👋 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/ Trump asserted executive privilege over Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report. Yesterday, Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department advised Trump to make a “protective assertion of executive privilege” in response to Democratic plans to hold Barr in contempt of Congress over his refusal to turn over Mueller’s report or underlying materials to Congress. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Trump’s “decision [to assert privilege] represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.” The move will not have a direct impact on possible testimony from Mueller, but it could limit the scope of what he can say by putting some subjects off limits. (ABC News / New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / CNN)
- 📌 Day 838: The White House invoked executive privilege and ordered former counsel Donald McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to Robert Mueller’s investigation. In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued that “McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third parties” and asked that the committee instead direct the request to the White House, “because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege.” Trump has also promised to assert executive privilege to block McGahn’s testimony to the committee later this month. McGahn spent more than 30 hours speaking to Mueller’s investigators, outlining two episodes where Trump asked him to have Mueller fired, and later asking McGahn to deny news reports about that conversation. McGahn rebuffed both requests. (CNBC / ABC News / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / New York Times)
2/ The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the full, unredacted Mueller report. “We are in a constitutional crisis,“Nadler said after the vote. “We are now in it.” However, Nadler added, impeachment “may not be the best answer.” The vote on contempt now heads to the full House. It is not immediately clear when that vote will be scheduled. If the full House follows the committee’s recommendation, it would be the second time in American history that a sitting attorney general would be held in contempt of Congress. (Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News / CNBC / Reuters)
3/ The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Trump Jr. to answer questions about his previous testimony related to the Russia investigation. Trump Jr. testified before the committee in September 2017 that he was only “peripherally aware” of the proposed plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Michael Cohen, however, told a House committee earlier this year that he had met with both Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump “approximately 10” times to brief them about the Trump Tower plan. The Republican-led committee wants Trump Jr. to answer questions about his claim to have limited knowledge of the plan. (Axios / CNBC / New York Times)
📌 Day 680: Trump Jr.‘s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee conflicts with Michael Cohen’s version of events regarding negotiations of a prospective Trump Tower in Moscow. In Cohen’s version, he says the discussions with at least one Russian government official continued through June 2016. Trump Jr. testified in September 2017 that talks surrounding a Trump Tower in Moscow concluded without result “at the end” of 2014 and “certainly not 16. There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue.” Trump Jr. told the Senate committee that he “wasn’t involved,” knew “very little,” and was only “peripherally aware” of the deal other than a letter of intent was signed by Trump. He also said he didn’t know that Cohen had sent an email to Putin’s aide, Dmitry Peskov. In Cohen’s guilty plea, he said he briefed Trump’s family members about the continued negotiations. (NPR / USA Today)
📌 Day 699: Newly obtained document show Trump signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, contradicting Rudy Giuliani’s claim that the document was never signed. The signed letter is dated Oct. 28, 2015. Trump Jr. testified on Sept. 7, 2017 that his father had signed a letter of intent for the Moscow project, which Michael Cohen worked on, but he knew “very little” about it. Cohen also told congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump had signed the letter. On Sunday, Giuliani claimed: “It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump did not disclose that the Trump Organization explored the business deal with Russia. Instead, he repeatedly claimed he had “nothing to do with Russia.” (CNN)
4/ Mueller tried to block the release of James Comey’s contemporaneous memos over concerns that Trump and other witnesses could change their stories after reading them. The Justice Department asked a federal judge to keep the memos under seal around the same time Mueller’s team was negotiating with Trump over a potential presidential interview. Mueller’s team said it was worried that “the recollections of one witness, if disclosed to another potential witness, have the potential to [influence], advertently or inadvertently, the recollections of that witness.” (CNN)
5/ Trump lost $1.17 billion between 1985 and 1994 — more than “nearly any other individual American taxpayer” during that period – according to 10 years of Trump’s newly obtained tax information. Trump lost so much money during the decade in question that he was able to avoid paying any income taxes for eight of those ten years. Two years after The Art of the Deal was published, Trump reported larger financial losses than all but three other individual American taxpayers. Trump’s businesses lost more than $250 million in 1990 and 1991, which were more than twice as much as the nearest taxpayers. Trump defended his “tax shelter” tactics on Twitter, calling it a “sport” to “show losses for tax purposes. […] Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!” (New York Times / CNBC)
5 Takeaways From 10 Years of Trump Tax Figures. A decade of the Trump’s tax returns reveal $1.17 billion in business losses. Here’s what else the numbers show. (New York Times)
Democrats appear headed straight to court for Trump’s tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday shot down the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for six years’ worth of Trump’s personal returns. (Politico)
📌 Day 54: Trump wrote off $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, an effective tax rate of 25%. By claiming losses from previous years, Trump was able to save tens of millions of dollars in taxes that he otherwise might have owed. (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)
6/ The New York state Senate passed a bill that would allow Trump’s state tax returns to be turned over to congressional committees. The bill would permit the state Department of Taxation and Finance commissioner to release any state tax return requested by the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation for any “specific and legitimate legislative purpose.” The bill still needs to be approved by the State Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times)
poll/ 29% of voters approve of the way Barr handled the release of the Mueller reports. 35% said Barr has mostly worked to protect Trump while 32% said Barr has mostly tried to inform the American people. 32% were undecided. (Politico)
Michael Cohen helped bury embarrassing photos of Jerry Falwell Jr. shortly before Falwell endorsed Trump in 2016. The Falwells wanted to prevent “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen said during a recorded phone call with actor Tom Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” Cohen claimed. “It’s terrible.” An anonymous attorney for Falwell Jr. denied Cohen’s claims and insisted that “there are no compromising or embarrassing photos of Falwell, period!” (Reuters / Washington Post)
The Florida Bar will investigate U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s menacing tweet at Michael Cohen. The case against the Florida Republican stems from a tweet he directed toward Cohen on the eve of Cohen’s testimony before a House committee, saying: “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…” (Tampa Bay Times)
The House Oversight Committee threatened to withhold the salaries of employees at the Department of the Interior who prevent lawmakers from interviewing agency employees about whether Secretary David Bernhardt complied with recordkeeping laws. Committee chair Elijah Cummings issued a statement notifying the department that there would be no money available to pay the salaries of any “federal officer or employee who prevents another federal officer or employee from communicating directly with any member, committee, or subcommittee of Congress.” (Politico)
Trump’s foreign policy officials exaggerated the military threat from Iran in order to justify the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and an Air Force bomber task force to the Gulf. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the movement was in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” But multiple sources say Bolton and other administration officials were “overreacting” to the threat. (Daily Beast)
Iran will stop complying with the Iranian nuclear deal and threatened to resume enrichment of uranium in 60 days if European nations fail to negotiate new terms for the 2015 nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel for 15 years. Despite the opposition from European allies, Trump withdrew entirely from the 2015 agreement. (New York Times / Associated Press / Reuters)
🎉Celebrate Small Victories: We deserve better. [Editor’s note: Super excited to announce that I’ve teamed up with Alison Diviney to share her Small Victories with the WTF community.]
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