First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
The Trouble With Mike Flynn
Late last night, NBC’s Kristen Welker confirmed that President-elect Donald Trump asked retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to serve as his national security adviser. (The news was first reported by the AP.) But the controversies and ethical baggage around Flynn are problematic. For starters, there are Flynn’s statements about Islam and Muslims. “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions,” he tweeted back in February. Critics have argued that Flynn is too cozy to Russia, pointing to a trip to Moscow in which he spent time with Vladimir Putin, as well as a paid speaking engagement with state-run Russia Today. There are questions about his management style, given that he was fired as DIA director, as Welker reported on “Today.” And then there is last night’s report from Yahoo, which said he began receiving national security briefings last summer while still advising foreign clients. “Flynn’s relationship with his overseas clients is coming in for new scrutiny amid recent disclosures that two months ago, during the height of the presidential campaign, his consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, registered to lobby for a Dutch company owned by a wealthy Turkish businessman close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.”
Mixing business with diplomacy -- a big no-no
Speaking of conflicts of interest, daughter Ivanka Trump sitting in on President-elect Trump’s face-to-face meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a big problem. Having his daughter -- who is also an executive in his company and the likely temporary successor to his business empire -- sit in on the meeting was highly inappropriate. This is mixing business with diplomacy. Botching phone calls is one thing; this is something much more important. And don’t miss this Wall Street Journal editorial calling on Trump to liquidate his stake in his company. “Millions of Americans have put their trust in Mr. Trump to succeed as President and improve their lives, not treat this as a four-year hiatus from his business. The presidential stakes are too high for Mr. Trump to let his family business become a daily political target."
Jeff Sessions offered Attorney General position
Meanwhile, NBC’s Hallie Jackson confirms that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has been offered to head up Trump’s Justice Department. Given that he serves in the U.S. Senate, he’s more than likely to be confirmed by his colleagues. That said, don’t be surprised to see Democrats and liberal groups jump on his past controversies. In the 1980s, Sessions was blocked from becoming a federal judge after a former deputy accused him of making racially insensitive comments. “The former deputy, Thomas Figures, who was an assistant United States Attorney for seven years, said in a written statement that Mr. Sessions once admonished him to be careful about what he said 'to white folks.' Mr. Figures is black,” the New York Times wrote back then. Sessions also was accused of mishandling a voter-fraud case against civil-rights activists.
Mitt Romney’s dilemma (if he’s offered)
Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions -- none of these are surprises. They were either top figures on the campaign or key surrogates. A surprise would be Mitt Romney, who will be visiting with Trump over the weekend and who reportedly is being considered for secretary of state. If he's offered State, can a patriotic citizen really say no? But if Romney says yes, he then owns Trump, and his confirmation hearing (frankly any State confirmation hearing) is going to get bogged down with questions about Flynn. So joining a Trump admin comes with a little something extra. But can Romney say no? Does he risk looking small, looking like he won't put country above politics? And many a Trump skeptic might rationalize that it's better to keep an eye on his team from the inside than worrying and catcalling from the outside. Bottom line: Who knows if this Romney to State idea is real or just a ruse. But if he's offered, it's a complicated decision, made more complicated due to Flynn's appointment.
Cabinet watch: Here is our running list of possible candidates we’ve been hearing about so far. We’ll continue to update it as the president-elect’s team makes its choices final.
Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney
Attorney General: Giuliani, Jeff Sessions OFFERED
Treasury: Steve Mnuchin, Jeb Hensarling
Defense: Jim Talent, Tom Cotton
Homeland: Michael McCaul, David Clarke
Interior: Sarah Palin
HHS: Ben Carson (adviser says he’s declined)
Education: Carson (adviser says he’s declined), Michelle Rhee
Commerce: Lew Eisenberg, Linda McMahon
Transportation: John Mica
Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
CIA Director: Mike Pompeo OFFERED
UN Ambassador: Richard Grenell
National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel
Back to Michigan
What's old is what's new again. The sons and daughters or Reagan Democrats have helped put both Barack Obama and Donald Trump into the White House. How much patience will these voters have with Trump? They gave Obama two terms but weren't satisfied enough to elect his successor. an Trump restore their hope? How high are the expectations for him? Meet the Press will spend part of Sunday in Macomb County, MI, to begin to try and answer some of these questions. Will the Trump presidency live or die based on how Macomb goes?
Trump misstates facts about Ford move
Last night, Trump tweeted, “Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky - no Mexico.” And he added, “I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!” But as the Washington Post notes, “Ford has never announced plans to move to Mexico either its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, which produces the Lincoln Navigator, or the Louisville Assembly Plant, which produces the Lincoln MKC and the Ford Escape. In a statement on Thursday night, following Trump's tweet, the company said it had told Trump it would cancel a plan to shift production of a single model — the MKC — from Kentucky to Mexico. The company last year indicated it would be moving MKC production out of Louisville, though it did not announce where it was going. At the time, union leaders said the shift would not cost any jobs in Kentucky, because Escape production would replace lost MKC production.”