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Trump clips hawks' wings on Iran, but keeps them in his roost

National security adviser John Bolton on a flight

National security adviser John Bolton on a flight Sunday in an Israeli military helicopter near the West Bank. Credit: EPA/Abir Sultan

Words for the birds

Donald Trump all but called his national security adviser, John Bolton, a trigger-happy warmonger in an interview aired Sunday. (He wouldn't be alone in that opinion.)

“Yeah, John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time," Trump told Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press." But that's OK, Trump said, because he wants "hawks" and "doves" equally represented in his administration: "I want both sides.” (Here's a video clip.)

The doves, along with Trump's reflexive leeriness about taking the U.S. into a major shooting war, won out as he pulled back in literally the last minutes from launching strikes on Iran to retaliate for the downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone last week. A leading voice for caution was Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But Trump's saber-rattling resumed at its customary fire-and-fury pitch. He is “not looking for war,” Trump warned Iran, but “if there is, it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.” In the meantime, he plans to slap new economic sanctions on Iran Monday and resumed his appeal to Tehran for talks to keep it from building nuclear weapons. 

Bolton, on a visit to Israel, said, "Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness." But it's unclear what lessons Iran's leaders are drawing from the episode. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seemed to recognize discord among U.S. policymakers in a tweet that accused Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi leaders of being “moments away from trapping @realDonaldTrump into a war.”

A New York Times report suggested Iranian chest-thumping played a role in the shootdown of the drone. Leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wanted to prove they could do it because they had been incensed by recent statements from Trump administration officials belittling Iran’s military prowess.

For more on the Iran tensions, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

The war for Trump's ear

Trump privately was more disdainful of the Iran hawks than he let on in public, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting,” Trump told a confidant about his inner circle of advisers. “We don’t need any more wars.”

While Trump says he welcomes a range of opinions, the divisions are playing out with factions making end runs around each other, the report said. 

Most of Trump's national-security team took a hard line. The New York Times said that includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose overall influence has grown in the six months since Jim Mattis departed as Pentagon chief and the Defense Department has gone without a Senate-confirmed secretary. Though his views closely line up with Bolton's, Pompeo so far has been spared an open presidential rebuke.

Janison: Democrats' free-for-all

This week's Democratic presidential debates will give the lesser-knowns among the 20 participating candidates a chance to grow their images as anti-Trump icons, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The top tier isn't riding especially high, and if anyone stands out, you will know it from the president hitting back by tweet.

The encounters will come at a moment of rising antagonism in America between the red and the blue. Even the 38% of voters who in one survey call themselves independents have sorted themselves into camps favoring one party or the other.

Will Trump help 9/11 fund?

Will Trump rescue the bid to renew the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, stuck in limbo in the Republican-led Senate?

The president said he's having a meeting on it soon and gave one of his stock answers: "We'll see what happens."

But Trump also said he was "very impressed" by a passionate appeal to Congress on the first-responders' behalf by comedian Jon Stewart, a veteran advocate for their cause. "I liked what Jon Stewart did," he said.

If that's surprising, it's because Trump and the former "Daily Show" host carried on a long and nasty feud.

See Figueroa's story for Newsday.

Ka-ching trumps Khashoggi

Trump made clear in the "Meet the Press" interview that he's not interested in pursuing evidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's complicity in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Why not? Because money — from arms sales — talks louder than the dying man's screams that were picked up on surveillance of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where the killing took place.

The president said the Middle East is a “vicious, hostile place” and that Iran and other countries in the region are also guilty of the type of behavior Saudi Arabia has been accused of engaging in.

“Take their money. Take their money,” Trump said of the Saudis.

Peace plan going pfft?

Jared Kushner's years-in-the-making plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is getting a cool reception even from America's friends in the region, and the Palestinians want no part of it. Jordan and Egypt, two close U.S. allies, are sending only low-level officials to a conference on the proposal in Bahrain.

The plan stresses economic development for the Palestinians but doesn't address Israeli occupation. 

“The issue is not the fact that the Palestinians will need investments or support,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told The Washington Post. “The issue is that we are not in charge of our own land, our own resources, our own boundaries, our own airspace, our own territorial waters, our own freedom of movement or anything.”

Israel isn't attending either. One idea — for a new transit corridor through Israel that would connect the West Bank and Gaza — is unlikely to win acceptance from the current right-wing Israeli political coalition.

Why deportations were put on hold

Trump said he had delayed a nationwide sweep to deport people living in the United States illegally and gave Congress two weeks to fix "Asylum and Loophole problems" after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged him to call off the raids. But reports said there were also fears it would be a fiasco.

The Associated Press said that according to administration officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaders had expressed serious concerns that officers’ safety would be in jeopardy because too many details about the raids had been made public. (The first word came from a Trump tweet.)

Additionally, Homeland Security officials were concerned about limited space in family detention facilities and the bad optics of separating undocumented parents from their children, The New York Times reported.

Amid revelations in a court case about children being held at a Texas border control station for extended periods without soap, toothbrushes or adequate food, with the care of toddlers left in the hands of older children, Vice President Mike Pence agreed on CNN's "State of the Union" that the conditions were "unacceptable." But he blamed Congress for failing to provide funding.

Shown a video clip of Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian arguing before incredulous judges that the basic sanitary items weren't necessary, Pence said he could not "speak to what that lawyer was saying."

What else is happening:

  • Is the Trump-Kim Jong Un bromance back on? North Korea’s state-run news agency reported Trump sent Kim an “excellent” letter and quoted Kim as saying he would “seriously contemplate” the content. Formal talks on denuclearizing North Korea broke down after a failed summit in February.
  • Trump offered a revisionist view of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign on "Meet the Press" to get in a dig at Democrat Joe Biden. "Hillary Clinton was a great candidate. She was very smart. She was very tough. She was ruthless and vicious,” Trump said. "I would actually rather run against Biden … Sleepy Joe. He’s sleepy. She was not sleepy.”
  • The House oversight committee is threatening to subpoena White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday if she does not show up for a hearing on her alleged violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from participating in political speech while performing their official duties, Politico reported.
  • Kellyanne's Trump-trolling husband, George Conway, wrote that Republicans should take seriously the story of advice columnist E. Jean Carroll that she was raped by Trump in a Bergdorf dressing room 23 years ago. Conway said Carroll's account “rests upon a significantly stronger foundation" than that of Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of rape. Conway advised another Clinton sexual harassment accuser, Paula Jones, in the 1990s.
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg left the campaign trail for a town hall meeting with angry residents of his city over a fatal police shooting of a black man by a white police officer.
  • And now there are 24. Former Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, became the latest candidate to join the bloated Democratic 2020 field on Sunday.

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