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Breaking down the tumultuous last 2 weeks in Washington

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(WASHINGTON) — The departure of President Donald Trump on the first foreign trip of his term caps off arguably the most chaotic two-week period of his presidency.

From a big victory on Capitol Hill to controversial Senate testimony, unplanned disclosures and special counsel appointments, the period from May 4 through now has been a bumpy one.

Here is a rundown of the biggest stories out of Washington, D.C., from the past two weeks.

May 4: Health care bill passes the House

House Republicans passed what they’ve described as their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, after several fits and starts, sending the measure to the Senate, where it is expected to be significantly revised.

The bill passed the House in a narrow 217-213 vote. All Democrats opposed the bill.

Following the House vote, House Republicans celebrated with a press conference at the White House Rose Garden where Trump touted the bill as a “great plan” even though they got “no support from the other party.”

“What we have is something very, very incredibly well-crafted,” Trump said of the bill.

May 8: Yates testifies that Flynn was compromised

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she informed the White House counsel that the Department of Justice believed that then–national security adviser Michael Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russian government.

Yates, who drew the ire of Trump for issuing instructions to the Department of Justice not to defend his first travel ban executive order, said during her testimony that she had two in-person meetings with White House Counsel Don McGahn to discuss concerns about Flynn.

Referring to the DOJ, she said, “We believed Gen. Flynn was compromised in regards to the Russians.”

Yates said that not only was his conduct “problematic in it of itself” but also that Vice President Mike Pence and the American people had been misled.

“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” she said.

That same day, now-former FBI Director James Comey briefed some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had asked for more money and staffing from the DOJ. Comey’s request was made directly to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein — the man who would recommend his firing.

May 9: Comey fired

Rosenstein wrote a memorandum, dated May 9, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as well as his July 5 press conference on the FBI’s findings in the Clinton probe.

“I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken,” Rosenstein wrote.

Shortly after 5 p.m. ET that day, Trump called several members of Congress to inform them of his decision to fire Comey.

Around 5:40 p.m., news broke that Comey had been fired. A statement from the White House said that Trump informed Comey he had been “terminated and removed from office” and the search for a new FBI director will “begin immediately.” Trump also wrote that Comey assured three times that he was not under investigation.

A White House official confirmed to ABC News that Keith Schiller, the president’s longtime bodyguard and Oval Office director of operations, hand-delivered Trump’s termination letter to FBI headquarters.

Comey, who was in Los Angeles for bureau travel, learned of his firing from TV reports. The letter from Trump was read to him over the phone, two FBI sources told ABC News. Comey was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a recruitment event that evening but canceled his speech.

May 11: Trump says he planned to fire Comey ahead of the DOJ recommendation

During an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump contradicted previous White House statements on Comey’s firing, saying that he planned on firing him regardless of what the DOJ suggested. (Spicer had said letters written by Rosenstein and Sessions convinced Trump to fire Comey.)

“I was gonna fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump said.

Trump went on to say Comey is “a showboat, he’s a grandstander,” and that the FBI has been in “virtual turmoil.”

He also reiterated the claim that Comey had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation — a claim first made publicly in Comey’s dismissal letter.

“I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation,’” Trump said in the NBC interview.

Later that day, The New York Times reported that two Comey associates said Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty from the FBI director.

May 12: Trump tweets veiled threat to leak ‘tapes’

Trump went on a Twitter tear, taking aim at both the media and Comey.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” he wrote.

He also said that “it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy” because he is so active as president, and then threatened to end press briefings altogether.

“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???” he tweeted.

May 13: Trump denies the Times’ reporting on the loyalty pledge

“I didn’t ask that question,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro that aired May 13. Trump added, however, that it “wouldn’t be a bad question to ask.”

May 15: Report alleges Trump shared confidential information with Russians

This past Monday kicked off an especially fraught week for the White House, beginning with the report that Trump shared classified information with Russian officials while they met at the White House on May 10.

The Washington Post first reported the news, and while a number of White House surrogates at first denied the entirety of the story, the specifics of those denials changed over time.

May 16: Comey’s paper trail revealed, memo says Trump told him to stand down

Trump started the day by seemingly admitting that he did share some information with the Russian officials but denied any wrongdoing.

“As president I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism,” he wrote in two tweets.

A major concern that was raised in the wake of the disclosure was whether or not Trump’s revelations put the source of the information and the methods of collection in jeopardy. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn after he resigned in February, said that Trump “wasn’t even aware” where the information came from when he shared it. Israel was later confirmed to be the source of the intelligence.

Later that same day, reports of a memo that Comey wrote shortly after a Jan. 22 meeting with Trump surfaced. The memo, which purportedly said that Comey was asked by the president to drop the bureau’s investigation into Flynn, was first reported by The New York Times. Details of its contents were later confirmed to ABC News by sources close to Comey.

In the memo, which Comey shared with top FBI associates, he wrote that Trump said, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the inquiry into Flynn’s actions. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” said Trump, according to a source who read the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Multiple sources who worked closely with Comey, including at the DOJ, say he is known for his contemporaneous and thorough note-taking. “He documents everything,” one source said.

May 17: Special counsel named in Russia probe

The DOJ announced Wednesday that a special counsel has been appointed to investigate Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was assigned by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to “oversee the previously-confirmed FBI investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and related matters.”

Mueller will have 60 days to put together a budget for resources to conduct the investigation and that budget must be approved by Rosenstein, as Sessions previously recused himself from all matters related to the presidential campaign.

May 18: Pence stands by earlier statements

Pence stood by his March claim that he learned of Flynn’s lobbying for the first time through news reports of his ties to Turkey, despite a May 17 New York Times report that Flynn informed the transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for those lobbying ties.

May 19: Trump heads for his first foreign trip

Trump left on the first foreign trip of his presidency this afternoon, with the first stop scheduled in Saudi Arabia. Over the course of the roughly weeklong trip, Trump will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy before returning to the U.S. on May 27.

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