On May 4, President Donald Trump was celebrating with House Republicans in the Rose Garden.
House Speaker Paul Ryan just successfully pushed the American Health Care Act the chamber. And though the bill still needed to be handled by the Senate, Trump and House Republicans took a victory lap of sorts after the much maligned legislation finally made it through its brutally tough initial battle.
“How am I doing? Am I doing OK? I’m president. Hey, I’m president. Can you believe it? Right?” he said.
That was 16 days ago.
Fast-forward to Saturday. Nearly the entire stretch since has been consumed by two of the most tumultuous weeks in presidential history. Bombshell story after bombshell story. Trump’s series of controversial decisions. A near-boiling point in the investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during swing the 2016 election.
Democrats began speaking more freely about impeachment, while the protective Republican wall surrounding Trump began to show signs of cracks.
As leaks became geysers, the onslaught showed no signs of slowing down.
“I’m sort of literally at a loss of words,” Alex Conant, communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, told Business Insider. “I’ve never seen so much bad news hit a White House at once.”
Here’s how it all went down.
Monday, May 8
The highly anticipated event at the start of last week featured former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In her testimony, Yates explained her warning to the White House about Michael Flynn, saying she was concerned the former national security adviser could have been subject to Russian blackmail as a result of misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Afterward, Trump targeted both Clapper and Yates on Twitter. On Clapper, Trump zeroed in on a comment he made that when he retired prior to Trump’s inauguration in January, he knew of no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows — there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.”
He then wrote that Yates “made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news.”
Trump then took his tweet aimed at Clapper and, for a brief time, made it a part of his banner image on Twitter.
Tuesday, May 9
After 5 p.m., Trump dropped a massive bombshell no one was expecting: He fired FBI Director James Comey.
Comey announced at a hearing in March that the FBI was investigating whether there was any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials to swing the 2016 presidential election. But the initial rationale for firing the FBI director was his handling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
In a letter he sent to Comey, Trump said he accepted the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein. But he also wrote that “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
Soon after, it was reported that Trump was planning Comey’s firing for days.
Inside the White House, there was a scramble to defend the decision. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the firing was “not a cover-up.” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News that it was “time to move on” from the Russia investigations.
“It’s been going on for nearly a year,” Sanders said. “Frankly, it’s kind of getting absurd.”
In his first remarks since the firing, Trump decided to blast Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter. Schumer earlier said that Trump’s move to fire Comey was “a big mistake.”
Wednesday, May 10
Trump started his day by defending his firing of Comey and taking shots at Democrats.
“The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!” Trump tweeted.
Then came a curious meeting: A rendezvous in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak, the ambassador. Kislyak’s presence in the meeting wasn’t known until a Russian photographer posted his shots from the event, sparking a controversy over the secrecy of the diplomatic discussion.
Following that meeting, Trump met with Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and national security adviser. While seated next to Kissinger, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that Comey “was not doing a good job.”
Still, top Trump surrogates — including Pence — insisted that Trump acted after his top Department of Justice officials recommended he fire Comey, and that it had nothing to do with the FBI’s Russia investigation.
A GOP lobbyist told Business Insider at the time that firing Comey was a bad move for Trump.
“It only causes Democrats to smell a conspiracy around everything Russian — while giving GOPers pause,” the lobbyist told Business Insider. In the daily press briefing, Sanders was grilled over Comey’s firing. At one point, she said the ousted FBI director committed “atrocities” while he led the bureau.
Later, the Times reported that after Trump made the unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower prior to Trump’s inauguration, Comey told close associated that the president’s behaviour was “outside the realm of normal” and “crazy.”
The Comey-related leaks were only beginning.
Thursday, May 11
In the first clips of an interview between Trump and NBC News’ Lester Holt, Trump trampled on the White House narrative that he fired Comey on the recommendations of Rosenstein and Sessions.
Instead, he said he would have done it “regardless” of whether the DOJ recommended he do so. Trump proceeded to call Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
And Holt asked Trump, “Did you ask, ‘Am I under investigation?'”
“I actually asked him, yes,” Trump responded. “I said, ‘If it’s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
When discussing the moment he decided to fire Comey, he referenced the Russia investigation, something that flew completely in the face of the White House’s narrative.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” he said.
In the daily briefing, Sanders took another barrage of heated questions related to Comey’s firing after Trump contradicted what she was saying hours earlier.
She said Comey’s firing would speed up the Russia investigation.
“There are multiple people that are a part of this and it’s not just the FBI,” Sanders said. “You’ve got the House committee, the Senate committee and, look, again, the point is we want this to come to its conclusion, we want this to come to conclusion with integrity, and we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”
Then came another bombshell. The Times reported that Comey, during a January dinner, was asked by Trump whether he would pledge loyalty to the president.
He declined to do so at least twice during the dinner, the report said.
Friday, May 12
Trump began his day with a blistering tweetstorm.
First, he suggested that his surrogates can’t speak for him completely accurately, and tossed the idea of cancelling future press briefings as a result.
Minutes later, he threatened Comey to stay silent and suggested he had recordings of his conversation with the FBI director.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote.
In the daily briefing, Spicer was bombarded with questions about whether the president was recording Comey or others who he had conversations with in the White House.
It led to an interesting exchange with Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason:
“I’ve talked to the president” about that tweet, Spicer said. “The president has nothing further to add to that.”
“Why did he say that?” Mason said.
“As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add to that,” Spicer said.
“Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or the residence?” Mason then asked.
“As I’ve said for the third time, there’s nothing further to add to that,” Spicer responded.
“Does he think it’s appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?” Mason asked.
Spicer said he didn’t the tweet was “a threat.”
“He’s simply stated a fact,” Spicer said. “The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.”
Monday, May 15
The Washington Post reported that Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Lavrov and Kislyak in the secretive Oval Office meeting. That intelligence that was so under wraps that American allies were not aware of the information, The Post reported.
Current and former anonymous US officials said Trump’s sharing of the intelligence with the Russians jeopardized a key source of information about the Islamic State terror group, as the source had not given the US permission to share the intelligence with Russia.
The blowback was sharp.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and once considered a possibility to be Trump’s vice president, told Bloomberg that the administration “has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order. It’s got to happen.”
“Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” he added.
Alan Dershowitz, the prolific attorney and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said on CNN that “this is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president. Let’s not minimise it.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell all disputed the validity of the story. But they did not call out specific points in the story as untrue.
Tuesday, May 16
Trump started the day by contradicting his White House officials and essentially confirming The Post’s story.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump tweeted.
In a press conference later that morning, McMaster said Trump “wasn’t even aware” of the source of the classified information.
“All of you are familiar with the threat from ISIS,” McMaster said on Tuesday. “All of you are very familiar with the territory it controls. If you were to say, ‘Hey, from where do you think a threat might come, from territory that ISIS controls,’ you would probably be able to name a few cities.”
Shortly after, it was reported that Israel was the source of the highly classified information.
Then came the evening bombshell.
The Times reported that Comey wrote a memo immediately after a meeting with Trump on February 14 — a day after Flynn resigned as national security adviser — that stated Trump suggested Comey should “let go” of the FBI investigation into Flynn. The Times reported that Comey kept a paper trail on Trump to document “what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation.”
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo.
Legal experts said outlined that the request, paired with the loyalty pledge and his firing of Comey, amounted to a strong obstruction of justice case. Obstruction of justice was the charge that led to former President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said at a dinner for the International Republican Institute. “It’s reaching Watergate size and scale. This is not good for the country.”
Wednesday, May 17
In a speech to Coast Guard Academy graduates in Connecticut, Trump said he’s been treated more unfairly than any politician “in history.”
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately,” he said. “Especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why, thank you, I guess that’s why we won.”
By late afternoon came another jaw-dropper: Rosenstein appointed a special counsel — former FBI Director Robert Mueller — to oversee the Russia investigations.
The Times also reported Wednesday that Flynn told the Trump transition team that he was under federal investigation prior to Trump taking office for his paid lobbying for Turkey. Flynn was still brought on as national security adviser.
Thursday, May 18
Trump was initially measured in response to the news of Mueller’s appointment. But he spent his early morning going off on Twitter about it.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!” Trump tweeted.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” he continued.
In a lunch with news anchors that was set to preview his trip to Europe and the Middle East, Trump called the appointment of a special prosecutor “a very, very negative thing.”
“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” Trump said. “And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear — all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country.”
During a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump denied the validity of the claim made in the Comey memo.
On whether he asked Comey to stop any investigation into Flynn, Trump said, “No. No. Next question.”
Friday, May 19
A pair of huge stories were published Friday.
The first said Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak in that already much-maligned Oval Office meeting that his firing of Comey, whom he called a “nut job,” had taken “great pressure” off him.
An American official read the comments, from a White House document summarizing the meeting with the Russian diplomats, to the Times. Spicer did not dispute the comments.
Just minutes later, the Post reported that a senior White House official close to Trump was now considered a “significant person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation.
CNN later reported that White House attorneys were researching impeachment procedures, although officials consider that to be a “distant” and “unlikely” possibility.
Trump departed the US Friday to begin his lengthy first foreign trip as president. Back home, it doesn’t appear the stampede of news stories is going to stop soon.
The White House’s “inability to get ahead of events is concerning,” Conant said. “I mean, they need to get all the bad information out yesterday. But the constant drip, drip, drip of bad news is troubling. Because it makes it so much harder to move on his agenda, which is what I care about as a Republican.”
He added that “in the short term,” it will “probably not” be easy for the administration to move past the Russia-related developments.
“Because we’re in a full-fledged feeding frenzy,” he said. “However, I think that if they can put the special prosecutor to the side and stop making news on the Russia story and then have a successful trip overseas next week, I think he can come back in 10 days and hopefully be able to talk about something other than Russia.”
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and CEO of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider that “it’s fair to say” the “last 10 days have been pretty bad.”
“I think Republicans were in something of a panic for much of that time because it kept getting worse, and no one could really see how to stabilise the situation,” he said. “Now, as it turns out, Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a universally respected special counsel ended up being not only a smart decision but one that ended up being welcomed by Republicans.”
“It now gives them opportunity to decline comment on the investigation going forward,” he continued. “It gives them someone that they really trust and believe will do the right thing in terms of the facts. And it probably, I would think, would buy Trump and the Trump White House some time to deal with not only the legal challenges they’re facing, but also to start restarting their legislative agenda.”
More from Allan Smith:
- Trump to Russian diplomats: Firing ‘nut job’ James Comey took ‘great pressure’ off me
- 16 US federal officials have been impeached in history — here are the craziest reasons why
- James Comey wore a blue suit to blend in with the White House curtains and avoid an awkward interaction with Trump
- Trump calls appointment of a special counsel a ‘very, very negative thing’: ‘I believe it hurts our country terribly’
- A former top Democrat has emerged as the front-runner to be FBI director
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