They might be remembered as the most consequential 72 hours of the never-dull Trump presidency. And by revealing and confirming truths as well as fears about President Trump, they set the stage for a full-on battle for presidential survival that could define the coming months — if not longer.
On Monday of last week, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates revealed that she had warned the White House that Trump’s national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, could have been compromised by the Russians. Trump let Flynn keep his job for 18 days after that warning was delivered.
The next day, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian operatives, and fresh revelations have raised the possibility that the president tried to obstruct that investigation months earlier — allegations the White House vehemently denies.
That Wednesday, Trump welcomed two top Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. We learned later that he revealed, without permission, sensitive intelligence that was gleaned from a stalwart U.S. ally.
Those events set in motion a tumultuous week that has terms like “constitutional crisis” and “obstruction of justice” being tossed around, with subplots involving possible tapes and notes of White House conversations, presidential requests for loyalty and foreign allies’ dismay. Impeachment is being openly discussed, though a whole lot of dots needs to be drawn and then connected before such talk gets serious.
What is serious now is the necessity to confront traits exhibited by a president who continues to defy basic conventions and traditions. The events of the past week have sparked serious questions about Trump’s judgment, temperament, honesty and loyalty — in ways that can’t be quieted from here.
It’s in this context that the news that Comey kept notes of his conversations with Trump must be viewed.
Congressional Republicans uncomfortable with the Trump presidency had consoled themselves by focusing on what he does and not what he says. Now, though, they are confronted with actual actions and the possibility that Trump was trying to influence an active FBI investigation into Flynn and his Russia ties.
No longer can Trump count on Congress to excuse possible misdeeds. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee warned that he is ready to subpoena Comey’s notes. A House Republican today said for the first time that a special prosecutor may be in order, and another allowed that impeachment may be on the table if Comey’s account proves accurate.
This all plays out against another political reality: Trump’s base is, by all accounts, as strongly behind him as ever. His supporters — including many in Congress — are painting this as another series of breathless Washington scandals that matters not at all outside the swamp they see him as trying to drain.
White House aides are right to decry the leaks behind the extraordinary revelations. Even as Trump admitted to astonishing chunks of the stories — that Russia was on his mind when he fired Comey and that he shared information with his Russian guests — his aides maintain that he did nothing inappropriate in his handling of Flynn, Comey or intelligence secrets.
But there’s no denying the damage Trump has sustained to his reputation and credibility — traced almost exclusively to things he did.
The path gets no easier from here. A high-profile first foreign trip allows Trump the opportunity for presidential page turning or for additional diplomatic missteps. Among the countries he’s visiting is Israel, the source of the information he is purported to have shared with the Russians.
In classic Trump fashion, mere minutes after the latest Comey news broke, the president’s political operation sent out a combative fundraising appeal attacking the “unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump.” The email quoted presidential adviser Steve Bannon, saying, “Every day is going to be a fight.”
Trump will never run out of people to fight. But he may run out of people willing to stand by him when he does.