👋 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/ The Pentagon said 80% of the 190,000 Russian troops near Ukraine are now in combat-ready positions, suggesting that an invasion is most likely imminent. “They are literally ready to go now,” a senior defense official said. “It is our assessment that [Putin] is fully prepared to conduct a large-scale invasion,” adding: “That is a likely option.” The Ukrainian government, meanwhile, said it received intelligence that a Russian military offensive, including an attack on the capital, Kyiv, could come as soon as Wednesday night. Ukraine’s parliament voted to declare a state of emergency, and government leaders urged Ukrainian citizens to leave Russia immediately. (New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)
2/ Biden said he would issue economic sanctions on the company building the gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany. The move comes a day after Germany froze certification of the Kremlin-backed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate,” Biden said in a statement. The move also reverses Biden’s decision last year to waive sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, the company that built the $11 billion natural gas pipeline. (CNN / Politico / Axios / Bloomberg / New York Times)
- To no one’s surprise, Trump praised Putin’s “genius” decision to declare two regions in Ukraine as independent states and then move Russian armed forces to them. Trump told a conservative podcaster in an interview that Putin had made a “very savvy,” “smart move” Trump added: “We could use that on our southern border.” (The Guardian / NBC News / Washington Post)
3/ Two prosecutors leading the Manhattan District Attorney’s criminal probe into Trump and his business resigned from their positions. The resignation of Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz came following a monthlong pause in the presentation of evidence to a grand jury. The Manhattan district attorney’s office also changed hands in January, after the previous DA, Cyrus Vance, opted to not seek re-election. Vance was succeeded by Alvin Bragg, who reportedly has expressed doubts about moving forward with a case against Trump. The grand jury’s term expires in April. Separately, Trump’s longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, asked a judge to throw out tax fraud charges against him, arguing that New York prosecutors targeted him as punishment because he wouldn’t flip on Trump. (New York Times / NBC News / Associated Press / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / CNBC)
4/ Ivanka Trump is negotiating with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about voluntarily appearing for an interview. Ivanka’s lawyers have been in talks with the committee since January, when the panel sent her a letter requesting her voluntary testimony. In a Jan. 20 letter to Ivanka, the committee said it had heard from Pence’s national security adviser about Trump’s refusal to condemn the violence, despite White House officials — including Ivanka, at least twice — urging him to do so. Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, is expected to cooperate with the committee, and potentially reveal his contacts with Republican members of Congress involved in Trump’s effort to prevent certification of Biden’s election victory. (New York Times / CNN / The Guardian / CNBC)
5/ The Justice Department said it’s ending the Trump-era “China Initiative,” a national security program intended to counter China’s intelligence activities in the U.S. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said the decision was spurred by a recognition that the initiative’s name and approach fueled a “harmful perception” that the program discriminated against Asian-Americans. While the Justice Department credited the initiative with some major prosecution victories, including against Chinese spies working to steal U.S. technology, the program also targeted professors and researchers – often of Chinese descent – who allegedly didn’t disclose ties to Chinese institutions while applying for federal grants. The department will now pursue a broader effort to counter threats from adversarial nations including China, Russia, and Iran. (Bloomberg / CNN / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)
poll/ 26% of Americans say the U.S. should have a major role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, while 52% say the U.S. should have a minor role. 20% say the U.S. should have no role at all. (Associated Press)
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