Remember when President Trump allegedly leaking classified information to the Russians was dominating news coverage?
You’d be forgiven if you only vaguely remembered that, because it was so long ago — Monday, a lifetime in Trump-era news terms.
Take a look at what else happened this week:
“Sources: Trump Asked Comey To Shut Down Flynn Investigation“
“Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians“
“McMaster says Trump didn’t know where intel he shared came from“
“Trump Says He Has ‘Absolute Right’ To Share Intelligence With Russia”
“Trump: No Politician ‘Has Been Treated Worse Or More Unfairly’ Than Me“
“Former FBI Director Mueller Appointed As Special Counsel To Oversee Russia Probe“
“House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump“
“Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House”
“Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed — after being paid as its agent“
“Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians: sources“
“President Trump Denies Asking Comey To Scuttle Flynn Investigation“
“Deputy Attorney General Knew Comey Was Out Before Writing Critical Memo, Senators Say“
“Fact Check: ‘We Don’t Have Health Care In This Country,’ Trump Says”
The seemingly nonstop avalanche since Trump was inaugurated has threatened to hobble his presidency. It has overshadowed Republicans’ domestic agenda, and now, the president embarks Friday on his first overseas trip. It carries potentially high stakes given the Russia investigation and Trump’s reported sharing of highly classified intelligence with the Russians, especially considering the source of that information.
Trump is delivering an address on Islam Sunday in Saudi Arabia. It is supposed to be “inspiring but direct” on “radical ideology,” according to national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The speech — by a man, who called for a ban on Muslims coming into the United States as a candidate — “is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies,” McMaster added.
Trump is also heading to Israel, the country that multiple outlets have reported supplied the classified information Trump shared with the Russians about an ISIS plot.
And the president is also meeting at the Vatican with the pope, someone who said last year that Trump is “not Christian” if he’s talking about building walls. As he does, Trump responded, calling Francis’ comment “disgraceful” and accusing him of being used as a “pawn” of Mexico.
“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is Isis’s ultimate trophy,” Trump said, “the pope can have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened.”
So, who knows what could happen on this trip?
What we do know is that, ahead of the trip, Trump is in a defensive posture — and he has resorted to grievance politics.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said in a commencement address Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy, his one military academy commencement speech of the year.
(It wasn’t the first time he used an event with a service academy for his own political purposes. When he presented the Air Force Academy with the President’s Trophy in the Rose Garden of the White House, he was still smarting from the narrative that he came out on the losing end of the spending bill and railed against Democrats.)
He took to Twitter the morning after former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel to head up the Justice Department’s investigation of the Trump team’s ties to Russia in the presidential election. He called “this” the “greatest witch hunt of a politician in American political history.”
Later Thursday, he told NBC News that a special counsel “hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.”
And then he went back again to electoral politics, accusing Democrats of sour grapes. “It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won, because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way,” he said. “That’s all this is.”
The logic here doesn’t quite follow, given the special counsel wasn’t appointed by Democrats; it was named by his deputy attorney general. That’s the same deputy attorney general Trump’s White House initially hung its rationale for firing Comey on.
This news fire hose, a result of errors forced and unforced for Trump, can have consequences — for the president, for his party and the country.
“It’s clear that his governing agenda is being sidelined because of the unremitting chaos, the unrelenting chaos that is a fundamental part of Donald Trump and, therefore, a fundamental part of the Trump presidency,” said former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner. “So that agenda is now being sidelined and they’re stuck with him.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a couple times this week for “a little less drama from the White House, so that we can focus on our agenda….”
When it comes to foreign affairs, the stakes are even higher.
“I think there is, first of all, concern about the damage that was specifically done to Israeli assets as a result of this leak,” Chemi Shalev, a columnist for the Israeli paper Haaretz, said in NPR’s Up First podcast Wednesday, “secondly, concern about the safety of information that is moved to the United States and angry, then, at the fact that this relationship would be put in such jeopardy.”
If allies can’t trust the American president, what political capital does he have to tackle thorny international issues, like trade, Mideast peace or relations with the Islamic world?
“If the president gives his word to the American people or to legislatures or to a foreign power, then everyone on every level has to know that he means what he says, and he says what he means,” said Rick Tyler, former adviser to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and former spokesman for Newt Gingrich. “And this president is demonstrating none of that.”
John Feehery, a Republican consultant and former congressional spokesman, said most of Trump’s voters probably won’t care. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential problems for the GOP.
“You know the biggest problem for Republicans is not the firing of James Comey,” Feehery said. “The biggest problem for Republicans is the fact that they now own health care and have to do something on it. And the other biggest problem is there haven’t been many successes on the legislative level for the Congress. And if they want to get re-elected, they’ve got to worry about delivering for their constituents.”
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