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Trump teeters at a precipice on Comey, Russia, Syria and 2018

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 /
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House on March 23.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

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WASHINGTON — The week began with the startling news Monday that the FBI raided the office of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. It ends — at least as of the morning on this Friday the 13th — with the revelations of James Comey’s book slamming President Trump as “unethical” and “untethered to truth.”

And in between, there were the deliberations on striking Syria for its chemical weapons attack, Paul Ryan’s decision not to run for re-election and what that might mean for the 2018 midterms, and Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day testimony on Capitol Hill.

So it’s been an eventful week in the Trump presidency, but so much is still unresolved.Will Trump order a military strike against Syria? And if he does, will it deter Syria from future chemical attacks — which last year’s strike didn’t seem to do?

Will the president try to shut down the Russia investigation — by firing Rod Rosenstein and/or Robert Mueller?How will Trump respond to Comey’s book? (At publication time, he just fired off this tweet: “James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired.”)

And will we see more Republican retirements, lower morale and less GOP midterm enthusiasm after Ryan’s announcement?

In short, it was a week where we may have reached the tipping point – on Syria, Mueller, the 2018 midterms — and we’re all waiting to see how these stories actually tip.

One final thought: It’s striking how most of these stories (Syria, Mueller, Comey, Zuckerberg) relate to Russia or the Russia investigation. Even Paul Ryan saw the final part of his speakership consumed by the Russia investigation.

After promising to be the “law and order candidate” in 2016, Trump is about to issue his second controversial pardon — of Scooter Libby

In his 2016 convention speech, Donald Trump mentioned the words “law and order” four times:

  • “We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.”
  • “There can be no prosperity without law and order.”
  • “I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to the country.”
  • “In this race for the White House, I am the Law and Order candidate.”

But this “law and order candidate” is about to issue the second controversial pardon of his presidency — after the pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, per NBC News.

“President Donald Trump plans to pardon I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstructing justice, an administration official confirmed to NBC News. ABC News reported Thursday evening that Trump is poised to pardon Libby, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison but who had his sentence commuted by President George W. Bush. The conviction remained on his record.”

“Libby was convicted of one count of obstruction, two counts of perjury and one count of lying to the FBI about how he learned Plame's identity and whom he told. Prosecutors said he learned about Plame from Cheney and others, discussed her name with reporters and, fearing prosecution, made up a story to make those discussions seem innocuous.”

In book, Comey blasts Trump as “unethical,” “untethered to truth”

“President Donald Trump is an ‘unethical’ man ‘untethered to truth and institutional values,’ former FBI Director James Comey writes in his eagerly anticipated memoir, which paints the president as living in ‘a cocoon of alternative reality,’” NBC’s Alex Johnson writes.

“Perhaps most striking is Comey's description of Trump and his advisers as being utterly unconcerned with whether Russia meddled in the election during his first meeting with the president-elect in January 2017 at Trump Tower in New York.”

“Elsewhere, Comey describes Trump as lapsing into paranoia about the Steele dossier, especially one of its more colorful (and unproven) allegations: that Trump had once cavorted with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. The dossier describes prostitutes' performing a highly unusual act involving urination with Trump present as a way to sully the bed, which had previously been used by President Barack Obama. Trump raised the allegation at least four times, Comey writes, complaining that he hadn't even spent the night in the hotel room (which, Comey notes, he needn't have done for the still-unverified allegation to be true) and that ‘it bothered him if there was “even a one percent chance” his wife, Melania, thought it was true.’”

Mueller, Trump teams are preparing to move forward without a presidential interview

From NBC’s Carol Lee, Julia Ainsley, Kristen Welker and Hallie Jackson: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and President Donald Trump’s legal team are now proceeding with strategies that presume a presidential interview will likely not take place as part of the Russia investigation, after months of talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this week, according to multiple people familiar with the matter...

[T]he prospects for a presidential interview drastically dimmed once the FBI raided the home, office and hotel room of Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen on Monday, these people said. The president criticized the raid as out of bounds in Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump aides.”

Be careful of jumping on the new TPP story

“President Trump ordered top administration officials Thursday to look at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the sprawling trade pact he rejected three days after taking office,” the Washington Post writes.

But Trump asking aides to look at something again isn’t the same as being committed to it. In fact, Trump said this via Twitter last night: “Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!”

Meet the Press presents “The Lid”

And be sure to check out our afternoon/evening flash news briefing – The Lid. Whether it’s news about politics, election data, our industry-leading polls, Chuck Todd and the NBC News Political Unit run down the most important stories from Washington every weekday evening to help you make sense of it all.

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