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The worst days of Trump’s presidency: NATO, UK visit, Putin meeting

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  • The White House has been engulfed in crisis after
    crisis over the last week and a half, all of which were
    self-inflicted.
  • President Trump sparked controversy at every turn,
    including during his trip to the NATO summit, his UK visit, his
    meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the bizarre
    press conference that followed, and his comments and statements
    back here in the US.
  • The last week and a half “sits at or near the top of a
    string of foreign policy blunders for this administration,”
    said one Russia expert.
  • Trump proved he is not a global leader,” said
    another.

The White House is in crisis management mode, thanks to a string
of damaging foreign policy faux pas President Donald Trump made
over the last ten days.

Mark Simakovsky, a former Department of Defense official who
focuses on Russia policy, put it bluntly, saying the last week
and a half sits “at or near the top” of the White House’s biggest
blunders since Trump took office.

William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Kennan
Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson
Center, echoed that point.

This week, he said, “Trump proved he is not a global
leader.”

Trump criticizes NATO and accuses Germany of being ‘totally
controlled by’ Russia


trump merkel
Germany’s
Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a
joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in
Washington, U.S., March 17, 2017.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It started last Wednesday, when Trump embarked on a trip to the
annual NATO summit.

He kicked it off by firing off a series of tweets criticizing
NATO while on his way to the meeting.

Later, Trump said NATO allies had agreed to increase their
defense spending “at levels that they never thought of before.”
Several other NATO leaders disputed that claim, saying member
nations had recommitted to a 2014 pledge to spend 2% of national
GDP on defense by 2024.

But by far the most shocking moment of the trip came when Trump
accused Germany, one of the US’s closest western allies, of being
“totally controlled by” and “a captive of Russia” because it
greenlit the building of Nord Stream 2, a Russian pipeline,
through part of Germany.

Pomeranz noted that the Countering America’s
Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) includes a provision
allowing the US to sanction the building of new pipelines after
consulting with allies.

“What’s interesting is the US has the ability to stop this
pipeline or sanction those who build it, but rather than saying
that, Trump is using the pipeline to criticize Germany and
[Chancellor Angela Merkel],” Pomeranz said.

There are already significant divisions between European
Union (EU) member states about the pipeline. But “rather than
being diplomatic about them, Trump threw himself into the middle
of these differences to continue to drive a wedge through the
EU,” Pomeranz said.

Trump: The EU is a ‘foe’ of the US


trump baby balloon
Demonstrators
float a blimp portraying U.S. President Donald Trump, in
Parliament Square, during the visit by Trump and First Lady
Melania Trump in London, Britain July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Peter
Nicholls

Peter
Nicholls/Reuters


After the NATO summit came Trump’s visit to the UK, where he was
met with massive demonstrations in London and a giant “Trump
baby” balloon floating in the sky above the British capital.

Trump was also widely mocked for breaking protocol when meeting
Queen Elizabeth II.

Among other things, Twitter users ripped into the US president
for making the queen wait for 10 minutes, shaking her hand
instead of bowing, walking with his jacket unbuttoned, and
turning his back to the queen during their meeting at Windsor
Castle.

Two days later, Trump again stunned observers when he labeled the
EU a “foe” of the US when asked who he thought the US’s biggest
competitor is.

The president’s remark prompted Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko
Maas, to speak out.

Europe “can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Maas
told the Funke media group on Monday.

He added that Europe “must not let itself be divided, however
sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be.”

Trump sides with Putin over the US intelligence community


dan coats
Director of National
Intelligence Dan Coats.

Thomson
Reuters


Following his UK visit, Trump departed for the most consequential
leg of his trip: a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in Helsinki, Finland.

The optics of the meeting were particularly important because it
came after the special counsel Robert Mueller filed hacking
charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers related to their
interference in the 2016 election. The indictment was monumental
because it was the first time Mueller pointed a finger directly
at the Russian government.

But during a surreal press conference after the meeting on
Monday, instead of holding the Russian leader accountable, Trump
touted the “direct, open, deeply productive dialogue”
he had with Putin.

And national security experts said that, in turn, Putin
played Trump like a fiddle.

For much of the presser, Trump stood next to Putin and spent more
time denigrating his political opponents and intelligence
agencies than he did a hostile foreign power.

Things devolved further when Trump indicated that he believed
Putin over the US intelligence community on Russian election
interference, declined to denounce Putin, and suggested the FBI
was part of a conspiracy to undermine his election victory.

“My people came to me … they said they think it’s Russia” that
interfered, Trump said. “I have President Putin. He just said
it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it
would be.”

He added that he had “great confidence” in his “intelligence
people” but that Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his
denial” of Russian meddling.

Trump’s own intelligence chief and State Department rebuke him

Trump’s comments floored lawmakers from both sides of the
aisle and some of his staunchest allies. They even prompted the
former CIA director John Brennan to accuse the president of
treason.

But Glenn Carle, a longtime former CIA spy, said he wasn’t the
least bit surprised by the presser because “it’s becoming more
and more clear that Trump is either a witting or unwitting
Russian asset.”

Following the bizarre press conference, Director of
National Intelligence Dan Coats publicly split with Trump on
Russian interference.

Trump later walked back his comments, saying he misspoke
and meant to say he didn’t see any reason why
it wouldn’t be Russia who interfered. He said he
accepted the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia
meddled, though he later tacked on: “Could be other people also.
There’s a lot of people out there.”

Trump again sparked controversy on Wednesday when he
appeared to answer “no” to a reporter’s question about whether
Russia was still targeting the US via cyberattacks and election
meddling, directly contradicting Coats and other top US
intelligence officials.

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
later said Trump was saying “no” to taking more questions, not
answering the question itself.


trump putin
U.S.
President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir
Putin arrive for a one-on-one-meeting at the Presidential Palace
in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.


AP
Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais



Then came Thursday, during which
the 

White House drew scorn for saying Trump was
considering Putin’s request to turn over Michael McFaul, the US’s
former ambassador to Russia, for questioning related to financial
crimes the Kremlin alleges were committed by Bill Browder, a
wealthy banker, human-rights activist, and Putin critic.

The State Department came out shortly after and said
Putin’s proposal was “absurd.”

Former national security adviser Susan Rice tweeted that
the lack of commitment to protecting McFaul was “beyond
outrageous.”

A current US diplomat told The Daily Beast that
Trump’s consideration of Putin’s request indicated that “the
president has first and foremost his interests at the top of his
mind, as opposed to the government’s. That’s very clear over
the past week and a half, between s—— on our NATO allies and
kissing Putin’s ass.”

“Either he’s compromised by Putin or he’s a p—y, in which
case he should grab himself,” this person said, according to the
report.

And the Senate, in a rare unified rebuke of Trump on
Russia, voted unanimously on Thursday
in favor of a resolution expressing Congress’s opposition to the
US government allowing Russia to question US officials.

Amid the criticism, the White House again walked back its
stance, saying that while Trump thought Putin’s offer was
sincere, he disagreed with it.

Later on Thursday, the White House dropped another bombshell:
Trump wanted to invite Putin to Washington in the fall, close to
the midterm elections, for another meeting.

Coats, who was speaking at the annual Aspen Security Forum
when the news broke, reacted to it on live television.

When MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who was interviewing him,
informed him of the development, Coats asked her to repeat
herself because he felt he wasn’t hearing her correctly. When she
confirmed, again, that Trump wanted to invite Putin to
Washington, Coats said, “OK … That’s gonna be special.”

Meanwhile, it also doesn’t seem like Trump’s legal troubles
back in the US will let up any time soon. In addition to Mueller
continuing to dig into whether the Trump campaign colluded with
Moscow, The New York Times reported on Friday that Michael Cohen,
Trump’s embattled former lawyer, secretly recorded discussions with
Trump
shortly before the election about payments to a former
Playboy model.

Though Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, attempted to play off
the news, legal experts told Business Insider the
bombshell was unlike anything they’d heard of — and it could be
very bad news for Trump.

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