Denials as Trump train wreck continues

When quotes from ‘White House sources’ were published in advance of the public release of from Bob Woodward’s book on Donald Trump there were some denials from those claimed to have said to have provided quotes (Woodward claims to have recordings of all his sources).

Following the New York Times publishing of an anonymous op-ed by a ‘senior White House official’ – see The White House ‘resistance’ and what the hell is happening – there have been a number of inevitable public denials from senior White House officials.

New York Times: It Wasn’t Me: Pence, Pompeo, Mattis and Mnuchin Deny Writing Anonymous Op-Ed

A day after a senior administration official described President Trump as amoral, impetuous, petty and ineffective in an anonymous essay, the denials from the upper echelon of the administration started to roll in.

The mystery writer is not Vice President Mike Pence, a spokesman said Thursday. “Our office is above such amateur acts,” the vice president’s spokesman, Jarrod Agen, said

“It is not mine,” Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said.

“Patently false,” said Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, responding to rumors that he or his principal deputy wrote the piece. “We did not.”

Press officers for the secretaries of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development also issued denials on behalf of their bosses.

They will feel bound by principles of journalism to publish these denials, but a few at the NY Times knows who it is.

The author, whose identity is known to The Times editorial page but was not shared with the reporters who cover the White House, describes him or herself as one of many senior officials in the Trump administration who are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Predictably Trump has tweeted on it.

Typical bluster and attempted diversion by attacking NYT, but he has attacked the media so many times because he hasn’t liked what they say about him it comes across as wailing wolf, again.

Bloomberg: Pence’s Office Says He Didn’t Write the Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed

Mike Pence’s office said the vice president wasn’t the author of an anonymous New York Times op-ed claiming key administration officials were secretly working against President Donald Trump, calling the article false and “gutless,” as Trump demanded the paper reveal the writer’s identity.

The denial by Pence came as other Republicans, notably Trump’s Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio, came to the president’s defence and said the writer should have resigned before making the accusations.

Fair call – if Trump is as bad as the editorial writer suggests (and Bob Woodward’s book suggests) then it should be untenable for them to work there.

However given the attack they would have faced from Trump and others it is perhaps justifiable to keep their identity out of it in the short term. It seems inevitable their identity will become known anyway, probably soon.

“America has one duly elected president. Anybody serving at his pleasure should do so faithfully,” Rubio said in a Twitter posting. “When they feel they no longer can, they should resign & speak in their own name so the country can evaluate their insights with a full understanding of where they are coming from.”

On Wednesday evening, before demanding that the Times unmask the writer, Trump tweeted one word: “TREASON?”

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” he said in tweet early Thursday. “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

That is playing to the conspiracy theory crowd, but it is unlikely to convince others that he is of sound mind.

And in other news yesterday: Kim Kardashian West visits White House to discuss clemency reform

Does she qualify as a senior White House official?

One thing is indisputable – something highly unusual is going on with Trump’s presidency. If Woodward’s book  and the op-ed are coincidental it suggests major problems, and if they were coordinated it also suggests major problems.

Trump’s secret deals (or no deals)

No one seems to know what sort of deals Donald trump may have made with North Korea or Russia.

Fox News: Lawmakers struggle to decode Trump’s ‘secret’ to deal with Russia, North Korea

It’s unclear if the Trump Administration has a “secret plan” to deal with Russia or North Korea. But whatever the circumstances, it’s still secret after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about President Trump’s meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the status of North Korean denuclearization. Try as they may, senators weren’t able to exhume much information from Pompeo about what went down in Helsinki or the state of play with Pyongyang.

“I’m afraid that at this point, the United States, the Trump Administration is being taken for a ride,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

“Fear not, senator. Fear not,” advised Pompeo.

But there was “fear.” Senators wondered if the President agreed to something in secret with foreign leaders and if even Pompeo was cut out of the loop.

“It’s not for me to disclose the contents of those conversations,” said Pompeo when asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., about what was said in Finland regarding Russia’s role in Syria.

“I’d prefer not to answer questions about the nature of our negotiations,” said Pompeo when Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked about North Korea.

Lawmakers of both parties struggle to make sense of what policies the Trump administration holds by the hour.

Trump created more confusion than normal after his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, changing a ‘would’ to ‘wouldn’t’ after widespread concern was expressed.

Pompeo create his own confusion:

“We focus on words from the President because our allies and our adversaries listen to those words and they calibrate their actions based upon those words,” observed Murphy.

Murphy asked whether the President’s statements constituted U.S. policy, specifically when Mr. Trump suggested the U.S. might not assist Montenegro, despite a NATO treaty which states otherwise.

“I think the President’s been unambiguously clear,” said Pompeo.

Yeah, all the time. He makes a thing of being clearly unclear. Or is that unclearly clear?

A moment later, Murphy suggested that “policies are statements and statements are policies.”

“No, that’s not true,” responded Pompeo. “I make lots of statements. They’re not U.S. policy. The President says things.”

“How do I know the difference between a presidential statement that is not a policy and statement that is?” asked Murphy.

But later in the hearing, Pompeo asked if he could “clean that up.”

“I misspoke there,” said Pompeo. “The President runs this government. His statements are in fact U.S. policy.”

It is becoming a secretive, misspoken presidency.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., waited until midway through the hearing to press Pompeo on this point. Corker told the Secretary that “much of what you are hearing today has nothing whatsoever to do with you.”

“It’s the President that causes people to have concerns,” said Corker.

“Why does he do those things? I mean, is there some strategy behind creating doubt in U.S. senator’s minds on both sides of the aisle? Doubt in the American people as to what his motivations are?” asked Corker.

That’s from a senior Republican politician.

Senators of both parties failed to pierce Pompeo’s armor and learn anything at all about Singapore or Helsinki.

That could be because Trump also keeps his deals secret from his Secretary of State. I hope he knows what his deals are.

USA versus Iran – big dicks with nukes

Hopefully this is just posturing, but there is a serious risk that one day brash posturing and threats could escalate into a real war.

Reuters: Trump warns Iran to ‘never, ever threaten’ U.S. or suffer consequences

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani:

Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats earlier on Sunday, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” according to a report by the state new agency IRNA.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Rouhani also scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway.

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

In a speech late on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…

…denounced Iran’s leaders as a “mafia” and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.

A late night tweet:

Just what the world doesn’t need, big dicks with nukes.

 

North Korean denuclearisation talks with US Secretary of State – “regrettable”

After a meeting in North Korea with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commitments for denuclearisation look shaky.

Reuters:  North Korea says resolve for denuclearisation may falter after talks with U.S.

North Korea said on Saturday its “firm, steadfast” resolve to give up its nuclear programs may falter after the United States demanded unilateral denuclearisation during two days of talks in Pyongyang, state media said.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said the result of talks with the delegation headed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was “extremely troubling,” accusing it of insisting on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.

Fox News: North Korea says denuclearization talks with Pompeo ‘regrettable’:

North Korea on Saturday accused the U.S. of undermining the spirit of last month’s summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un after what it says were “regrettable” talks with a delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, accusing the U.S. of trying to unilaterally pressure the country into abandoning its nuclear weapons, came shortly after Pompeo’s delegation left the country.

“We had expected that the U.S. side would offer constructive measures that would help build trust based on the spirit of the leaders’ summit … we were also thinking about providing reciprocal measures,” Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

“However, the attitude and stance the United States showed in the first high-level meeting (between the countries) was no doubt regrettable,” the spokesman said.

Pompeo seemed to think things had gone well, or at least that’s what he claimed.

Pompeo had struck a different tone, telling reporters as he left that the talks with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol had been “productive.”

“We had many hours of productive conversations,” he said. “These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues. Some places a great deal of progress. Other places, there’s still more work to be done.”

I doubt that many people will be surprised with difficulties in progress towards Korean denuclearisation.

It looks like more negotiation  will be required, if not more threats and bluster.

North Korea far from a done deal

The celebrations about peace and harmony in Korea was a bit premature.

On May 9th, Trump was asked if he thought that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because of his North Korea diplomacy. “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it”.

North and South Korea have been working together despite Trump’s undiplomatic approach, although the US has contributed through the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was trying to set up the May meeting between Trump and Kim Yong Un.

But Kim may have thrown a spanner in the works. Nobel may have to put their considerations on hold.

New Yorker: Just How Fragile Is Trump’s North Korea Diplomacy?

The new diplomacy is still fragile. In a surprise announcement, North Korea indefinitely suspended the second round of talks between senior officials from the two Koreas—due to be held at the D.M.Z. on Wednesday. It blamed joint military exercises between South Korean and U.S. military forces. Pyongyang viewed the operation as “a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea’s state-run Central News Agency reported.

The Trump Administration was totally blindsided by the move, just five days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from his second round of talks with Kim to prepare for the Trump summit. Kim had even told Pompeo that he understood the “need and utility” of continued exercises between two countries with which North Korea is still technically at war, the State Department told reporters. The White House scrambled to clarify and respond.

The impending summit was technically designed to discuss “denuclearization”—a term first used, in 1992, to get around talk of “disarmament,” which North Korea feared would make it sound more vulnerable in a volatile neighborhood. Over the weekend, however, the Trump Administration declared that more than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal will be negotiated in Singapore.

“Denuclearization is absolutely at the core of it, and it means not just the nuclear weapons,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, told ABC on Sunday. “North Korea’s previously agreed, several times, in fact, to give up its uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing capabilities. We’ve got the ballistic-missile issues on the table. We’ve got to look at chemical and biological weapons.”

After their meeting last week, Pompeo said that Kim fully understood that the U.S. goal is complete denuclearization. In public, however, North Korea has been ambiguous, at best.

South Koreans know that the Singapore summit is the riskiest U.S. initiative ever undertaken.

And premature celebrations and accolades added to the risks.

In Seoul and along the D.M.Z., South Koreans—both supporters and skeptics of the new diplomacy—told me that they don’t care much about Trump’s motive, as long as it refocusses his energies through the rest of his Presidency. Just six months ago, inflammatory rhetoric threatened to end a truce that has been in place since 1953.

The noisy belligerence produced drastic predictions of a conflagration far costlier than the first Korean War. It could easily produce a quarter-million deaths in Seoul—a city of ten million people just ninety minutes from the D.M.Z.—and a million casualties in all of South Korea, military experts told me. North Korea would almost certainly be harder hit.

The risks of it all turning to custard must still be high, especially if the US pushes too hard and keeps making tough talk public statements.

Another complication is the US walking out of the Iran deal. North Korea would be justified in being sceptical of the strength of any deal with the US – and with Trump, who has dumped on other US deals as well, like the TPPA and NAFTA.

For now, all’s quiet on the northern front. My first stop near the D.M.Z. was an amusement park at the edge of the restricted area that offered kiddie rides. A small shopping mall had a Popeyes and a Sam’s Bagels as well as Korean food outlets. South Korean families were out enjoying the spring sunshine and the tentative peace. At souvenir shops, I bought kitsch D.M.Z. T-shirts and framed pieces of barbed wire cut from the frontier, reminiscent of scraps once sold of the Berlin Wall.

One of my final stops was at the observation post near Paju, where some of the fiercest battles of the Korean War raged. I peered through big binoculars, grounded on posts, at spooky Peace Village, on the other side of the D.M.Z. It’s often referred to as Propaganda Village. It appeared modern, with concrete apartment blocks and buildings and roads. But it is reportedly a shell that provides an illusion of life—largely motionless, like the nearby statue of the country’s first leader.

The sign atop the observation post declared “End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.”

As I left, I thought how it will take big and bold and tangible diplomacy by the American and Korean leaders—a lot more than turning off the propaganda loudspeakers or blowing up a tunnel of doubtful use—to really insure that the D.M.Z. is permanently silent.

It may also take a rethink of Trump/US diplomacy, or lack thereof.

As well as a rethink of what may be worth of a Nobel Peace prize.

 

Russian interference in Us elections is longstanding and continues

CIA head Mike Pompeo says that Russia has tried to interfere in US elections for a long time and that continues. The investigations into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign, and separately Clinton’s campaign, in the 2016 election are ongoing.

Reuters: CIA’s Pompeo says Russia and others trying to undermine U.S. elections

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency said on Sunday that Russia and others are trying to undermine elections in the United States, the next major one being in November when Republicans will try to keep control of Congress.

Moscow denies any meddling in the 2016 elections to help Republican Trump win. U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether any crimes were committed.

It goes further than criminal activity though. No country should be intefering in another country’s elections – something both Russia and the US have been guilty of for a long time.

Trump has at times suggested that he accepts the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia sought to interfere in the election but at other times has said he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Moscow meddled.

What Trump says at any time seems to depend on his mood at the time or what issue he is trying to promote or divert from.

Pompeo told CBS that the CIA had an important function as a part of the national security team to keep U.S. elections secure and democratic. “We are working diligently to do that. So we’re going to work against the Russians or any others who threaten that very outcome,” he said.

And CIA and FBI investigations should be independent of the President or of political parties.

Parallel to this: Senate’s Trump-Russia probe not close to ending

The Senate Intelligence Committee probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is nowhere near over, as lawmakers probe issues including a June 2016 meeting between top aides to then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and a Russian lawyer, the panel’s top Democrat indicated on Friday.

Senator Mark Warner said committee staff have interviewed everyone at the meeting, where President Trump’s son Donald Jr. expected to be given derogatory information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, with the exception of “one or two individuals who are Russian.”

“But I feel very strongly that you can‘t, you could never conclude without the senators themselves being able to talk to the principals involved,” Warner said. “We have not gotten there yet.”

Warner, in an interview with Reuters, said the Senate investigation has made progress on several fronts.

It has, he said, “re-validated” a Jan. 6, 2017, U.S. intelligence assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential election, with the goal of undermining Americans’ trust in their institutions and denigrating Clinton.

In an effort that has been “frustratingly slow,” Warner said, the investigation also prompted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to warn 21 U.S. states whose election systems were the subject of tampering attempts by Moscow.

Warner and fellow Democrats have worked closely with the Senate panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr.

In the interview, Warner repeated a warning that he made in a Dec. 20 Senate floor speech that any move by Trump aimed at firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller would provoke a “constitutional crisis.”

Warner said his concern that Trump might take a step to dismiss Mueller was confirmed by news reports on Thursday detailing steps the president reportedly took to blunt the Russia investigation.