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Dark Days at the White House

Rich Galen

Thursday May 17, 2018

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  • Donald Trump was sailing along. The official, if temporary, U.S. Embassy in Israel opening in Jerusalem. Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, making good on yet another campaign promise. And, the Administration was still basking in the glow of the excellent employment numbers released last week.

  • Then

  • Trump declared that Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping was his new BFF, and that he was unhappy with a ruling that Chinese cell phone maker ZTE was sanctioned for having sold not just their products, but American technology, to Iran and North Korea.

  • ZTE, unable to sell to America (where it had been the fourth largest supplier of cell phones), announced it was shutting down major operations. Trump announced that he needed to help save Chinese - Chinese - jobs and so was instructing the Commerce Department - the United States Commerce Department - to reverse itself and restart ZTE sales in the U.S.

  • About a day later, it was announced that the Chinese government had decided to make an investment in an Indonesian theme park. A $500 million investment. The theme park developers, according to the Washington Post, struck "a deal for the development to include a Trump-branded hotel, 400 luxury villas and condos, and an 18-hole championship golf course."

  • We may never know if there was a connection between Trump's announcement to pardon ZTE and China's half-billion-dollar investment in a Trump-connected development but it sure looks suspicious.

  • Then

  • Trump's other BFF, North Korea's Kim Jong-un and his government cancelled high-level meeting with the South Koreans scheduled for this week in protest of the two-week-long joint military training operations with South Korean and U.S. forces.

  • It had been assumed that Kim had sort-of shrugged his massively handsome shoulders about these exercises, but the implication that Kim might cancel the summit with Trump planned for June 12 has sent shockwaves through the Administration.

  • Others are not surprised. According to Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (via CNN):
    "North Korea's actions today are not surprising. They come straight from the Kim Jong Il playbook on negotiations: Raise expectations of a diplomatic breakthrough, cancel/suggest Pyongyang might cancel the meeting and then push for more concessions to have the meeting."

  • It is likely that even if Kim was truly aggravated over the military operations, he will now decide to press Trump for concessions. It is likely that Trump, to prove what a great negotiator he is, will give away a lot to keep this summit on the schedule.

  • Then

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee (which, like all committees in the U.S. House and Senate, is under GOP control) released 2,500 pages of documents about that meeting in Trump Tower back in 2016. According to National Public Radio:
    "The transcripts and notes reaffirm accounts of the meeting that people involved already have given - that Donald Trump Jr. and his compatriots sought "dirt" offered to them on Hillary Clinton and received at least one political intelligence tip but nothing as explosive as they had hoped."

  • Democrats on the committee (led by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA)) issued a statement that was, unsurprisingly, more damning. Again, from NPR:
    "The June 9, 2016, meeting is one piece of a much larger puzzle and confirms that the Trump campaign was willing to accept Russia's assistance," the Democrats said in a collective statement. "The committee's staff interviews reveal that top Trump campaign officials were frustrated and angry that the meeting did not produce enough damaging information on their opponent."

  • This release comes on the cusp of today's one-year anniversary of the beginning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe. White House fixer Rudy Giuliani announced to Bloomberg that the White House would use the milestone "to ratchet up pressure on the special counsel to close his investigation."

  • It is not clear that Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassely (R-Iowa) would have wanted to get in the way of Trump's plot, but the timing of the release of those documents will have that effect.

  • Then

  • Donald Trump's financial disclosure form made reference to a payment from Trump to Michael Cohen in the range of $100,000 to $250,000. The payment was made last year but was not included in that disclosure form and probably would not have been included this year had the aforementioned Rudy Giuliani let the cat out of the bag that Trump had, indeed, reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

  • All in all, dark days at the White House.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to that Trump Indonesian project, to the North Korean summit, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and to the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe.

    The Mullfoto is another in the very popular series of Food Truck Art along L Street, NW in downtown Washington, DC.

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