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As Trump World swirls with drama, foreign policy tension gets a starring role

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 /
Image: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the Crisis in the Middle East at the UN headquarters in New York
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — Well, it’s not quite Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen or Sean Hannity, but there is plenty of Trump-related drama on foreign affairs ahead of this afternoon’s joint news conference featuring President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

First, there was the public back-and-forth between Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley over the reversal to impose sanctions on Russia. Kudlow, per the AP, told reporters that Haley "got ahead of the curve" when she said the U.S. would be slapping new sanctions on Russia. "There might have been some momentary confusion about that," he said.

Haley then responded, "With all due respect, I don't get confused." Kudlow apologized to Haley. But the real news here might be what Kudlow later told The New York Times: “I was wrong to say that — totally wrong,” adding: “As it turns out, she was basically following what she thought was policy. The policy was changed and she wasn’t told about it, so she was in a box.”

So the U.N. ambassador wasn’t told about a change in Trump policy? What’s more, the Times reports that Trump got angry seeing Haley talking about imposing sanctions on Russia. “President Trump was watching television on Sunday when he saw Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announce that he would impose fresh sanctions on Russia. The president grew angry, according to an official informed about the moment. As far as he was concerned, he had decided no such thing,” the Times writes.

Second, there was Trump’s confirmation – via Twitter — that Mike Pompeo, the president’s nominee to be his next secretary of state, met with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”

This news is especially intriguing since Pompeo might not have the votes right now to win Senate confirmation as secretary of state. Was the leak of this meeting — and Trump’s subsequent tweet — a way to put a little extra pressure on red-state Dems to back Pompeo? And how will Japan’s Abe receive the news of the Trump administration’s diplomacy with Kim Jong-Un?

Talk about some drama — and tension — at Mar-a-Lago.

Greitens digs in as a potential GOP civil war erupts in Missouri

In case you thought things couldn’t get worse for embattled Republican Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens… “Attorney General Josh Hawley, the party’s leading recruit to take on incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, announced Tuesday that his office had uncovered evidence of potential criminal activity by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens after an investigation into the Missouri governor’s charity, The Mission Continues,” The Kansas City Star writes. “Greitens responded by mocking Hawley’s legal prowess and linking the Democratic prosecutor with whom Hawley is coordinating on the investigation to progressive billionaire George Soros.”

And Greitens tweeted last night that he’s not resigning, as more and more state Republicans are urging him to do. “I will not be resigning the Governor's office. In three weeks, this matter will go to a court of law—where it belongs and where the facts will prove my innocence. Until then, I will do what the people of Missouri sent me here to do: to serve them and work hard on their behalf.”

Koch Brothers’ groups invoke Obama in a TV new ad — in a positive way

This story, via NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, is definitely of the man-bites-dog variety: “Two Koch-backed organizations are launching a seven-figure television advertising buy, urging Congress to reach a deal on Dreamers, an issue that has eluded lawmakers. The ad by the LIBRE Initiative and Freedom Partners strikes a bipartisan tone, opening with vignettes of Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush talking about the importance of immigrants to this country.”

“‘We are a nation of immigrants but we are also a nation of laws,’ a clip of Clinton says. A narrator then says, ‘There's a bipartisan path forward on immigration. What are we waiting for?’”

It’s getting rough in the Democratic race for Ohio governor

Here’s NBC’s Shaquille Brewster: “Armed with new evidence, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray’s campaign is out again hitting Dennis Kucinich for being too sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kucinich has been a vocal critic of U.S. military intervention in the region.”

The Columbus Dispatch reports: ‘Dennis Kucinich has disclosed he was paid $20,000 for giving a speech last year to a group sympathetic to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’... The Kucinich campaign tells NBC News the speaking engagement was in England last year, at an event sponsored by the European Centre for the Study of Extremism (EuroCSE). They are responding to criticism by saying Kucinich was ‘pretty tough in grilling Assad about chemical weapons’ when he conducted an interview on behalf of Fox News.”

The Kucinich camp responded with this fundraising email: "Today the Cordray campaign, unleashed a series of attacks attempting to tie me to the Kremlin’s payroll, 911 deniers and the murder of innocents in the Middle East. These cowardly, hysterical and outrageously untrue statements reflect Cordray’s panic that he and the State Capitol power-brokers might lose control of the Ohio Democratic Party and the statehouse.”

The primary is May 8.

RIP, Barbara Bush

“Barbara Bush, the matriarch of an American dynasty spanning decades who was the second woman to be both the first lady and the mother of a president, died Tuesday. She was 92,” per NBC News. “Bush was married for 73 years to the nation's 41st president, George H.W. Bush, and was the mother of the 43rd, George W. Bush; another son, Jeb, is a former governor of Florida. She was considered an asset on the campaign trail, known for her wit and her emphasis on family.”

By the way, our NBC/WSJ poll has been tracking Barbara Bush since 1992, and she was — not surprisingly — very popular with the American public:

  • July 2000: 66 percent positive, 8 percent negative
  • Jan. 2000: 69 percent positive, 6 percent negative
  • Sept. 1992: 65 percent positive, 11 percent negative
  • Aug. 1992: 63 percent positive, 15 percent negative
  • Feb/March 1992: 70 percent positive, 12 percent negative

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