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.
Another reminder of how the email story is out of Hillary’s control
Last night’s news that a former Clinton IT staffer who helped set up Hillary Clinton’s private server is invoking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to testify before the House Benghazi committee is yet another reminder how this email story is out of her control. After all, what’s in the best interests of the campaign (Team Clinton released a statement that they wanted the former aide, Bryan Pagliano, to testify) isn’t necessarily in the best interests of everyone involved (Pagliano’s lawyer certainly thought otherwise). And when that dynamic is at play, things are no longer in your hands. The other (and maybe more important) reminder about how this entire story is no longer in Hillary Clinton’s control is the current FBI investigation into whether classified information was mishandled. That FBI investigation could potentially end tomorrow. Or it could end a year from now -- which would be politically problematic for the Clinton campaign. Bottom line: In sheer political terms, you have to hand it to House Republicans: They created a fishing expedition with their Benghazi committee. And maybe this email story doesn’t turn out to be a marlin, but it’s sure a nice grouper.
The Clinton campaign responds
Here’s the response from the Clinton campaign on Pagliano invoking the Fifth, per NBC’s Kristen Welker: "We have been confident from the beginning that Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email was allowed and that she did not send or receive anything marked classified, facts confirmed by the State Department and the Inspector General," the campaign said. "She has made every effort to answer questions and be as helpful as possible, and has encouraged her aides, current and former, to do the same, including Bryan Pagliano." More: "Bryan is an utter professional and a wonderful young man who does not live in the public eye and understandably may not wish to be drawn into a political spectacle. So his decision is both understandable and yet also disappointing to us, because we believe he has every reason to be transparent about his IT assistance.” Indeed, it is worth noting that former top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills is testifying before the Benghazi committee today (behind closed doors), as NBC’s Alex Moe reports.
Does Biden truly have the stomach to take on Hillary?
Does this invoking-the-Fifth story make Hillary more vulnerable to a Democratic challenge? You bet. But the question that Vice President Joe Biden faces is this: Does he have the stomach to take Clinton on and use this kind of story against her? Remember, a gutsy Barack Obama crafted an entire primary message of “turning the page” and “change” against Clinton in 2007-2008. Is Biden as gutsy? We’re about to find out. By the way, this Labor Day weekend will be fascinating for Biden, who is in Florida and Georgia today selling the Iran deal. Do we get any clues from his Labor Day event in Pittsburgh?
Trump meets with the RNC’s Priebus amid “pledge” talk
Meanwhile, “Donald Trump is set to meet with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus Thursday in New York City, NBC News has confirmed. The meeting comes amid reports that the RNC has asked the GOP candidates to ‘pledge’ not to run as a third-party candidate if unsuccessful at clinching the nomination. Trump’s campaign did not comment on whether the RNC’s pledge is on the meeting’s agenda. After the Priebus meeting, Trump is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET at Trump Tower in Manhattan.” Our take: It certainly looks like Trump will pledge not to run as a third-party candidate -- what he has been hinting at in the past week or so -- in return for another media platform (i.e., a news conference in New York).
Jeb acknowledges he needs to “turn it around
On ABC this morning, Jeb Bush was asked how he turns around his campaign. He answered, per NBC’s Jordan: “Turn it around by recognizing it is a long road. I have a well-funded campaign,” he said, adding that he will unveil his tax plan next week. Bush also said in the interview that Trump is "trying to insult his way to the presidency" with comments like suggesting that Bush should speak English.
Walker: “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric”
Talk about Scott Walker turning up the volume here. “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat,” he said in a piece for the conservative site Hot Air. “This kind of attitude has created a culture in which we all too often see demonstrations and chants where people describe police as “pigs” and call for them to be “fried like bacon.” This inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric has real consequences for the safety of officers who put their lives on the line for us and hampers their ability to serve the communities that need their help.” By the way, Unintimidated PAC, the Super PAC supporting Scott Walker, says it will spend $9.25 million in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada leading up to those contests -- with $8 million alone going to South Carolina. This is on top of the $7 million campaign that the Super PAC has already reserved time for. The Wall Street Journal first reported the story.
Fiorina: CNN “did the right thing” by changing its debate rules
Meanwhile, in an interview with NBC’s Hallie Jackson, Carly Fiorina said CNN "did the right thing" by changing its debate rules; she claimed she's been a "frontrunner" since Aug. 6; and she added she'll be focusing on her bio at the next GOP debate, given all the eyeballs Trump has drawn to previous debate. "We know that a lot of people watch these debates. We also know that I went into last debate with the lowest name ID in field. I still have the lowest name ID in the field. So any opportunity to introduce myself to the American people is an opportunity I’m going to take advantage of," Fiorina told Jackson.
That Kentucky clerk story becomes a hot 2015/2016 topic
“The county official in rural Kentucky who has become the focal point for resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court's gay marriage decision will appear this morning before a federal judge to explain why she should not be held in contempt of court,” NBC’s Pete Williams reports. And interestingly, it’s become an issue in this year’s Kentucky gubernatorial race, with Republican Matt Bevin supporting clerk Kim Davis’ decision not to give marriage licenses to gay couples, while Democrat Jack Conway opposes. And NBC’s Alex Jaffe writes how it has become an issue in the 2016 GOP race.
$16 million in TV ad spending so far in ’16 vs. $2 million at this point in ‘12: $2 million
Finally, according to our look at the 2016 presidential TV ad spending, roughly $16 million has so far been spent on TV ads -- by the campaigns and outside groups. By comparison, at this same point in the 2012 race, just $2 million had been spent, according to the data from NBC’s ad-tracking partner SMG Delta.
The top spenders (as of Sept. 1, 2015):
- Team Kasich: $3.7 million (all in NH)
- Team Rubio: $2.6 million (all on national cable)
- Team Clinton: $2.2 million (in IA, NH)
- Team Jindal: $1.6 million (all in IA)
- Team Christie: $1.4 million (all in NH)
- Team Perry: $1.4 million (all in IA)
- Team Paul: $470K (in IA, NH)
- Team Pataki: $314K (in NH)
- Team Carson: $297K (in IA, NH)
On the trail
Bernie Sanders, Bobby Jindal, and Carly Fiorina campaign in Iowa… Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Lindsey Graham are in New Hampshire… Marco Rubio holds a rally with supporters in Chattanooga, TN… Mike Huckabee stumps in South Carolina… And Ted Cruz holds rallies in Texas.