👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ The House is investigating whether Trump lied to Robert Mueller. Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates testified in last week’s trial that Roger Stone spoke with Trump in a July 2016 phone call, and that Trump then told Gates that “more information would be coming.” Trump, however, told Mueller in written answers that he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. The House Judiciary Committee is seeking grand jury testimony from the redacted version of Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. House General Counsel Douglas Letter told a federal appeals court that investigators have an “immense” need for the material, because it will help House members answer the question, “Did the president lie? Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” (CNN / Washington Post / New York Times / Axios / Associated Press / Politico)
📌 Day 678: Trump told Robert Mueller that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks and that he was not told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., campaign officials, and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump added a caveat that his responses were to the best of his recollection. For comparison, Trump also does not “remember much” from the meeting with George Papadopoulos, where Papadopoulos offered to arrange a meeting with Putin. Trump, however, has previously claimed to have “one of the great memories of all time,” using it as justification for not using notes during his meeting with Kim Jong Un, and blaming Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow when he stumbled over the solider’s name during a condolence call. (CNN)
📌 Day 664: Roger Stone claimed multiple times during the 2016 presidential race that he was in communication with Trump and his campaign. Stone and Trump spoke weekly, which is now being scrutinized by Robert Mueller. Stone repeatedly said during the campaign that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a “backchannel,” “intermediary” or “mutual acquaintance.” Mueller’s office is also exploring whether Stone tried to intimidate and discredit a witness who is contradicting his version of events about his contacts with WikiLeaks. (CNN / Wall Street Journal)
2/ A U.S. official from the embassy in Kiev confirmed that Trump asked if Ukraine was going to move forward with “the investigations.” David Holmes testified privately that he was at the restaurant in Kiev with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, when he overheard Trump ask if Ukraine’s president was “going to do the investigation?” Sondland told Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “loves your ass,” would conduct the investigation, and would do “anything you ask him to.” (New York Times / CNN)
📌 Day 1028: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified that Trump asked about “the investigations” during a call with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union on July 26 – the day after Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son while he was holding U.S. military aid from Ukraine. Bill Taylor told the House Intelligence Committee that a member of his staff overheard Trump mention “the investigations” to Sondland, and that “Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Taylor called Trump’s decision to withhold “security assistance in exchange for help” with investigations to benefit his personal political interests both “alarming” and “crazy,” because Ukraine is a “strategic partner” and supporting them against Russian aggression is “clearly in our national interest.” Taylor also testified that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine. The staffer who heard the conversation, David Holmes, will testify behind closed doors Friday in the House’s impeachment probe. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News)
📌 Day 1029: A second U.S. official overheard the July 26 phone call between Trump and the ambassador to the European Union discussing the need for Ukrainian “investigations.” Suriya Jayanti, a U.S. foreign service officer based in Kiev, was sitting at the table in a Ukraine restaurant when Sondland called Trump to tell him that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward” on the investigations. Yesterday, Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified that one of his staffers, David Holmes, could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.” Trump, meanwhile, claimed he doesn’t recall the July 26 conversation – “not even a little bit.” (Associated Press)
3/ A former top White House national security aide told impeachment investigators that Gordon Sondland was acting at Trump’s behest and spoke to a top Ukrainian official about exchanging military aid for political investigations. Tim Morrison testified that between July 16 and Sept. 11, Sondland had spoken to Trump about half a dozen times, and Sondland’s “mandate from the president was to go make deals.” Trump has claimed he doesn’t know Sondland well. (Washington Post / Politico)
4/ A top national security aide to Mike Pence told House impeachment investigators that Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents were “unusual and inappropriate,” and “shed some light on possible other motivations” for Trump’s order to freeze military aid to the U.S. ally. Jennifer Williams also told investigators that she took notes while she listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky from the White House Situation Room and that she viewed Trump’s requests for investigations to be for his “personal political agenda.” Trump later tweeted that Williams – “whoever that is” – is a “Never Trumper.” (Politico / CNN / Politico)
- U.S. State Department officials were informed that Zelensky felt pressure from the Trump administration to investigate Joe Biden before the July phone call. In early May, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev were told Zelensky was seeking advice on how to navigate the situation as Trump and his associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race. (Associated Press)
5/ Trump ignored Pentagon advice and pardoned three service members convicted or accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Trump ordered the full pardon of Clint Lorance, who was serving a 19-year sentence for the murder of two civilians, and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who was facing murder charges for killing an unarmed Afghan he believed was a Taliban bomb maker. Trump also reversed the demotion of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of a lesser offense. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy argued that the pardons would undermine the military code of justice and serve as a bad example to other troops in the field. (CNN / Washington Post / New York Times / ABC News)
6/ Trump delayed his ban on flavored e-cigarettes following pushback from his political advisers and lobbyists over concerns of political fallout among voters. In early November, Trump refused to sign the one-page “decision memo” to move forward with the ban intended to curb teenage vaping after advisers warned that it could hurt the economy and lead to job losses. (Washington Post / New York Times)
7/ Trump had a “very good” and “cordial” meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell about the economy, who he previously called a “bonehead,” a “terrible communicator” and an “enemy.” Trump claimed they discussed interest rate policy, among other things. Trump has repeatedly attacked the Fed, arguing that the economy and stock market would be performing better if rates were lower or even negative. The Federal Reserve, however, issued a statement saying Powell told Trump that the Fed will set interest rates “based solely on careful, objective and non-political analysis.” (Washington Post / CBS News)
8/ Trump made an unscheduled visit Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to “begin portions of his routine annual physical exam” that included a “quick exam and labs,” according to the White House. The two-hour appointment wasn’t on Trump’s weekend public schedule and medical staff at Walter Reed didn’t receive a staff-wide notice about the presidential visit. (Associated Press / Politico / CNN / New York Times)
poll/ 70% of Americans believe Trump asking the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rivals was wrong. 51% believe Trump’s actions were both wrong and he should be impeached and removed from office. (ABC News)
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