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.
WASHINGTON — Add up all of this week’s White House news and activities (or lack thereof), and you see an increasingly isolated President Trump. Maybe that explains the president’s tweetstorm from Tuesday…
For starters, the president hasn’t held a single public event since returning to the White House after the Christmas/New Year’s break. On Tuesday, he had a closed-press lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
On Wednesday, it was another lunch with Pence, Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson. On Thursday, it was meeting with GOP senators on immigration (where he did make remarks to the press pool) and other members about upcoming legislative priorities. And today, he departs to Camp David to participate in a retreat with GOP leaders to discuss the midterms.
That — as well as a recording he taped for at Thursday’s White House press briefing — was pretty much it for Trump’s activities this week.
In addition to the president’s relatively empty public schedule, he officially broke ties with Steve Bannon over the Michael Wolff book. Despite Bannon’s flaws, he provided Trump and his team a north star in putting campaign promises into policy.
What’s more, the New York Times recounts how Trump blew up at his first major endorser — Jeff Sessions, his attorney general — and how former White House aides are cooperating with the Mueller investigation. “The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation.”
And meet the second-loneliest man in Washington right now: Jeff Sessions
Here’s how Politico’s Kyle Cheney summed up Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ day yesterday:
- The New York Times reports he deputized an aide to dig up dirt on former FBI Director James Comey;
- Top House conservatives called for him to resign;
- Two Senate Republicans and several House Republicans ripped him over his marijuana decision
- And the Daily Beast reports he’s taking a new look at a Clinton email probe.
Whether by design or coincidence, Sessions is on an island, too.
Highlights from the latest bombshell report on the Russia investigation
Speaking of Sessions and that NYT story… Last night, the New York Times uncovered new details in how the Trump White House reacted to the Russia probe in early 2017. Some of the biggest revelations:
- Trump ordered his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. (The Washington Post, the AP, and NBC News have all confirmed this story.) “Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him,” the Times writes.
- Special counsel Robert Mueller has confirmed some of the claims that former FBI Director James Comey made about his interactions with President Trump. “The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation.”
- A deputy White House counsel misled Trump to stop him from firing Comey. “The lawyer, Uttam Dhillon, was convinced that if Mr. Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled, because it would force the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether Mr. Trump was trying to derail the Russia investigation… Mr. Dhillon, who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey, never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research.”
- The Trump administration tried to dig up dirt on Comey after his May 3 testimony on Capitol Hill. “Two days after Mr. Comey’s testimony, an aide to Mr. Sessions approached a Capitol Hill staff member asking whether the staffer had any derogatory information about the F.B.I. director. The attorney general wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.”
Trump sounds off on Wolff book, and Wolff fires back on ‘Today’
Last night, President Trump tweeted this reaction to Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury”:
“I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!” — referring to Steve Bannon.
On “Today” this morning, Wolff replied, “I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record.”
Added Wolff about the president’s efforts to stop publication of the book: “Where do I send the box of chocolates?… Not only is he helping sell books, but he’s helping me prove the point of the book. I mean, this is extraordinary that a president of the United States would try to stop the publication of book. This doesn’t happen, has not happened from the other presidents, would not even happen from a CEO of a mid-size company.”
What ever happened to the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ GOP?
We’ve come a long way since the 2010-2012 Tea Party days when a Republican administration is:
- Opening up offshore drilling, including in states that don’t want it;
- Telling states that it could still crack down on those that legalized marijuana;
- Ending states’ ability to allow their taxpayers to fully deduct state and local taxes;
- And threatening to punish so-called sanctuary cities.
The demands for states’ rights and the 10th amendment seem like a long time ago, no?
December jobs report: Economy added 148,000 jobs last month, unemployment rate remains at 4.1 percent
The AP: “U.S. employers added 148,000 jobs in December, a modest gain but enough to suggest the economy entered the new year with solid momentum. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate remained 4.1 percent for a third straight month, the lowest since 2000.”