👋 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/ Trump announced that he plans to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and allow the Turkish military to launch an attack against Kurdish militias in the area. Trump made the decision Sunday evening during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Early Monday morning, the 50–100 special forces troops currently operating in northeastern Syria received an urgent, unexpected alert ordering them to pull back from their posts in preparation for “departing the field.” The move surprised not just U.S. Kurdish partners in the fight against ISIS in northeastern Syria, but also senior officials at the Pentagon, State Department, and White House, as well as U.S. lawmakers from both parties. U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe were also unaware of Trump’s decision until after he agreed to pull the troops out during his call with Erdogan. On Twitter, Trump warned Turkey not to do “anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits,” during any military incursion against the Kurds or he will “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” (New York Times / NBC News / USA Today / Associated Press / NPR / CBS News / The Independent)
- Turkey has worked with the U.S. in its fight against ISIS forces near Turkey’s border with Syria amidst Syria’s ongoing civil war, but Kurdish soldiers have also been working with American forces in the northeastern part of Syria. Turkey and the Kurds are enemies and the Kurdish forces are in the process of fighting for their independence from Turkey. Erdogan is set to meet with Trump in Washington, D.C. in the next few weeks and has expressed displeasure with the support the U.S. has given to the Kurds. (Politico / The Intercept / Esquire)
2/ Leaders from both parties publicly criticized Trump for breaking promises the U.S. made to the Kurds by pulling U.S. troops out of the region. Lindsey Graham said the decision was “devastating for the good guys” and warned that “to abandon our Kurdish allies and turn Syria over to Russia, Iran, & Turkey will put every radical Islamist on steroids.” Mitch McConnell cautioned that a “precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.” In response, Trump defended himself at a press conference where he said he was merely fulfilling a campaign promise by withdrawing U.S. forces, reminding reporters that he “got elected on that.” He added that the U.S. is “not a police force,” and reiterated that he “fully understand[s] both sides but I promised to bring our troops home.” (Washington Post / Axios / Fox News / Politico / Al Jazeera English / The Intercept / Associated Press / NPR)
- Fox News host blasts Trump’s move: Are you kidding me? Fox News host Brian Kilmeade slams President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Northern Syria. (CNN)
3/ Another whistleblower has come forward regarding Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Attorneys representing the first whistleblower say “multiple” whistleblowers have come forward and that they are now representing at least one other whistleblower. “I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,” Andrew Bakaj said in a tweet. The second whistleblower is also someone who works in the intelligence community and has already spoken to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, but they have not yet filed a complaint. The newest whistleblower has “first-hand knowledge” that supports the allegations outlined in the original complaint, according to Mark Zaid, another member of the original whistleblower’s legal team. (Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Politico / New York Times / The Guardian / NBC News)
‘We absolutely could not do that’: When seeking foreign help was out of the question. Trump insists he and AG Barr did nothing wrong by seeking damaging information about Biden and his son from Ukraine, Australia, Italy, Britain, or China. But for every other White House in the modern era, the idea of enlisting help from foreign powers for political advantage has been seen as unwise and politically dangerous, if not unprincipled. (New York Times)
Trump orders cut to national security staff after whistleblower complaint. The White House wants to make the council leaner under its incoming leader. The cuts come after the whistleblower’s report on Trump’s call with Ukraine. (Bloomberg)
4/ The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees subpoenaed the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget for documents related to Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son. The committees want to know whether Trump froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure its government to investigate Biden and his son over unsubstantiated corruption allegations. The agencies are required to turn over the documents by Oct. 15. (New York Times / Yahoo! News / Reuters / Axios)
5/ Trump blamed Energy Secretary Rick Perry for his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He told House Republicans that he made the call to Zelensky at the urging of Perry, claiming that he never wanted to make the call in the first place and that “the only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to.” Until now, Trump has repeatedly referred to his call with Zelensky as a “perfect phone call” and has insisted that he did nothing wrong. (Axios)
Former Trump officials and lobbyists dined with the Zelensky campaign at one of Trump’s hotels months before the July 25 phone call. Zelensky’s closest advisors were attempting to establish contact with political power players in D.C., including former senior administration officials. One of the meetings took place at the Trump International Hotel on April 16, where former Trump campaign advisor and former HHS representative Mike Rubino and State Department employee Matt Mowers met for dinner with representatives from Zelensky’s campaign. A little-known U.S.-based attorney named Marcus Cohen helped coordinate these private gatherings. (CNBC)
A top advisor to Zelensky said he spent weeks attempting to reassure American officials that the U.S. had no enemies among the Ukrainian leadership, even before he learned of the decision to suspend U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Andriy Yermak said in an interview that U.S. political leaders peddled ill-informed accounts about the situation in Ukraine. And although he stressed that he did not believe these false narratives ever threatened U.S.-Ukrainian relations, Yermak said he believes they may have given Trump cover for suspending the aid. (Los Angeles Times)
6/ A federal judge rejected an argument from Trump’s legal team that sitting presidents are immune from criminal investigations, allowing the Manhattan district attorney’s office to subpoena eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. In a 75-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero called Trump’s argument “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values,” and said that a president’s families and businesses are not above the law. In response, Trump’s lawyers filed an emergency notice of appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted Trump a temporary administrative stay pending an expedited review of the case by a panel of the 2nd circuit. (Bloomberg / Yahoo! Finance / WNYC / Washington Post)
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