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Sources: Trump touts accomplishments but privately, controversies sour his mood

The president is touting the economy and a pledge kept by North Korea but multiple controversies brew behind the scenes. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

Posted: Jul 29, 2018 9:25 AM
Updated: Jul 29, 2018 9:25 AM

You won't be surprised to hear that President Donald Trump raved about the news on the economy Friday. The news was good, all right. Growth was 4.1% in the last quarter, a strong number, though nothing near the masterpiece of economic management Trump claimed to have achieved.

What he called "an economic turnaround of HISTORIC proportions" (his caps) was nothing of the sort. The economy was growing when Trump took office, and 4.1% growth is far from unprecedented. The figure was exceeded five times under Obama.

Still, it was positive news to cap a week that, while still crowded with distressing news, came loaded with reasons for optimism -- for anyone but Donald Trump.

For those of us who believe that Trump's policies present a tangible threat to democracy, that he is deliberately undercutting the alliances that underpin not only America's influence but the appeal and strength of liberal democratic principles around the world, the week flashed glimmers of light over the horizon.

Here are some:

Trump backed off some of his most alarming decisions ...

A week ago, Trump shocked his own security chiefs with an announcement that he had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House. With questions still raging -- even now -- about what transpired in the first meeting in Helsinki, Finland, reaction was scathing. Trump backtracked. National security adviser John Bolton, in an unseemly, politicized statement, announced Trump was postponing the meeting until "after the Russia witch hunt" ends, presumably next year.

Friday, Putin announced he invited Trump to Moscow. The only thing more troubling than Putin in Washington is Trump in Moscow, where Putin would have even more control. But even a postponement is good news.

... and Trump backed off on EU trade and claimed victory

Trump also folded (at least for now) on his trade war with the European Union. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly used colorful flash cards with Trump to help reach a ceasefire. Wednesday, Trump held a bombastic presser in the White House Rose Garden, usually reserved for major events, declaring "We had a big day. Very big!"

The sides agreed to negotiate toward zero tariffs, zero subsidies. It was largely a return to Obama-era policies. But don't tell him that. This was a welcome relaxation of hostilities with America's closest friends, the same ones Trump recently called foes. The war appears to be over for the moment, and the two leaders sealed it all with a kiss. Seriously.

The legislative branch came to life

One of the most disturbing spectacles of the Trump era has been the crumbling of the Congressional spine. This week, however, in the wake of the President's perplexing assaults on US allies, of his denial of Russia's hacking of the US election and his seeming willingness to allow Russian security forces to interrogate US officials, there were signs that the spines of Republicans in Congress may just be reconstituting. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took bipartisan fire in the Senate, although the hottest GOP salvos came from retiring members.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker blasted the administration, telling Pompeo that members of Congress are "filled with serious doubts about the White House and its conduct of American foreign policy," and Trump's pattern of "placating" adversaries such as North Korea and Russia, reaching secret deals and "antagonizing" US allies.

Pompeo walked a quivering tightrope, seeking to reassure the country without upsetting his boss. He reversed some of Trump's most egregious equivocations and omissions, saying the administration rejects Russia's invasion of Ukraine and accepts the intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

Trump discovered election hacking

Speaking of Russia's hacking, the President came up with a novel approach to the matter that has tangled him up in double-negatives and contradictory statements, declaring himself "very concerned" that Russia will hack the 2018 elections -- to help the Democrats. Even ignoring the preposterous claim, it is good that Trump now has an excuse to bend under the pressure and allow authorities to work at preventing a new attack.

Trump called a high-level meeting on election security amid growing evidence of the urgency of the problem. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose seat -- and control of the Senate -- is in play, alleged that the Russians attempted to hack her office computers. And the outcome of a gubernatorial election in Georgia, a state notorious for lax election-system security and known to have been targeted by the Russians, also raised concerns. So, it was moderately comforting to see Trump for a moment not denying there is a problem.

The partisan press finds some principles

Also comforting was the appearance of principled unity among the White House press corps. When the White House banned CNN's Kaitlan Collins from covering a Trump event because it didn't like her questions, the White House Correspondents Association protested. Just as importantly, the usually-partisan Fox News and several of its stars also protested, speaking in solidarity "for the right to full access ... as part of a free and unfettered press." In a democracy, the White House was told, it doesn't get to choose what questions it faces or who asks them.

Michael Cohen spills

The causes for optimism came also from one unexpected place. The man who said he would take a bullet for Trump, his fixer, Michael Cohen, appears to have decided he doesn't want to go to jail to defend one who has reportedly humiliated him over the years. It seemed a turning point in the investigation and an opportunity for Americans to finally learn the truth about how Trump was elected.

All in all, not a bad week.

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