Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks
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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
The meeting between the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Russians at the Trump Tower in June 2016 was “treasonous,” Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted as saying in a book written by Michael Wolff entitled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” The Trump Tpwer meeting took place after an intermediary offered damaging material about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and attendees included Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, David Smith reports at the Guardian.
An excerpt from the book revealing details about Trump’s presidential campaign, the atmosphere within the Trump administration and Steve Bannon’s role, is provided by Michael Wolff at the New York Magazine.
Bannon “lost his mind” when he left the White House, Trump said in a statement yesterday responding to Bannon’s comments, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Wolff’s book “trashy tabloid fiction” that is “filled with false and misleading accounts.” Eli Stokols reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue,” Trump’s statement also said, and the acrimonious break between the president and Bannon could have implications for the struggle for influence within the Republican establishment. Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley report at the Hill.
Lawyers for Trump sent Bannon a cease and desist letter yesterday, accusing Bannon of breaching the employment agreement he signed with the Trump campaign and demanding that Bannon refrain from further disclosure of confidential information and disparagement of Trump and his family members. John Santucci reports at ABC News.
The White House has been angered by Bannon’s quotes to Wolff and, according to White House sources, Trump personally dictated key parts of the statement denouncing Bannon. Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein report at The Daily Beast.
Trump has been agitated by the ongoing Russia investigations, the probes have dragged on longer than Trump’s lawyers had initially told the president and a source close to the White House said that Bannon had crossed a clear line when he made personal comments about the president’s family. Kevin Liptak and Dana Bush report at CNN.
The ten most explosive revelations from Wolff’s book are provided by the BBC.
Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday, arguing that the Justice Department had had exceeded its legal authority when the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ordered Mueller to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, an order which gave Mueller a “carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating.” Spencer S. Hsu and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.
Manafort’s lawsuit asks for the federal judge to throw out Rosenstein’s order, to dismiss the indictment against Manafort and bar Mueller from pursuing similar investigations. Del Quentin Wilber reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has signaled his willingness to have the founders of the opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S. testify publicly about the controversial dossier they commissioned alleging connections between Trump and Russia, the Senator’s comments follow an opinion piece written by the founders in the New York Times which accused the Republicans of spinning conspiracy theories about their firm, the dossier and leaking selective details from their closed-door testimonies. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) met with top federal law enforcement officials yesterday to discuss the dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele and commissioned by Fusion G.P.S., the meeting was held following a request by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a statement after the meeting that he believes the House Intelligence Committee has “reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that will provide the committee with access to all documents and witnesses we have requested,” Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.
The government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (C.R.E.W.) filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Justice Department for its decision to reveal anti-Trump private text messages between two F.B.I. agents, which have been seized on by Republicans as evidence of bias within Mueller’s team. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
The founder of Fusion G.P.S. have spun a “sob story” and their op-ed did not provide a single example “of something that proves the dossier’s claim of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, referring to the opinion piece written by the founders earlier this week.
|Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks|
|Michael Wolffs Fire and Fury: Inside Trumps White House|
On the afternoon of November 8, 2016, Kellyanne Conway settled into her glass office at Trump Tower. Right up until the last weeks of the race, the campaign headquarters had remained a listless place. All that seemed to distinguish it from a corporate back office were a few posters with right-wing slogans.
Conway, the campaign’s manager, was in a remarkably buoyant mood, considering she was about to experience a resounding, if not cataclysmic, defeat. Donald Trump would lose the election — of this she was sure — but he would quite possibly hold the defeat to under six points. That was a substantial victory. As for the looming defeat itself, she shrugged it off: It was Reince Priebus’s fault, not hers.
She had spent a good part of the day calling friends and allies in the political world and blaming Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Now she briefed some of the television producers and anchors whom she had been carefully courting since joining the Trump campaign — and with whom she had been actively interviewing in the last few weeks, hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election.
Even though the numbers in a few key states had appeared to be changing to Trump’s advantage, neither Conway nor Trump himself nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — the effective head of the campaign — wavered in their certainty: Their unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.
As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. “I can be the most famous man in the world,” he had told his aide Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. His longtime friend Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, liked to say that if you want a career in television, first run for president. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumors about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.
“This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,” he told Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”
The Postelection Chaos at Trump Tower
From the start, the leitmotif for Trump about his own campaign was how crappy it was, and how everybody involved in it was a loser. In August, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 12 points, he couldn’t conjure even a far-fetched scenario for achieving an electoral victory. He was baffled when the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, a Ted Cruz backer whom Trump barely knew, offered him an infusion of $5 million. When Mercer and his daughter Rebekah presented their plan to take over the campaign and install their lieutenants, Steve Bannon and Conway, Trump didn’t resist. He only expressed vast incomprehension about why anyone would want to do that. “This thing,” he told the Mercers, “is so fucked up.”
Bannon, who became chief executive of Trump’s team in mid-August, called it “the broke-dick campaign.” Almost immediately, he saw that it was hampered by an even deeper structural flaw: The candidate who billed himself as a billionaire — ten times over — refused to invest his own money in it. Bannon told Kushner that, after the first debate in September, they would need another $50 million to cover them until Election Day.
“No way we’ll get 50 million unless we can guarantee him victory,” said a clear-eyed Kushner.
“Twenty-five million?” prodded Bannon.
“If we can say victory is more than likely.”
In the end, the best Trump would do is to loan the campaign $10 million, provided he got it back as soon as they could raise other money. Steve Mnuchin, the campaign’s finance chairman, came to collect the loan with the wire instructions ready to go so Trump couldn’t conveniently forget to send the money.
Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” Flynn assured them.
Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy.
There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.
From the moment of victory, the Trump administration became a looking-glass presidency: Every inverse assumption about how to assemble and run a White House was enacted and compounded, many times over. The decisions that Trump and his top advisers made in those first few months — from the slapdash transition to the disarray in the West Wing — set the stage for the chaos and dysfunction that have persisted throughout his first year in office. This was a real-life version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, where the mistaken outcome trusted by everyone in Trump’s inner circle — that they would lose the election — wound up exposing them for who they really were.
On the Saturday after the election, Trump received a small group of well-wishers in his triplex apartment in Trump Tower. Even his close friends were still shocked and bewildered, and there was a dazed quality to the gathering. But Trump himself was mostly looking at the clock. Rupert Murdoch, who had promised to pay a call on the president-elect, was running late. When some of the guests made a move to leave, an increasingly agitated Trump assured them that Rupert was on his way. “He’s one of the greats, the last of the greats,” Trump said. “You have to stay to see him.” Not grasping that he was now the most powerful man in the world, Trump was still trying mightily to curry favor with a media mogul who had long disdained him as a charlatan and fool.
Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: He was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”
The day after the election, the bare-bones transition team that had been set up during the campaign hurriedly shifted from Washington to Trump Tower. The building — now the headquarters of a populist revolution — suddenly seemed like an alien spaceship on Fifth Avenue. But its otherworldly air helped obscure the fact that few in Trump’s inner circle, with their overnight responsibility for assembling a government, had any relevant experience.
Ailes, a veteran of the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41 administrations, tried to impress on Trump the need to create a White House structure that could serve and protect him. “You need a son of a bitch as your chief of staff,” he told Trump. “And you need a son of a bitch who knows Washington. You’ll want to be your own son of a bitch, but you don’t know Washington.” Ailes had a suggestion: John Boehner, who had stepped down as Speaker of the House only a year earlier.
“Who’s that?” asked Trump.
As much as the president himself, the chief of staff determines how the Executive branch — which employs 4 million people — will run. The job has been construed as deputy president, or even prime minister. But Trump had no interest in appointing a strong chief of staff with a deep knowledge of Washington. Among his early choices for the job was Kushner — a man with no political experience beyond his role as a calm and flattering body man to Trump during the campaign.
It was Ann Coulter who finally took the president-elect aside. “Nobody is apparently telling you this,” she told him. “But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children.”
Bowing to pressure, Trump floated the idea of giving the job to Steve Bannon, only to have the notion soundly ridiculed. Murdoch told Trump that Bannon would be a dangerous choice. Joe Scarborough, the former congressman and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, told the president-elect that “Washington will go up in flames” if Bannon became chief of staff.
So Trump turned to Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, who had became the subject of intense lobbying by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If congressional leaders were going to have to deal with an alien like Donald Trump, then best they do it with the help of one of their own kind.
Jim Baker, chief of staff for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and almost everybody’s model for managing the West Wing, advised Priebus not to take the job. Priebus had his own reservations: He had come out of his first long meeting with Trump thinking it had been a disconcertingly weird experience. Trump talked nonstop and constantly repeated himself.
“Here’s the deal,” a close Trump associate told Priebus. “In an hour meeting with him, you’re going to hear 54 minutes of stories, and they’re going to be the same stories over and over again. So you have to have one point to make, and you pepper it in whenever you can.”
But the Priebus appointment, announced in mid-November, put Bannon on a co-equal level to the new chief of staff. Even with the top job, Priebus would be a weak figure, in the traditional mold of most Trump lieutenants over the years. There would be one chief of staff in name — the unimportant one — and others like Bannon and Kushner, more important in practice, ensuring both chaos and Trump’s independence.
Priebus demonstrated no ability to keep Trump from talking to anyone who wanted his ear. The president-elect enjoyed being courted. On December 14, a high-level delegation from Silicon Valley came to Trump Tower to meet him. Later that afternoon, according to a source privy to details of the conversation, Trump called Rupert Murdoch, who asked him how the meeting had gone.
“Oh, great, just great,” said Trump. “These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favorable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.”
“Donald,” said Murdoch, “for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”
“Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.”
Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, “We’ll figure it out.”
“What a fucking idiot,” said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.
Steve Bannon, suddenly among the world’s most powerful men, was running late. It was the evening of January 3, 2017 — a little more than two weeks before Trump’s inauguration — and Bannon had promised to come to a small dinner arranged by mutual friends in a Greenwich Village townhouse to see Roger Ailes.
Snow was threatening, and for a while the dinner appeared doubtful. But the 76-year-old Ailes, who was as dumbfounded by his old friend Donald Trump’s victory as everyone else, understood that he was passing the right-wing torch to Bannon. Ailes’s Fox News, with its $1.5 billion in annual profits, had dominated Republican politics for two decades. Now Bannon’s Breitbart News, with its mere $1.5 million in annual profits, was claiming that role. For 30 years, Ailes — until recently the single most powerful person in conservative politics — had humored and tolerated Trump, but in the end Bannon and Breitbart had elected him.
At 9:30, having extricated himself from Trump Tower, Bannon finally arrived at the dinner, three hours late. Wearing a disheveled blazer, his signature pairing of two shirts, and military fatigues, the unshaven, overweight 63-year-old immediately dived into an urgent download of information about the world he was about to take over.
“We’re going to flood the zone so we have every Cabinet member for the next seven days through their confirmation hearings,” he said of the business-and-military, 1950s-type Cabinet choices. “Tillerson is two days, Sessions is two days, Mattis is two days …”
Bannon veered from James “Mad Dog” Mattis — the retired four-star general whom Trump had nominated as secretary of Defense — to the looming appointment of Michael Flynn as national-security adviser. “He’s fine. He’s not Jim Mattis and he’s not John Kelly … but he’s fine. He just needs the right staff around him.” Still, Bannon averred: “When you take out all the Never Trump guys who signed all those letters and all the neocons who got us in all these wars … it’s not a deep bench.” Bannon said he’d tried to push John Bolton, the famously hawkish diplomat, for the job as national-security adviser. Bolton was an Ailes favorite, too.
“He’s a bomb thrower,” said Ailes. “And a strange little fucker. But you need him. Who else is good on Israel? Flynn is a little nutty on Iran. Tillerson just knows oil.”
“Bolton’s mustache is a problem,” snorted Bannon. “Trump doesn’t think he looks the part. You know Bolton is an acquired taste.”
“Well, he got in trouble because he got in a fight in a hotel one night and chased some woman.”
“If I told Trump that,” Bannon said slyly, “he might have the job.”
Bannon was curiously able to embrace Trump while at the same time suggesting he did not take him entirely seriously. Great numbers of people, he believed, were suddenly receptive to a new message — the world needs borders — and Trump had become the platform for that message.
“Does he get it?” asked Ailes suddenly, looking intently at Bannon. Did Trump get where history had put him?
Bannon took a sip of water. “He gets it,” he said, after hesitating for perhaps a beat too long. “Or he gets what he gets.”
Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon” — Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender — “is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”
“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” said an amused Ailes.
Bannon snorted. “Too much, too little — doesn’t necessarily change things.”
“What has he gotten himself into with the Russians?” pressed Ailes.
“Mostly,” said Bannon, “he went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin. But Putin couldn’t give a shit about him. So he’s kept trying.”
Again, as though setting the issue of Trump aside — merely a large and peculiar presence to both be thankful for and to have to abide — Bannon, in the role he had conceived for himself, the auteur of the Trump presidency, charged forward. The real enemy, he said, was China. China was the first front in a new Cold War.
“China’s everything. Nothing else matters. We don’t get China right, we don’t get anything right. This whole thing is very simple. China is where Nazi Germany was in 1929 to 1930. The Chinese, like the Germans, are the most rational people in the world, until they’re not. And they’re gonna flip like Germany in the ’30s. You’re going to have a hypernationalist state, and once that happens, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
“Donald might not be Nixon in China,” said Ailes, deadpan.
Bannon smiled. “Bannon in China,” he said, with both remarkable grandiosity and wry self-deprecation.
“How’s the kid?” asked Ailes, referring to Kushner.
“He’s my partner,” said Bannon, his tone suggesting that if he felt otherwise, he was nevertheless determined to stay on message.
“He’s had a lot of lunches with Rupert,” said a dubious Ailes.
“In fact,” said Bannon, “I could use your help here.” He then spent several minutes trying to recruit Ailes to help kneecap Murdoch. Since his ouster from Fox over allegations of sexual harassment, Ailes had become only more bitter toward Murdoch. Now Murdoch was frequently jawboning the president-elect and encouraging him toward Establishment moderation. Bannon wanted Ailes to suggest to Trump, a man whose many neuroses included a horror of senility, that Murdoch might be losing it.
“I’ll call him,” said Ailes. “But Trump would jump through hoops for Rupert. Like for Putin. Sucks up and shits down. I just worry about who’s jerking whose chain.”
Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears. Throughout the day, he wore what some around him had taken to calling his golf face: angry and pissed off, shoulders hunched, arms swinging, brow furled, lips pursed.
The first senior staffer to enter the White House that day was Bannon. On the inauguration march, he had grabbed 32-year-old Katie Walsh, the newly appointed deputy chief of staff, and together they had peeled off to inspect the now-vacant West Wing. The carpet had been shampooed, but little else had changed. It was a warren of tiny offices in need of paint, the décor something like an admissions office at a public university. Bannon claimed the nondescript office across from the much grander chief of staff’s suite and immediately requisitioned the whiteboards on which he intended to chart the first 100 days of the Trump administration. He also began moving furniture out. The point was to leave no room for anyone to sit. Limit discussion. Limit debate. This was war.
Those who had worked on the campaign noticed the sudden change. Within the first week, Bannon seemed to have put away the camaraderie of Trump Tower and become far more remote, if not unreachable. “What’s up with Steve?” Kushner began to ask. “I don’t understand. We were so close.” Now that Trump had been elected, Bannon was already focused on his next goal: capturing the soul of the Trump White House.
He began by going after his enemies. Few fueled his rancor toward the standard-issue Republican world as much as Rupert Murdoch — not least because Murdoch had Trump’s ear. It was one of the key elements of Bannon’s understanding of Trump: The last person the president spoke to ended up with enormous influence. Trump would brag that Murdoch was always calling him; Murdoch, for his part, would complain that he couldn’t get Trump off the phone.
“He doesn’t know anything about American politics, and has no feel for the American people,” Bannon told Trump, always eager to point out that Murdoch wasn’t an American. Yet in one regard, Murdoch’s message was useful to Bannon. Having known every president since Harry Truman — as Murdoch took frequent opportunities to point out — the media mogul warned Trump that a president has only six months, max, to set his agenda and make an impact. After that, it was just putting out fires and battling the opposition.
This was the message whose urgency Bannon had been trying to impress on an often distracted Trump, who was already trying to limit his hours in the office and keep to his normal golf habits. Bannon’s strategic view of government was shock and awe. In his head, he carried a set of decisive actions that would not just mark the new administration’s opening days but make it clear that nothing ever again would be the same. He had quietly assembled a list of more than 200 executive orders to issue in the first 100 days. The very first EO, in his view, had to be a crackdown on immigration. After all, it was one of Trump’s core campaign promises. Plus, Bannon knew, it was an issue that made liberals batshit mad.
Bannon could push through his agenda for a simple reason: because nobody in the administration really had a job. Priebus, as chief of staff, had to organize meetings, hire staff, and oversee the individual offices in the Executive-branch departments. But Bannon, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump had no specific responsibilities — they did what they wanted. And for Bannon, the will to get big things done was how big things got done. “Chaos was Steve’s strategy,” said Walsh.
On Friday, January 27 — only his eighth day in office — Trump signed an executive order issuing a sweeping exclusion of many Muslims from the United States. In his mania to seize the day, with almost no one in the federal government having seen it or even been aware of it, Bannon had succeeded in pushing through an executive order that overhauled U.S. immigration policy while bypassing the very agencies and personnel responsible for enforcing it.
The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! But Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between Trump’s America and that of liberals. Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?
“Errr … that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.
On the Sunday after the immigration order was issued, Joe Scarborough and his Morning Joe co-host, Mika Brzezinski, arrived for lunch at the White House. Trump proudly showed them into the Oval Office. “So how do you think the first week has gone?” he asked the couple, in a buoyant mood, seeking flattery. When Scarborough ventured his opinion that the immigration order might have been handled better, Trump turned defensive and derisive, plunging into a long monologue about how well things had gone. “I could have invited Hannity!” he told Scarborough.
After Jared and Ivanka joined them for lunch, Trump continued to cast for positive impressions of his first week. Scarborough praised the president for having invited leaders of the steel unions to the White House. At which point Jared interjected that reaching out to unions, a Democratic constituency, was Bannon’s doing, that this was “the Bannon way.”
“Bannon?” said the president, jumping on his son-in-law. “That wasn’t Bannon’s idea. That was my idea. It’s the Trump way, not the Bannon way.”
Kushner, going concave, retreated from the discussion.
Trump, changing the topic, said to Scarborough and Brzezinski, “So what about you guys? What’s going on?” He was referencing their not-so-secret secret relationship. The couple said it was still complicated, but good.
“You guys should just get married,” prodded Trump.
“I can marry you! I’m an internet Unitarian minister,” Kushner, otherwise an Orthodox Jew, said suddenly.
“What?” said the president. “What are you talking about? Why would they want you to marry them when I could marry them? When they could be married by the president! At Mar-a-Lago!”
The First Children couple were having to navigate Trump’s volatile nature just like everyone else in the White House. And they were willing to do it for the same reason as everyone else — in the hope that Trump’s unexpected victory would catapult them into a heretofore unimagined big time. Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump.
Bannon, who had coined the term “Jarvanka” that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him. “They didn’t say that?” he said. “Stop. Oh, come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my God.”
The truth was, Ivanka and Jared were as much the chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. The couple had opted for formal jobs in the West Wing, in part because they knew that influencing Trump required you to be all-in. From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance — without making him angry or petulant.
Ivanka maintained a relationship with her father that was in no way conventional. She was a helper not just in his business dealings, but in his marital realignments. If it wasn’t pure opportunism, it was certainly transactional. For Ivanka, it was all business — building the Trump brand, the presidential campaign, and now the White House. She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men — the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.
Kushner, for his part, had little to no success at trying to restrain his father-in-law. Ever since the transition, Jared had been negotiating to arrange a meeting at the White House with Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president whom Trump had threatened and insulted throughout the campaign. On the Wednesday after the inauguration, a high-level Mexican delegation — the first visit by any foreign leaders to the Trump White House — met with Kushner and Reince Priebus. That afternoon, Kushner triumphantly told his father-in-law that Peña Nieto had signed on to a White House meeting and planning for the visit could go forward.
The next day, on Twitter, Trump blasted Mexico for stealing American jobs. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall,” the president declared, “then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” At which point Peña Nieto did just that, leaving Kushner’s negotiation and statecraft as so much scrap on the floor.
Nothing contributed to the chaos and dysfunction of the White House as much as Trump’s own behavior. The big deal of being president was just not apparent to him. Most victorious candidates, arriving in the White House from ordinary political life, could not help but be reminded of their transformed circumstances by their sudden elevation to a mansion with palacelike servants and security, a plane at constant readiness, and downstairs a retinue of courtiers and advisers. But this wasn’t that different from Trump’s former life in Trump Tower, which was actually more commodious and to his taste than the White House.
Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom — the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms. In the first days, he ordered two television screens in addition to the one already there, and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the Secret Service, who insisted they have access to the room. He reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” Then he imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.) Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed.
If he was not having his 6:30 dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls — the phone was his true contact point with the world — to a small group of friends, who charted his rising and falling levels of agitation through the evening and then compared notes with one another.
As details of Trump’s personal life leaked out, he became obsessed with identifying the leaker. The source of all the gossip, however, may well have been Trump himself. In his calls throughout the day and at night from his bed, he often spoke to people who had no reason to keep his confidences. He was a river of grievances, which recipients of his calls promptly spread to the ever-attentive media.
On February 6, in one of his seething, self-pitying, and unsolicited phone calls to a casual acquaintance, Trump detailed his bent-out-of-shape feelings about the relentless contempt of the media and the disloyalty of his staff. The initial subject of his ire was the New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, whom he called “a nut job.” Gail Collins, who had written a Times column unfavorably comparing Trump to Vice-President Mike Pence, was “a moron.” Then, continuing under the rubric of media he hated, he veered to CNN and the deep disloyalty of its chief, Jeff Zucker.
Zucker, who as the head of entertainment at NBC had commissioned The Apprentice, had been “made by Trump,” Trump said of himself in the third person. He had “personally” gotten Zucker his job at CNN. “Yes, yes, I did,” said the president, launching into a favorite story about how he had once talked Zucker up at a dinner with a high-ranking executive from CNN’s parent company. “I probably shouldn’t have, because Zucker is not that smart,” Trump lamented, “but I like to show I can do that sort of thing.” Then Zucker had returned the favor by airing the “unbelievably disgusting” story about the Russian “dossier”and the “golden shower” — the practice CNN had accused him of being party to in a Moscow hotel suite with assorted prostitutes.
Having dispensed with Zucker, the president of the United States went on to speculate on what was involved with a golden shower. And how this was all just part of a media campaign that would never succeed in driving him from the White House. Because they were sore losers and hated him for winning, they spread total lies, 100 percent made-up things, totally untrue, for instance, the cover that week of Time magazine — which, Trump reminded his listener, he had been on more than anyone in history — that showed Steve Bannon, a good guy, saying he was the real president. “How much influence do you think Steve Bannon has over me?” Trump demanded. He repeated the question, then repeated the answer: “Zero! Zero!” And that went for his son-in-law, too, who had a lot to learn.
The media was not only hurting him, he said — he was not looking for any agreement or even any response — but hurting his negotiating capabilities, which hurt the nation. And that went for Saturday Night Live, which might think it was very funny but was actually hurting everybody in the country. And while he understood that SNL was there to be mean to him, they were being very, very mean. It was “fake comedy.” He had reviewed the treatment of all other presidents in the media, and there was nothing like this ever, even of Nixon, who was treated very unfairly. “Kellyanne, who is very fair, has this all documented. You can look at it.”
The point is, he said, that that very day, he had saved $700 million a year in jobs that were going to Mexico, but the media was talking about him wandering around the White House in his bathrobe, which “I don’t have because I’ve never worn a bathrobe. And would never wear one, because I’m not that kind of guy.” And what the media was doing was undermining this very dignified house, and “dignity is so important.” But Murdoch, “who had never called me, never once,” was now calling all the time. So that should tell people something.
The call went on for 26 minutes.
Without a strong chief of staff at the White House, there was no real up-and-down structure in the administration — merely a figure at the top and everyone else scrambling for his attention. It wasn’t task-based so much as response-oriented — whatever captured the boss’s attention focused everybody’s attention. Priebus and Bannon and Kushner were all fighting to be the power behind the Trump throne. And in these crosshairs was Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff.
Walsh, who came to the White House from the RNC, represented a certain Republican ideal: clean, brisk, orderly, efficient. A righteous bureaucrat with a permanently grim expression, she was a fine example of the many political professionals in whom competence and organizational skills transcend ideology. To Walsh, it became clear almost immediately that “the three gentlemen running things,” as she came to characterize them, had each found his own way to appeal to the president. Bannon offered a rousing fuck-you show of force; Priebus offered flattery from the congressional leadership; Kushner offered the approval of blue-chip businessmen. Each appeal was exactly what Trump wanted from the presidency, and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t have them all. He wanted to break things, he wanted Congress to give him bills to sign, and he wanted the love and respect of New York machers and socialites.
As soon as the campaign team had stepped into the White House, Walsh saw, it had gone from managing Trump to the expectation of being managed by him. Yet the president, while proposing the most radical departure from governing and policy norms in several generations, had few specific ideas about how to turn his themes and vitriol into policy. And making suggestions to him was deeply complicated. Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
By the end of the second week following the immigration EO, the three advisers were in open conflict with one another. For Walsh, it was a daily process of managing an impossible task: Almost as soon as she received direction from one of the three men, it would be countermanded by one or another of them.
“I take a conversation at face value and move forward with it,” she said. “I put what was decided on the schedule and bring in comms and build a press plan around it … And then Jared says, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I say, ‘Because we had a meeting three days ago with you and Reince and Steve where you agreed to do this.’ And he says, ‘But that didn’t mean I wanted it on the schedule …’ It almost doesn’t matter what anyone says: Jared will agree, and then it will get sabotaged, and then Jared goes to the president and says, see, that was Reince’s idea or Steve’s idea.”
If Bannon, Priebus, and Kushner were now fighting a daily war with one another, it was exacerbated by the running disinformation campaign about them that was being prosecuted by the president himself. When he got on the phone after dinner, he’d speculate on the flaws and weaknesses of each member of his staff. Bannon was disloyal (not to mention he always looks like shit). Priebus was weak (not to mention he was short — a midget). Kushner was a suck-up. Sean Spicer was stupid (and looks terrible too). Conway was a crybaby. Jared and Ivanka should never have come to Washington.
During that first month, Walsh’s disbelief and even fear about what was happening in the White House moved her to think about quitting. Every day after that became a countdown toward the moment she knew she wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. To Walsh, the proud political pro, the chaos, the rivalries, and the president’s own lack of focus were simply incomprehensible. In early March, not long before she left, she confronted Kushner with a simple request. “Just give me the three things the president wants to focus on,” she demanded. “What are the three priorities of this White House?”
It was the most basic question imaginable — one that any qualified presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer.
“Yes,” he said to Walsh. “We should probably have that conversation.”
*Excerpted from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (Henry Holt and Co., January 9, 2018). This article appears in the January 8, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
*This article has been updated to include more information from Wolff’s book about the nature of Trump’s conversation with the Mercers.
|Intel responds to the CPU kernel bug, downplaying its impact on home users – PCWorld|
|VOA Interview: Security Adviser McMaster Discusses Iran, Pakistan|
VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren interviewed National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster at the White House on Tuesday. Greta Van Susteren: General, nice to see you, sir. H.R. McMaster: Its great to be with you, Greta. Thank you. Van Susteren: Thank you for doing this interview. McMaster: Its a privilege to do it, thanks. Question: Well, lets start with Iran. A lots going on there. What are your reflections on it? McMaster: Well, the Iranian people are expressing frustration frustration about a regime that pays more attention to exporting terrorism than it does to meeting the needs of its own people. So, the president has been very strong in his support for the Iranian people and their rights to express themselves. And I think whats most important now is for the whole world to tell Iran that they have to respect the rights of their citizens and allow them to demonstrate peacefully and to not engage in the kind of violence against the demonstrators that we saw, remember, back in 2009 and that were starting to see now, as well. Q: Well, in 1956, we had a similar situation in Hungary, and the West didnt support the protesters there. Weve seen it in the early 90s with the Kurds in Iraq, and again, the United States voiced its support but didnt do anything. And we, as you mentioned, 2009 when President (Barack) Obama was president, in the Green Movement after the election. Is this administration going to do anything more than voice verbal support for the protesters? Or can they? McMaster: Well, well see what options are available. But I think what we need are strong voices across the world on behalf of the Iranian people. This is a dictatorial regime that is oppressing its own people, that is using the resources that this great nation with this rich culture and rich history needs, to foment hatred and violence across the greater Middle East. Theyre a driving force behind this fitna, behind this sectarian civil war, that has caused so much pain and suffering and death in Syria and Iraq and Yemen. They pose a continuing threat to Israel and within Lebanon to its stability, and this regime has to be held to account. And it seems as if the Iranian people are expressing their displeasure about the behavior of this regime and prioritizing this kind of violence over the benefit and the welfare of their own citizens. Q: I was comparing and contrasting in my own mind 2009, which was provoked by an election that the people they were unhappy with the election, they thought it was unfair. This one is a little bit different. Almost spontaneously, the number of cities that theres been a protest. At first, the suggestion was that it was as a result of an economic situation, that any sort of the economic benefits that they anticipated from the Iran deal didnt trickle down to them. Why do you think do you think this was this provoked by economics, or by Western influence? Why do you think the protests were sparked in the first place? McMaster: I think whats key is to let the Iranian people speak for themselves on this. I think its dissatisfaction with this dictatorial regime. It was over economics to a certain extent, and the skyrocketing of prices, the very high rate of unemployment, especially among young Iranians. And these are people who know the great potential of their country, and theyre frustrated to not be able to take advantage of that potential. But its also been about the external behavior of the regime, and how This is a regime that gives safe haven to al-Qaida terrorists who target Shi’ite, Christians, anybody who doesnt do and any Muslim who doesnt adhere to their narrow and irreligious definition of Islam. And so, this is a regime that is dishonest fundamentally, and a regime that has helped drive violence and hatred across the whole region. Q: I dont pretend to know what the solution is, its not my job. But even if it were my job, I dont know what the solution is. But if we do no more than to say Were with you, you know, with the protesters, how is the result going to be any different than 09, or even any of those other examples? I mean, arent we just going to expect that the Iranian that it will probably be the protesters who would be put down, there would be more violence? How do we expect a different solution, if our reaction is the same? McMaster: Well, were already doing more than that. As you know, in recent years, there was a hope a hope that the pursuit of this nuclear deal thats fundamentally flawed would change the behavior of this regime, that it would moderate its violent behavior. And of course, that hasnt been the case at all. So, what the United States has been doing, along with allies and partners around the world, is sanctioning that violent, that maligned, Iranian behavior. And so, its important, I think, that this regime be denied the resources it needs to continue its murderous campaigns. And so, its diplomacy, but its also sanctions. And we see that actually the Iranian people are expressing their displeasure about the nature of this regime how it treats them, but also how it treats the rest of the world. Q: Is there this interview is likely to be seen in Iran because of the Persian service of Voice of America. Is there a specific message that you want to get to the people of Iran? You know, that you want to tell the Iranian people what America is going to do if they do change the government? McMaster: Well, I think the first thing to know is the American people and this American government has great respect for the Iranian people, the Iranian culture, their tremendous history and the tremendous potential they have. And it breaks our heart to see Iranians not be able to realize their dreams. Also, we have to recognize, though, its up to all of us across the world to confront Irans behavior that is causing so much suffering their support for terrorist organizations and illegal militias that are perpetuating violence. And so, they have our emotional support, they have our sympathy, and were grateful, I think, to see them exercising their right to voice their displeasure with this dictatorial regime. Q: President (Donald) Trump has said that hes not going to certify the agreement, the nuclear agreement. Whats the message to Americans, and as well to the Iranians? What can we expect on that nuclear agreement? McMaster: Well, I think the main message is how can you trust this regime that treats its own people the way we see its treating its own people, that foments violence? Q: So, is the agreement off? The agreements definitely to be decertified? McMaster: Well, it might be. Well bring options to the president. The president declined to certify that the Iran nuclear deal was in the interest of the United States. And but that doesnt mean he wouldnt continue to adhere to the agreement, in terms of extending waivers on sanctions. Hell make that decision, I think, in the next few weeks to the next month. And so, well see what the president decides, but its really hard its really hard to trust this regime. Q: Are the protests in any way linked to the presidents thinking on the nuclear deal? McMaster: No, not that Ive been aware of. I mean, I dont think so. I think the world is watching very closely to see how this regime treats its own people. And I think that this Iran nuclear deal doesnt cover everything, right? It doesnt cover the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps destabilizing behavior in the region. It doesnt really fully cover their missile programs. And so, it doesnt cover their behavior and how theyre treating their own people in connection with these in connection with these protests. And so, I think the United States, other nations, have to take action not just based on this very narrow and flawed nuclear agreement, but have to look at the broad range of Irans behavior. Q: Theres a flawed agreement, and theres violating the agreement. And I know that the Republicans from the very beginning or many of them said it was a flawed agreement. What about a violation? Have the Iranians violated that agreement that the United States signed with them? McMaster: Its really impossible to tell whether or not Iran is violating that agreement. What we have seen is them step up to the line and crossed the line on how many centrifuges that theyre spinning how much heavy water they have in stock. Q: Is there anything wrong with coming up to the line? McMaster: And no, but is the verification mechanism in place to make sure that this agreement doesnt just give this dictatorial regime cover for developing a nuclear capability that threatens the world? And so, thats what we have to be confident of, and we cant be confident of that right now because the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are anemic theyre not very strong. And so, those need to be strengthened. You know, there are sunset clauses to all this, and so, we have to block all paths to a nuclear weapon by this dictatorial regime, not just for the next few years, but we have to be able to do that in the long term. Because think about what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, who gets a nuclear weapon next? Is it Saudi Arabia? Is it United Arab Emirates? Think about the breakdown of the nonproliferation regime and how that places so many people at risk of the most destructive weapons on Earth. Q: In the event that the Iranian government goes up to the line but doesnt cross it, and it is not recertified by the president, does that send a message around the world for decades about cutting a deal with the government, with the United States government? Does that indicate that we dont keep our word, recognizing that obviously administrations change but does that send a signal? McMaster: I think it does send a powerful signal. Q: Not an adverse one? McMaster: No, its a powerful, positive signal. You know, what the adverse experience has been or the negative experience has been is the 1994 agreed framework with North Korea. How did that work out? It was a weak agreement that was not monitored effectively. It was not enforced. Where are we now? You know, were at the cusp of a North Korea another rogue regime that might threaten the world with nuclear weapons. And of course, thats unacceptable now, and we cant let the situation with Iran get to that level, as well. Q: All right. Speaking about North Korea, I think theres ample evidence that Pakistan, through A.Q. Khan, who is basically their architect of their nuclear weapons program, was very helpful to North Korea developing their program. Do you have any suspicion that Iran and North Korea have worked together, even with the development of missile technology? Anything at all? McMaster: Yes, I mean, I think that Q: And are they doing it now? McMaster: Well, Ill leave that to our intelligence professionals to answer that question. But if you look at North Koreas track record, North Korea has never met a weapon that it has not proliferated. I mean, it was building a nuclear reactor in a clandestine site in Syria, for example. North Korea is selling weapons across the world to all sorts of regimes and bad actors. And North Korea has stated that it would be willing to proliferate nuclear weapons for the right price. And so, you have a regime that could possess nuclear weapons that could engage in extortion, blackmail, and then sell those most destructive weapons on Earth to the highest bidder and anybody willing to meet their price. Q: Well, its pretty evident that they have an aggressive program, and theyve been developing it for decades both missile and nuclear warheads, as well. Is there and the agreed framework, as you noted, didnt work because they cheated, and the program has gone on and on and on. Weve tried sanctions, weve engaged the world. Weve done a lot of different things to try to deter this nuclear program in North Korea. Is there anything short do you see anything short of war at this point? And Im not saying Im advocating for war or anything against it, but what are the solutions? What are the possibilities? McMaster: Well, the possibility is that the North Korean regime recognizes that the continued pursuit of these nuclear weapons and missiles is a dead end. And the only way to do that really, now, short of war, is through coercive economic power power that rests mainly in the hands of China but with others, as well. And the trend has been extremely positive. The trend has been positive in that more and more countries are stopping all trade with North Korea. Vietnam, for example. The Philippines. The list really is quite a long one. Q: But theres the illusive … They just stopped there were two ships with petroleum products in violation of sanctions that have been stopped in the last two weeks, so its getting in there some of it. McMaster: Thats why everybody needs to do more. Youve seen South Korea just interdict two ships and impound two ships. And the new U.N. sanctions will allow even greater sanctions on shipping companies that allow this illicit trade to continue. But really, as everybody knows, China has the vast majority of the coercive economic power over the North, and its our hope that China will act in its interest, and we cant ask them to do more than act in their interest. Q: The hope, but China hasnt. And the president, even long before he became president, I used to interview him when he was just a businessman in New York. He would talk about China and how they didnt deal fairly with the United States. What makes you think that China, now, is going to be is going to change to use their economic muscle to try to get a result out of North Korea? Is it just the fear that therell be 26 million people over the borders into North Korea and that Japan and South Korea want to become nuclear powers? Is that the only thing thats going to change China? McMaster: No. China recognizes that the situation has changed fundamentally, and China recognizes three fundamental shifts in their own thinking, and three fundamental shifts in what we all have to do together. The first shift is that denuclearization of the peninsula is the only acceptable answer. It used to be that youd hear a lot of talk about freeze for freeze, or suspension for suspension. Theres a recognition that thats no good anymore because their programs have progressed too far. The second thing is, China recognizes that this is a problem, really, between North Korea and the whole world, including a problem between North Korea and China. There used to be old talk about, Well, this is really a problem between the United States and North Korea. China recognizes that it is in Chinas interest to denuclearize the peninsula. And thats because of the threat of a breakdown in the nonproliferation regime. What if South Korea, what if Japan, conclude that they have to arm in similar ways to North Korea? And the third thing is that China recognizes that it really does have the coercive economic power to resolve this situation. And itll be up to China, and if they make those decisions, as you know, the U.N. Security Council has come up with more and more restrictions on North Korea, more and more sanctions against North Korea. Those have to be rigorously enforced. But we also have to acknowledge thats not going to be enough. And I think youre right about this. I mean, North Korea, unless more pressures applied, will not conclude that its in its interest to denuclearize. Q: I dont see North Korea because there really are two different people. Theres the leaders of North Korea, and theres the people. I dont I cant I dont have a crystal ball, but I dont see North Korea worried enough about I dont see anything that makes them want to give up their nuclear weapons. I dont think theres enough care about feeding their people, about a famine or anything else. McMaster: Well, you have different portions of the population in North Korea. Obviously, you have the elites in Pyongyang who live a very comfortable existence at the expense of the rest of the North Korean population who are part of Q: But theyre the ones who make the decisions. McMaster: They are, but those are the people who have to be affected by these sanctions. These are the people who have to conclude that it is not in their interest to continue on this path. That it is a dead end for them. And of course, this regime hasnt been without dissent. I mean, this is a regime, this is a leader Kim Jong Un whos killed members of his own family in the most egregious ways with a bad nerve agent in a public airport in Malaysia, with anti-aircraft guns in front of their military academy in a stadium. And so Q: So, how do you get him to think like, OK, Ive changed my mind. I want to protect my people from war with the United States or economic sanctions from the world. And Im going to give up my nuclear weapons, when hes bragging about it? McMaster: Well, I mean, you cant fire a missile without fuel, can you? And North Korea is wholly dependent on external sources for fuel. So, there are options available short of war if all nations conclude that its in their interest to act in a more aggressive manner, in terms of economic sanctions and to actually follow through. Q: If we cut off visibility to launch a nuclear weapon, he doesnt have the fuel to do it. He still has all these artillery weapons on the southern part of North Korea pointed right at South Korea. How potent or whats the strength that he has there? McMaster: Well, of course, this is what North Korea has done, right? Over the years, it has held the South Korea population at risk. Also, its been clear since 1953 that the South South Korea that the United States poses no threat to North Korea. Every provocation has come out of North Korea. And so, the only reason why North Korea could be pursuing this weapon is to do what? Its actually to coerce or blackmail or extort the United States to leave the peninsula and Northeast Asia. And to what theyve been saying for years. I mean, how many times in his latest speech did Kim Jong Un use the word, unification? What kind of unification does he have in mind? He has unification under the domination of the North and its failed system. I mean, this is So, whats important to recognize is that North Korea is pursuing this nuclear weapon, not for just defensive purposes that you hear some people argue about, but really for coercive purposes, for offensive purposes. And the world has to recognize that. Q: You know, its interesting. I dont think Ive been to North Korea three times. I dont have a sense and its a random sampling, and its no way any scientific study I dont have any sense that the people of North Korea, themselves, dont think that they have the best place on earth to live, except for those who may get some sort of information from the West. But I think thats the problem, too, is that the people arent with us, you know? The people are not against their leadership, at least not right now. McMaster: Well, its been three generations now of leadership whos systematically brainwashed their own population, who deny them access to outside information. Once information can penetrate that society, I mean, this is what he probably fears the most, right? So, theres some who argue, Well, what we really need to do is open the gates to this misunderstood regime in the North. Of course, thats one of the things that the North fears the most because it will expose all the lies. It will expose all of the hypocrisy. Q: Which is why they prevent the information from coming in. McMaster: Absolutely. Q: Kim Jong Un in a recent speech talked about making a gesture to South Korea, said maybe theyll send athletes to participate in the Olympic Games, and maybe theyll have negotiations, and also threatened that he has a button. I think he says he has a button on his desk to launch a nuclear weapon against us. What are your thoughts about that, about his gesture to South Korea? McMaster: Well, anybody who thought that that speech was reassuring was drinking too much Champagne over the holidays. And essentially, what he said is what you just summarized, that he is building a hair-trigger nuclear force that can place the world at risk. So, this is a great cause for concern. And I think the speech is pretty clear what the purpose was. It wasnt an unsophisticated approach to try to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States. Of course, thats not going happen. His provocative actions, what hes been doing, is driving our alliances closer together. Q: One last question on this. If the economic sanctions dont work, for whatever reason either they do not respond to them, or China doesnt stiffen them, or the North Koreans can cheat around them if those sanctions dont work, then what? And whats our timetable? McMaster: Well, what we have to do is prepare for a broad range of options for the president. And those include military options, and weve made no secret about that. And well work closely with our allies as we develop and refine those options. And essentially, if we have to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime, well bring those options and our assessment of risk and consequences to the president for a decision. Q: Whats the range in military options? What do you see as the far end and the light end? McMaster: Well, of course Im not going to discuss military plans. But those plans exist. Q: Hypothetically. I know, but hypothetically, whats the McMaster: Im not in a hypothetical position, so I cant. Q: OK, fair enough. All right, all right. OK. I said it was the last question, Ill make that the last question on that. All right. Let me turn now to Pakistan. And the president tweeted that the United States this is from one of his first tweets of the new year The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more! So, he has upped the pressure on Pakistan. Why? And to what end? McMaster: Well, I think the tweet speaks for itself. I mean, the presidents frustrated, and he values what we hope would be a partnership with Pakistan. But hes frustrated at Pakistans behavior in that it continues to provide support for these groups, it goes after terrorist insurgent groups, really, very selectively, and uses others as an arm of their foreign policy. The president has great sympathy for the Pakistani people and in particular, how much theyve suffered at the hands of terrorists who have victimized so many Pakistanis with mass murders, with that horrible mass murder in a school a few years ago. I mean, so, he empathizes with the Pakistani people, and he wants to see the Pakistani government go after these groups less selectively. This is not a blame game, as some would say. This is really our effort to communicate clearly to Pakistan that our relationship can no longer bear the weight of contradictions, and that we have to really begin now to work together to stabilize Afghanistan. And in a way, that would be a huge benefit to Pakistan, as well. Whats frustrating at times is we see Pakistan operating against the interests of its own people by going after these groups only selectively, by providing safe havens and support bases for Taliban and Haqqani network leadership that operate out of Pakistan as they perpetuate hell in portions of Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Q: I traveled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Pakistan years ago when she was delivering news of an aid package about $7 billion a significant amount for the Pakistanis. And I remember that the Pakistanis were upset because we wanted to know how the money was going to be spent. They were very upset. So, you have that incredible sort of disconnect that did not seem to me to be outrageous that wed want to know how our money was going to be spent. On the other hand, when you dont give money to these countries, someone else steps in, so thats the risk. McMaster: Well, I dont think whos going to step in now, I think, and want Pakistan to continue its support for terrorist groups like the Haqqani network, for groups like the Taliban? I mean, certainly its not in Chinas interest. China has a terrorist problem on its southern border, a terrorist problem that does have connections back into Pakistan. Its not going to be any other country in the region, certainly, who will want Pakistan to continue this, really, pattern of behavior that weve seen, where it goes after these groups only selectively, while it sustains and supports others who act as an arm of its foreign policy. So, I think were confident that I mean, Pakistan doesnt want to become a pariah state. Pakistan is a country with tremendous potential human potential, economic potential. So, what we really would like to see is Pakistan act in its own interest and to stop going after these groups only selectively, and to stop providing safe havens and support bases and other forms of support for leadership. Q: How do you put into the equation the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear country, and that they have also palled around, at least historically, with North Korea on nuclear weapons? Do they hold some sort of — I dont want to use the term blackmail, its too strong but they do have that as a lever. McMaster: Well, I think it would just be unwise for any Pakistani leader I cant imagine a Pakistani leader using nuclear weapons to extort or for blackmail. Thats the day when Pakistan Q: Thats what North Korea is doing. McMaster: Well, I mean, does Pakistan want to become North Korea? Doesnt look too appealing a model to me. So, I think Pakistan could be on a path to increase security and prosperity, or it could be on a path to replicating North Korea. I think thats an easy choice for Pakistani leaders. Q: You know, its obvious when you look at foreign policy, you move one little piece on this chess table, and it affects so many other parts of the world. McMaster: None of these problems are disconnected from others. I mean, there are many connections between all these problems. Thats what weve discussed. Q: Is there a way to describe the presidents foreign policy? Ive heard one quote where he said that, where it says, The way Trump handles foreign policy moves us out of our comfort zone, me included. First of all, what did he mean by that? And secondly, how do you describe the presidents foreign policy? McMaster: Well, I would describe it as principled realism, and you can read more about this in the highly readable, page-turning, National Security Strategy, which is available now. Q: Which I did read. Its a lot, too. It is quite long. McMaster: But its clear. Its a succinct statement of his policy, his guidance to all the departments and agencies, and a clear description to our allies and partners and rivals of what we value as a nation and how we want to go about protecting and securing the vital interests of the American people, but to do so in a way that really emphasizes cooperation with others around the world. Q: By out of the comfort zone, you werent saying that you were in any way disagreeing with the president? McMaster: No. What the president does is, he challenges fundamental assumptions. He always says, Well, why do we have to do it this way? I mean, and so he makes a lot of our implicit assumptions explicit as we explain these to him. And I would say that hes made some very wise policy decisions across the last year and some very significant ones. And I would point to the August speech on the South Asia strategy. A very clear articulation of a winning strategy not just for Afghanistan and Pakistan but for the whole region, for the whole region of South Asia. The Indo-Pacific strategy, which he really laid out in terms of its security dimensions but really its economic dimensions, in two speeches one in South Korea, and one in Danang during the APEC Summit. And of course, the Iran strategy, which is a fundamental shift from strategy in recent years and reflects a determination to confront Irans maligned behavior and to choke off the financing to this dictatorship that its using to destabilize the whole Middle East and to perpetuate violence and human suffering there. Q: All right. (Russia President Vladimir) Putin, Russia and national security. First of all, do you believe that you may have said this a million times, I know that Russia interfered with our election? McMaster: Yes, of course. The presidents been on the record on that, as well. Q: OK. What do we do? McMaster: Well, what we have to do is come up with a way to deal with this very sophisticated strategy, this new kind of threat that Russia has really perfected in a lot of ways, and thats the use of disinformation and propaganda and social media tools to really polarize societies and pit communities against each other. To weaken their resolve and their commitment. We cover this quite a bit in the National Security Strategy and talk about how important it is for every time we talk about what divides us as country, we have to talk about what unites us. And thats our the common commitment to our values. We value individual rights and rule of law, and we value our democracy. Q: Its so insidious when someone sort of creeps into your election, into the debate, or puts false information out there. I mean, it just permeates every community in the country. McMaster: No, insidious is the right word. So, one of the most important remedies is to pull the curtain back on it to show this activity, to show what the source of this activity is, what the purpose of this activity is. And so doing, youre going to undercut a lot of their ability to exert that kind of negative influence on our society or others, you know? As you know, the Russians were very active in Europe, as well, in the French election recently, in the Spanish referendum in regards to Catalonia. You see them active in Mexico already. What they did in Montenegro and try to foment a coup, as well as this sort of sophisticated campaign. And so, pulling the curtain back on Russias destabilizing behavior, I think, is a very important first step, because once the people once everybody sees what theyre up to, they lose a lot of their power to foment lack of confidence and to pit communities against each other. Q: All right. I take it your counterpart in Russia denies this, denies doing this? McMaster: Well, I think Russias moved from what you might call plausible deniability to implausible deniability. These are the same people who said, Oh no, we didnt shoot down that airliner or murder all those people. Oh no, we dont have soldiers in Crimea or in eastern Ukraine. I mean, its just not credible anymore. Were not providing cover for a Syrian regime that is committing mass murder of its own people with chemical weapons. And so, its just not credible anymore. And so, what we need to do, I think, with Russia, is confront their destabilizing behavior. As I mentioned, pull the curtain back on it. Q: But doesnt Putin deny it? McMaster: But we also have to deter further conflict with Russia, and what we want to do is find some areas of cooperation. What we have seen recently is, it seems as if Russia will actually act against its interest to spite the United States, the West, our European allies. Q: Theyre saying if you dont have any self-preservation, its a terrible enemy, in some ways, our opponent. McMaster: Well, what wed like to do is find areas where we can cooperate with Russia in areas where our interests overlap. One of those is an area weve been talking about, which is in North Korea, another is in Iran. I mean, how can it be in Russias interest to help empower Iran across the Middle East? Theyre going to pay a huge price for that. Q: But Iran is helping in Syria, and so is Putin helping in Syria, (President Bashar al-)Assad. So, they both they have a common goal there. McMaster: So, every state every Arab state certainly should recognize what Russias been doing. And Russia should pay the price, in terms of its reputation, its access to the region, for what its doing to enable Iran and Irans very destructive activities perpetuating this fitna, or civil war, across the greater Middle East. And Russia shouldnt give cover and support to Iran so it can continue its nefarious designs across the region. I mean, not only has Iran continued to support terrorist groups like Hezbollah, all these other illegal armed groups about 80 percent of the fighters on the side of the Assad regime in Syria are Iranian proxies and in Yemen. And what theyre doing is weaponizing these networks with long-range missiles, as well. And so again, I think pulling the curtain back on it, really asking Russia, How can this be in your interest to aid and abet this Iranian regime? Q: I guess if I thought they responded a lot to shame. But I think the term thats been used by the Trump administration is theyre a strategic competitor. And in the past and not just in the past year since President Trump took office but in the years past is that Putin has gained in strength. This is not someone who seems to have been shamed away like, Oh, Im really sorry I was involved in the U.S. election, or Im ashamed. He seems to be emboldened by this. McMaster: Well, hes also now become one of the most sanctioned countries on Earth. I mean, that cant be in Russian interest. So, I think its important for Russia to conclude that its in its interest Russia is not going to act against its interest. We dont expect Russia to act against its interest or do the United States, or anybody else, a favor. What we want to do is to be able to find areas of cooperation, so we can help convince Russia that its in its interest to work together on some of these key priority threats to the world. I mean, how could it be in Russias interest to have the nonproliferation regime break down in Northeast Asia? To see other nations in Northeast Asia armed with nuclear weapons? Its not in Russias interest. You already see South Korea and Japan, and their alliance with us strengthened. You see South Korea and Japan arming at a breakneck pace. And so, this is not in Russias interest. And the way to resolve this is to resolve this problem with North Korea and really allow Northeast Asia to enjoy a new era of prosperity. Can you imagine without that threat from North Korea, how Russia, China everyone would benefit from that? Q: What surprises you most about the job before you took it and now that youve been in the seat? McMaster: Well, what surprised me the most is the high-quality people I get to work with. I mean, these extremely dedicated civil servants and officers from across our government on this National Security Council are tremendous. It is a great privilege to work with them. And then, I guess what surprised me, as well, is the degree to which we are working together based on our common interest with so many nations around the world. I mean, we have great relationships with our counterparts between National Security Councils, National Security Advisers. Its maybe part support group, but its also a group of like-minded nations. Theyre trying to advance and protect the interest of our citizens. And we have some as you were talking about, a lot of problems that were working on, but were also working on opportunities opportunities to increase the security and prosperity of all our peoples and of the world. Van Susteren: General, thank you very much, and good luck. Well be watching, and I hope you come back. McMaster: Thanks, Greta. Its was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much.
|“Mopping up of high-ranking servicemen 2017|
A significant number of former leading employees of law enforcement agencies of Russian Federation have celebrated this New Year in prison. The CrimeRussia recalls owners of general’s apartments and mansions, who in 2017 had to move in cells of pre-trial detention centers and barracks of corrections facilities.