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Trump continues to deny Russia interfered in 2016. Here's why that's a problem.

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.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press aboard Air Force One in flight as he travels from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, to Bedminster, New Jersey, June 29, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Ahead of his July 16 summit with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump continues to deny that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, contradicting the U.S. intelligence community, as well as top officials in his administration.

“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!” Trump tweeted late last week.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, repeated that message on Sunday. “What President Putin said through a translator, of course, but what he said was there was no meddling in 2016 by the Russian state,” Bolton told CBS about his recent conversation with Putin. He added, however: “That's very different from saying my view that there was no Russian meddling at all.”

But those denials and doubts stand in contrast to what almost everyone else has said about Russia’s activities in the 2016 election.

  • The U.S. intelligence community: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” (Jan. 6, 2017)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller: “Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (‘ORGANIZATION’) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes... Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” (Feb. 16, 2018)
  • Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” (Feb. 13, 2018)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when asked if he shared the U.S intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win: “I haven't seen anything that would dissuade me from believing that's right.” (May 23, 2018)

So two weeks before Trump’s meeting with the Putin, the question remains: Why does Trump still deny/doubt that Russia interfered in the 2016 election? (Does he think the storyline sullies his victory? Or is there something more here?)

The other question: Can a president who denies Russia interfered in the 2016 election stop future interference? As FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked back in February:

SEN. JACK REED: Has the president directed you and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing?

WRAY: We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt Russian...

REED: Directed by the president?

WRAY: Not — not as specifically directed by the president, no.

The latest SCOTUS vacancy news

With Trump set to make his Supreme Court justice pick by next week on July 9, here’s some of the Supreme Court news from over the weekend:

  • “Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., warned her colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the upcoming confirmation vote could be ‘career-ending’ if it leads to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and other major precedents,” Cantwell said yesterday on “Meet the Press,” per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald.
  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to ABC: “A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me, because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have,” the New York Times writes.
  • Senate Dem leader Chuck Schumer, writing in the New York Times: “If you do not want a Supreme Court Justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade and undo the Affordable Care Act, tell your senators they should not vote for a candidate from Mr. Trump’s preordained list.”

Leftist Lopez Obrador wins Mexico’s presidential election

NBC News: “Leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed a landslide victory in Mexico's presidential election on Sunday, upending politics with promises to fight violence and corruption. ‘I'm very aware of my historical responsibility,’ López Obrador told throngs of supporters in Mexico City's central square. ‘I don't want to go into history as a bad president. Now we are going to transform Mexico.’”

“Earlier in a speech to reporters, López Obrador pledged to seek ‘a relationship of friendship’ with the United States, Mexico's largest trading partner. The 64-year-old former Mexico City mayor, who will take office on Dec. 1, is expected to move the country in a more nationalist direction.”

Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico. I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!”

Despite those kind words, however, Lopez Obrador has the potential to be the most contentious/combative/aggressive Mexican president towards the United States in decades. And that’s a big story.

North Korea has increased its nuclear production, per U.S. intel agencies

Another big story that’s not getting the attention it probably deserves (just imagine the headlines if this was Iran after the nuclear deal): “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration, U.S. officials told NBC News,” NBC reported on Friday night.

The Washington Post added, “U.S. intelligence officials, citing newly obtained evidence, have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile, and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities, according to U.S. officials.”

Those stories stand in sharp contrast to this Trump statement from last month: “Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Michael Cohen signals willingness to talk to Mueller

“[I]n his first in-depth interview since the FBI raided his office and homes in April, Cohen strongly signaled his willingness to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York — even if that puts President Trump in jeopardy,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports. “‘My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,’ Cohen told me. ‘I put family and country first.’”