IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Investigators are eyeing presidential pardon talk once again

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: Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — Talk about presidential pardons — as it relates to the Mueller probe — is once again in the air.

It started when the New York Times reported that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said several people facing scrutiny from the investigations into the president and his 2016 campaign had reached out to him inquiring about pardons.

Giuliani then gave this statement to NBC’s Kristen Welker: “Over a period of the last 8 or 10 months several lawyers and reporters have asked me will the president pardon a number of the people who have come up in the investigation.”

“I can't tell you exactly what I said to the lawyers because it's privileged.”

“I can tell you I said to them the president will not consider a pardon now, nor will the president ‎give a pardon now. I have never given a different answer than that.” The word “now” is doing a lot of work there.

And we’ve seen the president already award pardons to political friends (hello, Joe Arpaio), and talk up people who refused to cooperate with investigators.

Remember this Trump tweet from last year?

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” - make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!

The question is whether this pardon talk amounts to potential obstruction of justice.

As NBC’s Ken Dilanian reminds us, NBC News reported that Michael Cohen’s lawyer broached the subject of a pardon with the Trump legal team last year — while Cohen was still in a joint defense agreement.

And the House and Senate intelligence committees are looking into exactly how Giuliani responded — and the private discussions that ensued.

It’s Sentencing Day for Paul Manafort

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort “is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday on tax and bank-fraud charges that could see the former Trump campaign chairman spend much of the rest of his life in prison,” the Wall Street Journal says.

“Sentencing guidelines, which Judge Ellis isn’t required to follow, call for him to spend upward of 19 years in prison, and prosecutors said they agreed with those guidelines,” the paper adds. “Mr. Manafort’s attorneys, on the other hand, have cited other cases they view as comparable in which defendants received probation or less than one year behind bars.”

What the heck is going on at the border?

NBC’s Julia Ainsley reports that Customs and Border Protection has compiled a list of American reporters, attorneys and activists to stop for questioning when they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Several people on the list confirmed to NBC News that they had been pulled aside at the border after the date the list was compiled and were told they were being questioned as part of a ‘national security investigation.’”

“CBP told NBC News the names on the list are people who were present during violence that broke out at the border with Tijuana in November and they were being questioned so that the agency could learn more about what started it.”

2020 Vision: Michael Bennet says Trump has been bad for farmers

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, potential 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bennet criticizes President Trump’s farm policy. (Hello, Iowa?)

“In 2018 farm incomes declined $9.1 billion and total farm debt rose to $410 billion, the highest in nearly 40 years. Bankruptcies are more frequent than during the Great Recession, and they are up 59% in the region that includes my home state of Colorado,” Bennet says.

Meanwhile, fellow Coloradoan John Hickenlooper, who officially kicks off his 2020 campaign in Denver tonight at 7:00 pm ET, said he raised more than $1 million in the 48 hours after his presidential announcement. To put that figure into perspective:

  • Bernie Sanders raised some $6 million in his first 24 hours
  • Kamala Harris raked in $1.5 million in her first 24 hours
  • Amy Klobuchar grabbed $1 million in her first 48 hours
  • Inslee brought in $1 million-plus in his first 72 hours since launching his campaign
  • Elizabeth Warren raised some $300,000 via her ActBlue account on her first day (but that’s not a complete picture of her total fundraising)

On the trail today

John Hickenlooper holds his presidential kick-off event in Denver… Bernie Sanders rallies in Iowa… Steve Bullock also is in the Hawkeye State… And Howard Schultz participates in a town hall in San Antonio, Texas.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $891.2 billion

$891.2 billion. That’s the U.S. trade deficit that the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday – the largest in American history.

As the Washington Post writes, that record-high trade deficit – plus the failed North Korea nuclear talks, as well as surging crossings at the border – means that President Trump “is losing ground” on three of his administration’s biggest priorities: trade, North Korea and immigration.

The Lid: Putting the social back into “socialism”

Don’t miss the pod yesterday, which looked at the very different ideas Americans have of the word “socialism.” (That includes 6 percent of people who say it means something like “Talking to people, being social, social media, getting along with people.”)

ICYMI: DCCC deploys its grassroots team

NBC’s Heidi Przybyla reports that the DCCC will deploy 60 grassroots organizers for 2020 — the largest number this early in the campaign season.

Jane Timm fact-checks allegations that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez violated campaign finance rules.

The New York Times checks in on Biden’s almost-but-not-quite decision.

A federal judge ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated the Constitution with his addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

The DNC says it won’t allow FOX News to host a presidential debate.

Sen. Martha McSally, the first woman in the Air Force to fly in combat, says she was raped by a superior while serving.

And don’t miss this other news…

Trump agenda: Kelly avoids questions about security clearances

At an event at Duke University, John Kelly avoided questions about security clearances for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

NBC’s Jonathan Allen writes that Democrats have effectively launched the impeachment process.

Kirstjen Nielsen spent yesterday on the Hill defending the president’s emergency declaration.

Dem agenda: Growing pains

Our Hill team sums up how Ilhan Omar’s comments about Israel are splitting the Democratic Party.

And Leigh Ann Caldwell notes that the new House majority is going through growing pains.

2020: Crime lab scandal

Kamala Harris’s campaign is facing questions about a crime lab scandal that occurred when she was serving as DA.

Could Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson actually make the debate stage?

Bernie’s 2016 backers in New Hampshire are mostly keeping their powder dry for now.

David Perdue isn’t breaking with Trump as he faces reelection in wildcard Georgia.

Stacey Abrams is weighing her options.

After having corruption charges dropped, Aaron Schock won’t rule out a return to politics.