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Races to Watch to Gauge Russia Scandal's Ripple Effect

Looking to see how the Comey/Russia issue is playing outside of Washington? We could get some answers in the upcoming special congressional elections in Montana (May 25) and Georgia (June 20).

While Comey and Russia have been on the back burner in these two races, the Democratic and GOP candidates have taken fundamentally different views on this subject. And a Republican loss in either Montana (where private polling has the GOP candidate ahead 5-8 pts) or Georgia (where it’s a true 50%-50% race) could produce political tremors in Washington.

Montana (race to replace Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke) -- May 25

  • GOP candidate Greg Gianforte:  "The American people and the people in the FBI had lost confidence in [Comey’s] leadership. I support the president in his decision to ask him to leave," Mr. Gianforte said in an interview," he told the Wall Street Journal.
  • Dem candidate Rob Quist: “Greg Gianforte has refused to support an independent investigation and instead has doubled down on his Russian investments. It’s time for [Trump] to come clean and for the American people to know what really happened in 2016," he said in a statement.

Georgia (race to replace HHS Sec. Tom Price) -- June 20

  • Dem candidate Jon Ossoff: “Comey’s firing raises severe questions. There should be bipartisan support for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference," he wrote on Twitter.
  • GOP candidate Karen Handel: “It’s been clear for some time that FBI Director Comey has lost the confidence of Republicans, Democrats and broader institutions, and his removal as FBI Director was probably overdue,” she said. “I hope that the president will quickly nominate a strong, independent leader as the next director of the FBI and that the Senate will consider the nomination as quickly as possible," she said in a statement.

-- Mark Murray, Senior Political Editor

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Report: House Leader McCarthy Told Colleagues Putin 'Pays' Trump

Scoops for everyone!

The Washington Post is out with a report that a month before Trump secured the Republican nomination, a House leader joked with colleagues that Putin "pays" Trump.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” House Majority Leader and California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy reportedly said in mid-June 2016, referring to the leading presidential candidate and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Californian Republican known for defending Russia.

Some lawmakers present laughed, to which McCarthy said: “swear to God.” House Speaker Paul Ryan told lawmakers to keep the exchange between them.

“No leaks," he said. "This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

A Ryan spokesman initially told the Post the exchange "never happened." When told there was a recording, the spokesman Brendan Buck said it was "clearly an attempt at humor."

In a statement provided to NBC News, Buck said, "No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

"It's a bad attempt at a joke," McCarthy told NBC News Wednesday night.

The full Post story, with a Kiev dateline, is here.

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What Did DHS Secretary Kelly Suggest Trump Do With That Ceremonial Saber?

If you were waiting for an infelicitous comment caught on a hot mic to make this latest Trump firestorm complete, worry not.

During the Coast Guard commencement ceremony Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Sec. John F. Kelly joked that Trump should use the ceremonial saber he was holding on the media. The moment was first noticed by CNN producers, and confirmed by NBC News.

Needless to say, we'll be keeping our ceremonial shields close.

Trump Troubles Rattle Wall Street as Dow Drops

It's Wall Street's worst day since 2016.

Chaffetz Invites Comey to Testify

D.C. missed connections, Congressional oversight edition. 

The House Oversight Committee is seeking an interview with James Comey next Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., but it appears they lack the former FBI director's new phone number.

Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah tweeted noting the public hearing was scheduled, but that he was having trouble getting Comey on the phone. 

The Senate extended an invite for Comey to testify earlier Wednesday. Popular guy. 

The Only Impeachment Comment That Matters So Far

There's been a fair amount of elected officials talking impeachment today — Democratic Rep. Al Green called for the president's impeachment from the House floor, while Independent Sen. Angus King and centrist Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo both suggested it was possible in interviews — but it's the talk that comes from within Trump's own party and Congressional majority that matters.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash isn't exactly a Trump fan. He's a frequent critic of the president, prompting White House aide Dan Scavino to urge the "Trump Train" to vote him out of office in 2018. But there's a big chasm between criticizing the president's healthcare bill and suggesting impeachment is on the table. 

 "I think it's pretty clear I have more confidence in Director Comey," he told reporters, according to the Hill.

Senate to Comey: We Need to Talk

Paging Jim Comey, paging Jim Comey — the Senate wants to talk.

Following an explosive report that the president pressured former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating a former aide, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence sent letters calling for former FBI director James Comey to testify.

They also penned a letter to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe requesting that they preserve any materials prepared by the former Director regarding communications he had with senior White House and Department of Justice officials related to investigations into Russia’s efforts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee requested similar materials Wednesday from both the FBI and the White House "including any audio recordings," according to the a press release.

These requests join similar requests from the House Oversight Committee, who demanded that the FBI turn over all documents that it has about communications between the president and Comey on Tuesday night. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah told NBC News that he'd subpoena it if necessary. 

Amid Scandal, Trump Says 'Fight, Fight, Fight'

When in doubt, new grads, do what Donald Trump does: Blame the media. 

"I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice," the president said at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in Connecticut. "Over the course of your life, things are not always fair, things happen to you you don't deserve. You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight — never ever give up."

It's the first time the president has spoken since explosive news broke that the president pressured the FBI to stop investigating a former aide. He went on to spin it as a tale of his own perseverance.

"Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media, no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly, you can't let them get you down. You can't let them get in the way of your dreams," the president said. "I guess that's why we won."

Trump to Coast Guard Grads: The Media Is Treating Me So Badly