Since Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, it feels as if each week comes equipped with another shocking revelation or potentially unconstitutional executive order. While we’ve certainly had a fair share of unprecedented moves by the president and his administration, the past few days have truly taken things to a whole new level. Just as the ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia escalated on the heels of a public testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, the president announced that he was dismissing FBI Director James Comey from his duties. The sudden decision has sent a shockwave through an already unstable Congress, causing the GOP to scramble while the Democrats cry foul play. Needless to say, it’s been a hectic time in Trump’s White House, and we’re here to keep you up-to-speed with every happening from the past week.
Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey
- On Tuesday, Trump announced that he was firing FBI Director James Comey based on a recommendation by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The reason given for the dismissal was grounded on the intelligence agency leader’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, claiming that he treated the former Democratic nominee unfairly. However, Democrats and fellow FBI agents reject this notion, instead believing that Comey was fired because he refused to end the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign team and Russia.
- In a bizarre letter that was hand-delivered to Comey’s office, the president felt it was necessary to mention that he was not under investigation for ties to Russia. “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Trump wrote.
- Shortly after the startling termination, it was revealed that Comey had requested more prosecutors and additional personnel to help speed up the FBI’s investigation just a few days before he was fired. This is considered the first clear-cut sign that the intelligence agency felt that they needed more firepower to handle this probe. Although there’s no evidence that this request to the Justice Department played a role in Comey’s dismissal, the suspicious timing has certainly raised eyebrows in Congress.
- Reports also surfaced that during a dinner between Trump and Comey back in January, the president questioned whether or not the former head of the FBI would pledge his loyalty to him. Comey denied to make that promise, which he believes played a factor in his recent dismissal. According to Trump, the question of loyalty was never raised during the meeting, and that Comey told him that he was not under investigation. These rumblings about the pair’s dinner conversations has apparently startled the president, who threatened Comey through Twitter about having a possible recording of the discussions they held.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
- While Trump mulls over his options for the next FBI Director, the acting director Andrew McCabe has made it clear that the agency will continue their investigation into the president’s connection with Russian officials. He also claimed that Comey’s sacking will not impact the probe, and that he believes the FBI has sufficient resources to continue looking into the ongoing matter.
- Trump’s decision to fire Comey has also widened the gaping rift between Congressional Democrats and Republicans. The left firmly believes that the FBI shakeup proves the urgent need for an independent investigation into the Russia’s meddling with the 2016 election, relating the president’s recent actions to former president Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Meanwhile, a majority of the GOP has refused to condemn thr administration for the jarring move, and have continued to reject the Democrats' call for a special prosecutor. "Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after Comey’s termination. A select few Republicans have expressed concern over Trump’s resolution, and have started to support the idea of bringing a select committee into the mix.
- Additionally, the involvement that AG Jeff Sessions played in the Comey debacle has raised concerns, particularly because he previously recused himself from the Russian investigation. On Friday, an ethics watchdog group filed a complaint against Sessions, claiming that his participation in the firing of the FBI Director was a violation of the Justice Department’s rules. Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign after Trump painted him as the mastermind behind the decision to dismiss Comey.
- The following day after he was fired, Comey was asked to testify again before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The invitation was proposed by the Republican committee chairman Richard Burr and Democratic ranking member Mark Warner. Shortly after, reports claimed that Comey would agree only if the testimony was held in public. As of now, no hearing date has been set or agreed upon, but could lead to another pivotal moment in the investigation if and when it does.
Yates and Clapper Testify; Trump’s Russian Paper Trail
- Although the firing of Comey conquered the headlines throughout the week, there were other important happenings with the ongoing Russian investigation. For starters, on May 8, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. All eyes were on Yates, who was reportedly fired by Trump for refusing to implement his controversial Muslim ban back in February. The highly respected official revealed that she had told the White House that disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn was potentially compromised by the Russian government. According to Yates, the now-fired advisor stayed in the White House for 18 days after she provided this information to the Trump team, raising questions about whether they took Flynn’s unorthodox connection with Russia seriously.
- While the Democrats who questioned Yates and Clapper were directly focused on the investigation into Flynn and the Trump administration, the Republicans were completely consumed with trying to find out how the former national security advisor was ousted. Some GOP members used their time to accuse Yates of going beyond her boundaries to prevent Trump’s executive order travel ban from going into effect. One memorable moment involved the former acting attorney general and Sen. Ted Cruz, who tried to intimidate her by citing a statute that gives the president the right to control which “aliens” are allowed into the country. After he also argued that Trump’s travel ban was approved by the Office of Legal Counsel, Yates diffused his tactic by pointing to a “further provision” of the law he had presented, which states that “no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality, or place of birth.”
- During the testimony, it was discovered that Yates was dismissed from her position the day after she offered evidence on Flynn to the White House. Although it’s assumed that she was fired for refusing to uphold the Muslim ban, the revelation raises other possibilities for her termination. She warned officials that Flynn had been compromised and “could be blackmailed” by Russia, but Trump found it more urgent to fire her than his potentially traitorous advisor.
- Just hours before Trump fired FBI Director Comey, it was revealed that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Flynn. These court orders were written to acquire business records that relate to the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year's election. These investigators are looking into how Flynn unlawfully failed to disclose payments from clients tied to both the Russian and Turkish government.
- As if Trump could make the situation even more sketchy, he followed up his FBI shakeup by meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just one day after the controversial decision to dismiss Comey. A Russian state news photographer snapped a photo of a smiling Trump shaking hands with Lavrov, which was soon posted on Twitter without the knowledge of the White House. One Trump official claims that they were “tricked” by the visiting foreign country. The Russian official Lavrov was also videotaped joking about the FBI Director getting fired while he was with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
#Lavrov: Was FBI Director James Comey fired? You’re kidding! pic.twitter.com/5OXNKBF2QA
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) May 10, 2017
- In other news, between 2008 and March 2017, the president had collected at least $100 million from Russian individuals or organizations. These numbers were released in a personal letter from Trump’s tax counsels responding to an unofficial query. The various foreign investments are related to the president's real estate dealings.
The GOP Continues to Dismantle Democracy
- This past week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially withdrew a 2013 directive from Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder that enabled prosecutors to avoid handing out mandatory minimum sentences to low-level drug offenders. The former Alabama Senator has instructed prosecutors to seek the maximum sentencing for even the most miniscule of drug offenses. Sessions reportedly sent a memo to federal prosecutors around the country that advises them to seek the harshest penalties possible.
- In the midst of all the Russian hoopla, the GOP continues to push controversial and possibly detrimental policies onto the country. A recent study conducted by Priorities USA shows that a voter-ID law in Wisconsin led to the suppression of 200,000 votes in 2016. This measure greatly decreased turnout among African-Americans and Democratic voters in a state that Trump only won by a slim margin of 22,748.
- In North Carolina, the GOP-controlled Senate voted to strip away funding from schools that resided within heavily Democratic districts. The decision came around 3 AM on Friday morning, disguised as a program to help the state fight the ongoing opioid epidemic. However, what wasn’t made clear is that this $1 million of funding would come directly from the educational sector.
Trump Speaks at Liberty University
- Over the weekend, Mr. Trump held his first presidential commencement speech to Christian graduates at Liberty University. The Commander-in-Chief made a handful of questionable statements during the address, one of them being “"In America, we don’t worship government. We worship God." Trump also relished in the idea of being an “outsider,” and told the students to “keep pushing ahead” even when the “broken system” tells them that they’re wrong.
Spicer Struggling to Stay Afloat on Trump’s Wild Ride
- Although the entire White House has been scrambling to clean up the mucky tracks left behind by Trump’s erratic decision making, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has had a particularly brutal week. The Trump spokesman is reportedly on the edge of being fired by his boss, who wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Spicer would keep the job during a recent interview with Fox News.
- To make matters even more embarrassing for poor Spicey, it was reported that he “spent several minutes” hiding from reporters behind a bush, apparently avoiding questions about Trump’s decision to fire Comey. He then agreed to answer questions as long as he was not filmed while doing so.
- It’s clear that the White House Press Secretary has been having a hard time keeping up with the president’s hijinks. However, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders has been given an increasingly prominent role in answering to the media. She has recently filled Spicer’s role on multiple occasions, and could eventually take over for the distressed spokesman.
Stirring Trouble Around the Globe
- North Korea: Over the weekend, North Korea launched a ballistic missile, the first since newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in has taken office. Although the White House has been increasing tensions with the country, the president strangely deferred his thoughts on the recent launch to make it about Russia. "With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil — in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan — the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House statement read.
- Saudi Arabia: On Friday, the Trump administration announced that the US is poised to complete an arms deals with Saudi Arabia that is worth over $100 billion. The president will visit the city of Riyadh next week, the first stop on his first major intentional tour as president.
- Netherlands: While all eyes have been on Trump’s financial connections with Russia, a Dutch news organization claims to be building evidence that the president has laundered money in the Netherlands. They claim that, in 2007, the former business mogul laundered $1.5 million dollars into the European country.