Donald Trump has departed Washington for his first foreign trip as President, leaving behind a scandal surrounding his surprise sacking of the FBI director which threatens to overshadow the eight-day tour.
Mr Trump flew out of the capital for a trip that White House aides said they hoped would trigger a "reset" after weeks of controversy and chaos.
Mr Trump was reportedly reluctant to leave for the trip, even telling one aide he felt it should be cut in half. But this was before he fired former FBI chief James Comey, allegedly released covert intelligence to Russia, and saw a special prosecutor appointed to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia.
The trip is expected to give the President some reprieve from a gruelling news cycle – but no one expects it to be easy.
In preparation for the trip, Mr Trump held briefings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, national security adviser HR McMaster, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner – several of whom will accompany him on the trip.
Sources told Reuters that Mr Trump’s briefing documents included his name in "as many paragraphs as we can, because he keeps reading if he's mentioned”. Others told The New York Times they worried the President would be swayed by foreign leaders’ flattery, or erupt in off-script outbursts.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
Mr Trump will stop first in Saudi Arabia, marking his first night outside of the White House or a Trump-branded property since taking office.
Saudi diplomats reportedly wooed the President into visiting their country via a persuasive, picture-laden PowerPoint presentation. Caterers for state events have been instructed to prepare Mr Trump’s favourite meal – steak and ketchup – to serve alongside local delicacies.
Mr Trump is expected to give a speech on Islam, and announce a $350bn arms deal.
The President will then fly to Israel, where he will meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and then with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Monday, several outlets reported that the President had revealed classified information about an Isis terrorist plot to two Russian officials during a White House meeting. That information is said to have come from a crucial Israeli intelligence source.
There are questions over whether Mr Trump's disclosure of Israel's sensitive information could damage diplomatic relations between the US and the Middle Eastern country.
Mr Trump has enjoyed warmer relations with Mr Netanyahu than former President Barack Obama, but has also hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House. On Tuesday, Mr Trump will meet with Mr Abbas again, this time in Bethlehem.
Mr Trump is said to have requested that the traditional visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, be cut short.
After departing Israel, Mr Trump will head to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis. The President sparred with Pope Francis during the presidential campaign, after the head pontiff criticised the then-candidate’s controversial plan to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not about building bridges, is not a Christian,” Pope Francis said at the time.
Nevertheless, the Vatican has said it would “welcome” a visit from the President.
Mr Trump will meet with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella in Rome before leaving for a Nato meeting in Brussels.
Delegates to the Nato summit have been cautioned by their Washington consultants to “keep it short” and use plenty of visual aids in talks with the President. Also important is stroking the President’s ego; complimenting him on his electoral college win and contrasting him favourably with former President Obama.
The summit will involve several meetings with leaders of European Union countries. Mr Trump recently reversed course on the 28-member bloc, describing it as “wonderful”, despite having once called it “a vehicle for Germany”.
On the President’s list of meetings is a working lunch with the recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Trump expressed support for Mr Macron’s far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, during the French election.
On Friday, the President will attend the G7 Summit in Sicily. He heads back to Washington on Saturday.
Asked how Mr Trump’s mounting scandals at home will affect his relations with allies abroad, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters: “We’ll see how the trip goes."
“But these trips are pretty well orchestrated from the point of view of what events you’re going to be at,” he added. “I think it’s an exciting itinerary – one that could be extremely important for US national security and relations. We hope it will be successful.”Reuse content