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Kavanaugh allegations add yet another crisis to a besieged White House

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: Brett Kavanaugh
Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks after being nominated by President Donald Trump to the Supreme Court on July 9, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is now facing danger on three different fronts — the Russia investigation (after Paul Manafort’s decision to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller), Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination (after a woman accused him of sexual assault when they were in high school), and the midterms (with the elections now 50 days away).

And we start with the Sunday bombshell on Kavanaugh, which has forced senators on both sides of the aisle to call for a delay in his confirmation vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Speaking publicly for the first time, [Christine Blasey] Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both ‘stumbling drunk,’ Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County,” the Washington Post reported yesterday afternoon. “While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.”

More: “Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students ‘from an elitist boys’ school’ who went on to become ‘highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.’ The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.”

“On Sunday, the White House sent The Post a statement Kavanaugh issued last week, when the outlines of Ford’s account became public: ‘I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.’”

But it’s hard to disagree with Ford’s husband, who told the Washington Post why this allegation — even from the days of high school — should be taken seriously. “‘I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong,’ Russell Ford said. ‘If they don’t have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that’s a problem. So I think it’s relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard.’”

Ford’s attorney say she’s willing to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee

This morning on “Today,” NBC’s Savannah Guthrie interviewed Debra Katz, Christine Blasey Ford’s attorney.

GUTHRIE: Obviously, we've just heard the details of her story. She alleges a sexual assault back in high school. One of the therapist’s notes from a few years ago, when she recounted this states that it was an attempted rape. My question to you is, does she consider this an attempted rape?

KATZ: She does. She clearly considers this an attempted rape. She believes if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.

GUTHRIE: Ms. Katz, is your client willing to testify before the judiciary committee publicly and tell this story?

KATZ: She is. She's willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth, yes.

GUTHRIE: Does she think Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination? Is that what she hopes comes out of this?

KATZ: She's not taking a position on that. She believes that these allegations bear on his character and his fitness. And the denials, of course, also bear on his character and fitness.

A few additional thoughts about the public accusation against Kavanaugh

Will any of Kavanaugh’s classmates or friends from his high-school days break from him and back up Ford’s claim? How badly does Kavanaugh want this nomination? (Let’s be realistic, there are still probably the votes to confirm him. But does he want to serve with this asterisk?)

And how does this play out in an already-broken confirmation process? (If Kavanaugh is confirmed, it’s a #MeToo tattoo. If he’s not confirmed, he becomes Bork 2.0 — a new cause célèbre in the culture wars. And remember, nothing motivates Republicans and conservatives more than court fights.)

Manafort cooperating with Mueller might be the most significant development so far in the Russia probe

Next for Trump, there’s the danger over Paul Manafort, who pleaded guilty on Friday and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller. And this development is significant because Manafort — who was Trump’s former campaign chairman — has numerous connections to different aspects of the Russia probe.

1. He was in the room for that infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

What actually happened in that meeting? Was there any communication with participants after the meeting?

2. His former business partner is longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who allegedly was communicating with Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, according to Mueller’s previous indictments.

(“On or about Aug. 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump — presumably Stone — ‘thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted.’”) Did Manafort and the Trump campaign know about Russia’s interference plans?

3. He had plenty of connections with Russia-backed figures.

“If there were a conspiracy between the campaign and the Russian interference effort, it’s hard to imagine Manafort wasn’t part of it, analysts said,” NBC’s Ken Dilanian writes. “‘He is the vector that brought in the Russian infection,’ said Frank Figliuzzi, the former head of counter-intelligence at the FBI … ‘He has a history with organized crime, Ukrainian thugs, Russian politicians.’”

4. What role did Manafort play in the mysterious gutting of the 2016 Republican platform of sending lethal weapons to Ukrainians fighting Russian forces?

“Manafort is a key person to help us unwind whether this is the most improbable string of unlikely coincidences, or whether this was an active conspiracy,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Notably, Trump hasn’t tweeted about Manafort flipping. He also hasn’t yet tweeted about Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh.

GOP strategists admit Americans aren’t voting on the economy. 'They’re voting on the chaos of the guy in the White House.'

And now with the midterm elections 50 days away, Republicans are sounding the alarm that a humming economy might not be enough to save them in November, the New York Times says. “This is very much a referendum on the president,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. “If we had to fight this campaign on what we accomplished in Congress and on the state of the economy, I think we’d almost certainly keep our majority.”

GOP pollster Glen Bolger added, “People think the economy is doing well, but that’s not what they’re voting on — they’re voting on the chaos of the guy in the White House.”

FEMA director cites 'spousal abuse' when discussing 'indirect' deaths from Hurricane Maria

Finally, also on “Meet the Press” yesterday, FEMA Director Brock Long was asked about Trump’s tweet arguing that death estimates from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were inflated by Democrats to make him look bad.

TODD: Well, is it fair — I mean, he said Democrats did it to make him look bad. Do you believe any of these studies were done to make the president look bad?

LONG: Well, I mean there’s, I don't think the studies, I don’t know why the studies were done. I mean, I think what we're trying to do, in my opinion, what we've got to do is figure out why people die, from direct deaths, which is the wind, the water, and the waves, you know, buildings collapsing, which is probably where the 65 number came from. And then there's indirect deaths. So, the George Washington study looked at what happened six months after the fact. And you know, what happens is — and even in this event, you might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people have heart attacks due to stress.

They fall off their house trying to fix their roof. They die in car crashes because they, they went through an intersection where the stoplights weren't working. You know the other thing that goes on, there's all kinds of studies on this that we take a look at. Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can't blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody. And the President's very passionate about the work we've done. He's been incredibly supportive of me and this staff. He’s actually — I bet he's probably the only president that's held two cabinet level meetings, brought his entire cabinet to this agency to show support.