7 Big Things to Understand About Trump’s Talks With North Korea

2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail.

Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes.

Such signals serve as public commitments, both to the other side of the negotiation and to citizens back home. It’s a way for both sides to test one another’s demands and offers, reducing the risk of surprise or embarrassment.

.. North Korea has not publicly committed to anything. It has, quite cannily, channeled its public communications through South Korea, making it easier to renege.

.. Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away.

The table is now set in such a way that virtually any outcome is a win for North Korea, but only a very narrow and difficult range of outcomes will save the United States from an embarrassing failure.

The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.

3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking.

.. “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea.

.. North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.

Normally, the United States and North Korea would have issued months, even years, of public statements on their goals for direct talks, to clear all this up.

.. 4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward.

It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work.

Instead, the Trump administration is jumping straight to the last step.

.. There is little obvious gain in skipping over a process that is intended to lock North Korea into public commitments, test what is achievable and ensure maximum American leverage and flexibility.

.. “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”

.. 5. The State Department is in a shambles.

Wouldn’t this be a good moment to have an American ambassador to South Korea? Or an under secretary of state for arms control and international security?

Both posts are empty. The desk for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs is occupied by a respected but interim official who has clashed with the White House. Her boss, the under secretary for political affairs, is retiring.

.. There will be fewer high-level diplomats to run parallel talks, fewer midlevel officials to assist and brief the president, fewer analysts to feel out North Korean intentions and capabilities.

.. conventional wisdom among analysts, as summed up by The Economist, is that “Mr. Trump — a man who boasts about his television ratings, and who is bored by briefings and scornful of foreign alliances — could end up being played like a gold-plated violin.”

.. 6. Everything could turn on the president’s personality.

.. It means that talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.

.. Mr. Kelly expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s “chaotic management style, erratic, moody personality and chronic staffing problems.”

He added, “That’s not ideology talking. I am a registered Republican and worked once for a G.O.P. congressman.”

  • .. He has tended to oscillate unpredictably between policies, throwing talks over the budget or health care into chaos.
  • He has set members of his own party against one another, weakening their position against Democrats. And
  • he has offered the Democrats sweeping concessions on a whim, to the surprise of his party.

.. When legislative efforts have stalled, Mr. Trump has at times lashed out. In domestic politics, that can mean publicly denigrating his target or pressuring them to resign. In a heavily militarized standoff between nuclear powers, the stakes would be higher.

.. 7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory.

.. For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Mr. Kim seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage.

.. “Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.

 

Trump always lashes out when he’s cornered. He told me so years ago.

The president’s tweets and public remarks will only get wilder as the Russia investigation narrows.

In less than two hours, he managed to criticize his own FBI; peddle a new conspiracy theory; attack James B. Comey, Hillary Clinton and ABC; and draw more attention to the Russia probe that has already implicated several of his aides.
.. As someone who spent hundreds of hours observing Trump so I could write “The Art of the Deal,” I find his increasingly extreme behavior entirely consistent and predictable.
.. For five decades now, Trump’s pattern has been that the more aggrieved and vulnerable he feels, the more intensely he doubles down on the behaviors that have always worked for him in the past.
Sunday’s tweetstorm won’t be the last time the president indulges in self-pity, deceit and deflection. In all likelihood, it will get worse.
.. Trump’s first move in the face of criticism has always been to assume the role of victim. “Unfair” has long been one of his favorite words. He always perceives himself as the victim, so he feels justified in lashing back at his perceived accusers.

.. Here’s how he explained the tactic in “The Art of the Deal”:

“When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”

And this:

“Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

In the weeks ahead, Trump will also probably double down on lying, even as he falsely accuses others of being dishonest. Consider his remarkable recent suggestion to aides that his remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape about assaulting women might not be real — even though he has already publicly acknowledged that they were his, and apologized for them. Trump regularly rewrites his narrative, using what Kellyanne Conway has called “alternative facts,” to fit whatever he wants to believe and convey in any given moment. This is classic “gaslighting” — a blend of lying, denial, insistence and intimidation designed to fuel uncertainty and doubt in others about what’s actually true.

In the time I spent with Trump, I concluded that lying became second nature to him long ago, both because he lacked any conscience about being deceptive and because he discovered that he could get away with it. “Truthful hyperbole” is the sanitized term I gave lying in “The Art of the Deal,” with Trump’s blessing. I have never met someone, before or since, who was untruthful so effortlessly.

In Trump’s mind, he is only doing what’s required to win. Here’s the way he describes himself in “The Art of the Deal”: “Despite what people think, I’m not looking to be the bad guy when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”

.. The more threatened Trump feels by troublesome facts, the more preposterous the lies he will tell.

.. To get the outcome he wants, he’s willing to be scorned, parodied and even reviled in ways most of us are not. “I’m the first to admit,” he said in “The Art of the Deal,” “that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win.” He is willing to flatter, cajole and seduce, or bully, threaten and humiliate, depending on which approach he thinks will work best.

..  I watched him switch between these modes countless times during the 18 months I spent around him.

.. If he was getting what he wanted from someone on a call, he’d invariably sign off with, “You’re the greatest, you’re the best.” If he wasn’t getting his way, he was equally comfortable hurling insults and making threats.

.. The more frequent and aggressive Trump’s tweets become, the more threatened and vulnerable he is probably feeling. But he also knows that this approach can work.

.. The other predictable pattern for Trump is his approach to loyalty. He expects it unconditionally — more so when his behaviors prompt backlash — but he provides it only as long as he gets unquestioning adulation in return.

.. One of the most revealing relationships in Trump’s life was with Roy Cohn, best known as the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy

.. For more than a decade, Cohn fought hard on Trump’s behalf and was fiercely loyal to him. They often spoke multiple times in a day. But when Cohn became ill with AIDS in 1984, Trump dropped him immediately.

..  I can’t remember a single occasion during the time I spent around Trump when he seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of another human being, including any of his three then-young children. And at that time, he was under vastly less stress than he is now. If either Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. become Mueller’s next target, I can’t help wondering what Trump will perceive as his self-interest.

 

A ‘pressure cooker’: Trump’s frustration and fury rupture alliances, threaten agenda

Frustrated by his Cabinet and angry that he has not received enough credit for his handling of three successive hurricanes, President Trump is now lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda, numerous White House officials and outside advisers said Monday.

.. In doing so, Trump is laboring to solidify his standing with his populist base and return to the comforts of his campaign — especially after the embarrassing defeat of Sen. Luther Strange (R) in last month’s Alabama special election, despite the president’s trip there to campaign with the senator.

.. Sen. Bob Corker’s brutal assessment of Trump’s fitness for office — warning that the president’s reckless behavior could launch the nation “on the path to World War III” — also hit like a thunderclap inside the White House, where aides feared possible ripple effects among other Republicans on Capitol Hill.

.. The most vocal Trump defender was the one under the president’s employ, Vice President Pence.

.. One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,”

.. Pence’s office blasted out a blanket response under the vice president’s name addressing “criticisms of the president.” The statement bemoaned “empty rhetoric and baseless attacks” against Trump while touting his handling of global threats, from Islamic State terrorists to North Korea.

.. “We have been watching the slow-motion breakup of the Republican Party, and Trump is doing what he can to speed it up,” said Patrick Caddel

.. “Trump is firmly placing himself on the outside, trying to become an almost independent president,”

.. “He knows that many people will be with him, that he helps himself when he’s not seen as the Republican president. But what about his program?

.. Other Trump aides blame Corker for what they consider an act of betrayal, arguing that he started the feud in a bid for relevance by a lame-duck lawmaker

They also accuse Corker of hypocrisy, noting that he was chummy with Trump and did not voice any concerns about his leadership style when he thought he might be picked as vice president or secretary of state.

.. “Donald Trump never truly severs relationships. There is always a dialogue. And with Corker, this isn’t a total endpoint. Trump sees relationships as negotiations, and that’s what they’re in.”

.. Trump is also without his longtime aide-de-camp and former head of security, Keith Schiller

.. His absence has left Trump with few generational peers with whom he feels comfortable venting about his staff or his rivals

.. Barrack has been buzzed about as a possible replacement for Kelly, should tensions between the president and his top aide become unsustainable.

.. his efforts thus far are focused on energizing and solidifying the 40 percent of Americans who were with him, primarily by attacking the 60 percent who were not,”

Trump’s Fight with Corker Jeopardizes His Legislative Agenda

In unloading on Mr. Trump, Mr. Corker, a two-term senator from Tennessee, said in public what many of his Republican colleagues say in private — that

  1. the president is dangerously erratic and unstable, that
  2. he treats his high post like a television show and that
  3. he is reckless enough to stumble the country into a nuclear war.

.. The president has already seen what can happen with a 52-vote Senate caucus that can be thwarted by the defection of just three Republicans. Until now, Mr. Corker has not been one of the renegades on those high-drama votes that killed Mr. Trump’s health care legislation. By himself, Mr. Corker could make it that much harder for the president to hold a fragile majority on upcoming votes on taxes, among other priorities — and if he emboldens other Republican doubters, it could add to Mr. Trump’s challenge.

The White House spent Monday morning telling its allies that Mr. Corker is responsible for the fight, not Mr. Trump, and that the senator was an attention-seeking obstructionist. But few of Mr. Trump’s allies accepted that narrative. One close associate of the president, who asked not to be identified to discuss the situation more candidly, said Mr. Trump’s entire agenda could be dead because Mr. Corker has a lot of friends on Capitol Hill.

.. “every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”

.. many Senate Republicans no doubt were relieved not to be in session this week

.. repeatedly blocked, lashing out at Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the party leader, for not getting the job done. He has also engaged in open conflicts with Senators

  1. John McCain and
  2. Jeff Flake of Arizona,
  3. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and
  4. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, among others.

.. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and his allies were incredulous that the president would anger a senator just a week before a budget vote that is critical to tax cuts when the party’s 52-vote majority can be thwarted by just three defections.

.. “Under the normal, traditional rules of politics of the last 40 years of my life, a president would not poke a senator in the eye when he has a two-seat majority and a major legislative agenda needing to be accomplished,” said former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds

.. “Corker’s comments carry credibility because of his reputation as a thoughtful senator not known for shooting from the hip,” he said. “There is an old saying in politics: Don’t pick a fight with someone who has nothing to lose.”

.. Stephen K. Bannon, acting in what he says is the president’s interest, is organizing a rebellion against the Republican establishment and recruiting candidates to challenge incumbent senators in primaries next year. Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff has talked about a “purge” of Republicans who are not loyal to Mr. Trump.

.. They also stood against him when he engaged in a protracted public campaign against his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a former colleague of theirs in the Senate, warning him that if he fired Mr. Sessions they would not confirm a successor

.. “Guys like Bob Corker, I think, have reached the point where it’s like, ‘Can we not pretend the emperor is not naked? Can we not pretend the emperor is not unstable in a way that we should’ve understood very, very clearly more than a year or two years ago?’” Charlie Sykes

.. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Corker could single-handedly block the confirmation of a new secretary of state should Mr. Trump push out his embattled chief diplomat, Rex W. Tillerson

.. He would presumably play a key role in any decision on whether to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. And as a longtime deficit hawk, he could also become a challenge for Mr. Trump as the president seeks to pass deep tax cuts that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt.

.. said to have told associates that the 5-foot-7 senator was too short.

Mueller Is Squeezing Manafort

I am more interested in reports that business records, connected to Manafort’s taxes and foreign bank transactions, were the object of the raid ordered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That seems peculiar if the rationale for ordering a home search, rather than simply issuing a subpoena, was fear that Manafort would destroy evidence.

It makes perfect sense, though, if the prosecutor is playing hardball.

.. We should further note that the president had the authority to fire the acting FBI director at any time. There was no need for Trump to wait on AG Sessions, nor did anything prevent him from ordering Sessions to fire McCabe if that’s what he wanted done.

.. So, essentially, Trump’s tweet was a rant — nothing new there. Was it a rant triggered by the Manafort search? If so, it was Trump at his paper-tiger worst: He wanted McCabe gone but, knowing that many of his troubles stem from botching Comey’s firing, he could not risk firing McCabe — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at Sessions. And he’d love to fire Mueller, but he knows that would be a political earthquake his presidency might not survive — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at McCabe.

.. Manafort labored many years, at apparently lush compensation, for the Kremlin-backed cabal responsible for Ukraine’s ongoing tumult. That happened well prior to the 2016 campaign, but it has always been very disturbing. If Trump is telling the truth about having no meaningful ties to Putin, he should be encouraging the investigation of Manafort, not acting like he’s incensed by it.

.. the New York Times reported that the warrant sought tax documents and foreign banking records.

.. Search warrants are reserved for situations in which the prosecutor and agents reasonably fear that the subjects of the probe will destroy evidence if they know investigators are sniffing around. And search warrants executed in predawn hours are generally reserved for situations in which agents are dealing with hardened or desperate criminals — subjects who might not merely destroy evidence but endanger the agents who knock on the door; subjects who might alert other conspirators to flee if searches commence when everyone is awake and alert.

.. When a subject is cooperating with investigators, search warrants are wholly unnecessary and excessively intrusive.

.. Mueller’s team could easily have gotten the same disclosure without resorting to a search warrant. They need only have asked Manafort’s lawyers, who’d have had no reason to decline, especially after giving the same information to Congress.

.. That was not good enough for Mueller. This could mean either or both of two things: (1) Mueller believed Manafort was hoarding relevant evidence and might destroy it if it were not taken forcibly from him; and/or (2) Mueller has a message for Manafort: The special counsel is not limiting his inquiry to the Russia investigation that Congress has been pursuing; rather, Mueller intends to scorch the earth as necessary to make a case — any case — on Manafort, for purposes of squeezing him to become a cooperating witness against others, potentially including the president.

.. I believe Manafort is being squeezed. I’ve squeezed bad guys before. It’s not illegal, it’s effective, and if you’re a prosecutor dealing with a real bad guy, it’s righteous. Is Manafort that kind of bad guy? We don’t know what Mueller knows. But we can reasonably surmise that Mueller’s investigation is not confined to Russian meddling in the 2016 election — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s protestations notwithstanding.

Trump Mocks Mika Brzezinski; Says She Was ‘Bleeding Badly From a Face-Lift’

The president described Ms. Brzezinski as “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claimed in a series of Twitter posts that she had been “bleeding badly from a face-lift” during a social gathering at Mr. Trump’s resort in Florida around New Year’s Eve. The White House did not explain what had prompted the outburst, but a spokeswoman said Ms. Brzezinski deserved a rebuke because of her show’s harsh stance on Mr. Trump.

.. “My first reaction was that this just has to stop, and I was disheartened because I had hoped the personal, ad hominem attacks had been left behind, that we were past that,” Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine who is a crucial holdout on the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said in an interview.

“I don’t think it directly affects the negotiation on the health care bill, but it is undignified — it’s beneath a president of the United States and just so contrary to the way we expect a president to act,” she said. “People may say things during a campaign, but it’s different when you become a public servant. I don’t see it as undermining his ability to negotiate legislation, necessarily, but I see it as embarrassing to our country.”

.. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, urged the news media to move on, arguing during the daily White House briefing that Mr. Trump was “fighting fire with fire” by attacking a longtime critic.

Ms. Brzezinski had called the president “a liar” and suggested he was “mentally ill,” added Ms. Sanders, who defended Mr. Trump’s tweets as appropriate for a president.

.. “As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman wrote in a statement, referring to the first lady’s remarks during the campaign.

.. Mr. Trump’s oldest friends say it is difficult for him to distinguish between large and small slights — or to recognize that his office comes with the expectation that he moderate his behavior.

And his fiercest, most savage responses have almost always been to what he has seen on television.

.. After lashing out at Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski at one point last summer, Mr. Trump told an adviser, “It felt good.”

.. reporters interrupted Ms. Sanders’s defense of the president to ask how she felt about them as a woman and a mother.

She responded that she had only “one perfect role model”: God.

“None of us are perfect,” she said.

Trump keeps creating his own personal hell

When he feels backed into a corner, he lashes out in politically inadvisable ways that often makes his life much more difficult. But he can’t seem to stop doing it.

  • .. As a president who watched health-care legislation stall in the House of Representatives, he blamed conservatives in a way that fractured his delicate relationship with Congress.
  • When he tweeted about an impending court decision on his travel ban, a federal court used that against him.

.. But making the scope public is like a buffer for Mueller’s job security — and it could act as a buffer to try to save the president from himself.