👋 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 defended his 2017 comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, in which an avowed neo-Nazi rammed his car into a group of protesters, killing a woman and injuring dozens of others. At the time, Trump condemned what happened “on many sides,” arguing there were “very fine people on both sides” of the incident. Now, nearly two years later, Trump stands by his statement, claiming that he answered questions about the incident in Charlottesville “perfectly.” Trump’s comments came a day after Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign with a video comparing the violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville to Trump’s response. The “Unite the Right” rally was organized by self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer. (Washington Post / Politico / CBS News / Bloomberg / CNN)
[ANALYSIS] Trump tried to re-write his own history on Charlottesville and “both sides.” But some Trump supporters — and now Trump himself — have argued that he was taken out of context. They say he wasn’t referring to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists when he referred to “very fine people” on both sides, but rather some other people who shared their cause of saving a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. (Washington Post)
Trumps advisers: Biden poses the biggest threat to Trump’s re-election. (Politico)
A Fox News reporter called out two of his colleagues for sounding “like a White Supremacist chat room” when they attempted to defend Trump’s “both sides” comment about white supremacists in Charlottesville. (Daily Beast)
2/ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended his handling of the Russia investigation, attacked the media for how it was covered and blamed the Obama administration for not revealing “the full story” about Russia’s efforts. Speaking at the Public Servants Dinner of the Armenian Bar Association, Rosenstein recalled how he had promised to “do it right” during his Senate confirmation hearing and “take it to the appropriate conclusion,” while attacking what he called “mercenary critics,” politicians and the news media. Rosenstein, however, also warned that hacking and social media manipulation are “only the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Russian efforts to influence American elections. (NBC News / Washington Post / Politico / CNN)
- FBI Director Christopher Wray: Russia “poses a very significant counterintelligence threat.” Earlier this week Jared Kushner downplayed Russian interference, suggesting that the Mueller investigation was more harmful to the U.S. It was also reported this week that senior White House staff have felt “it wasn’t a good idea to bring up issues related to Russia in front of the President.” (CNN)
3/ Trump called the Russia investigation “an attempted overthrow of the United States government,” claiming “this was a coup.” In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump complained that Mueller and his team had gone “hog wild to find something about the administration which obviously wasn’t there” and had spent the last two years “ruining [the] lives” of people associated with his 2016 campaign. Trump called the special counsel investigation “far bigger than Watergate” and “possibly the biggest scandal in political history,” characterizing the investigation as a “one-sided witch hunt” by “angry Democrats” who are “very serious Trump haters.” He warned that some people involved in the investigation should be “very nervous.” (Politico / CNN / Vox)
4/ Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced to 18-months in prison for conspiring to act as a foreign agent. Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with then-Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin to gain access to the National Rifle Association and other groups since 2015. The Justice Department recommended an 18-month sentence, citing “substantial assistance” that Butina provided to investigators. She will be deported to Russia after her prison term ends. (Daily Beast / New York Times / Washington Post / BuzzFeed News)
poll/ 56% of Americans oppose starting impeachment proceedings against Trump following Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 37% support starting the process. Among Democrats, 62% support Congress beginning impeachment proceedings, while 87% of Republicans are opposed. (Washington Post)
A federal judge ordered the Trump administration identify all of the migrant children separated from their parents at the border. The judge gave the administration six months to figure it out. (NPR)
The Pentagon is preparing to expand the military’s involvement in Trump’s operation along the southern border by changing rules that prevent troops from interacting with migrants entering the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security requested that the Defense Department provide military lawyers, cooks and drivers to assist with handling migrants along the southern border. (Washington Post)
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly threatened to jail White House officials who refuse to comply with oversight or testimony requests from congressional committees. Connolly sits on the House Oversight Committee, and warned that the committee would use “any and all power in our command” to ensure compliance with its requests and subpoenas, “whether that’s a contempt citation, whether that’s going to court and getting that citation enforced, whether it’s fines, whether it’s possible incarceration.” (CNN)
The White House is calling on key Republicans in Congress to raise the debt ceiling in order to avoid a budget impasse that could damage the economy later in the year. (Washington Post)
Trump denied that the U.S. paid North Korea in exchange for the return of Otto Warmbier, disputing the report that he approved a $2 million payment to Pyongyang. North Korea sent the Treasury Department a bill for $2 million, which remained unpaid through 2017. It’s unclear whether Trump ever paid the invoice. (Reuters)
Trump now says children “have to get their shots” because “vaccinations are so important.” In 2015, Trump erroneously linked autism to vaccines, and during the presidential transition in 2017, Trump asked Robert Kennedy Jr. to lead a commission on “vaccination safety and scientific integrity.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that measles cases had surpassed the highest number on record since the disease was declared eliminated nationwide in 2000. (NBC News / CNN)
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