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First Read’s Morning Clips: Manafort and Russia

TRUMP AGENDA: Paul Manafort's Russian connection

Breaking this morning from the AP: "President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests." MORE: "Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work."

A statement from Manafort provided to NBC reads: "I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments. My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.''

New from CBN: Trump will be the commencement speaker at Liberty University in May.

And Trump will also attend a NATO summit in Brussels in May.

From CNBC: "For the first time since the election, markets are doubting they will get the pro-growth policies of tax reform and stimulus promised by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. The repeal of Obamacare appears to have hit some snags and the GOP brought out Trump earlier Tuesday to serve as pitchman to House Republicans who may have been wavering ahead of Thursday's vote. Whether he won votes or not is unclear, but markets certainly took the lack of clear majority support as a negative."

Don't miss this, from the Wall Street Journal op-ed page yesterday (which also said Trump clings to his wiretapping charge "like a drunk to an empty gin bottle") : "Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump's approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake President."

NBC's Andrew Rafferty and Jane Timm wrap Neil Gorsuch's second day on the Hill.

At a GOP fundraiser last night, Trump reupped his pledge to criticize judges.

From Leigh Ann Caldwell, on Trump's visit to the Hill yesterday: "President Donald Trump told House Republicans Tuesday that they could lose re-election in the 2018 midterms if they vote against the GOP health care bill later this week that would undo much of Obamacare. Trying to help wrangle enough votes for passage, Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet privately with Republican lawmakers and said they are putting the GOP majority at risk with opposition to the bill, pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan. "And I don't care if the press prints that," Trump said, according to a source in the room."

The Washington Post, on links between Trump, Alexander Acosta and Jeffrey Epstein: "Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump's nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta's staff had advocated."

More on Russia, from POLITICO: "A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros. Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros's Open Society Foundations are trying "to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left." It's an accusation that's being fomented and championed by Moscow."

The Wall Street Journal: "Partisan Lines Harden on FBI Probe of Donald Trump's Russia Ties"

From the New York Times: "As Mr. Trump and his advisers press for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them."

Trump's budget targets rural development projects that help lift some residents out of poverty, the Washington Post reports.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell is still trying to get Rex Tillerson to answer questions.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson in the New York Times: "How a Trump Turnabout on Gay Rights Hurts Republicans."

NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reports on a new rush of Democratic statehouse candidates.