👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
Send your thoughts, suggestions, or complaints to:
1/ A new bipartisan Senate report found that Russian actors were directed by the Kremlin to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The Senate Intelligence Committee released the 85-page report, which is the second volume of the committee’s investigation into election interference by Moscow. The report concludes that Russia deliberately singled out African Americans and the black community as prominent targets of its disinformation and social disruption campaign. “By far,” the panel concluded, “race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016.” The report’s findings mirror those of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s own report from earlier this year, which also found that the Kremlin directed Russian actors to help Trump win in 2016. The Senate report also includes recommendations for Congress: it urges lawmakers to pass new legislation to increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media and calls on Congress to examine “whether any existing laws may hinder cooperation and whether information sharing should be formalized” between U.S. counter-interference efforts. (The Hill / Daily Beast / NBC News / The Independent / Reuters / Washington Post / Politico)
The Kremlin’s best-known propaganda arm increased its social media activity in the wake of the 2016 election, adding to concerns about foreign meddling in the current 2020 campaign. Activity by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency “increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016,” the report concluded. (Reuters)
Russia’s propaganda campaigns focused heavily on race relations in the U.S., report finds. Using Facebook pages, Instagram content, and Twitter posts, Russian information operatives working for the Internet Research Agency had an “overwhelming operational emphasis on race… no single group of Americans was targeted… more than African Americans.” (NPR)
Senate report says Russian trolls tried to stoke racial divisions long after the 2016 election by exploiting the debate over Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest against police brutality. Russia’s online disinformation campaign extended well beyond 2016 and focused heavily on the NFL kneeling controversy as part of a broader effort to stoke racial tensions. (Business Insider)
Read the full report from the Select Senate Intelligence Committee. “Russian active measures campaigns and interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Volume 2: Russia’s use of social media, with additional views.” (U.S. Senate)
2/ The Trump administration ordered the U.S. ambassador to the European Union not to appear before House lawmakers for a planned deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers want information about Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s activities related to Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son. Sondland said he was willing and happy to testify, but he did not appear as scheduled this morning after he was ordered not to by the State Department. Sondland’s attorney said that, as a State Department employee, Sondland had no choice but to comply with the order. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff called the White House’s move to block Sondland from testifying “further acts of obstruction of a coequal branch of government.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / NBC News / Politico / CNBC)
- Sondland called Trump before telling the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine that there had been “no quid pro quo” regarding the administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden and his son. Sondland spoke to Trump directly by phone on Sept. 9 before responding to acting Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor’s text that it would be “crazy” to condition U.S. military aid to Ukraine on the country helping to investigate Trump’s political rivals. (NBC News)
3/ The White House announced it will not cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an illegitimate and partisan effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent an eight-page letter to House Democratic leaders, declaring the impeachment inquiry a violation of historical precedent. The letter says the inquiry represents such an egregious violation of Trump’s due process rights that neither Trump nor the executive branch will willingly participate by providing testimony or documents going forward. The letter was sent hours after the State Department blocked Gordon Sondland from appearing at a deposition in front of House Democrats, and it sets the stage for a constitutional crisis between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government. (New York Times / Washington Post / Reuters / NBC News / Associated Press)
4/ House Democrats plan to subpoena Sondland in order to compel him to testify and provide emails and text messages from one of his personal devices. The device and the corresponding documents and texts have already been turned over to the State Department, which has refused to release them to the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry. Trump said on Twitter that he “would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” but Trump won’t let him because he “would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s [sic] rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see.” (Washington Post)
5/ A White House aide who listened in on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the call as “crazy,” “frightening,” and “completely lacking in substance related to national security,” according to a memo written by the whistleblower at the center of the Trump-Ukraine scandal. The memo was written a day after the call took place, and it says the official who listened to the call was “visibly shaken by what had transpired.” The memo also says White House attorneys were already trying to figure out how to deal with documentation from the call, because they knew “the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own re-election bid.” (New York Times / ABC News)
6/ Turkey’s vice president said his country would “not react to threats,” as it prepares to attack U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. The statement comes a day after Trump warned Turkey via Twitter that he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if Turkish forces do anything that Trump “considers to be off limits” during the attack on the Kurds. “When it comes to the security of Turkey,” Vice President Fuat Oktay said in a speech, “as always, our president emphasized Turkey will determine its own path.” Erdogan and other Turkish officials have suggested for days that the military incursion could begin at any moment, and troop convoys have already started staging at the Syrian border. (Washington Post)
What does Turkey want? “Our aim is, I underline it, to shower east of the Euphrates with peace,” Erdogan declared. His advisor Ibrahim Kalin was more specific on Twitter: “The safe zone plan has two purposes, to secure our borders by eliminating terror elements and to ensure the safe return of refugees.” Turkey is facing growing domestic pressure to deal with the millions of Syrian refugees in the country. Though they were initially welcomed, public sentiment has begun to turn against them. (Foreign Policy)
📌 Day 725: Trump threatened to “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds” following the U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted Trump’s “threatening language” saying that his country was “not going to be scared or frightened off,” adding: “You will not get anywhere by threatening Turkey’s economy.” (CNBC / Washington Post / New York Times)
poll/ A majority of Americans support House Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step of recommending that Trump be removed from office. (Washington Post / Schar School)
poll/ A majority of Americans say the allegations that Trump asked a foreign leader to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden are serious and need to be fully investigated. They also believe Trump hasn’t been honest and truthful about his actions, but are divided mostly along partisan lines when it comes to removing Trump from office: 43% supporting his removal given what they know today, while 49% oppose it. (NBC News / Wall Street Journal)
The Trump Organization is refusing pay a legal bill after it lost a lengthy court battle with the Scottish government. A Scottish court ruled earlier this year that the Trump Organization must pay the Scottish government’s legal costs after Trump attempted and failed to block the construction of an 11-turbine wind farm in Aberdeen Bay. Scottish government officials say the Trump Organization has refused to accept the bill, which amounts to tens of thousands of pounds. (The Guardian)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is facing possible sanctions or contempt of court over her decision to continue collecting payments on the debt of former students at bankrupt Corinthian Colleges Inc. Under DeVos, the agency has already seized tax refunds and wages from at least 1,808 students. “I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim told Department of Education lawyers at a hearing on Monday. “At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order.” (Bloomberg)
The Treasury Department is considering rolling back a tax rule aimed at preventing American companies from moving money offshore to avoid paying taxes. The Treasury could narrow regulations aimed at preventing U.S. firms from lowering their U.S. tax bills by borrowing from an offshore branch of the company. The department is also contemplating repealing them entirely to replace them with something more business-friendly. The move could make it easier for companies to use accounting tactics to minimize their U.S. earnings and inflate their foreign profits, which are frequently taxed at rates lower than the current 21% domestic corporate levy. (Bloomberg)
Become a member.
Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.