👋 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/ Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that Trump blocked military aid to Ukraine to force Kiev to investigate his political rivals. Mulvaney called the quid pro quo exchange “absolutely appropriate” and that “we do that all the time with foreign policy.” Mulvaney added: “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Mulvaney also told reporters the funds were withheld in part because of a request to have Ukraine investigate unfounded allegations that foreign countries assisted Democrats in the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly denied that there was a quid pro quo arrangement linking his demand for an investigation that could politically benefit him to the release of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. (Washington Post / New York Times / Politico / CNBC)
📌 Day 978: Trump admitted that he withheld military aid from Ukraine, but blamed it on the United Nations for not contributing more to the Eastern European nation, naming Germany and France among the countries that should “put up money.” Trump also suggested he did nothing wrong, because “As far as withholding funds, those funds were paid. They were fully paid.” Trump told reporters that in addition to Mulvaney, he also told Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hold the funds to encourage other nations to pay, but claimed, “there was no quid pro quo. There was no pressure applied, nothing.” Trump added that despite trailing the leading Democratic candidates in most polls, “I’m leading in the polls and they have no idea how to stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / CNN / Reuters)
📌 Day 977: Trump admitted that he discussed getting dirt on Joe Biden with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and that he is withholding the whistleblower complaint from Congress. Trump pressed Zelensky to dig up potentially damaging information against Biden during a July 25th phone call, baselessly accusing the former vice president of corruption related to his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine and whether they affected his diplomatic efforts. Trump said that “it doesn’t matter” what he discussed with Zelensky and that while the he would “love” to release a transcript of the call, “you have to be a little bit shy about doing it.” Trump’s phone call with Zelensky occurred while Ukraine was awaiting $250 million in security aid, raising the possibility Trump was attempting a quid pro quo arrangement. The phone call led to the whistleblower complaint from within the intelligence community due to a “promise” that Trump made to Ukraine. Trump eventually agreed to release the money after coming under bipartisan pressure from Congress and immediately before the existence of the whistleblower complaint was revealed. (New York Times / Washington Post / Axios / Bloomberg / CNN)
2/ The U.S. ambassador to the European Union told House impeachment investigators that Trump delegated American foreign policy on Ukraine to Rudy Giuliani. Gordon Sondland said he and other officials were “disappointed” by Trump’s directive for U.S. diplomats to work with Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine. Sondland testified that he contacted Giuliani at Trump’s direction after a May 23rd meeting at the White House and that Giuliani told him Trump wanted Ukraine’s new government to investigate both the 2016 election and a natural gas firm tied to Hunter Biden. (Politico / New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / CNN / NBC News / The Guardian)
Sondland met privately with Ukrainian officials inside the White House, where he explicitly mentioned the Ukrainian gas company linked to Hunter Biden during negotiations over granting Ukrainian President Zelensky an audience with Trump. Sondland’s meeting just outside the Situation Room took place minutes after a larger West Wing meeting that included then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had been noncommittal about scheduling a meeting between Trump and Zelensky. Sondland directly contradicted Bolton during the larger meeting by telling the Ukrainians that Trump was in fact committed to meeting with Zelensky, but on the condition he open a corruption investigation. Bolton abruptly ended the meeting, but Sondland invited the Ukrainian officials to continue the conversation separately in a private room in the White House basement, where Sondland was overheard discussing Burisma Holdings and Hunter Biden. (NBC News)
Five more Trump administration officials are scheduled to be deposed next week as part of the impeachment inquiry: Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council, Timothy Morrison, Russia adviser at the National Security Council, and Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer in Kiev. (NBC News)
3/ Rick Perry spoke with Giuliani at Trump’s direction earlier this year about Ukraine. Perry said he called Giuliani to get a better understanding of Trump’s concerns about alleged Ukrainian corruption. Perry said that while Giuliani didn’t make any explicit demands during the May call, Giuliani did blame Ukraine for the Steele dossier, claimed that Ukraine had Hillary Clinton’s email server, and accused Ukraine of helping send Paul Manafort to prison. Mulvaney confirmed that Trump asked Perry to work with Giuliani on policies related to Ukraine. (Wall Street Journal / CNN / MarketWatch)
📌 Day 993: Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal directly with Giuliani when setting up a May 23 meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump. Trump said that if Zelensky wanted to meet with him, they should circumvent official diplomatic channels and go strictly through Giuliani. Giuliani’s role in setting up Trump’s meeting with Zelensky was more direct than what was disclosed last week by one of the meeting’s participants in his statement to the House. (CNN)
📌 Day 991: 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)
4/ The U.S. and Turkey agreed to a five-day ceasefire in Syria to allow Kurdish troops to withdraw. Trump sent Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Turkish capital to broker the deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Politico / The Guardian / CNN / Washington Post)
Erdogan tossed Trump’s letter in the trash. In the letter dated October 9th and sent after U.S. troops were pulled out of Syria, Trump urged Erdogan not to launch a military offensive against Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria, saying: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” (BBC)
Mitch McConnell said he wants the Senate to pass an “even stronger” resolution condemning Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria than the one that passed by the House. (CNN)
5/ Trump decided that the U.S. will host next year’s G-7 summit at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club. The decision was announced by acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who said Trump “has made it clear since he’s been here that he hasn’t profited since he’s been here.” (Washington Post / New York Times / NPR / Politico / CNN / Axios)
poll/ 54% of Americans support the House’s decision to open impeachment inquiry, while 44% disapprove. (Pew Research Center)
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