Giuliani complicates the Trump-Moscow story for the president

Rudy Giuliani speaks with reporters during on the South Lawn of the White H
Rudy Giuliani speaks with reporters during on the South Lawn of the White House on May 30, 2018. Copyright Al Drago Bloomberg via Getty Images pool
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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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 — On a weekend when President Trump and his legal should have been on the offensive regarding that disputed BuzzFeed article — more on it below — Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani only complicated the Trump-Moscow story for the president.

First, Giuliani said on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Team Trump had conservations about the Trump Tower Moscow project throughout 2016 - not through January 2016, as former Trump fixer Michael Cohen had originally testified to Congress.

"The conversations lasted throughout parts of 2016. The president is not sure exactly when they ended. I would say Michael Cohen would have a much better recollection of it than the president."

When one us of pressed him on what he meant by "throughout 2016, Giuliani added, "Could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election."

The New York Times explains why Giuliani's answer is significant. "The new timetable means that Mr. Trump was seeking a deal at the time he was calling for an end to economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He was seeking a deal when he gave interviews questioning the legitimacy of NATO, a favorite talking point of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. And he was seeking a deal when, in July 2016, he called on Russia to release hacked Democratic emails that Mr. Putin's government was rumored at the time to have stolen."

Also significant here: In 2016, Trump was denying have any business relationships in Russia. "I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don't have any jobs in Russia. I'm all over the world but we're not involved in Russia," he said on July 26, 2016.

The second way Giuliani complicated the Trump-Moscow story is he acknowledged that Trump might have talked to Cohen about his congressional testimony. "As far as I know, President Trump did not have discussions with [Cohen], certainly had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie," Giuliani said on CNN. "If — if he had any discussions with him, they'd be about the version of the events that Michael Cohen gave them, which they all believed was true. I believed it was true. I still believe it may be true, because, unlike these people who want to just believe him, I believe Michael Cohen is a serial liar."

When CNN's Jake Tapper told Giuliani that he just acknowledged Trump might have talked to Cohen about his testimony, Giuliani responded, "Which would be perfectly normal, which the president believed was true."

Perfectly normal for the president of the United States to have a conversation with someone who was going to testify before Congress — and who later admitted lying about his testimony?

Mueller's office says bombshell BuzzFeed report isn't accurate, while BuzzFeed stands behind its reporting

On Friday, we wrote that so much about that bombshell BuzzFeed article — that the president of the United States directed Cohen to lie to Congress, and that special counsel Robert Mueller learned about it through witnesses, emails and text messages — hinged on two words: "if true."

Well, the article's credibility took a major hit when Mueller's office said it wasn't accurate. "BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the special counsel's office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate," Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said in an extraordinary statement.

BuzzFeed continues to stand behind its story. "As we've re-confirmed our reporting, we've seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate. We remain confident in what we've reported, and will share more as we are able."

But Trump spiked the football, tweeting: "Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!"

Trump, however, isn't going to win a credibility contest with the media. Remember his claims about the size of his inauguration? ("Honestly, it looked like a million and a half people. Whatever it was, it was. But it went all the way back to the Washington Monument."

Remember his assertion that 3 to 5 million illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election?

And remember him stating that he had the "biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan?" (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all received more than the 304 electoral votes Trump did in 2016.)

Government shutdown enters Day 31

"President Donald Trump lit into Democrats — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in particular — in a Sunday tweetstorm in which he appeared to threaten to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and defended his proposal to end the partial government shutdown," per NBC News.

"That offer, which Trump presented Saturday in a White House address, included giving about 1 million immigrants a three-year protection from deportation in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S. southern border. Those immigrants include 700,000 who were brought to the country illegally as children and remain protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and 300,000 who fled their countries and are facing the expiration of their 'temporary protected status.'"


NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring to the floor this week a bill to reopen the government that includes Trump's proposal for $5.7 billion in wall funding and 3-year protected status for those eligible on the TPS and DACA programs.

It will also include disaster aid and the seven remaining appropriations bills to reopen the government.

But, Caldwell adds, it's unlikely that Democrats will support this legislation, since Democrats have been demanding that the government be opened first and then they negotiate border security. McConnell will need seven Democrats to support this plan for it to pass the Senate.

Kamala Harris: "I am running for president of the United States"

"Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced on Monday that she will run for president in 2020, becoming the third senator since December to enter what is likely to be a crowded Democratic primary field," NBC's Lauren Egan and Benjy Sarlin write.

"'I am running for president,' Harris, the first African-American to formally enter the 2020 fray, said on an early-morning Martin Luther King Jr. Day interview on ABC's 'Good Morning America.' 'This is a moment in time where i feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight,' she said."


Updating our 2020 list: Who's in, who's out, who are we still waiting on?

After Harris' announcement today, here's our updated look at the Democrats who are in, out, and still thinking about the 2020 presidential race:

Those who have filed paperwork or announced presidential bids

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on January 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who announced her exploratory committee on January 15)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who announced her exploratory committee on December 31)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formally announced his decision on January 12)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on January 11)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!)
  • Failed Dem congressional candidate Richard Ojeda (who filed his FEC paperwork on November 11 - a week after losing his bid in West Virginia)

The other potential candidates we're watching (in no particular order)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas
  • Former VP Joe Biden
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio (who is embarking on a tour of early states)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
  • Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
  • Outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Possible 2020 Dems who have declined to run:

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
  • Attorney Michael Avenatti
  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley
  • Tom Steyer

Today's political activity on MLK Day

Joe Biden attended Al Sharpton's National Action Network's King Day breakfast… Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker are in South Carolina, attending the South Carolina NAACP's King Day event… And Kirsten Gillibrand attends Sharpton's NAN celebration in New York.


President Trump and Vice President Pence have no scheduled plans on this MLK Day.

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