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Trump victory lap clouded by chaos with White House in disarray

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.

 Trump and Democrats can not move on from the "collusion delusion"

Even as the victory laps and vows for vengeance continued apace, there were signs of confusion in Trump's policy objectives

Tuesday's surprising announcement, the administration would ask a court to invalidate the entire health law known as Obamacare came before anyone in the White House had put in place a strategy for passing a replacement. It was the objection of senior cabinet officials who questioned the political and legal wisdom of scrapping popular components of the measure without a clear plan to restore them during a heated Oval Office meeting on Monday.

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."

 Internal arguments preceded the Justice Department's Obamacare move

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.

'Waiting with bated breath'

 Why Obamacare's return puts Trump in big political hole </p>
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Other lawmakers, speaking more circumspectly on-the-record, made clear that it would be a White House mess to clean up.

"All I'm going to say about that for a while is that I'm eager to see what the administration is proposing," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.

"We're waiting with bated breath," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and a member of Republican leadership.

The decision came amid a week of abrupt about-faces, all with Trump at the center, which made little sense of the administration of the odds with itself. ] A three-day controversy over funding for the Special Olympics ended when Trump himself considered the levels spelled out in his own administration budget insufficient.

"The Special Olympics will be funded," Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn. "I have overridden my people."

His Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had just spent hours painfully defending the cuts, only to later declare she'd never been for them in the first place. Officials at the Education Department described a sense of whiplash after a disastrous week

That all followed a puzzling episode on North Korea sanctions that the administration has still refused to clarify. On Friday, Trump abruptly tweeted that sanctions were being reversed, and a message that sparked widespread confusion at the National Security Council, the US Treasury and the State Department.
 Trump sparks confusion with tweet on North Korea-related sanctions

referring to a set of unannounced future sanctions and not measures slapped on shipping companies a day earlier. But even that explanation has come under scrutiny; officials told CNN there was no package of sanctions in the pipeline, and that Trump's directive remains a mystery to many.

Whatever he meant, the move undercut his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who a day earlier announced the set of sanctions on companies accused of facilitating trade with North Korea. John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, had also highlighted the new sanctions, warning other companies they could be next.

"They are suffering greatly in North Korea. t think further sanctions at this time were necessary, "Trump explained a week later perched atop his sofa at his Mar-a-Lago club.

" It does not mean I do not put them on later, "he said. "

In week-ending news availability from the club, Trump tied the education decision to the sanctions move on Friday

" It's a little bit of a similar situation with different parties, to put it mildly, "he said, casting himself as the ultimate supervisor of the administration.

But he appeared no less consumed with the now-finished Mueller probe than he was at the start. Cast in odd late-afternoon lighting, Trump responded to news Barr would provide Congress and redacted version of Mueller's full report

"I have nothing to hide," he said. "It was a witch hunt, I have absolutely nothing to hide, and I think a lot of things are coming out with respect to the other side, but I have a lot of confidence in the general attorney." [19659040]
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