President Trump heads overseas amid trouble at home, as a week of Russia-related controversies engulfing the White House showed no signs of abating Friday.
Less than an hour after Trump took off for his first international trip, there was a report that he said firing "nut job" FBI Director James Comey relieved the pressure he was facing on Russia. There was a second report the Russia probe had reached into the White House, with someone currently serving now a person of interest.
The Justice Department named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation on Wednesday.
Trump's first trip abroad will also test his foreign policy skills at a time when even a small victory could pay enormous dividends for his embattled administration. But his aggressive schedule and ambitious set of diplomatic goals present plenty of risks to a team that has yet to organize anything close to the scale of Trump's sweeping overseas debut.
The trip will bring him through Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, Belgium and the Vatican, and feature dozens of bilateral meetings, cultural engagements, speeches, diplomatic dinners and ceremonies. White House officials have said Trump aims to "reaffirm America's global leadership," build relationships with key world leaders and unify "the faithful of three of the world's greatest religions" — all in just eight days.
Trump's whirlwind tour will feature many high-profile opportunities for a gaffe that could reverberate back in Washington. However, the carefully orchestrated voyage could also allow Trump to break out of the fog that has settled around his White House after weeks of controversy.
From the moment Trump fired Comey on May 9, his administration has encountered a nonstop barrage of leaks, twists and self-inflicted wounds.
White House officials had, on the evening of Comey's removal and into the following day, pinned the FBI director's ouster on a recommendation written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Trump himself contradicted that explanation on May 11 when he told NBC's Lester Holt that he had already decided to fire Comey before he received a recommendation to do so from Rosenstein.
And on May 12, he stirred up another storm by tweeting that Comey should "hope" that no one leaks "tapes" of their conversations, raising questions about whether the president secretly records his conversations at the White House.
The following week provided no relief for Trump's beleaguered staff. Leaks about Trump's disclosure of classified information to high-level Russian officials preceded reports that Comey had taken notes of conversations with Trump that made him uncomfortable — including one in February that involved the president allegedly asking his then-FBI director to drop an investigation into his former associate and friend, Gen. Mike Flynn.
Rosenstein's appointment on Wednesday of a special counsel to handle the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians temporarily parted the clouds for Trump and congressional Republicans.
But two subsequent leaks renewed the controversy surrounding the investigation on Friday, when the New York Times reported that Trump had called a Comey a "nut job" whose removal had "taken off" pressure on him that the Russian investigation had applied, and the Washington Post reported that the FBI's probe had extended to at least one senior official currently in the West Wing.
The timing of the two stories demonstrated one of the perils Trump faces by launching an extended trip overseas in the midst of a political firestorm at home.
Just as cable news channels had begun to shift from their breathless coverage of the Russian controversy to images of Air Force One taking off for Riyadh on Friday, the pair of damaging reports took focus away from Trump's travels and returned it to the scandals his team is desperately hoping to leave behind in Washington.