Paid content Trump's Beltway: special prosecutor for Russia inquiry and NAFTA renegotiation triggered
As he departs for his first international trip as president, Donald Trump faces yet another damaging White House leak.
Mr Trump told Russian officials during a May 10 meeting that firing the FBI director James Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarising the meeting that a US official read to the New York Times.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off," the document quotes the president as saying.
The White House has not disputed the language but says the comments were taken out of context.
The May 10 meeting, between Mr Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak, has already caused controversy. The president shared code-word intelligence supplied by an ally (reportedly Israel) at the meeting. Mr Trump said the information was shared in the pursuit of the US and Russia's common goal of defeating ISIS. However, the incident reportedly raised concerns in Israel, which had apparently not given permission for the intel to be shared, let alone with Russia – allied to its arch-foe Iran.
The meeting was closed to US media, with only Russian state-owned news agency TASS allowed into the Oval Office.
Democrats accused Mr Trump of being immature and showing off. The intelligence sharing also drew criticism from some Republicans in Congress, including who issued a statement calling it "disturbing," adding: "Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians was time he did not spend focusing on Russia’s aggressive behavior, including its interference in American and European elections, its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, its other destabilising activities across Europe, and the slaughter of innocent civilians and targeting of hospitals in Syria."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US President Donald Trump, and the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak (from left) talking during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on May 10 (Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images).
The nutjob document caps a week that has seen daily controversy for the Trump White House.
The president already stands accused of obstruction of justice via demands to Mr Comey to drop an investigation into links between his campaign and Russia and to back off an investigation into fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Mr Trump denies making such requests to Mr Comey and says he is the victim of a "witch-hunt."
Witch hunt or not, the president faces lengthy distractions.
Former FBI director, Robert Mueller, who the Justice Department appointed mid-week as special counsel to investigate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, has 60 days to assemble a team and budget. That is, his investigation proper won't even begin for two months.
In the shorter term, House and Senate committees are both seeking testimony from Mr Comey on a memo he wrote after a meeting with Mr Trump. He could appear as soon as next week; this morning NZ time came the news that Mr Comey has agreed to testify in an open session of the Senate Intelligence Committee before Memorial Day (May 29).
The probes come at a time when only one major piece of legislation has been passed in the Trump era — a spending bill notable for cold-shouldering the president's request for initial funding of a wall along the border with Mexico.
A healthcare reform bill that eventually passed the House is now stalled in the Senate where several members of the Republican majority want a substantial rewrite.
And the president's tax reform plan remains a set of talking points on a piece of paper. There is no indication at this point when a bill will arrive, or how Mr Trump and Republicans in Congress will resolve differences over issues such as a possible deficit blowout and a proposed 20% border tax.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said mid-week that he’s prepared to block Mr Trump on many of his proposed budget cuts and won’t support major tax cuts that add to the deficit. Nor would he commit to building Trump’s border wall.
The Kentucky Republican also told Bloomberg he wanted "less drama" from the Trump White House.
He may not get his wish.