👋 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/ A federal judge ruled that the former White House counsel must testify before impeachment investigators about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Mueller investigation. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson found no basis for Trump’s claim that Don McGahn, who spent 30 hours talking to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, is “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony.” The ruling could also have implications for former national security adviser John Bolton and Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, were ordered not to appear by the White House. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / NPR / Wall Street Journal)
2/ The White House engaged in an extensive effort to come up with an after-the-fact justification for Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine. The confidential review by the White House Counsel’s Office into Trump’s decision to hold the military aid revealed hundreds of documents that showed an internal debate over whether the move was legal. Among the documents are emails between acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials from early August – after the hold had already been ordered – attempting to find an explanation for why Trump had blocked the security assistance that Congress had previously approved. The review found that Trump made the decision to hold the aid in July “without an assessment of reasoning or legal justification.” (Washington Post / CNN / New York Times)
3/ The White House arranged a phone call between Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss Giuliani’s packet of unproven allegations about Joe Biden and former American Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Emails, released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show that Giuliani and Pompeo first spoke on March 26 for five minutes. Giuliani then handed over the packet of material to the State Department on March 28 and spoke with Pompeo again on March 29, this time for four minutes. Giuliani’s office worked with Trump’s then-personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, to have the State Department put Giuliani in touch with Pompeo. Yovanovitch was recalled from her post weeks later. (CNN / McClatchy DC / CBS News / American Oversight)
- 📌 Day 987: Giuliani personally gave Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a file of documents of unproven allegations against Biden on March 28th and claimed that he was told that the State Department would take up an investigation of those claims. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick gave Congress the 79-page packet Wednesday, which included nearly 20 pages of communications between State Department employees working to push back against the “fake narrative” that Giuliani was pushing. Linick told Congress that the department’s office of legal counsel had provided the documents to him in May, which he gave to the FBI. The documents were in Trump Hotel folders and included “interview” notes Giuliani conducted with Viktor Shokin, the former General Prosecutor of Ukraine who was pushed out at the urging of Biden because he didn’t prosecute corruption. (NBC News / CNN)
4/ The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office issued subpoenas for information about Rudy Giuliani’s consulting firm. The subpoenas listed more than a half dozen potential charges under consideration, including money laundering, obstruction of justice, and campaign finance violations. The subpoenas also seek information on Global Energy Producers, a company co-founded by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, which paid Giuliani for legal and business advice, as well as material related to two pro-Trump groups, America First Action and America First Policies. The Justice Department charges that Parnas and Fruman disguised the source of a $325,000 donation made in 2018 to America First by giving the money in the name of Global Energy Producers. (Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / CNBC)
5/ Devin Nunes met with the former Ukrainian prosecutor general last year to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden. Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani associate, is willing to testify that Nunes met with Victor Shokin in Vienna last December, who was removed from his position in March 2016 over concerns that he was not pursuing corruption cases. Nunes’ aides also reportedly called off a planned trip to Ukraine this year to interview two Ukrainian prosecutors – who claimed to have evidence that could help Trump get reelected – when they realized they would have to report the meetings to Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Instead, Nunes’ aides asked Parnas to setup phone and Skype meetings with Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, and Konstantin Kulik, a deputy in Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office. Nunes called the claims “demonstrably false and scandalous” in an interview with Breitbart News. Later, on Fox News, Nunes called the reports that he met with Shokin part of a criminal campaign against him by a “totally corrupt” news media. Nunes also threatened to sue news outlets that reported on Parnas’s accusation, claiming they’re “likely conspiring to obstruct justice.” (CNBC / CNN / New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News)
Lev Parnas gave audio recordings, videos, and photos of Trump and Giuliani to the House Intelligence Committee. There are no specific details available regarding what is depicted in the tapes and photos. The House committees began reviewing the materials last week. Both Schiff and an attorney for Parnas refused to elaborate on the contents of the materials, but they did confirm that Parnas has been cooperating with House investigators. (ABC News / Rolling Stone)
The House Armed Services Committee chairman said it is “quite likely, without question” that Nunes will face an ethics investigation over allegations that he met with Shokin. (Politico / Washington Post)
6/ Trump ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to allow a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes to retire without losing his elite status. During a Pentagon briefing, Trump reportedly gave Esper a direct order to drop disciplinary action against Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, who was accused of murdering a captive teenage Islamic State fighter with a hunting knife in Iraq, threatening to kill SEALs who reported him, and shooting two civilians from a sniper’s perch in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher was convicted of posing with the corpse of the ISIS fighter. The Navy wanted to oust Gallagher from the commando unit, but Trump’s order means Gallagher will be allowed to retire with his Trident Pin and retain his status as a SEAL. The Navy previously demoted Gallagher from chief petty officer to petty officer first class. Trump then reversed the order earlier this month. Trump’s Sunday order also went against the advice that Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley had provided two days earlier, which was to let the Navy’s internal personnel process play out. (New York Times / Politico / NBC News / Associated Press / CNN)
SUNDAY: Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy secretary over the handling of a Navy SEAL’s war crimes case. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired after Esper learned that Spencer was privately negotiating a deal with the White House to let Gallagher retire as a Navy SEAL if they didn’t interfere with the Navy’s internal review board. Spencer’s proposal to the White House – which he never shared with Esper – also contradicted his public position on the case. (Washington Post / Axios / Reuters / New York Times / Wall Street Journal)
SATURDAY: Navy Secretary Richard Spencer threatened to resign or be fired if Trump meddled in the administrative probe into the SEAL case. Spencer later denied that he had threatened to resign, but said disciplinary plans against Gallagher would proceed because he would need an order “to act” and that he didn’t “interpret (Trump’s tweets) as a formal order.” (New York Times / NBC News / Axios)
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley raised concerns with the White House after Trump tweeted that “the Navy will NOT be taking away” Gallagher’s Trident Pin. (CNN)
7/ David Pecker spoke with the New York district attorney’s office as part of the investigation into the Trump Organization’s handling of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, could provide key details about agreements that were made with Michael Cohen, who is cooperating with the investigation. Prosecutors are investigating whether any state laws were broken, such as falsified business records relating to the Daniels payment. (CNN)
📌 Day 910: The FBI believed that then-candidate Trump was closely involved in the plan to the hide hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, according to previously redacted federal search warrants made public following the conclusion of the probe into Michael Cohen’s campaign finance crimes. The documents describe a “series of calls, text messages, and emails” between Cohen, Trump, Hope Hicks, Keith Davidson – an attorney for Daniels – Dylan Howard – the National Enquirer editor – and David Pecker, an executive of the company that published the National Enquirer. It’s the first time that the authorities have identified Trump by name regarding his alleged involvement in the scheme. Authorities previously referred to Trump in court filings as “Individual 1.” Last August, Cohen admitted to making $280,000 in illegal payments through a shell company to buy the silence of Daniels and McDougal. In April 2018, Trump claimed that he didn’t know anything about the hush money payment to Daniels. (NBC News / The Guardian / Washington Post / Reuters / CNN / Daily Beast / Wall Street Journal)
📌 Day 811: Federal investigators in New York have “gathered more evidence than previously known” from Trump’s “inner circle” about the hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both claim they had affairs with Trump. Prosecutors interviewed Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller, Trump’s former security chief. Investigators also have a recorded phone conversation between Michael Cohen and a lawyer who represented the two women. Investigators also have calls between Schiller and David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer, which admitted it paid $150,000 to McDougal on Mr. Trump’s behalf to keep her story under wraps. (Wall Street Journal / CNN)
📌 Day 750: American Media entered into a deal with federal prosecutors last year where Pecker and Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard cooperate with authorities, and acknowledge that the Enquirer worked with the Trump campaign to kill stories “about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women”: the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels. (New York Times / Washington Post)
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