Trump demands credit for getting along with Kim Jong Un

President Donald Trump continued to defend his budding relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday, demanding credit for his role in making “initial steps toward a deal” by establishing a personal rapport with the young dictator during last week’s summit in Singapore.

“If President Obama (who got nowhere with North Korea and would have had to go to war with many millions of people being killed) had gotten along with North Korea and made the initial steps toward a deal that I have, the Fake News would have named him a national hero!” Trump tweeted.

Amid lingering skepticism over North Korea’s commitment to complete denuclearization in the wake of the Singapore summit, Trump has aggressively pushed the idea that Kim is sincere in his intentions and that the two leaders were able to develop a unique chemistry.

It’s a conviction South Korean officials share. South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-Nam said Monday in Washington that any diplomatic progress should be credited to the connection that Trump and Kim established through an “unprecedented top-down approach” to negotiations.

“The actors for this top-level diplomacy are completely different leaders as compared to the past,” Lim told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Moreover, the personal chemistry between them has been unique as well.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, asked about Trump’s praise for Kim, suggested the President is as willing to use carrots as he would be — if necessary — to use sticks. “If you try to play Trump or back out, there’s going to be a war and nobody wants war,” Graham told CNN.

Trump’s claims to a cozy relationship may reflect an effort to butter-up Kim “to make it easier to get a better deal,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN last week.

Indeed, the administration hopes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can build on that rapport to create substantial movement toward denuclearization.

But sources have told CNN that there is nothing to suggest that North Korea has begun destroying its missile launch sites, despite Trump’s repeated claims to the contrary and his declaration last week that the country is no longer a nuclear threat.

Harry Harris, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to South Korea, said last week that North Korea continues to be a nuclear threat and that major military exercises should be paused to give Kim a chance to prove whether he is “serious.”

Trump announced in Singapore that the US would suspend “war games” with South Korea and Japan, taking Seoul, Tokyo, lawmakers and parts of the US military by surprise.

Additionally, several US defense officials said that, so far, there is no indication that Kim has made good on his promise to return the remains of prisoners of war and soldiers declared missing in action during the Korean War — something Trump has repeatedly said the two leaders agreed upon during their meeting.

These officials also cautioned that a lengthy DNA verification process would be needed when and if any remains are returned to the US.

In South Korea, however, the prism is different. Discussions center less on Trump’s achievements or lack of them, or his failures to live up to his own word, and more on the possibilities his summit opened up — in particular his new relationship with Kim.

While critics continue to suggest that Trump failed to secure concrete concessions from North Korea — including guarantees related to verifiable irreversible denuclearization and ending human rights abuses — South Korean officials have publicly credited the US President for facilitating the signing of the Panmunjom declaration and the Singapore statement, despite questions over specific terms.

“President Trump has made an unprecedented strategic decision to meet face-to-face with the leader of the DPRK,” Vice Foreign Minister Lim said, noting that Trump accounted for cultural considerations in dealing with Kim by showing him “due respect” and treating “him as a leader of a state.”

[CNN]

Trump: ‘Obama lost Crimea’ to Russia

President Trump on Friday once again blamed his predecessor, former President Obama, for ceding Crimea to Russia in 2014.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump insisted that Obama was ultimately responsible for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, because Russian President Vladimir Putin did not “respect” Obama or the United States.

“President Obama lost Crimea just so you understand, this was before I got there,” Trump said. “President Obama lost Crimea.”

Asked by a reporter to explain his accusation, Trump said: “Because Putin didn’t respect President Obama. President Obama lost Crimea because president Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country and didn’t respect Ukraine.”

His accusation marked the second time in less than a week that Trump blamed his predecessor for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea four years ago.

He told reporters at the Group of Seven Summit on Saturday that Obama was responsible for the annexation, and called for the G-7 to readmit Moscow to the group.

Russia was suspended from the G-7 in 2014 after it annexed Crimea, in a move that was widely condemned as a violation of international norms.

[The Hill]

Trump blames Obama for Crimean annexation yet again

Amidst the furor of new trade tensions with the U.S.’s G7 partners, President Donald Trump let slip the latest in a series of criticisms leveled at former President Barack Obama for allegedly allowing Russia to invade Ukraine.

Obama, according to Trump, was “the one that let Crimea get away,” adding that his predecessor in the White House “allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude.”

While the criticism was pointed, it fits a prior pattern of Trump accusing Obama of emboldening Russia to invade Ukraine. Indeed, the criticism mirrors prior comments Trump has made vis-a-vis Obama and Crimea.

Now, added to those criticisms are Trump’s most recent comment on Crimea this weekend.

As the president said about Crimea, “it’s been done a long time.” It was unclear if the president was speaking specifically about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or simply its claims in Crimea. However, in the context of calling to readmit Russia to the G7 — it had been the G8 until Moscow was expelled due to its actions in Ukraine — Trump’s comments appeared to hint that the White House was creeping closer to de jure recognition of Russia’s control of the Ukrainian peninsula.

Trump has insinuated in the past that he’d be open to recognizing Russia’s annexation outright, the first forced annexation in Europe since the outset of World War II. In 2015, Trump distanced the U.S. from the issue, saying the Russian invasion remains “Europe’s problem.”

A year later, Trump leaned even closer to outright recognition — even managing to lend credence to Russian propaganda points on the annexation, which was illegal according to Ukrainian law and which didn’t feature any legitimate election observers. (The peninsula’s indigenous Crimean Tatar population, which had been deported en masse from Crimea under Joseph Stalin, largely boycotted the vote.)

As Trump said in 2016, “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.” Around the same time, Trump added that as president he would be “looking at” recognition.

If Trump does eventually follow through on recognition, he will join a small club of despotic governments and client-states that have supported Russia in Crimea, from North Korea and Kazakhstan to Cuba and Venezuela.

[ThinkProgress]

Media

Trump promises to get back to work and stop obsessing over ‘Rigged Russia Witch Hunt’

President Donald Trump offered a false apology Tuesday morning and promised to stop obsessing over the special counsel investigation — after tweeting four times about the probe in one hour.

The president accused “Angry Democrats” of “meddling” in the upcoming midterm elections with a sprawling investigation of his 2016 presidential campaign’s ties to Russia and other foreign governments, which has resulted in five guilty pleas and 17 indictments.

He tweeted twice more about the investigation before promising to get back to work.

“Sorry, I’ve got to start focusing my energy on North Korea Nuclear, bad Trade Deals, VA Choice, the Economy, rebuilding the Military, and so much more, and not on the Rigged Russia Witch Hunt that should be investigating Clinton/Russia/FBI/Justice/Obama/Comey/Lynch etc.,” the president tweeted.

[Raw Story]

Trump Throws Chuck Schumer a Shoutout on China Trade Talks: We ‘Have Long Agreed’

The White House announced over the weekend that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had come to an agreement that would see China reduce its trade deficit with the US, and in exchange the US would remove tariffs.

The halt on tariffs cooled off a potential trade war between the two countries, but it’s not clear that the new agreement is much of a win for Trump.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “They did NOTHING!”

“With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue!” he added. “Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

[Mediaite]

Reality

China intellectual property theft was actually a big deal with Obama.

Trump even continued with Obama’s anti-hacking policies toward China.
(https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/08/trump-obama-china-hacking-deal-244658)

Trump: We didn’t pay for release of prisoners from North Korea

President Trump on Thursday evening touted the release of three Americans prisoners from North Korea who arrived home this week, noting that the U.S. did not pay for their release.

“[North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un did a great service to himself and to his country by doing this. But those hostages came out, with respect, we didn’t pay for them,” Trump said during a rally in Elkhart, Ind.

“What he did was the right thing, but they came out for nothing and the others came out for $1.8 billion in cash,” Trump added.

Trump appeared to be referring to a January 2016 deal in which the Obama administration agreed to pay Iran $1.7 billion to settle a case related to the sale of military equipment before the Iranian revolution.

The payment coincided with the release of five imprisoned American citizens who were released in exchange for seven Iranians detained in the U.S.

The White House at the time disputed that it was a ransom payment.

Trump early Thursday morning greeted the three Americans who were freed from captivity in North Korea earlier this week. He has touted their release as an act of good will by Kim ahead of a planned summit between the two leaders on June 12 in Singapore.

“The relationship is good, and hopefully, I mean for all of us, for the world, hopefully something very good is going to happen,” Trump said at Thursday’s rally.

[The Hill]

Reality

In 1979, Iran’s then-monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi paid $400 million to the United States government to purchase military parts. But that year’s revolution toppled the shah, and the military parts were never delivered.

To regain its funds, Iran filed a claim against the United States in 1981 in the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, which adjudicates disputes between the two nations. The body, located at the Hague, was established amid negotiations to end the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, in which pro-revolution students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The $1.7 billion dollars Trump mentioned was a settlement of claims, and was announced by the State Department months before Iranian detainees were transferred back home to America.

Media

Trump Official Blames Obama for His $1 Million Office Redesign

Since the Trump administration moved in last year, there’s been an unspoken competition among Cabinet officials to spend as much taxpayer money as possible in the most questionable of ways. A favorite among the group, of course, has been refusing to come within 20 feet of coach, insisting instead on flying business or first class or, hell, just renting a private plane or borrowing a jet from the government. Also popular? Dropping tens of thousands—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—on office redesigns as though they’re Fortune 100 C.E.O.s and not government bureaucrats.

Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose department had its funding slashed in the latest White House budget, dropped $31,000 on a dining set for “safety” reasons. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the front-runner for Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official, invoiced taxpayers for a “brown maple wood stand-up desk with brass locks,” a second “oversize desk with decorative woodworking that some E.P.A. employees compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office” (cost of refurbishment: $2,075), and a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth, which, it turns out, was illegal for him to purchase without notifying Congress first. And to round out the club, on Tuesday afternoon we learned that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the people responsible for dragging us into a trade war with China, spent nearly $1 million to redecorate two of his offices.

According to the New York Post, Lighthizer spent $3,500 of taxpayer money on an antique desk, $859 on a hugely important 30-inch “Executive Office of the President” plaque, and $830 to “transport and install two paintings on loan from the Smithsonian.” In addition, he paid Executive Furniture of Washington, D.C., which specializes in high-end furniture and wood-finished desks, a whopping $475,000. For his staff, he splurged on 60 sit-stand desks ($18,500), a modular wall system ($290,000), and 90 Herman Miller Aeron office chairs ($54,000). But if you thought Lighthizer would take responsibility for the expenditures, think again:

When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration.

“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” Lighthizer’s office said in a statement.

(An official from Lighthizer’s office further explained to The Hive: “Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission.”)

Obama-era, unsurprisingly reps were having none of this explanation, telling the Post that they didn’t approve any major remodeling plans and that it was “laughable” Team Trump would try to pin this on them, considering the new administration had no problem pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day four of Trump’s presidency. “We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that,” an Obama trade official told the Post. “So furniture purchases cannot be as binding.”

As for whether Lighthizer will suffer any consequences for the pricey interior design choices, the odds are about as likely as Trump blurbing a second print run of James Comey’s book. Though the president is indeed on a firing spree, ethical transgressions like Lighthizer’s seem only to improve one’s standing with the boss. If Pruitt can hang on after his office decor spending spree, shady housing arrangement, and insistence on outfitting his official business car like it’s the Batmobile, then Lighthizer should be just fine.

[Vanity Fair]

Trump: Dems ‘stand in our way’ on stronger border

President Trump on Wednesday called on Congress to take immediate action to strengthen border laws while accusing Democrats of standing in the way of legislation.

In a morning tweet, the president said current border laws are “very weak” and that “strong action” would be taken Wednesday.

his comes a day after the president said he wants to deploy U.S. troops to guard the southern border with Mexico until his proposed border wall is completed.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with Baltic state leaders.

Trump has received increased pressure from his base to score a policy win on immigration after lawmakers did not address his plea for $25 billion in wall money in recent spending legislation.

The president instead got just $1.6 billion for border fortifications in a recent government funding bill, and most of that money cannot be used to build new portions of the wall.

Trump on Tuesday also cited a “caravan” of Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border, later saying he heard reports the caravan was broken up, crediting his threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Mexico does not arrest more migrants.

“They did it because, frankly, I said you really have to do it,” the president said. “We’re going to have a relationship on NAFTA. We’re going to have to include security in NAFTA.”

The president has been attempting to renegotiate NAFTA terms with Mexico and Canada for months. He exempted the countries from his recent steel and aluminum tariffs and reportedly hopes to have an updated version of NAFTA to unveil during the Summit of the Americas later this month.

[The Hill]

Trump touts Rasmussen poll results: ‘Higher than Cheatin’ Obama’

President Trump on Tuesday touted his job-approval rating in a conservative-leaning poll, saying it is now higher than former President Obama’s was during the same period of his presidency.

“Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration,” the president tweeted.

Half of voters told Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll on Monday that they approve of Trump’s performance in office, 4 points higher than Obama scored on the same tracking poll on April 2, 2010.

Trump still faces a very polarized electorate heading into the November midterm elections, with Rasmussen finding that 49 percent of Americans disapprove of his performance.

The poll was taken after a number of developments in the Trump administration, including the departures of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. A number of White House staffers have also recently exited, including communications director Hope Hicks, a longtime aide to Trump.

The president is also facing an ongoing battle with Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star who alleges a 2006 affair with the president shortly after his marriage to first lady Melania Trump.

Rasmussen’s daily tracking polls are conducted on a three-day rolling average basis and contain a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

[The Hill]

Trump Goes After the ‘Crazed’ Media Over Russia Call, Defends His ‘Congratulations’ to Putin

President Trump this afternoon tweeted an attack on the media (again) over its “crazed” coverage of his call with Vladimir Putin.

“I called President Putin of Russia,” POTUS tweeted, “to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Some Republicans were critical of Trump congratulating Putin as well––particularly John McCain––but the President is standing by his message and dinging the media for getting worked up about it.

Oh, and he wasn’t done:

“They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race,” he continued. “Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

[Mediaite]

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