👋 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 dropped his plan to nominate John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, “rather than going through months of slander and libel.” Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration following bipartisan questions about his qualifications, pushback over whether he had exaggerated his résumé that required his aids to walk back his claim that as a federal prosecutor he had won convictions in terrorism cases, and former intelligence officials expressing concern that he might politicize the job. Trump claimed that Ratcliffe, who will remain in Congress, “is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream media.” Ratcliffe was Trump’s pick to succeed Dan Coats, who is stepping down as director of national intelligence on Aug. 15. (New York Times / CNN / CNBC / NBC News / Washington Post)
2/ The White House will block the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official from taking over as acting director of national intelligence when Dan Coats steps down. A federal statute requires that if the director of national intelligence role becomes vacant, the deputy director — currently Sue Gordon — will serve as acting director. The White House, however, can choose who to appoint as acting deputy if the No. 2 position is vacant, raising the question of whether Gordon will be ousted as part of a leadership shuffle. The White House, meanwhile, has asked the national intelligence office for a list of all its employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more. While it’s unclear what the White House will do with the list, many of the people on it may be eligible to temporarily takeover as acting director of national intelligence. (New York Times / Daily Beast)
3/ State prosecutors in New York subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to its role in hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The investigation is examining whether senior executives filed false business records related to the $130,000 payment Michael Cohen made to Daniels, as well as the arrangement between Cohen and the National Enquirer to pay off McDougal. Falsifying business records would constitute a state crime. The Manhattan district attorney separately subpoenaed American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer. (New York Times)
4/ China threatened to retaliate against Trump’s latest round of tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. Trump’s latest round of tariffs would effectively extend punitive duties to everything the U.S. imports from China. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said that if the new tariffs go into effect, “China will have to take necessary countermeasures to resolutely defend its core interests.” (Associated Press)
5/ The U.S. will test a new weapons systems in the coming weeks that would have been prohibited under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty that Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987. The current Pentagon budget includes $48 million for research on potential military responses to the Russian violations of the INF treaty. The options do not include a nuclear missile. Separately, the U.S. military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six midwest states using up to 25 unmanned solar-powered, high-altitude experimental balloons intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats.” (Associated Press / The Guardian)
6/ Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Russia for its use of chemical weapons in the 2018 attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The Trump administration already imposed an initial round of sanctions last year, in accordance with a 1991 law. The same law requires that the administration impose a second round of sanctions if Trump cannot determine that the state in question has stopped using chemical weapons, which U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to do. Russia continues to deny their involvement in the attack on Skripal and his daughter. (Politico / New York Times)
📌 Day 594: Putin claimed he doesn’t know the two suspects behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said the names of the suspects “do not mean anything to me.” (Associated Press)
📌 Day 735: The Trump administration hasn’t imposed required sanctions on Moscow nearly three months after determining that Russia had violated the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act in connection with the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. (NBC News)
7/ Trump contradicted his own intelligence advisers and Robert Mueller that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 presidential election, asking reporters: “You don’t really believe this. Do you believe this?” FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 23 that “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” When asked if he raised the issue of ongoing Russian political interference during a call with Putin this week, Trump replied: “We didn’t talk about that.” (NBC News / USA Today)
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