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Here are four big Russia stories that 'spygate' overshadowed

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 /  / Updated 
Image: U.S. political consultant Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Donald Trump, speaks after a closed door hearing on Russian election interference in Washington
U.S. political consultant Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Donald Trump, speaks to reporters after appearing before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing on Sept. 26.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — Following Rep. Trey Gowdy’s assertion that the FBI’s use of an informant for the 2016 Trump campaign was indeed appropriate, Politico is the latest news organization to suggest that there’s little there-there to last week’s “spygate” story.

“In less than 24 hours, Trump’s allegations were publicly refuted by House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), one of just nine lawmakers briefed on highly classified details of the FBI’s operation; Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a Trump favorite; and prominent legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, a vocal Trump ally who has advised the president on legal strategy,” Politico writes.

So given that the “spygate” storyline has fizzled, what were the other Russia-related items from last week that didn’t get the coverage they probably deserved? As discussed on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”:

  • There was the New York Times piece that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Persian Gulf emissary offering help in the 2016 election.
  • There was the news, via the New York Times, that a Russian oligarch met with Trump fixer Michael Cohen at Trump Tower 11 days before the inauguration.
  • And there was the Wall Street Journal scoop that longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone sought Hillary Clinton emails from WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Those four stories received a fraction of the attention that “spygate” garnered last week. And it’s likely all four will end up being much more consequential in the months ahead.

Sessions recusing himself from the Russia probe was an easy call. So why is Trump still criticizing him for it?

In a series of tweets yesterday — see here, here, here and here — President Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, with Trump saying in one that he wished he had picked another attorney general.

But Sessions’ recusal was a relatively easy call, given his conflict of interest participating in Trump’s 2016 campaign — which just happens to the focus of the Russia probe. Here was statement he released on March 2, 2017 announcing his recusal:

“During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.’

“During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.

“Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — who also played a role in Trump’s 2016 campaign — told HuffPost that he might have recused himself too, if he had been the president’s AG pick. “I would have considered it, sure,” Giuliani said. “I told the president at the time that I just didn’t know what I would have done.”

Trump expected to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the EU

CNBC: “The United States is likely to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the EU Thursday, according to a source familiar with the decision. The source, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation, said the tariff decision is coming very soon and is "99.9" percent done. The U.S. expects the EU will retaliate in due course.”

“Metal producers in the countries affected had been granted a temporary exemption from the tariffs earlier this year, but they are due to expire Friday. On Wednesday, a trade delegation led by U.S. Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, met with European Union counterparts in Paris but those talks appear to have failed.”

Our take: Trump is definitely creating economic uncertainty — and playing with midterm economic fire here. Why mess around with an economy that’s close to humming right now?

POTUS heads to the Lone Star State

President Trump today travels to Texas, where he will meet with families and community members impacted by the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The president also hits fundraisers in Houston and Dallas.

Virginia passes Medicaid expansion

Remember, elections do have consequences. “The Virginia legislature voted Wednesday to make government health insurance available to 400,000 low-income residents, overcoming five years of GOP resistance. The decision marks a leftward shift in the legislature and an enormous win for Gov. Ralph Northam (D), the pediatrician who ran on expanding access to health care,” the Washington Post writes. “Virginia will join 32 other states and the District in expanding Medicaid coverage. The measure is expected to take effect Jan. 1.”

Democrats play the blame game ahead of next week’s “Top 2” primaries in California

Per another piece in the Washington Post, “Confused and frustrated, a growing number of Democrats are blaming their own party as they seek to avert a drubbing in Tuesday’s congressional primaries here that would leave their candidates shut out of the November ballot in some races — and with a narrower path to win control of the House of Representatives… Candidates are scrambling to set themselves apart, Democratic groups are urging unity to gain control of the House — and many voters are wondering how to contend with the despair they would feel if Democrats were locked out in this liberal state.”

Trump botches NY-11 endorsement

Last night, President Trump endorsed Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., who’s getting a primary challenge in NY-11 from former GOP Congressman Michael Grimm.

“There is no one better to represent the people of N.Y. and Staten Island (a place I know very well) than @RepDanDonovan, who is strong on Borders & Crime, loves our Military & our Vets, voted for Tax Cuts and is helping me to Make America Great Again. Dan has my full endorsement!” Trump tweeted.

But there’s one big problem in that tweet, as Politico points out: Donovan voted AGAINST the tax legislation. Ooof. Talk about undermining your endorsement – and handing an issue for Grimm to exploit.

Indeed, here was Grimm last night: “All the endorsements in the world can’t change the facts: Donovan has failed to pass even one substantive bill into law, and has voted against President Trump every time it’s mattered - from failing to repeal Obamacare, to banning sanctuary cities, and even against tax cuts.”

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