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Trump’s scold war at NATO: Cold shoulders, handshake from hell

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron and the handshake felt round the world at the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, May 25, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Peter Dejong

Brussels pouts

Trump began the day with one of his greatest hits — bragging to European Union leaders about the size of his election victory last November. But he didn’t come away from Brussels with the popular vote of America’s allies.

In a speech at NATO headquarters (video here), Trump harshly chastised members of the alliance for not spending “their fair share” for defense and disappointed them by not explicitly reaffirming a core principle — that an attack on one is an attack on all.

EU Council President Donald Tusk indicated Trump did not share Europe’s wariness about Russia and concerns on climate change.

There was dissonance on trade, too. The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported Trump told EU officials, “The Germans are bad, very bad. See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S.? Terrible. We will stop this.”

While doing more to fight terrorism was one of Trump’s big themes, British Prime Minister Theresa May complained about U.S. leaks of sensitive findings about the Manchester terror attack. “Intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure,” she said.

Trump called the leaks “deeply troubling” and ordered a Justice Department investigation. 

Friction is expected to further reveal itself Friday at the G7 summit in Italy, where protectionism and climate change are among the potential flash points. 

Body language was a tell

The Trump handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron was gripping, and then some. A reporter close by saw “their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.” (Video here.)

In private, Trump effused to Macron, “You were my guy,” according to French officials, as if no one had noticed his previous praise of the far-right candidate Macron defeated, Marine Le Pen.

Walking with a group of NATO leaders, Trump appeared to shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way to get to his prearranged spot in front for a group photo. (Video here.) An “excuse me” might have done the job.

The allies watched Trump’s speech largely stone-faced. After the speech, according to The Washington Post, Trump was left largely on his own as other leaders mingled and laughed with each other, leaving the U.S. president to stand silently on a stage.

Probe reaches Trump family

Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, The Washington Post reported.

Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, people familiar with the investigation told the Post.

He was not described as a target, but NBC News reported investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry.

The take-away: Trump-absorbed

America now watches all things political for whether sides are being taken on Trump.

That’s why there was exceptional interest in Thursday’s special Montana House election even before the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, was charged with assaulting a reporter. Even a Long Island state Assembly race Tuesday where Democrats took a GOP seat was scrutinized as a possible measure of the mood on Trump.

But pure Trumplash is tough to gauge when there are so many local variables as well -- including the appeal of individual candidates, the stakes for the state parties and regional issues, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Buckle up for bumpy landing

After a nine-day trek overseas, Trump will return home Saturday to Russia-investigation troubles that have only gotten worse, and which are distracting from -- and imperiling -- his legislative agenda, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.

Since he’s been gone, The Washington Post reported Trump had asked two intelligence chiefs to publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, an outside attorney was hired to represent him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment in congressional investigations.

Michael Dawidziak, a Suffolk County-based pollster who has worked on GOP presidential campaigns, said Trump has a growing “crisis of trustability” among Americans at large.

Demons in the rough

Trump has called the news media “scum,” “the lowest form of life” and “the enemy of the American people,” among other things, and mocked one reporter’s disability. He hasn’t advocated outright assault, like he did for protesters at his campaign rallies.

But a Republican congressman, Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, saw a connection Thursday, saying the president’s rhetoric has created a political climate that led to the Montana confrontation.

“He’s unearthed some demons, and people can feel like if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can, too, and that is a very, very dangerous phenomenon,” Sanford observed, according to a Washington Post reporter. “ ... I think it’s more general than it is specific to the press, but the press is one of the boogeymen out there.”

Trump made a robocall for Gianforte. Asked if he stood by the endorsement, a White House spokesperson said “no comment.”

Travel ban busted again

By a vote of 10 to 3, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Trump’s revised travel ban.

As in previous court decisions, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail tipped the scales against him.

The executive order “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination,” said the decision from the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court.

The judges in the majority were all nominated by Democratic presidents; those in the dissent were chosen by Republicans.

Next stop: the U.S. Supreme Court.

What else is happening

  • Former Sen. Joe Lieberman formally withdrew from consideration for FBI director. He told MSNBC that “you can’t have a director of the FBI coming from the same law firm as the president’s private lawyer [Marc Kasowitz]. It looks terrible.”
  • American voters disapprove of the House health care plan by 57 percent to 20 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
  • The latest terrorist attack  to strike during Trump's presidency is in Egypt --  where at least 23 Christians were killed on a bus en route to a Mass.
  • New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said long-term fixes at Penn Station would be jeopardized by cuts in Trump’s proposed budget, Newsday’s Alfonso A. Castillo reports.
  • A Siena College Research Institute poll finds 65 percent of New York voters, including those upstate where Trump was once popular, now view him unfavorably. See the story by Newsday’s Michael Gormley.
  • How did Carter Page -- a Moscow-friendly businessman and onetime recruitment target for Russian intelligence -- get signed on by the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser? Trump aides say they vetted his name with a Google search and no red flags came up, The Washington Post reports.
  • Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry that he may show up in fired FBI Director James Comey’s memos on Russia-related White House conversations he considered questionable, The Daily Beast reports.

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