President Trump is a better dealbreaker than dealmaker

On Thursday morning, Trump called off the North Korea summit, “writing in a testy letter to Kim that he was cancelling the meeting, ‘based on the tremendous anger and hostility displayed in your most recent statement.’ The blame game, it seemed, had already begun.”

From The New Yorker:

Even before the collapse of the North Korea negotiations, it was clear that this week was not going to do much for Trump’s vaunted self-image as a dealmaker. Not only were the prospects for the Kim meeting in doubt, there were setbacks regarding Trump’s two other top priorities: China and Iran.

On Monday morning, after a weekend of negotiations with China, Trump appeared to be abruptly backing off his threat to launch a trade war with Beijing, without winning any major concessions. “It’s absolutely stunning how we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a huge proponent of Trump’s earlier strategy of confrontation, told the Times. “Sadly China is out-negotiating the administration & winning the trade talks right now,” the Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, a free-trader whose views are generally the opposite of Bannon’s, tweeted on Tuesday. By Wednesday evening, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, rushed up to the Capitol for an emergency session with a half-dozen unhappy Republican senators. The attendees were mad at Trump, but for different reasons than Bannon. They pressed for an explanation as to why, exactly, Trump seemed to be granting concessions to a Chinese telecom company, ZTE, that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions that prevent it from buying American components. The answer appeared to be a personal, direct request to Trump from the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, amid the broader talks over Trump’s threat of sweeping trade tariffs. That explanation, though, failed to appease the senators. An attendee at the meeting told me later that he anticipated there could be more than seventy votes in the Senate to block Trump legislatively on the matter. This is not generally what winning looks like.

On Iran, meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rolled out on Monday what the White House billed as “our new Iran strategy.” Pompeo called for a sweeping new accord that Iran and the Europeans would somehow agree to after Trump blew up the old Iran deal. The Administration’s new strategy was quickly dismissed as unrealistic and a non-starter by many European allies and former Obama Administration officials still furious over Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from a pact that took years to negotiate. “Pompeo’s Iran Plan Is a Pipe Dream,” a headline in Foreign Policy said, hours after the speech. Soon after the article was posted, Pompeo tweeted furiously in response, “It’s not a pipe dream to ask the Iranian leadership to behave like a normal, responsible country.” The senior Administration official said he, too, was ticked off about the Iran criticism. “We haven’t even begun negotiations,” the official said, but, inside the Beltway bubble, “everyone is preëmptively declaring it dead? This is ridiculous.”

Commentators, of course, quickly blamed all of it on a President who loves to brag about accomplishments, regardless of whether they are, in fact, accomplished. “Trump’s art of the self-harming deal,” the Financial Times’s chief U.S. columnist, Ed Luce, wrote. “Apparently he is not a strong dealmaker at all,” the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote. “Artless negotiation from the President who penned the ‘Art of the Deal,’ ” the Times’s DealBook editor-at-large, Andrew Ross Sorkin, offered. And that was all before Thursday morning’s announcement that the summit with North Korea was off, and, with it, Trump’s hopes for a nuclear deal to end all deals.

On Tuesday, at a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Oval Office, Trump seemed to signal where it was all headed. Speaking to reporters, the President delivered a mini-lecture about the perils of dealmaking. “Whether the deal gets made or not, who knows? It’s a deal. Who knows? You never know about deals. You go into deals that are one hundred per cent certain, it doesn’t happen. You go into deals that have no chance, and it happens, and sometimes happens easily,” Trump told the reporters. “I made a lot of deals. I know deals, I think, better than anybody knows deals. You never really know.”

Sixteen months into the Trump Presidency, it is finally time to say: we really do know. There are no deals with Trump, and there are increasingly unlikely to be. Not on nafta. Not on Middle East peace. Or Obamacare or infrastructure. On tax cuts, the one big deal that did get passed, Republicans in Congress agreed to give their grandchildren’s money to American corporations and wealthy families and put it all on the nation’s credit card; Trump championed it but, by all accounts, played little role in shaping the legislation, and did nothing to build consensus with skeptical Democrats. On North Korea, Trump spontaneously (and over the fears of his advisers) agreed to meet a dictator whose family, for three generations, has made the acquisition of nuclear weapons the centerpiece of its national security; Trump’s negotiating strategy was to demand that the Kim dynasty completely give them up. How surprised are we that it didn’t work out?

No, Trump is a much better dealbreaker than dealmaker. He’s pulled out of the Paris climate accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and just a couple weeks ago followed through on his threats to blow up the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, which he long ago labelled “the worst deal ever.” So isn’t it about time to stop buying into Trump as the great dealmaker he ceaselessly proclaims himself to be?

There has always been a disparity between Trump’s self-promotion as the master negotiator and the reality. Beyond the myth he sold on the campaign trail, Trump’s is a history of business deals that often went south — the casinos, the football team, the airline, the multiple bankruptcies. So it’s not just that he misjudged the challenge of making deals as a rookie President, although that seems to be part of it. (Remember when he said that making peace in the Middle East would be “frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought”?) Trump seems to believe that saying he’s a master negotiator over and over again is the same thing as actually being one. “I’m a great dealmaker,” he said in March. “That’s what I do.” Except that he doesn’t. Trump’s luck could change. All the harrumphing and the threatening and the maximalist demands could eventually lead to “beautiful” agreements. There have been moments when it looked like China, or Europe, might back down in the face of his tariff threats. But, broadly speaking, the record so far suggests that Trump’s foreign and domestic rivals are not bedazzled by his negotiating style.

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Michael Cohen met with a Russian oligarch in Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, met with the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg 11 days before Trump’s inauguration, and reportedly discussed ways to improve US-Russia relations under Trump.

From Business Insider:

Eleven days before he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a prominent Russian oligarch met with Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer to discuss improving US-Russia relations under Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg met with Michael Cohen at Cohen’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the American businessman Andrew Intrater told The Times.

Intrater, a relative of Vekselberg who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, is the head of the US investment firm Columbus Nova. The company paid Cohen approximately $500,000 in consulting fees between January and August 2017 and is a subsidiary of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate founded by Vekselberg. […]

Intrater told The Times that Vekselberg and Cohen met three times. The second time was during Trump’s inauguration, which was attended by at least six Putin-allied Russians, including Vekselberg.

Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now under the scrutiny of federal investigators, the Times report said. […]

Mueller interviewed Vekselberg earlier this year after the businessman landed at a New York area airport. The special counsel’s focus on Russian oligarchs comes as investigators are looking into whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled money, either directly or indirectly, into Trump’s campaign or inauguration. Prosecutors are also said to be interested in whether wealthy Russians used American donors or US companies with political action committees to infuse money into the election.

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Trump’s relentless attacks on law enforcement are doing lasting harm

“Democrats have pinned their hopes on the Mueller investigation, in hopes that a compelling and complete account of grotesque malfeasance will cause the bottom to drop out from under the president. In the meantime, however, he continues to chip away at the foundations of American democracy.”

From The Atlantic:

If Donald Trump was elected with any mandate, it was to shake up the orthodoxy — to challenge the establishment and its established ways of operating. To drain the swamp. What he actually delivers, however, may be transformation that even many of his supporters come to regret.

Nowhere has the mandate for change been more forcefully exercised than in the field of criminal and counterintelligence investigations of the president and his closest associates. His last tweet of the day on May 20 sounded more like a proclamation:

The tweet provoked complaints that the president was breaching norms essential to the functioning of our democracy: As The New York Times wrote, it “ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.” And yet it seems that much of America shrugged, apparently either supportive or tolerant of the president’s efforts to stick it to the man. One person’s hallowed tradition is another’s hidebound ritual. Why should they care? […]

Since Nixon, every president, from Carter to Trump, has adopted policies limiting interactions between the White House and the Justice Department to protect the independence of prosecutorial decisions. The president may set law-enforcement priorities and policies — but regardless of who is president, a bank robbery is still a bank robbery, and the American people have a reasonable expectation that crimes will be investigated and prosecuted in keeping with the president’s constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” The Federalist Papers’ famous warning about the dangers of factionalism, which also recognized that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” expressed the principle that “no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” And the same is true, of course, of prosecutors: We do not trust anyone to investigate herself.

Whether these limitations survive beyond Trump’s tenure may depend less on him and more on what follows after him. He will do as much as he can for as long as he can to advance his own interests. If his term ends in disgrace, and the American people look back on this period as a mortifying moment of temporary insanity, the net result may be a backlash that produces even stronger protections for the rule of law. This is what happened after Nixon. If not, however, we should expect to see the sincerest form of flattery from future occupants of the highest office in the land.

For now, the core of the problem is that a substantial number of Americans believe, to one degree or another, that Trump is being railroaded. They so deeply mistrust the establishment, including establishment institutions like the FBI and establishment figures like Robert Mueller, and they so strongly support Trump’s iconoclasm, that they will side with him on almost anything. It may be only a slight exaggeration to say, as the president has, that they would be with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

Whatever the origins of this mistrust — years of denigrating government by the Republican Party, the constant striving of the news media for Pulitzer-worthy tales of government malfeasance, the decline in life expectancy and standards of living for some Americans — it has propelled Trump to the presidency and it is ultimately what protects him now. Democrats have pinned their hopes on the Mueller investigation, in hopes that a compelling and complete account of grotesque malfeasance will cause the bottom to drop out from under the president. In the meantime, however, he continues to chip away at the foundations of American democracy.

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John Bolton’s wrecking ball takes down the North Korea summit

It seems obvious that John Bolton intended all along to demolish the North Korean summit. His provocative demand for all-or-nothing Libya-model denuclearization was tantamount to telling Kim Jung Un to hand over all his nukes so the United States could kill him, once that was done.

From the Daily Beast:

National Security Adviser John Bolton might just have gotten his wish: President Donald Trump has called off the June 12 summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. For weeks, Bolton has been working to set impossibly high expectations for the summit.

Bolton appeared to be willing to settle for nothing other than Kim showing up to Singapore to turn over the keys to his nuclear program — which North Korea has recently taken to calling its “treasured sword” — to the United States. Bolton’s preferred model all this time has been the 2003 disarmament of Libya, which at the time had a nuclear-weapons program that was effectively in a primordial state and was dismantled by the United States.

“In Libya, we decimated that country,” Trump said, adding that “that model would take place if we don’t make a deal [with North Korea], most likely.” This was nothing short of an overt threat to bring about Kim Jong Un’s end should he not show up in Singapore prepared to prove his nuclear-weapons program was shut down for good. Trump might not have a nonproliferation scholar’s grasp of history, but his conflation of the 2003 and 2011 “Libya models” was ultimately the moment to destroy the summit.

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Critics see no end to foreign favors to Trump businesses

Ethics watchdogs and political adversaries are talking about skullduggery, hiding in plain site.

From AP News:

First came news that a Chinese government-owned company had signed on to help build an Indonesian project that will include a Donald Trump-branded hotel and golf course. Then, days later, the president tweeted that his administration would ease sanctions against a Chinese smartphone maker accused of espionage. “Too many jobs in China lost,” he wrote.

Ethics watchdogs and political adversaries called last week’s events a blatant case of Trump appearing to trade foreign favors to his business for changes in government policy, exactly the kind of situation they predicted would happen when the real estate mogul turned politician refused to divest from his sprawling business interests.

And they say that such dealmaking will likely become business as usual, unchecked by a Republican-led Congress, court cases that could take years and a public that hasn’t gotten too excited about the obscure constitutional prohibition on the president accepting emoluments, or benefits, from foreign governments without congressional approval.

“It’s an issue that seems highly technical and complex, and is difficult to link to everyday lives,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who is heading up an emoluments lawsuit brought by about 200 or so members of Congress.

“But when you bring it home to the reason for the emoluments clause, namely to prevent conflicts of interest, so the president will act only for the benefit of the United States, not for his own self-interest, then people should understand that his taking that benefit compromises his priorities,” Blumenthal said.

Such concerns have dogged Trump since he took office. His Washington hotel, just blocks from the White House, has become a magnet for foreign governments seeking to influence his administration, including groups tied to Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

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The EPA bars AP, CNN from summit on contaminants

As far as the EPA is concerned, the news organizations are blocked and there’s nothing further to discuss — as one reporter quickly discovered.

From AP News:

The Environmental Protection Agency is barring The Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from a national summit on harmful water contaminants.

The EPA blocked the news organizations from attending Tuesday’s Washington meeting, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the barred organizations they were not invited and there was no space for them, but gave no indication of why they specifically were barred.

Pruitt told about 200 people at the meeting that dealing with the contaminants is a “national priority.”

Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building.

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Trump’s assault on American governance just crossed a threshold

Trump is thumbing his nose at the rule that “Presidents don’t get involved in individual criminal investigations, as well as targeting a probe that involved him, his family, and his colleagues.”

From The New Yorker:

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, American democracy has sometimes been described as dangerously fragile, but that isn’t necessarily true. Having survived for two hundred and forty-two years, American democracy is more like a stoutly built ocean liner, with a maniac at the helm who seems intent on capsizing it. Every so often, he takes a violent tug at the tiller, causing the vessel to list alarmingly. So far, some members of the ship’s crew — judges, public servants, and the odd elected official — have managed to rush in, jag the tiller back, and keep the ship afloat. But, as the captain’s behavior grows more erratic, the danger facing the ship and its passengers increases.

In the past forty-eight hours, Trump has demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into its own investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The Justice Department has already — partially, at least — acceded to his wishes. It feels as though an important threshold has been crossed. […]

That is not to criticize Rosenstein or Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I., who were left in an unenviable position by the President’s weekend barrage of tweets, in which he called the Russia investigation a “Witch Hunt” and a “scam,” and then said he would officially demand on Monday “that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Trump has been railing against the Mueller investigation for months now, of course. But this demand, which followed the revelation that the F.B.I., in the summer of 2016, used a former Cambridge University professor named Stefan Halpern to approach three people connected to the Trump campaign who were suspected of having communicated with Russians, represented a significant escalation. Not only was Trump violating the rule that Presidents don’t get involved in individual criminal investigations, he was targeting a probe that involved him, several of his family members, and many of his closest colleagues.

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Trump says his summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un might not work out for June

This is probably more John Bolton’s doing than South Korea’s “joint military drills with the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula.”

From CNBC:

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that there’s a “substantial” chance that his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “may not work out” for June.

Trump made the remark while he met with Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, for pivotal discussions ahead of the American president’s planned meeting with the North Korean dictator. [..]

Last week, North Korea said it would reconsider whether to hold the meeting after abruptly canceling talks with South Korea amid joint military drills with the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula.

The communist dictatorship also took issue with Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, who suggested using a denuclearization model similar to one used with North African country Libya. The nation’s dictator at the time, Muammar Gaddafi, agreed to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for relaxed U.S. sanctions. Eventually, however, the U.S. supported a violent overthrow of Gaddafi.

North Korea called any attempt to impose a Libya-style arrangement on the country “awfully sinister.”

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Garry Kasparov: Donald Trump has more Russian connections than Aeroflot

The chess champion slams Putin over his manipulation of American democracy.

From HuffPost:

Legendary chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov delivered a one-two punch Monday against Russian President Vladimir Putin — and Donald Trump — as he warned of the very serious threat to American democracy that the Kremlin “dictator” continues to pose to America.

“Trump has more Russian connections than Aeroflot,” Kasparov said, referring to the Russian airline in a speech Monday at the Common Good Forum in New York. “I believe in coincidences, but I also believe in the KGB.”

The Russian dissident and human rights activist also accused Trump on MSNBC Monday of “trying to divert” the investigation of Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election to “minor details.” Trump’s “attempts to move away from the core of this investigation into some foolish stories just demonstrates that he is quite desperate, and that he wants to control this process by tweeting and by shouting,” Kasparov added.

Trump’s new fury has been directed at his latest claim that the FBI planted a mole in his campaign, and he ordered the Justice Department to investigate. Last year, he claimed that the Obama administration had ordered the FBI to wiretap meetings in Trump Tower. There is no evidence that happened.

Kasparov suspects that serious secrets about Putin and Trump’s relationship have yet to emerge. It’s suspicious, said Kasparov, that while Trump is “not shy of criticizing anybody or anything, from NATO to Meryl Streep, [he] always refrains from saying one negative word about Vladimir Putin.”

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Holder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump’s requests

Holder, who served as attorney general under former President Barack Obama from 2009-2015 — and has mooted the possibility of a 2020 presidential campaign — has often publicly criticized Trump.

From The Hill:

Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday urged Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI officials to “simply say no” to President Trump’s demand for an expanded investigation into his claims of FBI wrongdoing as it relates to his campaign.

“More DOJ norms being eroded. Trump — a SUBJECT of the investigation — wants access to material related to the inquiry,” Holder tweeted.

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