👋 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 will declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build his border wall after signing the spending legislation to prevent another government shutdown. The border security compromise provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of steel-post fencing – basically the same deal Trump rejected in December – instead of the $5.7 billion he demanded for more than 200 miles of steel or concrete wall. The emergency declaration would allow Trump to redirect funds from other parts of the government without congressional approval. The Senate advanced the spending package in an 81-16 vote. The House is expected to approve the package later tonight. (Washington Post / New York Times / CNBC / CNN / NBC News / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg)
2/ A federal judge ruled that Paul Manafort violated the terms of his cooperation deal by repeatedly lying to Robert Mueller and a grand jury about “his interactions and communications with [Konstantin] Kilimnik,” a longtime aide who the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence. Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Manafort also intentionally lied about $125,000 he received for legal bills and about another unnamed Justice Department criminal investigation. Manafort will not be able to retract his guilty plea, but he will still be required to hold up his end of the plea deal. The ruling does free Mueller’s office from having to comply with the obligations in Manafort’s cooperation agreement, notably offering Manafort a reduced sentence for his cooperation. The breach of the cooperation deal after his guilty plea could add years to Manafort’s prison sentence, having been convicted last year of eight felonies, including tax and bank fraud. Manafort later pleaded guilty to two additional conspiracy counts. (CNN / Washington Post / New York Times / Politico / Vox / Wall Street Journal)
3/ The Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general, putting him in command of the Justice Department and its ongoing investigation into links between Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. Last year, Barr sent a 19-page, unsolicited memo to the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers, arguing that Trump has the power to “start or stop a law enforcement proceeding,” and therefore he could prevent Mueller from investigating whether Trump committed obstruction of justice when he pressured James Comey to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn. Barr previously served as George H.W. Bush’s attorney general in the 1990s. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg)
4/ The former deputy F.B.I. director said Justice Department officials discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office after Trump fired Comey – his former boss – in May 2017. Andrew McCabe ordered the team investigating Russia’s election interference to look into whether Trump had obstructed justice by firing Comey, and examine whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests. McCabe’s order came two days after Comey was fired in order “to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion” so the investigation “could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace”. McCabe was fired last March and stripped of his pension days before his planned retirement, because he “lacked candor.” (CBS News / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / New York Times)
📌 Day 110: Trump fired James Comey on the recommendation of Jeff Sessions. In a letter dated Tuesday to Comey, Trump concurred “with the judgment of the Department of Justice that [Comey is not] able to effectively lead the bureau.” Earlier, the FBI notified Congress that Comey misstated key findings involving the Clinton email investigation during testimony, saying that only a “small number” of emails had been forwarded to disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, not the “hundreds and thousands” he’d claimed in his testimony. The move sweeps away the man who is responsible for the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russia in its interference in last year’s election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein laid out the reasons for Comey’s firing, arguing that the handling of his investigation into Clinton’s private server, his decision not to recommend charges be filed, and the news conference he held to explain his reasoning were the cause of his dismissal. Democrats reacted with shock and alarm, accusing Trump of ousting the FBI director to escape scrutiny over his campaign’s Russia ties. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged deputy Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor for the federal probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian officials — warning that failing to do so will lead the public to “rightly suspect” that Comey’s surprise firing “was part of a cover-up.” (Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News / CNN / Politico)
📌 Day 610: Rod Rosenstein raised the idea of wearing a wire last year to secretly record Trump in the White House and expose the chaos in the administration, according to memos written by Andrew McCabe, then the acting FBI director. Rosenstein also discussed recruiting Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office. Rosenstein called the report “inaccurate and factually incorrect,” adding: “Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.” At least one person who was present for the discussions said Rosenstein was joking. (New York Times / Washington Post / Bloomberg / Associated Press)
📌 Day 725: The FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia after he fired Comey in May 2017. Law enforcement officials became concerned that if Trump had fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation, his behavior would have constituted a threat to national security. Counterintelligence agents were also investigating why Trump was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia. No evidence has publicly emerged – yet – that Trump was secretly taking direction from Russian government officials. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the report “absurd” and claimed that, compared to Obama, “Trump has actually been tough on Russia.” (New York Times / CNN)
Trump is dramatically downsizing two teams of federal officials tasked with fighting election interference by foreign countries. The task forces are part of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency and were assembled in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. One of the task forces is half the size it was a few months ago, and there are no indications that senior political leadership plans to rebuild it. The other task force was reduced significantly after the 2018 midterms, before its staff could produce a full assessment of what happened during the election. DHS sources say “2020 is going to be the perfect storm.” (Daily Beast)
The House voted to stop U.S. funding for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. The move is seen as an attempt to limit presidential war powers and highlight Congress’ anger of Trump’s refusal to condemn Saudi Arabia in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The vote was 248 to 177 in favor of stopping aid and condemning the Saudi campaign, which has killed thousands of civilians and caused a massive famine and an historic cholera outbreak. (New York Times)
Trump is accelerating a secret U.S. program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets in an attempt to cripple Iran’s military and isolate its economy. The program has never been publicly acknowledged by U.S. officials, which involves slipping faulty parts and materials into Iran’s aerospace supply chains. It was started under the Bush administration and was active early in the Obama administration, but it was winding down by 2017 when Mike Pompeo took over as CIA director and started ramping things up again. (New York Times)
A White House security specialist wants official whistleblower protections from the federal government after she raised concerns about “unwarranted security clearances” for top administration officials like Jared Kushner. Tricia Newbold requested whistleblower protections less than two weeks after she was suspended without pay by her supervisor, Carl Kline. Newbold says Kline “repeatedly mishandled security files and has approved unwarranted security clearances,” one of which was Jared Kushner’s. Kline overruled Newbold’s concerns and approved top-secret security clearance for Kushner and at least 30 White House officials. (NBC News)
Trump is in “very good health overall,” according to results from his physical examination. Last year, then-physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson declared Trump in “excellent health,” joking that Trump “might live to be 200 years old” if he made improvements to his diet. Trump gained four pounds since last year, putting his body mass index at 30.4, which makes him clinically obese. (CNN)
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