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.
Will Republicans draw a red line on Trump powers?
WASHINGTON — Two stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post — that the Trump White House is looking to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and that the president himself has asked advisers about his powers to pardon aides and family members — have set off alarm bells in Washington. But Trump lawyer John Dowd is knocking down the stories.
“The president’s lawyers are cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the president,” Dowd said in a statement to NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
The Post also writes that the pardon talk from the White House is more speculation than anything else. “[O]ne adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation. ‘This is not in the context of, “I can’t wait to pardon myself,”’ a close adviser said.”
But if things appear that the country is indeed headed toward a possible constitutional crisis — Trump instructing the Justice Department to fire Mueller, Trump pardoning aides and family members — there is a simple solution: Congressional Republicans can act.
They can do so by passing a law to reinstate Mueller, or they can threaten impeachment. The question, of course, is whether they’d follow through.
“If Republicans really don't want Trump to fire Mueller or issue pardons they need to make actual consequences clear long before it happens,” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin tweeted.
That’s why every member of Congress should be on the record on this question: What will you do if Trump tries to fire Mueller or pardon his aides or family members? And the fact that this question needs to be asked — six months into Trump’s tenure as president — is an extraordinary development.
“The possibility that the president is considering pardons at this early stage in these ongoing investigations is extremely disturbing,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement last night. “Pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line."
White House shakes up legal team
Meanwhile, NBC’s Hallie Jackson reports that Marc Kasowitz is no longer leading Trump’s outside counsel legal team, though he will continue to provide “guidance” to the president. And NBC’s Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander confirm that legal-team spokesman Mark Corallo resigned. “Mr. Corallo was one of several people cautioning against publicly criticizing Mr. Mueller,” the Times writes.
Mueller’s team reportedly investigating possible money laundering by Paul Manafort
“Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible money laundering by Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, as part of his criminal investigation into what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Kremlin-backed campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal says. “The inquiry into the issue by Mr. Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his team began several weeks ago, this person said. A spokesman for Mr. Manafort, Jason Maloni, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Mr. Mueller.”
White House appears to have found a new communications director
NBC’s Ali Vitali and Katy Tur: “The Trump administration is expected to name former Trump transition team official Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, four sources in and close to the White House told NBC News Thursday. The news of the expected appointment was first reported by Axios. A White House official said the move is expected to be announced Friday. Scaramucci did not immediately respond to a request for comment… White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has technically been doing double duty as press secretary and communications director since the departure of communications director Mike Dubke, who resigned in May after just three months on the job.”
Gore criticizes Team Trump on climate
Former Vice President Al Gore criticized President Trump and his administration’s climate policies during a SiriusXM/Variety town hall Thursday previewing Gore’s new documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” NBC’s Rebecca Choate reports.
“Trump has surrounded himself with climate deniers,” Gore said, “They’re doing their best to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and anything that promotes good policies to solve the climate crisis.” Gore met with Trump in January before the president’s inauguration, and remains tight-lipped about conversation specifics. “It was cordial and mutually respectful and he listened and participated,” Gore recalled, per Choate. “I came away with the impression that he would come to his senses.” Gore says he’s inspired by Americans’ strong commitment to the Paris climate agreement, despite Trump’s choice to abandon it. “It looks as if the U.S. is gonna meet our commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement regardless of what President Trump tweets,” Gore said.