missiles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles. (NBC News / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post)
6/ Trump said he thinks “there’s a good chance we will have to” declare a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he would declare a national emergency, which would likely be challenged in court, when the three-week continuing resolution ends on Feb. 15 – unless Congress strikes a deal to his liking. (Politico)
7/ About 3,500 additional active duty troops will deploy to the southern border, joining the 2,300 troops already there. The troops are expected to deploy in mid-February, and will build and reinforce about 160 miles of concertina wire. The Pentagon initially did not reveal the size of the increase during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. (CNN / ABC News)
Trump’s reelection campaign spent $23 million in the last three months of 2018 driven by rallies and advertising – four times what it spent in previous quarters in 2018. (Politico)
Billionaire Republican benefactors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $500,000 to a legal defense fund set up to help pay the legal costs for Trump aides involved in the Mueller investigation. Each Adelson gave $250,000 to the fund on Oct. 1, 2018, during the height of the midterm elections. The Adelsons were also the largest contributors to GOP political campaigns and committees, making more than $100 million in donations to Republican candidates. (Politico)
A pair of Democratic House lawmakers called on Mick Mulvaney to revoke Jared Kushner’s security clearance. Kushner’s clearance was initially rejected by career security specialists after his background check revealed potential avenues for foreign influence, but the rejections were overridden by a Trump-appointed supervisor. Kushner is just one of at least 30 cases in which the supervisor overruled career security experts and approved clearances for Trump administration officials. (The Hill)
Foxconn will now move forward with the construction of its Wisconsin facility after a conversation with Trump. Earlier this week, Foxconn said the company would offer mostly researcher and engineering jobs in Wisconsin – not the blue collar manufacturing jobs that were originally promised and promoted by Trump. (Politico / Wall Street Journal / CNBC / Washington Post / New York Times)
Trump will spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago after complaining for two months about being cooped up in the White House. Trump is expected to dine at the owner’s table on the patio and spend the afternoon at Trump International Golf Club, about a 15-minute motorcade drive away. (New York Times)
An occasional section of news and notes about the 2020 race.
Cory Booker announced his bid for the presidency in 2020. The New Jersey senator made the announcement in a video posted to his social media account, laying out his vision for a country that will “channel our common pain back into our common purpose.” (NBC News / New York Times / CNN / NPR / NJ.com / ABC News / Washington Post)
Kellyanne Conway suggested that Booker is sexist because he’s running against Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard. “If he were a Republican running against them,” Conway said, “they immediately would call him a sexist for running against these women in the Democratic field.” (Politico)
Elizabeth Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry. (New York Times)
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