President Donald Trump started his 72nd birthday crowing about the economy and his Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
But his sugar high was quickly overtaken. New York’s attorney general, a Democrat, sued the president and his children for misusing funds from his personal charity. Close White House advisers dismissed this as the stunt by New York Democrats, while Eric Trump hosted a mid-day call for White House surrogates to walk them through talking points on the president’s charity.
Then North Korean state media broadcast an image of Trump saluting Kim Jong Un, a totalitarian leader, a move that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended as a “common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes, that you return it.”
And a long-anticipated Justice Department inspector general report showed that the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server wasn’t tainted by political motivations, undermining an Trump talking point.
Added to the mix: The revelation that House Speaker Paul Ryan did not support the federal government’s move to separate migrant children from their parents, an outgrowth of a new and aggressive enforcement policy by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Trump’s former top economic adviser Gary Cohn acknowledged in an interview on Thursday morning that the much-touted Republican tax cuts – a centerpiece of the GOP case to midterm voters – would not, in the end, pay for themselves, with the implication being that the Republicans just blew a huge hole in the deficit.
All this happened before 2 p.m. – not long after a solitary Marine appeared at the outer door of the West Wing, signaling that the president had descended from the residence into Oval Office. One aide chalked up his late arrival to jet lag.
The first several hours of Thursday, and ensuing ups and downs, encapsulated the endless rhythm of this particular White House; self-declared victory is often followed by an immediate disaster, or at least, by some other distraction. The stop-start rhythm makes it difficult for the president’s team to savor their wins – especially since it’s the president who frequently sets the pace of the wild news cycle.
“This happens with every trip,” said one Republican strategist close to the White House. “The Saudi trip was great and then they came back to chaos and a shitshow. Every trip Trump goes on, the very next day he is denied the headline.”
Trump was already in a combative mood by midmorning, tweeting out that even after the North Korea summit “the thought process must sadly go back to the Witch Hunt,” he wrote. “Always remembering that there was No Collusion and No Obstruction of the fabricated No Crime.”
The president’s allies seized on revelations by the IG about new text messages from FBI employees expressing political opposition to then-candidate Trump, which provided fresh political fodder to aim at law enforcement officials and Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“It is obvious from the facts in the IG report that there were blatant violations of the laws that protect our classified information and Mrs. Clinton was given a pass,” said Sidney Powell, an advisor to the pro-Trump group America First Policies and the author of “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.” “The report is packed with information that we are only beginning to digest.”
At a briefing, Sanders escalated the drama – despite a placid opening, in which Sanders wished everyone a happy Flag Day before wishing the president a “very, very happy birthday.”
During one exchange, CNN reporter Jim Acosta brought up Sessions’ comment that there is a biblical justification for the zero-tolerance border policy – forcing Sanders to engage in a back-and-forth about the morality of the administration’s moves at the border to separate migrant children from parents.
“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” Sanders said. “That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”
The seemingly endless cycle has contributed to a sense of exhaustion among White House officials, many of whom are eyeing the exits before the midterms.
One of the White House’s most senior staffers, Marc Short, has reportedly told some colleagues that he intends to leave before the mid-term elections, a development first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Short did not respond to a request for comment. He was instrumental in both pushing Trump’s agenda on the Hill, as well as bringing conservative bona fides to the White House.
In true Trump fashion, White House aides and close advisers tried to turn the attention back to the IG report, calling out former FBI director James Comey’s use of a personal email account for some official business.
That was the finding that Trump allies wanted the public to seize on. Donald Trump Jr., appearing on NewsmaxTV, part of the conservative media empire owned by the president’s friend Chris Ruddy, called the report’s Comey conclusions “no shocker given all of his contradictions, all of the stupidity that you’ve seen coming from his mouth.”
Trump Jr. said there was enough in the report that both sides could say “I told you so.”
“The IG seems a little bit like the HR department at a big corporation,” he added. “They make it seem like they are working for you, the employee, but they are working for the corporation.”