President Donald Trump hasn’t had a lot of good weeks since becoming president last January. But this one looks like one of the worst.
Trump was buffeted on virtually every front – the Russia investigation, issues of his personal conduct prior to becoming president, staffing at the White House, crisis response – over the past week, and, as is often the case, his own public comments made things worse, not better.
+Here’s a quick review of the major – and majorly bad – news of the past five days for Trump:
- Special counsel Robert Mueller issued indictments for 13 Russians for their role in a massive election meddling plot that roped in “unwitting” Trump campaign officials in its web. The depth and breath of the Russia strategy to influence the 2016 election runs directly counter to Trump’s attempts to cast the entire Russia investigation as a “total hoax: and a “witch hunt.”
- Rick Gates, a former senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, is nearing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates would be the third member of Trump’s campaign to cooperate with the Mueller investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
- Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, acknowledged this week that he made a $130,000 personal payment to porn star Stormy Daniels as a way to keep her from going public with her story about an alleged affair with Trump. Cohen insists – unbelievably – that Trump had no knowledge of the payment and that he was never reimbursed for it.
- Ronan Farrow reports in The New Yorker of an alleged affair between former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and Trump. McDougal’s story of Trump’s courtship of her and their alleged affair bears many similarities to account by Daniels and former reality TV star Summer Zervos.
- The Rob Porter debacle rages into a second week. Now 10 days after the initial reports of alleged domestic abuse against both of his ex-wives by the former White House staff secretary, the White House still can’t get its story – or timeline – straight. On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray directly contradicted the White House’ account that Porter’s background check was in process – making clear that the FBI had closed the case file on Porter in January. White House chief of staff John Kelly sits in the middle of this crisis communications disaster, having apparently not told his staff the whole truth at the start of all of this. Reports of Trump privately fuming – at Kelly, at the situation – are everywhere even as the the White House insists the president continues to have confidence in Kelly.
- Less than 24 hours after the murder of 17 people at a Florida school, Trump takes to Twitter to offer his thoughts. “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” he tweeted on Thursday morning. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” While Trump strikes a more conciliatory tone later on Thursday, it’s the tweet that gets the most attention. Trump also faced a series of calls – from parents of the those killed in the Parkland shooting and students who survived – to do something to curtail the number of school shootings in the country.
- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s penchant for first-class flights went public. The Washington Post first detailed the massive expenditures for Pruitt to fly first- and business class – often on jaunts as quick as DC to New York. Pruitt defended himself by saying he was regularly being threatened – people know what the EPA administrator looks like by sight? – by passengers and that the first-class accommodations were born of necessity.
- An inspector general’s report shows that Veterans Administration head David Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made a series of false statements in order to justify the use of government funds for Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a trip to Europe in 2017. On Capitol Hill on Thursday, Shulkin admitted to lawmakers that “the optics of this are not good.”
That would be a bad month for most presidents. Hell, it might even be enough for a bad year. But this was ONE WEEK for Trump. And I didn’t even include the fact that the the Trump-backed immigration plan got only 39 votes in the Senate – with 11 Republicans defecting. Or that Democrats just keep winning state legislative seats that Trump carried in 2016, a potential precursor to a major anti-GOP wave in the 2018 midterms.
Whether you love Trump or loathe him, it’s impossible to conclude that this week has been anything short of a disaster for him. On every front, things got worse for Trump over the past five days. (If you go back a week, you include Trump’s tone-deaf tweet in response to the allegations against Porter and his decision not to release the memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.)
Weeks like this may not worry Trump – whose re-election bid is still a ways off. But, for congressional Republicans desperate to hold their House and Senate majorities come November 6, they simply can’t afford the Republican president to rack up many more weeks like this.