👋 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/ Text messages reveal how two U.S. ambassadors coordinated with Rudy Giuliani and a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to leverage a potential White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky into persuading Kiev to publicly commit to investigating Joe Biden. The House Intelligence Committee released the documents and text messages provided by Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, which show Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland repeatedly stressing that a White House meeting depended on getting the Ukrainians to agree to the exact language that Zelensky would use in announcing an investigation. In August, Volker proposed to Sondland that they have Zelensky cite “alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians” in interference in U.S. elections when announcing an investigation. Democrats say the texts are clear evidence that Trump conditioned normal bilateral relations with Ukraine on that country first agreeing “to launch politically motivated investigations.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / NBC News / Reuters / USA Today)
Volker told congressional investigators that Giuliani demanded Ukraine specifically commit to investigate involvement in the 2016 election and the firm tied to Joe Biden’s son. Volker said Giuliani rejected a draft statement by Ukraine in which the country committed to fighting corruption generally. Instead, Giuliani said the Ukraine statement “should include specific reference to ‘Burisma’ and ‘2016.’” (New York Times)
Volker: Trump told him he was “skeptical” of Ukraine’s leadership because the country “tried to take me down,” a reference to the unproven allegations that Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election meddling. In Volker’s statement, which he delivered during closed-door testimony, he said that Trump believed “Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of ‘terrible people.’” Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, also told Congress “at no time” did he take part in an effort to investigate Biden. (CNN / BuzzFeed News)
Trump said the Democrats “unfortunately have the votes” to impeach him in the House, but predicted the he would “win” in a trial in the Republican-led Senate. Trump, however, insisted he had said nothing inappropriate during the July call in which he pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden. (Washington Post)
2/ The CIA’s general counsel made a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the whistleblower’s allegations that Trump abused his office weeks before the complaint became public. Courtney Simmons Elwood first learned about the matter because the whistleblower, a CIA officer, passed his concerns about Trump on to her through a colleague. In a Aug. 14 conference call, Elwood told John Eisenberg, the top legal adviser to the White House National Security Council and the chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, John Demers, that the allegations merited examination by the Department of Justice. Attorney General William Barr was made aware of the call with Elwood and Eisenberg. Later, Justice Department officials said they didn’t consider the conversation a formal criminal referral because it was not in written form. The Justice Department later declined to open an investigation. (NBC News)
📌 Day 980: 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)
📌 Day 981: 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)
3/ The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating how the department handled requests for Trump’s tax returns, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to turn over. Acting Inspector General Rich Delmar said he will investigate who was consulted and how the department came to reject Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s demands for the records. Neil’s committee received information from a federal employee at the end of July alleging that there was “possible misconduct” and “inappropriate efforts to influence” the presidential audit program. (New York Times / Politico / CNN)
📌 Day 985: 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)
📌 Day 987: An Internal Revenue Service official filed a whistleblower complaint that he was told at least one Treasury Department political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of either Trump’s or Pence’s tax returns. The whistleblower, a career official at the IRS, confirmed that he filed a formal complaint and sent it to the tax committee chairs in both houses of Congress and to the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration on July 29th. The existence of the complaint was revealed in a court filing months ago, but little about it has become public. (Washington Post)
4/ Trump blocked Sen. Ron Johnson in August from telling Ukraine’s president that U.S. aid was on its way. Johnson raised the issue with Trump in a phone call on Aug. 31, shortly before the senator was due to meet with Zelensky. In the call, Trump rejected the notion that he directed aides to make the nearly $400 million military aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev investigating the 2016 presidential election and Biden. Johnson said he learned of a potential quid pro quo from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Trump ordered the hold on the military aid a week before his July 25 call with Zelensky. (Wall Street Journal / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
5/ Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office is now reviewing a criminal case involving the owner of a natural gas company that employed Biden’s son. Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka said he intended to review 15 cases in all, including investigations of wealthy Ukrainians, like the owner of the natural gas company Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden served on the board until earlier this year. Ryaboshapka said the decision to review the closed cases came after he took office in August – after a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Ryaboshapka didn’t say how long the audit would last, but at a news conference in Kiev he said “the key words were not Biden and not Burisma.” (Wall Street Journal / New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / CNN)
6/ House Democrats subpoenaed the White House for documents about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to target his political rivals. The subpoena was sent to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney by three Democratic committee chairmen, who now has a two-week deadline of Oct. 18 to comply with the document demand. “Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena, including at the direction or behest of the President or others at the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against you and the President,” wrote chairmen Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff, and Eliot Engel. (New York Times / Politico / Washington Post / CNN / Associated Press / Axios)
7/ House Democrats demanded that Pence turn over documents as part of their impeachment investigation into Trump and his call with the Ukrainian president. A letter from the chairmen of the House committees on Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight requested all of Pence’s records related to Trump’s calls with Zelensky, his communications about the calls with federal agencies, and Trump’s decision to cancel Pence’s trip to Zelensky’s inauguration in May. Pence has until Oct. 15th to comply. (CNN / The Guardian / CNBC)
8/ The White House plans to reject Democrats’ request for documents as part of the impeachment inquiry, arguing that until there is a formal vote by the House to begin impeachment proceedings, Congress doesn’t have the right to the information. (NBC News)
9/ Energy Secretary Rick Perry will step down from his post by the end of the year, pledging to cooperate with lawmakers investigating a whistleblower’s allegations about Trump’s communications with Zelensky. Perry met with Zelensky at least three times while in office. Perry is expected to return to the private sector once he resigns in November. He is among the longest-serving members of Trump’s Cabinet. (Politico / Washington Post / CNN)
10/ The Pentagon’s chief legal officer ordered Defense Department agencies to identify, preserve, and collect all documents related to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which included the $250 million in military aid to Ukraine that the Trump Administration froze in June. (CNN)
11/ Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department have intervened in lawsuits where Trump has personally sued those investigating him. The department recently took Trump’s side in a federal lawsuit against the Manhattan district attorney attempting to block a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns. In other cases, the Justice Department supported Trump’s attempt to block a House Oversight Committee subpoena to his accountants, Mazars USA, seeking his tax returns, and subpoenas to two of Trump’s banks, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, seeking documents related to his loans. (Washington Post)
12/ The Supreme Court agreed to review a restrictive Louisiana abortion law that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The Louisiana law, enacted in 2014, would leave the state with only one doctor eligible to perform abortions. The requirement is similar to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, finding it posed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to access an abortion. A decision is expected in the summer of 2020. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Politico / NBC News)
13/ Iranian hackers targeted Trump’s re-election campaign. Earlier in the day, Microsoft said that hackers, with backing from Iran’s government, had attempted to identify, attack, and breach 241 email accounts associated with current and former U.S. government officials, journalists, prominent Iranians outside Iran, and one U.S. presidential campaign. Microsoft said it had seen “significant cyber activity” from a group it believes “originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government,” who made more than 2,700 attempts to identify e-mail addresses between August and September. (Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News)
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