The Ukraine story remains incomplete. Who's to blame for that?

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.
Image: Lev Parnas arrives at Federal Court on Dec. 17, 2019 in New York City.
Lev Parnas arrives at Federal Court on Dec. 17, 2019 in New York City.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — The fundamental issue hanging over the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump is how incomplete it is, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes.

Just this week alone, we heard more explosive testimony/evidence (“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow).

And we learned that the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the Trump administration violated the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine.

So who is to blame for this incompleteness?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats did wrap up their work before Christmas — and, importantly, before the Iowa caucuses, which are now just 17 days away.

So if you wanted to build an airtight case against the president, Republicans argue, there should have been no loose ends.

On the other hand, the Trump administration stonewalled the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, preventing many key witnesses from testifying.

So if you’re complaining the matter was rushed, Democrats argue back, shouldn’t you be open to hearing from everyone involved?

Of course, it’s possible — if not likely — that had every single witness testified during the House impeachment inquiry, we’d be in the same position we’re in now: Almost all Democrats in favor of impeachment/removal, and almost all Republicans opposed.

But in that scenario, there also wouldn’t be any lingering questions about whether more information — like what we got this week — might sway additional minds.

U.S. troops were injured after all in that Iran attack

“Several U.S. service members were treated for concussions after Iran launched ballistic missiles earlier this month in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian commander, the Pentagon said Thursday,” per NBC News.

“‘While no U.S. service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack ... several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,’ Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement.”

Those injuries are at odds with what the president of the United States said last week.

“‘How many died? How many were wounded?’ ‘Sir, none.’ None. Pretty good warning system. None. ‘How many were hurt?’ ‘None, sir,'" Trump recounted at a campaign rally last Thursday.

It’s a reminder that you can’t take the White House’s word on anything.

And that includes the Ukraine story above.

2020 Vision: (Fund)Raising Arizona

On Thursday, CNN’s Manu Raju asked appointed Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a simple — and relevant — question as she walked through the Senate office hallways: “Should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?”

McSally’s reply: “You’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to you.”

Immediately afterward, McSally began raising money off the interaction. “Fight Back Against Liberal Hacks,” said one McSally campaign email solicitation.

McSally’s campaign also started to sell a T-shirt off of it.

Why so quickly try to raise money from the interaction — so quickly, in fact, that it seemed planned?

Maybe because McSally — who was appointed to the Senate after John McCain passed away — is being seriously outraised by likely Democratic opponent Mark Kelly. See below for more.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden, in Iowa, holds events in Sioux City and Council Bluffs… Elizabeth Warren is also in the Hawkeye State, hitting Newton and Ankeny… Pete Buttigieg stumps in New Hampshire… Amy Klobuchar attends early-voting events in Minnesota… Tom Steyer is in North Carolina… And Deval Patrick hits Nevada.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

While speaking at an event hosted by Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Tulsi Gabbard gave her most extensive answer yet on why she’s not seeking re-election in Hawaii, per NBC’s Julia Jester. “‘I felt that I owed my constituents in Hawaii to be very direct about my intentions, as I would not have run for president if I wasn't serious about this campaign and seeing it through,’ Gabbard said. ‘And I wanted to make sure that they had the opportunity to have a real election, to be able to choose someone that they wanted to serve them in the 2nd Congressional district,’ adding she could have tried to hedge her bets, but ‘I think more of my constituents than seeing them and this role as representative as a fall back plan - they deserve better than that.’”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $2.3 million

$2.3 million.

That’s how much more Democratic Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly raised over Republican incumbent Sen. Martha McSally in the fourth quarter.

Kelly, a former astronaut who is married to former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabrielle Giffords, raised $6.3 million in the most recent fundraising period. That’s compared with $4 million for McSally.

Kelly also has $13.6 million in the bank, compared with $7.6 million held by McSally.

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy

In a rare bipartisan vote on a major Trump priority, the Senate approved the new USMCA trade deal that the administration negotiated to replace NAFTA by an 89-10 vote. But one thing worth keeping an eye on are the “no” votes, many of whom — like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY — cited concerns about the plan’s lack of language on climate change, says NBC’s Benjy Sarlin.

While major labor unions backed the deal, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters urged senators to vote against it, and this is an issue that could loom over future trade negotiations, especially if Democrats retake the White House.

Climate activists are worried that if the U.S. doesn't hold countries to similar standards, manufacturers could effectively “outsource” pollution to factories with looser regulations abroad. Elizabeth Warren’s climate plan, for example, includes a “border carbon adjustment” that would raise prices on imports associated with higher emissions.

On the flipside, a Republican president could find himself slapped by rivals, and even allies, with new tariffs if they follow Trump’s lead and look to reverse climate regulations. The European Union is already debating whether to impose penalties on countries, including the United States, that fail to take aggressive action on climate.

“It's a political reality,” Scott Lincicome, a trade attorney at the libertarian Cato Institute, said. “I think it will increasingly move that way in developed countries that develop high standards for climate change."

The Lid: One of these things is not like the other

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we did a deep dive into the asymmetry in our politics.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Andrew Yang’s wife says that her OB-GYN — who was later accused of abusing more than two dozen other patients — sexually assaulted her while she was pregnant.

One of the biggest contests of 2020 that you might not be thinking of? The race to flip the Texas House.

Voters are voting! In… Minnesota?

The AP goes deep into Pete Buttigieg’s decision to replace a black police chief — and finds that there’s more to the story that’s not flattering to the mayor.

Iran’s Supreme Leader delivered a rare address at Friday prayers to praise recent strikes on American bases.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley revealed that she has alopecia.

Trump Agenda: All impeachment roads lead to the Trump Hotel

The Trump hotel in Washington has been Ground Zero for the episodes that have given rise to the impeachment process.

How are U.S. senators preparing for the drama of the impeachment trial? (And how much of it will actually be televised?)

An excerpt from the new book from Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker describes how Trump once called his military brass “dopes and babies.”

In an online Washington Post-Ipsos poll, eight in ten black Americans describe Trump as a “racist.”

2020: Liz Cheney says no to Wyoming Senate bid

Liz Cheney won’t run for Senate.

The AP looks at how Trump is trying to expand beyond his base during his reelection campaign.

Alabama’s lone Democratic House member is backing Joe Biden.

Business owners are making their feelings known about Sanders and Warren (and sometimes Trump, too).

Democratic rivals have finally stopped betting on an implosion by Biden’s campaign, POLITICO writes.

Mike Bloomberg is courting Democrats on the Hill.