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Same as He Ever Was: Staff Shifts Don't Temper Trump's Rhetoric

All the latest on Trump's war of words with North Korea, his spat with Mitch McConnell and more
Image: President Donald Trump speaks before a security briefing
President Donald Trump speaks before a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey on Aug. 10, 2017.Evan Vucci / AP

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.

Same as he ever was: Staff shifts don’t temper Trump’s rhetoric

WASHINGTON — It’s been two weeks since President Trump dumped Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and named John Kelly to replace him. And it’s been less than two weeks since Anthony Scaramucci’s White House tenure was cut way short.

But the more personnel changes at the White House, the more it becomes obvious that the president himself doesn’t really change. That was clear in the remarks that Trump gave Thursday to reporters, which were contradictory, cluttered and confusing:

  • He doubled-down on his rhetoric concerning North Korea: “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said when asked about this week’s “fire and fury” comment. He later said of Kim Jong-un: “He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before what will happen in North Korea.”
  • But then he also said he wanted to “de-nuke the world”: “I would like to de-nuke the world,” Trump said. “I know that President Obama said that global warming is the greatest threat. I totally disagree. Nuclear is our biggest threat worldwide. I would like Russia, us, and China and Pakistan and many other countries that have nukes get rid of them.”
  • He maintained there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia: “Everyone said there's no collusion, even the enemies say there's no collusion, there's no collusion.” (In fact, that Donald Trump Jr. email certainly sounded like some in Trump World were more than open to getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russians. "If it's what you say, I love it.")
  • And/but he said he was surprised that the FBI raided the home of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort: “I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever. I know Mr. Manafort. Haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign a short period of time but I've always known him to be a good man. I thought it was a very — you know, they do that very seldom, so I was surprised to see it.”
  • He said he had not given it any thought on whether to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller: “I haven't given it any thought. I've been reading about it from you people.” (But that stands in contrast to what he told the New York Times last month. NYT: “If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line? Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?” Trump: “I would say yeah, I would say yes.”)
  • He said he doesn’t think Iran is in compliance with nuclear deal: “I don't think Iran is in compliance,” he said. “I personally don't think they're in compliance, but we're going to see. I don't think they're living up to spirit of agreement.” (In fact, Trump’s own State Department has recertified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal.)
  • He again criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not being able to pass the Senate GOP's health-care effort: “I'm very disappointed in Mitch, but if he gets bills passed I'll be very happy with him. I'll be the first to admit it. But it should have been done. Repeal and replace should have taken place.”
  • Yet he thanked Vladimir Putin for ordering that the United States slash its Russian embassy staff — due to the sanctions that Congress passed and Trump signed into law: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.”

Now it’s very possible that Kelly, as chief of staff, is better able to get information to the president. And it’s possible that there’s a stronger chain of command than what existed under Priebus. But yesterday’s remarks proved that Trump — he ain’t a-changing.

That disturbing NSC memo

Speaking of Trump’s staff, the National Security memo — authored by Rich Higgins, who was later pushed out of the NSC — is very disturbing. That these are the views of a key White House staffer, and that this information actually landed on the president’s desk, would make Lyndon LaRouche blush.

Foreign Policy: “Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents ‘an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative.’ Those threatened by Trump include “deep state” actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans.”

More: “Though not called out by name, [National Security Adviser] McMaster was among those described in the document as working against Trump, according to a source with firsthand knowledge of the memo and the events. Higgins, the author, is widely regarded as a Flynn loyalist who dislikes McMaster and his team.”

Don’t forget: McConnell’s Supreme Court gambit helped elect Trump

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Kasie Hunt have the latest in Trump vs. McConnell: “President Donald Trump escalated his attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday, suggesting that the GOP leader should step aside if he doesn't pass any major pieces of legislation backed by the White House.”

Three points here from us: 1) This all risks ending Trump’s relationship with Congress; 2) Trump might only have himself to blame for losing the GOP votes from Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain; and 3) McConnell’s Supreme Court gambit denying a vote for Obama pick Merrick Garland might have done more to elect Trump than anything else that happened in 2016.

The latest in the Alabama Senate contest

Contenders in the Alabama Senate race aren’t defending Mitch McConnell against Trump, Politico writes. Luther Strange said he has “no problem” with Trump’s tweets about McConnell. Joe Biden is endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones.