Trump

October 21, 2019
politico.com
Inside Trumps First Pentagon Briefing
And what I saw there that foretold the coming rift between Mattis and the president.

Long before real planning for it began, and long before the first news stories about it, those of us in the top levels of the Pentagon heard President Donald Trump demand the military parade he would eventually get. The bizarre request was one of the first signs I had of the enormous rift between my boss at the time, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the president.

The clash came in the middle of Trump’s first Pentagon briefing on America’s military and diplomatic “laydown”—a term of art used to describe all of the locations around the world with U.S. forces and embassies—on July 20, 2017. Mattis, for whom I was working as chief speechwriter, had hoped the briefing would educate Trump on the United States’ longstanding commitment to the rest of the world. That is not at all what happened.

Instead, the president burst out in the middle of the meeting.

“I just returned from France,” he said. “Did you see President Macron’s handshake?” he asked no one in particular. “He wouldn’t let go. He just kept holding on. I spent two hours at Bastille Day. Very impressive.”

A pause.

“I want a ‘Victory Day.’ Just like Veterans Day. The Fourth of July is too hot,” he said, apparently out of nowhere. “I want vehicles and tanks on Main Street. On Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. We need spirit! We should blow everybody away with this parade. The French had an amazing parade on Bastille Day with tanks and everything. Why can’t we do that?”

Those of us in the control room linked to the Pentagon conference room shifted uncomfortably, shooting glances at each other. Where was this going? We’d opened the control room door 30 minutes before to improve air flow. A Secret Service agent poked his head in, apparently uncomfortable with the conversation and the light it cast on the president. “Hey,” he asked, “do you guys need to still be in here?”

It was far from what Mattis had expected as he prepared meticulously for the meeting just hours before.

As the seconds ticked down, Mattis’ nervous energy had been palpable. Unusually so. Normally stoic and deliberate with his movements, this morning he was electrified. He was pacing in his office in the Pentagon, moving from a standing desk that faced the Potomac to the small circular table and back again. He shuffled his notes, putting them into a nondescript dark blue folder, pausing for a few seconds in hesitation before pulling them out again to rearrange their order. Things needed to be perfect.

I understood why he was nervous. We all did. At any time, this briefing would be a big deal for the department, regardless of the president. But in Trump’s case, the briefing had a heightened importance.

Just a few weeks earlier, Trump had declared America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. He was also threatening to dismantle the nuclear deal with Iran, withdraw from NATO, pull U.S. forces back from South Korea, Germany and Japan, give Russia a pass on its electoral interference in the 2016 election, and, in his spare time, start a war with North Korea.

In private, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mattis feared these actions signaled America’s diminished authority as a world leader and emboldened China, Russia and Iran to fill the vacuum. They felt incredible pressure to educate the president, believing that if only Trump could be made to recognize the value of American allies and the stability afforded by the presence of our troops, he’d reconsider and alter course.

If anyone could change the president’s mind, it was Mattis. He had maintained a close relationship with Trump since he was confirmed in early 2017, visiting the White House two or three times a week for meetings, lunch and sometimes dinner. It was obvious to us that Trump valued Mattis’ opinion and simply liked having him around to bounce ideas off.

I suspect Trump also liked that, as far as cabinet members go, Mattis was about as low-key as a senior official could get. He was careful not to seek the spotlight and minimized his interaction with the press, explaining, “If I say six and the president says a half dozen, I guarantee you the article the next day is going to be ‘the secretary of defense and the president disagree on the fundamentals.’”

The plan for the briefing was for Mattis to speak first, walking Trump through details on every U.S. military deployment abroad, demonstrating America’s return on investment. Tillerson would follow with slides on U.S. embassies and missions abroad. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn would speak last to highlight the importance of global trade flows. I would be in an adjoining control room, watching, listening and running the slide show.

As lead organizer for the briefing, I arrived hours early to ensure everything was ready before setting up shop in the control room. The president, however, was running a few minutes behind, which only added to the tension.

When Trump’s motorcade finally pulled up, Mattis greeted the president at his armored limo, known as “The Beast,” and they posed for a quick photo. Reporters shouted questions, to which the president simply replied, “We’re doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast,” before Mattis whisked him into the entryway and to the conference room.

Trump stood at the head of the table facing three large television screens. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Tillerson, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Seated to his left were Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford and Cohn. Notably absent was National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster. Sitting with the “back benchers,” or senior officials who sit in chairs along the walls of the room, was Steve Bannon.

Trump took his place at the head of the table with a frown fixed on his face. Offering few greetings to anyone, he sat with his arms crossed, refusing to look at Mattis. To me it seemed that his mind was already made up. He appeared to see this entire briefing as pointless—but perhaps I was reading too much into all of this. At least I hoped so.

As planned, Mattis kicked off the meeting with remarks we had rehearsed in his office a number of times. Mattis tends to turn professorial during important meetings, providing the audience with excessive detail rather than tailoring his approach to the group he’s speaking with. This instinct worsens when he is anxious about an event, and he will spend an inordinate amount of time on tactical details that have little bearing on strategic outcomes in order to bolster his confidence level. Unfortunately, to the room his opening sounded too much like a lecture.

Trump scowled.

Mattis worked through his first slide about “chokepoints,” extremely narrow, landlocked corridors between larger bodies of water. He then shared his philosophical view about America’s two fundamental powers of intimidation and inspiration, telling the president a story I’d heard many times.

Years before, a terrorist had attempted to kill then-two-star general Mattis with an improvised explosive device. Marines notified Mattis that they had captured the terrorist as he was trying to place the device on the road Mattis frequently traveled, using two 155-millimeter mortar rounds, a car battery and a detonator. Not the terrorist’s finest day. As Mattis told me during a meeting in his office, “The terrorist realized as he stared down the rifle barrels pointed at him that he was in danger of losing his 401(k).”

Mattis decided to speak with the terrorist after he was apprehended. Once in a holding room, Mattis slid a cup of coffee across the table to help break the ice as he sat down. Ultimately, the terrorist wanted to know: “Do you think if I’m really good at Guantanamo, will they let me move to America after I’m released?” As Mattis told it, the story represents two fundamental powers: We can intimidate others through our military superiority, but America’s power to inspire is every bit as—and perhaps even more—powerful.

Mattis continued with his briefing, walking through in exacting detail the force ratios in each major geographic location. He sought to convince the president that our allies and partners put forward far more troops in support of stability abroad than America does. In short, America gets a good deal from an overseas military presence.

The president frowned, fiddling with the papers in front of him while glancing around the room.

Mattis’ third slide triggered a stronger response from Trump. A visual depiction of our Pacific posture, this slide zoomed in on the U.S. forces located in Japan and South Korea—forces that had kept the peace in both countries for more than six decades. It detailed the numbers of troops in each country, the cost to American taxpayers, and the costs borne by our allies to support forces in their country. Mattis made the point that America had been willing to accept unfair terms following World War II in order to get both countries back on their feet, but that now would be an opportune time to update our trade agreements should Trump desire to do so.

Mattis loved this slide because it outlined the significant contributions both nations were making, with Japan footing part of the bill to shift U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and South Korea paying to move Army soldiers to a new base. He emphasized to the president the importance of Japan paying to offset the costs for a new base, saying it was the first time in history they’d done so.

“Who is paying the rest of the bill for the move to Guam?” the president demanded. He was upset that Japan was only covering a part of the total costs required to relocate the base.

There was silence. But only briefly.

“Our trade agreements are criminal,” Trump thundered—despite the fact that Mattis was not talking about anything trade-related. “Japan and South Korea are taking advantage of the United States.” This was decidedly not the message Mattis’ slide intended to convey.

Out of nowhere, the president added, “And the USS Ford [the navy’s newest aircraft carrier] is completely out of control with cost overruns!”

Mattis struggled to regain control of the meeting. In one sense he got what he’d wanted. The president was definitely engaged, but not in the way Mattis had hoped.

Twenty-five minutes later, it was Tillerson’s turn to run the gauntlet. Tillerson was by nature a slow talker. I could tell at once that was not an endearing quality to Trump. When Tillerson’s turn was over, Trump looked like a kid who had been told it was time for recess.

Cohn’s brief was easily the best of the three. It consisted of only three slides. Sensing the president’s mood, Cohn was in and out in under five minutes. All eyes shifted to the president.

“A very good study, thank you,” said Trump. “This is one big monster created over a number of years. Japan … Germany … South Korea … our allies are costing more than anyone else at the table!” Again, not the message any of us had intended.

Then the president paused. His eyes seemed animated by a thought.

He followed with his observations about Macron’s handshake and his outburst about Victory Day.

When the Secret Service agent asked if we all needed to be there, we stayed seated. Yes. Yes, we did. Just try to get us to leave.

Mattis and his team’s response to the president’s suggestion made clear that they were adamantly opposed to a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Mattis and others voiced concern that a parade like what Trump wanted would harken back to Soviet Union—like displays of authoritarian power. Mattis stated that precious taxpayer dollars would be better spent elsewhere, and that the optics of such a display of power would boomerang, causing more harm to America’s international prestige than any domestic benefit could outweigh. Mattis was also concerned that a parade would risk eroding the military’s long-standing apolitical reputation.

It didn’t matter—Trump was serious. Mattis deflected and played for more time by saying, “We’ll take a look at some options and get back to you, Mr. President.”

On it went, with Tillerson and Mattis taking turns with the president, each jumping in to try to keep the discussion focused on the importance of America’s alliance structure, of the critical nature of our global footprint and the economic benefit the United States derives from ensuring global stability and order.

Along the way Cohn interjected at times, as did Priebus, trying to find some areas of common agreement that would satisfy the president.

Pence and Kushner sat stone-faced, not uttering a single word throughout the entire meeting. Maybe they were the smart ones. Over time Mattis began to shut down, sitting back in his chair with a distant, defeated look on his face. He had cared so much about this meeting, had poured his heart and soul into it, and had believed firmly in his ability to bring Trump around to his way of thinking. None of his attempts were working. From my vantage point, Mattis was playing a game of chess against a president fixated on “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

Mattis did not think Trump was a raving lunatic, as some were trying to portray the president. In fact, Mattis had made a point of noting to us that America elected Trump for a reason. That the president had tremendous political skills, a sharp intuition and a formidable business career. Those qualities deserved respect. But still Trump could tax Mattis’ patience, and the president’s view of the world was both simplistic and troublesome. That was clear today.

Across the table from Mattis, Tillerson also became increasingly frustrated, jousting verbally with the president before becoming so exasperated that he stopped talking completely for the last half-hour of the meeting. Tillerson sat back in his chair with his arms crossed, an incredulous scowl on his face as he shot pointed looks over to Mattis.

Many times during Tillerson’s tenure, reporters would claim that he thought his boss was an idiot—and each time Tillerson would deny it publicly. But there was no doubt among most observers in the room that day that Tillerson was thinking exactly that. Both men—Mattis and Tillerson—were despondent. We had just witnessed a meeting with Trump, up close and personal.

Now we knew why access was controlled so tightly.

For the remainder of the meeting, Trump veered from topic to topic—Syria, Mexico, a recent Washington Post story he didn’t like—like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another.

The issues were complicated, yet all of the president’s answers were simplistic and ad hoc. He was shooting from the hip on issues of global importance.

With that, the meeting ended.

I learned an important lesson that would pay off when Trump returned for a briefing the following January: only use slides with pictures … no words.

Despite the challenging environment that existed between the Pentagon and the White House, Mattis was able to score a succession of victories over the next eight months: releasing the nation’s first national defense strategy after going more than 10 years without one; working with coalition and Kurdish forces to bring ISIS to the edge of defeat in Syria; and working with Congress to restore funding to begin rebuilding a badly depleted military.

Still, despite these wins, Trump and power struggles within the administration soon took their toll on Mattis. Those of us on his front office team watched as ally after ally in the administration—Tillerson, McMaster and chief of staff John Kelly—took incoming fire from the White House and the media. By the end of April 2018, Tillerson and McMaster would be gone.

On May 11, 2018, I watched as the tide within the administration shifted away from Mattis. That day, Mattis hosted a group of newly appointed senior counterparts in the Pentagon, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with other principals and military officials.

After presentations from Mattis, Bolton, Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Mattis opened the floor for discussion. Things quickly got interesting as senior leaders jockeyed for influence.

Bolton jumped right in after Mattis opened the floor, saying that the “problem is that all of the departments have different priorities.” “To serve the president,” he said, “departmental efforts should be integrated.” He wasn’t wrong, but the way he said it gave me pause. His comment seemed to indicate that as national security advisor he should be the integrator and therefore the de facto lead. After a year within the administration, I thought he was probably right. Someone needed to be in charge of coordinating the administration’s efforts.

Bolton looked over at Mnuchin. “Steve, there are differences, and that’s OK. We have to give the president crisper alternatives.” Around the table it went. Bolton was making some compelling points, not the least of which was that “the administration was losing time” by merely bouncing from distraction to distraction. Mnuchin tried to wield the most influence by making sweeping, declarative statements as if he was speaking for the White House. Kudlow was also attempting to assert himself by saying that he and Bolton needed to do a better job with the interagency process, implying that as chief economic adviser he was a key player in how things ran in the administration. For the next five minutes, Mnuchin and Kudlow went back and forth, cutting each other off to get their word in.

It was as if the treasury secretary and chief economic adviser had started their own trade war in the Pentagon.

Mattis finally had enough. He cut Kudlow off mid-sentence. “I think we’re all there, Larry … ” Rejoining the conversation, Mattis employed tired soundbites rather than actually engaging in an in-depth discussion. He seemed weary.

The meeting petered out about an hour and 45 minutes after it started. Sensing things were rapidly coming to a close, Mattis thanked everyone for coming. Gathering his things, he turned and walked out of the room and down the hall, fully expecting the others to flow out of the room behind him.

They didn’t.

Instead, the other principals and uniformed members remained behind and clustered in small groups to continue their conversations. That by itself isn’t too noteworthy—leaders usually congregated afterward to follow up on issues raised during a meeting—but what happened next is.

Mattis came back.

I’d never seen anything like this. Mattis makes a decision and sticks with it, come hell or high water. But this time he didn’t. He must have made it down the hall before realizing that no one else had followed him out, then turned around to come back to the room.

I watched as two minutes after Mattis left the room, he returned, awkwardly standing in the doorway and watching the scene before him. He didn’t say a word to anyone. He just stood there by himself. A few people glanced up and saw him standing there, but they didn’t invite him into their conversation.

After another minute, Mattis slowly turned and walked back out again.

Alone.

From HOLDING THE LINE: Inside Trump’s Pentagon With Secretary Mattis by Guy M. Snodgrass, Commander, US Navy (Ret.), to be published on October 29th by Sentinel, an imprint of The Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Guy M. Snodgrass

Source

Sept 6, 2019
politico.com
Air Force crew made an odd stop on a routine trip: Trump’s Scottish resort
Now the layover is part of a broader House inquiry into military spending at and around the Trump property.

In early Spring of this year, an Air National Guard crew made a routine trip from the U.S. to Kuwait to deliver supplies.

What wasn’t routine was where the crew stopped along the way: President Donald Trump’s Turnberry resort, about 50 miles outside Glasgow, Scotland.

Since April, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating why the crew on the C-17 military transport plane made the unusual stay — both en route to the Middle East and on the way back — at the luxury waterside resort, according to several people familiar with the incident. But they have yet to receive any answers from the Pentagon.

The inquiry is part of a broader, previously unreported probe into U.S. military expenditures at and around the Trump property in Scotland. According to a letter the panel sent to the Pentagon in June, the military has spent $11 million on fuel at the Prestwick Airport — the closest airport to Trump Turnberry — since October 2017, fuel that would be cheaper if purchased at a U.S. military base. The letter also cites a Guardian report that the airport provided cut-rate rooms and free rounds of golf at Turnberry for U.S. military members.

Taken together, the incidents raise the possibility that the military has helped keep Trump’s Turnberry resort afloat — the property lost $4.5 million in 2017, but revenue went up $3 million in 2018.

“The Defense Department has not produced a single document in this investigation,” said a senior Democratic aide on the oversight panel. “The committee will be forced to consider alternative steps if the Pentagon does not begin complying voluntarily in the coming days.”

On previous trips to the Middle East, the C-17 had landed at U.S. air bases such as Ramstein Air Base in Germany or Naval Station Rota in Spain to refuel, according to one person familiar with the trips. Occasionally the plane stopped in the Azores and once in Sigonella, Italy, both of which have U.S. military sites, the person added.

But on this particular trip, the plane landed in Glasgow — a pitstop the five-man crew had never experienced in their dozens of trips to the Middle East. The location lacked a U.S. base and was dozens of miles away from the crew’s overnight lodging at the Turnberry resort.

Had the crew needed to make a stop in the U.K., Lakenheath Air Base is situated nearby in England. The layover might have been cheaper, too: the military gets billed at a higher rate for fuel at commercial airports.

One crew member was so struck by the choice of hotel — markedly different than the Marriotts and Hiltons the 176th maintenance squadron is used to — that he texted someone close to him and told him about the stay, sending a photo and noting that the crew’s per diem allowance wasn’t enough to cover food and drinks at the ritzy resort.

The revelation that an Air Force mission may have helped line the president’s pockets comes days after Vice President Mike Pence was pressed about his decision to stay at Trump’s property in Doonbeg, Ireland, despite its location hundreds of miles away from his meetings in Dublin. The Oversight Committee is also investigating Pence’s stay at the resort.

Following publication of this story, the Air Force said in a statement Saturday that the C-17 stopover was “not unusual” but acknowledged the service is still investigating the Air Force operations and spending in Scotland.

“Every two and half minutes an Air Force transport aircraft takes off or lands somewhere around the globe. As our aircrews serve on these international airlift missions, they follow strict guidelines on contracting for hotel accommodations and all expenditures of taxpayer dollars,” Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas said in the statement. “In this case, they made reservations through the Defense Travel System and used the closest available and least expensive accommodations to the airfield within the crews’ allowable hotel rates. While we are still reviewing the trip records, we have found nothing that falls outside the guidelines associated with selecting stopover airports on travel routes and hotel accommodations for crew rest.”

The Air Force confirmed that seven crew members stayed at Turnberry en route to Kuwait, but said “it did not appear” that they stayed at the hotel on the way back. There are more than two dozen hotels in and around Prestwick, but the Air Force said Trump Turnberry was the cheapest option available at the time and below the per diem allowance. POLITICO could not independently verify the room rates cited by the Air Force.

The Pentagon has yet to respond publicly to the broader questions posed by the House oversight panel in its detailed letter to then-Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan in June. A spokesman told POLITICO Saturday that it will take some time to respond to the broader allegations.

Accusations that Trump’s properties are unfairly profiting off of his administration have dogged the president since entering office. Ethics officials and lawmakers have raised concerns about foreign officials staying at Trump hotels, and noted that Trump supporters and industry groups regularly throw bashes at Trump-owned locations. Trump is also considering hosting next year’s Group of Seven gathering of world leaders at his Doral resort in Florida, a potential financial boon for the property, and has previously stayed at the Turnberry property.

But the potential involvement of the military takes the issue to a different level.

A senior Air Force official who was previously stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska — where the C-17 crew was based — said choosing to refuel in Glasgow and stay at a posh property a half hour away would be unusual for such a mission. Typically, the official said, air crews stay on a military base while in transit or at nearby lodgings “unless all the hotels are booked or there is a Scottish sheep festival going on.”

The official, who was not aware of the specific allegations, also said that the mid-level officers or senior enlisted airmen commonly responsible for identifying lodging for the personnel are notoriously frugal and try to stay where their government allowance covers the costs.

“Master sergeants are cheap,” he said.

Several weeks after being alerted to the curious overnight stop, the Oversight Committee wrote a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan asking for documents related to Defense Department expenditures at Trump Turnberry and the nearby Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

The letter, signed by signed by House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), notes that U.S. military expenditures at the airport “appear to have increased substantially since the election.”

Prestwick Airport has long been debt-ridden. The Scottish government bought it in 2013 for £1, but it has continued to lose money in the years since. In June, the government announced its intent to sell the airport, which the panel’s letter described as “integral” to the success of the Turnberry property, 30 miles away.

Because of that, the lawmakers argued that the spending at the airport — in addition to the spending at the Trump property — raises concerns about conflicts of interest and possible violations of the domestic emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government other than his salary. After being elected, Trump chose not to fully divest himself from his business interests, choosing instead to put his holdings in a trust that he can receive money from at any time.

The letter asks the Pentagon for all communications between the Defense and State Departments related to “per diem” allowances in Scotland, as well as “all pre-audit flags related to air crew travel” through the Prestwick Airport and Turnberry resort, “or travel allowances beyond the normal allocations in the Defense Travel System.”   Source

August 24, 2019
thedailybeast.com
Trump White House Accuses NRA of ‘Dick Move’ and Leaks on Gun Messaging

It turns out there are some actual political consequences for a congressman sounding off repeatedly about white supremacy and abortion.

White House officials were left aggrieved this week after what they saw as a rushed attempt by the National Rifle Association to flex its muscle—and box in the president—during the current debate over gun control reform.

The frustration stemmed from a Tuesday phone call held between Donald Trump and longtime NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre. According to early reports, Trump had given LaPierre assurances that he would not be supporting efforts to pass universal background checks legislation. Behind closed doors, White House officials were caught off guard by those early characterizations which—according to three administration officials and a source close to the president—they continue to privately blame on the NRA.

“[In the White House], it was widely seen as a dick move,” one of these officials, who deals regularly with advocacy organizations and gun-lobby envoys, said.

A senior White House official insisted to The Daily Beast on Tuesday night that “the call [between Trump and LaPierre] occurred” but quibbled with the technicalities of what the president did, or didn’t, reportedly take off the table. “The president has not mentioned supporting universal background checks,” the official said. “Meaningful background checks remain on the table.”

As of Friday afternoon, neither Trump nor his senior staff had defined what “meaningful” checks would even entail. But the general consensus in the West Wing was that the NRA, currently embroiled in legal and internal strife, wanted to boost the public perception that it still exerts influence over Trump and the Republican Party, and that it was playing a game of semantics in order to do so.

Trump, who has famously revolted against narratives of being controlled by advisers or outside forces—to the point that he’s temporarily upturned his own administration’s ambitions—has taken notice. Since Tuesday, the president has told some of those close to him that he believes the NRA is trying to show how strong they continue to be, and are playing games with the White House, said a senior administration official who has discussed this with Trump. The official said that the president mentioned this sounding “mild[ly] annoyed,” but did not hear Trump order anything to be done about it.

A spokesperson for the NRA declined to comment citing a “longstanding policy of not discussing the content of private meetings.” The White House did not provide comment as of press time.

The grievances that have sprouted in the wake of the Trump-LaPierre call are just the latest illustration of an increasingly tense relationship between the gun rights lobby and the president that it spent millions of dollars in resources to support. Trump has taken note of the NRA’s current financial struggles, internal turmoil and even criticized its outside counsel. And in the wake of dual mass shootings—one in El Paso, Texas, the other in Dayton, Ohio—he has flirted with the idea of crossing the group in pursuit of more progressive gun control measures.

Trump made similar overtures and demands after past instances of high-profile gun violence—even taunting a Republican lawmaker for being too “afraid” to take on the NRA after the Parkland school massacre last year— only to eventually back away from major legislative reforms. And when reports surfaced that he had given LaPierre assurances that he would not push for universal background checks, it was widely assumed that he was following that familiar pattern. Top Democrats on Capitol Hill predict he still will.

But what stood out about this past week, according to several Democratic congressional offices, was how administration officials moved to urge caution about over-interpreting reports of the LaPierre call.

On Wednesday, Trump said he had made no commitment to LaPierre while still parroting the NRA line that any gun control legislation represents a “slippery slope” to more reforms. Additionally, White House staff held a call with Hill officials to stress that they had not backed away from negotiations.

One source familiar with the discussions told The Daily Beast that the staff gave explicit assurance that the words “universal background checks” did not come up on the LaPierre call. While “universal” background checks are an objective championed by House Democrats, “expanded” background checks are the goal of the most prominent Senate bill: legislation authored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would extend such screenings to private sales such as those that take place at gun shows.

“I’m sure Trump said something to give [LaPierre] the impression everything was cool,” the source said. “But, in general, they felt that the call was not represented accurately in the press. They felt the NRA went out and misrepresented it.”

Despite attempts by the administration to clean up confusion, few people expect major legislation to ultimately result from ongoing talks. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a leading gun control advocate, told reporters on Friday that he put the odds of legislation passing below 50 percent. He also said that extreme risk protection orders (otherwise known as “red flag laws”) were more likely to be the legislative end product than anything dealing with background checks.

But Murphy, who has been in talks with the White House since the LaPierre call, also said that Trump not only hadn’t abandoned negotiations but understood he would ultimately have to break with the NRA for legislation to happen—should he decide he wanted it to.

“The president and the White House has made it clear that they are open to leading on this issue and trying to bring Republicans along with them,” the Senator said. “I believe the White House is still committed to try and work on a comprehensive anti-gun violence proposal that will include strengthening background checks.”   Source

 

August 21, 2019
The Hill
Iceland’s prime minister will not be in town for Pence’s visit

Iceland's prime minister will not be in town for Pence's visit

Iceland Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said she won’t be in town during Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming visit to the country next month due to previous scheduling arrangements she made around the same time.

Jakobsdottir cited the Council of Nordic Trade Unions conference in Malmo, Sweden, where she is scheduled to deliver a keynote address the day before Pence is set to arrive in Iceland, as reason for her absence.

“The fact is that I was very long ago asked to give the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Nordic trades unions movement and, as everybody knows, I have made workplace matters a personal issue,” she said in an interview with Icelandic publication RUV released on Wednesday.

“It is also a fact that this visit that was organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has been bouncing a lot around the calendar so that it has been very difficult to organize oneself around it,” Jakobsdottir continued.

As the local publication notes, Pence is scheduled to discuss the country’s “strategic geographical position in relation to the Arctic” and NATO efforts during the upcoming visit.

When pressed by the publication about whether Jakobsdottir’s decision to skip the coming visit was to rebuff the Trump administration in any way in light of recent tensions that have arisen between Trump and Denmark, Jakobsdottir said, “Absolutely not.”

“On the one hand, we have many projects to attend to. I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, earlier this year and also had a discussion with Donald Trump at the NATO meeting last year,” she continued.

“I can promise everyone that when Mike Pence comes here – and I am working on the assumption that the date is now firm – that he will meet a top-ranking team of Icelandic leaders,” she added.

Tensions between Trump and Denmark emerged earlier this week following reports that Trump had talked about possibly purchasing Greenland.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the idea “absurd,” saying, “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic. I persistently hope that this is not something that is seriously meant.”

In response to Frederiksen’s reaction, Trump canceled a visit he had scheduled to Denmark next month, saying in a tweet on Tuesday: “Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time.”

“The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!” he also tweeted.    Source

July 29, 2019
newyorker.com
Trump’s Message to U.S. Intelligence Officials: Be Loyal or Leave

This past Wednesday, during Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas who was previously a federal prosecutor, accused the former special counsel of illegally smearing President Trump. Ratcliffe demanded to know why Mueller had stated in Volume II of his report—which investigated whether the President had obstructed justice—that, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” His voice rising, Ratcliffe said that the sentence “was not authorized under the law to be written” and violated a “bedrock principle of our justice system.” He urged Americans to ignore the “Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle” who cited it. Fact checkers found Ratcliffe’s claims to be false, but he ended his appearance with a dramatic flourish. “I agree with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not,” Ratcliffe said, his voice rising. “But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”

In a Sunday-morning interview on Fox News, Ratcliffe again demonstrated his support for the President, declaring that “it was a great week for Donald Trump.” The congressman claimed that Mueller did “not have a command” of what was in the report, which, he said, had been written by “Hillary Clinton’s de-facto legal team.” He said that Trump deserved a presumption of innocence, then added, “What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is that it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama Administration.” Ratcliffe then praised an unprecedented review that Attorney General William Barr is conducting of the work of the F.B.I. and key intelligence agencies in the launch of the 2016 Trump-Russia investigation, saying, “Bill Barr has earned my trust already and the trust of the American people.”

Six hours later, Trump nominated Ratcliffe to be the most powerful intelligence official in the country, replacing Dan Coats, who is stepping down as the director of National Intelligence. Sources told the Times that Trump enjoyed watching Ratcliffe aggressively question Mueller, but denied that this was the reason the Texas congressman got the job. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, disagreed, issuing a statement that said, “It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

In any event, the dynamic at work is clear. Coats, a leader of the Republican establishment, repeatedly contradicted Trump regarding the threat posed by Russia, and also publicly questioned Trump’s optimistic assessments of North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and the extent to which isishas been eradicated. A Trump loyalist who echoes the President’s narratives is now set to take Coats’s job.

Most important, Ratcliffe is a full-throated backer of Trump’s practice of trafficking in conspiracy theories for political gain; he has joined the President’s effort to claim that it wasn’t the myriad contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials that led to Mueller investigation but, rather, that the inquiry was part of a “deep state” conspiracy. Ratcliffe has repeatedly claimedthat Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, colluded with Russia and that a cabal of C.I.A. and F.B.I. officials, working with foreign intelligence services, carried out a global conspiracy to entrap Trump aides.

A senior intelligence official recently told me that Barr is personally convinced that there was something nefarious in how the F.B.I. started its investigation in 2016. (The official called the claims of an international plot “preposterous” and pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee found them meritless.) If such a plot existed, it would be the largest intelligence scandal in American history; if the Attorney General has clear evidence of it, he should disclose it publicly.

James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence—one of the officials whom Barr is reportedly investigating—declined to comment on the Attorney General’s probe and said in an e-mail that it is the President’s prerogative to nominate whom he wishes. But he added that the nomination of a Trump loyalist to replace Coats sends a clear message to members of the intelligence community: “Obviously, the President wants someone in this position whose first priority is loyalty to Donald Trump.”

Clapper also expressed concern about the effect that appointing Ratcliffe could have on intelligence officials whose job it is to present apolitical information to policymakers. “I worry about the people in the Intelligence Community, and the impact of being directed to write intelligence analyses that comport with the Presidents’ world view, and not their best judgement as to the facts,” he wrote. “Over time, this could be very dangerous to the country. ‘Truth to power’ is a crucial, rock-bed tenet of US intelligence, and Dan Coats upheld that.”

Senator Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on Ratcliffe. But he, too, warned of the dangers of politicizing intelligence. “We have gotten in trouble in this country in the past when we have cherry-picked intelligence for political purposes or to suit the needs of the President,” he told the Times. “That is the worst thing that can happen.”     Source

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