Donald Trump's manic, fantastical and utterly disastrous week

CNN Politics 10 months ago

Quick: Think back to Monday. Can you remember what happened at the White House and in Congress?

Chances are that you can't. In fact, if you're like most of the political world, Monday feels as if it happened a month ago.

This is the nature of time in the Donald Trump presidency. There are so many storylines every single day that it's impossible to keep up with them even for a 24-hour news cycle. Some of this is, of course, strategy on the part of the President -- if you throw 1,000 balls in the air, any one person can only hope to focus on a few in hopes of catching them.

But, ascribing strategy to every ball Trump throws may be giving him and his White House too much credit. The truth is that this is a President who creates chaos in and around him. He acts, and then watches the wildness that ensues. The plan, seemingly, is that there is no plan.

He's the man knocking down the first domino in a massive chain that spiders in a thousand different directions. Or, maybe even more apt: He's smashing the ice on a thinly frozen pond and watching as the cracks spread out around him -- endangering both himself and anyone else unlucky enough to be sharing the ice with him.

Every week at the manic pace Trump keeps feels like a blur -- none more than this week, in which the President and his administration lurched from controversy to cataclysm to convulsion and back, all in the space of four days.

Let's go through the week that was:

Monday: Trump kicked off the week on Twitter -- natch -- with a series of attacks on his own attorney general. "After 1 year of investigation with Zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that 'Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia,'" the President tweeted, later adding, "So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?"

"Beleaguered" became the story of the day -- coming hard on Trump expressing his disappointment with Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation in an interview with The New York Times. Sessions, like a scolded child, offered little other than a commitment to continue to serve for as long as Trump wanted him in the job.

That night, Trump traveled to West Virginia to address the annual Boy Scout Jamboree. After asking the crowd, "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts," Trump did just that -- in a long and uneven address in which, among other things, he regaled the crowd of teenage boys with tales of post-World War II New York and, of course, his election victory last November. The speech was overtly political -- so much so that a senior official with the Boy Scouts of America issued an apology on Thursday for those "who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree."

Tuesday: Trump was back at it bright and early. He bashed Sessions, again, this time for taking a "VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton's crimes." (That message was sent, via Twitter, at 6:12 a.m. ET.) Like Monday, Trump's early morning tweets became the narrative of the day, with his White House forced to respond -- which it did in the most vanilla way possible -- to unending questions about whether or not Trump was going to fire Sessions.

(Sidebar: Trump's attacks on Sessions came even as he -- and Senate GOP leaders -- were desperately trying to round up the 50 votes they needed to simply open debate on an as-yet-to-be-determined health care bill designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Sessions, a former senator, still has considerable goodwill in the chamber and, according to CNN's reporting, Trump's series of attacks on his own attorney general complicated the calculus for on-the-fence senators.)

At night, Trump headed out to Youngstown, Ohio, where he delivered another campaign-type speech. "It is much easier to act presidential than what we are doing here tonight, believe me," Trump assured his audience. "With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office."

Wednesday: The day began with this cryptic tweet at 8:55 a.m.: "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......" What followed in subsequent tweets was Trump's announcement that trangender people would be banned from enlisting or serving in the military. The decision set off a firestorm on the left who accused Trump of discrimination, plain and simple.

That negative reaction wasn't just limited to the political left. Republican senators from all over the country -- including reliable conservatives like Richard Shelby of Alabama -- decried Trump's decision, and the way in which it was announced.

It later became clear that despite the Trump administration's assertions that the people who needed to know about the decision had been briefed in advance, they, in fact, had not. Neither the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was on vacation when Trump sent the tweets, was aware of the policy change. White House officials admitted they had not yet worked out how the policy would be implemented -- suggesting that Trump just sort of decided and tweeted, without considering the various complexities contained in making such a sweeping move.

At night, Trump had dinner with his wife, newly installed communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Hannity and former Fox News executive Bill Shine. Following that dinner Scaramucci set a very cryptic tweet what he called the leak of his financial disclosure forms -- tagging Reince Priebus in the tweet as a not-so-subtle way of suggesting the White House chief of staff was behind it.

Thursday: The day began with a 30-minute phone interview between Scaramucci and CNN's Chris Cuomo that was beyond odd. Scaramucci repeatedly insisted he had the confidence of the President, that he was acting and speaking at the President's behest and that he was on a mission to find and exterminate the leaks coming out of the White House.

"Those are the types of leaks that are so treasonous that 150 years ago, people would have been hung for those types of leaks," Scaramucci told Cuomo in one of the many, many eye-popping quotes of the interview.

Meanwhile, the Sessions drama dragged on. Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN that there would be "holy hell to pay" if Trump jettisoned Sessions.

Sessions, in an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carson, admitted that Trump's constant attacks were "kind of hurtful." That didn't change the White House's stance, however, as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated that Trump was "disappointed" in Sessions and failed to rule out the possibility the AG would be fired. She also dodged questions about the President's faith in Priebus amid a bevy of questions about Scaramucci's comments earlier in the day.

And, over at the State Department, Rex Tillerson was forced to answer questions about a much-rumored "Rexit" -- a departure from his post as the nation's top diplomat due to continuing clashes with the White House. Tillerson said that he planned to stay on "as long as the President lets me." Also on Thursday came reports that national security adviser H.R. McMaster is being undercut.

"McMaster is at odds with President Trump on many key national security issues," reported CNN. "McMaster has also found himself undercut by others in the President's orbit like chief strategist Steve Bannon."

Shortly after 5 p.m. ET, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza posted a first person account of a phone conversation he had Wednesday evening with Scaramucci following a tweet revealing the dinner. Scaramucci was incensed, repeatedly insisting he would fire everyone in the communications department to get to the bottom of the leaks as well as blasting Priebus as a "paranoid schizophrenic" and describing an acrobatic act that it was hard to imagine chief strategist Steve Bannon pulling off. Scaramucci responded to it all by blaming the press: "I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won't happen again."

Friday: Just hours into the day, three Senate Republicans -- Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain -- broke ranks with their 49 other colleagues, voting against the so-called "skinny repeal" of Obamacare. The dramatic vote in which McCain -- newly returned to the nation's capitol from Arizona after a brain cancer diagnosis -- cast the deciding vote was straight out of "West Wing."

That final defeat, which came after months of Republican machinations to make good on their longstanding campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, was as swift as it was stunning. Suddenly, with one "thumbs down" motion from McCain, the number one legislative priority of a Congress and White House controlled by Republicans had been set ablaze with little hope that anything could be saved.

It was a month's worth of bad news -- and maybe several months' worth -- in a single week. (And the week isn't even over yet.)

Consider this: If an episode of "West Wing" had the plot outlined above, Aaron Sorkin would likely have rejected it as too fantastical. There won't ever be THAT much -- and that much bad for the president -- happening in a single week, you can imagine him saying.

And, up until Donald Trump became the President, he'd have been right. But in this reality show presidency, the truth is stranger than fiction. And a week can seem to last a month.

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