A new week, and the president's troubles continue to mount. His porn star problem. His special prosecutor problem. His gun problem. And now, come Monday morning, his Putin problem.
On Monday morning, the Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians -- 48 diplomats and 12 intelligence officers -- in response to what Britain and the US believe was a Kremlin assassination attempt, using a banned chemical weapons agent, of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this month. He also ordered the Russian consulate in Seattle closed.
The expulsion was an extraordinary act against the former U.S. ally, taken in coordination with other NATO allies. Canada and EU member nations -- including Poland, Italy, Denmark, France and Germany -- announced plans to expel Russians from their countries. Britain had been the first to expel Russians, sending 23 home on March 14.
At the heart of this is century-old problem: chemical weapons. If in fact Russia tried to kill Sergei V. Skripal, 66, a former spy, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33, with the nerve agent novichok, it's not just cloak-and-dagger skullduggery and an infringement on British sovereignty -- it's much, much worse.
The assassination attempt is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the pact that Russia, the United States and 190 other nations signed that banned chemical weapons and their use. That would put Russia into a tiny and select group of chemical weapons scofflaws that includes Syria, which became a signatory in 2013, and North Korea, which has never joined the convention.
The use of novichok, which Russia has denied, represents a tremendous international breach -- the first use of chemical weapons in Europe since War World II, when Germany used Zyklon B to murder Jews, and the first offensive use in Europe since World War I. It also puts Russia into deeply dubious company: in early 2017, North Korea was accused of using the nerve agent VX as an assassination tool against Kim Jong-un's estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia.
At the time, proliferation experts told me that it could mean a new era of chemical weapon proliferation. The assassination attempt in Salisbury increases that danger tremendously, as it signals that a major signatory to the convention no longer feels bound to abide by it.
The Trump administration's move on Monday morning comes at, er, a delicate moment for the president. Just last Tuesday, Trump called Putin and congratulated him on his re-election, despite advice from his advisors not to extend said congratulations, and moreover made no mention of the novichok incident or Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues to steam ahead, and over the weekend, two of the latest additions to the president's legal team bowed out after only a few days, leaving the president with essentially only one personal lawyer working on his behalf on the Russia issue.
Another personal lawyer for Trump, Michael Cohen, faces questions about still another scandal that the White House has tried to ignore: the allegation from pornography actress Stephanie Cliffors, aka Stormy Daniels, that she slept with the president and carried on an affair with him.
On Palm Sunday, of all days, Clifford appeared on 60 Minutes claiming that she and her young daughter were physically threatened for talking about her fling with Trump in 2006. Shortly after the segment aired, a lawyer for Cohen sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clifford.
"Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that such incident ever occurred,” the attorney, Brent H. Blakely, wrote. “You and your client’s false statements about Mr. Cohen accuse him of criminal conduct and constitute, among other things, libel per se and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The letter is here.
The president who has a famously itchy Twitter finger, has stayed silent on the Stormy Daniels story. On Monday, he tweeted a general broadside at "Fake news" which might have been have been aimed at 60 Minutes. "So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!" he tweeted.
Of course, he might also have been tweeting about the other big story of the weekend, which was the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who packed into downtown DC on Saturday, and at sister protests across the country, to demand a crackdown on firearms. Those protests came in response to the killing of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.
Remember: it's only Monday. It's sure to be a bumpy week ahead.