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.
Scrutiny of Kushner keeps the White House in permanent crisis mode
Donald Trump could have spent the holiday weekend regrouping after returning from an exhausting and sometimes rocky trip overseas. But instead, the White House finds itself once again in permanent crisis mode, this time due to scrutiny of Jared Kushner’s communications with Russian officials. Consider what’s happened just in the last six days:
- On Thursday, NBC News reports that Kushner is under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia probe.
- On Friday evening, the Washington Post reports that Kushner and Russia's ambassador discussed creating a secret backchannel using Russian communication facilities.
- On Saturday, Reuters reports that Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Kushner’s attorney responds: “Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described.”
- National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster tells reporters he’s “not concerned” about the reports and describes back-channeling as standard procedure
- On Sunday, Trump defends Kushner in a statement, saying: "I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”
- House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff says that Kushner's security clearance should be reviewed.
- NBC's Kristen Welker and Ali Vitali report that Kushner has been urged to "lay low."
- Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defends the idea of Kushner setting up a new means of communication with Russia, telling one of us(!) on Meet the Press: "Just because you have a back channel, if indeed that’s what Jared was after, doesn’t mean that he then keeps everything secret."
- A half dozen White House aides tell the New York Times that Kushner pushed Trump to fire James Comey, insisting that it would be a political "win" because Democrats had previously criticized the FBI director.
- On Monday, the New York Times reports that investigators are eying Kushner’s contacts with Russian banker and Putin associate Sergey Gorkov.
- And finally, breaking this morning: Amid the White House’s communications woes and scandals — and after swirling news of impending staff shakeups — communications director Mike Dubke is officially out. NBC News confirms that Dubke, who has only been on the job for three months, has submitted his resignation, although his last day has not been set. (He resigned on May 18 but offered to stay until the end of Trump’s first foreign trip.)
Phew. Again and again, the Russia story keeps Trump’s administration from driving its own message and controlling its own narrative, and it’s threatening to engulf his presidency entirely. Unless the White House can figure out how to contain this story and staunch the bleeding, very little else is going to break through.
Faced with leaks, Trump blasts 'fabricated lies'
The president was back on Twitter over the weekend to take on "fabricated lies" coming out of the White House. "It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media," he wrote. "Whenever you see the words 'sources say' in the fake news media, and they don't mention names........it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers." A few things to note here: 1) Trump himself famously used pseudonyms and a false spokesman in the 1980s, 2) Trump himself cited unnamed "sources" during his quest to discredit Barack Obama's eligibility to be president, and 3) Trump was the only foreign leader who declined to take questions from the press after the G-7, and his aides tried to keep questions to his advisers off camera during his foreign trip.
Merkel: 'The times in which we could fully rely on others — they are somewhat over'
It was a holiday weekend full of news, but perhaps the most consequential story came from Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that Europe should "really take our fate into our own hands... The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over." It's hard to overstate what a tectonic shift that is after decades of alliance-building between Europe and the United States. Merkel didn’t mention Trump by name, but the subtext after Trump failed to explicitly endorse NATO’s collective defense doctrine was clear. By the way, here’s what Trump tweeted this morning as fallout from his trip continued: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”
And French President Emmanuel Macron weighs in too
And don't miss this remarkable quote from French President Emmanuel Macron, who called his tense handshake with Trump "a moment of truth" meant to show that "we won’t make small concessions." Macron told the Journal du Dimanche that "Donald Trump, the President of Turkey or the President of Russia are of a mindset of power relations, which doesn't bother me. I don't believe in diplomacy of the public invective but in bilateral dialogues. I don't let anything go. That's how one makes oneself respected." Think about that: Macron didn't hesitate to compare the president of the United States to Putin and Erdogan. And that comparison was made even more stark yesterday, when Macron directly challenged Putin — while standing beside him! — on gay rights, Syria, and Russian media “organs of influence.” Wow.
Finally, don’t miss what’s going on in Texas
Protests over a tough new Texas immigration law nearly led to blows between lawmakers on the state house floor Monday after a Republican member said he called immigration authorities on activists. From the Texas Tribune: “State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement while hundreds of people dressed in red T-shirts unfurled banners and chanted in opposition to the state’s new sanctuary cities law. His action enraged Hispanic legislators nearby, leading to a tussle in which each side accused the other of threats and violence. In a statement, Rinaldi said state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, "threatened my life on the House floor," and that Rinaldi is currently under the protection of the Department of Public Safety as a result... After the incident, Nevárez tweeted in response to Rinaldi's claims: ‘He's a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him.’”