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Attorney General Exodus, Merkel Comes to Washington, Dutch Elections: The Weekend Behind, the Week Ahead

Start your week off the right way. Catch up on top news from the weekend.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks briefly to reporters at Trump Tower, November 30, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks briefly to reporters at Trump Tower, November 30, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice is fraying.

It started in January when Trump fired his acting attorney general, Sally Yates, for refusing to enact his first attempt at a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Then, earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would recuse himself from investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia after it emerged he met with the Russian ambassador during campaign season, counter to his confirmation hearing testimony. Then, on Friday, Trump asked for the resignation of 46 federal attorneys. On Saturday, Trump fired one attorney, Preet Bharara, after he refused to resign. 

Bharara was the chief federal prosecutor of New York’s Southern District, where he oversaw high-profile cases involving corruption and white-collar crime. On March 8, three watchdog organizations requested Bharara take steps to prevent Trump from receiving benefits from foreign governments by way of the Trump Organization while president. Trump’s political opponents questioned whether Bharara was sacked to prevent him from opening that can of worms. 

Another controversial decision by the Trump administration: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Asia this week without a press corps. The administration claims it’s a cost saver, but media outlets pay for the trip. The absence of U.S. press on Tillerson’s trip to Japan, South Korea, and China could mean foreign media (in particular Chinese state media) will shape the narrative around the visit.

It’s a busy week for U.S. diplomacy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Washington Tuesday to meet for the first time with Trump.  Their relationship got off to a rocky start when Trump personally blamed Merkel for ruining her country over Germany’s refugee policy when she beat him for Time person of the year in 2015. Trump’s chief trade advisor, Peter Navarro, didn’t exactly help repair the relationship when he accused Germany of currency manipulation.

According to a White House briefing on the visit, the goal is to “build a positive relationship and have a positive interaction.” Merkel was hailed by some as a last bastion of the western liberal order after Trump’s election, and used her first phone call with the president to remind him of American obligations to international law. She also faces political pressure from home: German elections are in September. The country’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland political party has been waning in the polls (many believe this is because Germans are increasingly wary of having their own Trump), but Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party faces fierce competition from the center-left Social Party and its challenger, the folksy Martin Schulz.

But there is also another, more immediate election in Europe to consider: the Dutch elections, which will take place on Wednesday. In an effort to best far-right candidate Geert Wilders, the Dutch Prime Minister has taken to espousing such sentiment as, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave,” making some wonder if Wilders even needs to win for some of his sentiment to govern the Netherlands.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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