Hawk exits squawking
"The Dishonest Media likes to create the look of turmoil in the White House, of which there is none," President Donald Trump tweeted Monday. He was attacking reports that he "overruled" top advisers in trying to set up a Camp David meeting with Taliban.
Now scroll up on Trump's Twitter timeline, but not too far. Stop at Tuesday morning. Click on the tweet. Yup, smells like turmoil. "I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore … I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning," Trump said. Bolton responded by firing off text messages to the news media insisting that Trump never asked him to resign and he quit on his own.
Either way, the curtain has come down abruptly on Bolton's 17 months as national security adviser. The tweet of termination appeared barely more than an hour after the White House had announced that Bolton was going to join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a briefing about revising sanctions to fight terrorism. The two Cabinet secretaries went ahead without Bolton and dry-eyed about his absence.
The president "should have people he trusts and values,” Pompeo said. “There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views," he added. Though Pompeo, too, came to the administration with a reputation as a hawk, he has accommodated himself to Trump's ambitions for making big deals with adversaries like North Korea, Iran and the Taliban.
Bolton did not. Trump has complained openly that the veteran of the George W. Bush administration was too eager to get the U.S. into new wars, and leaks — believed by some to have been planted by Bolton aides — about how Bolton fought his Afghanistan initiative may have been the final straw. Bolton, who became a Trump favorite when he was a Fox News commentator, also recently begged off appearances on Sunday talk shows rather than defend policies he personally opposed.
Trump said in his tweets that "I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week." He or she will be Trump's fourth in less than three years. The first, Mike Flynn, a retired general and intelligence official, quit in less than a month after he got in trouble over lying to the FBI about Russia contacts. Trump pushed out the second, Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, because he found him to be condescending. McMaster also irritated Trump by affirming that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
But NBC News reports that since last fall, Trump has periodically called McMaster for advice on various national security challenges, even asking for recommendations about finding a new defense secretary. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Terms of disengagement
Bolton's resignation letter was just two sentences — shorter than the tweets in which Trump said he fired him. But he did not go quietly. Twelve minutes after Trump's announcement, Bolton tweeted, "I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, 'Let's talk about it tomorrow.’ ” Evidently there wasn't another conversation. Bolton texted a Fox News anchor: "Let's be clear, I resigned."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham sprung into action to defend Trump's version and dispute Bolton's. “Last night, Potus said he wanted Bolton’s resignation on his desk tomorrow AM. Bolton delivered it," she texted the Daily Beast. Bolton clapped back in a text to the Beast that Grisham's statement "is flatly incorrect.”
The tensions crackled inside West Wing hallways. An NBC correspondent tweeted that as a pro-Bolton NSC official was speaking to reporters, Grisham walked by, gave a look and said: "Oh look, right outside my office." The New York Times reported that a person close to Bolton said in tribute: “While John Bolton was national security adviser for the last 17 months, there have been no bad deals.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans who liked Bolton for the most part deferred to the president's prerogative to choose his advisers, though Sen. Mitt Romney said he was “very, very unhappy” Bolton is out.
Democrats who regarded Bolton as reckless said he was only part of the problem. "The American people are better off with John Bolton out of the White House. The world will be better off when the man who hired him in the first place is out too," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer bemoaned Trump's "government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy."
Janison: Shakedown diplomacy
In foreign policy, there's reason to question whether America's interests and Trump's interests are in alignment, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Trump's private-sector "personal" attorney Rudy Giuliani is trying to pressure a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate the family and actions of Joe Biden — who could end up Trump's opponent in next year's election.
Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky is very unlikely to believe that the outcome of his "private" talks with Giuliani have no implications for matters of state. The Trump administration has put a hold on $250 million in arms sales and aid that is supposed to help Ukraine resist Russian encroachment.
Three committee chairmen in the Democratic-led House said in a newly released letter that Trump and Giuliani "appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing politically motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity."
The New York Times reports Trump has complained in private that all Ukrainian politicians are “corrupt” and that officials in a previous Ukrainian government "tried to take me down" by aiding Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Those spies are so sneaky
Trump has privately and repeatedly objected to the use of foreign intelligence from covert sources, including overseas spies who provide crucial information about hostile countries, CNN reported, citing to multiple senior officials who served under Trump as its sources.
Intelligence agencies regard human informants as one of their most essential tools, But the president feels spies undermine his personal relationships with foreign leaders and can damage relations with their countries, the report said. He also disdains them as "people who are selling out their country."
In June, after The Wall Street Journal reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother had been a CIA source, Trump said publicly that he would not allow the use of CIA informants against Kim.
A mist and a fog after Dorian
The acting chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was near tears as he told a weather-forecasting conference Tuesday that he wasn't undercutting his agency's professionals when he put out an unsigned statement backing Trump's inaccurate claim about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama.
The statement admonished the National Weather Service office in Birmingham for speaking in "absolute terms" when it correctly tweeted there was no threat to the state. Neil Jacobs said it wasn't a chastisement, just a technical clarification. "What it did not say, however, is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather office, which was to calm fears and support public safety,” he told the conference in Huntsville, Alabama.
The statement was issued under pressure from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as Trump's anger rained down on those who contradicted him. The Washington Post reports Jacobs resisted the statement and the calling out of the Birmingham office but lost the argument. Paul Schlatter, president of the 2,100-member National Weather Association, where Jacobs spoke, told The Associated Press that Jacobs is a career “weather geek” who was caught in a tough position.
Retired Adm. David W. Titley, an assistant NOAA administrator during the Obama administration, said of Jacobs: "Personally, I think his situation is untenable; he should attempt to salvage what’s left of his self-respect. He either stands by the Friday p.m. statement or he does not — but he can’t have it both ways.”
Trump's poll slide
Trump's approval rating is under the 40% mark in three major new polls.
A new ABC News/Washington Post survey found 38% giving Trump a favorable mark, a drop of 6 points, while 56% voiced disapproval, as worries about the economy and the trade war weighed on voters. In a warning sign for the president, anxiety about the likelihood of a recession is nearly as high in the red states Trump won in 2016 — 58% — as in the blue states, where 65% are concerned.
Trump tweets Tuesday morning denounced "phony Polling Information" from the "Fake and Corrupt News Media" and said his campaign's internal polling "looks great, the best ever!"
What else is happening:
- Democrats pushed Congress on Tuesday to address last month’s deadly mass shootings and a House panel approved three new gun-control bills, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he won't make a move until Trump reveals what if anything he'll support. See Tom Brune's story for Newsday.
- With assists from Trump on Twitter and at a rally, Republicans held onto a North Carolina House seat in a special election. The winner, Dan Bishop, authored the state’s since-repealed law governing transgender bathroom use.
- Trump wants a plan from White House officials to get homeless people in California cities off the streets and into government-backed facilities, The Washington Post reports. It is unclear how they could accomplish this and what legal authority they would use.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a plan Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the occupied West Bank if he wins re-election next week — and if Trump supports it.
- Census Bureau figures show fewer Americans living in poverty but more without health insurance, The New York Times reported. Experts said the latter resulted at least in part from the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine Obamacare.
- A federal judge in Washington set a Dec. 18 sentencing date for Flynn, the former national security adviser.