To some, it may seem like just another week at the Trump White House.
Word of a potentially historic breakthrough on North Korea is forced to compete with a scathing assessment of the president by his former FBI director. Add into the mix, court appearances earlier in the week by his personal lawyer and an adult film actress who claims she had an affair with the president. Who can blame those in Washington who ask: Is this the new normal? Or is it simply the political phenomenon of Donald Trump breaking the mold once again?
For most presidential administrations, the movement toward a summit with North Korea would be enough for a week of headlines.
“It will be a great day for them. It will be a great day for the world,” President Trump told reporters Wednesday on the possibility of a successful meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump spoke at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Florida resort.
Bad for the country
Just minutes later, Trump made a quick pivot away from the North Korea situation to blasting the Russia probe that continues to cast a shadow over his administration.
“It is a bad thing for our country,” he said. “A very, very bad thing for our country. But there has been no collusion. They won’t find any collusion. It doesn’t exist.”
Throughout the week, the president has also been engaged in a war of words with James Comey, the man whose dismissal from the job of FBI director set in motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation.
Comey has held a series of interviews for his new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.” Comey told the ABC News network he believes Trump is “morally unfit” to be president.
And speaking to the USA Today newspaper, Comey mused about the possibility that the president could move to fire Mueller and the man he reports to, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“That is a fundamental attack on the rule of law, so that is the most important thing. All of us should care about that,” Comey said. “Again, this is above politics, above party affiliation because it is all we are as a country.”
During his news conference on Wednesday, Trump was asked about the fate of Mueller and Rosenstein.
“They have been saying I’m going to be getting rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they are still here,” said Trump. “So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.”
Others with the president’s ear are urging him to take action, according to Associated Press White House correspondent Jonathan Lemire.
“There is, though, a team of outside advisers, sort of Trump’s informal kitchen cabinet,” he said. “A number of those people have suggested to him, ‘Hey, you need to be tougher, Mueller is imperiling your presidency and you should fire him.'”
Some Democrats and a few Republicans are pushing congressional leaders to pass legislation that would protect Mueller and Rosenstein. But House Speaker Paul Ryan sees no need for it at present.
“We do not believe that he should be fired. We do not believe that he will be fired and we therefore don’t think that that is necessary,” Ryan told reporters this week.
Adding to the turmoil this week was the Monday media circus outside a federal court in Manhattan where Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, made an appearance along with adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Cohen was the target of FBI raids recently on his office, home and hotel and is under scrutiny for a payment to Daniels.
Daniels claims she had a brief affair with Trump back in 2006, which he has denied, and that Cohen facilitated a payment intended to silence her about the affair.
The ongoing Russia probe combined with Cohen’s legal troubles suggests more uncertainty ahead for the Trump White House.
“We are coming to some sort of a head,” said American University political expert Chris Edelson. “I mean, certainly this Cohen news is a really big deal and maybe we will find out more about that in the not too distant future. But it is hard to say with certainty what does that mean? Does that mean weeks or months? I don’t know for sure.”
Recent polls suggest Trump has bolstered his support among Republicans, now in the 80 percent approval or better range in several recent surveys. The president’s overall average approval rating has inched up in recent weeks from about 39 percent to 41 percent.
But some recent polls, including Gallup and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, show his approval slipping back to under 40 percent, still historically low for a first-term president.