👋 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 tweeted that Russia helped “me to get elected” – his first acknowledgement that Russia worked to get him elected in 2016. Trump later retracted the statement, telling reporters that, “No, Russia did not help me get elected. […] I got me elected.” Trump has previously denied that Russia interfered in the election, rejecting the conclusions by American intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors that Russia worked to help him defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election campaign. (New York Times / Washington Post / Associated Press / The Guardian / CNN)
- 📌 Day 819: The Trump campaign “expected it would benefit” from information released by Russia, but “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The report continues: “The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.” Putin’s “preference was for candidate Trump to win.”
2/ Trump attacked Robert Mueller, characterizing him as “totally conflicted” and “true never-Trumper,” suggesting that if the former special counsel had any evidence, he would have brought charges. Trump insisted that Mueller’s comments yesterday “essentially” said “‘You’re innocent.’ There was no crime, there was no charge because he had no information.” Trump also referred to a “business dispute” with Mueller, but didn’t elaborate. Bill O’Reilly, however, said Trump called him last night to complain that “Mueller didn’t like him because he turned him down to be the head of the FBI after he fired Comey” and that Trump once refused to refund his country club membership deposit. “Mueller wanted $15,000 back and Trump said no,” O’Reilly said. Mueller denied the incident. Trump went on to baselessly claim that Mueller “loves Comey,” and “whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” (ABC News / NBC News / Mediate)
- 📌 Day 860: Robert Mueller declined to clear Trump of obstruction of justice and suggested that only Congress can “formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing” in his first public remarks about his two-year-long investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel noted that “charging the president with a crime was […] not an option we could consider,” because Justice Department policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president. Mueller emphasized that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Mueller concluded his remarks by reiterating his report’s conclusion that “There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.” (Washington Post / New York Times / ABC News / Associated Press / CNN / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NPR)
3/ Attorney General William Barr thinks Mueller should have reached a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice, despite Justice Department guidelines saying a sitting president cannot be indicted. Barr suggested that Mueller “could’ve reached a decision as to whether there was criminal activity.” Mueller, however, said that because “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge,” it was “not an option we could consider.” (The Hill)
- Key U.S. intelligence partners, including the United Kingdom and Australia, are concerned with Barr’s politically-charged Justice Department review of how the Russia investigation began. Trump gave Barr the authority to declassify and study the pre-election Obama-era intelligence related to the investigation. Partners are concerned that Barr could potentially reveal intelligence shared with the U.S. and, in the process, damage their other relationships with foreign partners. (CNN)
4/ At least 49 Democrats and one Republican support starting an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Democratic leaders also say Mueller’s remarks yesterday reiterate the importance of having him testify before Congress. Mueller has indicated that he is reluctant to testify and that he wouldn’t say anything beyond what his office wrote in report, calling his report “my testimony.” (New York Times / NBC News)
5/ The Trump administration deliberately concealed evidence about the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The origins of the plan were discovered on hard drives in Thomas Hofeller’s home, who died last summer. The files show that Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting. He pushed the idea to the Trump administration in 2017, which then intentionally obscured Hofeller’s role in court proceedings. The government has maintained that adding the question was intended to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court will decide the case by the term’s end next month on whether the citizenship question can be added to the 2020 Census. (New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / Reuters)
The White House wanted the USS John S. McCain “out of sight” during Trump’s visit to Japan. A Navy official confirmed that someone in the White House asked to move the destroyer while Trump was in the area. A tarp was also hung over McCain’s name, and sailors were given the day off. A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan didn’t know about the White House’s request. (Wall Street Journal / NBC News / The Hill / Washington Post / New York Times)
Trump said whoever directed the Navy to obscure the warship USS John S. McCain was “well-meaning,” adding that he didn’t know about and “was not involved” in the effort to the hide the Navy destroyer. “I would not have done that.” (Washington Post / New York Times / Associated Press)
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp wore “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches. The Navy is reviewing whether the Trump-themed patches violated Navy rules. (CNN)
A federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s request to begin construction on a border wall with Mexico while it appeals a ruling that found funding for the wall was not authorized by Congress. U.S. District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam said the government was unlikely to prevail on the merits of its appeal, failing to justify a stay of a preliminary injunction issued last week. (Reuters)
Federal prosecutors subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago for records related to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies. The former owner of a Florida spa is involved in a prostitution investigation and allegedly sold access to Trump and his associates at Mar-a-Lago events. (Miami Herald / Vanity Fair)
China accused the U.S. of engaging in “economic terrorism” and said the ongoing trade war has “brought huge damage to the economy of other countries and the US itself.” Yesterday, Chinese state media issued a similar warning to Washington: “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” The statements come as China’s top economic planning agency said it would be willing to reduce exports of rare earth minerals to the U.S., which are an important part of high-tech manufacturing. (CNN)
The U.S. has slipped into third place when it comes to the most competitive economies. While the U.S. is still on top when it comes to economic performance, the boost in confidence from Trump’s tax cuts has faded while higher fuel prices and weaker high-tech exports have reduced competitiveness. (CNBC)
Trump might meet with two pro-Brexit politicians when he visits the U.K. next week. Trump said he considers Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to be “very good guys” and “very interesting people.” (Politico / Bloomberg)
The Department of Energy referred to fossil fuel as “molecules of U.S. freedom” in a press release touting exports of natural gas. (ABC News)
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