President Donald Trump boarded a plane Friday to Saudi Arabia for his first official trip outside the U.S., giving the world a moment to reflect on the insanity of the past week. But that moment ended abruptly when both the Washington Post and the New York Times released huge scoops not long after his plane took off.
It all started with a meeting between Trump and the two Sergeys in the Oval Office last week. (That’s Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak). There, the president reportedly revealed classified information about the Islamic State group’s plans to use laptop computers to target commercial flights.
Trump’s team initially denied he had revealed any sensitive information, but Trump later appeared to contradict that tweeting he had the “absolute right” to do so. Then, a bombshell dropped: A leaked memo Comey wrote after a meeting with Trump stated that the president specifically asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. And then there was, well, more.
Here’s a look at the last seven scandal-filled days:
Trump told the Russians Comey was a “nut job” as the feds close in on senior official Friday, May 18
Almost immediately after Trump’s plane took off Friday for his Saudi Arabia trip, two bombshells dropped. The New York Times reports Trump told the Russians last week that firing Comey — who he referred to as “crazy” and a “nut job” — had relieved him from the pressure of the investigation. And according to the Washington Post, the federal investigation into Trump’s administration has focused in on a current official as “a significant person of interest.”
According to the Times, the conversation occurred during an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak on May 10 — a day after Trump abruptly fired Comey. The quotes, which were read to the Times by a current official, were written in a document the Times says was “circulated as the official account of the meeting.”
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump reportedly said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
He also told the men, “I’m not under investigation.”
The Washington Post reports the investigation has actually accelerated in recent weeks and is currently focused on a “senior White House adviser” who has not been named but who is reportedly “someone close to the president.”
Both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have acknowledged meeting with Russian officials in the last six months. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also has extensive business contacts in Russia and was once awarded a medal of friendship from Putin.
No chill about the special counsel Thursday, May 18
After the appointment of Mueller as special counsel, the president did something unusual for him: staying silent on Twitter for nearly 16 hours. That ended with a series of of tweets Thursday morning:
Then, a joint news conference with Colombia’s president, Trump was asked if he had told Comey to drop the FBI investigation of Flynn. “No, no,” Trump said. “Next question.”
Hours later, a Reuters’ investigation revealed the Trump campaign made at least 18 undisclosed connections with Russian officials during last year’s presidential race.
Between April and November 2016, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges, members of the campaign traded previously undisclosed calls, text messages, and emails with Russia that focused on easing the sanctions, curtailing China’s growing influence, and fighting the Islamic State group. Six of the exchanges were reportedly between Kislyak and Flynn, who then lied to the vice president about communicating with Kislyak at all, which lead to his forced resignation.
As it turns out, Flynn reluctantly accepted the job of national security adviser at Trump’s behest, even after warning the president that he was under investigation for undisclosed foreign lobbying, The Daily Beast reported. Trump also apparently wants Flynn back in the White House once the investigation concludes.
Rosenstein also briefed the Senate on the status of the Trump-Russia investigation on Thursday, and it seems to be getting more serious.
“It was a counterintelligence investigation before now. It seems to me now to be considered a criminal investigation,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Anyone? Anyone? Mueller? – Wednesday, May 17
History may show this day as the most pivotal in Trump’s young administration.
Rosenstein named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin. The role also gives Mueller the authority to look into Trump’s firing of Comey.
Also on Thursday, Vladimir Putin stepped in to defend Trump, like any good friend would. The Russian president cited a transcript that apparently proves Trump didn’t leak any classified information to Russia.
“I spoke to [Lavrov] today,” a smiling Putin said at a news conference in Sochi. “I’ll be forced to issue him with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia’s intelligence services. It was very bad of him.”
Exacerbating Trump’s Russian problems even more, the Washington Post reported that top Republicans held a meeting just before Trump secured the Republican nomination for president — and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that he believed Putin was paying Trump.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, also referring to California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher. Rep. Paul Ryan stopped the conversation, then swore everyone in the room to secrecy. “No leaks,” Ryan said in the recording. “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Although Evan McMullin, the former House Republican Conference policy director who was part of the conversation, confirmed the exchange, both Ryan and McCarthy denied it happened — at first. But after the Post told the two staffers about the audio recording, both painted the remarks as attempts at humor. (McCarthy’s spokesperson called it a “failed” one.)
The New York Times reported officials in Trump’s transition team knew Flynn was under federal investigation for his secret lobbying work for Turkey weeks before the inauguration — far earlier than any previous reports have indicated. Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent for the Middle Eastern country in March.
The “absolute right” to leak – Tuesday, May 16
Only a day later, the president seemed to contradict McMaster by declaring on Twitter that he did, in fact, share some intelligence with Russia, which he had the “absolute right to do.” Foreign officials didn’t respond well — some said they’d stop sharing information with the U.S.
And then the memo came out. Back in February, Trump asked Comey to end the FBI investigation of Flynn, according to a memo written by Comey shortly after meeting with the president.
It’s the most significant piece of evidence yet that Trump has attempted to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin — and it’s possible he committed obstruction of justice, immediately spurring conversations about a potential impeachment. Even Republicans are calling for James Comey to testify about his before Congress. While experts say that’s likely still a long way off, bookies are offering much better odds.
The piling scandals are causing chaos in the White House. Reporters heard Trump’s aides shouting behind closed doors, and Trump reportedly blasted his staff — including son-in-law Jared Kushner — as “incompetent.”
A leak from the man who hates leaks – Monday, May 15
Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a meeting in the Oval Office last week, U.S. officials told the Washington Post. The president reportedly revealed that the Islamic State has plans to use laptop computers to target commercial flights, which could jeopardize Israel, reportedly the source of the information. Intelligence experts speaking to VICE News called the leak a “complete nightmare.”
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, however, said he was at the meeting and “at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
About those tapes …Sunday, May 14
Some members of congress, including some Republicans, called Trump’s bluff by requesting that he turn over Comey tapes.
Then came more reports that Trump is considering shaking up his staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategy Steve Bannon, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer, because the president is “angry at everyone.”
“A very active president with lots of things happenings”Friday, May 12
In an early-morning tweet, the president questioned whether he should cancel all future press briefings after he contradicted the official story told by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the reason for Comey’s firing. Sanders said Trump fired Comey based on recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, only to be contradicted by Trump himself, who later admitted he would have fired Comey no matter what because he was a “showboat.”
Trump went on to threaten Comey, tweeting that the fired FBI director “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The threat drew immediate comparisons to Richard Nixon. Trump also apparently has a long history of secretly recording calls.
Trump then attempted to quell concerns over his business ties to Russia with a letter released by his lawyers stating that his tax returns (which the president has refused to release) show he has no meaningful ties with Russia or Russian entities “with a few exceptions”: a property in Florida that Trump sold for $95 million to a Russian billionaire and $12.2 million he made from a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.