👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ British authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and charged by the U.S. with conspiracy to hack a classified Defense Department computer. The U.S. is seeking Assange’s extradition over allegations that he agreed to help former military analyst Chelsea Manning crack a password on a Defense Department computer, resulting in what the Justice Department called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.” Assange is facing up to five years in prison. He had been living in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London for the past 2,487 days. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. U.S. intelligence officials concluded the hacks were orchestrated by the Russian government. The conspiracy charge against Assange, however, is not related to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election influence. (New York Times / Washington Post / Associated Press / The Guardian / NPR)
2/ Trump claimed that “I know nothing about WikiLeaks” despite declaring in October 2016 that “I love WikiLeaks.” During the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump praised WikiLeaks more than 140 times for leaking DNC and Clinton campaign emails. At one point during the campaign, Trump publicly encouraged the Russians “to find the 30,000 emails (from Hillary Clinton’s server) that are missing.” Following Assange’s arrest, Trump told reporters: WikiLeaks is “not my thing.” (CNN / Politico)
- 2016: Trump praised WikiLeaks for publishing Clinton’s hacked emails. “I love WikiLeaks,” Trump told rally-goers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., prompting a prolonged “Lock her up!” chant. (The Hill)
3/ The Treasury Department missed the deadline set by Democrats to hand over Trump’s tax returns. In a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has “serious issues” with the request for six years of Trump’s personal and some business returns. Mnuchin added that he was consulting with the Justice Department as to the “constitutional scope” and “legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose” of the request. Hours earlier, Trump flatly rejected the request for his tax returns, telling reporters: “I won’t do it.” The issue could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. (Politico / Vox / Washington Post / New York Times)
- What we might learn from Trump’s tax returns. (New York Times)
4/ Trump’s sister retired as a federal judge to end an investigation into whether she violated judicial rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings. Complaints against Judge Maryanne Trump Barry were filed last October after an investigation found that she benefited financially from many of her tax schemes while she was also in a position to influence that actions taken by her family. Barry, who hasn’t heard a case in more than two years, was listed as an inactive senior judge, but filed retirement papers ten days after a federal court said the the complaints against her were “receiving the full attention” of a judicial complaint council. Retired judges are not subject to the rules of judicial conduct. (New York Times)
- 📌 Day 621: Trump inherited his family’s wealth through fraud and questionable tax schemes, receiving the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire. Trump has repeatedly claimed that “I built what I build myself.” Trump and his siblings used fake corporations to hide financial gifts from his parents, which helped his father claim millions in tax deductions. Trump also helped his parents undervalue their real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars when filing their tax returns. In total, Fred and Mary Trump transferred more than a $1 billion in wealth to their children and paid a total of $52.2 million in taxes (about 5%) instead of the $550+ million they should have owed under the 55% tax rate imposed on gifts and inheritances. Trump also “earned” $200,000 a year in today’s dollars starting at age 3 from his father’s companies. After college, Trump started receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year, which increased to $5 million a year when he was in his 40s and 50s. Trump has refused to release his income tax returns, breaking with decades of practice by past presidents. There is no time limit on civil fines for tax fraud. [Editor’s note: This is a must read. An abstract summary does not suffice.] (New York Times)
poll/ Trump tweeted a screenshot from Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business falsely claiming his approval rating was at 55%. The actual polling numbers from Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service found that 43% of voters approve of Trump. Fox Business later issued an on-air correction. (Georgetown / New York Magazine / Axios / Vox / Politico / Washington Post)
A former Obama counsel was charged with lying to the Justice Department and concealing information about work he did in 2012 with Paul Manafort for Ukraine. Gregory Craig’s former firm, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom, paid $4.6 million in January to avoid prosecution and agreed to retroactively register as a lobbyist for a foreign government. (Washington Post / New York Times / Bloomberg / Politico / CNN)
Michael Avenatti was indicted on 36 counts of fraud, perjury, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement and other financial crimes. Avenatti faces a potential 335 years in prison for an alleged scheme to defraud five clients since 2015. (Los Angeles Times / CNN / Associated Press)
Trump signed two executive orders to speed up construction of oil and gas pipelines. One order directs the EPA to make it more difficult for states to invoke provisions in the Clean Water Act to slow pipeline construction. The other order transfers authority for approving the construction of international pipelines from the secretary of state to the president. (New York Times)
The Senate confirmed a former oil and agribusiness lobbyist to lead the Interior Department. David Bernhardt previously served as the acting secretary, helping craft Trump’s policies for expanding drilling and mining along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. (Politico / New York Times)
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