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Here's another example of how Trump's business presents a clear conflict of interest

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.
Image: Trump Hotel
The Trump International Hotel on Dec. 21, 2016 in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP file

WASHINGTON — A week after special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was lying about the president’s business ties with Russia — that Trump & Co. were seeking deals with Russia well into June 2016 — comes another example of how Trump’s business presents a huge conflict of interest.

The Washington Post reports that lobbyists representing the Saudi government “reserved blocks of rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.”

“Those bookings have fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging Trump violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments. During this period, records show, the average nightly rate at the hotel was $768. The lobbyists who ran the trips say they chose Trump’s hotel strictly because it offered a discount from that rate and had rooms available, not to curry favor with Trump. ‘Absolutely not. It had nothing to do with that. Not one bit,’ said Michael Gibson, a Maryland-based political operative who helped organize the trips.”

This report, of course, comes after Trump and members of his administration have insisted that there’s no direct evidence tying Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi – a claim that GOP and Dem lawmakers have disputed.

“There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi."

Trump’s business — which he never fully separated from — paired with the actions he’s taken as either a presidential candidate or candidate remain one of the essential storylines of the Trump Era.

And it raises the question: What other countries have financial interests tied to the Trump’s businesses?

We’ve always assumed that Mueller’s investigation was much bigger than Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Is he also looking at what might be the biggest pay-to-play scheme in American history?

Trump’s isolation stands out at Bush funeral

Some sharp observations by the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker: “From the moment he crossed the transept of the soaring Washington National Cathedral, tore off his overcoat and took his seat in the front pew, President Trump was an outsider. When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles’ Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H.W. Bush’s integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.”

“Wednesday’s state funeral was carefully orchestrated to be about one man and his milestones — Bush the father, the friend, the war hero and the lifelong public servant. But inevitably it became about Trump, too, for it was impossible to pay tribute to the 41st president without drawing implicit contrasts with the 45th.”

NBC’s Jonathan Allen lists some of those contrasts. “Bush was described a loyalist (Trump calls former friends ‘horse face’ and ‘weak’); as a leader who worked with Democrats on budget deals and the Americans with Disabilities Act (Trump has governed on partisan terms and mocked a disabled reporter); as a president who rallied the world behind democratic values (Trump has spurned U.S. allies and enabled despots); and as a man who dedicated himself to a life of service (in life, Trump has unapologetically served his own interests first).”

Effort to weaken incoming Wisconsin governor’s power sent to Walker’s desk

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “After days of protests, hours of messy closed-door meetings and a heated overnight floor session, Republican lawmakers Wednesday sent a controversial set of lame-duck proposals to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker. The spotlight is now on the outgoing Republican governor, who will decide whether to sign the sweeping plans to limit early voting and diminish the powers of the Democrat who beat him last month.”

“Walker recently signaled he will sign the proposals before he leaves office in early January, but his spokeswoman on Wednesday did not respond to requests for an interview. Walker also could issue partial vetoes to at least two of the measures.”

GOP lawmakers in Michigan advance legislation to weaken Dem powers

“Republicans who control Michigan's Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they were poised to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state's interests,” per the AP.

Democrats help re-elect the bipartisan secretary of state in N.H.

As Republicans move to weaken the power of elected Democrats in Michigan and Wisconsin, New Hampshire Democrats — who won big in November — ended up helping re-elect the essentially bipartisan secretary of state instead of replacing him with a reliably liberal Democrat.

As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel tweeted:

Well, Gardner won, as NBC’s Mike Memoli notes.

This all highlights the central asymmetry in American politics: Republicans will fight to the death – even after they lose power — while Democrats are more open to compromise and bipartisanship, because they want government to work.