👋 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/ Interview notes from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation were released after CNN and BuzzFeed News sued the government to see all the work that Mueller’s team kept secret. In response to a court order, the Justice Department released the first installment of documents, known as 302s, which memorialize interviews conducted by the office with witnesses and include hundreds of pages of FBI interview summaries. Per the judge’s order, the Justice Department will continue to release new tranches of Mueller’s investigative notes every month for at least the next eight years. (CNN / BuzzFeed News)
⚡️ Takeaways from the memos:
Paul Manafort pushed the unproven theory that Ukrainians might have been responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee at least five months before the 2016 election. Deputy campaign manager Rick Gates told Robert Mueller’s office in an April 2018 interview that Manafort had shared his theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking the DNC with him and other campaign aides shortly after the stolen emails were published in June 2016. Gates said Manafort’s theory echoed one that had been pushed by Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman that Mueller’s office said had ties to Russian intelligence. Three years later, Trump brought up the same conspiracy theory during his July 2019 call with the Ukrainian president when he asked for a “favor,” which is now at the heart of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. (BuzzFeed News / New York Times / Washington Post)
Michael Cohen “had to keep Trump out of the messaging related to Russia” in preparation for his testimony to Congress under oath and that the false testimony was “not his idea.” Cohen later pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress about when discussions related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal had ended.
Rick Gates said the campaign was “very happy” when a foreign government helped release the hacked DNC emails. After the hacked DNC emails, Trump told Gates that “more leaks were coming.” (BuzzFeed News)
2/ The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told House impeachment investigators that she felt “threatened” by Trump and his suggestion to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the July 25 phone call that she would be “going to go through some things.” Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled by Trump in May, told investigators that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were working with Rudy Giuliani to smear her and had orchestrated her removal as ambassador to Kiev. The revelation comes after House Democrats released the first two interview transcripts with Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former senior State Department adviser. McKinley described to investigators how he pressed top State Department officials to publicly support Yovanovitch, but that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied the request because he did not want to “draw undue attention” to Yovanovitch. (New York Times / BuzzFeed News / Politico / CNN / ABC News)
- Excerpts and analysis from the first two impeachment inquiry transcripts. (New York Times)
3/ Four White House officials scheduled to give depositions today as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry refused to show up and testify. National Security Council attorneys John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis, along with Robert Blair, assistant to the president, and Brian McCormick, an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, did not comply with congressional subpoenas for their testimony. Eisenberg claimed executive privilege, while Blair, Ellis, and McCormick didn’t appear because they weren’t able to have a Trump administration attorney present. Two other officials from the OMB, Michael Duffey and Russell Vought, also plan to skip their depositions later this week. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to appear for a closed-door deposition on Wednesday, but will not be participating either. (CNN / Politico / ABC News / Reuters)
One of Mick Mulvaney’s top allies is attempting to rally other administration officials to collectively defy Congressional subpoenas from Democrats involved in the House impeachment inquiry. Russel Vought, who leads the Office of Management and Budget, and two of his subordinates are attempting to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump while also creating a firewall around Trump’s alleged use of foreign aid to obtain political favors from a U.S. ally. The OMB is at the center of the impeachment inquiry because Democrats want information about why the office effectively froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine even though Congress had already appropriated for that country. (Washington Post)
The whistleblower’s attorney offered to answer written questions under oath and with penalty of perjury. Mark Zaid said his client was willing to respond in writing “in a bipartisan manner” so long as questions “cannot seek identifying info, regarding which we will not provide, or otherwise be inappropriate.” Trump, however, rejected the offer, tweeting that “Written answers not acceptable!” and that the whistleblower “must be brought forward to testify.” (Washington Post / New York Times / Politico)
4/ Trump’s accounting firm must turn over eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors. A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court Appeals unanimously ruled that Trump is not immune from investigative steps taken by state prosecutors. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance subpoenaed the documents from Mazars USA as part of an investigation into the pre-election payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Trump then sued the DA’s office to block the subpoena, arguing that as president he is immune not only from prosecution but from investigations. A district judge dismissed the argument in October, which Trump then appealed. Today, the appeals court said because Trump’s accounting firm – not Trump himself – was subpoenaed for the documents, it didn’t matter whether presidents have immunity. Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said Trump would ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / CNN / NBC News / Associated Press / BuzzFeed News / CNBC)
5/ The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. The withdrawal will not be finalized until a day after the presidential election in November 2020. The U.S. is now the only country to withdraw from the pact between nearly 200 countries. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. (NPR / The Guardian / Politico / New York Times / Washington Post)
poll/ 64% of Americans say their financial situation has not gotten better under Trump, while 35% say they’re better off. (Financial Times)
poll/ 53% of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, while 45% approve, and 2% are not sure. (NBC News)
poll/ 49% of voters want Trump impeached and removed from office, 4% say he should be impeached but not removed, and 41% oppose impeaching Trump. (Fox News)
- Trump called the Fox News poll “fake” and “lousy,” claiming that he has “the real polls,” and that the “people don’t want anything to do with impeachment. It’s a phony scam. It’s a hoax.” (Rolling Stone)
Trump attacked California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Twitter and blamed him for the wildfires in the state. Trump tweeted that Newsom has “done a terrible job of forest management.” Of the 33 million acres of forest in California, 57% is controlled by the federal government. (Los Angeles Times)
The Justice Department is trying to “intimidate and expose” the anonymous author of “A Warning” – the same senior Trump administration official behind a 2018 op-ed who claimed cabinet members discussed removing Trump from office early in his presidency “given the instability many witnessed.” The DOJ claimed that the author may be violating “one or more nondisclosure agreements” by writing the book, which is set to come out on November 19. (CNN / New York Times)
E. Jean Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump, saying he lied when he denied her claims that he had raped her in the dressing room of an upscale department store in the 1990s. After the writer and advice columnist came forward with the allegation in June, Trump denied raping Carroll, said he had “never met that person in my life,” and accused her of “totally lying” because she was “not my type.” (New York Times / Politico / CNN / BuzzFeed News)
Children were encouraged to help “Build the Wall” at a White House Halloween party. Officials had been instructed to put together kid-friendly displays for trick-or-treaters that were supposed to be interactive and inspiring. Instead, the mural featured red paper bricks, each bearing the name of a child, with large letters on the display spelling out “Build the Wall” and signs alongside the wall that read “America First.” (Yahoo News)
Smugglers have repeatedly cut through new sections of Trump’s border wall, opening gaps large enough for people to pass through. Trump has repeatedly called his $10 billion wall “virtually impenetrable” and likened the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border crossers cannot get over, under or through. (Washington Post)
Trump would not commit to keeping the federal government open past a November 21 funding deadline, raising the possibility of a government shutdown as House Democrats expand their impeachment inquiry. Congress passed a short-term spending bill in September and would need to pass 12 appropriations bills to keep all federal agencies funded. (Washington Post)
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