Thursday Reads: Does Anyone Really Know What Trump Is Doing?Posted: July 26, 2018
I watched quite a bit of Mike Pompeo’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. I have to say, Pompeo is as rude and obnoxious as Trump; his personality seems highly unusual for someone who is supposed to be a diplomat. It was obvious from Pompeo’s vague responses to questions from Democrats and Republicans alike that he has no idea what Trump and Putin talked about in their more than two hour private meeting in Helsinki.
From a report on the confrontations at Foreign Policy: In Fiery Hearing, Pompeo Trades Barbs With Lawmakers.
“You come before a group of senators today who are filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct with American foreign policy,” said Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in one of the sharper exchanges.
“The administration tells us, ‘Don’t worry, be patient, there is a strategy here.’ But from where we sit, it appears that in a ‘ready, fire, aim’ fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go,” he said.
The senators focused their criticism on Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki on July 16, details of which remain murky even to administration insiders.
They also took Pompeo to task for the apparent lack of progress in nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, more than a month after a summit meeting that Trump hailed as a resounding success.
Pompeo returned fire during more than three hours of testimony—his first open exchange with lawmakers since Trump’s meetings with Putin and Kim.
“I understand the game that you’re playing,” he told Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the committee, during a line of questioning about Trump’s private meeting with Putin, which raised deep concerns among lawmakers and national security experts.
Menendez cut him off and shot back: “No, no, Mr. Secretary. With all due respect, I don’t appreciate you characterizing my questions. My question is to get to the truth. We don’t know what the truth is.”
The exchange with Menendez was one of the most heated of the day. The Democratic Senator from New Jersey talked about it with NPR’s Ari Shapiro yesterday:
SHAPIRO: What did you learn from Secretary Pompeo about what happened in that closed-door meeting in Helsinki?
MENENDEZ: Not very much. I learned that the reason that there is such concern is because no one has a clear readout of what transpired between President Trump and President Putin for over two hours. What we have is what took place at the press conference in Helsinki. And that was alarming to members on both sides of the aisle, which is why we were trying to pierce an understanding of how far he had been briefed and what elements of a conversation for over two hours were being pursued.
And, you know, it’s interesting that, you know, Secretary Pompeo, when it seems to be of benefit to the administration, will suggest that he knew something. But when if not, he says it’s a private conversation. It only seems to be a private conversation for President Trump because Putin and the Russian defense and public relations ministry is telling all about it. So it obviously has a much different view….
SHAPIRO: It seems like you were trying to ask Secretary Pompeo, in so many words, do you even know what was discussed in that room? And Secretary Pompeo got a little bit indignant and kind of scoffed at the question. But do you think he does know what happened in that room?
MENENDEZ: No. I don’t think he knows what happens in that room.
SHAPIRO: That’s kind of shocking. He’s the secretary of state, right?
MENENDEZ: It is. Well, it’s kind of shocking that you go into a meeting for two hours and you don’t have your secretary of state or your national security adviser or the director of National Intelligence with you because that allows the Russians to ultimately, you know, characterize the discussion as they are doing without a counter to it. And it’s interesting to see that we see no counter. Therefore, when members of the committee are citing the Russian ministry of defense, they’re doing it not because they believe the Russian ministry of defense, but they’re looking for counter arguments.
And when the administration is unwilling to be transparent and speak to it and let us know what actually transpired, it then gives credence to what the Russians are doing. And this is a major concern.
Read more at the NPR link.
As often happens, the Pentagon doesn’t seem to know anything about what Trump and Putin discussed either. That was another topic Senators asked about during the Pompeo hearing. Yesterday Buzzfeed published an article about how often those in charge of our troops are kept in the dark by Trump: New Emails Show What Happens When The Pentagon Has To Scramble To Catch Up To Trump. The article begins with a series of graphics depicting reports about Trump announcements that the Pentagon officials were completely unprepared for.
“The Pentagon was caught off guard” stories have become a staple of news coverage of the Trump administration.
It’s no secret that time and time again, officials in the Defense Department have been blindsided by sudden, often significant announcements and policy changes involving the US military coming out of the White House.
Trump administration officials have excused those moments as overblown, affecting news reports more than creating any real government dysfunction.
Now, however, internal emails released through the Freedom of Information Act offer an inside look at how chaotic it can be for Pentagon officials when they face an unexpected onslaught of questions in the wake of an alarming public statement from the White House. The confusion resonates not only in Washington but around the world, according to the emails, which were sought by a left-leaning watchdog group, Democracy Forward, and shared with BuzzFeed News.
The emails document two days of the aftermath of an unusual, and seemingly sudden, statement released by the White House late on the night of June 26 last year. It warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if they carried out another chemical weapons attack.
Read the rest at the Buzzfeed.
Politico reports that the Pentagon is also being very uncommunicative: ‘We are fighting for information about war’: Pentagon curbs media access.
At a mid-July news conference at the Pentagon, AP reporter Lolita Baldor asked Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, about an attack in Afghanistan that had led to the death of an American soldier. But before he could reply, a Defense Department press officer cut in to say that Milley and the three officials flanking him would be answering questions only about the intended topic for the news conference: the announcement of the location of a new command.
The next question went to Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. Over the previous two days, President Donald Trump had roiled the NATO summit in Brussels with verbal shots at the alliance’s members, so Griffin, after opening with a question about the new command, added, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with Lita, we don’t have an opportunity to see you enough. Gen. Milley, have you reached out to your counterparts in Europe after the NATO summit to reassure them that the U.S. forces are staying?”
Again, the press officer cut off the question before Milley could answer.
The incident, which left Pentagon reporters furious, was the latest flash point in what has become an increasingly adversarial relationship between Defense Secretary James Mattis’ Cabinet department and the reporters who cover it. Chief among the complaints, according to defense reporters who spoke to POLITICO, are declining access to Mattis and other military officials, as well as a sense that reporters are not receiving the information they need to keep the public informed about America’s military activities.
Is this happening because Mattis and his team are out of the loop and don’t really know what Trump is up to? Or are they simply following Trump’s example? Read more at Politico.
USA Today has an interesting article by a former CIA officer: Ex-CIA analyst: If Trump were a foreign leader, I’d raise possibility of blackmail.
Trump’s appeasement of Russia is unprecedented for an American president, despite his recent claim that he has been the toughest president on Russia. It is almost certainly driven in part by his desire to protect the credibility of his election victory at all costs, to promote an image of being the ultimate deal-maker, and because of his preference for strong-man leadership. A former KGB officer and skilled manipulator, Putin no doubt recognizes these traits and is leveraging them to manipulate Trump.
Putin publicly admitted at the Helsinki summit that he wanted Trump to win, confirming a key point of the IC assessment. Trump probably is willing to look the other way on Russian interference because it was aimed at getting him elected, even if that means ignoring the threat Russia poses and allowing Moscow to continue attacking the country.
Behavior consistent with blackmail:
Trump’s behavior on Russia is consistent with a recruitment tactic employed by intelligence services to turn a person into an asset using damaging information as black-mail. Several senior Obama-era national security officials have said they believe Putin has compromising information on Trump and is using it to make the president do his bidding. Trump and his political base have been undeterred by revelations about his personal life, such as his alleged extra-marital affairs or history of sexual abuse. This suggests that if Moscow does have comprising information, it is likely to be about his personal finances, business practices, or other information that would damage his business.
► We know that some Trump campaign officials discussed working together with Moscow during the election, suggesting Russia could also be holding additional proof of collusion over the president’s head.
Trump’s doubling down since the summit and his invitation to Putin to the White House almost certainly have emboldened Putin to continue or even escalate intelligence operations against the U.S.
There was some encouraging news yesterday. A federal judge ruled that one of the emoluments cases against Trump can go forward.
Jed Shugarman at Slate: Heartbreak for the Trump Hotel.
Today’s ruling by federal court Judge Peter Messitte in one of the three emoluments cases against President Trump was a big win for the plaintiffs—and a bigger win than many had expected. It sets the stage for potentially shutting down the Trump International Hotel in D.C. as a violation of the government lease and thus an unconstitutional emolument. The legal interpretation in this decision would force Trump to divest from the hotel entirely.
For a little background, recall there are two emoluments clauses in the Constitution: The Foreign Emoluments Clause provides that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
The Domestic Emoluments Clause provides, “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”After the court ruled that the Foreign Emoluments Clause applies to the president, it adopted the plaintiffs’ definition of emolument as any “profit,” “gain,” or “advantage,” relying on the research of law professor John Mikhail (a co-author with me of our amicus brief in the case). The court acknowledged this historical purpose of the clauses: “the Court does not see how the historical record reflects anything other than an intention that the Emoluments Clauses function as broad anti-corruption provisions. … The Foreign Emoluments Clause was unquestionably adopted against a background of profound concern on the part of the Framers over possible foreign influence upon the President (and, to be sure, upon other federal officials).” The court cited many examples of the historical context from the founding, and discussed how the executive branch has applied the clauses in a manner consistent with that interpretation of the clauses. (The court acknowledged an exception for “de minimis” benefits, i.e., inconsequential minor benefits.)Then the court applied this interpretation to the Trump Organization and the Trump International Hotel specifically.
Click on the link to read the rest at Slate.
Note: The illustrations in this post are by Myles Hyman. So . . . what stories are you following today?