According to the White House Trump’s first foreign excursion as president was a slam dunk. In Saudi Arabia he declared his allegiance to the Sunni side of the ideological gorge that splits the Muslim world, in a company of autocrats, dictators and war criminals with which he seemed to feel very much at home. In the process Trump succeeded in peddling $110 billion in military hardware. His decision to completely deride the Iranian Shiites must have been confusing for the government of Iraq, nominally a US ally but ruled by Shiites, and will inevitably give Iran even more control over their country, but Trump doesn’t understand complex relationships and it will hurt American troops stationed in Iraq. In Israel all went well, except that the president appeared to have forgotten that the country is part of the Middle East and spilled the secret that Israel is the source of the intelligence he shared with the Russians. In Europe Trump really went off the rails. He failed to say that the US is a committed NATO member, scolded and insulted European leaders, acted like Uncle Scrooge at a Holiday Party and let the world see what a genuine boor looks like.
According to leaks out of the presidential entourage all the while Trump was obsessing about the Russia probe at home, and he had reason to do so. NSA Director Rogers held a town hall for his personnel in which he declared that he had intelligence showing collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and the news broke that Jared Kushner is a person of interest in the FBI investigation. During the week the allegations became more specific and it turned out that Kushner and Flynn, in secret meetings with Russian ambassador Kislyak, had asked him to set up a backchannel with Moscow for the Trump White House, using secure Russian communication channels. Even for spymaster Kislyak this was a bizarre request, and when he reported it to Moscow apparently the channels were not all that secure and US intelligence services intercepted his message. At this point it is still unclear what the backchannel’s intent was and which way the information would have flown. From the White House to Moscow it could have been espionage, and the other way around treason, if instructions were given and followed by the administration.
Possibly as a distraction from the Russia probe, in Washington budget director Mulvaney tried to explain and defend a budget that is so insanely cruel that moderate GOP senators declared it dead upon arrival. Next to huge cuts in programs for the poor and huge tax cuts for the super-rich it contains the usual pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking about economic growth, and a calculation error by which $2 trillion would be spent twice, once for tax cuts and once for deficit reduction.
Last night the New York Times’ Nick Confessore explained that for real estate moguls like Trump and Kushner Russia is not an adversary but an important funding source, and that their business has always involved a significant amount of gambling, which would explain the high risk request for a secret backchannel, almost certainly made with the president’s approval.
The FBI probe will show if crimes were committed, but the US President cannot be charged, only impeached. Recent polling shows that Trump’s support is slowly eroding, and if that continues at some point House Republicans may have to prioritize their own political survival.