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
WASHINGTON — Wednesday was yet another chaotic day in the Trump presidency – another staff departure (communications director Hope Hicks), another jaw-dropping policy pronouncement (“Take the guns first, go through due process second”), another key development in the Russia investigation (special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at WikiLeaks).
And that was all in the span of just two hours.
Given that chaos, Democrats believe they’ve discovered the kind of candidates that could be appealing to voters, especially those in red and purple areas, one year-plus into Trump’s presidency: candidates who project stability.
Think of Ralph Northam (military background, doctor, lieutenant governor) who won Virginia’s gubernatorial contest last November. Or think of Doug Jones (a former prosecutor who promised he could “work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone”) in December’s Alabama contest. Or think of Conor Lamb (military background, former prosecutor) who’s running in this month’s special congressional election in a Pennsylvania district Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
It’s chaos vs. stability. It’s reality-show background vs. military/prosecutor backgrounds. And it’s excitement vs., well, a little boring.
Now it’s unclear if Lamb will win the March 13 special in Pennsylvania (it’s a 50-50 race); it’s far from a sure thing that Democrats can win back Congress with these kinds of candidates; and it’s a LONG way until 2020. But we’re starting to see a pattern of what kind of candidates can bring Democrats success in this current political environment.
16 insane things that happened in the last 48 hours
So how chaotic was yesterday? And the day before? Well, our friends at CNN came up with a list of 16 insane things that took place in the last 48 hours:
Hope Hicks announced her departure from the White House.
Trump publicly attacked – again – his attorney general.
There was reported tension between chief of staff John Kelly and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
NBC News reported the Mueller’s team has been asking witnesses about whether Trump and his team were aware about the hacked DNC/Podesta emails, while CNN reported that Mueller has been asking about Trump’s business activities in Russia.
Trump held his televised listening session on guns, where he appeared to agree more with Democrats than Republicans.
Kushner was stripped of his top-secret security clearance.
Hicks, before she announced her departure, testified before the House Intelligence Committee, where she admitted telling “white lies.”
The Washington Post reported that officials in at least four countries have privately discussed “ways they can manipulate” Kushner.
Jared-Ivanka communications aide Josh Raffel departed the White House.
The New York Times revealed that HUD officials spent $31,000 on a new dining-room set for Secretary Ben Carson.
CNN reported that an Interior Department official resigned after revelations of past anti-gay, anti-Muslim remarks.
Trump unveiled his 2020 campaign manager – almost 1,000 days before the 2020 general election.
Trump tweeted “WITCH HUNT” in response to the Mueller probe.
NSA Director Mike Rogers said the U.S. is “probably not doing enough” to combat future Russia interference.
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty, with a trial set for September.
And the White House parted ways with First Lady Melania Trump’s friend whose business was paid $26 million for its work on Trump’s inauguration.
Trump is more isolated than ever
With Hope Hicks’ departure, Trump is now more isolated than ever. Who is the trusted Trump whisperer? Daughter Ivanka? Kellyanne Conway? The list of loyal Trump aides — who were with him in the private sector or in the campaign — is dwindling.
Mueller is probing the WikiLeaks releases
Two weeks ago, we wrote that Mueller’s indictments against those 13 Russian individuals focused ONLY on the social media/grassroots component of Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. But the investigation hadn’t touched — yet — on the hacked emails that WikiLeaks released.
Well, NBC News reported yesterday that Mueller is definitely looking into WikiLeaks. “Special counsel Robert Mueller's team is asking witnesses pointed questions about whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release, according to multiple people familiar with the probe,” NBC’s Katy Tur and Carol Lee wrote.
More: “Mueller's investigators have asked witnesses whether Trump was aware of plans for WikiLeaks to publish the emails. They have also asked about the relationship between GOP operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and why Trump took policy positions favorable to Russia.”
A timeline of how WikiLeaks affected the 2016 race
Here’s a reminder of some of the key dates in how WikiLeaks and the Russian hacks affected the 2016 race:
- September 2015: FBI agent notifies low-level DNC tech-support contractor that at least one computer network had been compromised
- March 19, 2016: Russian hackers gain access to Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
- July 21, 2016: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
- July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
- July 24, 2016: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns
- July 25, 2016: Democratic convention begins
- July 27, 2016: In his final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
- October 4, 2016: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
- October 7, 2016: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
- October 7, 2016: WikiLeaks begins releasing Podesta's emails
- October 31, 2016: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
- November 4, 2016: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
Putin unveils new nuclear missile
NBC News: “Russia has a new array of nuclear-capable weapons including an intercontinental ballistic missile that renders defense systems ‘useless,’ President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday. The ICBM has a longer range than any other and can reach almost any target in the world, Putin said in his annual address to lawmakers and political elites. Other new technologies he highlighted included supersonic missiles and drone submarines that he said cannot be stopped. Putin's marathon speech came 17 days before a presidential election in which he is seeking an unprecedented fourth term in power. It was accompanied by video footage showing some of the new weaponry in action as well as simulations on a giant screen.”