Ethically challenged: Three scandals rock Trump administration in one day

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking about the crisis in Venezuela
President Donald Trump. Copyright Kevin Lamarque Reuters
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 — It's hard to keep up with all of the alleged scandals hitting the Trump administration. But here's what we learned in just one day yesterday:

  • Trump asked his acting attorney general to put a Trump ally, the U.S. attorney in New York, in charge of the Michael Cohen investigation, according to the New York Times. (Trump denied the story on Tuesday, saying: "That's more fake news.")
  • Whistleblowers "have told a congressional committee that efforts by former national security adviser Michael Flynn to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia may have violated the law, and investigators fear Trump is still considering it," NBC's Ken Dilanian reported.
  • "House and Senate Democrats say they have obtained evidence that a senior official at the Department of Education tried to oust the department's independent watchdog after she pushed back on an attempt to interfere in an active investigation of Secretary Betsy DeVos," per NBC's Heidi Przybyla.

Any one of these stories would have dominated the news — for days and weeks — in any other administration. But in our current era, it was just Tuesday.

Trump vs. Newsom: Murder on the California Express?

After newly minted Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his State of the State address last week his effort to scale back the state's high-speed rail plans — "The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long," he said — the Trump administration has asked for its money back.

NBC News: "In a letter to California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian P. Kelly on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation outlined the government's reasons for pulling funding. The state has not come up with its own promised funding, will miss a 2022 completion target and has recently reconfigured the project outside the bounds of a federal pact for funding, railroad chief Ronald L. Batory wrote. The federal department will 'de-obligate' $928,620,000 in promised cash, but California will be given a chance to argue its case, Batory said in the letter."

Newsom has argued that while he called for scaling back LA-to-San Francisco travel for the train, he believes the state has the capacity to still link Bakersfield to Merced. And he believes the Trump administration's action is more retaliation for California's lawsuit against the president's national emergency declaration for his wall.

Indeed, Trump linked the two with his tweet from yesterday: "As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!" he said.

But a lesson for any governor whose state has been given lots of money from the federal government: Don't say a project you got the money for is too costly and would take too long. The government might want its money back.

2020 Vision: Bernie's big bucks

At 8:00 pm ET last night, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign announced having raised more than $4 million since the start of his campaign kickoff from nearly 150,000 individuals. That's in just 12 hours.

By comparison, Kamala Harris' campaign raised $1.5 million in its first 24 hours; Amy Klobuchar's reported raising more than $1 million in its first 48 hours; and Elizabeth Warren got some $300,000 from ActBlue in her first day (although that's not a complete way to measure total fundraising).

So Bernie's haul is VERY impressive. Then again, as a repeat candidate who's already proved he can raise big bucks online, that kind of fundraising prowess should be expected from him.

The question we have is: If Beto O'Rourke does run, can he match or exceed Bernie's first-day amount?

Data Download

$112,000. That's the amount of Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney's new ad buy in Iowa. He's the first candidate to go up on broadcast airwaves in the first caucus state so far this year, although he already aired ads in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2018. The new ad buy runs from February 20-24, according to ad tracker Advertising Analytics, and it covers Des Moines, Sioux City and Cedar Rapids.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Here's the New York Times' deep dive from yesterday into how Trump has spent the last two years trying to beat back the investigations that imperil his presidency.

Trumpis nominatinglitigator and deputy transportation secretary Jeffery Rosen to replace Rod Rosenstein.

Ben Carson's signature HUD initiativehas gone nowhere.

POLITICO writesthat there's already a sustained social media disinformation campaign against some Democratic candidates — and foreign state actors may be involved.

And here's more political news stories to keep on your radar.

Trump Agenda: Trump's new AG has an awkward path ahead

Trump's new attorney general is starting from an awkward place, the Washington Post writes.


NBC's Danny Cevallostakes a lookat whether suits against the Trump administration's national emergency have a chance.

The Trump administration is launching a global effort to end criminalization of homosexuality.

And Trump wants California to pay back$2.5 billion for high speed rail.

Wilbur Ross says he didn't mean to file inaccurate financial disclosures.

Dem Agenda: The latest in NC-9

Ruth Bader Ginsburgis back at work at the Supreme Court after surgery.


Mark Harris is slated to testifyin the NC-9 probe today.

2020: Biden: Trump is "rooting" for the demise of the EU, NATO

Per NBC's Benjy Sarlin, Kamala Harris is emphasizing her commitment to compete in New Hampshire.

Joe Biden says the Trump administration is "rooting" for the demise of the EU and NATO.

Jon Allen writes that, this time, it's not just about Bernie Sanders's policies — it's about the man himself.


The Washington Post writes that 2020 Democrats have two big challenges: Trump and the far left.

Sherrod Brown is painting himselfas a crusader against Wall Street who's still a reasonable alternative to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

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