First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Here are four reasons why the Russia story isn’t fake news
After former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on Capitol Hill Monday, President Trump took to Twitter to dismiss their revelations.
But here are four reasons why the entire Russia story — as it relates to the 2016 election, to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and to any allegations of collusion — isn’t fake news.
1. Russia interfered in the 2016 election and could do so again: “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundations of our democratic political system, this episode is it. I hope that the American people recognize the severity of this threat and that we collectively counter it before it further erodes the fabric of our democracy,” Clapper said yesterday.
2. The FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia: "I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," FBI Director James Comey said back in March. "And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.
3. There APPEARS to be an investigation into Trump’s business ties to Russia: When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Clapper yesterday if he ever found a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave him concern, Clapper replied, “Not in the course of the preparation of [last winter’s] intelligence community assessment.” When Graham pressed if he later found a concern, Clapper said, “Sen. Graham, I can’t comment on that because that impacts the investigation.” Whoa.
4. It took 18 days for the Trump White House to oust Flynn after being notified by the Justice Department that Flynn wasn’t telling the truth about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador: “Yates said [White House Counsel Don] McGahn asked her, ‘Why does it matter to the DOJ if one White House official lies to another official?’ She explained that the American public was being misled, and that the Russians knew that. ‘To state the obvious, you don't want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians,’ Yates said she replied,” per NBC’s Ken Dilanian.
America First? Trump possibly to ramp up involvement in Afghanistan
“President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban,” the Washington Post reports. NBC’s Courtney Kube and Hans Nichols say that President Trump hasn’t made a decision about this plan yet, but U.S. Defense officials have confirmed for weeks that proposal includes sending more troops. So when will the president make up his mind? “Soon” one source tells NBC’s White House team.
Of course, sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan would seem to contradict Trump’s “America First” mantra. Indeed, as NBC’s Hallie Jackson recounted on “TODAY” this morning, Trump tweeted this back in 2013: “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.” Early in his White House tenure, Barack Obama sent more U.S. troops to Afghanistan — but that was something Obama CAMPAIGNED ON in 2008. Trump possibly adding more troops into Afghanistan contradicts what he ran on in 2016.
Kushner family’s sales pitch: “Corruption, pure and simple,” says expert
NBC’s Tracy Connor: “A former White House ethics adviser says that a sales pitch by Jared Kushner's sister to potential Chinese investors that was centered on a controversial visa program came ‘very, very close to solicitation of a bribe.’ ‘This is corruption, pure and simple,’ said Richard Painter, who was an attorney for President George W. Bush and is now a University of Minnesota law professor. The latest conflict-of-interest uproar to roil President Donald Trump's administration arose this weekend as the Kushner Companies invited wealthy foreigners to sink cash into a New Jersey real estate project via the EB-5 program... White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Kushner, who has divested from his family firm, had "nothing to do" with the investor recruitment, and Meyer said through a spokesperson that she was sorry if anyone misinterpreted her mention of her brother.”
President Trump with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster at 10:30 am ET, while White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds his press briefing at 1:30 pm ET. Why the light schedule for Trump? NBC’s Hallie Jackson notes that the president is doing prep for his upcoming overseas trip, which starts next Friday, per a senior White House official.
What’s happening in the upcoming special elections
A GOP outside group is airing a new ad against Jon Ossoff in GA-6 tying him to San Francisco, the Atlanta Journal Constitution says… Also in GA-6, Paul Ryan is set to campaign with Republican Karen Handel on May 15… And in the upcoming May 25 special congressional election in Montana, the polling shows that the race is in single digits.