👋 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 pressured John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to give Ivanka a security clearance against their recommendations. While Trump does have the legal authority to grant clearances to anyone he wants, those decisions are typically left to the White House personnel security office, which raised concerns. Trump wanted Kelly and McGahn to make the final decision so it wouldn’t look like he had a hand in the process. After both of them refused, Trump granted the clearance anyway. (CNN)
- 📌 Day 770: Trump ordered John Kelly to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance last year and overrule concerns by intelligence officials and Donald McGahn, the White House’s top lawyer. Both Kelly and McGahn wrote contemporaneous internal memos outlining Trump’s “order” to give Kushner the clearance. In January, Trump said he had no role in Kushner receiving his clearance. (New York Times)
2/ On 11 different occasions while in office Trump issued personal checks to Michael Cohen meant as reimbursement for the hush money payments Cohen made to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. The dates on the checks show Trump was simultaneously managing affairs of state while also repaying his former personal attorney for keeping Trump’s personal secrets hidden from the public. Of the eight checks now available, seven were for $35,000 and another was for $70,000. Six were signed by Trump and the other two were signed by Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. (New York Times)
📌 Day 769: During public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen accused Trump of “criminal conduct” while in office, including the fact that Trump knew ahead of time about WikiLeaks’ plan to release DNC emails that were intended to damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen testified that Trump “asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair” with $130,000 of his own money weeks before the 2016 election “to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign.” Cohen also described his relationship with Trump: “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Reuters / Vox / Wall Street Journal / Politico)
Michael Cohen provided documents to the House Intelligence Committee showing edits to the 2017 false written statement he delivered to Congress about the Trump Organization’s continued pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 campaign. It was Cohen’s fourth appearance before Congress since last week. (CNN / ABC News / Washington Post)
3/ Trump intends to nominate Jessie Liu to be the associate attorney general. Liu is the current U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, which has taken the lead on handling Mueller’s criminal case against Roger Stone, and convened a grand jury to investigate whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should face criminal charges for lying to investigators about his interactions with reporters. By moving Liu out of that job, Trump can now nominate somebody to oversee some of the prosecutions brought by Mueller. Liu also served on Trump’s transition team at the Justice Department. She acknowledged that her 2017 in-person interview with Trump before he nominated her to be U.S. attorney was “unusual,” since U.S. attorneys don’t normally meet with the president as part of the interview process. (Wall Street Journal / Reuters / Politico / Washington Post / NBC News)
The Senate confirmed a judge to a lifetime appointment who once interned at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Washington Post)
The Senate confirmed a judge who supported a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. (Politico)
Mitch McConnell is again preparing to use the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules and allow a simple majority to confirm conservative judges to lifetime appointments. The Senate is on track to confirm Trump’s 34th Circuit Court judge. (Politico)
The Mueller report no one’s talking about: Justice Department rules require an accounting of any time supervisors told the special counsel “no” during his work. (Politico)
4/ The U.S. trade deficit on goods ballooned to $891.3 billion in 2018 – the highest ever – driven in part by Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut. Since Trump imposed tariffs on steel, aluminum and other Chinese goods, the trade deficit grew by 12.5% from 2017, or nearly $70 billion dollars. Trump’s trade war with China and others has cost the U.S. at least $19.2 billion, with Americans paying at least $12.3 billion to the U.S. government in tariffs while losing $6.9 billion in income due to trade-war-related market disruptions. (New York Times / Washington Post / Quartz)
poll/ 40% of Florida voters believe Trump should be reelected, while 53% are opposed to a second term. Trump has a 43% approval rating in Florida with 52% viewing him unfavorably — and 46% very unfavorably. (Bendixen and Amandi International / Politico)
New commercial imagery and analysis reveal that North Korea has started a “rapid rebuilding” of its long-range ballistic missile site at the Sohae Launch Facility. The site is North Korea’s only operational space launch facility, and uses similar technology to what is used to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. The renewed activity was observed just two days after the latest summit in Hanoi, Vietnam between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and “may indicate North Korean plans to demonstrate resolve in the face of U.S. rejection of North Korea’s demands at the summit to lift five U.N. Security Council sanctions enacted in 2016-2017,” according to a project sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (NBC News / New York Times)
Trump canceled the requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report the numbers of people killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones. The Obama-era rule was part of an accountability effort to minimize civilian deaths from drone strikes. (Bloomberg / NBC News)
ICE has been keeping tabs on a series of left-leaning and “anti-Trump protests” in New York City. The agency tracked protests that promoted immigrants’ rights and those that opposed Trump’s deportation policies, plus one protest against the NRA and one that was organized by a sitting member of Congress. (The Nation)
The Democratic National Committee will not allow Fox News to broadcast any of its 2020 presidential primary debates. DNC Chairman Tom Perez cited the New Yorker story this week that detailed how Fox has promoted Trump’s agenda, suggesting that the network had become a “propaganda” vehicle for Trump. (NPR / Washington Post)
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