👋 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/ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having carried out an “act of war” with strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Trump, however, pushed back against American military response in the Middle East, saying wars are “very easy to start,” but that “there are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that.” U.S. military leaders have, however, presented Trump with a range of options for a retaliatory strike against Iran, including a cyber attack or a strike on Iranian oil facilities. Another option includes a strike by Saudi Arabia, with the U.S. providing intelligence, targeting information, and surveillance capabilities, but the U.S. refraining from actually firing any weapons. Other options include strikes on missile launch sites, bases, or other assets of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. There are currently no indications that any U.S. military action is imminent. Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the attack and “coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region.” (New York Times / CNN / NBC News / NBC News)
2/ Trump directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “to substantially increase” U.S. sanctions on Iran. Trump’s comment came after Iranian news agencies reported that Iran had warned the U.S. that it would retaliate against any attacks. Trump later told reporters that his administration will “be adding some very significant sanctions” on Iran within the next two days and that he’s got time to devise a “dastardly” response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. (Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / Bloomberg)
3/ The White House fired the Department of Homeland Security’s general counsel. John Mitnick will be replaced by Joe Maher, principal deputy general counsel. Mitnick’s job was to push back against policies that could put Homeland Security in a legally dubious position, such as the time the White House proposed releasing migrants into sanctuary cities to send a message to Democrats who opposed his immigration agenda. Mitnick was fired in part due to his opposition to Stephen Miller and his immigration policies. (New York Times / CNN)
- Who The Fuck Has Left The Trump Administration. A timeline of all the departures so far… (WTF Just Happened Today Community Forum)
4/ The acting director of national intelligence refused testify before Congress or hand over a whistleblower complaint to lawmakers. The complaint was submitted on Aug. 12 by a member of the intelligence community involving conduct by someone “outside the intelligence community” who does not involve intelligence activity under the supervision of Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence. Maguire had told Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, that he would not provide the complaint “because he is being instructed not to” by “a higher authority” who is “above” the cabinet-level position of the director of national intelligence. (New York Times)
- 📌 Day 970: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee accused the acting director of national intelligence of withholding a whistleblower complaint in order to protect a “higher authority” official. Adam Schiff said Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, consulted the Justice Department about the whistleblower complaint prior to his decision to withhold the complaint – a departure from standard practice. Schiff added that the Committee “can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the serious misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials.” (Business Insider / CBS News)
5/ Trump picked the State Department’s top hostage negotiator to be his fourth national security advisor. Robert C. O’Brien will replace John Bolton and has no known experience managing an organization the size of the National Security Council. By Trump’s recounting, O’Brien won him over in part by praising him in the job interview and in tweets. Trump also dispatched O’Brien to help free rapper A$AP Rocky from Swedish prison earlier this year. (New York Times / CNN / Politico / Bloomberg / Washington Post / CNBC)
6/ The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point – the second time since July. Officials also left the door open for another rate cut this year if the economy continues to weaken. Major U.S. stock exchanges dropped after the decision was announced. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has been publicly pressured by Trump to reduce rates to “ZERO or less.” The Federal Open Market Committee again cited “the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures” as the primary rationale for the cut. (Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News / CNN / CNBC)
7/ Trump criticized Powell and the Fed for having “no ‘guts,’” saying they “Fail[ed] Again.” Trump has previously called the Fed policymakers “boneheads” for not lowering rates to help boost economic growth. At one point he asked whether Fed Chair Jerome Powell or China’s president was “our bigger enemy.” (Bloomberg)
8/ The military has spent nearly $200,000 at Trump’s Turberry golf resort in Scotland since 2017. The spending paid for the equivalent of hundreds of nights of rooms over approximately three dozen separate stays since August 2017. The Air Force also confirmed last week that its crews had stayed up to 40 times at Trump’s property since 2015. (Politico)
📌 Day 963: An Air National Guard crew stayed at Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland in March. The Air Force plane stopped at a nearby airport to refuel both en route to the Middle East and back, with the crew staying at the resort, which lost $4.5 million in 2017, but revenue went up $3 million in 2018. The Air Force confirmed that crew members stayed at Turnberry, but said “it did not appear” that they stayed at the hotel on the way back. There are more than two dozen hotels, guesthouses and inns a few miles from the Prestwick airport with most of them much less expensive than the $380/night advertised rate at Trump Turnberry. The fuel would have also been cheaper if purchased at a U.S. military base. (Politico / New York Times)
📌 Day 967: The Air Force sent crews to Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland on 40 different occasions since 2015. That number is much higher than previously known, and it represents the preliminary results of an Air Force review launched last week after news reports about the Air Force sending crews to Trump’s properties. The preliminary tally does not indicate how many of the stays at Trump properties occurred since Trump became president, but the Air Force significantly increased the number of stops in Scotland under Trump after signing a deal with the Prestwick Airport at the end of the Obama administration. (Politico)
📌 Day 971: Some Air Force crews that stayed at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland stayed for multiple nights and were given gifts during their stays. The resort gave high-ranking officers “Pride Pins,” which are reserved for VIP members. Low-ranking airmen received other gifts and welcome packages, including Scottish shortbread and other treats. Instead of being restricted to single-night refueling stops, Air Force crews sometimes stayed for multiple nights while the weather cleared up or their planes were repaired. (Politico)
poll/ 56% of Democratic primary voters say they prefer a candidate who proposes “larger scale policies that cost more and might be harder to pass into law, but could bring major change” on issues like climate change, health care and economic opportunity. (NBC News / Wall Street Journal / Politico)
The Trump administration claimed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional because Congress limited presidential power to remove the agency’s director before their five-year term expires. The CFPB was given stronger enforcement powers over the financial industry to help prevent another economic meltdown like the mortgage-lending crisis that began in 2007. Two federal appeals courts have also upheld the CFPB’s structure, which is intended to insulate the director from political interference. (Wall Street Journal)
The Trump administration proposed a new rule that would allow pork slaughterhouses to use fewer line inspectors from the Department of Agriculture and to run slaughter lines without any speed limit. The rule allows factory workers, instead of USDA inspectors, to remove unsuitable carcasses and trim defects in plants that are subject to the new inspection system. USDA inspectors will still examine the carcasses, but they will be stationed farther down the lines. The new rule is intended to modernize the inspection system, but consumer advocates say it will make food less safe and increase the risks to workers. (NBC News)
House Joint Economic Committee estimated that gun violence costs the U.S. $229 billion a year, according to a new report using data from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Centers for Disease Control. Lost income, employer costs, police and criminal justice responses, and health care treatment account for the biggest costs to the economy. (CNBC)
Attorney General William Barr is sharing a proposal on expanding background checks with senators. Lawmakers, however, don’t know where Trump stands on potential new firearms restrictions. (Bloomberg)
Mike Pence canceled a trip to meet with the leader of the Solomon Islands after the island government cut ties with Taiwan and switched its allegiance to China. The meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for the U.S. to discuss development partnerships with the Solomon Islands, and it was supposed to take place on the sidelines of or shortly after the upcoming U.N. General Assembly meeting. The Solomon Islands is the sixth country to switch its allegiance from Taiwan to China since 2016. (Reuters)
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