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Prisoner release event highlights the best and worst of Trump

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 speaks during a Cabinet Meeting
President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet Meeting at the White House in Washington on May 9, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s tarmac greeting of the three American prisoners that North Korea released was a definite achievement for the White House ahead of the upcoming summit over North Korea’s nuclear program. As NBC’s Peter Alexander said on “Today,” it was a made-for-TV moment – even after 3:00 am ET.

“I think you probably broke the all-time, in history, television rating for three o'clock in the morning – that I would say,” Trump declared.

But the feel-good moment from the prisoners’ release also contained these words from the president: “We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people. They are really three incredible people. And the fact that we were able to get them out so soon was really a tribute to a lot of things, including a certain process that's taking place right now. And that process is very important.”

Kim Jong-un was excellent to those three Americans?

Victor Cha, who was a former candidate to be Trump’s ambassador to South Korea, said on MSNBC this morning: “It’s great news for the families. I had met with some of the family members and they were living in quiet agony over the past year or so. So it’s terrific news for the family. It’s difficult for the president because he’s trying to congratulate the North Korean leader, but we shouldn’t be giving the North Korean leader any humanitarian awards. I mean, he murdered a college student, a University of Virginia college student, Otto Warmbier, and there are hundreds of thousands of North Koreans that are in prison camps today, simply because they want to live in a more free and open society.”

In the span of a few moments after 3:00 am ET, we saw the very best of Trump (a televised prisoner release), as well as the very worst (praise for a dictator who delivered something the president wanted).

Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria

Given the promise of the upcoming summit with North Korea — as well as even the talk of a Nobel Peace Prize — don’t miss the rising conflict between Iran and Israel after the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

The AP: “Israel's military on Thursday said it attacked "dozens" of Iranian targets in neighboring Syria in response to an Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. Israel said the targets included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed several Syrian air-defense systems after coming under heavy fire and that none of its warplanes was hit.”

More: “Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would react fiercely to any further Iranian actions. ‘We will not let Iran turn Syria into a forward base against Israel. This is the policy, a very, very clear policy, and we're acting according to this policy,’ he said. ‘If we get rain, they'll get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.’”

McCain opposes Haspel’s nomination to head the CIA

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, Sen. John McCain released a statement last night saying he opposes Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA. “I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination."

Now McCain mostly likely won’t be in Washington to vote on Haspel’s nomination. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced he would support her, NBC’s Rebecca Shabad writes. So it’s unclear if there are votes to stop Haspel from becoming the next CIA director. But it’s worth watching if McCain’s words have sway with other senators.

How Michael Cohen convinced companies to pay him millions

“President Trump had been sworn into office, and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, saw a golden opportunity,” per the Washington Post. “From his perch in a law office on the 23rd floor of New York’s Rockefeller Center, Cohen pitched potential clients on his close association with Trump, noting that he still was the president’s lawyer, according to associates. He showed photos of himself with Trump and mentioned how frequently they spoke, even asking people to share news articles describing him as the president’s ‘fixer.’ ‘I’m crushing it,’ he said, according to an associate who spoke to him in the summer of 2017.”

“Details that emerged this week reveal how Cohen quickly leveraged his role as Trump’s personal attorney, developing a lucrative sideline as a consultant to companies eager for insight into how to navigate the new administration. The rapid flow of millions of dollars to Cohen shows the rush by corporations — unable to rely on the influence of Washington’s traditional lobbying class in dealing with a new, populist outsider president — to lock in relationships with Trump’s inner circle.”

Trump travels to Indiana

Two days after Indiana Republicans got their nominee to face vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. — Mike Braun — President Trump holds a rally in Elkhart, Ind., at 7:00 pm ET.

Elkhart, of course, is the Indiana city that former President Barack Obama showered attention on during the 2009 stimulus fight. But as the New York Times wrote two years ago, Obama got very little credit for the city’s turnaround, where the unemployment rate was once headed past 20 percent. It’s now 2.2 percent.

In OH GOV, Kasich isn’t endorsing fellow Republican Mike DeWine just yet

The Columbus Dispatch: “Republican Gov. John Kasich won’t endorse GOP gubernatorial nominee Mike DeWine. At least until the two-term incumbent finds out what DeWine intends to do with two beloved Kasich endeavors: JobsOhio and the Medicaid expansion, which has provided health care to 700,000 low-income Ohioans. ‘Governor Kasich has known Mike and Fran DeWine a long time and knows their hearts,’ spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. ‘He looks forward to meeting with Mike and discussing the concerns that his administration has worked to address like creating a positive jobs environment through Jobs Ohio, Medicaid expansion, and other efforts to make sure that no Ohioan is left behind.’”

MD GOV candidate dies from heart attack

“Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz — a Democratic candidate for governor and a fixture in state and local politics for nearly a quarter century — died Thursday morning of cardiac arrest, officials said. Baltimore County police issued a statement saying that Kamenetz, 60, had been transported by ambulance early this morning to University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center where he was declared dead of a cardiac arrest.”

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments we’ve chronicled on our Rundown blog: In West Virginia, Don Blankenship spent almost $100 per voter. All told, he spent about $2.7 million on TV ads in the state, and he received roughly 27,000 votes…. We recap Tuesday night’s CA GOV debate which one of us moderated… And a group of high-profile Democratic veterans is urging a Wisconsin Republican Senate candidate to apologize for comments he made about military vets who support the Democratic Party.