Inquiries of concern to Trump

More has been revealed about what investigators have found out from the Muller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The more concern Donald Trump shows the more one could wonder why he is so concerned.

Both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have been accused of lying too investigators. Trump claims they have been ‘pressured into lying’ by investigators. But why would they lie?

Bloomberg: Manafort Lied About Contacts With Trump Administration, Mueller Says

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about his efforts to reach someone in the Trump administration this year while he awaited trial and about his contacts with a business associate who had ties to Russian intelligence, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort misled prosecutors in recent debriefings about his communications and a meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, the associate with ties to Russian intelligence, according to a filing Friday in federal court in Washington by Mueller, who is investigating Russia interference in the 2016 campaign.

He also lied to investigators when he told them that he never tried to communicate a message to anyone in the Trump administration this year, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said that they met 12 times with Manafort and that he testified twice to a grand jury, on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Mueller concluded that Manafort had “lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions,” his prosecutors wrote in the 10-page filing, adding that “these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”

Reuters: Cohen Gave Significant Help on Russia Probe, Mueller Team Says

RealClear Politics: Prosecutors Recommend Several Years in Prison for Michael Cohen

Prosecutors offered a vastly different assessment Friday of the president’s former fixer, dismissing him as a duplicitous figure who badly misplayed his hand.

In a court filing ahead of Cohen’s sentencing next week, they assailed him as a greedy opportunist who rode Trump’s coattails to wealth and is now exaggerating his level of cooperation with investigators.

Cohen, 52, is facing the possibility of roughly four years in prison at a sentencing Dec. 12 for crimes that include tax evasion and helping to coordinate hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

In a separate court filing, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office had a more kind view of Cohen’s cooperation, saying he had provided useful information about attempts by Russian intermediaries to influence Trump, as well as other matters.

New York prosecutors said that while Cohen was helpful, he had declined to sign a formal cooperation agreement, which would have required him to confess any other crimes he might have committed. Cohen, they wrote, wasn’t willing to do so. They suggested only a slight reduction in his sentence for his cooperation.

For the first time prosecutors have directly linked trump to arrangements to pay hush money to two women during the campaign.

Reuters:  Prosecutors Name Trump in Hush Payments to Two Women

U.S. prosecutors said on Friday President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to make illegal hush payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, and also detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help the Trump campaign.

The documents turned up the heat on Trump by confirming prosecutors’ belief of his involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016, legal experts said.

“In total, the prosecutors seem to be saying the president was more aware than he has claimed to be,” former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said.

While Cohen implicated the president in the hush payments to two women — adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in his guilty plea in August in New York, the filing on Friday marked the first time federal prosecutors officially concurred.

It said Cohen made the payments in “coordination with and the direction of” Trump.

Last week, Cohen admitted to lying to congressional investigators in an attempt to minimize his efforts to secure the Kremlin’s help for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow. He has said he did so to stay in sync with Trump’s political messaging, and that he consulted with the White House while preparing to testify to Congress.

Mueller said on Friday that Cohen repeated his false statements about the project in his first meeting with Mueller’s office, admitting the truth only in a later meeting in September after he had pleaded guilty to the separate New York charges.

On Friday, Mueller said Cohen’s false statements to Congress had “obscured the fact” that the skyscraper project held the potential to reap “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for the Trump Organization.

The future for both Manafort and Cohen looks a bit bleak. Prison is a big price to pay for trying to protect themselves and Trump.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also claimed that Russia interfered in the election: Rex Tillerson makes rare public appearance in Houston

When asked if he believes that Russia interfered in the presidential elections, Tillerson replied “there’s no question” and that it was well documented by intelligence agencies.

“What Russia wants to do is undermine our confidence and undermine the world’s confidence in us,” Tillerson said.

The relationship between him and Trump became strained after the president grew tired of the former Exxon Mobil CEO telling him that he could not do things the way he wanted.

Tillerson said the two had starkly different styles and did not share a common value system.

“So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law,” Tillerson said.

Trump would get very frustrated when they would have those conversations, he said.

Trump responded in typical fashion:

In the meantime Trump has attacked court decisions he doesn’t like again: Trump condemns ‘disgraceful’ 9th Circuit, dubbing it rubber-stamp for his foes

In lengthy and fiery comments to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday, President Trump excoriated the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as a “disgrace” hours after a federal judge there issued a nationwide injunction against his newly announced emergency restrictions on asylum claims.

One could question Trump’s mental capacity to be President, and whether his attacks on anyone who says something he doesn’t like and his attacks on court decisions he doesn’t like are a disgrace.

Trump successfully worked with a dysfunctional democratic system to become president, but it seems that a democracy with legal checks and balances on power are not something he wants to work with.

Trump does have the power to pardon Manafort (and Cohen but that seems unlikely after Cohen implicated Trump in shady dealings), but if he does that would be just about as bad a look as if Trump tried to interfere with or stop the Mueller investigations.

Trump and the nuclear football

As dysfunction and bizarreness continues in US politics concerns keep surfacing about whether President Trump can be trusted in command of the US nuclear arsenal.

In a recent public spat with Trump Senator Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

NBC News: Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in Nuclear Arsenal, Surprising Military

President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

Tillerson is another who has come into conflict with Trump recently, reportedly calling Trump a moron.

As an aside Trump has threatened to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license over this article.

Ironic claiming that media is bad for the country.

What would happen if Trump rhetoric escalated to the point of pushing the nuclear button?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly, both military men, are seen as potential moderators of trump’s excesses.

Raw Story: GOP official imagines Kelly and Mattis discussed tackling Trump if he ‘lunges for the nuclear football’

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described imagined conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically [restraining] the president” in the event he “[lunges] for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

It is illegal for them to prevent their President from going nuclear.

“That is the kind of situation we’re in,” Sherman added.

Pressed by Hayes to explain the sources’ relationship to—and direct knowledge of—the Trump administration, Sherman explained, “these are the conversation they have, on very good authority, are taking place inside the White House.”

Wikipedia: Nuclear football

The nuclear football (also known as the atomic football, the President’s emergency satchel, the Presidential Emergency Satchel, the button, the black box, or just the football) is a briefcase, the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room. It functions as a mobile hub in the strategic defense system of the United States. It is held by an aide-de-camp.

If the president (who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces) ordered the use of nuclear weapons, they would be taken aside by the “carrier” and the briefcase would be opened. A command signal, or “watch” alert, would then be issued to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president would then review the attack options with the aide and decide on a plan, which could range from a single cruise missile to multiple ICBM launches.

The United States has a two-man rule in place at the nuclear launch facilities, and while only the president can order the release of nuclear weapons, the order must be verified by the Secretary of Defense to be an authentic order given by the president (there is a hierarchy of succession in the event that the president is killed in an attack).

This verification process deals solely with verifying that the order came from the actual President.

The Secretary of Defense has no veto power and must comply with the president’s order.

Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis is the current Secretary of Defense, but he seems to be a lot more sensible and sane than Trump.

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum has pointed out that the operational plan for nuclear strike orders is entirely concerned with the identity of the commanding officer and the authenticity of the order, and there are no safeguards to verify that the person issuing the order is actually sane.

Notably, Major Harold Hering was discharged from the Air Force in late 1973 for asking the question “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” under Richard Nixon

We may never find out what goes on behind closed doors in the presidency. Or all hell could break loose.


When will it be appropriate to challenge Trump’s license to wreak havoc?

Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly keep US from chaos

US Republican senator Bob Corker has said that key officials in the Trump administration are separating the country from chaos.

Fox News: GOP Sen. on WH: Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly ‘Help Separate US From Chaos’

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) appeared to criticize President Trump when asked about a reported feud between the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Earlier Wednesday, both Tillerson and Trump denied the feud, allegations of which gathered steam after a report surfaced that the former Exxon-Mobil CEO privately referred to Trump as a “moron.”

Corker was asked if he spoke to Tillerson recently, replying that he won’t comment on private conversations.

“I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis, and Chief of Staff [John] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos,” Corker added.

There’s an obvious implication there.

Two of those three also feature in this report from the Washington Examiner: Tillerson, Mattis, Mnuchin forge ‘suicide pact’ in the event Trump wants one of them gone

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly have forged a “suicide pact” in which all three members of President Trump’s Cabinet would leave if one of them becomes a target of the president.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly have forged a “suicide pact” in which all three members of President Trump’s Cabinet would leave if one of them becomes a target of the president.

A U.S. official told BuzzFeed that Tillerson would likely remain in the administration because of his agreement with Mnuchin and Mattis.

Tillerson sought to quiet any rumors about an impending resignation Wednesday morning, saying he has never considered leaving his post.

Tillerson denied threatening to resign but avoided denying calling Trump a moron.

Politico: Tillerson’s future still hazy despite Trump oath

The secretary of state’s denial of a resignation report doesn’t dispel the image of a man unhappy and ill at ease with the president he serves.

For most of his eight months on the job, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has endured rumors that he might soon quit it. On Wednesday, he finally fought back.

Within hours of an NBC News report that he had nearly resigned this summer after allegedly calling President Donald Trump a “moron,” Tillerson held a news conference to insist that he has “never considered” leaving his post.

The original report sent Trump into a fury this morning, a White House official said, and Tillerson moved with corporate efficiency to tamp it down.

While Trump was expressing “total confidence” in Tillerson by midafternoon, the episode further complicated perhaps the most fraught relationship between a president and a secretary of state ever seen.

But nothing about Wednesday’s events will dispel the image of Tillerson as a man unhappy and ill at ease with the president he serves — both in substance and in style.

Asked about Tillerson’s performance, Eliot Cohen, a former counselor to Rice’s State Department and one of the president’s harshest Republican critics, called it “pathetic, servile and, above all, unconvincing.”

Others doubted the sincerity of his denial that he has considered stepping into a life of retirement, as he had originally planned before Trump called last winter.

In many ways, Tillerson embodies the moderate Republican establishment against which Trump campaigned.

It is moderate Republican establishment that is holding together a very shaky administration.

Tillerson, a political newcomer who faced one of the most contentious Senate confirmation hearings in recent history, said in the past that he was hesitant to accept the position of secretary of state and had been looking forward to retirement before it was offered.

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review in March. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

As long as his wife keeps telling him to do it the US administration might be kept separated from chaos.


UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites

U.S. intelligence officials have alleged that the UAE at least orchestrated hacking of Qatari Government websites to post false quotes that were then used to justify major sanctions against Qatar.

Washington Post: UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Post article was “false.”

“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article,” the statement said. “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

The US were in a difficult position. They have their main Middle East military base in Qatar.

The conflict has also exposed sharp differences between Trump — who has clearly taken the Saudi and UAE side in a series of tweets and statements — and Tillerson, who has urged compromise and spent most of last week in shuttle diplomacy among the regional capitals that has been unsuccessful so far.

“We don’t expect any near-term resolution,” Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said Saturday.

The claim of UAE orchestrated hacking probably won’t help achieve a resolution.

‘De-escalation’ agreement in part of Syria

Perhaps not coincidental to the Trump-Putin G20 summit in Hamburg:

Associated Press:  US, Russia reach deal on Syria cease-fire

The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three U.S. officials said Friday as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war. Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria’s civil war spilling over the border.

This could be significant,and it could be a breakthrough, but note that that is just in one corner of Syria, the furthest corner from Iran and Turkey and the Kurds.

The deal is separate from an agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran struck earlier this year to try to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria where violence would be reduced. The U.S., wary of Iran’s involvement, was not a part of that deal. Follow-up talks this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, failed to reach agreement on how to finalize a cease-fire in those zones.

Previous cease-fires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would be any better.

So it may be a significant cease in hostilities, or it may be a symbolic signal to the G20 summit that is as ineffective as previous attempts top sort out Syria.

Implications for Syria aside, the deal marks the biggest diplomatic achievement for the U.S. and Russia since Trump took office. Trump’s administration has approached the notoriously strained relationship by trying to identify a few limited issues on which the countries could make progress, thereby building trust for a broader repair of ties.

For years, the U.S. and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

Things are very complicated in Syria, and also in the US-Russian relationship.

More US sanctions against Russia

The US Senate has voted in favour of strengthening sanctions against Russia “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” said Republicans and Democrats on the committees.

ABC News: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson stopped short of registering his opposition to a new package of Russia sanctions the GOP-led Senate is considering in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Top lawmakers on two Senate committees — Banking and Foreign Relations — announced the sanctions deal amid the firestorm over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian actors, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.

Penalties also would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.

A procedural vote on the Russia sanctions is expected Wednesday, and the measure is expected to get strong bipartisan support.

House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign, with testimony scheduled Tuesday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

So both Congress and the Senate are continuing investigations, strengthening sanctions, and making it harder for President Trump to “ease or end current penalties”.

And today (Tuesday US time) Sessions to face tough questions at public Senate hearing, in next round of Russia probe:

The Senate’s Russia probe will hit a new level of intensity Tuesday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions becomes the highest-ranking official to testify – in what Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirmed will be an open hearing, in the spirit of last week’s dramatic session with James Comey.

The circumstances are different for Sessions’ appearance. While Comey was a witness scorned by President Trump and ready to dish on the leader who fired him, Sessions remains the top law enforcement official in the country, working for Trump’s administration.

But lawmakers – particularly Democrats – are preparing tough questions for Sessions both about Russia’s contact with Trump campaign associates and the circumstances of Comey’s firing.

Also from Fox News:  Mueller’s lawyer build-up raises flags for Trump allies

Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be building out his investigative team with some of the country’s best legal minds, in a development that speaks to the seriousness of the Russia probe but also is raising red flags on the pro-Trump side.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, citing the hires, said “they’re setting up to go after Trump.”

“This is going to be a witch hunt,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Not all Republicans feel that way, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that Mueller just “wants to get to the truth.”

But recent hires show Mueller is building a formidable team, poised to either root out wrongdoing or prove the Trump team’s claims that there’s no ‘there there.’

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney fired by Trump along with dozens of other holdover prosecutors earlier this year, tweeted that Dreeben is “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.”

However, Bharara said Dreeben’s “loyalty is to the Constitution alone” and Mueller is looking to find the truth, apply the law “and yield a just result. Charge or no charge.”

It is important for the integrity of the US political system that as much of the truth is discovered as possible, charge or no charge.

Little versus Tillerson

Andrew Little seems to have played to his base with comments about his meeting with US secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

From Newshub:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives for high-level talks

Andrew Little expressed concern about Trump’s “wacky” behaviour 

Labour leader Andrew Little raised concern about President Donald Trump’s behaviour when he met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier on Tuesday.

“If you value the relationship with the US, as I think New Zealanders do, I think it is right to say you know what – right now you’ve got a President that is kind of doing some weird stuff and this is not right,” Mr Little said.

“I don’t know what the Prime Minister is seeing and hearing from New Zealanders, every New Zealander I talk to expresses concern and sometimes alarm about the conduct of the US President.

I think it is right when the Secretary of State is in town to let the Secretary of State know that that’s how New Zealanders see a country that we regard as a good friend and an important friend.”

Mr Little also raised concern about Mr Trump’s tweets.

“When the United States President speaks, no matter what the medium, no matter what the forum, it’s important,” Mr Little said.

“When it’s kind of pretty wacky, and out there, and repeatedly so after several months I think we are entitled to not only take an interest in it but to express concern about it.”

When asked about Mr Trump’s tweets to Sadiq Khan, Mr Little had seen them and was surprised that the Prime Minister had not.

“I think they were clumsy and ham-fisted, he clearly misunderstood what Sadiq Khan had said. But that unfortunately can be said about many of Donald Trump’s tweets, including his one about covfefe,” Mr Little said.

If Little becomes Prime Minister he may have to learn how to interact with officials from major allies, focussing on things that matter, building relationships no matter who is the president, and perhaps being a bit more circumspect than “it’s kind of pretty wacky, and out there”.

If Little does become leader of New Zealand he will learn that the job is quite different to pandering to a partisan crowd on social media.

Tillerson in New Zealand

There was nothing dramatic about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand yesterday. There were some protests against him and the US but Tillerson is not Trump, and regardless of who is in power in the US New Zealand has to maintain relations with them..

NZ Herald:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: US not giving up on NZ, Pacific

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has dismissed New Zealand’s concerns about its future role in the Asia-Pacific and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, saying it reflected the will of the American people.

Prime Minister Bill English raised New Zealand’s disagreement about the decision to withdraw from the climate change accord in a meeting with Tillerson on Tuesday.

Tillerson was in New Zealand as an add-on to his trip to Australia, meeting with English and Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee at Premier House before jetting out again five hours after he landed.

He is the first senior member of the US Administration to visit New Zealand and US media travelling with him reported people in Wellington gave the one-finger salute at his motorcade in an apparent show of disgust over the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

He said there was no suggestion the US was stepping away from such issues, trying to isolate itself or giving up on the Asia-Pacific, pointing to recent visits to the region by US Vice-President Mike Pence and Defence Secretary Mattis.

“One of the reasons I’m in the region … is to reaffirm to everyone that the United States views this region of the world as extremely important to both our national security interest and our own economic and prosperity interests.

“I think you can expect to see an elevated level of engagement to that you saw over the past eight years.”

NZ Herald:  Top US diplomat reassures English that engagement will increase

Tillerson defended Trump from a New Zealand reporter’s description of him as “unpredictable” in relation to the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and from the Paris Accord on climate change.

But Tillerson did not defend the indefensible: Trump’s tweet criticising London mayor Sadiq Khan for warning citizens there would be extra police on the streets because of the terrorist threat and not to be alarmed.

I think that it was a bit silly asking Tillerson about controlling Trump’s tweeting. But Trump’s very public interactions mist be a headache for the Secretary of State.

It was an illustration of the impossible mission for Trump’s foreign-focused Cabinet members, Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis – for every step forward they make in reassuring friends and allies that the US has not gone gaga, it is two tweets back.

But there was serious business to discuss as well.

English welcomed the Tillerson visit and his reassurances as though he had ridden in on a white charger.

With only five visits to New Zealand in the past 20 years, more often than not Secretaries of State have taken the short-cut home after a visit to Australia.

The fact that Tillerson made the visit to New Zealand so early in his term is evidence of what he said at his press conference – that the US intends to elevate its presence in the region.

NZ Herald:  Fact or fiction: Tillerson on the United States’ ‘unparalleled’ climate change record

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his country’s record on climate change during a whistle-stop visit to Wellington today.

“The United States has an extraordinary record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, possibly unparalleled by anyone else.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions are at levels that were last seen in the 1990s.

“That’s been done with 50 million more energy consumers that we had in the 1990s, with an economy that’s twice as large.”

Fact or fiction?

Environmental Protection Agency records show that US greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 were 3.5 per cent higher than in 1990.

They were 6.7 per cent lower in 2015 than the highest point in the 1990s, in 1999.

The US population actually grew by closer to 76 million people over this period, going from 249 million in 1990 to 325 million in 2017 – an increase of 30.5 per cent. Its GDP nearly doubled from $8.9 trillion to $16.8 trillion.

So Tillerson’s statement that US emissions were now at “1990 levels” despite large demographic and economic growth stacks up.

However, his claim that the US record on reducing emissions is “unparalleled” is not as accurate.

English and Brownlee played things straight and diplomatic with Tillerson, as they must.



Futile protest against US climate stance

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis are visiting New Zealand briefly on Tuesday following their visit to Australia.

Stuff: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand next week ‘a big deal’

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Wellington next week, in what’s being called a major show of American interest in the Asia-Pacific region and “big deal” for New Zealand.

Tillerson will meet Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee in Wellington on Tuesday.

Brownlee said meetings would be held to discuss “some of the world’s most pressing issues and to further promote our economic ties”.

Observers said regional stability, counter-terrorism, and military commitments in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan would be discussed, as would trade issues including the afflicted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This is the first major visit from the US since Donald Trump became president in January. The meeting will apparently be for about three hours so there isn’t much time to cover a lot of things.

Brownlee was interviewed on The Nation on Saturday and was asked what would be dealt with:

Well, given you’ve got a short window of opportunity, what’s going to be your number one priority for that meeting?

Well, look, a lot of that discussion will be organised over the next couple of days as we head towards that meeting, but we’ll obviously want to canvass trading relations. We’ll reaffirm the various commitments that we have internationally toward the defeat of terrorism. And I’d also expect that, given the current, or most recent, decision from the US, that there will be some discussion about relative positions on climate change. But in the end, it is the trading relationship but also the people-to-people relationship with the United States, including our involvement in the Antarctic, for example, that are pretty important to us.

Okay, well, on that note, the Prime Minister has expressed some concern that Washington might be a little bit distracted by Trump’s unpredictability and that the nature of that president may be distracting them from things like economic stability and trade and economic growth in the region. Are you going to raise that with Rex Tillerson?

I don’t think we’ll be raising the issues of US political stability. That’s something for the US, not for New Zealand, to comment on.

That was a silly question.

Well, Donald Trump said that he was keeping the faith with the people that had elected him when he pulled out of the Paris Accord this week. Was that the right decision – for him to pull the pin on that?

Well, I can’t comment on what was right or wrong for Mr Trump. What I can say is that the door has been left a little bit open about, perhaps, their rejoining. And I think when you consider that the Paris Agreement’s signed up to by 194 countries, 147 countries have ratified that agreement, and then, of course, the G7 most recently reaffirmed their position as far as climate change is concerned.

But the thing is the US pulling out of it—

So I think the door’s not totally closed.

But do you really think he’s going to come back into the fold on this?

Well, I’m not going to comment on that, because I think the situation domestically in the US is something for Mr Trump to deal with.

That’s correct, it is something for the US to deal with, they know we remain in the Paris Accord along with just about all the rest of the world but there’s just about nothing we can say that would impact on Trump’s decisions.

Both Tillerson and Mattis are on record as acknowledging the problems and risks associated with climate change so there’s not much we can say to them about it, and especially there’s unlikely to be anything we can say that would affect anything.

But the Greens want us to do more. James Shaw: PM must confront US with impact of climate decision

The Green Party is calling on the Prime Minister to invite Pacific Island ambassadors to meet with the US Secretary of State next week so they can explain first-hand the consequences of the US decision to withdraw from the Climate Agreement.

The call comes ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand on Tuesday, and following the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Confronting Tillerson will be futile regarding the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, and it would be likely to be counter productive to building a good relationship with Tillerson, Mattis and the US.

Andrew Little: English must give strong message to US Secretary of State on climate change

Prime Minister Bill English must voice New Zealand’s concerns in the strongest possible terms when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Wellington next week following President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

“This decision is a huge setback for the international efforts to turn back global warming. After years of negotiation, the Paris Accord marked a more hopeful approach to the whole issue of climate change with 195 nations signing up.

“Bill English must take a strong stand next week and ensure Rex Tillerson knows the damage that’s been caused to the international campaign by the USA’s withdrawal.

“We can’t now let the USA water down the Paris Accord. Mr Tillerson must be reminded that the world can only combat climate change together and that New Zealand stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations which have embraced the challenge.

We can’t ‘let’ the US do anything, they make their own decisions and we don’t get a say. We can’t stop the US from choosing to withdraw, that is their decision.

“Bill English must take a strong stand next week and ensure Rex Tillerson knows the damage that’s been caused to the international campaign by the USA’s withdrawal.

I’m sure Tillerson is already well aware of the potential consequences of Trump’s intention to withdraw the US. There’s nothing we can do apart from stress our continued commitment to the Paris Accord. There’s no stand we can take.

Anthony Robins takes Labour’s ‘stand’ thing further in Once upon a time:

Once upon a time this country stood up to America and said no to nuclear weapons. Now we dare not say yes to saving the planet.

There’s hardly anything similar about New Zealand’s popular anti-nuclear stand against the US. The US withdrawal from the Paris Accord is their decision and has virtually nothing to do with New Zealand.

We can disagree with Trump’s climate stance, but there’s little else we can do about their Paris Accord decision.

It is New Zealand’s choice whether to remain in the Paris Accord or not, and there is no indication our position on that will change – and the US doesn’t appear to be doing anything to try to make us change either.

The Nation – bed tax, Tillerson and candidates

A follow up from Labour’s no show on The Nation last week:

On The Nation’s “bias”, I’ve also heard that Labour spindoctors are briefing journalists against Lisa Owen. Esp after previous Twyford iv.

On The Nation this morning:

talks to Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee on next week’s visit by Rex Tillerson, the NZ-US relationship,

Odd talking about this before Tillerson gets here unless it’s trying to promote an agenda.

Brownlee says they want to talk to Tillerson about prospects for the TPP.

On whether he’ll bring up Trump’s unpredictability: “I don’t think we’ll be raising issues of US political stability.”

Brownlee can’t comment on what is right or wrong for Trump over the Paris climate agreement, but reiterated wide support for the agreement still.

Owen tries to get Brownlee to admit to some sympathy for the view that many claims about climate change are made up. Instead he supports the main science and concerns – “”The world’s never seen anything like this before”.

He predicts many businesses in the US will stick with what they’re already doing to reduce carbon emissions.

Is Trump being wilfully ignorant re climate change? “He’s made a promise to US voters and sticking to it.”

Brownlee says discussions with Israel are “ongoing”.

Would Brownlee give up his portfolio to aid coalition negotiations? He says it’s up to the voters. It was

And we’ll meet some of the new faces running for Parliament

Some lucky candidates get selected for free promotion.

A good discussion, Shane Taurima (Maori Party, ex-Labour) going hammer and tongs with Kiri Allan (Labour). Taurima looks capable, Allan struggled to impress.

Nicola Willis came across well and is well informed.

was left in the middle of the crossfire for the first half and struggled to find her feet when finally given a say, but was good when speaking about something up her alley, the right of prisoners to vote.

talks to about his budget, the so-called bed tax and how Akl is going to pay for all that infrastructure

Goff says council’s legal advice indicates they’re on “very firm ground” re bed tax for hotels.

He says the budget has $2 billion on infrastructure, 40% of that on transport. The transport funding shortfall is as big as $7 billion because of higher than predicted population growth. “Lisa Owen suggests there’s a $4b shortfall for Akl transport – Goff says it’s actually $7b! Pressuring Govt to stump up cash”.

Goff says there’ll be an announcement next week on road pricing… he says it’ll be good news in the long term.

Goff actually came across very well generally, he may be better suited to being mayor than an MP, and especially than a party leader.