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.
Four essential questions to ask after those Russia-related emails
By now, you’ve seen the jaw-dropping June 2016 emails between Donald Trump Jr. and acquaintance Rob Goldstone, where 1) Goldstone promised “high level and sensitive information” from the Russian government, 2) Trump Jr. gladly accepted a meeting about it, and 3) Trump Jr. forwarded the email exchange (entitled “Russia — Clinton — private and confidential”) to the campaign’s Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before their eventual June 9 meeting. And the emails raise four big questions:
1. Did any other Russia-related meetings or conversations take place?
As NBC’s Ken Dilanian reports, current and former U.S. intelligence officials believe the Kremlin-connected lawyer Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with was a “dangle” — to gauge interest for future information or assistance. So did any other meetings take place? Speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night, Trump Jr. didn’t close the door to the possibly of other meetings. “I don’t even know, I’ve probably met with other people from Russia — not in the context of actual, a formalized meeting or anything like that, because why would I?”
2. Did the Trump campaign have advanced knowledge of the WikiLeaks dump on Clinton in the last month of the 2016 campaign?
Remember, arguably the most significant Russian intervention in the 2016 race was the hacking of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails — and their release via WikiLeaks. Given Trump’s son’s desire to get damaging information on Clinton (“If it’s what you say, I love it”), and given how then-candidate Trump actively campaigned on the WikiLeaks revelations (“Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks”), did anyone on Team Trump coordinate — or have a heads-up — on the Podesta emails? Don’t forget: Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone boasted about his backchannel communications with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
3. Did Trump himself ever receive Russian-related information?
On “Today” this morning, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow emphasized that President Trump never knew about the meeting with the Kremlin-connected lawyer and received no email correspondence about it. But the emails from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump Jr. suggest how the information COULD have gotten to the president. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone wrote. “I can also send this info to your father via [Trump gatekeeper] Rhona [Graff], but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.”
4. Why does Jared Kushner still have a security clearance?
Given senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s attendance at the meeting with the Kremlin-connected lawyer — no matter how brief — and given the previous reporting that Kushner and Russia’s ambassador discussed setting up secret backchannel communications during the transition, how does this top aide still have a security clearance? Oh, and this McClatchy story just came out: “Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation — overseen by Jared Kushner — helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
A White House “thrust into chaos”
After the last 72 hours of Donald Trump Jr.-related news, the big papers all have accounts of infighting, chaos, and confusion inside the Trump White House.
The Washington Post: “The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government. One outside ally called it a ‘Category 5 hurricane,’ while an outside adviser said a CNN graphic charting connections between the Trump team and Russians resembled the plot of the fictional Netflix series ‘House of Cards.’”
The New York Times: “The emails were discovered in recent weeks by Mr. Kushner’s legal team as it reviewed documents, and the team amended his clearance forms to disclose it, according to people briefed on the developments, who like others declined to be identified because of the sensitive political and legal issues involved. Similarly, Mr. Manafort recently mentioned the meeting to congressional investigators looking into possible collusion, according to the people briefed on the matter.”
Politico: “White House aides feel blindsided by the bombshell revelations around Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, while the president is using his relatively light schedule to watch TV and fume about the latest scandal, according to interviews with half a dozen White House officials and advisers.”
Wray gets his day
The Russia-Donald Trump Jr. story is part of the backdrop for today’s confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominee to replace James Comey at the FBI. “Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, is set to appear before lawmakers Wednesday morning in what is likely to be a contentious session exploring the firing of the last director, James Comey, and the relationship between the bureau and the White House,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “Mr. Wray, a low-profile former Justice Department official and a successful defense lawyer, is expected to face questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about how he plans to maintain independence from the White House and how he can steady an agency that has come under fire from all sides of the political spectrum.”
McConnell delays August recess, makes changes to health care bill
The dispatch from NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp: “Facing the prospect of leaving Washington for a month-long recess without any substantial legislative achievements, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday announced he is delaying the start of the traditional August recess this year by two weeks… Meanwhile there were new developments Tuesday on the GOP health care bill, a revised version of which is expected on Thursday. More money has been proposed to treat opioid addition and for the state stabilization fund to help people afford their health care with subsidies. Also being added is a measure that allows people to use their pre-tax income deposited into Health Savings Accounts on insurance premiums, something that is currently not allowed. Finally, a 3.8 percent tax on the wealthy will not be repealed, giving Republicans an estimated $170 billion over ten years to fund their health care bill.”