In one news conference, Trump created several new minefields

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President Donald Trump turns back to the audience after speaking during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on Feb. 15, 2019, to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. Copyright Susan Walsh AP
Copyright Susan Walsh AP
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 — Just how many problems did President Trump create for himself — and others — in Friday's 50-minute disjointed and flat-out bizarre statement and news conference, when he announced his national emergency to build his border wall? Let us count the ways:

1. He arguably undermined the legal basis for declaring a national emergency: "I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said when describing how the border spending bill gave him many of the things he wanted, but that it "skimped" on his border wall.

2. He said it was a "lie" that the preponderance of illegal drugs crossing the border do so at ports of entry — when the DEA reported in 2018 that it was the most common method for transnational criminal organizations: "When you look and when you listen to politicians — in particular, certain Democrats — they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie."

3. He said Japanese Prime Minister Abe recommended him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on North Korea, which has created an uproar in Japan: "In fact, I think I can say this: Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize. He said, 'I have nominated you…'"

4. He claimed Obama was "close to starting a big war with North Korea," which former Obama White House aides deny: "And I don't want to speak for him, but I believe he would have gone to war with North Korea. I think he was ready to go to war. In fact, he told me he was so close to starting a big war with North Korea."

5. After signing criminal-justice reform into law, he appeared to endorse China's policy of giving the death penalty to drug dealers: "And when I asked President Xi, I said, 'Do you have a drug problem?' 'No, no, no.' I said, 'You have 1.4 billion people. What do you mean you have no drug problem?' 'No, we don't have a drug problem.' I said, 'Why?' 'Death penalty. We give death penalty to people that sell drugs.' End of problem."

Yes, Trump's remarks were three days ago. But that doesn't mean what he said on Friday was old news. Quite the contrary…

Indeed, he created problems for his lawyers in defending his national emergency, for Japanese PM Abe, for Barack Obama, and for those who want to tout his sincerity on criminal-justice reform.

"This is the president using emergency powers to thwart the will of Congress"

For all of the focus on the Russia investigation, whether or not the president has obstructed justice, and whether or not he's violated the Emoluments Clause — is the national emergency Trump announced on Friday a clear violation of Trump's oath of office to preserve/protect the Constitution?

Here's the Brennan Center for Justice's Elizabeth Goitein, per the New York Times:

"'There is nothing approaching an "emergency" in this situation, no matter how loose a definition you use," she said. "And Congress has made it as clear as it can that it does not want the president to use funds for this purpose, so this is the president using emergency powers to thwart the will of Congress. That is very different from how emergency powers have been used in the past.'"

As one of us stated on "Meet the Press" yesterday, this is the first national emergency — by our research and reading — that has attempted to spend money that Congress specifically said no to.

How is that not presidential overreach?

McCabe: Trump believed Putin over U.S. intelligence on North Korea

In his interview on "60 Minutes," former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe's made an explosive allegation against President Trump - which brings up memories of that 2018 press conference in Helsinki:

MCCABE: The president — launched into — several unrelated diatribes [during an FBI official's briefing of the president]. One of those was commenting on the recent missile launches by the government of North Korea. And, essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don't actually have those missiles.

SCOTT PELLEY: And U.S. intelligence was telling the president what?

ANDREW MCCABE: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses to which the president replied, "I don't care. I believe Putin."

Trump blasted McCabe via Twitter: "Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged."


2020 Vision: A busy Presidents Day in the early states

Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar are all in New Hampshire… And Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney and Eric Swalwell hit Iowa.

Data Download: Unpaid debt is going up

As of December 2018, Americans held a total of $1.044 trillion in unpaid revolving debt — a record. The last time that data point was crossed the $1 trillion line was in January 2009, as people drew heavily on credit during the economic recession.

The Lid: Why Bill Weld is a problem for Trump

Don't miss our flash briefing/podcast from Friday, when one of us looked at Bill Weld's apparent GOP challenge to Trump in 2020, and why it might be problematic for the president's re-elect, even if Weld can't beat Trump.


The White House is trying to clarify the president's early statements about the necessity of declaring a state of emergency.

The rift between the U.S. and Europe is now wide open and angry.


Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration to be UN ambassador.

Anthony Weiner is out of prison.

Cory Booker is a vegan. So what?

And below are other clips you shouldn't miss….

TRUMP AGENDA: Chris Wallace vs. Stephen Miller

Things got heated between Chris Wallace and Stephen Miller during a weekend interview about the emergency declaration.


Lindsay Graham says he'll investigate reports that Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire in meetings with Trump.

DEM AGENDA: De Blasio blames Amazon

Bill de Blasio is blaming Amazon's decision to pull out of New York City squarely on the company.

Keep an eye on NC-9 today.

2020: Bernie Sanders and the African-American vote


Bernie Sanders struggled to convince black voters in 2016. So what might be different this time?

Barack Obama is quietly giving advice — but no endorsements — to Democrats ahead of 2020.

Bill Weld is defending his decision to challenge Trump.

POLITICO looks at the challenges for straight white men running for president.

The changing Democratic primary calendar is giving Kamala Harris a boost.


The AP notes that the border wall could be a tricky issue for Beto O'Rourke.

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