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How Trump took advantage of Russian interference: Amplifying Wikileaks

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
President Donald Trump leaves the stage after addressing a plenary session on the last day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, on Jan. 26, 2018 in Davos, Switzerland.Laurent Gillieron / Keystone via AP file

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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

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WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller's indictments on Friday focused only on the social media and grassroots components of Russia's interference campaign. But they didn't address the hacked emails from John Podesta and the DNC that WikiLeaks released — and which Donald Trump and his campaign eagerly used during the final days of the 2016 election. Here’s how Trump talked about the Wikileaks disclosures in the final week before Election Day:

  • Oct. 31 from Warren, MI: “Did you see where, on WikiLeaks, it was announced that they were paying protestors to be violent, $1,500?... Did you see another one, another one came in today? This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
  • Nov. 2 from Orlando, FL: “Out today, WikiLeaks just came out with a new one, just a little a while ago, it's just been shown that a rigged system with more collusion, possibly illegal, between the Department of Justice, the Clinton campaign and the State Department.”
  • Nov. 2 from Pensacola, FL: “They said about Hillary, she's got bad instincts right. You know who said that, Podesta. I would fire Podesta so fast. I mean the way he talks about her, whether true, not true, who cares. He speaks so badly about her. Of course he didn't know there was a thing called WikiLeaks right.”
  • Nov. 4 from Wilmington, OH: “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”
  • Nov. 6 from Sioux City, IA: “Just today, we learned Hillary Clinton was sending highly classified information through her maid. Did you see? Just came out a little while ago, who therefore had total access to this information, completely jeopardizing the national security of the United States. This just came out. WikiLeaks.”
  • Nov. 7 from Manchester, NH: “Hillary has shown contempt for the working people of this country. Her campaign in WikiLeaks has spoken horribly about Catholics and evangelicals and so many others. They got it all down folks, WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks. And what Podesta said about her, bad instincts. He said she's got bad instincts.”

Trump insists he and his campaign didn't collude with Russia. In the wake of the indictments Friday, Trump claimed vindication, writing “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” On Sunday, he tweeted again “The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it never did!” But his campaign certainly took advantage of the WikiLeaks release — about which Mueller's investigation has been silent. At least so far.

The most important part of Trump’s response to the indictments was what he didn’t say

Mueller’s indictments were notable for their exhaustive detail about how more than a dozen Russians and three companies worked to manipulate American citizens and spread propaganda. Trump’s own national security adviser H.R. McMaster called the evidence in the indictments “really incontrovertible.” But Trump has not expressed alarm at the years-long Russian attempts to undermine the democratic process — or concern about preventing it from happening again in the midterm elections and beyond. In fact, rather than rebuking Moscow, Trump chided McMaster on Twitter for “forgetting” to say that “the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.”

As former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the New York Times, “America was attacked, and our commander in chief said nothing in response. He looks weak, not only in Moscow but throughout the world.” Bottom line: For a president who has seldom shied away from opportunities to lash out at adversaries and to trumpet the sovereignty of the United States, he’s been conspicuously silent in voicing anger at a foreign power’s attempts to meddle in American affairs. Instead, the president’s response has been all about the president.

Trump links FBI Russia probe to failure to prevent Florida school shooting

Speaking of Trump’s tweets,the president on Saturday went so far as to suggest that the FBI might have prevented the tragic deaths of 17 students in Parkland, Florida last week if it wasn’t spending “too much time” on the Russia investigation. “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” he said on Twitter.

It’s one thing to struggle with the challenge of being the nation’s comforter-in-chief at a time of wrenching tragedy. But it’s another thing for Trump to paint the deaths of these students through the prism of his own political problems.

Could the students from Parkland finally spur at least some action on guns?

We’ve all become accustomed to the pattern that typically happens after mass shootings: An outcry and calls for action on gun control, followed by a slow fade of the tragedy from the national headlines as the mourning community is left to pick up the pieces on its own. But something does feel a little different this time, with so many students from Parkland speaking out with passion and clarity even after having endured a shooting less than a week ago.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have announced a nationwide march on March 24, and there’s a call for a national school walkout on April 20(the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.)

“We're not going to let the 17 bullets we just took take us down,” said Parkland student Cameron Kasky on Sunday’s ‘Meet the Press.’ “If anything, we're going to keep running, and we're going to lead the rest of the nation behind us.”

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