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Trump Finds Himself — Again — on the Brink

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: President Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Feb. 23, 2017.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

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.

Trump finds himself — again — on the brink

Of all of the controversies in the first four months of President Trump’s time in office (inaugural crowd size, the travel ban, his claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him), the last week of events could end up being the most consequential. Consider:

Tuesday, May 9: Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, whose agency was investigating whether any elements of Trump’s 2016 campaign had ties to Russia’s interference in the election.

Wednesday, May 10: Trump, in the Oval Office, shares classified information with Russian officials, according to the Washington Post and several other news organizations that reported the disclosure yesterday.

Thursday, May 11: Trump, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, appears to say that the Russia investigation played a role in Comey’s firing. “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”

Friday, May 12: Trump tweets that he might have tapes of his dinner conversation with Comey, apparently responding to a New York Times report that Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty at the dinner. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Here’s how those events could come back to haunt the president: Comey will probably tell his side of the story, as Democrats step up their calls for a special counsel to investigate the Russian angle; both Democrats and Republicans are demanding that Trump hand over any tapes in his possession, as the White House dodges questions about whether tapes actually exist; and while disclosing classified information to the Russians might not be a crime for a president (who can disclose what he wants), it would be a crime for almost anyone else, and it jeopardizes America’s intelligence sharing.

Bottom line: The Trump controversies keep getting worse and worse. And his presidency, right now, looks like an out-of-control freight train. He’s been on the brink before (think the fallout from the Access Hollywood episode) and still survived. But this feels different.

Trump disclosing classified information to the Russians is the equivalent of Bush 41 jumping in a tank, a la Dukakis

Politically, there’s an even more damaging component to the news that Trump shared classified information with the Russians: It’s pretty much the very issue that he seized on to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Think if George H.W. Bush, a year after the 1988 election, hopped in a tank, a la Michael Dukakis. What if George W. Bush, in 2001, proudly proclaimed he invented the internet? Consider the reaction if, in 2009, audio surfaced of Barack Obama saying he supported the Iraq war?

Folks, those are the equivalent of yesterday’s Washington Post story. Here was Trump on Clinton in July 2016: "I don't think it's safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security because the word will get out." And here he is last September: "We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified." What’s more, House Speaker Paul Ryan called to suspend all classified briefings for Hillary Clinton. Will he do the same now for Trump? Ryan can’t stay silent on this matter.

Trump appears to confirm the Post story, undercutting the White House’s earlier defense

Yesterday after the Post published its story, National Security Adviser HR McMaster spoke with reporters and called the story false. "At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known,” he said. “And I was in the room. It didn't happen." (However, note that the Post story never said Trump discussed sources and methods or disclosed military operations.) But this morning, Trump took to Twitter and SEEMED to confirm the Post story:

Inexperience and temperament continue to hurt Trump: During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s two biggest weaknesses were his lack of experience (no modern presidential nominee had less experience, either in government or the military) and questions about his temperament. And what have all of the stories over the past week — Comey, Russia, “tapes” — exposed? Inexperience and temperament.

Trump’s Day

At 9:30 am ET, President Trump speaks with King Abdullah of Jordan… At 12:30 pm ET, Trump welcomes Turkish President Erdogan to the White House… And at 1:00 pm ET, Trump and Erdogan deliver joint statements.

Voters are voting! (in SC-5)

Republican primary voters will head to the polls — again — in South Carolina’s Fifth District today to pick their nominee for the special general election next month. Two weeks ago, primary voters narrowed their choices down to two Republican candidates, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state Rep. Ralph Norman, with each receiving about 30 percent of the vote. Both candidates have since had their share of GOP backers trying to sway the runoff. Pope has been endorsed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, while Norman has gotten support from former Gov. Nikki Haley and former Sen. Jim DeMint, among others. The winner of today’s runoff will face Democrat Archie Parnell, who won the Democratic primary outright earlier this month, on June 20.