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Here's why the Comey memos hurt Trump more than help him

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: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks down the stairs of Air Force One during his arrival at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida on April 19, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

WASHINGTON — House Republicans have declared that the James Comey memos they released Thursday disprove that President Trump obstructed justice in his interactions with the former FBI director. And Trump spiked the football, too. “James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?” he tweeted.

But if anything, the memos only confirm Comey’s version of events. And the new details only raise more questions about the infamous Steele dossier and Michael Flynn.

For starters, the memos show a president who cares greatly about the salacious findings in the Steele dossier.

  • From January 6, 2017: “I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected, ‘There were not prostitutes; there were never prostitutes.’ He then said something about him being the kind of guy who didn’t need to ‘go there’ and laughed… He said ‘2013’ to himself, as if trying to remember the period of time, but didn’t add anything. He said he always assumed the hotel rooms he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way.”
  • From January 28, 2017: “At about this point, he turned to what he called the ‘golden showers thing’ and recounted much of what he had said previously on that topic. He repeated that it was a complete fabrication and ‘fake news’… He said it bothered him if his wife thought there was even a 1 percent chance it was true in any respect… He said he thought maybe he should ask me to investigate the whole thing to prove it was a lie.”
  • From February 8, 2017: “The president brought up the ‘Golden Showers thing’ and said it really bothered him if he wife had any doubt about it. He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn’t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip… The president said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that Putin had told him, ‘We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.’” (On MSNBC last night, Rachel Maddow asked Comey, “And he told you he'd had a personal conversation with President Putin about hookers?” Comey replied, “Yes.”)

The memos also have former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asking Comey, on Feb. 8, 2017, if former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was under a FISA warrant. (Flynn didn’t resign until a week later, on February 13.) “He then said he wanted to ask me a question and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer. He then asked, ‘Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?’ I paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels. I said the answer REDACTED, I then explained that the normal channel was from DOJ leadership to the WH counsel about such things.”

And as NBC’s Mike Memoli adds, “Comey recalls Trump casting doubt on Flynn’s judgment during a private White House dinner, after an episode in which the president had discussed congratulatory calls from foreign leaders.”

Bottom line: You have a president who can’t stop talking about the dossier. And you have a White House that’s suspicious about Flynn — before he ultimately resigned. Those revelations don’t help the president; they hurt him.

Hiring Giuliani is a double-edged sword for Trump

The other big news from yesterday: “Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is joining President Donald Trump’s legal team, providing advice on how to deal with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, attorney Jay Sekulow confirmed to NBC News on Thursday,” NBC’s Kristen Welker and Jane Timm report.

But Giuliani is a double-edged sword. Will he be the professional prosecutor Giuliani? Or will he be the partisan, angry Giuliani?

As someone who knows Trump well, is he exactly the kind of person who can tell the president “no” and rein in his worst instincts? Or is he someone who will only reinforce the president’s worst instincts?

By the way, don’t miss what Giuliani told the New York Post: “I’m going to join the legal team to try to bring this to a resolution,” he said. “The country deserves it. I’ve got great admiration for President Trump.

More: “I don’t know yet what’s outstanding. But I don’t think it’s going to take more than a week or two to get a resolution. They’re almost there.”

So he doesn’t think it’s going to take more than a week or two? Hmmmmm…

The White House is considering having Congress vote on NAFTA — in an election year?

Politico: “As top-level ministers gathered in Washington toward the end of this week, the Trump administration has already been thinking about how to get a new NAFTA agreement through both chambers of Congress. One strategy that has seemed to gain favor is to force a congressional approval on the new NAFTA by withdrawing from the existing pact even before the new one is ready. The thinking is that Congress will have to approve whatever terms are in the new deal quickly, lest the U.S. is left hanging without an agreement with two of its largest trading partners.”

So Team Trump wants to have Congress do this — in an election year? Have they seen how the trade issue has played on the campaign trail? And have they seen how tough it has been for a Republican Congress to pass legislation?

Trump backs Marsha Blackburn: “I will be there to campaign with her!”

“As departing Republican Sen. Bob Corker has continued to praise the Democrat running to replace him, President Donald Trump is making clear that he's firmly in Republican Marsha Blackburn's corner,” one of us writes. "@MarshaBlackburn is a wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her," he tweeted. "Great on the Military, Border Security and Crime. Loves and works hard for the people of Tennessee. She has my full endorsement and I will be there to campaign with her!"