👋 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/ Trump’s national security advisor disputed reports of Russian interference in the 2020 election, saying there’s “no intelligence behind” such claims. Robert O’Brien suggested that the House Intelligence Committee either misheard or misinterpreted part of last week’s briefing, and that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not mean to say that it believes the Russians are currently intervening in the election to help Trump. The U.S. intelligence community also clarified that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election and has separately assessed that Russia views Trump as a preferred leader. The intelligence community, however, says it does not have evidence that Russia’s interference is aimed at reelecting Trump. (CBS News / New York Times / CNN)
📌 Day 1127: An intelligence official in charge of election security warned the House Intelligence Committee last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump re-elected. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions by Shelby Pierson during the meeting, arguing that Trump has been tough on Russia and strengthened European security. Trump reportedly “erupted” and “berated” his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office following the meeting over what he perceived as disloyalty. Trump also erroneously believed that Pierson had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam Schiff, complaining that Democrats would “weaponize” the disclosure. Yesterday, Trump announced that he was replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a vocal Trump supporter. (Washington Post / New York Times)
📌 Day 1128: Trump dismissed the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was meddling in the 2020 presidential election, calling it “Hoax number 7!” Trump labeled the intelligence that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump in 2020 “another misinformation campaign” by Democrats. Shelby Pierson, the intelligence community’s election threats expert, briefed the House Intelligence Committee last week that Russia was determined to interfere in the 2020 primaries and general election. Following the briefing, Trump blamed Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, for allowing the information about Russia’s meddling efforts to be included and for not informing him in advance. Trump then announced that he was replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a Trump supporter. (Washington Post / New York Times / Bloomberg / CNN)
📌 Day 1128: U.S. intelligence officials briefed Sen. Bernie Sanders about a month ago that Russia was attempting to help his presidential campaign. Trump and lawmakers were also informed about the assistance. It’s not clear what form the Russian assistance has taken, but federal prosecutor previously found that Russia used social media to help Sanders in the 2016 election. “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. (Washington Post / New York Times)
2/ Trump accused Adam Schiff — without evidence — of leaking classified information about Russian election interference to the media. “Somebody please tell incompetent (thanks for my high poll numbers) & corrupt politician Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff to stop leaking Classified information or, even worse, made up information, to the Fake News Media,” Trump tweeted. “Someday he will be caught, & that will be a very unpleasant experience!” Trump was referring to the meeting between an intelligence official in charge of election security and members of the House Intelligence Committee, during which Shelby Pierson told members that Russia has “developed a preference” for Trump and is trying to make sure he is reelected. (Washington Post)
3/ Trump told aides he wants fewer people working in the White House and only loyalists working in certain administration positions. Aides say Trump is convinced that his administration is filled with “snakes” and that he’s on the hunt for the “bad people” inside the White House and government who he’s been “warned about.” This follows reports that Trump’s allies have compiled a list over the last 18 months of government employees they’ve identified as disloyal. Meanwhile, John McEntee, Trump’s former body man who was recently took over the Office of Presidential Personnel and reports directly to Trump, has ordered a freeze on all political appointments across the government. He’s also instructed departments to search for people not loyal to Trump’s agenda so they can be removed. (CNN / New York Times / Axios)
- 📌 Day 1128: Trump’s new personnel chief told agency officials to identify political appointees across the government who are believed to be anti-Trump. Trump tasked John McEntee with purging the “bad people” and “Deep State,” starting with personnel at the State Department and Department of Defense. McEntee, Trump’s former body man, was fired in 2018 by then-Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Axios / CNN)
4/ Trump’s new acting intelligence director used to work for an Eastern European oligarch who the U.S. accused of corruption. Richard Grenell’s public relations firm was paid to write articles in 2016 defending the Moldovan politician Vladimir Plahotniuc. Grenell did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act – the same law that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were convicted of violating – and never disclosed that he was being paid to write the articles. In January, Plahotniuc was banned from entering the U.S., citing his alleged “corrupt actions” which “undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova.” (ProPublica / Washington Post)
5/ Trump called John Bolton a “traitor” and wants to block his book from being published before the November election. Trump has directly weighed in on the White House review of the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” by his former national security adviser, telling aides that everything he said to Bolton about national security is classified. The book was originally slated for publication in March but it has been held up after the National Security Council said the draft manuscript “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information,” some of it top secret. (Washington Post / The Guardian)
Trump’s second national security adviser will publish “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World”, on 28 April. Harper Collins said McMaster’s book would offer a “groundbreaking reassessment of America’s place in the world,” and that the general would write about “his 13 months as national security adviser in the Trump White House”. (The Guardian / Military Times)
6/ Trump joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India for a campaign-style rally at a 110,000-seat cricket stadium. “America loves India. America respects India,” Trump said. “And America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people.” Trump announced that India would buy $3 billion worth of U.S. weapons and military equipment. Trump, however, did not mention that Modi and his Hindu nationalist government revoked the statehood of Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – or Modi’s fundamental change to India’s citizenship law, which includes religion as a criterion for nationality. (Washington Post / New York Times / Politico / Associated Press / NPR)
- Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney didn’t travel with Trump to India because he has a cold. Mulvaney also didn’t travel with Trump last week, which aides took as a potential sign he won’t remain in the job for much longer. (CNN)
7/ The Trump administration is privately worried that a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. could hurt Trump’s 2020 reelection bid by straining the government’s public health response and threatening an economic slowdown. Trump, a self-declared “germophobe,” has publicly downplayed the virus, but privately he rebuked officials at the State Department and Health and Human Services over their decision to fly 14 Americans home who tested positive for the virus and had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. (Politico / Washington Post / New York Times)
U.S. stocks fell sharply as the number of coronavirus outbreaks spread to Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Asia. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up its gain for 2020, dropping 1,030 points – its biggest point and percentage-point drop since February 2018. The S&P 500 also had its worst day in two years and wiped out its year-to-date gain. (CNBC / Wall Street Journal / New York Times)
The World Health Organization said it isn’t yet clear whether the coronavirus can be stopped from spreading further. (Wall Street Journal)
poll/ 57% of Americans believe Roger Stone should not be pardoned, while 21% say he should be, and 22% say they are unsure. 45% of Republicans support a presidential pardon for Stone. 76% of Democrats say Trump should not pardon Stone. (Axios / YouGov)
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