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Trump ramps it up in yet another wild day of claims and controversy

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

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /

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WASHINGTON — Yes, almost every day seems chaotic in President Donald Trump’s Washington. And yes, almost every day produces some kind of controversy, scandal or false assertion. But Thursday — when Trump’s sole scheduled public appearance was a roundtable to discuss the tax law in West Virginia — was an especially wild day in the Trump Era.

  • At his event in West Virginia, Trump repeated his unsubstantiated claim that millions of votes were fraudulently cast in the 2016 election. "In many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You've probably heard about that. They always like to say that's a conspiracy theory. Not a conspiracy theory, folks," Trump said, according to NBC’s Jane Timm. "Millions and millions of people."
  • Also in West Virginia, Trump observed that women “are being raped at numbers never seen before” as an immigrant caravan heads towards the United States. Per NBC’s Vivian Salama, Trump “did not provide any evidence to support his claim that rapes are taking place during the caravan in Mexico of asylum-seekers, nor did he identify the source of his information… Buzzfeed News immigration reporter Adolfo Flores, who has been traveling with the caravan for nearly two weeks, tweeted, ‘To be clear I haven’t heard of anyone being raped in or around the caravan.’”
  • Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump broke his silence on Stormy Daniels, saying he wasn’t aware of the $130,000 payment made to her. And that complicates things for the president. “Ms. Clifford’s case is based on the notion that the confidentiality agreement is invalid because Mr. Trump was not a party to it. By saying he was not aware of the agreement, Mr. Trump appeared to confirm that argument, which would mean neither party is legally bound by it, thus potentially paving the way for Ms. Clifford to break her silence without consequences,” the New York Times writes.
  • About an hour later, at around 6:30 pm ET, Trump released a statement saying he was considering $100 billion of additional tariffs on China. “I am committed to enabling American companies and workers to compete on a level playing field around the world, and I will never allow unfair trade practices to undermine American interests.”
  • And more damaging details came out EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, courtesy of the New York Times. “At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, four of them high-ranking, were reassigned or demoted, or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending and management of the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt,” the Times says. “Mr. Pruitt, who often ran late, wanted to use the lights and sirens to expedite local trips in Washington to the airport or to dinner, including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant that he frequented. Such use was not consistent with agency policy, but Mr. Weese was unsuccessful in stopping it.” (Pruitt's EPA responded, “The suggestion that Administrator Pruitt directs the abuse of emergency lights is ridiculous. The security detail for the past 15 years has used them in very limited fashion. i.e. to avoid possible compromise of the vehicle in a flow of traffic.”)

All of that was in the span of just a few hours on Thursday.

Trey Gowdy’s Bulworth moment

There’s a good case to make that retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., might be the most interesting political figure in Washington right now, especially given his profile as the Republican who led the House GOP’s Benghazi committee. Here are some excerpts of Gowdy’s sit-down interview with Vice News:

On his tenure in Congress: "I don't like the job... I don't have a lot to show for the last seven years.”

On the Russia investigation and the House Intel Committee: "The House Intelligence Committee was more divisive than the Oversight Committee has ever been."

On the Republican Party of 2018: "The goal is to win.”

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg admits other data breaches are possible

In an interview on “Today,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg “admitted the possibility that additional breaches in personal information could be discovered by current company audits prompted by Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of user data. ‘We're doing an investigation, we're going to do audits and yes, we think it's possible, that's why we're doing the audit,’ Sandberg told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.”

More: “Sandberg told TODAY that Facebook takes the responsibility of protecting user information seriously. ‘We cared about privacy all along but I think we got the balance wrong,’ she said.”

And: “Both Sandberg and Zuckerberg have taken ownership for the crisis and how Facebook has managed it. ‘I run this place with Mark, and I take responsibility for the operational weaknesses we have, for the things we didn't do and we didn't do soon enough,’ she said.”

Bernie Sanders’ lingering problem with black voters

“Senator Bernie Sanders insists he hasn’t decided whether to run again for president, but a 14-hour sprint across the Deep South on Wednesday made clear that he is not only thinking about it but is already trying to remedy his most significant vulnerability in 2016: his lack of support from black voters,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin writes. “On Wednesday night, after the Jackson forum, Mr. Sanders faced sharp criticism from some African-Americans who thought he had reduced the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, to merely being what Mr. Sanders called a ‘charismatic individual.’”

“Few in the audience responded adversely, many of them having witnessed firsthand the decline of the state and local party. But the fact that his only mention of Mr. Obama was in reference to Democratic defeats, particularly during an event honoring Dr. King in a heavily black Deep South capital with a painful racial history, struck some critics as tone-deaf and even insensitive.”

“On Thursday, Mr. Sanders and his top aides responded angrily to the suggestion he had diminished Mr. Obama. The senator tweeted that ‘some have so degraded our discourse that my recognition of the historical significance of the Obama presidency is attacked.’”

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Tim Pawlenty is officially running for governor in Minnesota… A new poll shows Democrat Phil Bredesen leading Republican Marsha Blackburn by 10 points in Tennessee’s Senate contest… And Democrat Joe Manchin demanded answers from Trump ahead of the president’s visit to West Virginia yesterday.

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