Not all in with Putin
Donald Trump doesn’t want anyone to think that he doesn’t have some issues with Vladimir Putin.
On the eve of his first sit-down with Russia’s leader, Trump told a crowd in Warsaw: “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran.”
Trump also pleased Russia-wary Poles by voicing a stronger commitment to NATO’s mutual defense obligations than he had on his last trip to Europe.
But is he going to challenge Putin over Russia’s election meddling last year? Again, Trump said he wasn’t convinced Russia did it -- “Nobody really knows for sure” -- though he also blamed former President Barack Obama for not stopping it.
Trump arrived in Germany for the G-20 summit in Hamburg Thursday night. U.S. officials said only four other people will be in the room Friday with Trump and Putin — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and translators for each side.
Defend democracy, Dems urge
Top Senate Democrats told Trump in a letter that it would be “severe dereliction” of his presidential duty if he failed to confront Putin over Moscow’s election meddling.
“It remains critical that you set the agenda from the start and make absolutely clear that Russian interference in our democracy will in no way be tolerated,” said the group led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Tillerson said the United States wanted to discuss with Russia the creation of no-fly zones in Syria as one of a series of humanitarian measures to protect civilians in the war-ravaged country. Lavrov said cooperation would be “a step in the right direction.”
The take-away: Crowd pleaser
When Trump speaks in the open on foreign soil, he’s largely playing to the voters back home. His speech in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square was a modified version of the us-versus-them stuff his fans eat up at domestic rallies.
Western civilization “must stand up to those who would destroy it,” Trump told the assembled Poles. “Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?”
See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
America's jeer leader
Being in Europe for widely hyped meetings with other nations' better-disciplined leaders hasn't kept the U.S. president from issuing the usual stream of trash-talking tweets.
Sniffs one POTUS message from early Friday: "Fake News Media will never cover me accurately but who cares!"
Scoffs another: "Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!" (Everyone?)
Crows another: "Thank you to everyone, including the haters, for the great reviews of the speech!"
Watchdog lets himself out
An ethics watchdog who hounded the Trump administration about conflicts of interest announced he has decided to leave the federal government before his term ends next year, Newsday’s Tom Brune reports.
Walter Shaub had urged Trump to sell off his businesses, but the president ignored him. “There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation,” Shaub told The New York Times.
Shaub said he is taking a job with a nonpartisan advocacy group for tougher campaign finance laws. Trump gets to name Shaub’s successor, but the job requires Senate confirmation -- and hearings could put a new spotlight on the blurred lines between the presidency and Trump’s outside interests.
North Korea options
Trump remained opaque on the next United States' moves to counter the North Korean nuclear threat.
“I don’t like to talk about what I have planned, but I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about,” the president said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do them.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that the administration is still determined to pursue diplomacy to resolve the nuclear threat, but he suggested North Korea might eventually push too hard.
Mattis said Kim Jong Un’s ICBM capability doesn’t “in itself, bring us closer to war.”
What else is happening
- At a news conference in Warsaw Thursday, Trump did things that presidents normally don’t on foreign trips: blast his predecessor, cast doubt on his own spy agencies and unload on news outlets by name, The Associated Press writes.
- Melania Trump was kept from leaving her hotel in Hamburg due to the G-20 protests.
- She and the president accepted an invitation to visit the first lady’s native Slovenia. No date has been set. Slovenia’s ambassador to the United States, Božo Cerar, told CNN recently that thanks to Melania, Americans no longer confuse his country with Slovakia.
- Trump has warned he might let Obamacare “implode” if there’s no health care bill from Congress, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he won’t do that if the Senate GOP effort fails. “Some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” he said.
- A majority of Americans — 54 percent — believe Trump has done something either illegal or unethical when it comes to Russia, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Among Democrats, 80 percent feel that way, and 58 percent of independents agree, while only 19 percent of Republicans think so.
- It turns out Trump isn’t giving the Pentagon a blank check to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal (pay site) reports. If the generals want more than 3,900, they have to come back to the White House for approval.
- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio flew to Germany for the G-20 summit, but he won’t be around Trump. He’s joining what organizers call a nonviolent protest Saturday to “stand up for human rights and humanity,” Newsday’s Matthew Chayes reports.