👋 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/ Ukraine knew that Trump had frozen $391 million in security assistance by early August. The disclosure that the Ukrainians knew of the freeze by early August corroborates the claim made by the CIA whistleblower complaint. Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed there could not have been any quid pro quo because the Ukrainians didn’t know the assistance had been blocked. The Ukrainians, however, were advised by the first week of August to address it with Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. At the same time, Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were pressing Zelensky to make a public commitment to the investigations for Trump’s political benefit. (New York Times)
2/ The Trump administration repeatedly tried to cut foreign aid programs tasked with combating corruption in Ukraine, according White House budget documents. In 2019, the administration tried, but failed, to cut $30 million in aid directed to Ukraine down to $13 million under a program called International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement. In the 2020 budget request, the administration again tried to cut the program’s spending on Ukraine down to $13 million. “I don’t care about politics, but I do care about corruption. And this whole thing is about corruption,” Trump told reporters earlier this month.” This whole thing — this whole thing is about corruption.” Trump, Mulvaney, and other administration officials have insisted that their goal in delaying the military aid package to Ukraine was to ensure corruption was addressed in that country — not to produce political benefit to Trump. (Washington Post)
3/ Roughly 30 House Republicans forced entry into a closed-door deposition and refused to leave the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility – a secure House Intelligence Committee space. The GOP lawmakers, who do not sit on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry, demanded that they be allowed to see the closed-door proceedings. After five hours, the Republicans left and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper began her testimony. (Politico / CNN / Axios / Wall Street Journal)
4/ House impeachment investigators are scrutinizing a National Security Council aide suspected of operating a second Ukraine backchannel. Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Eurasian and Russian affairs, testified last week that she believed Kashyap Patel was improperly getting involved in Ukraine policy by sending information about Ukraine to Trump that could warp American policy. Senior White House officials reportedly grew concerned when Patel became so involved in the issue that at one point Trump wanted to discuss the documents with him, referring to Patel as one of his top Ukraine policy specialists. Patel is assigned to work on counterterrorism issues, not Ukraine policy, and was part of the Republican effort to undermine the Russia investigation. (New York Times / Politico)
5/ A federal judge ordered the State Department to release Ukraine-related records within 30 days, including the communication records between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Giuliani. (CNN)
6/ Two of Rudy Giuliani’s associates pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally funneling foreign donations to U.S. political candidates. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman face charges of conspiring to violate the ban on foreign donations and contributions related to federal and state elections, and with making false statements and falsifying records. A defense lawyer for Parnas told the judge that some of the evidence gathered in the campaign finance investigation could be subject to executive privilege. Edward MacMahon Jr. said the potential for the White House to invoke executive privilege stemmed from the fact that Parnas had used Giuliani as his own lawyer at the same time Giuliani was working as Trump’s lawyer. (NPR / New York Times)
- Federal prosecutors flagged Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and their possible ties to a Ukrainian gas tycoon fighting extradition. Parnas had been working as an interpreter for the lawyers of Dmytro Firtash, who was charged with bribery in Chicago in 2013, since late July. At the same time, Parnas and Fruman were assisting Giuliani’s hunt for damaging information about Democrats in Ukraine. Firtash – at Parnas’s recommendation – hired Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, two conservative attorneys who frequently appear on Fox News to defend Trump. They have also served as informal advisers to Trump’s legal team, including Giuliani. (Washington Post)
7/ Trump’s lawyer argued that Trump is immune from prosecution while in office – even if he shot someone. William Consovoy, Trump’s lawyer, made the claim while arguing before a federal appeals court in their suit against Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who has subpoenaed for three years’ worth of financial records from the Trump Organization and for Trump-related business records, including his personal tax record from the accounting firm Mazars USA. Consovoy argued that while in office, Trump “enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind,” but conceded that “once a president is removed from office” he could then be subject to a criminal investigation. Judges on the three-member panel expressed skepticism about the argument, with Judge Denny Chin asking whether “nothing could be done” while Trump remains in office, to which Consovoy replied: “That is correct.” As a candidate in 2016, Trump claimed he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.” (Vox / Politico / NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times)
poll/ 55% of voters support the impeachment inquiry, while 43% disapprove. (Quinnipiac)
poll/ 45% of independents support impeachment, while 32% said they oppose it. (Reuters)
Russia and Turkey reached a deal to push Kurdish fighters out of northeastern Syria, allowing Russian ally Bashar al-Assad to regain control over more of the country’s territory. Under the agreement, Russia and the Syrian government will remove Kurdish militias from the border that extends from the Euphrates River to Iraq. Once completed, Turkey and Russia will control territory formerly held by Kurdish forces, who were allied with the U.S. before Trump ordered an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region. (Washington Post / Al Jazeera)
Turkey halted its incursion into Kurdish-run Syria hours after reaching a deal with the Russian government to retake territory from the Kurds. “At this stage,” the Turkish defense ministry said in a statement, “there is no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present operation area.” The Kurds previously agreed to completely withdraw from a central stretch of the Syrian border with Turkey and allow Russian and Syrian government troops inside their area of control. (New York Times / Reuters)
Trump will lift sanctions on Turkey, saying that the Turkish government promised to abide to a “permanent” cease-fire along the border with Syria. Trump called the agreement a “breakthrough” and that sanctions would be lifted “unless something happens that we’re not happy with.” (ABC News / Washington Post)
Trump’s G7 and trade adviser is leaving the White House for a job in the private sector. Kelly Ann Shaw announced that she will be leaving her posts as deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs and deputy director of the National Economic Council. Shaw played a key role in leading the U.S. through the G7 and G20 and was part of the team advising Trump during trade talks between the U.S. and China. “It just felt like the right time to go for me,” Shaw said. “I am ready for my next and new adventure.” Shaw will leave her post on Friday. (Reuters)
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