👋 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 asked Mitch McConnell to prioritize confirming the chief counsel of the IRS earlier this year. White House aides reportedly insisted that the confirmation of Michael Desmond was more important than the 2017 tax cuts and the nomination of William Barr as attorney general. Trump told McConnell on February 5th that he was worried Desmond would withdraw his nomination if the Senate didn’t act soon. Desmond was confirmed two weeks later. (New York Times)
2/ Trump’s lawyers asked the IRS chief counsel’s office to reject House Democrats’ request for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns, saying “it would set a dangerous precedent.” Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to the IRS counsel’s office responsible for responding to the request, calling the request a “gross abuse of power” and that Democrats do not have a “legitimate committee purpose” for obtaining the tax returns. An administration official also said Trump is willing to fight the House Ways and Means Committee request to the Supreme Court. (Wall Street Journal / CNN / Washington Post)
- Trump suggested that the Justice Department could become involved in blocking the release of his tax returns to Democrats. Sarah Sanders added that Trump would not release his tax returns because they were under audit, a claim the White House has not allowed to be independently verified. Michael Cohen, however, told a congressional committee earlier this year that Trump’s taxes were never under audit and that he simply didn’t want scrutiny over his financial dealings. (Washington Post)
3/ Michael Cohen offered Democrats access to 14 million files that could have “significant value” to congressional investigators. Cohen is asking that they persuade the Southern District of New York to reduce or delay his 3-year prison sentence to allow him to review the files he was “only recently able to access” on a hard drive. A 12-page memo by Cohen’s legal team outlines evidence they describe as “Trump’s involvement in a conspiracy to collude with Russian government intervention in his favor during the 2016 presidential campaign” and “other felony crimes committed by Trump before and after he became president.” The memo also claims that Trump “encouraged Cohen to lie and say all Moscow Tower project contacts ended as of January 31, 2016 using ‘code’ language — telling Cohen during various conversations that there was ‘no collusion, no Russian contacts, nothing about Russia’ after the start of the campaign.’” (CNN / New York Times / BuzzFeed News / Axios / CBS News)
- 📌 Day 729: Trump personally directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in order to obscure his involvement in the deal. Cohen and Trump had at least 10 face-to-face meetings about the deal during the campaign. Cohen acknowledged to Robert Mueller’s team that he had given false testimony to the Senate and House intelligence committees that the Moscow tower negotiations ended in January 2016 were an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project” and Trump “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.” Trump also approved a plan by Cohen to visit Russia during the presidential campaign and meet with Putin in order to kick off the negotiations for the Moscow project. “Make it happen,” Trump told Cohen. Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. both regularly received “very detailed updates” about the project from Cohen. The revelation marks the first time Trump is known to have directly – and explicitly – ordered one of his subordinates to lie about his dealings with Russia. (BuzzFeed News)
4/ Barr was invited to meet justice department officials the same day he submitted his unsolicited memo criticizing Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice by Trump. Three weeks later, Barr met the officials for lunch and was then nominated to serve as Trump’s attorney general about six months later. The meeting was arranged by Steve Engel, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Barr concluded there was “not sufficient” evidence in Mueller’s report to establish that Trump had committed obstruction of justice after consulting with Engel and Rod Rosenstein. (The Guardian)
Trump withdrew his nominee to lead ICE, saying he wants to go in a “tougher direction.” Stephen Miller urged Trump to ditch Ron Vitiello because Vitiello was not fully in favor of closing the southern border. (Associated Press / CNN / Washington Post)
Motel 6 agreed to pay $12 million to settle a lawsuit after giving information about 80,000 guests to ICE without warrants. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the shared information led to targeted investigations of guests with Latino-sounding names. (NPR)
A third federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The ruling, like two earlier ones, will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. (Washington Post / NPR)
New Mexico became the 14th state to pledge its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in future presidential elections. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact now represents 189 electoral votes. The states, however, will not adopt the new vote allocations until their combined electoral votes equal 270. (CNN)
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