The Week on Planet Trump: White House Shakeup Sets President on Hawkish Foreign Policy Path

Monday: White House Downplays Mueller Firing Threat

President Donald Trump’s White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, said the president isn’t planning to quash special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, even after another lawyer for the president said the probe should end.

Cobb’s comments contradicted the position of Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, who said Saturday that Mueller’s investigation should be stopped. Dowd is defending Trump against the probe examining whether the president has obstructed justice and his campaign aided the Kremlin’s interference.

Trump has questioned the appointment of Mueller since last May, after the special counsel was established by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein following the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Trump said during an NBC News interview just days after firing Comey that he did it over “this Russia thing.”   

Dowd called on Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation, to put an end to the whole investigation.

Graham Lanktree, Newsweek

Tuesday: Muted Response to Texas Terror Attacks

President Donald Trump on Tuesday weighed in for the first time on the serial bombings in Austin, calling the person or people responsible "sick" and vowing law enforcement "will get to the bottom of it."

"What's going on in Austin — a great place, a tremendous place — is absolutely disgraceful," Trump said in the Oval Office alongside Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. "We have to find this very sick person or people."

The White House has faced some criticism over what some have deemed a relatively muted public response to the bombings. Prior to the president's remarks, the only acknowledgment by the White House was from deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who said that Trump was briefed on the Sunday evening trip-wire bombing. Press secretary Sarah Sanders then appeared on Fox News earlier Tuesday and said the president was aware of the bombings but that she hadn't yet spoken to him directly about the situation.

Critics noted a striking contrast between the president's immediate public response in the wake of terror-related incidents such as the New York truck attack on Halloween last year and the explosions in Austin that have produced no clear indication as to who the suspect or suspects could be.

Alexander Mallin, ABC News

Wednesday: Defiant Congratulations for Re-elected Putin

Republican senators criticized President Donald Trump on Wednesday for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on winning another term and not calling him out on Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida disapproved of Trump making the call, but he said he was more disappointed by leaks from the White House that revealed Trump's national security advisers urged the President not to congratulate Putin before the call.

The Trump administration last week announced it was enacting new sanctions on Russia, several months after Congress mandated that punitive measures against Russia for its cyber attacks against the United States.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the President on Tuesday for the phone call, saying "we disagree with the fact that we shouldn't have conversations with Russia."

Manu Raju and Ashley Killough, CNN

Thursday: Tariffs Commence Trade War with China

President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum on Thursday that would impose retaliatory tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese imports.

"This is the first of many" trade actions, Trump said as he signed the memo.

The new measures are designed to penalize China for trade practices that the Trump administration says involve stealing American companies' intellectual property. They will primarily target certain products in the technology sector where China holds an advantage over the U.S.

The bottom line, said Trump's trade director, Peter Navarro, on Thursday, is that the U.S. is "strategically defending itself against economic aggression." The president is standing up for American corporations, he added.

The Trump administration has regularly highlighted China's $375 billion surplus with the U.S. as evidence of an unfair trade relationship.

Kevin Breuninge and Kayla Tausche, CNBC

Friday: Budget U-Turn Averts Government Shutdown

President Trump, hours after threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill and throwing the capital into turmoil, signed it into law on Friday, yielding to advisers and Republican leaders who urged him against manufacturing a government shutdown crisis.

Enactment of the bipartisan spending package, which had seemed like a certainty at dawn, brought an end to hours of chaos at the White House, where Mr. Trump surprised his advisers — and Republican congressional leaders — with an angry morning tweet threatening to sink a measure that his aides had already promised he would sign.

His stated reason was its lack of funding for his promised border wall, but that was only one disappointment for the president in a measure that blocked the hiring of thousands of new border patrol agents; stopped deep cuts to foreign aid, the diplomatic corps and environmental programs; thwarted a push to fund vouchers for private and parochial schools; and even rescued the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Mr. Trump said the spending plan was important because it includes hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending to ensure that the United States has “by far the strongest military in the world.”

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

Saturday: Praise for Marchers Follows Plan for Bump Stocks Ban

The White House on Saturday morning issued a statement praising youths participating in March for Our Lives demonstrations against gun violence in Washington and around the country.

“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said in the statement, in which she added that “keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s.”

Many of those participating in the demonstrations are advocating far more aggressive gun-control steps than Trump has endorsed, such as a ban on assault weapons.

On Friday, at Trump’s direction, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also announced that the Justice Department is proposing a regulation to define bump stocks — devices that make a semiautomatic weapon fire in a fashion similar to an automatic one — as machine guns under federal law, effectively banning the device used last fall in Las Vegas by a gunman who killed 58 people.

John Wagner, The Washington Post

Sunday: Trump turns hawkish with aggressive foreign policy team

Former NATO Commander Adm. James Stavridis predicted that President Trump's recent picks for key national security posts are likely to lead to heightened tensions abroad and a more aggressive foreign policy footing by the White House.

Stavridis's comments came after a spate of shake-ups among some of the Trump administration's top national security officials that began earlier this month with the unceremonious firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump has tapped CIA Director Mike Pompeo to fill that position, while nominating CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel for the lead role at the intelligence agency.

The latest shake-up came on Thursday, when Trump abruptly dismissed national security adviser H.R. McMaster and chose former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton to replace him.

Stavridis predicted that Bolton, who has advocated for scrapping the Iran nuclear deal and considers a military strike on North Korea a serious option, would likely advise Trump to take a hard-line position in upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Max Greenwood, The Hill

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