Ten questions we hope Robert Mueller will answer

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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, regarding the oversight of the FBI on Sept. 17, 2008. Copyright Charles Dharapak AP file
Copyright Charles Dharapak AP file
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 — Mueller Time is getting near, with NBC News and other news organizations reporting that the special counsel is expected to submit his report soon.

While the Russia probe has led to indictments against 34 different individuals and has produced six guilty pleas - hardly a witch hunt - there's still so much we don't know. So here's a handy list of 10 questions we hope/think/expect Mueller to answer.

  1. Will anyone else be charged for allegedly not telling the truth to Congress (Donald Trump Jr., Erik Prince)?
  2. Was there kompromat? Was President Trump compromised by his business dealings with Russia (including the Trump Tower Moscow)?
  3. Did Paul Manafort really share 2016 polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik (who has ties to Russian intelligence)? And if so, what did Kilimnik do with it?
  4. Who at the Trump campaign directed Roger Stone to get information about upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures against the Clinton campaign? ("After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign," per the Mueller indictment against Stone.)
  5. Did anyone in Trump's orbit help WikiLeaks analyze/organize/curate its email dumps? (Remember, WikiLeaks released John Podesta's emails one day at a time in the final month of the 2016 campaign.)
  6. Did Trump know about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer? And when did he know it?
  7. Do Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fit into this investigation?
  8. What about the NRA?
  9. Will the president of the United States be subpoenaed?
  10. Why has the president - throughout it all - obfuscated, attacked and misdirected as much has he has? In other words, why has he acted like somebody who has something to hide?

And these are just the known unknowns. There also may be unknown unknowns. (Thank you, Donald Rumsfeld.)

As Wired's Garrett Graff recently wrote, "Let's remember that there have been two immutable truths thus far in the Mueller probe: First, every move has surprised us, both in timing and content; and second, every court filing has been more informed, detailed, and insightful than anyone imagined, and shown us that what we knew publicly was only the tip of the iceberg."

Do-over in NC-9

Well, it sure looks like 2019 will bring us a competitive congressional special election in a key 2020 Senate/presidential state.

NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Dartunorro Clark: "The North Carolina Board of Elections on Thursday ordered a new election in the 9th Congressional District after allegations of illegal activity in the handling of mail-in ballots."

"The five-member board's unanimous action came after several days of hearings into Republican ballot-collecting practices in the 2018 general election."

Caldwell adds that the board of elections will be in charge of the upcoming special - contrasted with the governor's office in charge of the open seat in NC-3 after Rep. Walter Jones died. (So North Carolina will have TWO specials this year, likely on the same day.)

Will Republican Mark Harris run in the do-over? His attorney told Caldwell that the answer is "premature." But Caldwell doesn't expect him to run.

Democrat Dan McCready, on the other hand, will absolutely run, Caldwell says. He's already put out a fundraising appeal.

Bottom line: This special election will be a big deal in a key battleground state.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Hogan vs. the RNC

The governors are in DC, with the National Governors Association meetings this weekend. And guess which GOP governor is making some news:

"Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he expects to make a springtime trip to New Hampshire as he weighs a 2020 challenge to Donald Trump — and accused the Republican National Committee of going to extraordinary lengths to shield the president from a potentially draining primary," Politico writes.

"Typically they try to be fair arbiters of a process and I've never seen anything like it and I've been involved in the Republican Party for most of my life. It's unprecedented. And in my opinion it's not the way we should be going about our politics," Hogan told Politico.

Again, modern American history hasn't been too kind to incumbent presidents who get a primary challenge - whether it's a Larry Hogan or even a Bill Weld…

On the campaign trail this Friday, per NBC's Kyle Stewart: Kamala Harris is in New Orleans for "Power Rising 2019"… Elizabeth Warren stumps in New Hampshire… And Julian Castro and Michael Bennet are in Iowa.

On Saturday, Harris, Castro, Bennet and John Hickenlooper are in the Hawkeye State… Warren remains in New Hampshire… And Sherrod Brown is in Nevada.

And on Sunday, Harris stays in Iowa… While Cory Booker is in Nevada.


Data Download

The number of the day is… 3 percentage points — that's the difference between the share of voters who say Donald Trump's rhetoric is "mean-spirited and divisive" (46 percent) and the share who say Trump just "tells it like it is" (43 percent), per new polling conducted for the Dem group Priorities USA.

And that's … not a lot.

For all the time Democrats have spent calling Trump out on his language and tweets, Priorities actually found a much bigger advantage for these Democratic messaging points:

  • Trump cares about "helping the wealthy and corporate special interests" rather than "helping the average person" ( 26 points)
  • Trump "creates chaos and gridlock" rather than being "effective." ( 20 points)

So "mean and divisive" isn't the winning message for Dems.

The one that might be? That Trump is ineffective and only out to enrich himself and his wealthy friends.


The Lid: Joe-crastination

Don't miss the pod from Thursday, with special guest star and resident Biden whisperer Mike Memoli (!!!) walking us all through his reporting on the former veep's 2020 decision.


China - with American help - used DNA to track its people?


The four overlooked stories of the week: Anticipation for Mueller Time! Bernie's in! Fallout from Trump's national emergency declaration! Those were the stories that dominated the week.

But don't miss these other stories that would have BIG news in other eras:

  1. Putin says he's ready for another Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States wants one.
  2. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 100 percent rules out a U.S. Senate bid in Kansas (opening the door for Kris Kobach?).
  3. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calls for reconsideration of the court's landmark libel ruling.
  4. And a federal judge ruled that prosecutors — including now-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta — broke the law when they concealed a plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein from his underage victims.

(Under the Ralph Northam standard - that your early life/career is more than fair game - how is this story about the current Labor secretary not a huge deal?)


In other news today…

Sasha Issenberg has a deep look "inside the radical campaign strategy" of Beto O'Rourke.

Elizabeth Warren backs reparations for black Americans.

Kamala Harris is "disappointed" about the revelations in the Jussie Smollett case.

Steve King says "I have nothing to apologize for" and plans to run again.


And more news clips that should be on your radar…


Roger Stone faces a full gag order after posting an image appearing to show Judge Amy Berman Jackson in crosshairs.

The U.S. will leave about 200 "peacekeeping" troops in Syria.

Trump hasn't weighed in yet on the Coast Guard officer who allegedly plotted attacks on Democratic politicians and journalists.



House Dems are preparing a proposal to halt Trump's emergency declaration.

Democrats say that Trump isn't keeping Congress in the loop on North Korea.

Paul Kane has a smart look at why Democrats are looking to candidates other than popular but very familiar faces.

2020: Is Bernie edging Elizabeth Warren?

Bernie Sanders seems to be edging Elizabeth Warren in the battle for the left.

Dem group Priorities USA announced a $100 million investment in four battleground states.


There's a pro-Jay Inslee super PAC now.

Howard Schultz failed to vote in a recent election in Seattle.

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