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Trump’s Credibility Problem on Russia

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.

Donald Trump doubles down in rejecting CIA findings on Russia, election 3:16

Trump's credibility problem on Russia

It wasn't just President-elect Donald Trump's kind words about Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign. Or his repeated denials that Russia was involved in the hacking of the Clinton campaign's and DNC's emails. ("They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody," Trump told Fox on Sunday. "It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.") Or the Trump team's extraordinary statement on Friday blasting the CIA after the Washington Post first reported that the agency concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It's now time to move on and 'Make America Great Again,'" Trump's transition said Friday night." When you add up ALL of these stories, Trump has a credibility problem with it comes to Russia. Why not take a foreign government's suspected interference in an American election seriously? Why not demand a full investigation? And why lash out at the CIA? These questions make everything Trump touches regarding Russia look suspect -- all before he takes office next month.

Tillerson will have a tough confirmation ahead of him

And that's especially true regarding Trump's expected pick to be secretary of state -- ExxonMobil's Rex Tillerson. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell has reported, Tillerson has ties to Russia and Putin, including being awarded Russia's "Order of the Friendship" honor in 2013 and opposing the U.S.-led sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Crimea. And already, GOP senators are expressing concern about Tillerson's Russia ties. "We'll give him a fair hearing. But is it a matter of concern? Certainly it should be a matter of concern," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told CBS yesterday. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, "Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState." And as for former Bush administration official John Bolton, who NBC's Mitchell reported is expected to be Tillerson's deputy secretary of state, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said, "I am a no on John Bolton for ANY position in the State Department and will work to defeat his nomination to any post." (By the way, Bolton on Sunday questioned if the Russia hacking story was a "false flag operation" by the Obama administration.) And if Rubio/Paul oppose Tillerson and/or Bolton, their nominations might not get through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kellyanne Conway on why Trump is interested in cabinet picks with ties to Russia 4:17

Trump and Priebus say they don't know who did the hacking. Then they should read this statement

Donald Trump on Sunday wasn't the only Trump official doubting that Russia was behind the DNC/Podesta email hacks. "You don't know it, I don't know it, and there's been no conclusive or specific report to say otherwise," said incoming Trump White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on "Meet the Press" yesterday. "I don't want anybody hacked. But I don't know who did the hacking." But we DO know that Russia was behind the hacks. Here's the joint statement the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence released last October: "The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts." Be sure to check out MTP's Compressed for a quick rundown of the rest of Sunday's show.

Trump on not reading the Presidential Daily Briefing intel reports

"I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day": Speaking of intelligence, Trump suggested that he doesn't have to read every single Presidential Daily Briefing intel report. "I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years -- but eight years. I don't need that," he told Fox. "But I do say, 'If something should change, let us know.' Now, in the meantime, my generals are great -- are being briefed. And Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions. He is terrific. And they're being briefed. And I'm being briefed also. But if they're going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me -- you know, it doesn't change, necessarily. Now, there will be times where it might change. I mean, there will be some very fluid situations. I'll be there not every day, but more than that. But I don't need to be told, Chris, the same thing every day, every morning -- same words. 'Sir, nothing has changed. Let's go over it again.' I don't need that."

Trump: "I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'One China" policy"

Also on Fox, Trump said this: "I fully understand the One-China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade." And here's the reaction from China, via NBC News: "China expressed 'serious concern' Monday after President-elect Donald Trump suggested he might tear up the basis for decades of bilateral relations between Washington and Beijing... 'China expresses serious concern on this subject,' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters. 'If the [one China policy] is compromised or interfered with, any sound and steady development in China-U.S. relations and cooperation in various fields is out of the question.'"

Trump to meet with Fiorina, McMorris Rodgers

Per NBC's Kristen Welker, "A top transition official tells me President elect Trump will meet with Carly Fiorina today and Congressman Raul Labrador. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (candidate for Interior Secretary) and Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana also expected at Trump Tower today."

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: Rex Tillerson OFFERED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: JamesMattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: John Kelly OFFERED
  • Interior: Sarah Palin, Mary Fallin, Cathy McMorris Rodgers
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
  • Energy: Perry, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo OFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban