This Week on Planet Trump: Syrian Chemical Attack Causes a Rift with Putin and Warning for ‘Animal Assad’

Monday: Putin Invited to White House Summit

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of meeting at the White House during a phone call last month, the White House confirmed on Monday.

"As the President himself confirmed on March 20, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the 'not-too-distant future' at a number of potential venues, including the White House," White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.

Shah's comment came after Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Putin, said Trump "offered to hold the first meeting in Washington, in the White House."

Tensions between the US and Russia have only escalated in the two weeks since that call, with Trump expelling 60 Russian diplomats the US believes were intelligence agents in response to Russia's alleged use of a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN

Tuesday: Frustrated POTUS Floats Military Border Option

The Department of Defense "has no legal authority" to use appropriated funds for President Donald Trump's border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, two Democratic senators wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

"Until we can have a wall and proper security we're going to be guarding our border with the military," Trump said Monday at the White House. "That's a big step."

Trump originally floated the idea of the military paying for the wall over Twitter and in a discussion with Mattis late last month.

"Such a controversial move could only be funded by cutting other vital priorities for our service members, mere weeks after the Department communicated its needs to the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee during omnibus appropriation negotiations," Democratic Sens. Jack Reed and Dick Durbin wrote.

The letter from Reed, of Rhode Island, and Durbin, of Illinois, comes on the heels of reports that Trump suggested the idea to "several advisors" after being disappointed by the amount of money allocated for border security in the $1.3 trillion omnibus.

Amanda Macias, CNBC

Wednesday: Republican Ethics Chief Lobbies for Mueller Interview

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Wednesday urged President Trump to interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing the president is "uniquely" qualified to answer many of Mueller's questions.

The chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee argued during an interview on CNN's "New Day" that speaking with Mueller is not "risky" for Trump if the president has nothing to hide.

Gowdy's remarks come after a Washington Post report Tuesday night revealed that Trump is not the "target" of Mueller's investigation but rather the "subject," a distinction that Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, said is "meaningless" to him but means a great deal more to the FBI.

Mueller's revelation to Trump that he is not currently a criminal target has reportedly made the president more willing to interview with the special counsel's office, an idea Trump's former lawyer John Dowd advised against before he resigned last month.

John Bowden, The Hill

Thursday: Back to 2015 with Anti-Immigrant Fake News

President Donald Trump, urging tougher security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, claimed that women "are being raped at numbers never seen before" while an immigrant caravan is heading toward the U.S.

"Yesterday, it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before," the president said at a White House tax reform event in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. "They don't want to mention that, so we have to change our laws."

"Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower...Everybody said, 'Oh, he was so tough.' I used the word 'rape,'" the president said.

That was a reference to the announcement of his bid for the White House in 2015. In that speech, Trump disparaged Mexican immigrants, claiming, "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Buzzfeed News immigration reporter Adolfo Flores, who has been traveling with the caravan for nearly two weeks, tweeted, "To be clear I haven’t heard of anyone being raped in or around the caravan." The caravan largely ended on Thursday, nowhere near the American border.

Vivian Salama, NBC News

Friday: Unfazed China Threatens Trade War

If President Trump’s threat of $100 billion in additional tariffs on goods from China was supposed to send Chinese officials scrambling, it failed — at least for now.

China’s initial response to Thursday’s statement from Trump was firm but cool. It did not punch back immediately with new tariff proposals of its own. It did not rush to comment. When officials did respond, they did not mince words.

On Friday evening in Beijing — during a long holiday weekend — a Commerce Ministry official reiterated that China will use “any measure” to fight back and has more “very detailed countermeasures” ready if needed.

“We will not exclude any option,” said Gao Feng, the ministry’s spokesman, adding that Beijing is not currently considering talks with U.S. trade envoys.

In other words, Beijing’s message is it will respond when and how it pleases, it is not scared by Trump.

Trump surprised many on Thursday evening when he ordered his chief trade negotiator to consider imposing tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese products, in an apparent bid to provoke Beijing.

Emily Hauhala, The Washington Post

Saturday: President Ridicules His Party’s Election Strategy

Republicans want President Donald Trump to stick to a simple message ahead of the 2018 midterm elections: cutting taxes and slashing regulations.

But the president, who regards himself as a master communicator, seems to have a different plan. After repeatedly deriding the marketing of the landmark tax reform passed in December — which he wanted to call the “Cut Cut Cut Act” — Trump has shifted gears, instead launching into a tit-for-tat war on trade with China.

Capitol Hill lawmakers, business groups and lobbyists were startled on Thursday when the president deviated far from this planned message at an event in West Virginia that the White House had billed as a tax reform-focused event.

Minutes into it, Trump threw his prepared speech into the air, calling it “boring.” Instead he launched into a free-wheeling discussion about trade deficits, voter fraud and immigration.

“So we have to have strong borders. We’re going to have the wall. We’ve already started building it,” the president said.

Some Republican strategists argue it was too early to tell how any potential tariffs would affect Americans’ pocketbooks — and that will be the key metric heading into 2018.

Nancy Cook, Politico

Sunday: Tweets Take Aim at Russia, Iran and “Animal Assad”

President Trump on Sunday promised a “big price” to be paid for what he said was a chemical weapons attack that choked dozens of Syrians to death the day before, and a top White House official said the administration would not rule out a missile strike to retaliate against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a tweet, Mr. Trump laid the blame for the attack partly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first time since his election that he has criticized the Russian leader by name on Twitter. Mr. Putin’s forces have been fighting for years to keep the Assad government in power amid Syria’s brutal civil war.

Mr. Trump also left no doubt that he believed the assessment of aid groups that Mr. Assad’s military had used chemical weapons to inflict the carnage on Saturday in Douma, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The attack left at least 42 people dead in their homes from apparent suffocation and sent many others to clinics with burning eyes and breathing problems.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Mr. Trump wrote. “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times

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