Believe it or not — it was just nine days ago when CNN noted that, after hosting Republicans at a joyous Rose Garden reception on May 4 following the House vote in favour of a health care bill to replace Obamacare — U.S. president, Donald Trump had been largely absent from the public eye for a stretch of five days.
Trump has returned, and what has ensued has been a flurry of activity — self-inflicted wounds in the form of statements and tweets, as well as new allegations about Trump’s actions during his embattled presidency, which is only four months begun.
Here’s a timeline of events.
May 9: Thanks for clearing me, you’re fired
Trump fires James Comey, not in person or over the telephone, but by hand-delivered letter. He thanks the FBI director in the letter for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
Trump surrogates cite the controversial investigation Comey conducted into Hillary Clinton’s private email server when she served as secretary of state as one reason for the move.
The president has the authority to remove the FBI director at any time, but the boldness is noted. Comey had recently testified on Capitol Hill that his agency had investigated Trump associates as part of the broader probe into election interference.
The timing is seen as strange given that Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. are set to visit the White House the following day. Trump, who has levelled harsh warnings on allies, has often been loathe to criticize Vladimir Putin and Russia.
May 10: Russian-documented meeting
Trump indeed meets with Lavrov and Kislyak, the ambassador who has been linked to meetings that may or may not have been aboveboard during the campaign and presidential transition. These allegedly included Trump associates Michael Flynn, Carter Page, J.D. Gordon and new attorney general Jeff Sessions.
Two days earlier, Sally Yates speaks publicly for the first time since being fired as acting attorney general before Sessions was confirmed. She says in congressional testimony that she warned the White House in late January that Flynn apparently had misled the administration about his dealings with Kislyak.
U.S. media are blocked from documenting the proceedings between Trump and the Russians, but Russian state media agency TASS is on the case with photos, which is said to roil the White House further.
May 11: ‘This Russia thing with Trump and Russia’
Any suggestion Comey was fired because of the Clinton file is blown out of the water by the president himself in an NBC News interview.
“In fact when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won,” the president said.
Trump refers to a “very nice dinner” in which he says he asked Comey if he was personally under investigation and received an assurance from the FBI director that he was not.
Separately, the New York Times reports the same day that Trump had demanded personal loyalty from Comey at that dinner. The White House quickly rejects that characterization of the meeting.
When directly asked by NBC anchor Lester Holt if he asked Comey to drop the investigation into possible links between Trump, he says, “No, never. In fact I want the investigation speeded up.”
“I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia, or by the way, anybody else,” he adds, once again trying to leave some doubt, as he did on the campaign trail when he mused that possibly China or “someone sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds” could have cyberattacked the Democratic Party’s committee.
Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders also admits to reporters that day, “we want this to come to its conclusion,” when referring to the FBI’s Russia investigation.
While impeachment proceedings are ultimately a political consideration requiring the will of those in Congress, especially Republicans, the statements bring up the spectre of possible obstruction of justice.
May 12: Let’s go to the tapes
Trump is up and at ’em with a tweet that rivals in shock factor his social media allegation that predecessor Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
Democrat Adam Schiff, a central player in the Congress committee investigation into Russia meddling into the election, calls the implication that Trump recorded a conversation with the FBI director “staggering,” and is among the politicians demanding the release of such tapes, if they exist.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer does not expand on, or answer questions about whether Trump recorded conversations with Comey, or if there are Oval Office recording devices.
The mere mention of recordings evokes comparisons to past presidencies, a tactic largely seen as anathema since Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
“Presidents are supposed to have stopped routinely taping visitors without their knowledge when Nixon’s taping system was revealed in 1973,” historian Michael Beschloss says via Twitter.
If Trump intended the tweet as a threat, which Spicer denies, Comey appears unbowed. Anonymous officials close to the departed official tell CNN and Reuters that Comey, said to be a meticulous note taker, would not be worried if such a recording was brought to light.
May 15: Fixing the leak
Citing current and former U.S. government officials, the Washington Post reports that in the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump — obsessed about leaks from his staff to the press — divulged highly classified information about an alleged ISIS plot to which even U.S. allies were not privy. The intelligence is said to have come from a U.S. ally.
The White House mobilizes in response. National security adviser H.R. McMaster makes two appearances just over 12 hours apart to attempt damage control and blunt the report; he says Trump acted appropriately. Critics note that McMaster never denies Trump did not reveal classified information.
May 16: ‘Absolute right,’ but maybe not absolutely
In response to the reports early in the day, Trump tweets that he had the “absolute” right as president to share incipient plots in the fight against terrorism. While true, there are fears that the revelation will chill allies from sharing sensitive information with the U.S.
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….
Multiple reports reveal Israel was the source of the intelligence Trump relayed. Trump is set to visit Israel as part of his first foreign trip as president on May 22.
The New York Times reports late in the day that, in contrast to what Trump told Holt, notes taken by Comey indicate the FBI head was asked in a February meeting to drop any investigation into Flynn.
Some senators and congressmen theorize any Comey notes or recordings could be subpoenaed and that there could be sufficient evidence of Trump obstructing justice.
One prominent right-leaning pundit brings up the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, adopted to deal with serious illnesses and potential cases where a president was “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” but which could conceivably be utilized on competency grounds.
Fox News seems unconcerned in their prime-time coverage. Sean Hannity rejects the Washington Post report and says in a tweet the media and “deep state” are working to topple Trump. Tucker Carlson focuses his Fox show on the Clinton Foundation and a controversial municipal initiative in New York City.
May 17: ‘No politician in history’
Putin says that if it would be helpful, he could provide a transcript of the meeting between Trump and Lavrov to illustrate that no secrets were divulged. As in the past, he derides the U.S. press for its fixation on gossip and melodrama with its reporting on Russian ties.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan warns against a rush to judgment of Trump based on “innuendo, while weary senator Lindsey Graham says “a lot of us are glad” Trump is soon headed overseas.
Markets drop over concerns the turmoil could hamper Trump’s ability to implement his economic agenda, even before it is learned that the House of Representatives will hold a May 24 hearing to investigate if Trump interfered in the FBI investigation, and has asked Comey to testify.
Trump says in a speech to Coast Guard graduates, “no politician in history, and I say with this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”