That was not exactly what Republicans and administration policy had in mind when it was announced last weekend the Mueller probe was over.
Exuberant officials and a buoyant president spent the week cheering on the initial results of Mueller's investigation, as laid out in a letter from Attorney General William Barr. In a late-afternoon gathering last Sunday, aides convened in the press secretary of Sarah Sanders' office for a champagne toast after the general's chief of staff phoned Emmet Flood, in Palm Beach, with the President, briefing him on the report
The intimate gathering of White House staffers was a sign of the relief that flooded through West Wing after the stress of an investigation that has been lifted for years.
But the days that followed Sunday's champagne-clinking in Sanders' office came as a surprise to many people in the West Wing, according to interviews with half a dozen officials and Trump associates. There was no Rose Garden celebration ceremony. Trump gave no speech declaring vindication in the East Room. Instead, he made brief remarks before he climbed the steps of Air Force One and was whisked away to Washington.
Even as the victory laps and vows for vengeance continued apace, there were signs of confusion in Trump's policy objectives
Finally, Trump followed the advice not of Cabinet members most closely aligned with the issue, but his West Wing advisors – principally acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman – who views the move as a way to force Congress into acting on health care after abrogation and replace efforts failed in 2017.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Barr both disagreed with the decision, according to people familiar with the matter, albeit for different reasons. Barr argued that the underlying legal argument made by the Republican State Attorneys General was flawed and would not be upheld in the courts.
"In many ways, it's a dangerous and I think it's a reckless gamble on his part." He said, "It's surprised us before, so we have to give it that," said David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and adviser to four presidents. "It's very similar to when presidents win a second term, they can get very arrogant, they can over-read their power and they make mistakes."
The President's own legislative affairs team had not been tasked with developing a replacement plan for Obamacare, according to a White House aide, despite that office's eventual role in shepherding any plan through the Congress. Aids were told trade – not healthcare – was the top legislative priority of the administration in the summer.
But even trade seems to have faltered on the priority list. Though officials once believed Trump's new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would be the most important economic policy victory since tax reform, it is now in danger too. The plan, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, is facing bipartisan hurdles on Capitol Hill and a White House official said there was no strategy to mitigate lawmakers' concerns.
Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said Wednesday on CNN that it would not be possible to pass the deal, "The president will be putting plans forward this year" on a health care replacement plan. But a White House official said Thursday that Short "spoke too soon" because aides are still debating whether the administration will take the lead in crafting a proposal or ask Congress to step in.