👋 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/ Negotiators in the House and Senate reached an agreement “in principle” to avoid another partial government shutdown. Details of the agreement have not been released, but the tentative deal includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences along the border, but does not include the $5.7 billion Trump wanted for more than 200 miles of border walls. The border security spending agreement would also provide an additional $1.7 billion for other Homeland Security priorities, like new technology and more customs officers. To avoid another shutdown by the end of the week, the deal needs to be written into final legislation, passed by both the House and Senate, and signed into law by Trump. It’s unclear if Trump will accept the deal. (New York Times / CNN / Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / ABC News / NPR)
2/ Trump is “not happy” with the tentative bipartisan border security deal, adding that “it’s not doing the trick.” Trump did not commit to signing the spending measure if Congress passes it, but he did say: “I don’t think you’re going to see another shutdown.” Trump also didn’t rule out declaring a national emergency to secure wall funds. “I’m considering everything.” (CNBC / New York Times / Politico / Wall Street Journal / Reuters / Bloomberg)
3/ The White House is working on a plan to redirect federal dollars to fund Trump’s border wall without invoking a national emergency. The current plan is to take money from two Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control projects in Northern California, draw from disaster relief funds intended for California and Puerto Rico, and tap Department of Defense funds. A former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee said the plan “will create a firestorm.” (Politico)
- The Trump administration is still separating families when they cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully, despite ending the policy last summer. (The Guardian)
4/ Senate Republicans are “livid” with Trump’s refusal to issue a report determining who is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The deadline was Friday for the White House to officially detail the role Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played in the Khashoggi murder. On Friday, the Trump administration said it reserved the right to decline lawmakers’ demand under the Magnitsky Act that Trump determine who is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Mike Pompeo also denied that the Trump administration is protecting Mohammed, saying “America is not covering up for a murder.” The CIA, however, has concluded that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing. (Politico / ABC News / CNN)
5/ The Senate Intelligence Committee found “no direct evidence” of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. “We were never going to find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude,’” one Democratic aide said. Democratic Senate investigators said that the more than 100 contacts between Trump’s associates and various Russians show that the campaign was willing to accept help from a foreign adversary. Senate investigators also said they have uncovered facts yet to be made public. (NBC News)
- Trump’s former attorney, John Dowd, claimed he knows more than Mueller about the Russia investigation because of the joint-defense agreements with witnesses in the probe. “I know exactly what [Mueller] has,” Dowd said. “I know exactly what every witness said, what every document said. I know exactly what he asked. And I know what the conclusion or the result is,” he said. (ABC News / Talking Points Memo)
6/ The House Judiciary Committee hired two “special oversight counsels” tasked with reviewing allegations against Trump that could be at the heart of an impeachment case. Norm Eisen and Barry Berke are two elite white collar litigators and prominent legal critics of Trump will consult on matters “related to the Department of Justice, including the Department’s review of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” would include alleged ethics violations, corruption, and possible obstruction of justice. The committee’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler, has not committed to opening a formal impeachment inquiry, but the hires signal that he does not intend to wait for Mueller to finish his work to begin reviewing the issues. (New York Times / NBC News / Washington Post)
poll/ 56% of Americans say they trust Mueller’s version of the facts than Trump’s. 57% also believe that Mueller is mainly interested in “finding out the truth” than trying to “hurt Trump politically.” (Washington Post)
Mitch McConnell said the Senate would vote on the “Green New Deal,” which could put Democrats on the record backing a plan that Republicans have derided as a “socialist fantasy.” The deal has no chance of passing the Senate, where it will need 51 votes. Republicans hold 53 seats. (Politico / CNBC / The Hill)
Michael Cohen postponed his planned appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee because of “post-surgery medical needs” stemming from his recent shoulder surgery. Cohen is is due to begin serving a three-year prison sentence on March 6 for lying to Congress, campaign finance violations and financial crimes. It’s the third time Cohen’s testimony has been rescheduled. (Politico / CNBC)
Companies are spending the corporate windfall from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on stock buybacks instead of wage increases and employee bonuses. Corporations spent $770 billion on buybacks in 2018, which is expected to increase to around $940 billion this year when after-tax profits are included. Other portions from the tax cut savings went to dividends or debt reduction. (Center for Public Integrity / NBC News)
A small company in Switzerland is being investigated by Robert Mueller’s team for its connection to a now-defunct Israeli social media manipulation company called Psy Group, which created a plan to help Trump win in 2016. Former employees of Psy Group were interviewed by Mueller’s team in 2017 about the company’s business and ownership structure. Psy Group’s business structure was very complicated and included offshore entities registered in the Virgin Islands. It also included a chain of entities in Zurich known as Salix Services AG. Financial documents appear to show that Salix is connected to at least one of the companies that owned Psy Group. One question at the heart of Mueller’s interest in Salix and Psy Group involves a $2 million payment from international business and influence-peddler George Nader to former Psy Group owner Joel Zamel. Investigators want to know why Nadler paid Zamel after the 2016 election and where the money went after that. (Daily Beast)
A federal agency that acts as a personnel court for federal workers has only one person to hear cases and he leaves at the end of February. Two of the board’s three seats have been vacant for the entire Trump administration. Justice Department attorneys said the agency could be operating illegally if the board has no members. (Washington Post)
The acting chief of the Interior Department is weakening environmental protections for a fish in California, which would free up river water for farmers who are his former clients. David Bernhardt disproportionately benefit one of his former clients. (New York Times)
A former White House aide is suing Trump after Trump’s campaign organization filed an arbitration against Cliff Sims claiming he violated an NDA he signed during the 2016 presidential race by writing the tell-all book, “Team of Vipers.” Sims alleges that Trump is using his campaign organization as an “illegitimate cutout” to penalize Sims for writing the book. The suit also claims that Trump has been selective when it comes to enforcing NDAs against former staffers by going after people like Omarosa and Sims, but not Sean Spicer or Corey Lewandowski for their tell-all books. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / USA Today)
A BBC cameraman was “violently pushed and shoved” by a Trump supporter at Trump’s rally in El Paso. A man in a MAGA hat started screaming “Fuck the media! Fuck the media!” after attempting to knock BBC cameraman Ron Skeans off balance while he was filming Trump’s speech. The man was restrained and removed by security. Skeans said he is fine. (The Guardian / New York Times / CNN)
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