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After Cohen raid, Trump flirts with a point of no return

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

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
President Donald Trump speaks with the media before a meeting with his cabinet at the White House on April 9.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — It’s hard to call an investigation a “witch hunt” when it has already resulted in 19 individuals being charged with crimes, including five who pleaded guilty and one who’s been sentenced to jail (for 30 days). That’s quite a rap sheet for an ongoing probe.

It’s also hard to overstate the gravity of the FBI raiding the offices of an attorney – let alone when that attorney represents the president of the United States. “According to Department of Justice policy, an application for a search warrant of a lawyer's office such as this is so serious that it usually requires approval of either the U.S. Attorney for the district, or the Assistant Attorney General,” NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos writes. FYI: The U.S. attorney here is a Republican who donated to the president’s 2016 campaign.

So add up the news from yesterday (the FBI’s raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen) and President Trump’s furious reaction to it ("It's a disgrace... It's an attack on our country, in a true sense," "Many people have said, "You should fire [Mueller],’" "So we'll see what happens") – and you have a true gut-check moment for America’s political institutions, the legal system and the Republican Party.

Do congressional Republicans finally draw a line in the sand when it comes to protecting Mueller’s investigation? (“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. “I don’t think Bob Mueller is going anywhere.”) How does the Justice Department react? We’re now at DEFCON 3 — and could soon be at DEFCON 2. (DEFCON 1 is when nuclear war is imminent.)

But what’s getting lost right now is that the investigation is WELL BEYOND Mueller right now. Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, “is being investigated in Manhattan; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny by prosecutors in Brooklyn; his former campaign chairman is under indictment; his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying; and a pair of former campaign aides are cooperating with Mr. Mueller,” the New York Times writes.

And the fact that U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan acted on this raid in coordination with Mueller’s team appears to be a vote of confidence in Mueller from the Justice Department.

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Where is Trump’s head on Syria and China?

What’s also serious is that Trump’s reaction to the FBI raid on Cohen is coming as the president is considering a military response to Syria’s chemical weapons, and as China appears to have provided Trump an exit ramp on tariffs.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans on Tuesday to open up the Chinese economy, including lowering tariffs for autos and other products and enforcing the legal intellectual property of foreign firms,” CNBC says.

Trump made at least four inaccurate characterizations or flat-out misstatements in his comments about the FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen

TRUMP CLAIM #1: "So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys -- a good man."

THE FACTS: According to the New York Times, which first reported this story, FBI agents had a search warrant when they raided Trump attorney Michael Cohen's office. Cohen's attorney also acknowledges the search warrant, saying: “[T]he U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients."

TRUMP CLAIM #2: "They found no collusion whatsoever with Russia. The reason they found it is there was no collusion at all. No collusion."

THE FACTS: While Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have argued there was no collusion between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign, Democrats on the committee don't agree. And neither do Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The issue of collusion is still open, that we continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses, and that we're not in a position where we will come to any type of temporary finding on that until we've completed the process," Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, R-N.C, said back in October 2017.

TRUMP CLAIM#3: "Democrats all — or just about all — either Democrats or a couple of Republicans that worked for President Obama, they're not looking at the other side."

THE FACTS: While members of Mueller's team have donated to Democrats, Robert Mueller -- who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- is a Republican. So is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation and was appointed to his position by Trump. And so is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, who was appointed to his position by Trump and who donated money to Trump's 2016 campaign. (Fired former FBI Director James Comey is also a Republican.)

TRUMP CLAIM #4: "And the other side is where there are crimes, and those crimes are obvious. Lies, under oath, all over the place. Emails that are knocked out, that are acid-washed and deleted. Nobody has ever seen -- 33,000 emails are deleted after getting a subpoena for Congress, and nobody bothers looking at that."

THE FACTS: In July 2016, then-FBI Director said that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges against Hillary Clinton as a result of the FBI’s investigation into Clintons’ emails. "In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts," he said. "All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here."

Mark Zuckerberg’s big day — or at least what was supposed to be his big day

Given all of the focus on Trump and Michael Cohen, who’s the luckiest guy in Washington right now? Answer: Mark Zuckerberg, who is set to testify today on Capitol Hill.

NBC News: “Zuckerberg, 33, will testify before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on Tuesday in a session that is expected to last several hours. On Wednesday, he'll face more questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The billionaire CEO, who is wildly protective of his own privacy and rarely gives interviews, will come face to face with lawmakers, many of whom are former prosecutors and likely eager to be seen on camera being tough on Facebook.”

Make no mistake: Zuckerberg’s hearing, which begins at 2:15 pm ET, will still get wall-to-wall coverage. But it doesn’t start as the day’s biggest story.

Update on Trump’s Great Economic Experiment

CBO projects deficits as far as the eye can see: “The federal government’s annual budget deficit is set to widen significantly in the next few years, and is expected to top $1 trillion in 2020 despite healthy economic growth, according to new projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released Monday. The national debt, which has exceeded $21 trillion, will soar to more than $33 trillion in 2028, according to the budget office,” per the New York Times.

More: “The tax overhaul, which includes permanent tax cuts for corporations and temporary ones for individuals, will increase the size of the economy by an average of 0.7 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the budget office. But that added economic growth does not come close to paying for the tax overhaul, which the budget office said would add more than $1.8 trillion to deficits over that period, from lost tax revenue and higher interest payments.”

The president’s Panama hotel

“A blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests”: Yesterday, we listed some of the ethical lines that President Trump and figures in his administration have appeared to cross, including the fact that the president continues to promote his businesses. And now we need to add this AP story to the list:

“U.S. President Donald Trump’s company appealed directly to Panama’s president to intervene in its fight over control of a luxury hotel, even invoking a treaty between the two countries, in what ethics experts say was a blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests,” the AP writes. “That appeal in a letter last month from lawyers for the Trump Organization to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela was apparently unsuccessful — an emergency arbitrator days later declined to reinstate the Trump management team to the waterfront hotel in Panama City. But it provides hard proof of exactly the kind of conflict experts feared when Trump refused to divest from a sprawling empire that includes hotels, golf courses, licensing deals and other interests in more than 20 countries.”

“Even if Trump was not directly involved in the dispute, his company’s citation of the treaty and its appeal to Varela “implicitly traded on President Trump’s name and power,” said University of Minnesota political governance expert Lawrence Jacobs.”

Cordray releases his first TV ad in Ohio’s gubernatorial contest

NBC’s Shaquille Brewster reports that Democrat Richard Cordray is up with his first TV ad in the race for Ohio governor, and the spot features Barack Obama touting Cordray and his work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A little additional context from us: As we saw in the 2016 Hillary-vs.-Bernie race, Obama has become an issue in this Ohio primary that’s shaping up as a battle between Cordray and Dennis Kucinich – especially given that Kucinich said in 2011 that Obama’s U.S. military intervention vs. Libya was an impeachable offense.

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Democrats blasted Republican Rick Scott’s entry into Florida’s Senate race with digital ads… In Arizona, Dem Kyrsten Sinema released her first TV ad… Sen. Bob Corker has endorsed Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee’s Senate race… And former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., transferred $100,000 from his campaign account to the NRCC, per NBC’s Jon Allen.

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