The impeachment inquiry has been all about Ukraine, but what about Russia?

Image: President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on Nov.
President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on Nov. 9, 2019. Copyright Yuri Gripas Reuters
Copyright Yuri Gripas 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 — The central charge in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry is that President Trump used his office and powers to compel a foreign nation (Ukraine) to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

But ahead of tomorrow's public hearings, there are two additional questions worth exploring, especially after Monday's release of three more transcripts of depositions.

One: Why was Trump and his administration pursuing a strategy on Ukraine that aligned with Russia's interests — and against the United States' expressed national interests?

And two: Why aren't House Democrats trying to connect the Russian dots? (Is it a hangover after Mueller?)

In her released testimony, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper explained why the security assistance — which the Trump administration held up — was so valuable to Ukraine: to deter Russian aggression.

"Ukraine, and also Georgia, are the two front-line states facing Russian aggression. In order to deter further Russian aggression, we need to be able to shore up these countries' abilities to defend themselves. That's, I think, pure and simple, the rationale behind our strategy of supporting these countries. It's in our interest to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world."

State Department official Catherine Croft testified that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was worried that Russia would react negatively to the U.S. sale of anti-tank Javelin missiles to Ukraine.

Here's Croft answering questions about a briefing with Mulvaney which she said "centered around the Russian reaction."

Question: "What was the concern about the Russian reaction?"

Croft: "That Russia would react negatively to the provision of Javelins to Ukraine."

Question: "What was the reaction to that concern from the other agencies?"

Croft: "I don't know that I can provide that information in an unclassified setting."

Question: "Okay. Is there any way to provide broadly?"

Croft: "I can broadly say that all of the policy agencies were in support."

Question: "And you mean in support of providing the Javelins?"

Croft: "Correct."

And fellow State Department official Christopher Anderson explained that the negative perceptions about Ukraine inside Trump's orbit could hurt it in its negotiations with Russia.

"There was a fear that — I had a fear, I'll speak about myself. I had the fear that if [Rudy] Giuliani's narrative took hold, that the Ukrainian government was an enemy of the president, then it would be very hard to have high-level engagement, and that would mean that we would — that Russia would not — that it would be harder for us to pressure Russia to come back to the negotiating table."


Yes, the security assistance to Ukraine was finally released.

But the question is important to ask: If the expressed U.S. policy was to help Ukraine, why was Trump and his administration even contemplating actions that could help Russia?

It's the part of this story that hasn't received enough attention.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments on DACA

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the fate of DACA, NBC's Pete Williams writes.

"The court must decide whether the Trump administration improperly tried to shut the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program down by simply declaring it to be illegal while offering no detailed explanation or analyzing the effect on the immigrant population. No such analysis was necessary, the Department of Justice insists."


More from Williams: "The DACA initiative was launched in 2012 and allows children of illegal immigrants to remain here if they were under 16 when their parents brought them to the United States and if they arrived by 2007."

President Trump tweeted his support for the court to strike down DACA, and portrayed the program's beneficiaries in a negative light.

"Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from 'angels.' Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!"

Elijah Cummings' widow to run for his congressional seat

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said she will be running for her late husband's Baltimore-area congressional seat.

"I fought right alongside of Elijah," she told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, per NBC News. "I've been on this path for fighting for the soul of our democracy, for fighting for health care, education, for a better America for all."


"And so he wanted me to continue this fight, and I'm going to continue this fight and run the race, and, prayerfully, win."

Rockeymoore Cummings is currently chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

2020 Vision: Durable Biden is back

On some days, as we've said before, Joe Biden looks a lot weaker than his frontrunner status might suggest.

And on others, he looks a lot more durable than the Washington chatter would have you believe.

Monday was Durable Biden Day, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing him ahead in New Hampshire, although within the margin of error.


The numbers among likely New Hampshire primary voters: Biden 20 percent, Warren 16 percent, Buttigieg 15 percent and Sanders 14 percent.

Remember, Sanders won New Hampshire by 22 points in 2016, and Warren represents next-door Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Biden is up with a new TV ad highlighting his national-security experience.

On the campaign trail today

Tom Steyer and Steve Bullock file their paperwork to participate in the New Hampshire primary… Julian Castro is in Iowa… Kamala Harris is in South Carolina… Bernie Sanders raises money in DC… And in the GOP race, Mark Sanford stumps in the Granite State.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds

Joe Biden campaigned in Iowa where he had a somber moment with a Navy veteran, per NBC's Marianna Sotomayor: "A U.S. Navy veteran whose son is currently in officer's candidate's school in Fort Benning, Ga., told Biden that he had shaken President Barack Obama's hand and would consider it an 'honor' if he could shake the next president's hand. As the roughly 150 person crowd clapped and cheered, they both shook hands before the veteran stood up straighter and saluted the former vice president. Biden saluted back before telling the crowd that he promised not to send their kids into war 'unless there is an overwhelming reason why the national interests of the United States is at stake.'"


After a town hall in New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren spoke with reporters and answered questions about sexism in this election, per NBC's Deepa Shivaram and Julia Jester. "Warren was asked to weigh in on comments from Joe Biden that referenced her as angry. Did she think it was sexist? Warren refused to say, and repeated a line from the weekend that Joe Biden should answer that. But she went on to say, 'For me, this is really talking about to all the little girls who came up just now and who have done pinky promises is that we are here. We are strong and we have strong views. When people are getting cheated, it makes us angry. When people are getting crushed by student loan debt, it makes us angry. And when people can't pay for their student loans, it makes us angry and we are going to stand up and we are going to talk about it.'"

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 101


That's the number of GOP House members who have lost, left or announced their retirement since Donald Trump took office in January 2017, per NBC's Dante Chinni.

The latest is New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who announced his retirement yesterday.

When Trump first took office, there were 241 Republicans in the House. The departures (or impending departures) of 101 of them amounts to about 42 percent of that original number.


ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Two top White House aides — Mick Mulvaney and Pat Cipollone — are battling over strategy as the impeachment process enters its public stage.

Remember Don Blankenship? He says he's running for president.

DACA is having its day in the Supreme Court.

The presidentis weighing whether to condition foreign aid on religious freedom concerns.

Former President Jimmy Carter will have surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.


Trump Agenda: The Director

Pentagon official Laura Cooper told investigators that Trump did direct the withholding of Ukraine aid.

Here's the latest on one of the Trump tax return lawsuits.

A trio of sons-in-law are at the center of communications between Trump and the Turkish government.

At least eight Trump allies were hired as outside contractors for a lucrative health department contract, POLITICO writes.

2020: If you thought the Dem field wasn't already big enough…

Here the New York Times' reporting on Deval Patrick's flirtation with a 2020 bid.


TheAP notes that Peter King's retirement opens up a competitive seat for Democrats.

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