👋 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 told House Democrats that the five State Department officials scheduled depositions before the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry would not appear. Pompeo characterized efforts to depose officials as “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.” Chairmen of the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees responded to Pompeo, saying that “any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress – including State Department employees – is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.” Four of the five officials scheduled to be deposed over the next two weeks – Ambassador Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and Ambassador Gordon Sondland – were mentioned in the whistleblower complaint. (Washington Post / New York Times / CNN / Politico / Wall Street Journal / NBC News / Axios)
- Kurt Volker confirmed that he’ll testify in private on Thursday in front of three House committees as part of their impeachment investigation. Volker resigned last week as U.S. special representative to Ukraine after he was named in a whistleblower’s complaint. (Bloomberg)
2/ The State Department’s inspector general is expected to give an “urgent” briefing on Ukraine to several House and Senate committees tomorrow regarding documents obtained from the Office of the Legal Adviser concerning the State Department and Ukraine. The briefing, expected to be conducted by Steve Linick, will be held in a secure location on Capitol Hill during a congressional recess, suggesting that it’s connected to the whistleblower complaint. [Editor’s note: This was late breaking news. More tomorrow!] (ABC News)
3/ Trump asked why he was not “entitled to interview” the whistleblower despite laws designed to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers – a day after Trump said the White House was trying to find out the person’s identity. The whistleblower said he heard of the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president from multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of it, who said Trump was pressuring the Ukrainian leader to advance his own political interests, and that White House officials acted to conceal evidence of the president’s actions. In a tweet, Trump asked: “Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him.” The tweet prompted Michael Atkinson, the Trump-appointed intelligence community inspector general, to clarify that there is no requirement in federal law that a whistleblower possess first-hand knowledge of alleged misconduct. Atkinson added that he determined the whistleblower “had official and authorized access to the information and sources referenced in the complainant’s letter and classified appendix, including direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct, and that the complainant has subject matter expertise related to much of the material information provided.” The whistleblower is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as soon as early next week. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
Trump’s first homeland security adviser said he repeatedly warned Trump that the theory that Ukraine – not Russia – intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats was “completely debunked.” Thomas Bossert said he was “deeply disturbed” that Trump nonetheless tried to get Ukraine’s president to produce damaging information about Democrats. (New York Times)
Attorney General William Barr and Mike Pompeo personally participated in contacts between Trump and at least four foreign leaders. The goal those contacts was to produce stories that could damage Joe Biden or undermine the U.S. intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. (The Guardian / Reuters / Business Insider)
4/ The White House upgraded the security of the National Security Council’s top-secret codeword system in the spring of 2018 to prevent leaks. The changes included a new log of who accessed documents in the NSC’s system. The White House began using the codeword system to restrict the number of officials who had access to transcripts following leaks in 2017. (Politico)
5/ Lawyers for the House of Representatives believe that Trump lied to Robert Mueller about his knowledge of his campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks, citing the grand jury redactions in the Mueller report. The attorneys made the suggestion in a court filing as part of the Judiciary Committee’s attempts to obtain the grand jury materials. The filing says the materials not only reveal Trump’s motives for obstructing Mueller’s probe, but “they also could reveal that Trump was aware of his campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks.” To back up their claims, the legal team cited a passage in Mueller’s report about Paul Manafort’s testimony where he “recalled” Trump asking to be kept “updated” about WikiLeaks’ disclosures of DNC emails. (Politico)
- A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to produce 500 pages of memos documenting what witnesses told Mueller’s office and the FBI during their investigation. The Justice Department is required to produce their first set of documents by November 1. (CNN)
6/ Rudy Giuliani hired a former Watergate prosecutor to represent him in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment investigation. Giuliani tapped Jon Sale after the committee issued a subpoena on Monday demanding details about Guiliani’s interactions with Trump administration officials. Giuliani will continue to represent Trump. (Politico / Axios)
- Trump’s trade adviser told Fox Business that the House impeachment inquiry is an “attempted coup d’etat” and likened House Democrats to Stalin’s secret police. Peter Navarro also suggested that House Democrats could be “more dangerous” than China, Russia, or Iran. Yesterday, Navarro said that House Democrats “declared war on this president.” (The Hill / CNBC)
poll/ 54% of voters say the House should cancel its current two-week recess and begin impeachment proceedings immediately, while 46% disagree. (The Hill)
poll/ 45% of voters believe Trump should be impeached – up 8 points since last week – while 41% believe he shouldn’t be impeached and 15% said they don’t know. (Reuters/Ipsos)
poll/ 44% of Americans feel that Trump should be impeached and forced to leave office, while 52% disagree with this course of action. Trump’s overall job rating stands at 41% approve while 53% disapprove – similar to his 40% to 53% rating in August. (Monmouth University Polling Institute)
In March, Trump ordered advisers to price out the cost of fortifying his border wall with a water-filled trench stocked with snakes or alligators, and electrified with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. During the Oval Office meeting, Trump also suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. He was advised that that was illegal. Trump then ordered advisers to shut down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico by noon the next day. “You are making me look like an idiot!” Trump shouted at officials in the room. (New York Times)
The House Ways and Means chairman is consulting lawyers about allegations regarding “possible misconduct” and “inappropriate efforts to influence” the Internal Revenue Service’s auditing of Trump’s taxes. Chairman Richard Neal told reporters that a decision on releasing the complaint depends on the advice he receives from lawyers for the House of Representatives. (CNN / Bloomberg)
A federal appeals court on ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission and upheld its repeal net neutrality protections. The new guidelines would allow broadband providers to block or slow internet traffic or offer priority service where companies could pay for their content to reach internet users at faster speeds. (Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)
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