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Barr puts Attorney General stamp of approval on Trump's 2016 revisionist history

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.
Image: William Barr
U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, in Washington, on Dec.10, 2019.Al Drago / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Want another example of how Attorney General William Barr has provided fodder for those who say he’s acted more like the president’s personal attorney than the nation’s chief law-enforcement official?

Here’s Barr’s interview with NBC’s Pete Williams, in which Barr calls the Trump campaign’s links to Russia in 2016 a “completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press.”

So what was happening in the final months of the 2016 election?

  • June 9: Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer after Donald Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton:"If it's what you say, I love it," Trump Jr. writes about the promise of dirt on Clinton.
  • July 27: Candidate Trump himself asks Russia for assistance in the 2016 election: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing." (On that same day, Russian intelligence – for the first time -- tries to gain access to Hillary Clinton's emails/server, per Robert Mueller's indictments on July 13, 2018.)
  • Aug. 15: A Trump campaign associate – Roger Stone – communicates with Russian intelligence: "On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, 'thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted,’” per Mueller’s indictments on July 13, 2018.
  • Aug. 21: Stone appears to have advance notice of the WikiLeaks releases of John Podesta's emails before they first came out on Oct. 7, 2016: "It will soon [be] the Podesta's time in the barrel," Stone tweets.
  • Oct. 7: The Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election. On the same day, WikiLeaks – identified in that statement as a Russian intelligence front – begins releasing John Podesta's emails on a daily basis through the end of campaign.
  • Fall of 2016: Donald Trump Jr. exchanges direct messages with WikiLeaks: "Hiya, it'd be great if you guys could comment on/push this story," WikiLeaks wrote Trump Jr. on Oct. 3. "Already did that earlier today," Trump Jr. responded. "It's amazing what [Hillary Clinton] can get away with."
  • Final month of the 2016 race: Trump eagerly campaigns on the WikiLeaks disclosures of Podesta's emails, mentioning the word "WikiLeaks" some 140 times: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,” Trump says on Nov. 4.

And here’s the kicker: Despite those contacts, the promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, and the fact that the Obama administration named WikiLeaks as a Russian intelligence front, no one from the Trump campaign or its orbit ever once called the FBI.

In his report on the Russia investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the investigation “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.”

More Mueller: “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

And guess who omitted the lines about how the Trump campaign expected it would benefit from that Russian interference — from his early preview/memo of the Mueller report?

Attorney General Barr.

Tweet of the day

Inspect this

And speaking of Barr and the FBI, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies at 10:00 am ET before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his report looking at the origins of the Russia investigation.

And here was Horowitz’s conclusion from his report released earlier this week – with which Barr has disagreed:

“The FBI mishandled parts of its application to monitor a Trump campaign aide as it was probing possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the overall investigation was justified, according to a long-awaited report by the Justice Department's watchdog that rebuts the president's depiction of a politically biased plot against him,” per NBC’s Ken Dilanian, Pete Williams and Julia Ainsley.

Impeachment inquiry update

Mark it up: At 7:00 pm ET, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing to mark up the impeachment articles against President Trump, per NBC’s Geoff Bennett.

Members of the committee will deliver opening statements, and then lawmakers will discuss the articles, debate amendments and ultimately vote beginning at 9:00 am ET tomorrow.

*** 2020 Vision: Yang makes the debate stage, Booker likely won’t: Andrew Yang appears to have qualified for the Dec. 19 debate after hitting 4 percent in a national Quinnipiac poll, NBC’s Melissa Holzberg writes.

Seven Democrats so far have qualified, with the qualification deadline coming tomorrow — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and now Yang.

Tulsi Gabbard still needs to hit one more qualifying poll to make the stage, but she tweeted that she won’t participate even if she qualifies.

Cory Booker needs four qualifying polls, and so he’s unlikely to make the Dec. 19 debate.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden hits Las Vegas to speak to the Culinary Workers… Pete Buttigieg raises money in New York City… Andrew Yang and Julian Castro stump in Iowa… Deval Patrick is in South Carolina… Amy Klobuchar delivers a foreign-policy address in DC to the Council on Foreign Relations… Michael Bloomberg is in California, where he holds a roundtable discussion on the economy and housing in Stockton, and then has a conversation with former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

NBC’s Benjamin Pu reports that Andrew Yang kicked off his Iowa bus tour yesterday – just after qualifying to appear on the next Democratic debate stage. Yang told reporters that his campaign will be unique at the debate because, “We are going to do something unprecedented on the debate stage next week and that is show up as the lone person of color.” While Yang’s Iowa bus tour will be one of his first big expenditures into the state, Yang said he was surprised it was a national poll that got him on the debate stage, “I thought that we were going to make it based upon poll in one of the early states, because we've been investing in offices and growing in Iowa and New Hampshire in particular.”

After Democrats released their articles of impeachment against President Trump, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports that Joe Biden campaigning in Nevada yesterday “gave his standard impeachment riff when asked about his opinion over being implicitly named [in those impeachment articles]. ‘Well, look, whether I'm mentioned or not in the articles it is disturbing that the president on at least two occasions and possibly three that didn't involve me have reached out to a foreign government and tried to effect his political fortunes and it's just wrong,’ he said.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $100,407,009


That's the amount of money Michael Bloomberg has spent on TV/radio and digital advertising since November 25, according to Advertising Analytics. That works out to an average of about $3.7 million per day.

Here's what each of the Democratic candidates has spent on TV/radio during the campaign (and thus excluding digital):

  • Bloomberg: $95.1 million
  • Steyer: $50.0 million
  • Warren: $8.8 million
  • Sanders: $8.5 million
  • Buttigieg: $7.6 million
  • Biden: $6.7 million
  • Yang: $4.6 million
  • Klobuchar: $1.8 million
  • Gabbard: $1.1 million
  • Bennet: $1.1 million
  • Delaney: $662k

That’s a combined $145 million-plus for Steyer and Bloomberg over the TV and radio airwaves.

The Lid: I cannot tell a lie

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at some new polling that compares Donald Trump and Barack Obama to some iconic former presidents.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn’t miss

The Washington Post looks at how yesterday encapsulated "the rising prominence of distorting facts for political gain."

Trump called the articles of impeachment "flimsy" and "pathetic" at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

Democrats are claiming victories on both the trade deal and a paid parental leave bill for federal workers.

Pete Buttigieg has released the list of clients he worked with at McKinsey, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Best Buy.

Trump Agenda: More takeaways from the Barr interview

Here are the big headlines from Pete Williams's exclusive interview with AG Bill Barr yesterday.

A federal judge's ruling is another setback for Trump's plan to fund the border wall.

New York's attorney general says that Trump paid $2 million in a court-ordered judgement for misusing his charity.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey could send troops to Libya to counter Russian-backed forces.

There's some big drama over health care playing out in the Trump administration.

2020: A one-term pledge?

Biden aides are discussing the pros and cons of a one-term pledge, POLITICO writes.

New Kentucky governor Andy Beshear will restore voting rights for 100,000 former felons.

Where will Kamala Harris's former donors go?

Tom Steyer is making a play for black voters in South Carolina.