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.
A White House in crisis
Who knew that the New York Times’ original scoop from Saturday — that a Kremlin-linked lawyer met with the Trump campaign in June 2016 — would turn into a full-blown Category 5 crisis for the Trump White House? But six days later, here we are. Consider the developments over the last 12 hours:
- NBC News reports that an additional person attended that June 9, 2016 meeting — a Russian-American lobbyist who was a former Soviet counterintelligence officer (more on that below).
- Politico says that Jared Kushner is complaining about how the White House communications team is responding to this Russia story. "Four White House officials and two outside advisers say Kushner wants the White House to more aggressively push out surrogates and talking points to change the narrative around the latest twist in the Russia scandal."
- The Washington Post writes that there are “tensions” between Trump’s and Kushner’s legal teams, with the lingering question of who is going to pay for all the legal fees.
- ProPublica has the goods on Trump’s main outside lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, threatening a stranger who criticized him (Kasowitz later apologized).
- And to top it all off, the 81-year-old GOP operative who was hunting for Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers reportedly committed suicide, per the Chicago Tribune.
By the way, ethical watchdogs warned that one of the problems with a White House mixing family and politics — as Trump has done — is create a conflict between what’s doing right for the family versus doing right the country. And that appears to be a central tension here. As the Washington Post observes, “Most White House aides are trying to protect the principal: the president and, really, the presidency itself. But Trump himself seems focused primarily on protecting his personal interests, which includes his family.”
NBC Exclusive: There was another person who attended that June 9, 2016 meeting — a Russian-American lobbyist who was a former Soviet counterintelligence officer
"NBC News has learned that the Russian lawyer who met with the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence," NBC's Ken Dilanian and Natasha Lebedeva write. “NBC News is not naming the lobbyist, who denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. Veselnitskaya acknowledged to NBC News that she was accompanied by at least one other man, though she declined to identify him."
"The presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign. Born in Russia, the lobbyist served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship. He has lobbied for causes that coincide with Russian government interests."
Remember that 81-year-old Republican operative who was hunting for Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers? He reportedly committed suicide
The Chicago Tribune: “A Republican donor and operative from Chicago's North Shore who said he had tried to obtain Hillary Clinton's missing emails from Russian hackers killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, public records show… At the time, the newspaper reported Smith's May 14 death came about 10 days after he granted the interview. Mystery shrouded how and where he had died, but the lead reporter on the stories said on a podcast he had no reason to believe the death was the result of foul play and that Smith likely had died of natural causes.”
But: “[T]he Chicago Tribune obtained a Minnesota state death record filed in Olmsted County saying Smith committed suicide in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday, May 14. He was found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached… In the note recovered by police, Smith apologized to authorities and said that ‘NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER’ was involved in his death. He wrote that he was taking his own life because of a ‘RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017’ and timing related ‘TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.’”
Lewandowski: Trump was holding a rally in Florida on June 9, 2016. But he didn’t on that date
On “MTP Daily” yesterday, one of us interviewed Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager during the time of that June 9, 2016 meeting.
Todd: You were the campaign manager there. You weren't in the meeting. Do you know why?
Lewandowski: Yes, I don't know the reason I wasn't invited to the meeting. As you know, I wasn't on the e-mail chain. I wasn't even made aware of the meeting. And what I do remember on that particular day was that was a day that Donald Trump was doing a rally in the state of Florida, so I traveled with the president that day.
In fact, the Florida rally didn't take place until June 11 — two days after that June 9 meeting.
Here was Trump's rally schedule in June 2016, per NBC's Anthony Terrell:
- 6/1 Sacramento, Calif.
- 6/2 San Jose, Calif.
- 6/3 Redding, Calif.
- 6/10 Richmond, Va.
- 6/11 Tampa, Fla.
- 6/11 Pittsburgh
The Senate Republican health-care bill isn’t dead. But it’s close
The bad news for Senate Republicans on health care: They can’t lose a single additional vote out of about half a dozen who are undecided or who have clear reservations about the revised legislation. The good news for them: That single additional vote that could kill the bill still hasn’t materialized. NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “Two senators on opposite ends of the Republican ideological spectrum — Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. — have already said they are opposed to the bill and will vote against a motion to proceed, the necessary vote for the measure to be brought before the Senate. If Republicans lose any more votes, the bill will languish for a second time. Even Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who worked with Cruz on the beginning stages of his measure, said through his spokesman Conn Carroll that he's undecided on the new bill.” As HuffPost’s Matt Fuller writes, “The Senate health care bill isn’t dead, but it has started giving away its belongings to the grandchildren.”
Against the bill (and will vote against a motion to proceed)
- Susan Collins, R-Maine
- Rand Paul, R-Ky.
- Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.
- Dean Heller, R-Nev.
- John Hoeven, R-N.D.
- Mike Lee, R-Utah
- Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
- Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Hawaii judge loosens restrictions on Trump’s travel ban
“A federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday ruled that the U.S. government cannot apply a key part of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘travel ban’ to bar entry of grandparents and some other relatives of people legally in the country,” per NBC News. “U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson wrote in a ruling that the government’s interpretation of those qualifying for an exemption to the travel restrictions is too narrow.”