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It's been an extraordinary nine days in the Trump presidency

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 and Putin hold a press conference in Helsinki
President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has now completed 18 full months in office. But the last nine days – from July 11 through yesterday – represent a remarkable stretch in his presidency. To recap:

  • Wednesday, July 11: At the beginning of his NATO meetings in Brussels, Trump criticized NATO allies for “not paying what they should” and took specific aim at Germany ("I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia”).
  • Thursday, July 12: Trump “jolted a NATO summit … with a last-minute demand that leaders immediately pour billions into their military budgets, raising questions about his commitment to the alliance, before he reiterated that the United States would still fight on behalf of its Western allies,” the Washington Post wrote. The president also gave an interview to The Sun, in which he criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.
  • Saturday, July 14: Trump blamed the Obama administration for the Russian interference in 2016, tweeting: “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” (But don’t forget all of the ways in which Team Trump seized on the Russian interference.)
  • Monday, July 16: In a news conference with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump blamed both countries for the state of U.S.-Russia relations (“I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish”), and he appeared to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies on the question whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election (“I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today”).
  • Tuesday, July 17: Back at the White House, Trump tried to clean up his comments from Helsinki – although not all of them. "I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript...I realized that there is a need for some clarification," Trump said, per NBC News. "The sentence should have been...'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.’” He also said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but he added: “Could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
  • Wednesday, July 18: CBS aired an interview of Trump saying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that he held Putin personally responsible for it. "Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes."
  • Thursday, July 19: The Trump White House announced that it has invited Putin to visit Washington in the fall. “In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted.

And who knows what today — Friday, July 20 — will bring.

Highlights of Andrea Mitchell’s extraordinary interview with DNI Dan Coats

What also was extraordinary yesterday was Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, including when Mitchell told Coats about the White House’s invitation to Putin: “Say that again?... Okaaay. That’s going to be special.”

Here were other highlights from Mitchell’s interview with Coats, per NBC’s Ken Dilanian:

  • Coats admitted that he had no idea what Trump and Putin discussed in their one-on-one meeting: “I don't know what happened in that meeting. I think-- as time goes by-- and President has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more. But that is the president's prerogative. If he had asked me-- how that oughta-- be conducted, I would have suggesting a different way. But that's not my role. That's not my job.”
  • He acknowledged that Putin could have taped that meeting: “That risk is always there.”
  • And said he wished Trump had made a different original statement in Helsinki about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election: Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement. But I think that now that has been clarified based on his late reactions to this.”

Not surprisingly, the Trump White House wasn’t all that pleased with Coats’ remarks. “Trump’s advisers were in an uproar over Coats’s interview in Aspen, Colo,” the Washington Post reports. “They said the optics were especially damaging, noting that at moments Coats appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of the intellectual elite.”

A Republican congressman’s extraordinary op-ed: Trump is being manipulated by Putin

Here’s Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who’s running a highly competitive race for his re-election: “Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them,” he writes in the New York Times.

More from Hurd: “The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.”

The U.S. government has reunified only 364 of the more than 2,500 migrant children separated from their parents

Remember the story of separated migrant families at the border? Well, here are some updated numbers to remind you that the story is far from over: “The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it has reunified 364 of more than 2,500 migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border, just one week out from a court-ordered deadline,” per NBC’s Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff.

“Of 1,607 parents eligible to be reunited with their children, the filing said, 719 have final orders of deportation, meaning they could be removed from the country as soon as they are reunited. Those parents may have to choose between bringing their child back to a violent country or leaving them behind in the care of the government, nonprofits, foster families or relatives in order to seek asylum in the United States.”

GOP TV ads take aim at “Abolish ICE”

Meanwhile, NBC’s Ben Kamisar looks at how Republican groups are seizing on “Abolish ICE” in their political advertising. “The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC aligned with House Republican Leadership, is out with a new ad that tries to link Democrat Danny O'Connor to the "liberal resistance" that supports the policy. O'Connor is running in next month's special House election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District.”

“Another GOP group has been trying to make the issue stick against Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in his tough Senate race. One Nation, an allied group of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ran ads this month that criticize the push to abolish ICE and calls on Manchin to back President Trump's call for border security funding.”

And welcome Ben Kamisar to the NBC Politics team

Speaking of the author above, we wanted to formally welcome Ben Kamisar to our team. Keep an eye out for his bylines on and our Rundown blog. And check out his other work (here, here and here).