Trump's interference admission raises difficult questions for Democrats

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: President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Poland's President Andrzej Duda in at the White House
President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Poland's President Andrzej Duda in at the White House on June 12, 2019.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — What’s stunning about President Trump’s admission that he’d accept dirt from a foreign government to help him win an election is not that he said it.

After all, we already know that he and those around him asked for — and accepted — that help in 2016. ("If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”… "If it's what you say, I love it.”)

What’s stunning is that everyone should now know that the sitting president of the United States cannot ensure a fair election in 2020.

ABC News: "Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offersyou information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?"

Trump: "I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country – Norway – we have information on your opponent. Oh. I think I'd want to hear it."

ABC News: "You want that kind of interference in our elections?"

Trump: "It's not interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong, but when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. Oh, let's call the FBI. The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."

So the question becomes, especially for Democrats: What do you do now?

Do Democrats, who have passed and worked on legislation to curb election interference by foreign governments, finally try to put real pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take it up?

Do they step up their impeachment rhetoric? (How credible now is the argument to simply defeat Trump at the ballot box?)

And if you’re a Democratic presidential candidate like Joe Biden — who’s already seen Team Trump meddle around with Ukraine — do you have to respond with your own help from other foreign governments?

It’s a real dilemma.

Play by the rules and possibly lose? Or play the same game your opponent is playing?

Yes, foreign interference mattered in 2016

Here’s a reminder of how Russian interference affected a presidential race that ultimately was decided by fewer than a combined 80,000 votes in three states:

  • It led to the ouster of the chair of the Democratic National Committee.
  • It produced Hillary-versus-Bernie chaos entering the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
  • It helped launch scores of stories looking into internal Clinton communications – from John Podesta hacked emails.
  • And it aided part of Donald Trump's closing message, with him mentioning the word "WikiLeaks" some 140 times in the final month of the general election.

Obstruction of justice in plain sight?

With all of the attention on Trump’s comments about foreign interference, don’t ignore this tweet President Trump fired off about someone who’s already pleaded guilty in the Russia investigation.

And about someone who COULD change his legal strategy and cooperation.

“General Michael Flynn, the 33 year war hero who has served with distinction, has not retained a good lawyer, he has retained a GREAT LAWYER, Sidney Powell. Best Wishes and Good Luck to them both!”

2020 Vision: Schultz bows out (at least for now)

Howard Schultz’s statement on Wednesday that back surgeries have forced him to take off the rest of the summer from the 2020 campaign trail — at least — is a big deal.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Why?

Remember that the combined third-party vote that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein received in 2016 — 4.3 percentage points — helped Donald Trump win a presidential race when he received less than 46 percent of the popular vote.

Bottom line: The smaller the third-party vote in 2020, the higher percentage Trump needs to win for re-election.

On the campaign trail today

John Hickenlooper discusses his plan for contraception in DC… Beto O’Rourke also raises money in the nation’s capital… Seth Moulton is in Boston… And Julian Castro does a Fox News town hall in Arizona.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 84 percent

Eighty-four percent.

That's the share of voters who support legislation that would require candidates for federal office and their campaigns to report any contacts with foreign governments or foreign entities to the FBI, according to an April poll from Law Works conducted by Hart Research Associates.

The online poll found that almost all Democrats (93 percent) and three-quarters of Republicans (76 percent) back the passage of such a bill.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Life is a highway

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are jostling for some of the same voters.

Shameless plug

It's a big night for our colleagues over at NBC Nightly News.

Lester Holt sits down with Jason Kander, who is opening up for the first time about withdrawing from the Kanas City mayoral race last year after announcing he was suffering from and needed treatment for PTSD.

Andrea Mitchell interviews Anita Hill, in her first broadcast interview since Vice President Joe Biden announced his run for office.

And Harry Smith interviews Democratic contender Mayor Pete Buttigieg for Nightly’s new series, “My Big Idea.”

So don't forget to tune in!

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Reid Epstein writes in the New York Times on "How Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren Cracked the Code of the 2020 Race."

Trump's campaign has ignored some city governments' request for help with security costs related to his political events.

Pete Buttigieg wants a "new Marshall Plan" to create economic prosperity for black Americans.

Duncan Hunter's wife is changing her plea to guilty in the criminal case over campaign money misuse.

And Republicans won't have to deal with what would have been a nasty primary challenge to Thom Tillis after all.

Trump agenda: In contempt

The House oversight panel has voted to hold William Barr and Wilbur Ross in contempt over the withholding of documents related to the administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the Census.

The Washington Post looks at the rise of Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro.

Two more oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman yesterday.

2020: Beto vs. Biden

Beto O’Rourke on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning:

Willie Geist: "Is Joe Biden a return to the past?"

Beto O'Rourke: "He is. And that cannot be who we are going forward."

2020 candidates have a lot to say about Trump's ABC interview last night.

POLITICO writes that some Democrats are starting to question Joe Biden's age.

Steve Bullock says he should be in the first debate.

Kamala Harris has put forward a new set of proposed executive actions to help Dreamers.