👋 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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🗳 How To Vote In The 2020 Election In Every State. Everything you need to know about mail-in and early in-person voting in every state in the age of COVID-19, including the first day you can cast your ballot in the 2020 election. (FiveThirtyEight / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)
😷 Dept. of “We Have It Totally Under Control.”
Global: Total confirmed cases: ~25,335,000; deaths: ~849,000
U.S.: Total confirmed cases: ~6,024,000; deaths: ~184,000
Source: Johns Hopkins University
1/ The Director of National Intelligence will no longer give Congress in-person briefings about election security, citing concern over “unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information.” Instead, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will provide the House and Senate Intelligence Committees with written updates. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe framed the move as an attempt to “ensure clarity and consistency” in intelligence agencies’ interactions with Congress. The Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security will continue briefing Congress. Trump, meanwhile, said Ratcliffe made the decision because he “got tired” of intelligence leaking from Congress “so, he wants to do it in a different form.” The Senate confirmed Ratcliffe in May in a 49-to-44 vote along party lines. He received more votes against his confirmation than any DNI in the 15-year history of the office. (CNN / Politico / New York Times / ABC News / Wall Street Journal / Associated Press)
2/ Trump’s newest coronavirus task force member is urging the White House to embrace “herd immunity” as U.S. coronavirus case count topped 6 million. The controversial strategy would require lifting social distancing restrictions and allowing the coronavirus to spread through the population. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, urged countries to continue implementing safety measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting public gatherings and protecting vulnerable groups as they try to reopen businesses and services, saying “No country can just pretend the pandemic is over.” Scott Atlas, who does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology, joined the White House earlier this month as a pandemic adviser. He has advocated that the U.S. adopt Sweden’s model, which public health officials and infectious disease experts have called reckless. The U.S. has recorded more than 183,000 deaths from the virus. (Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / CNBC)
3/ FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said he’d be willing to fast-track emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine before phase 3 trials are over, but insisted he wouldn’t rush approval to please the Trump administration. “We have a convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic with the political season,” Hahn said, “and we’re just going to have to get through that and stick to our core principles.” Hahn’s comments come a week after he granted emergency authorization of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients. Hahn was immediately criticized for overstating its benefits and apologized a day later. That announcement came a day after Trump accused the FDA, without any evidence, of moving too slowly to hurt him politically. (Financial Times / CNBC / Axios / Bloomberg)
- The White House privately alerted seven states in June that their coronavirus cases had put them in the “red zone” of highest virus spread, according to eight weeks of previously confidential reports released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The risk assessments came at the same time Trump was insisting that his pandemic response was working and Pence had written an op-ed dismissing fears of a “second wave” of the virus as “overblown.” By late June, 10 states were in the red zone, by mid-July, 19 states were in the red zone, and by early August, the task force document listed 23 states in the red zone. Trump, meanwhile, Trump falsely claimed that large portions of the U.S. are “corona-free.” (Politico)
4/ The Justice Department never fully investigated Trump’s relationship with Russia and secretly narrowed the investigation into Russian election interference. When then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in May 2017, he instructed Mueller to only conduct a criminal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which curtailed an FBI counterintelligence probe into Trump’s ties to Russia. Rosenstein concluded that the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to investigate Trump’s ties to a foreign adversary, and he suspected that the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, had conflicts of interest. McCabe had approved the counterintelligence investigation out of concerns that Trump’s decades of personal and financial dealings in Russia posed a national security threat. Rosenstein never told McCabe about his decision. (New York Times / Axios)
A federal appeals court denied Michael Flynn’s petition to force a district court judge to immediately drop his criminal case, as requested by the Justice Department. A planned hearing on the Justice Department’s attempt to abandon the criminal case against Flynn can now proceed. Flynn twice pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to FBI agents in 2017 about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. In May, Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department moved to drop the case, citing improprieties by the FBI decision-makers who ordered the interview of Flynn. Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Flynn’s case and accepted his guilty plea for lying to federal agents, argued that he should be allowed to probe whether the Justice Department was dropping the case as a favor to a Trump ally. (Politico / NBC News / New York Times / Bloomberg / Washington Post / Axios)
Trump reportedly considered the idea of “settling” with Robert Mueller. According to the new book, Donald Trump v. The United States, Trump told White House counsel Don McGahn “that there was nothing to worry about because if it was zeroing in on him, he would simply settle with Mueller. He would settle the case, as if he were negotiating terms in a lawsuit.” (Axios)
5/ Trump offered John Kelly the FBI director job a day after firing James Comey, but demanded that he “be loyal to him, and only him.” At the time, Kelly was the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security and reportedly “immediately realized the problem with Trump’s request for loyalty, and he pushed back on the President’s demand,” saying he would be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law. Kelly went on to serve as White House chief of staff. (Axios / CNN)
6/ Former White House counsel Don McGahn sent a two-page memo in February 2018 to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly arguing that Jared Kushner’s security clearance needed to be downgraded. Kelly was concerned about giving Kushner a top-secret clearance after receiving a briefing about a routine FBI investigation into Kushner’s background. McGahn wrote to Kelly that Kushner’s background check “raises serious additional concerns about whether this individual ought to retain a top security clearance until such issues can be investigated and resolved.” McGahn instead recommended that Kushner be given interim secret clearance “until further information is received.” Ultimately, Trump intervened to ensure Kushner received top-secret security clearance. (Axios)
- A federal appeals court dismissed the House Judiciary Committee lawsuit to seeking to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about Trump, saying that Congress has not passed a law expressly authorizing it to sue to enforce its subpoenas. (Washington Post / CNN)
7/ Trump praised a right-wing caravan of supporters in Portland who had fired paint and pellet guns at protesters. A day after a man was shot and killed during a clash between demonstrators at a pro-Trump vehicle rally, Trump shared a video on Twitter of the “Trump cruise rally,” calling them “GREAT PATRIOTS!” In another tweet, Trump referred to protesters in Washington, D.C., as “Disgraceful Anarchists” and said his administration is “watching them closely.” Trump also said the “big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected,” called the mayor of Portland “a FOOL,” and called on the state to “Bring in the National Guard!” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, meanwhile, said “I’d appreciate that either the president support us or stay the hell out of the way.” He added: “Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence? It’s you who have created the hate and the division.” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, claimed Trump had not seen the video of his supporters using paintballs and pepper spray against Portland protesters, which Trump himself tweeted out this weekend. The caption of the video reads: “Trump people unload paintballs and pepper spray. They shot me too.” (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News / Axios / The Guardian)
8/ The governor of Wisconsin urged Trump to “reconsider” his planned trip to visit Kenosha amid ongoing protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Gov. Tony Evers sent a letter to the White House warning that Trump’s presence “will only hinder our healing” and “delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.” Evers also said he was worried that having Trump in town would require “a massive re-direction of these resources to support your visit at a time when it is critical that we continue to remain focused on keeping the people of Kenosha safe and supporting the community’s response.” A White House spokesperson said Trump still plans to visit on Tuesday. (Washington Post / USA Today / Associated Press / CNN / Politico)
- A Kenosha militia Facebook event advocating that attendees bring weapons was reported at least 455 times as “a credible threat of violence.” Facebook moderators, however, deemed the page “non-violating” of company policy. The page and event were eventually removed from the platform on several hours after the shooting. (BuzzFeed News)
9/ Biden condemned the violence in Portland and accused Trump of “fanning the flames of hate and division in our society” by “recklessly encouraging violence.” Biden criticized Trump as having “long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country” and argued that Trump “can’t stop the violence” that has arisen in the United States “because for years he has fomented it.” Biden also responded to Trump’s accusations that he would be soft on crime, saying Trump has been “incapable of telling us the truth, incapable of facing the facts. Incapable of healing.” During his speech in Pittsburgh, Biden repeatedly asked: “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?” (NBC News / CNN / Politico / New York Times / Washington Post / Washington Post)
poll/ 96% of Biden and Trump supporters say they have decided how they will vote — up 2% from late July. 8% remain undecided. (Yahoo News)
poll/ Biden leads Trump 50% to 44% among likely voters following the Republican National Convention. Prior to the convention, Biden lead Trump 52% to 42%. (Morning Consult)
poll/ 49.9% of active-duty service members have an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 38% who view Trump favorably. 42% said they “strongly” disapprove of Trump’s time in office. 43% said they would vote for Biden if the election was held today, and 37% said they plan to vote to re-elect Trump. (Military Times)
The House Oversight Committee will issue a subpoena for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for records related to recent operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service. Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney accused DeJoy of ignoring the panel’s demand for documents related to Postal Service mail delays, voting by mail, and contacts with White House officials or the Trump campaign. (Politico / NBC News / CNN / Wall Street Journal / Axios)
A Trump-appointed federal housing official tricked four public housing residents into appearing in a video that was used during the Republican National Convention. Three of the tenants said they were never told that their interviews would be edited into a video clip that aired during the RNC, and all three said they opposed Trump and were misled about the video. Lynne Patton is a longtime Trump associated and is head of the New York office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the Hatch Act, Patton is barred from using her government position to engage in political activities. (New York Times)
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf claimed he didn’t know the naturalization ceremony he participated in at the White House would be broadcast during the Republican National Convention. Wolf’s comments came after DHS employees received an email reminding them not to engage in “partisan political activity.” Democrats have also called for an investigation into Wolf’s potential violation of the Hatch Act. (Politico / HuffPost)
A group of Voice of America journalists accused the parent agency’s new CEO of “endanger[ing] the personal security of VOA reporters at home and abroad, as well as threatening to harm U.S. national security objectives.” The group alleges that Michael Pack’s remarks in an interview prove he has a damaging agenda for the international broadcasters he oversees. Pack was nominated by Trump in 2018 to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media. (NPR)
👑 Portrait of a president.
Trump Embraces Fringe Theories on Protests and the Coronavirus. “Trump unleashed an especially intense barrage of Twitter messages over the weekend, embracing fringe conspiracy theories claiming that the coronavirus death toll has been exaggerated and that street protests are actually an organized coup d’état against him.” (New York Times)
How Trump Sowed COVID Supply Chaos: “Try Getting It Yourselves.” In a March 16 conference call, President Trump told governors that the federal government would try to help, but that for “respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment—try getting it yourselves.” (Wall Street Journal)
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