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
WASHINGTON — If there was one issue Donald Trump campaigned on more aggressively than the others in 2016, it was the importance of handling classified information — when it came to Hillary Clinton’s private email account and server.
“She set up this illegal server knowing full well that her actions put our national security at risk and put the safety and security of your children and your families at risk,” Trump said in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 29, 2016.
“Think of it, can you imagine Anthony Weiner has probably every classified email ever sent. And knowing this guy, he probably studied every single one, in between using his machine for other purposes,” Trump added in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 5, 2016, referring to the FBI looking at Clinton emails that were on a computer owned by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her husband Anthony Weiner.
“Hillary Clinton will be under investigation for a long, long time for her many crimes against our nation, our people, our democracy, likely concluding in a criminal trial,” he said on Nov. 6, 2016 in Minnesota.
Why is this stroll down memory lane important? Yesterday, we learned that White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner — who had access to highly classified information and was even viewing the Presidential Daily Brief — lost his top-security clearance.
That came, of course, after NBC News reported that scores of top White House aides, including Kushner, lacked permanent security clearances. And also yesterday we learned from the Washington Post that officials “in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.”
And who can forget this story from last spring? “President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.”
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We’ve seen the Trump White House engage in plenty of hypocrisy over the past year — the vows to clean up the “swamp,” the promises that wealthy Americans wouldn’t benefit under the tax law — but its carelessness about who is seeing classified information might be the biggest hypocrisy of all.
And regarding that Washington Post report about how foreign governments have discussed how they can manipulate Kushner, no one can survive a story like that — unless you’re the president’s son-in-law.
Washington might not be able to pass new gun laws, but the politics of guns is changing
The last example is from DICK’S Sporting Goods, which announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles. “We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens. But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids,” the company said in a statement.
The Trump cabinet scandals continue
The New York Times: “Department of Housing and Urban Development officials spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017 — just as the White House circulated its plans to slash HUD’s programs for the homeless, elderly and poor, according to federal procurement records.”
More: “The purchase of the custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch came a month after a top agency staff member filed a whistle-blower complaint charging Mr. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, with pressuring department officials to find money for the expensive redecoration of his offices, even if it meant circumventing the law… Mr. Carson ‘didn’t know the table had been purchased,’ but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it, said Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman. ‘In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,’ he added.”
White House communications director admits she tells “white lies”
This isn’t a small admission, folks: “Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, told House investigators on Tuesday that her work for President Trump, who has a reputation for exaggerations and outright falsehoods, had occasionally required her to tell white lies,” the New York Times says. “But after extended consultation with her lawyers, she insisted that she had not lied about matters material to the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to Trump associates, according to three people familiar with her testimony.”
Given the “white lies” admission from a communications director — of all people — every reporter should ask this question each time the White House makes a statement or declaration of fact: Is that a white lie?
WaPo: Trump aides “made it a priority” that Corker didn’t re-enter Tennessee Senate race
So this helps explain why Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ultimately decided to end his second thoughts about seeking re-election this November. “For two and a half tense weeks, Bob Corker quietly pondered a dramatic reversal: running for reelection to the Senate seat he had forsaken. Inside the White House, there was a loud movement to stop him,” the Washington Post writes. “Many of President Trump’s political aides made it a priority to ensure that the Tennessean, who has accused the president of ‘debasing’ the country with his ‘untruths’ and ‘name-calling,’ did not reenter the race. So they went straight to the one person with the ability to give Corker a new lease on his political life: Trump himself.”
“They frequently reminded the president of Corker’s criticism, at times even providing specific examples. They kept folders documenting the attacks from Corker and other Trump detractors. They argued that if Trump backed Corker, all that ugliness would receive renewed national attention.”
Lesko wins crowded GOP race in AZ-8
So the Republican who was mired in a sexting controversy — state Sen. Steve Montenegro — did NOT win last night’s special congressional election in Arizona. Instead, the winner was fellow state Sen. Debbie Lesko.
The Arizona Republic: “Debbie Lesko won the Republican primary race for the vacant West Valley congressional seat Tuesday night, drawing on her deep ties to the area to defeat 11 challengers… Earlier in the night, Hiral Tipirneni was declared the winner of the Democratic primary. Lesko and Tipirneni will face off in an April 24 special general election. The race will settle who finishes the current two-year term for Trent Franks, who resigned in December after being accused of sexual misconduct by some of his female staffers.”
Lesko will be the favorite in the April 24 general election; Trump won the district by 21 points in 2016.
Democrats flip two more state legislative seats
Democrats gained control of two more previously GOP-held state legislative seats in special elections last night, bringing the total to 39 red-to-blue flips this cycle. In Connecticut, Democrat Phil Young won a Stratford-area state House seat long held by Republicans, which became vacant after Republican Laura Hoydick was sworn in as mayor. Hillary Clinton won the district 49 percent to 47 percent, according to Daily Kos. And in New Hampshire, substance abuse recovery coach Philip Spaguolo bested Republican retired hazardous waste materials coordinator Les Cartier. The area backed Trump by a 54-41 margin but narrowly went for Obama in 2012.