👋 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/ Attorney General William Barr assembled a team to examine the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Barr is pursuing allegations by Republican lawmakers of anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department and FBI. Robert Mueller took over the counterintelligence investigation when he was appointed special counsel. Separately, the Justice Department’s inspector general is reviewing whether the FBI and federal prosecutors abused their authority when obtaining FISA warrants to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. (Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal)
2/ Barr told Congress that the government was “spying” on Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election, but provided no evidence. During a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr said that while he’s not launching an investigation of the FBI or suggesting there is an “endemic” problem at the FBI, he does “think there was a failure among a group of leaders at the upper echelons.” Barr went on to say that he wanted to understand if there was “unauthorized surveillance” of political figures and whether law enforcement officials had proper legal justification for the “genesis” of the counterintelligence investigation. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / CNN / Bloomberg / Axios)
3/ Trump claimed the Russia investigation was “an attempted coup” to remove him from office. Trump accused Mueller’s probe of being “started illegally” and that “every single thing about it” was “crooked.” Trump went on to say that “as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care about the Mueller report,” claiming that “I’ve been totally exonerated.” (NBC News / Washington Post / Politico)
4/ The FBI discussed the possibility that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey “at the behest of” the Russian government in May 2017. James Baker, a former top lawyer of the FBI, testified to the House Oversight and Judiciary committees in October 2018 about the discussions he had with Andrew McCabe, FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap, and national security official Carl Ghattas about the possibility that Trump was “following directions” and “executing [the] will” of the Russian Government. (Politico)
5/ Trump repeated his refusal to release his tax returns, saying “I won’t do it.” Trump said he would “love” to release his tax returns, but claimed that “people don’t care” about seeing them, and that he won’t do so “while I’m under audit.” House Democrats asked the IRS for six years of Trump’s tax returns, citing a tax code provision that requires the Treasury Department to hand over the documents. The deadline to comply with the request is today. (CNN / CNBC / Reuters / USA Today / Wall Street Journal)
- The IRS commissioner said there is “no rule that would prohibit the release of a tax return because it’s under audit.” Charles Rettig’s comment came during his confirmation at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. (Axios)
poll/ 51% of voters support House Democrats’ efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, including 46% of independents. (Morning Consult)
- 📌 Day 775: 64% of American think Trump should publicly release his tax returns, while 29% believe he should not. (Quinnipiac)
Federal investigators in New York have “gathered more evidence than previously known” from Trump’s “inner circle” about the hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both claim they had affairs with Trump. Prosecutors interviewed Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller, Trump’s former security chief. Investigators also have a recorded phone conversation between Michael Cohen and a lawyer who represented the two women. Investigators also have calls between Schiller and David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer, which admitted it paid $150,000 to McDougal on Mr. Trump’s behalf to keep her story under wraps. (Wall Street Journal / CNN)
The Pentagon awarded $976 million in contracts to build Trump’s wall along the southern border. The Department of Defense awarded the contracts via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and listed the completion date for the projects as October 2020. One contract worth $789 million was awarded to a company in Texas to build “30-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate” in Santa Teresa, New Mexico along the El Paso sector of the border. The other contract is worth $187 million and went to a Montana-based company for “18-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate” in Yuma, Arizona. (CNN)
The White House is considering the former head of an anti-immigration group to lead Citizenship and Immigration Services. Julie Kirchner previously led the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which pushed for lower levels of immigration. (Politico)
The House voted to revive net neutrality regulations, which bans broadband providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic. The legislation will likely fail in the GOP-controlled Senate. (Politico / The Hill)
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