Trump: ‘No reason’ for Korea war games right now

President Trump on Wednesday said there was “no reason” for joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises at the moment, citing ongoing discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“The President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” the White House said in a statement that Trump himself issued on Twitter.

“Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” the statement added.

The Trump administration statement came one day after Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no plans to suspend future military exercisesbetween the U.S. and South Korea.

Mattis later clarified, however, that there has been “no decision” about suspending more exercises following the three that were cancelled after Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year.

“Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,” Mattis said in a statement Wednesday.

Following the summit between Trump and Kim in June, the Pentagon said it would indefinitely suspend the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises with South Korea as part of diplomatic negotiations with the North.

The Trump administration has been engaged with North Korea for several months in an effort to scale back Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but those efforts have appeared to hit a roadblock in recent weeks.

Trump last week abruptly cancelled a planned trip for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to travel to Pyongyang to continue negotiations. The Washington Post reported that Trump nixed the trip after a North Korean official signaled in a letter that the meeting would not be successful.

On Wednesday, the White House argued that China was partially to blame for the stalled efforts, accusing Beijing of applying “tremendous pressure” to North Korea because of the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

“At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities,” the White House said. “This is not helpful!”

However, the White House added that the trade disputes with China will be “resolved” and described Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping as “very strong.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Reminder: It was Vladimir Putin who suggested to Trump we cancel these military exercises.

Trump says he’s worried about Russian meddling … to elect Democrats

President Donald Trump would like you to believe that Russia, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 and whose president, Vladimir Putin, said just last week that he wanted Trump to win, are interfering in American politics to boost … Democrats.

Trump is also “very concerned” about Russian meddling, despite, also last week, telling a reporter he doesn’t think Russia is still targeting the US and publicly doubting Russian interference on multiple occasions.

The president has faced mounting criticism over his handling of relations with Russia in the wake of his disastrous performance at a press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last week. After a one-on-one meeting with Putin, whose contents remain unknown to US officials, Trump failed to publicly denounce the Russian leader for his country’s efforts to interfere in US politics in 2016 and beyond and said he wasn’t so sure about the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia was and is meddling.

The White House’s cleanup efforts have largely centered on one strategy, which is, basically, gaslighting.

Trump claimed he misspoke at the Helsinki press conference and that when he told reporters, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” who meddled in the 2016 election, he meant to say he didn’t see why it wouldn’t have been Russia. And when he told a reporter later in the week, “No,” when asked if Russia was still targeting the US, the White House claimed he was just saying he didn’t want to answer questions.

On Tuesday, Trump was at it again with another counter-reality tweet, this time claiming that Russians are interfering — but that they’re doing it to boost Democrats because Russia is so afraid of him.

[Vox]

Trump Says Obama was a ‘Total Patsy’ for Russia

In an excerpt of an interview with CNBC that was published Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump says that he will be Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s “worst enemy” if their relationship and their dealmaking doesn’t work out, unlike President Barack Obama who he called Putin’s “patsy.”

Speaking to CNBC in an interview that will air in full on Friday, Trump said this about Putin if the dealings don’t work out: “I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had.”

He also said in the same interview, according to CNBC, that Obama had been a “total patsy” on Russia.

“Obama didn’t do it, Obama was a patsy for Russia, Obama was a total patsy,” Trump opined.

Trump also insisted that as the current president he has been “far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years” and the toughest president on Russia “maybe ever.”

Trump’s tough talk was somewhat mitigated, however, by Trump’s desire to make things work out between him and the Russian leader which he insisted was a positive thing.

“Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia, is positive, not a negative,” he told CNBC’s Joe Kernen, in the released excerpts before his warning about turning enemy if the relationship sours.

[Mediaite]

President Donald Trump asked national security adviser to invite Putin to Washington for fall meeting

Unbowed by criticism over his Helsinki summit, President Donald Trump extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Washington in the fall, the White House said Thursday.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter that Trump had asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin, adding, “Those discussions are already underway.” The invitation was announced hours after the president tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” as he defended his performance Monday at the summit in which the two leaders conferred on a range of issues, including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.

“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” Trump tweeted.

The announcement of the invitation came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election that sent Trump to the presidency. Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s responsibility in a joint news conference with Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike and forced the president to make a rare public admission of error.

On Thursday, the White House said Trump “disagrees” with Putin’s offer to swap the questioning of 12 Russians accused of 2016 election interference for an interview with the former U.S. ambassador.

The White House retreated from what Trump had called Putin’s “incredible offer” during the Helsinki summit, revising its position just before the Senate voted overwhelmingly against the plan. It was Congress’ first formal rebuke of Trump’s actions from the summit and its aftermath.

Sanders said Putin’s proposal was “made in sincerity,” but Trump “disagrees with it.” She said the U.S. hopes Putin will have the indicted Russians “come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

[ABC News]

Putin Tells Diplomats He Made Trump a New Offer on Ukraine at Their Summit

Vladimir Putin told Russian diplomats that he made a proposal to Donald Trump at their summit this week to hold a referendum to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it, according to two people who attended Putin’s closed-door speech on Thursday.

Details of what the two leaders discussed in their summit in Helsinki, Finland, remain scarce, with much of the description so far coming from Russia. While Putin portrayed the Ukraine offer as a sign he’s seeking to bring the four-year-old crisis to an end, a referendum is likely to be a hard sell with Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to an 2015 European-brokered truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If Putin’s account of Trump’s reaction is accurate, it would suggest a more flexible approach than the U.S. has shown to date on the issue. At the Helsinki meeting, Trump also agreed to consider a Putin request to question the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow over U.S. campaign-finance violations that critics say Trump should have dismissed outright.

Putin gave his latest account of the meeting during at a conference with top Russian ambassadors and officials at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing the president’s comments to the part of the session that was closed to the public. One of the people said that Trump had requested Putin not discuss the referendum idea at the press conference after the summit in order to give the U.S. leader time to mull it.

Referendum Proposal

Putin’s proposal would call for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status, the people said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the details of what Putin said about Ukraine at the summit, saying only, “Some new ideas were discussed. They will be worked on.”

On Twitter Thursday, Trump called the summit “a great success” and cited Ukraine among the areas discussed, without providing details.

Putin’s proposal will alarm Ukrainian officials after Trump last week appeared to leave open the possibility of recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which triggered the crisis that led to fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukraine has offered the areas autonomy under its rule and backs the deployment of international peacekeepers in the region.

The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the charge, though Ukraine has captured a number of Russian soldiers and weaponry on its territory.

Putin pointed to a 2014 referendum, which wasn’t internationally recognized, that was held in Crimea to justify Russia’s annexation at his press conference with Trump after the summit in Helsinki on Monday. “We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law,” he said. “This case is closed for Russia.”

‘Farce’ Votes

Leaders of so-called rebel republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence. The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the European Union, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.

Last year, Putin angered his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, by signing a decree recognizing passports and other documents issued by the separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have already declared the ruble their official currency.

If a referendum was held in rebel areas of eastern Ukraine, “the result would be the same as in Crimea,” which voted to join Russia, Igor Plotnitsky, who was then leader of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian state-run RIA Novosti news service in March last year.

[Bloomberg]

Trump Calls Media ‘Real Enemy of the People’ While Revealing ‘Second Meeting’ With Putin

Amid widespread blowback this week over his comments relating to the summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump is declaring the meeting a success, and going on the warpath against the media — which he’s labeling “the real enemy of the people.”

In a Thursday morning tweet, the president suggested that another meeting is forthcoming.

“The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote. “I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems…but they can ALL be solved!”

The president then tweeted a montage which aired on Fox & Friendsearlier of times in which he’s acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 election. (Although he also left open the possibility of China and other nations or individuals also meddling.)

Trump is floating the possibility of a second meeting just as initial polling has been released on the first. According to a poll from Axios and SurveyMonkey, 79 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the summit. Overall, however, the public disapproved of Trump’s handling by a 58-40 margin.

[Mediaite]

Trump somehow still doesn’t understand NATO

Just a week after rattling NATO countriesin Europe, President Donald Trump once again put America’s commitment to the alliance in doubt on Tuesday night.

In an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Trump equivocated on whether the US would come to a NATO ally’s defense if attacked, called the people from Montenegro “very aggressive,” and worried aloud that protecting Montenegro might unleash a third world war.

There were two key parts of the exchange. Here’s the first:

CARLSON: NATO was created chiefly to prevent the Russians from invading Western Europe. I don’t think you believe Western Europe’s at risk of being invaded by Russia right now, so what is the purpose of NATO right now?

TRUMP: Well, that was the purpose, and it’s okay. It’s fine, but they have to pay.

And here’s the second:

CARLSON: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member who has been attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?

TRUMP: I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yeah, I’m not against it — or Albania.

TRUMP: No, by the way, they have very strong people — they have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. Now I understand that — but that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago. But I took over the conversation three or four days ago and said, “You have to pay.”

Carlson’s questions were entirely fair ones to ask (more on that in a minute). But Trump’s responses were deeply disturbing. Here’s why.

Trump didn’t steadfastly commit to NATO’s collective defense — again

At the heart of the NATO military alliance is a provision known as Article 5. That says that an attack on one NATO country is to be considered an attack on all the countries — and therefore that all the member countries are obligated to come to the defense of whoever is attacked.

This is why NATO allies — yes, including Montenegro — are fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan to this day. The US invoked Article 5 after 9/11, and NATO countries kept their promise and came to America’s aid.

And, to use Tucker Carlson’s example, if a country were to attack Montenegro — which became a NATO ally in June 2017under Trump’s watch — the US would be treaty-bound to defend it.

But Trump made it pretty clear that he’s not wild about that fact, and only begrudgingly said he’d go along with it as long as they pay their fair share of defense spending — an issue he brought up over and over again at the NATO summit in Brussels last week.

This isn’t the first time Trump has done this, either. In May 2017, he refused to commit the US to Article 5 during a meeting with NATO allies. But two weeks later, he reversed course, saying in impromptu remarks that the US would abide by the provision.

Trump did seem to endorse NATO as a whole during Carlson’s interview when he said the alliance’s original purpose is still “okay.” Still, Trump’s outward skepticism about NATO worries many.

“His rhetoric has unsettled allies, empowered Russia, and undermined Alliance solidarity,” Amanda Sloat, a European security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told me.

Trump still doesn’t get how NATO works

Trump said that if Montenegro got aggressive with another country, presumably Russia, then World War III would break out because the US would be obligated to defend it, thus dragging the US into a major war with Russia.

What Trump misses is that the US doesn’t have to defend Montenegro if that country starts a fight, only if it’s attacked. NATO is a defensive treaty. If you start an unprovoked war, that’s your decision, and no one in NATO has to help you at all.

So even if Montenegrins were, as Trump said, “very aggressive people” — whatever the hell that means — the US wouldn’t have to lift a finger to help them.

The fact that Trump doesn’t seem to understand that is beyond disturbing. If this were his first day in office, maybe it would be understandable. But it’s not. Trump has been in office for a year and a half. He’s met with NATO allies as a group not once but twice — including spending two days straight talking to them just a week ago.

There is no reason why he shouldn’t have that down pat at this point.

Carlson’s line of questioning was totally fair. It’s Trump’s responses that are the problem.

Debates about NATO’s usefulness have raged for decades, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, as have concerns about NATO’s expansion over the years to include more and more countries. (Here’s a really smart Twitter thread on that if you’re interested.)

It’s certainly reasonable to ask the sitting US president to explain why America’s sons and daughters should be obligated to fight to protect Montenegro, or why the US should risk a potential nuclear war with Russia to defend Estonia.

It’s Trump’s responses to this question that are concerning here. Instead of laying out the case for NATO being in America’s national security interest (and there is a case to be made on that), Trump makes it clear that he doesn’t actually get why the hell NATO matters at all.

If you’re a NATO ally wondering whether the US president will have your back if shit goes down, that’s not the most reassuring thing to hear.

[Vox]

Trump, When Asked if Russia is Still Targeting America: ‘No’

President Donald Trump seems to be walking back his walk back with regard to his comments on Russian meddling in the 2016 election in his press conference with Vladimir Putin.

As the president held a meeting with cabinet officials at the White House today, reporters asked him if Russia is still targeting America. Trump’s answer: “No.”

He continued:

“There has been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia. All you have to do is look at the numbers, look at what we’ve done, look at sanctions, look at ambassadors not there. Look at unfortunately that what happened in Syria recently. I think President Putin knows that better than everybody, certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it, and he’s not happy about it. He shouldn’t be happy about it because there’s never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”

This directly contradicts what DNI chief Dan Coats said on Monday: that the intelligence community stands by its assessment that Russians meddled with the 2016 election and have “ongoing pervasive efforts” to try and undermine American democracy.

[Mediaite]

Trump: ‘People at the higher ends of intelligence loved’ my performance

President Trump said in an early morning tweet on Wednesday that “people at the higher ends of intelligence loved” his press conference performance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was widely condemned.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” he said. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

[The Hill]

President Trump blames media for criticism over Putin news conference

The day after his ill-fated news conference with Vladimir Putin drew criticism even from supporters, a defiant President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had a great meeting with the Russian leader and blamed the news media for the poor reception.

“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia,” Trump tweeted after returning from a weeklong trip to Europe. “Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!”

Having watched the president’s performance, lawmakers across the ideological spectrum criticized Trump for taking Putin’s word over that of U.S. intelligence officials who report that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Like Trump, the critics showed no signs of backing down.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he was glad to see criticism from both parties. A day after saying that Putin probably celebrated the Trump meeting with caviar, Corker called for legislation to counter some of the president’s foreign policy moves, including tariffs on imports.

“As the president taxes Americans with tariffs, he pushes away our allies and further strengthens Putin,” Corker tweeted. “It is time for Congress to step up and take back our authorities.”

During his morning tweet session, Trump also defended the Putin news conference by citing the thoughts of a rare supporter who stuck up for him: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

“Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!” Trump tweeted, citing a comment by the Kentucky senator that “the President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations – what’s he supposed think?”

Paul was one of the few Republicans to defend the president after he accepted Putin’s denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials that Russians hacked Democratic officials and pushed fake news to help Trump.

While taking Putin’s side, Trump also condemned the ongoing investigation of Russia as a “disaster” driving a wedge between the United States and Russia.

[USA Today]

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