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Why It Matters That Trump Isn't Taking the Russia Hack Seriously

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /  / Updated 
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 17, 2016.LUCAS JACKSON / Reuters

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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

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Trump isn’t taking Russia’s hack seriously. And that’s the biggest story of all

Out of all of the recent developments in the news about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race — the CIA’s conclusion that it was done to help Donald Trump, the NBC report that Vladimir Putin was personally involved — the biggest has been Trump’s reaction.

First, he criticized the CIA. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” his transition team said in a statement after the Washington Post’s scoop last week. Second, Trump questioned — falsely — why it took the Obama administration so long to act on the claims of Russian interference. “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act?” he tweeted. “Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” (In fact, the Obama administration on Oct. 7 named Russia as being behind the hacks.)

And this morning, he’s re-litigating the information that came from the WikiLeaks dumps. “Are we talking about the same cyberattack where it was revealed that head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?” he asked over Twitter. So the question everyone should be asking is: Why isn’t Trump taking this story seriously? Does he think it delegitimizes his win? Does he truly have affinity for Russia and Putin? Does he not accept intelligence that’s contrary to his worldview? This Russia story is big news. But the biggest news of all has been the reaction from the president-elect.

Tillerson’s nomination could be the casualty of Trump’s reaction

The more Trump pushes back against the mounting evidence and reporting about Russia’s involvement, the more he’s jeopardizing Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be his secretary of state. Make no mistake: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are taking this story more seriously than Trump is. And they very well might be willing to use Tillerson’s nomination to punish Trump for it.

Obama promises a response to Russia

"I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action and we will — at a time and place of our own choosing," Obama told NPR’s “Morning Edition.” And expect Obama to be pressed at his news conference this afternoon what that kind of action might be. A reciprocal cyber-attack? Releasing the U.S. intelligence on Russia’s intervention to the American public? Something else? By the way, don’t miss NBC’s reporting from last night: “The Obama administration didn't respond more forcefully to Russian hacking before the presidential election because they didn't want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn't worth it, multiple high-level government officials told NBC News. ‘They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road,’ said one U.S official familiar with the level of Russian hacking.”

Roy Cooper on what’s happening in North Carolina

“This is a partisan power grab”: Besides the Russia story, the biggest political news in the country is taking place in North Carolina, where Republicans in the legislature are trying to strip powers away from incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. “This is a partisan power grab that goes far beyond political power. It's about public schools. It's about Medicaid expansion. It's about tax relief for the middle class,” Cooper told one of us yesterday in his first national TV interview since winning his gubernatorial contest. “What they are trying to do with these process changes is to limit my ability to want to raise teacher pay, to expand Medicaid.” Cooper added, “This is why people are mad, and this is why people don't like government because of these kind of shenanigans.”

A lack of diversity

Last week, we observed that Donald Trump’s cabinet (so far) has some diversity — but it’s an early 1990s kind of diversity. And the numbers back that up, per the AP. “President Bill Clinton installed 10 women and minorities into Cabinet-level jobs during his first term, part of an effort to create an inclusive image for his new administration. Other presidents have followed suit: George W. Bush had nine in his first term, and Barack Obama broke records with 13, according to an analysis of data compiled by University of California at Berkeley law school professor Anne Joseph O'Connell. So far, Trump has selected five non-white men or women for the 16 posts he's filled.” And don’t miss NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell’s dispatch on the brewing fight over Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Trump’s attorney general.

Cabinet Watch

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson OFFERED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: JamesMattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: John Kelly OFFERED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke OFFERED
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Sid Miller, Heidi Heitkamp
  • Energy: Rick Perry OFFERED
  • Veterans Affairs: Scott Brown, Jeff Miller, Adm. Michelle Howard
  • CIA Director: Mike PompeoOFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel OFFERED

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