From behind closed doors, the Ukraine-Trump story is getting very clear

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump arrives to speak during the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, Ill., on Oct. 28, 2019 Copyright Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
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 — One month into the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, what stands out is that we now know most of the story about Trump's interactions with Ukraine — whether it's through the (incomplete) transcription memo, the whistleblower's complaint, the text messages or witness testimony.

And every new detail we've learned — like Alexander Vindman's testimony from yesterday - only makes the story look worse for the Trump White House.

So when Trump tweets, as he did this morning, that a "casual reading of the Transcript leads EVERYBODY to see that … the call with Ukrainian President was a totally appropriate one," you're able to re-read that transcription memo for yourself.

After Ukraine's Zelensky says on that July 25 call that his country is almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defenses purposes, Trump replies: "I would like you to do us a favor though."

"I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it," Trump adds.

And then comes Trump's second ask: "The other thing, There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me."

Folks, it's all there — or most of it, anyway.

One of the reasons why there's so much focus on the process of the impeachment story — the resolution, the upcoming vote, how the White House is handling the investigation (or not) — is because we already know most of the story.

And that only adds pressure for Democrats to wrap it up ASAP.

As we assumed, it wasn't a complete transcript after all

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on President Trump's National Security Council, told members of Congress Tuesday that the White House's transcription memo of that July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine's president omitted words and phrases, the New York Times first reported, according to three people familiar with his testimony.

Those omissions included:

1. "Trump's assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption."

2. "[A]n explicit mention by Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden's son Hunter."

The Times adds that Vindman told House impeachment investigators "that he tried to change the reconstructed transcript made by the White House staff to reflect the omissions. But while some of his edits appeared to have been successful, he said, those two corrections were not made."

As NBC's Peter Alexander flags, Trump said this about the transcription memo at his Oct. 2 news conference: "I had a transcript done by very, very talented people — word for word, comma for comma. Done by people that do it for a living. We had an exact transcript."

Remember, when we made a big deal out of those ellipses in that transcription memo? Well, you now know why…

Impeachment inquiry update

Testifying today on Capitol Hill are Catherine Croft (a State Department special adviser for Ukraine) and Christopher Anderson (a former special adviser to Ambassador Kurt Volker), per NBC's Geoff Bennett.

Also, the House Rules Committee is meeting at 3:00 pm ET to mark up (or debate and amend) the resolution to formalize the next steps of the impeachment inquiry.


2020 Vision: Obama criticizes liberal "purity" tests

He hasn't talked much about the 2020 race, so what Barack Obama said yesterday at his Foundation summit caught our attention.

"This idea of purity and you're never compromised and you're politically woke, and all that stuff—you should get over that pretty quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws," he said, per The Atlantic's Edward-Isaac Dovere.

Obama added that he's not impressed with those on Twitter who criticize others for not being good enough. "That's not activism. That's not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far."

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden stumps in Iowa, holding a town hall in Maquoketa and then a community event in Dubuque… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Durham, N.H…. Bernie Sanders is also in the Granite State, holding a rally in Keene… Pete Buttigieg files for the New Hampshire primary and meets with supporters… Beto O'Rourke talks preventing gun violence in Newtown, Ct… And Michael Bennet delivers a health-care speech in Las Vegas.

Dispatches from NBC's embeds

Elizabeth Warren faced two questions at a town hall in New Hampshire that she hasn't heard much of on the trail. NBC's Benjamin Pu reports: "One voter specifically asked Warren how she would go after Trump when he calls her 'Pocahontas' - which is the first time I've heard voters reference that in a while - and she got into a fiery answer that resonated with the voters here. 'But we got a lot of America - a lot more than 50 percent of America - that is tired of the ugliness, that is tired of the name-calling, that is tired of the disgusting behavior, that is tired of the fact that we now have a President of the United States who embarrasses us around the world, who cuts and runs on allies who stood with us and fought alongside us,' said Warren."


Warren was later asked how she'd break up gridlock in D.C., saying, "No. 1 in my list is get elected to the White House and No. 2 is to put Mitch McConnell out of a job." After the event and during a gaggle with reporters, per Pu, "Warren was asked that if the impeachment reached the Senate if she would come off the trail to go back to the Hill: 'We have a responsibility here and it's not something that I take any pleasure in, but it's something that has to be done so I'll be there.'"

Data Download: And the number of the day is … 14 days.

Fourteen days.

That was how long ex-Trump adviser George Papadopoulos's prison sentence was in 2018 after he pled guilty to lying to the FBI in the Mueller probe.

Now, Papadopoulos has filed FEC paperwork and launched a website for a congressional run in California's 25th district, just days after Democratic Rep. Katie Hill announced that she will step down amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a staffer.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Thirty-million-dollar man

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we look a look at just how much cash Tom Steyer is spending on the airwaves — and what it has (and hasn't) gotten him.


ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Mick Mulvaney was left in the dark about the al-Baghdadi operation, NBC News confirms.

The presidentsaid that the U.S. has killed al-Baghdadi's "number one replacement."

Here's what we know about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's testimony to House impeachment investigators.

The House easily passed a bipartisan bill punishing Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria.

A former GOP congressman-turned-lobbyist also pushed for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the New York Times reports.


Joe Biden isn't weighing in on reports that he was denied communion at a church in South Carolina due to his stance on abortion rights.

TRUMP AGENDA: It's a good time to be a defense lawyer in DC

Trump officials have a big concern in the impeachment fight: high-priced defense lawyers.

The border remains "in crisis," despite a drop in unauthorized migration, according to administration officials.

The 2020 threat to U.S. elections isn't just limited to Russia.

The White House has a new website to take on addiction treatment.


2020: Papa(dopoulos) don't preach

Here's our team's story on Papadopoulos's congressional ambitions.

Georgia plans to remove over 300,000 inactive voters from its rolls.

Ex-Biden aide Larry Raskyhas filed paperwork to form a super PAC.

Bernie Sanders is hoping to count on the Latino vote.

The New York Times looks at Biden's "choppy speaking style."


Some Republicans are warning Jeff Sessions not to run for his old seat.

Pete Buttigieg is trying to distance himself from work he did during his days as a McKinsey consultant.

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