👋 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 former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testified that Trump’s comment to the Ukraine president – that she was “bad news” and is “going to go through some things” – “sounded like a threat.” Marie Yovanovitch, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, said she was “shocked, absolutely shocked, and devastated” when she read the rough transcript released by the White House of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Yovanovitch also testified that Trump and Rudy Giuliani ran “the smear campaign against” her in tandem with corrupt Ukrainians, which undermined U.S. national security and emboldened Russia. Yovanovitch said Giuliani’s “campaign of disinformation” was influenced by “individuals with questionable motives,” who believed their “political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.” Yovanovitch was recalled from her posting on April 24 – three days after Trump’s first call with Zelensky – while in the middle of hosting an event honoring an anti-corruption activist in Ukraine. Yovanovitch also criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the State Department’s failed efforts to publicly support her after Trump removed her as ambassador. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / Wall Street Journal / CNN / NBC News)
Who is Marie Yovanovitch? The ousted ambassador to Ukraine recounted how she became the target of a smear campaign by President Trump’s personal lawyer and the right-wing media. (New York Times)
2/ Trump attacked Yovanovitch on Twitter as she was testifying about how she felt threatened by his comments. Trump tweeted that “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” claiming that Zelensky had “spoke unfavorably about her.” Trump also called it his “absolute right to appoint ambassadors,” justifying his decision to recall Yovanovitch three months before the end of the normal three-year diplomatic tenure. When asked by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to respond to Trump’s tweets, Yovanovitch called it “very intimidating […] the effect is to be intimidating.” Schiff agreed that “it’s designed to intimidate” and that “we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States.” Schiff added: “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.” House Democrats, meanwhile, suggested that Trump’s decision to attack Yovanovitch mid-hearing is another example of witness intimidation, which could be added as another article of impeachment. Trump later defended his tweets, saying “You know what? I have the right to speak.” And, when asked whether he believed his words could be intimidating, Trump replied: “I don’t think so at all.” (New York Times / Washington Post / CNN / Politico / Wall Street Journal / ABC News)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of committing “bribery” for withholding military aid from Ukraine while seeking a commitment to publicly investigate his political rivals. “The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into a political rival,” Pelosi told reporters. Bribery is specifically identified in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. (Politico / NBC News / CNN / Washington Post / New York Times)
A career Office of Management and Budget official plans to testify in the impeachment inquiry if subpoenaed. Mark Sandy would be the first OMB official to testify as part of the inquiry, defying Trump’s order that administration officials not participate in the House investigation. The OMB acting director and two other political appointees at the agency previously defied congressional subpoenas to appear. (Washington Post / CNN)
3/ The White House released the rough transcript of Trump’s first call with Zelensky and it does not match the White House readout from April 21. In the readout provided to reporters shortly after the call took place, the White House said Trump promised to work with Zelensky to “root out corruption.” The subject, however, was not mentioned in the transcript released today. The transcript instead shows Trump congratulating Zelensky on his election, promising a White House visit, and recounting how Ukraine was “very well represented” when he owned the Miss Universe franchise. Trump would later ask Zelensky during the July 25 call to publicly announce investigations into Trump’s political rivals. Trump’s first call with Zelensky was marked “Unclassified” and “for official use only.” The second call was classified as “Secret.” The White House, meanwhile, blamed the discrepancy between the official readout and the transcript on National Security Council Ukraine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. (New York Times / CNN / Washington Post / Daily Beast)
- Read: The White House transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. (CNN)
4/ Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Rudy Giuliani for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent. Investigators want to know if Giuliani stood to personally profit from a Ukrainian natural-gas business pushed by his two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who also helped him push for investigations into Joe Biden and alleged interference by Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election. The company by Parnas and Fruman pitched plans for a Poland-to-Ukraine pipeline carrying U.S. natural gas in meetings with Ukrainian officials and energy executives this year, claiming the project had the support of the Trump administration. (Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg)
5/ Roger Stone was found guilty on all seven counts of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks, witness tampering, and obstructing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Minutes after the verdict, Trump tweeted that the outcome was unfair despite his administration’s Justice Department leading the prosecution. Stone is the sixth Trump associate to be convicted on charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activity in the 2016 election. He faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison – 20 years for witness tampering, and five years for each of the six other counts. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / Wall Street Journal / CNN)
- Trump met with Attorney General William Barr and White House counsel Pat Cipollone to discuss the DOJ inspector general’s probe into the origins of the Mueller investigation. Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been examining applications submitted by the FBI in 2016 and 2017 seeking permission to surveil Trump’s then-campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Barr said Wednesday that the report is “imminent.” (CNN)
6/ Trump asked the Supreme Court to block a House subpoena for his tax returns for the second day in a row. Yesterday, Trump’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to reverse a lower-court ruling that allowed the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to obtain eight years’ worth of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from his accountant, Mazars USA, as part of a probe into the payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Today, Trump’s lawyers asked the justices to temporarily block a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee compelling Mazars to provide Trump’s tax returns. Mazars has said it will hand over the records if it is required to. (CNBC / Bloomberg / Washington Post)
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