👋 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 White House and the Justice Department learned about the whistleblower complaint against Trump before the formal complaint was passed from the intelligence community. The whistleblower, reportedly a CIA officer, lodged the formal complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community on Aug. 12th. The whistleblower also shared information about potential abuse of power and a White House cover-up with the CIA’s top lawyer, Courtney Simmons Elwood, through an anonymous process. Elwood, following policy, told White House and Justice Department officials on Aug. 14th that she received anonymous information detailing concerns about a call between Trump and a foreign leader. The following day, John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, went to the White House to review a rough transcript of the call. Demers alerted the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and Brian Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, to discuss how to handle the information. The Justice Department then blocked sending the whistleblower complaint to Congress. The inspector general presented the matter to the acting director of national intelligence on Aug. 26th. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
More than 300 former U.S. national security and foreign policy officials signed a statement warning that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine represent a “profound national security concern.” The letter also calls for an impeachment inquiry by Congress to determine “the facts.” Many of the signers are former Obama officials. But the list includes others who served as career officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Former officials from the intelligence community, the Defense Department, the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security also signed the statement. (Washington Post)
A Kremlin spokesperson said Russia hopes the U.S. doesn’t release the transcripts of Trump’s conversations with Vladimir Putin like it did with the Ukrainian president’s calls. “We would like to hope that things won’t come to such situations in our bilateral relations, which already have plenty of quite serious problems,” said Dmitry Peskov. He called the move to release the information “a rather unusual practice,” and said that as a rule, “materials from conversations on the level of the head of state are considered secret or top secret.” (Bloomberg / NBC News)
2/ National Security Council attorneys directed the White House to move the Ukraine transcript to a highly classified system. The whistleblower said that moving the record of the call was unusual, because it was “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive level” and evidence that “White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired” during the conversation. According to the whistleblower, “one White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” The White House, meanwhile, claimed that because the transcript was already classified, there was nothing wrong with moving it to a highly classified system that contained intelligence secrets and military plans. (CNN / Associated Press)
- The effort to conceal Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president was part of a broader attempt to prevent information about Trump’s calls with foreign leaders from becoming public. At one point in 2018, Defense Department officials were asked to send back transcripts of calls to the White House after Trump aides grew worried they could be disclosed. The number of aides allowed to listen on secure “drop” lines were also cut. (Washington Post / New York Times)
3/ The House foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents related to Trump’s interactions with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. The subpoena demands that Pompeo provide documents by Oct. 4th and was accompanied by a plan to also depose five State Department officials, including Ambassador Kurt Volker and Marie Yovanovitch. Volker reportedly arranged for Rudy Giuliani to meet with high-level Ukrainian officials, and Yovanovitch was removed as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine by Trump. In a joint letter to Pompeo, the chairmen of the three committees said a “failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry.” (Politico / Wall Street Journal / New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News)
4/ Two House committees requested information from the White House justifying why nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was suspended as Trump was pressing the country to investigate Joe Biden. In a letter sent by the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, lawmakers said they were concerned that actions by the OMB to withhold military aid for Ukraine were “an abuse of the authority provided to the president to apportion appropriations.” (Wall Street Journal)
5/ The House Intelligence Committee will continue working through a scheduled two-week congressional recess that ends Oct. 15th. The Intelligence Committee expects to have a hearing as soon as next Friday. (Politico / CNN)
poll/ Support for impeachment among Democrats jumped up 13 percentage points – from 66% to 79% – since the last poll. The general public is now evenly split between the 43% who think Congress should begin the impeachment process and 43% who don’t. 13% of voters remain undecided. (Politico / Morning Consult)
- Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont on Thursday became the first Republican governor to endorse the impeachment inquiry against Trump. Scott did not say he believed Trump should be impeached or removed from office. But he did say Congress should examine the full whistleblower report, and that it was appropriate for the House to proceed with the impeachment inquiry. (New York Times)
New York prosecutors temporarily agreed to not enforce a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s tax returns. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance agreed to wait to enforce the subpoena until Oct. 7th – two business days after a judge rules on Trump’s challenge to the subpoena. (Politico / Wall Street Journal / Reuters / CNN / CNBC)
A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from expanding family detention. In August, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules attempting terminate the Flores Settlement Agreenment and lift the 20-day limit for holding children in detention. (Politico / Washington Post / New York Times)
The House voted to overturn Trump’s national emergency declaration to fund his border wall. The resolution, which passed also passed the Senate, now heads to the White House, where Trump is expected to veto it. (Washington Post)
A Washington, D.C. police union rented the Trump International Hotel for its annual holiday party. The Fraternal Order of Police lodge for the District – an umbrella group for D.C. police unions – said they looked at other venues but Trump’s hotel gave them the best rate. (Washington Post)
The National Rifle Association acted as a “foreign asset” for Russia leading up to the 2016 election and may have violated numerous tax laws by ignoring the rules associated with nonprofit tax status, according to a new report by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee. The NRA paid for lodging and travel of Russian nationals throughout 2015 and 2016, and underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known. (NPR / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)
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