The Week on Planet Trump: Open War with Justice Department Overshadows State of the Union Address

Monday: McCabe is Newest Victim of White House Purge

The day after he fired James Comey as director of the FBI, a furious President Donald Trump called the bureau's acting director, Andrew McCabe, demanding to know why Comey had been allowed to fly on an FBI plane from Los Angeles back to Washington after he was dismissed, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

The previously unreported exchange between Trump and McCabe was one of a series of attacks the president aimed at McCabe that fueled tensions between the White House and the Justice Department and culminated Monday with McCabe stepping down as the FBI’s deputy director.

In recent weeks the White House has agitated for McCabe’s exit, saying he is part of a broader pattern of bias against the president in the highest levels of federal law enforcement. Defenders of the Justice Department’s leadership say the charges of bias are part of the president’s effort to try to undermine the federal probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Carol E. Lee, NBC News

Tuesday: State of the Union Sows Division

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

Trump’s rhetoric on immigration dominated the discussion on cable news immediately after the speech and was set to seize the headlines on Wednesday morning.

The president delivered a lengthy and emphatic defense of the administration’s position on illegal immigration in general and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in particular.

In the signature line from the night, Trump insisted “Americans are dreamers, too” — an allusion to the name of “Dreamers” for DACA beneficiaries and to Trump’s insistence that the rights of native-born Americans should be the primary focus.

At other points, he complained about “the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country” and linked lax immigration policy to the activities of criminal gangs like MS-13 and to two terrorist attacks in New York.

Democrats and liberals were outraged. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, called Trump’s language “completely irresponsible” and “fearmongering” in an interview with Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

There were only a couple of instances where the president held out a plausible offer of bipartisanship. One was on infrastructure spending, the other a brief mention of prison reform.  

Niall Stanage, The Hill

Wednesday: Successful Yellen Leaves Federal Reserve Chair

“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million jobs,” Trump said during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.”

Trump is not wrong that the economy is doing pretty well right now — the unemployment rate is 4.1 percent,GDP growth is strong, and the stock market is, indeed, on quite a tear, with the S&P 500 already up about 6 percent this year alone.

What he’s not right about is that he deserves all of the credit for it. Trump inherited an economy and a stock market that Yellen played a major role in helping shape and revive. It’s not unusual for presidents to take a victory lap on economic achievements that weren’t entirely theirs. But Trump’s victory lap on Tuesday night was particularly glaring because he also just refused to reappoint Yellen — the woman who arguably deserves the most credit for the Trump economy so far.

Yellen will exit the Federal Reserve on Saturday. She leaves behind a legacy of“near perfection.” Shehas overseen the biggest drop in unemployment of any Fed chair in modern history and the stock market’s continued rise. She helped steer the continued economic recovery and guided the return to pre-crisis policy — all items President Trump enjoys bragging about.

Emily Stewart, Vox

Thursday: Chemical Attacks May Trigger Fresh Syria Strikes

The Syrian regime has adapted its chemical weapons program since a 2013 disarmament deal and appears to be continuing to produce and employ banned chemical munitions, the Trump administration said Thursday.

Senior U.S. officials laid out what they said were strong indications that the government of President Bashar al-Assad, seeking to overcome diminished military might, has used the munitions repeatedly since the April attack that triggered President Trump’smissile strike on a Syrian military facility.

State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said the United States was “extremely concerned” about another report of chlorine gas use Thursday in Eastern Ghouta, an opposition-controlled suburb of Damascus that has been the site of previous chemical attacks.

“The president showed last April he’s willing to look at all the options . . . and using military force is something he’ll still consider doing,” the second official said. But he declined to say whether a larger attack might prompt another military action.

Missy Ryan, The Washington Post

Friday: Nuclear Strategy Widens Role for Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Trump administration on Friday called for the development of two new types of nuclear weapons to better deter potential adversaries, in a reassessment of the current arsenal that critics slammed as increasing the likelihood of nuclear conflict.

The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, the first since 2010, calls for a "lower-yield" option — with less powerful explosive capacity — for ballistic and cruise missiles launched from submarines.

It also says that nuclear weapons could be used to respond to “extreme circumstances,” including non-nuclear attacks.

The new steps are needed to respond to aggressive efforts by Russia and China to update their arsenals, as well as nuclear provocations from North Korea and the ambiguity surrounding Iran’s ambitions, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote in the unclassified summary of the secret review.

“This is a very dangerous sort of slide where we start to soften up the norm with [respect] to nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. “It makes the likelihood of use accidentally or on purpose much more likely.”

Jaqueline Klimas, Politico

Saturday: Republican Party Signs up to Obstruction of Justice

President Donald Trump says a GOP memo declassified on Friday "totally vindicates" him in the Russia probe.

The highly controversial memo alleges that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee that no surveillance warrant would have been sought for a Trump campaign aide without a disputed opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia. The memo is the most explicit Republican effort yet to discredit the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia, alleging that the investigation was infused with an anti-Trump bias under the Obama administration and supported with political opposition research.

The memo tries to connect what Republicans believe was a flawed application to monitor former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page to the overall counterintelligence investigation into potential collusion between Russians and the Republican campaign.

But the memo undermines its own argument about the application being overly reliant on the dossier. It notes that the application also included information regarding Trump campaign foreign policy adviserGeorge Papadopoulos, suggesting there was intelligence beyond the dossier in the Page application.

Sophie Tatum, CNN

Sunday: Tariffs Threaten Trade War with European Union

A senior European Union official is warning that the 28-nation bloc will hit back if U.S. President Donald Trump takes trade measures against it.

EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Sunday's edition of Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper: "If European exporters have to pay tariffs, that will become a two-way street. Then U.S. exporters will have to pay tariffs here."

Trump expressed his annoyance with EU trade policy a week ago, saying that it "may morph into something very big." The EU then said it stands ready to hit back "swiftly and appropriately" if Trump imposes unfair trade measures.

Oettinger said: "Anyone who uses the instrument must know that we also have it. And the European market is at least as big as the American one." ABC News

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