👋 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/ A federal judge rejected a Trump administration request to assign a new legal team to a lawsuit that blocked the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman called the request “patently deficient” and that the U.S. had provided “no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel.” The Justice Department had announced its intention earlier this week to swap out the legal team on the case, but didn’t explain why. (Bloomberg / Washington Post)
- 📌 Day 900: Trump is “very seriously” considering an executive order to get the citizenship question on the 2020 census despite statements last week from both his Department of Justice and his secretary of commerce that the administration was printing the census without the question. The Justice Department also assigned a new team of attorneys to defend Trump’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census following the Supreme Court’s ruling that effectively blocked the question. A statement released by the DOJ gave no clear reason for the change to the legal team, but experts say the team is likely to face questions on multiple fronts after the Trump administration spent the last 15 months giving conflicting explanations about why the question should be added. Trump also recently ordered officials to keep pursuing the addition of the question, even if it means delaying the constitutionally mandated decennial survey. (New York Times / Politico / Washington Post / CNN / ABC News / Axios)
2/ House Democrats plan to move forward with criminal contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas related to the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The move is a largely symbolic one, unlikely to lead to many tangible consequences. The DOJ will most likely refuse to charge Barr or any other cabinet secretary with a crime, and has even urged officials not to comply with the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoenas. (Politico)
3/ Democrats in Congress called on Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over a controversial plea deal he brokered as a U.S. attorney that gave a lenient sentence to Jeffrey Epstein, who served 13 months for sexually abusing dozens of young women and underage girls. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said Acosta “must step down” because “he engaged in an unconscionable agreement” with Epstein that was “known” by Trump at the time. Acosta defended his 2007 decision, tweeting that he supports the “horrific” new charges and was “pleased” that prosecutors in New York are “moving forward with a case based on new evidence.” (New York Times / Politico / USA Today / CNBC / CNN / Washington Post)
- 📌 [BACKGROUND]: Federal prosecutors charged Epstein on Monday with sex trafficking, alleging that the billionaire financier had abused dozens of young girls at his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla., homes and enlisted his victims to bring him others. The indictment deals an implicit rebuke to the plea agreement, which was overseen by Acosta, then the U.S. attorney in Miami and now Trump’s labor secretary. Lewd photos of girls were discovered in a safe inside the Epstein’s Manhattan mansion the day he was arrested, deepening questions about why federal prosecutors in Miami had cut a deal that shielded him from federal prosecution in 2008. (Washington Post / New York Times / New York Times)
4/ Trump said he felt “very badly” for Acosta while praising him as “excellent” and “very good” at his job. Trump added that he would be looking “very closely” at the circumstances surrounding the plea deal, but has no immediate plan to force out or fire Acosta, two White House officials said. In 2002, Trump told New York Magazine that Epstein was “a terrific guy,” who “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Today, however, Trump told reporters that the two “had a falling out” about 15 years ago and that he “was not a fan of his, that I can tell you.” (Washington Post / Associated Press / Miami Herald / CNN / Washington Post)
- Attorney General William Barr won’t recuse himself from involvement in the new charges filed against alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein by federal prosecutors. Epstein previously hired lawyers from the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where Barr served as counsel to the law firm before becoming attorney general. Barr, however, has recused himself from any review of the Justice Department’s deal with Epstein more than a decade ago letting Epstein avoid prosecution on federal sex-trafficking offenses in Florida in exchange for pleading guilty to two charges of soliciting a prostitute. (Bloomberg)
5/ The House Judiciary Committee will vote to authorize subpoenas for 12 of Robert Mueller’s witnesses. The subpoena targets include Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Michael Flynn, John Kelly and Corey Lewandowski, as well as Dylan Howard and David Pecker, two executives at American Media, Inc., and Keith Davidson, an attorney who previously represented Stormy Daniels. Republicans called the subpoenas an effort to “relitigate” the Mueller investigation. (Politico)
Michael Flynn will not testify against his former business partner, because prosecutors no longer believe his version of events. Flynn previously admitted that he lied on foreign lobbying disclosure forms, but now is blaming his former lawyers and accusing them of filing inaccurate forms without his knowledge. (Washington Post / New York Times)
The White House blocked a witness in the Mueller investigation from answering 212 questions about potential obstruction of justice by Trump. Annie Donaldson is the former chief of staff to ex-White House counsel Donald McGahn, and her contemporaneous notes are cited 65 times in the Mueller report. Trump administration lawyers, however, blocked her from going into detail about her documented exchanges between Trump and McGahn. (Washington Post)
The former British spy behind the Trump “dossier” was interviewed for 16 hours by the Justice Department’s inspector general. During the 2016 election, Christopher Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to research Trump’s Russia ties. (Politico)
Felix Sater testified before the House Intelligence Committee today. The former Trump business associate and chief negotiator for the defunct Trump Tower Moscow project has rescheduled his appearance several times since he was first slated to appear in March. (Politico)
6/ Trump said the U.S. will “no longer deal with” a British ambassador who called him “inept” and said his administration was “dysfunctional,” in leaked cables. Trump attacked Sir Kim Darroch for the second day in a row, threatening to cut ties altogether over the leaked memos, which described Trump as “radiating insecurity.” Trump tweeted that Darroch “is not liked or well thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him.” He then attacked Prime Minister Theresa May for making a “mess” over Brexit. Weeks ago Trump praised her for having done a “very good job.” (The Guardian / Washington Post)
7/ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a panel aimed at providing him with “an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy.” During remarks to the State Department, Pompeo said “words like ‘rights’ can be used by good or evil,” and complained that some have “hijacked” the rhetoric of human rights and used it for “dubious or malignant purposes.” While Pompeo offered little detail as to what the panel will actually do, emphasizing its focus on outlining principles instead of directing policy, he said he hoped the panel would facilitate “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 universal declaration.” (Politico)
8/ Mitch McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers owned at least 14 slaves in the 1800s. McConnell, meanwhile, recently said he opposed paying government reparations to the descendants of American slaves “for something that happened 150 years ago, when none of us currently living are responsible.” McConnell added: “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president.” (NBC News)
- Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat pilot announced she would challenge McConnell for his seat in 2020. (New York Times)
9/ Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter who criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled unanimously that because Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts. The case was brought against Trump, Dan Scavino, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders by a group of Twitter users who say they were blocked by Trump. Public officials who use social media for official government business, the court said, are prohibited from excluding people “from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico)
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