* Photo essay at https://reut.rs/2ruhB7B
Dec 14 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump faced battles across many fronts in 2018, ending the year politically weakened after his Republican Party lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives at midterm elections in November.
He began the year much as he ended 2017. He faced internal strife in a White House gripped by chaos and drama, losing his staff secretary, Rob Porter, who was forced out when allegations surfaced of past domestic abuse.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster was removed, and was replaced by hard-charging John Bolton. Aide Hope Hicks resigned after years of service to Trump. The year ended with Trump pushing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Previously, Trump has denied his White House is chaotic, describing it in TV interviews as a "well-oiled machine." He also disputed that he was weakened by the elections, pointing to the Senate, where Republicans extended their majority. "Yesterday was such a very Big Win," Trump tweeted on Nov. 7, the day after the elections.
In international affairs, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal despite the pleas of European allies to stay in. He also met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a bid to end a long nuclear standoff. The summit eased tensions that both Kim and Trump had inflamed in the preceding months, but North Korea has yet to commit to a plan to end its arms program.
Trump was fiercely criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for his performance at a summit meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. Instead of condemning Russia's alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Trump cast doubt on the findings of his own intelligence services.
Trump's administration applied new sanctions on Russia but critics, including prominent national security experts in Congress, said his performance at the Helsinki summit was weak.
A criminal investigation into alleged ties between Trump's election campaign team and Russian officials brought further pressure on Trump and his allies.
Trump has frequently defended his meeting with Putin, calling it a great success. He also has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow in 2016, saying publicly many times that the Russia investigation is nothing more than a "witch hunt."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team indicted and won convictions against more of Trump's former aides, including his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Trump received credit for a strong U.S. economy but it was not enough to prevent Democrats from winning control of the House in November.
The president's toughest domestic test came along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where his administration's policy of separating children of illegal immigrants from their parents prompted a humanitarian crisis. He maintained a strident stance on potential border crossers, condemning a caravan of would-be immigrants from Central America and deploying U.S. troops along the border.
Trump's biggest political triumph was getting his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, through Senate confirmation, but not without a price. Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault dating back to his teenage years. Christine Blasey Ford provided damaging testimony but U.S. senators, many citing a lack of firm evidence, confirmed Kavanaugh in a narrow 50-48 vote.
(Click on https://reut.rs/2ruhB7B to see a related photo essay)
(Editing by Howard Goller and Bill Rigby)
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