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First Read: All the president's investigations

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: Robert Mueller
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, after a closed-door meeting in Washington in June 2017.Andrew Harnik / AP file

WASHINGTON — Another day, another known investigation into President Trump and the organizations/people around him. The Wall Street Journal: “Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said. The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.”

The New York Times has additional details of this investigation. “The inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to [the inaugural committee and a pro-Trump Super PAC]. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.”

A spokesman for Tom Barrack, a chief official for Trump’s inaugural committee, told the Times: “Tom has never talked with any foreign individual or entity for the purposes of raising money for or obtaining donations related to either the campaign, the inauguration or any such political activity.”

What stands out to us is the totality of the investigations into and surrounding the president. You have:

  • the Mueller probe looking at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and whether there was cooperation/coordination/assistance from the Trump campaign
  • New York prosecutors investigating the payments to women who allegedly had affairs with the president;
  • New York prosecutors looking at the inaugural committee;
  • New York’s attorney general examining the Trump Foundation and Trump’s business dealings;
  • the lawsuits looking at whether Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause through his business dealings;
  • and even the defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, who alleges that Trump defamed her after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by the president in 2007.

Any one of these investigations or inquiries would be enough to create a crisis for a presidency. But for Trump, there are at least SIX of them, and we’re not counting all of the probes into cabinet and administration officials.

The sheer number of different investigations and scandals involving the president appears to have benefited him, since it’s easier to keep track of one big story (Hillary’s emails!) than multiple investigations you have to keep track of.

But at some point, does the weight of these different investigations and scandals become too much?

Cohen: Trump “directed me to make the payments”

Former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen spoke to ABC after being sentenced this week to prison for three years.

Stephanopoulos: [Trump’s] saying very clearly that he never directed you to do anything wrong. Is that true?

Cohen: I don't think there is anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my allocution, and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters, including the one with McDougal, which was really between him and David Pecker, and then David Pecker's counsel. I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty.

Stephanopoulos: He was trying to hide what you were doing? Correct?

Cohen: Correct.

Stephanopoulos: And he knew it was wrong?

Cohen: Of course.

Stephanopoulos: And he was doing that to help his election?

Cohen: You have to remember at what point in time this matter came about. Two weeks or so before the election, post-Billy Bush comments. So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

Stephanopoulos: Help his campaign?

Cohen: To help him, and the campaign.

In a Fox interview yesterday, Trump denied directing Cohen to make the payments. "I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did he did on his own. He's a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing that's why you pay them a lot of money."

The GOP’s border blues in 2018

For all the talk about Trump’s border-wall demand in the current fight to keep the government open, it’s worth reminding everyone of the GOP’s midterm performance in the states along the U.S.-Mexico border. That performance? It wasn’t that great.

In California, the GOP got wiped out, losing seven House seats, the gubernatorial race, and Republicans didn’t even have a candidate in the Senate matchup due to the state’s Top 2 primary system.

In Arizona, the GOP won the gubernatorial race, but it lost a Senate seat, as well as the competitive AZ-2 House contest.

In New Mexico, Democrats won up and down the ballot – for governor, senator, and it picked up the NM-2 House seat.

And in Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz *barely* won his Senate race, while Democrats picked up two congressional seats outside of Dallas (TX-32) and Houston (TX-7).

Now much of that poor performance by the GOP could be attributed to the sizable portion of the Latino vote in these four states, or the Dem performance in the suburbs in Dallas, Houston and Phoenix.

But as President Trump tried to make the last weeks of the midterms about immigration and that caravan, note the states where that message appeared to fall flat — the ones closest to the border.

When Bernie met Elizabeth

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met Wednesday night at Warren’s home in Washington to discuss the 2020 Democratic presidential landscape, a source close to Warren confirms to NBC’s Beth Fouhy. News of the meeting was first reported in the New York Times.

From Fouhy: “Sanders, of Vermont, and Warren, of Massachusetts, are both expected to announce plans shortly to compete in the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Both have a large national following among progressive voters and activists… The discussion at Warren’s home was described as ‘wide ranging and long,’ running about two and a half hours. The two lawmakers ‘compared notes’ and left on friendly terms, the source said.”

“Sanders, asked about the meeting by Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show, said ‘I talk to Elizabeth Warren every single day.’ He added, ‘The fact that two senators get together to chat becomes a big deal, that’s a real problem for the media.’”