The 5-Minute Fix: Everything you need to know about this insane week

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Pause. Take a breath. Maybe sip a drink. I know I need one. And let’s spend the next five minutes breaking down exactly what is happening to the Trump administration right now besides, you know, general turmoil. The what: 1) On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced it will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Russia meddling in the U.S. election. This is a huge development. Up until this point, only a handful of Republicans in Congress have called for an outside lawyer or an independent investigation of any kind into whether the Trump campaign helped Russia help Trump win. The rest of GOP lawmakers said Congress’s various investigations into Russia and Trump were enough. Apparently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn’t agree. He announced Wednesday he appointed Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who served as the FBI director from 2001 to 2013, to  investigate Russia meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign helped. 2) Let’s back up to the other major stories this week. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that President Trump shared highly classified information about an Islamic State plot with Russian diplomats while chatting with them in the Oval Office. Trump didn’t deny it; he defended it: 3) On Tuesday, the New York Times reported (and The Post and others soon corroborated) that Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn. Trump called Michael Flynn a “good guy,” Comey’s memo claims. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg) It’s likely that Flynn, the national security adviser Trump fired in February for making misleading comments about his meetings with the Russian ambassador, is a part of the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia. Comey wrote down two “highly detailed” pages worth of notes about his meeting with Trump after it happened. “I hope you can let this go,” Comey’s memo claims Trump told him. The White House denies Comey’s version of events, but it hasn’t provided its own.  (More on why Comey might have felt the need to write down his convos with Trump here.) 3) On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that a top House Republican, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said a month before Trump was Republicans’ nominee: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.” (Rohrabacher is a California Republican member of Congress who ardently supports closer ties to Russia.) It’s not clear if the comments were made in jest, but it does look like House Republicans were concerned about Russia’s involvement in the election and its ties to Trump. President Trump hugs House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy after the House passed a health-care bill in May. (Evan Vucci/AP)   The fall out from all this There are so, so many. Let’s break them down into categories. 1) The legal ramifications As of Wednesday evening, there is now someone outside the confines of Congress and with prosecutorial powers investigating Russia meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump associates helped. This is a big deal. A special prosecutor is the most independent kind of investigation the government can launch, because the government is not doing the investigating. If Mueller’s team finds any wrongdoing, Mueller has the power to press charges. But there’s no such thing as a truly independent investigation. Mueller will still be answerable to the Justice Department, which can fire him at will.  Notable: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump ally, has agreed to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which suggests this will be in the Justice Department’s No. 2 hands, Rosenstein.
2) The political ramifications Trump talks with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in May. (Evan Vucci/AP) For the first time in Trump’s turmoil-filled presidency, none of his backers on Capitol Hill could justify the week’s many revelations. That’s bad news for Trump. Trump and Hill Republicans have a pact that goes something like this, says The Fix’s Aaron Blake: Each revelation — the spilling of secrets to Russia, the nudge-nudge to Comey not to investigate Trump’s friend, the appointment of a special counsel — makes it tougher for the GOP to hold up their end of the bargain. (And as McCarthy’s “Trump-in-pocket-of-Putin” comment underscores, it’s harder for them to untagle themselves from all this.) 3) The economic ramifications: The New York Stock Exchange (Bryan R. Smith/AFP) On Wednesday, the stock market took its biggest dive since September, with the Dow Jones losing 368 points. A measure of volatility, the VIX, spiked 21 percent, reports The Post’s Thomas Heath. It suggests that investors are nervous that Trump’s self-inflicted controversies will completely upend the economy, instead of fulfilling his promise to make things better. 4) The national security ramifications Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House on May 10. (Russian Foreign Ministry via AP) The Trump administration said the president is within his right to share classified information with whomever he wants. That’s true — here’s a whole Washington Post podcast about that. But the question is, should he? Trump probably gave away some U.S. secrets to Russians, a U.S. official told The Post’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, who broke Monday’s story: “Russia could identify our sources or techniques.” National security experts also said Trump may have put this source on the Islamic State in danger and harmed the U.S.’s ability to gather intelligence to stop future terrorist plots. The Associated Press reports that a European country might stop sharing its secrets with the U.S. for fear that it would just wind up in the hands of the Russians. 5) Trump’s legitimacy as president U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement in New London, Connecticut, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder It has taken a big hit. Before this week, there were two investigations in Congress related to Trump: The House and Senate intelligence committees. Now, there are at least four congressional investigations and a special counsel. It’s hard for a president to negotiate from a point of leverage when his campaign is under so many investigations. What’s next? Then-FBI Director James B. Comey is sworn into Congress in July. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) The special counsel will start his work. In the meantime, It’s very likely Comey testifies to Congress soon. If Comey tells Congress that, yes, Trump asked him to back off the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, that could be strong evidence that Trump obstructed justice, say legal analysts. From there, Republicans would have a very tough choice to make: Do they continue to investigate this, wherever it might lead? Or do they give the president the benefit of the doubt and hope this all settles down soon? News of a special counsel makes it much less likely this will all just go away.
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