👋 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/ The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine told House impeachment investigators that Trump held up security aid and refused a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president until he agreed to investigate Tump’s political rivals. Bill Taylor said he was told that “everything” Ukraine wanted — a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and nearly $400 million in security aid — was dependent on publicly announcing an investigation into Burisma, the company that hired Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election. Taylor provided an “excruciatingly detailed” opening statement that described “how pervasive the [quid pro quo] efforts were” by Trump and his allies, which they have denied. People in the closed-door deposition described Taylor’s testimony as a “very direct line” between American foreign policy and Trump’s own political goals. (Politico / New York Times / Washington Post / CNN / Wall Street Journal)
- READ: Opening statement of Ambassador William B. Taylor (Washington Post)
2/ Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine came as he was being urged to adopt a hostile view of that country by Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who reinforced Trump’s perception of Ukraine as corrupt. Trump met with Orban on May 13th – and 10 days before a key meeting on Ukraine – over the objections of his national security team, who believed that Orban – an autocratic leader who has been ostracized by many of his peers in Europe – did not deserve the honor of an Oval Office visit. Trump then met on May 23rd with Rick Perry, Kurt Volker, and Gordon Sondland, who had returned from Zelensky’s inauguration. They assured Trump that Zelensky was a reformer who deserved American support. Trump, however, claimed that Ukrainians were “terrible people” who “tried to take me down” during the 2016 presidential election. (New York Times / Washington Post)
📌 Day 845: Trump praised Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister Victor Orbán and called him “highly respected.” “Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that’s okay,” Trump said, because “you’ve done a good job and you’ve kept your country safe.” (Axios)
📌 Day 1000: Mick Mulvaney put Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry in charge of managing the U.S.-Ukraine relationship instead of diplomats at the National Security Council and the State Department. The State Department’s Ukraine expert, George Kent, testified during a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees that Mulvaney was responsible for stripping control of the country’s relationship with Ukraine from those who had the most expertise. Kent also told lawmakers that he had been told by a supervisor to lie low after he raised complaints about Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine. Current and former officials said Mulvaney met frequently with Sondland and that details of their discussions were kept from then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and other officials who were raising internal concerns about the hidden Ukraine agenda. Mulvaney was also the one who, at Trump’s direction, placed a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine leading up to Trump’s July 25 phone call to pressure Zelensky to pursue Giuliani’s agenda against the Bidens. (Washington Post / CNN)
3/ Trump compared the House impeachment inquiry to a “lynching.” Trump has previously called the investigation a “coup,” a “witch hunt” and a “fraud.” (The Guardian / NBC News / ABC News / Washington Post)
4/ Trump lectured reporters for more than 70 minutes during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, during which he made at least 20 false or misleading statements. Trump lied about the number of times Obama unsuccessfully attempted to call Kim Jong Un, crowd sizes at his rallies, his position on the Iraq War, and the ongoing impeachment. He also claimed that he was personally responsible for the capture of Islamic State soldiers, complained that people were criticizing him for receiving “emoluments” from foreign governments, and insinuated that Adam Schiff gave information to the whistleblower, who raised concerns about his administration’s actions toward Ukraine. Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, later tweeted: “I hope we see honest reporting from today’s mtg.” (CNN / Washington Post)
poll/ 50% of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office. Overall, 41% approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency while 57% disapprove. (CNN)
Trump privately floated the idea of replacing Mick Mulvaney with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin or Kellyanne Conway. Trump has also tested the idea of replacing Mulvaney with Chris Liddell, a deputy chief of staff at the White House. For almost a year, Mulvaney has served as Trump’s “acting” chief of staff because Trump has withheld the permanent title from him. (Bloomberg)
The Pentagon began drafting plans for an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in case Trump orders an immediate withdrawal, like he did in Syria. The contingency plan includes the possibility that Trump orders all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within weeks. (NBC News)
Mitch McConnell will introduce his own resolution urging Trump to end the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Senate Republicans last week rejected a House resolution condemning Trump’s move, saying they should do something more substantial. (Politico)
More than a million children disappeared from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program between December 2017 and June 2019. Some state and federal officials claim the 3% drop in enrolled children is a success story, arguing that more Americans are getting coverage from employers. State officials, however, have increased paperwork requirements. (New York Times)
The White House confirmed that it will cancel its subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Trump appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity,” calling the Times “a fake newspaper” and saying that “we don’t even want it in the White House anymore.” Trump added: “We’re going to probably terminate that and the Washington Post. They’re fake.” (Politico)
The anonymous senior Trump administration official behind a 2018 New York Times op-ed that declared there was a “resistance” within the administration is writing a book. The book – “A Warning” – will be published Nov. 19th and will list the author as “Anonymous.” (New York Times / Washington Post / ABC News)
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