Hello. Yes, it's time once again for While You Were Offline, WIRED's deep dive into everything the internet has been talking about over the past week. What'd you miss? Well, apparently tensions are rising between the US and Iran, and North Korea is missile testing again. Oh, there's also the US-China trade war that's brewing. In terms of more pleasant distractions, last week the name Archie became a thing again, although to be honest, Archie's been a thing again for a while now. Oh, and the Met Gala brought camp to a mainstream audience that apparently didn't understand what camp was and maybe still doesn't understand it now. Regardless, Billy Porter and Ezra Miller looked amazing. And finally, an errant coffee cup on Game of Thrones blew everyone's mind to the tune of $2.3 billion in free advertising for Starbucks—even though it wasn't a Starbucks cup. But that's just the beginning. Here's everything else.
Yet Another Request for Trump's Tax Returns
What Happened: For everyone who thought that a direct request from Congress might be enough to get the head of the US Department of the Treasury to actually do what was demanded of him, think again.
What Really Happened: You may remember that Congress has asked the IRS to release six years' worth of President Trump's tax returns, after literally years of the president giving the same excuse for why he wouldn't share them. (Short version: He said he couldn't release them publicly because he was perpetually under audit, but legally that doesn't mean he can't share them.) You may also remember that the responsibility to fulfill Congress' request—which, to be more accurate, was really a demand; there isn't a legal way to say no—fell to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Guess what? Mnuchin didn't want to be the one to reveal the very thing Trump has spent so long trying to hide. So, last week, he told Congress "no."
The majority of initial reporting phrased it as if Mnuchin had, upon a period of reflection, decided with some regret that he had to refuse a polite invitation. There was, perhaps, another way to phrase what had happened.
Others have thought the same thing.
There was also a small complication in Mnuchin's stated reason for denying the request. Well, I say small, but…
Everyone knows what this means, right?
If this was intended as a response to the Congressional demand for the taxes that would ideally make the entire issue go away, then it definitely backfired, leading to the possibility of Mnuchin landing himself in legal hot water and getting people even more curious about what is hiding in those tax returns. For a potential answer to that question, though, stay tuned.
The Takeaway: Welp.
Speaking of Trump's Finances …
What Happened: Just how much money does a man have to lose before everyone agrees that, just maybe, he's not very smart nor good at his job? Apparently, it all depends on whether or not he's making a sport of it or not.
What Really Happened: The question of why people actually want Donald Trump's taxes is relatively simple to answer: Beyond the fact that just his secrecy surrounding them is very suspicious, it's because many believe that they contain a lot of information about the actual level of success Trump has enjoyed in his life, as well as where his money comes from, and who he may owe money to. That last bit is of particular importance given the possibility he could be compromised by people he owes money to. But maybe we're overthinking the importance of taxes! It's not as if seeing Trump’s taxes could actually rev—
—huh. The New York Times investigation into a decade's worth of financial information was something that did, indeed, reveal quite a lot about what kind of businessman the president is. Namely, a really, really bad one.
Sure, this sounds bad, but how bad is it really?
OK, that seems pretty bad. But it's not as if anyone really believed that Trump was an amazing businessman, right?
As a result of the Times revelations, a new hashtag emerged on Twitter.
The day after the report, Trump took to Twitter to try and take control of the story.
That's right; Trump verified the Times story and then went on to call it a "fake news hit job," because reasons.
The Takeaway: Here's some food for thought about the "sport" that the president has admitted to playing for at least a decade, if not considerably longer.
Bill Barr vs. Congress
What Happened: As US attorney general Bill Barr faces censure from Congress for his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, the Department of Justice's defensive position got a little extreme.
What Really Happened: Hey, remember that small thing called the Mueller report? You know, the report two years in the making, summarized initially by Bill Barr, then subsequently released (in redacted form), demonstrating that maybe the attorney general had misled everyone with his summary?That Mueller report? I thought you might.
The attorney general's behavior surrounding the whole thing led to a threat that Congress might hold him in contempt, both for failing to produce the unredacted report to Congress, and for failing to show up to a hearing last week. This would, obviously, be a big deal for the nation's top law official, and ahead of the contempt vote, the DOJ tried to find new solutions to avoid Barr being censured in such a fashion.
Such offers were rejected for failing to meet with Congress' standards as the week went on, and a contempt hearing loomed. With all else failing, it was time for the Department of Justice to play hardball, apparently. And, oh boy, it did.
If you're confused about how something that's already released publicly—and was topping sales charts—could be retroactively protected by executive privilege, you weren't the only one.
The real answer is that the entire report, including the redacted sections, as well as the investigative work that went into the report and formed the evidence behind it, were what would be permanently sealed by this action. But here's an unexpected twist: Even if executive privilege could be applied to the Mueller report, it wouldn't actually do anything, according to standing legal precedent.
If that was an attempt to scare off the committee, it … well, it didn't work. Let's just put it that way.
If all of this was supposed to be a bluff, it was called, leaving only one option open to Trump.
This move was … not exactly met with applause, unsurprisingly.
Did it impact the Congressional committee in any way?
… That would be a no, then. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the House voted to hold Barr in contempt.
The Takeaway: Just take a moment to appreciate how genuinely surreal this turn of events actually is, from the point of view of those who actually believe the spin that the attorney general and the president are trying to sell about the Mueller report and what it actually says.
Pay No Attention to the Controversy Behind the Curtain
What Happened: Senator Mitch McConnell seems to very much want people to stop talking about the Trump campaign and the possibility of Russian collusion.
What Really Happened: With the White House at war with Congress over access to information related to Robert Mueller's report, it was obvious to everyone that the special counsel investigation was only the start of everything, rather than the end of, well, anything, right?
Yes, that’s right; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided that, with everything going on this week, Tuesday was exactly the right time to try and shut down the issue via a statement on the Senate floor.
Well, perhaps it's not as bad as it sounds.
Or, you know. Maybe it is.
That McConnell was attempting to blame the Obama administration for failing to adequately respond to Russian meddling is, at best, ironic. Let's remember the role actually played by Mitch McConnell in the whole Russia thing during 2016, shall we?
Not everyone was convinced, of course, nor should they be considering McConnell's speech was at best disingenuous and at worst a pure power grab.
Still, the Senate definitely seemed to take McConnell seriously, with even the Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee basically ignoring the speech altogether and subpoenaing the president's son to testify over potential Russian interference. (Not everyone was happy with this decision, unsurprisingly.)
The Takeaway: You know things aren't going well when even Rand Paul is getting in jabs.
Don't Look at Me, Look at This Entirely Unrelated Other Guy Who's Maybe Worse but Isn't Really
What Happened: Faced with the fact that he and his administration are under severe scrutiny right now, President Trump tried to deflect by bringing up … John Kerry?
What Really Happened: In an attempt to throw people off the story that he, and a large number of those around him, are in the middle of an investigation tornado, President Trump took the opportunity on Thursday to try and shift attention elsewhere, using the tried and true tactic of "I'm rubber, he's glue."
Yes, John Kerry—onetime presidential hopeful, veteran of organized right-wing smears of old and former Secretary of State—found himself in the sights of President Trump during, of all things, a press conference that was supposed to be about holding insurance companies accountable for unexpected medical costs. The call to go after Kerry had nothing to do with that particular topic, however.
Plenty of people commented on the irony of Trump's particular line of attack.
There's also this:
As it turned out, not everyone was on board with the idea for an entirely different reason: They just don't like the Logan Act.
For those thinking to themselves, surely the president didn't come up with this by himself? No, he didn't.
In case you're wondering, Kerry disputed Trump's claims, which should only be expected because A) It's extremely unlikely that Kerry would say, "Yes, I should be prosecuted for breaking the law vis a vis international diplomacy," and B) The president has a tendency to severely bend the truth, so almost every single claim he makes should be treated as automatically suspicious.
The Takeaway: There was, of course, some more fallout to President Trump's surprise pronouncement that he probably didn't see coming—but which others have been expecting for some time, most likely.