Ongoing Russia scandal overshadows president’s first official trip abroad

Trump administration officials thought his eight-day trip abroad would change the narrative that was dominating print and cable news.

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May 24, 2017 00:19
2 minute read.
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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WASHINGTON – The Saudi royal family welcomed US President Donald Trump to a palace on Saturday with a strobe light show, a line of dancing swordsmen, a red carpet and a feast. It was a slick broadcast opportunity for cable news networks on a typically slow weekend night. But CNN had some other, more pressing news to report.

As the festivities unfolded live on air, CNN headlines moving along the bottom of the screen reflected a White House in crisis, after a relentless stream of reporting last week revealed questionable behavior by the president regarding the FBI’s investigation into collusion between Trump’s associates and the Russian government.

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Trump apparently admitted to Russian officials that he had fired former FBI director James Comey in order to alleviate “great pressure” on himself over the bureau’s ongoing probe. He had personally appealed to several figures involved, including Comey, to end the investigation or divert it away from his confidants. Contributors to the network – which is currently experiencing record viewership – suggested that Trump sought to obstruct justice, a criminal offense, and historically, an impeachable one. White House lawyers are now researching impeachment defenses.
Trump asked Comey to shut down Flynn probe: source (credit: REUTERS)

After Trump’s first full day visiting Israel, yet another development in the investigation grabbed headlines. The Washington Post reported that Trump had pressured Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to deny evidence existed of coordination between his team and Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, after the FBI publicly acknowledged an investigation was under way. Both Coats and Rogers refused to comply.

Every day brings more revelations, and Tuesday was no exception: As Trump departed Israel for Rome, former CIA chief John Brennan confirmed in public testimony that Russia sought to recruit US assets during the 2016 race.

Contact between Russia and Trump associates was not merely suspicious, but cause for alarm across the intelligence community, he said.

“Frequently, individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee.

“My radar goes up early when I see certain things – that I know what the Russians are trying to do, and I don’t know whether or not the targets of their efforts are as mindful of Russian intentions as they need to be.”

Trump administration officials thought his eight-day trip abroad would change the narrative that was dominating print and cable news. But an investigation of this magnitude – in which the former CIA chief sees it fit to utter the word treason – is beyond the president’s control. Indeed, Trump’s efforts to quash and influence the story have only escalated the crisis.

Halfway through his trip overseas, Washington remains fixated on whether Trump’s interference in the Russia investigation has imperiled the future of his presidency. That focus is likely to continue, as Trump’s policy efforts abroad will all be for naught if his administration is legally or politically delegitimized at home.

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