Tuesday Reads: Trump’s In Vietnam, But Investigations Continue UnabatedPosted: February 26, 2019
If only I could go live in a children’s book surrounded by bunnies and other wild creatures. Sadly, I have to be an adult living in the time of Trump. But I can still enjoy these illustrations and imagine being in a safe and sane world.
Trump has gone to Vietnam to meet the evil dictator he fell in love with. Instead of consulting with his intelligence community and national security advisers, Trump asked the Kremlin for advice before his meeting with Kim Jong Un. Newsweek reports:
As the Trump administration prepared for the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it reached out to the Kremlin for advice, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax news.
The Kremlin representative did not specify what guidance the Trump administration sought or whether the Russian government had offered the U.S. any specific advice. The White House did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
This would not be the first time that Russia had gotten involved in Trump’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Previous reports claimed that Russia had offered North Korea nuclear power plants in exchange for denuclearization. And in his recently published book The Threat, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said that Trump listened to Putin’s theories about North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so,” McCabe wrote.
According to James Hohmann at The Washington Post Daily 202, Trump has embraced Nixon’s “madman theory” in his dealings with Kim, and Trump thinks it’s working.
Trump is not wrong that his threats have packed more of a punch because foreign leaders think he might go through with them. For example, no one would have believed Barack Obama or George W. Bush if either of them threatened to scuttle NATO or NAFTA to prod allies to spend more on defense or improve the terms of existing trade deals. People also wouldn’t have believed past presidents if they had tweeted they were going to impose stiff tariffs on all Chinese imports.
Yet many serious people really thought a year ago that there was some possibility Trump might actually go through with a preemptive strike on Pyongyang after all his charged rhetoric, despite American military commanders warning that such a move could lead to tens of thousands being killed. In other words, Trump’s intimidations have seemed more credible because he’s gladly encouraged the global perception that he’s quarrelsome.
The president has preached the virtue of strategic unpredictability as a lever to gain the upper hand in negotiations. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump said as a candidate in 2016. “We have to be unpredictable!”
A bit more from Hohman:
Trump has even advised his own aides to tell people on the outside that he is “crazy” if they think it will help in negotiations. During an Oval Office meeting in September 2017, Trump told chief trade negotiator Bob Lighthizer that he should threaten to have the U.S. withdraw from its free trade agreement with South Korea. Axios reported this exchange at the time:
“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions, then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer.
“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute!’”
“That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued.
Of course, as Hohmann points out, the “madman theory” didn’t work for Nixon. I’m sorry, I don’t buy that Trump is even trying to protect American interests in this “summit.” He’s obviously doing Putin’s bidding.
Kim wasn’t happy when he found out that U.S. reporters were in his Hanoi hotel. The Washington Post: In Hanoi, Kim Jong Un and a culture clash with the White House press corps.
As Kim’s motorcade was barreling into Hanoi for the final leg of his nearly 70-hour journey from Pyongyang — which included a 65-hour train ride through China — authorities were scrambling behind the scenes to avert an all-out culture clash over the boundaries of free speech for a leader accustomed to an obedient state-controlled media.
Kim was staying at the Melia hotel tower in the heart of the city, but the hotel also happened to have been booked by the White House as the filing center for the traveling press corps to cover the summit.
Not long before Kim arrived, a notice was distributed to the press corps that the filing center would be moved to a separate site for the international press corps at the Cultural Friendship Palace.
A tweet from the Vietnamese government, complete with three megaphone emojis, confirmed the switch.
That left the U.S. press contingent scrambling to make the move. Television network producers had spent weeks setting up cameras, lights, monitors and other equipment shipped halfway across the world. A person with knowledge of the situation said the networks were told they could no longer do liveshots from the Melia, although the correspondents booked to stay in the hotel were not told they had to leave.
While Trump is on the other side of the world talking to his NK boyfriend, his former fixer Michael Cohen will be testifying in three Congressional committees over the next three days.
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Michael Cohen’s three days of Capitol Hill testimony, explained.
Cohen is testifying for three straight days, but only one of the hearings will be public. After testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has a public date Wednesday with the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, and then will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee….
Cohen is the first member of Trump’s inner circle to provide eyewitness testimony about alleged misdeeds by the president. While other former aides have flipped and spoken to prosecutors, Cohen has spoken publicly and indicated that he thinks it’s his duty to atone for his own wrongdoing. And now that Democrats control the House, he has been given a platform.
Even before testifying, Cohen has spoken out repeatedly about Trump, has helped prosecutors implicate him in campaign finance violations and has reached a key plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.
Cohen is not just a former campaign aide, but also someone who had been around Trump years before by serving as his personal lawyer and “fixer.” In other words, he is someone who could speak to many different facets of Trump. That combination and Cohen’s stated desire to hold Trump accountable makes him a one-of-a-kind witness. Although Cohen has spoken publicly, it has been infrequent, and we don’t know what celse he might be prepared to disclose or allege.
Click on the link to read Blake’s speculations about what Cohen will discuss.
The New York Times’s gossip girl Maggie Haberman’s take: Planned in Michael Cohen’s Testimony: A Litany of Accusations Against Trump.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, is planning on portraying his onetime client in starkly negative terms when he testifies Wednesday before a House committee, and on describing what he says was Mr. Trump’s use of racist language, lies about his wealth and possible criminal conduct.
Mr. Cohen’s plans were laid out in broad strokes by a person familiar with what he intends to say in his testimony. And they indicate that Mr. Cohen will use documents and his personal experiences to support his statements….
Among the most explosive and potentially damning aspects of Mr. Cohen’s testimony will be providing evidence of potential criminal conduct since Mr. Trump became president, according to the person familiar with the plans.
That potential conduct stems from reimbursements that were made to Mr. Cohen in 2017 for hush money payments that he made to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. In October 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claims of a previous affair with Mr. Trump….
He will also discuss how long Mr. Trump continued to ask about plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow after the Iowa caucuses had taken place in February 2016. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last November to lying to Congress in testimony in 2017 about the duration of time over which the Moscow project discussions took place….
He is prepared to describe Mr. Trump making racist statements, as well as lying or cheating in business. Last fall, Mr. Cohen told Vanity Fair that Mr. Trump frequently used racist language, telling the magazine that his former boss said during the 2016 campaign that “black people are too stupid to vote for me.”
He will also describe the president inflating or devaluing his net worth, referring to a financial statement of Mr. Trump’s that Mr. Cohen has in his possession, the person said. Those financial statements cannot be independently verified without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which he has never made public, the person said.
More gossipy details at the NYT link.
Yesterday a couple of stories broke that could be problematic for Trump’s DOJ mole Matthew Whitaker.
A newly released document regarding former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker’s appointment shows that, at the earliest, President Donald Trump authorized Whitaker to lead the Justice Department a day later than officials previously said was the case….
Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, whose departure as the head of DOJ was forced by Trump, resigned by way of an undated letter made public Nov. 7, 2018. Trump tweeted that afternoon that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would be taking over as the acting attorney general until a replacement was confirmed.
The obtained presidential memorandum, dated Nov. 8, does not make clear when Sessions’ resignation took effect or when Whitaker actually began serving as acting attorney general….
The memorandum signed by Trump appointing Whitaker to the role, however, was not dated until the next day, Nov. 8, and the DOJ’s Executive Secretariat — the office with the “responsibility for controlling and managing correspondence emanating to and from” top DOJ officials — did not mark its receipt of the memorandum until 11:59 p.m. Nov. 13.
Why that’s a problem: Whitaker was taking actions as if he were the official acting director.
Notably, on Nov. 8, Whitaker, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, issued the asylum rule that preceded Trump’s Nov. 9 move seeking to limit asylum applications from along the southern border.
Read the rest at Buzzfeed.
Even more problematic for Whitaker, The Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) reported that House investigators are suggesting that Whitaker may have committed perjury when he claimed that Trump had not put pressure on him to interfere in investigations.
The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put an ally in charge of an investigation into his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This follows a report from The New York Times that Trump made this request of Whitaker, asking him whether he could get attorney Geoffrey Berman to head the Southern District of New York’s ongoing investigation, even though Berman is a Trump supporter who donated to his campaign and used to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Berman had also previously recused himself from the probe, which has looked into Trump’s inaugural committee and has led to charges against Cohen, who implicated Trump in a crime.
The Judiciary Committee is also reportedly examining whether Whitaker may have committed perjury when he told Congress, “At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake points out that Whitaker also said no one from the White House contacted him to express “dissatisfaction” with the SDNY probe.
Trump will have plenty to be nervous about while he’s out of the country.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.