👋 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 discussed whether to grant pre-emptive pardons to Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner. While Trump Jr. was under investigation – but never charged – by Robert Mueller for his contacts with Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, any potential criminal exposure of Eric Trump or Ivanka Trump is unclear. Kushner, meanwhile, omitted several contacts with Russians offering damaging information on Clinton during the campaign when he filled out a form for his White House security clearance. Trump has also discussed preemptively pardoning Rudy Giuliani. (New York Times / ABC News)
2/ The Justice Department is investigating a potential “bribery-for-pardon” scheme involving a large political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon by the White House. Heavily redacted documents revealed that prosecutors were investigating whether two individuals approached senior White House officials as unregistered lobbyists and secretly lobbied or paid bribes to obtain a pardon for someone convicted of a federal crime. The documents also show that a lawyer for a federal convict had discussions with the White House Counsel’s Office about a pardon or commutation. The documents, however, do not name the individuals involved or Trump, and they do not indicate if any other White House officials had knowledge of the scheme. The status of the investigation is unclear. (New York Times / Washington Post / CNN / NBC News / Bloomberg / ABC News)
3/ A government watchdog group sued Trump, Jared Kushner, and the White House to prevent them from deleting official emails and WhatsApp messages before they can be archived. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics allege that Trump and his administration are violating the Presidential Records Act by failing to correctly preserve records of official government business. CREW and the other plaintiffs also say Trump has “planned or executed destruction” of records without notifying the archivist or Congress as required by law. (Axios / The Hill)
4/ Properties owned by the Trump Organization and the Kushner Companies profited from coronavirus pandemic relief programs, according to Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loan data released by the Small Business Administration. Over 25 PPP loans, more than $3.65 million were given to businesses with addresses at Trump and Kushner real estate properties, who paid rent to those owners. Of those, 15 properties reported that they only kept one job, zero jobs or did not report a number at all. More than half of the money from the emergency fund for small businesses went to 5% of the recipients. (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times)
5/ The director of the CDC warned that this winter may be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.” Dr. Robert Redfield predicted that “December and January and February are going to be rough times” and the total deaths from COVID-19 could reach “close to 450,000” by February unless a large percentage of Americans embrace social distancing and mitigation strategies, like mask wearing. The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals is at an all-time high and the U.S. has averaged 161,448 new cases daily over the last week – about 2.5 times the July peak. The White House coronavirus task force, meanwhile, warned that “we are in a very dangerous place” and “the COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high.” (New York Times / CNN)
😷 Dept. of “We Have It Totally Under Control.”
Global: Total confirmed cases: ~64,327,000; deaths: ~1,489,000
U.S.: Total confirmed cases: ~13,870,000; deaths: ~273,000
Source: Johns Hopkins University
6/ The CDC shortened its 14-day coronavirus quarantine guidance in an effort to boost compliance because Americans are bad at this. Instead of a 14-day quarantine, the CDC now recommends that potential exposure warrants a quarantine of 10 or seven days, depending on a person’s test results and symptoms. Those who lack symptoms can stop quarantining after 10 days or seven days with a negative COVID-19 test. “Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to take this critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time,” Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s incident manager for its COVID-19 response, said. CDC officials also announced new guidance for traveling: If you’re planning a trip, you should get tested one to three days in advance and then be tested again three to five days after returning. (NPR / Washington Post / NBC News / New York Times / Bloomberg / Politico)
7/ White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing to explain why the agency hasn’t approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer applied for emergency clearance on Nov. 20, and the FDA is scheduled meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the request for authorization. Before the meeting, Hahn said that his agency was balancing speed with making “an appropriate decision.” Following the meeting, Hahn said the agency has “all hands on deck” and is “working day and night, and on the weekends” to evaluate and approve multiple coronavirus vaccines for emergency use authorization. (Axios / CNBC / ABC News)
Britain granted emergency approval to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. The two-shot vaccine is also being reviewed by the FDA in the U.S. (The Guardian / BBC / NBC News / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / New York Times)
Health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first groups to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine. (NBC News)
8/ Trump threatened to veto an annual defense bill authorizing nearly $1 trillion in military spending unless Congress repeals a federal law that gives online companies broad legal protections for the content on their platforms. Section 230 is considered one of the Web’s foundational laws because it spares sites and services from being held liable for the content posted by their users. Trump previously threatened to veto the same defense bill over his opposition to provisions that would rename military bases honoring Confederate commanders. Top Republicans and Democrats, however, plan to ignore Trump’s demand. (Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Politico)
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