Bridge to London falling down
Donald Trump is in Britain, full of ideas about how its prime minister should run her country — and who he thinks might do a better job of it.
On his first visit there as president, Trump sided against Prime Minister Theresa May and with her opponents inside the ruling Conservative Party over her plan to carry out a "soft" Brexit — Britain's exit from the European Union — and still preserve parts of that relationship.
His comments to The Sun, a London-based newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, were described by its political editor, who conducted the interview, as "an extraordinary intervention" in Britain's political affairs.
Trump said “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on," referring to the narrowly passed Brexit referendum. He complained May ignored his advice for a more complete break from the EU.
"I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me,” Trump said. May's plan, he warned, would "probably kill" chances for a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement.
Twisting the shiv, Trump hailed Boris Johnson, the Brexit hard-liner who just quit May's cabinet, saying he would make “a great prime minister” and noting, "He obviously likes me, and says very good things about me."
The interview, conducted in Brussels, was published as May hosted a dinner for the president at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, who coined the term "special relationship" for the Anglo-American bond.
Fanning further controversy in the Sun interview, Trump lamented that Britain, like other EU countries, is “losing its culture” because of immigration.
He expressed sadness that he will be largely avoiding London — and the planned mass protests against him there — during his three-day visit. He blasted London officials who are allowing demonstrators to hoist a 20-foot “Trump Baby” blimp.
"I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London, he said.
As the interview set off an uproar in Britain, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took a stab at putting salve on the stings. “The president likes and respects Prime Minister May very much," she said, and "he is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here
in the U.K.”
The Daily Mirror's front page offered this postscript: “The ego has landed."
Trump and May meet again Friday and a joint press conference is planned.
Trump's mosh pit diplomacy
NATO leaders found themselves strapped in for a wild ride on the Trump mood swing Thursday morning, just after finding him milder than expected behind closed doors the day before.
Arriving a half-hour late for what was supposed to be a meeting about Georgia and Ukraine — two countries where Russia has supported secessionists near its borders — Trump demanded a change of subject and proceeded to berate them, one by one, over their military spending, The Washington Post reported.
He even dropped a hint about pulling the U.S. out of NATO, telling his counterparts that if they did not meet their 2% targets by January, he would “do his own thing.” But after it was over, Trump held an unscheduled news conference to declare all is well. “I believe in NATO,” he said, adding there was "great unity, great spirit, great esprit de corps.”
Janison: An agreement of one
Trump touted his performance as a win. The allied leaders he knocked around didn’t stand by his story, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump said he had cajoled the other countries to boost their defense spending beyond existing commitments. “Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment. They are going to up it at levels never thought of before,” Trump said.
But after Trump left, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Italy’s Giuseppe Conte said they just agreed to stick by commitments made in 2014.
Agent: Opinions ain't taint of probe
House Republicans seeking to sow doubts about the Russia investigation Thursday grilled the FBI's Peter Strzok, a key figure early in the inquiry, who was booted from special counsel Robert Mueller's team following the discovery of anti-Trump texts he exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page while they were having an affair.
Bedlam erupted between GOP and Democratic members after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), attacking Strzok's character, said, “I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eye and lie to her?”
Other Republicans ripped into Strzok. "He thinks promising to ‘stop’ someone he is supposed to be fairly investigating from ever becoming president isn’t bias,” said Rep Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Strzok insisted that neither he nor agents who were pro-Trump let their personal opinions affect their work.
"At no time . . . did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took," Strzok said. The investigation, he testified, was launched after the FBI heard allegations of "extraordinary significance" of a Russian offer of assistance to a Trump campaign member. He called the hearing "another victory notch in Putin's belt and another milestone in our enemies' campaign to tear America apart."
That Kim's a stand-up guy
Along with declaring the North Korea nuclear threat over, Trump has touted Pyongyang's pledge to send home the remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War. But U.S. officials who had a scheduled meeting about the remains at the demilitarized zone Thursday got stood up.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said they were notified at midday, while the Americans were already there waiting, that the North Koreans were canceling. They're now saying they'll show up Sunday.
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang expecting to meet with Kim Jong Un, but that didn't happen. No worries, Trump said. The president tweeted a "very nice note" he got from Kim heralding "epochal progress" in U.S.-North Korea relations. It was dated July 6, shortly before the foreign ministry in Pyongyang accused the U.S. of making "gangster-like" demands on giving up nuclear weapons.
"Great progress being made!" said Trump.
What else is happening:
- The White House announced that Legislative Director Marc Short is leaving his post as Trump’s main liaison with Capitol Hill lawmakers, the latest high-profile departure from the administration, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. He will be replaced by Shahira Knight, who previously served in economic policy posts.
- Is Trump still believing Vladimir Putin's denials of election interference? He said he'll ask again when they meet in Helsinki next week. “All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it,” the president said.
- Stormy Daniels, the porn star in legal battles over her story of a sexual fling with Trump, was arrested at a Columbus, Ohio, strip club Wednesday, accused of illegally rubbing undercover cops' faces against her bare breasts. Prosecutors dropped the charges Thursday, saying the law only applies to regular performers at the clubs.
- Did Putin's top spokesman flab-shame Trump? In a Washington Post interview, discussing the Kremlin's habit of releasing photos that promote a "strongman" action image, such as riding horses shirtless, Dmitry Peskov said of Trump: “I think that if he could walk around bare-chested, he would walk around bare-chested.”
- Trump wants to change Air Force One's signature blue-and-white look, which goes back to the Kennedy years, to one that "looks more American," Axios reports. His preferred design for the next version of the presidential aircraft is believed to include red, white and blue, the report said.
- Trump gave an advance plug on Twitter to former press secretary Sean Spicer's forthcoming book two weeks ago, and it's easy now to see why. Spicer wrote of his ex-boss: “His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow. He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow."