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
WASHINGTON — Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that the four-page Nunes memo he helped to declassify vindicated him in the entire Russia probe.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their [sic] was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction.” (Does anyone know why he put his name in quotation marks?)
But there are four reasons why the memo — which alleges that the FBI improperly obtained a surveillance on former Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page, because it used the Democratic-financed Steele dossier as an “essential” part of the warrant application — doesn’t vindicate the president at all.
- The memo confirms that the Russia probe began with George Papadopoulos — not the Steele dossier: In its final paragraph, the memo states, “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Peter Strzok.” To recap, the FBI investigation began in July 2016, after an Australian diplomat told the U.S. government that Papadopoulos said Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Page FISA warrant was months later, on Oct. 21, 2016. As former Obama CIA Director John Brennan said on “Meet the Press” yesterday, the Steele dossier “did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessments that was done that was presented to then President Obama and then President-elect Trump.”
- The memo doesn’t invalidate what we already know about the Russia probe: The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump's campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton's... Trump actively campaigned on the WikiLeaks disclosures against the Clinton campaign in the final month of the presidential election. ("Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," he said on Nov. 4, 2016)... In June of 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower after Trump Jr. was told by publicist Rob Goldstone that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton... A month earlier, in May of 2016, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told Australia's top diplomat during a night of heavy drinking that Russia had dirt on Clinton.
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- The memo focuses on Carter Page, who was a peripheral player (at best) in the probe: Page didn’t play a role in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, nor was he linked with Papadopoulos. “The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos,” the Nunes memo explains. And here’s what we do know about Page: In 2013, he met with and passed information to a Russia agent. Why was someone like that working for a major presidential campaign?
- The memo is a one-sided account: NBC’s Geoff Bennett reports that the House Intelligence Committee at 5:00 pm ET today will vote to release the Democrats’ rebuttal to the Nunes memo. “Democrats have said their 10-page memo corrects mischaracterizations by the Republicans and adds crucial context to actions by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department in obtaining a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order to wiretap the former Trump aide,” the New York Times says.
So, no, the Nunes memo doesn’t vindicate Trump in the Russia probe. And if you don’t want to take our word for it, here’s GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.: “I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe,” he told CBS. “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.”
Priebus disputes that Trump sought to fire Mueller
Also on “Meet” yesterday, former Trump White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus disputed reports that Trump sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, NBC’s Kailani Koenig reports. “Of all the things that we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel,” Priebus said.
Priebus added, “I think it was very clear by the president’s own words that he was concerned about the conflicts of interest that he felt that the special counsel had and that he made that very clear," Priebus said. "Perhaps someone interpreted that to mean something else but I know the difference between, ‘Fire that person, why isn’t that person gone?’ to what I read.”
But note how Priebus repeatedly used the word “felt” in the interview. As Hugh Hewitt described it on “Meet” after the Priebus interview, “You can't perjure yourself if you feel something. If you don't remember something you can't perjure yourself. So he's been lawyered up. He's obviously feeling like he's not a target and he's in the clear.”
Trump heads to Ohio to sell his tax law
At 2:30 pm ET at the Sheffer Corporation outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, President Trump delivers remarks on his tax law. “The company gave all of its employees $1,000 bonuses as a result of the savings it expects from the tax law,” the Cincy Enquirer writes. “U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, visited Sheffer in January to praise the impact of the tax law.”
McCain, Coons introduce immigration to protect Dreamers — without $30 billion in border spending
The Washington Post: “Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) plan to formally introduce a bill that would grant permanent legal status to immigrant “dreamers” and start bolstering security along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the measure would not call for spending the $30 billion President Trump is seeking to fortify the border with new wall and fence construction. And the McCain-Coons plan would grant legal status to dreamers who have been in the country since 2013 — a larger pool of immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing. The bill says nothing about curbing family-based legal migration or making changes to the diversity lottery program — two other priorities for Trump and conservative Republicans.”
More: “The new legislation comes as Congress has just four days to meet another short-term spending deadline at midnight Friday... Whether the McCain-Coons bill could emerge from the Senate as the chamber’s immigration plan is unclear — but it is a nearly identical copy of legislation that was introduced in the House and has wide support. The USA Act, introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), has 54 co-sponsors — 27 members from each party.”
Do Democrats have TOO many congressional candidates?
NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald shines a spotlight on retiring Rep. Darrell Issa’s, R-Calif., congressional district to ask the question: Do Democrats have too many congressional candidates running, especially in California’s Top-2 system? “Democrats are not merely trying to avoid a circular firing squad, but the prospect of forfeiting the race entirely under California's unusual ‘jungle primary’ rules that could give Republicans both slots on the November ballot if Democrats split their vote.”
More: “With six Democrats in the race — including two self-funding millionaires, and the former Marine colonel who nearly unseated Issa last time in the closest House race in the country — ‘it's an existential problem,’ warned Dave Lagstein, the political director of a local labor union.”