👋 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/ Trump offered to pardon Julian Assange if the WikiLeaks founder agreed to say Russia was not involved in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee. Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, claimed at a court hearing in London that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher offered Assange the deal in 2017. Fitzgerald said he had a statement from another Assange lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, that shows “Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr. Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr. Assange … said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham denied the allegation, saying Trump “barely knows Dana Rohrabacher” and has “never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject.” In Sept. 2017, Rohrabacher said that as part of the deal, Assange would have to hand over a computer drive or other data storage devices that would prove that Russia was not the source of the hacked emails. The White House confirmed that Rohrabacher had called John Kelly, then Trump’s chief of staff, to talk about a possible deal with Assange. Kelly reportedly declined to pass it along to Trump. (The Guardian / Daily Beast / Washington Post / Washington Post / The Verge / CNBC)
- 📌 Day 554: Accused Russian spy Maria Butina had dinner last year with Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican congressman on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Two years earlier, Butina arranged a meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, that included Rohrabacher and her mentor Alexander Torshin, who is one of Putin’s closest allies. Rohrabacher also met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during an official trip he made to Moscow in April 2016. Later that summer, Rohrabacher traveled to London to meet with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. WikiLeaks released Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails on July 22, 2016. (ABC News)
2/ Trump retweeted the claim that he was “the victim of a seditious conspiracy out of the” Justice Department and the FBI. Trump, ignoring Barr’s appeal for him to stop tweeting about the Justice Department, demanded “JUSTICE” for himself and future presidents. In a series of tweets, Trump promoted the idea by the president of a right-wing advocacy group that “Barr should clean house” at the Justice Department and that Trump can “appoint a special counsel directly” to investigate the purported conspiracy against him. (New York Times / CNBC)
3/ Attorney General Bill Barr told multiple people that he is considering quitting if Trump doesn’t stop tweeting about the Justice Department. Barr has reportedly been sharing his concerns with people close to Trump in the hopes that the message will get back to Trump to stop publicly musing about the DOJ’s ongoing investigations. Last week, Barr said Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” (Washington Post / NBC News / Reuters / Associate Press / CNBC)
4/ Senate Republicans are urging Trump to keep Barr in the job, warning any move to fire or force Barr out would be a mistake and that the Senate would be unlikely to confirm a successor “any time soon.” (Politico)
- 📌 Day 1125: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Kevin McCarthy issued a statement in support of Barr, saying “Suggestions from outside groups that the Attorney General has fallen short of the responsibilities of his office are unfounded. The Attorney General has shown that he is committed without qualification to securing equal justice under law for all Americans.” Separately, Trump said he had total confidence in Barr. (Axios / Reuters)
5/ Trump asked a top Defense Department official who advised against cutting off U.S. military aid to Ukraine to resign. John Rood, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was involved in certifying that Ukraine should receive the $250 million in security assistance at the center of Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Rood reportedly warned Defense Secretary Mark Esper against withholding the aid to Ukraine in an e-mail on July 25, hours after Trump’s now-infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a letter to Trump, Rood writes that he’ll step down Feb. 28 “as you requested.” (CNN / Bloomberg / New York Times / ABC News)
📺 Democratic presidential debate. Six presidential candidates will face off tonight at 9 p.m. ET from the Paris Theater in Las Vegas. The debate will air live on NBC News and MSNBC. [Editor’s note: Hold on to your butts.]
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