👋 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/ The whistleblower complaint accused Trump of “abus[ing] his office for personal gain” by “[soliciting] interference” from Ukraine in the 2020 election and that the White House took steps to cover it up. Multiple White House officials were reportedly “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and tried to “lock down” all records of the call. The complaint notes that White House lawyers were “already in discussion” about “how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.” White House lawyers “directed” officials to “remove the electronic transcript from the computer system” for Cabinet-level officials and instead put them on a computer system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature” that is managed by the National Security Council Directorate for Intelligence Programs. According to White House officials who informed the whistleblower, this was “not the first time” a transcript was put on the computer system reserved for code-word-level intelligence information due to concerns about politics, rather than national security. The whistleblower also described Rudy Giuliani as a “central figure in this effort,” which includes attempts at “pressuring a foreign country to investigate the President’s main domestic political rivals.” The complaint adds: “Attorney General William Barr appears to be involved as well.” (New York Times / Washington Post / CNN / Politico / NBC News / Bloomberg / Associated Press)
The whistleblower complaint was declassified and released to the public. The full version of the complaint was released to Congress yesterday. The complaint was filed on Aug. 12. The House voted 421-0 to release the complaint. Two House members voted present and 10 did not vote. (NBC News / Market Watch / New York Times / The Independent / Reuters / New York Times)
Read the full text of the whistleblower complaint. (U.S. House Intelligence Committee)
2/ The acting Director of National Intelligence defended his decision not to immediately share the whistleblower complaint with Congress. Joseph Maguire told members of the House Intelligence Committee that he asked White House lawyers about the “urgent” whistleblower complaint involving Trump, saying it “seemed prudent” since conversations with foreign leaders are typically subject to executive privilege. Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community and a Trump-appointee, deemed the complaint “urgent” and credible. Maguire, however, consulted with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which determined that the complaint did not meet the legal definition of “urgent” because it did not involve a member of the intelligence community and therefore fell outside his jurisdiction. Maguire also dodged questions about whether he spoke with Trump about the complaint, saying “My conversations with the president, because I’m the director of national intelligence, are privileged.” (Politico / CNN / Washington Post / NBC News / New York Times)
3/ Trump accused the whistleblower of being “close to a spy” and threatened that “in the old days” spies were dealt with “a little differently than we do now,” while labeling the complaint an act of “treason.” Speaking at a private event in New York, Trump repeatedly referred to the whistleblower and condemned the news media reporting on the complaint as “crooked” “scum.” Trump also sent three dozen tweets and retweets defending himself over a two-hour period Thursday morning, warning Americans that the stock markets would crash if congressional Democrats impeach him and claiming that “OUR COUNTRY IS AT STAKE!” (New York Times / Los Angeles Times / NBC News / Politico)
4/ The whistleblower is a C.I.A. officer who was detailed in the White House at one point. The man has since returned to the C.I.A., but his complaint suggests he was an analyst by training with an understanding of Ukrainian politics. The C.I.A. officer did not work on the communications team that handles calls with foreign leaders, but learned about Trump’s conduct “in the course of official interagency business.” (New York Times)
5/ The whistleblower agreed to testify about the complaint to Congress, but only if Maguire gives the whistleblower’s attorney the proper clearances to accompany their client. “This is a reasonable request that the Committee strongly supports and expects your office to fulfill immediately,” Adam Schiff wrote in a letter to Maguire. (CNN)
- Seven days: Inside Trump’s frenetic response to the whistleblower complaint and the battle over impeachment. The helter-skelter way the administration handled the aftermath of the whistleblower complaint could be a harbinger of the coming impeachment fight, with the White House scrambling to respond to a mercurial and frustrated president, who is increasingly sidelining his aides and making decisions based on gut instinct. (Washington Post)
6/ Zelensky told Trump during the July phone call that he had stayed at Trump Tower in New York. “Actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park, and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” Zelensky told Trump, according to a rough transcript of the July 25 call. It’s the first known example of a foreign leader trying to influence Trump by spending money at his properties and telling him about it. Other Ukrainian officials have also patronized Trump properties: A top Zelensky aide met Rudy Giuliani at Trump’s D.C. hotel in July. A lobbyist who registered as an agent of Zelensky’s with the U.S. government hosted a $1,900 event at the D.C. hotel in April. (Washington Post)
7/ Trump’s part-time envoy for Ukraine set up an introduction between Giuliani and Zelensky so they could talk about having Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son. Ambassador Kurt Volker, who also worked at a lobbying firm that continued to represent the Government of Ukraine for almost two years after he started as special envoy, contacted Giuliani and put him “in direct contact” with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Zelensky. The two eventually met face-to-face in Spain. Giuliani said he never received a security clearance to meet with Yermak in Spain. (NBC News)
- A former Ukrainian prosecutor who investigated the gas company tied to Hunter Biden said that there was no evidence the former vice president’s son engaged in illegal activity. “From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything,” Yuriy Lutsenko said. (Washington Post / NBC News)
8/ A majority of the 435 members of the House of Representatives support impeachment proceedings against Trump. 218 lawmakers — 217 Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash — have indicated their support for some form of impeachment action. (NBC News / Washington Post / Politico)
poll/ 43% of voters support beginning impeachment proceedings to remove Trump from office – up 7 points since last week. Among those voters who support impeachment now, 59% said Trump committed an impeachable offense. (Morning Consult)
Trump cut the American refugee program by almost half. The administration will accept 18,000 refugees over the next 12 months – down from the current limit of 30,000. Obama allowed 110,000 in 2016. (New York Times)
The U.S. population of immigrants declined more than 70% in 2018 – or by about 200,000 people from the year before. (New York Times)
EPA notified California that the state is “failing to meet its obligations” to protect the environment. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler cited multiple instances of California failing to meet federal water-quality standards, attributing this to “the growing homelessness crisis developing in major California cities […] and the impact of this crisis on the environment.” (Washington Post)
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