WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way back from North Korea with the three Americans who’d been held captive in that country’s forced labor camps until recently, President Trump announced in a Wednesday morning tweet.
I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 9 May 2018
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” Trump wrote. “They seem to be in good health.”
He added that he plans to meet the three Americans — Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-Chul — on the Joint Base Andrews tarmac when Pompeo’s plane arrives there, which Trump said will happen around 2:00 am Thursday. He also noted that Pompeo had a “good meeting” with Kim, and again noted that a date and location for their upcoming summit had been set.
Trump “appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday in a statement. All three “appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” she added.
North Korean authorities arrested Dong-Chul in October 2015 and accused him of espionage against the Kim government, later sentencing him to a decade behind bars. The regime imprisoned Kim (no relation to the North Korean leader) and Hak-Song last year after accusing them of “hostile acts.”
Trump has made false claims about Obama’s failure to secure their release
Trump has repeatedly claimed — falsely — that the Obama administration had failed to successfully negotiate for their release. But Kim and Hak-Song were both arrested during Trump’s presidency.
Another American prisoner wasn’t so lucky
The Kim regime often releases foreign prisoners ahead of major events as a strategy of garnering goodwill. But the last American released from captivity there wasn’t so lucky.
Last June North Korea released 22-year-old Otto Warmbier after holding him for 17 months. The University of Virginia student had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after authorities arrested him for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, where he had been staying as part of a commercial tour.
But Warmbier arrived home in a medical transport plane in a vegetative state — which Pyongyang attributed to botulism poisoning — and died shortly thereafter.
However, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said Warmbier suffered extensive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, but could not say how his injuries had occurred.
“All we can do is theorize, and we hate to theorize without science backing us up,” Sammarco said in an interview with The New York Times.
(Last updated Wednesday, May 9 at 9:42 am with the addition of a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders)
Haley Resigns As U.N. Ambassador, Shoots Down 2020 Speculation
WASHINGTON, October 9, 2018 — Ambassador Nikki Haley will “take a break” from public service by resigning from her position as the United States’ top U.N. envoy at the end of the year, President Trump said Tuesday morning.
Haley will be leaving “at the end of the year,” Trump said while sitting alongside her in the Oval Office, citing the former South Carolina governor’s desire to “take a break.”
“You have been very special to me, done an incredible job,” he said while addressing Haley, adding that she has done an “incredible job” and “gets it.”
The sudden announcement came less than an hour after Axios broke the surprise news of her resignation.
Within minutes of the story’s appearance online, Haley was spotted by reporters as she walked into the Oval Office with several aides. But when she appeared alongside Trump shortly after she took pains to thank Trump for allowing her to serve, and called her time representing the U.S. at the United Nations “the honor of a lifetime.”
Trump’s conduct of foreign policy, Haley continued, has caused the United States to be respected again.
“Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do,” she said.
While some pundits speculated that the timing was connected to the #MeToo-related drama over now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when he and Haley appeared before cameras, Trump claimed that Haley first approached him six months ago about setting a timetable to depart before the end of the Trump administration’s second year.
Haley is one of two members of the foreign policy team to have served for the entirety of Trump’s time in office. She joined the administration at a time when very few members of the Republican foreign policy establishment wanted to serve the new president, which served him just fine, as most of them had signed open letters criticizing him.
As so-called moderates like former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were forced out after clashing with Trump over his disdain for international multilateral agreements like the Iran nuclear deal, Haley remained a fixture and an oasis of stability in an administration that has seen turnover at levels unheard of at this point in a president’s first term.
Even as other establishment-minded administration officials incurred Trump’s wrath for pushing back on his most extreme impulses and saw their own reputations sullied, Haley managed to thrive in her role at the U.N.
Her New York-based post gave her a place in the spotlight and a chance to burnish her foreign policy credentials. It also gave her enough geographic distance from Washington to avoid the contempt Trump developed for the members of his national security team who he saw more regularly.
But that geographic distance also allowed her to put political distance between her and the president at moments when she would break from him in one way or another, including the aftermath of last year’s white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That distance was most evident on the occasions when she would contradict her boss by sharply criticizing the Russian government, even as he continually dismissed the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election as a “Democrat hoax” and attacked the Justice Department investigation into the interference as a “witch hunt.”
Haley’s frequent departures from the Gospel of Trump on those matters has made her the subject of endless rumors, most of which place her on the 2020 Republican primary ballot opposing her soon-to-be former boss. But Haley attempted to put a wet blanket on any such speculation by telling reporters that she’d be campaigning for Trump, not against him.
“No, I’m not running in 2020,” she said.
Kudlow Holds Administration’s Line On Turkey Steel Tariff — Says Increase Not Connected To Evangelical Pastor’s Plight Despite Evidence To Contrary
WASHINGTON, August 16, 2018 — White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that President Trump’s decision to subject steel imports from Turkey to a fifty percent tariff was not in any way connected to the president’s ire over the Turkish government’s treatment of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor, despite the increase occurring shortly after the Trump administration imposed sanctions in retaliation for his continued detainment on terrorism charges.
“They [the tariffs] are not connected to that story — I think, basically, that the president was dissatisfied with Turkey on trade,” Kudlow said, noting that the tariffs are “subject to constant negotiations.”
Kudlow added that he personally thinks Turkey should release Brunson, but stressed that “policy-wise,” the decision to expand not connected. He declined to say whether the sanctions would be tightened if Brunson is not released, but said Trump “will keep everybody up to speed.”
Brunson, 50, had lived in Turkey for 23 years when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government arrested him in the wake of a 2016 coup attempt on accusations of being a follower of Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish pastor who lives in the United States as an expatriot.
Erdogan says Gulen and his movement, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, were the masterminds behind the attempted putsch. It is believed that Erdogan’s government continues to hold Brunson as a bargaining chip to force the United States to extradite Gulen, but the Trump administration has not as yet been receptive to the idea.
The White House announced the tariff increase in an August 10 presidential proclamation, shortly after the Trump administration announced it would impose economic sanctions on Turkey in response to the decision by Erdogan’s government to keep Brunson, on house arrest rather than release him outright, Both announcements came after both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence began tweeting about Brunson’s plight, and after Pence wrote in a tweet that his release on house arrest was “not good enough.”
If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free. #IRFMinisterial
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Despite the clear appearance of of a connection, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the sanctions would be lifted if Brunson is released, but the tariffs would remain.
“The tariffs that are in place on steel would not be removed with the release of Pastor Brunson. The tariffs are specific to national security. The sanctions, however, that have been placed on Turkey are specific to Pastor Brunson and others that we feel are being held unfairly,” said Sanders.
However, Sanders could not name a specific national security concern that prompted the tariff move.
“The President has been clear about the steel and aluminum industries — steel particularly in this case — that those are industries that must be protected. And we must have the ability to reach certain levels of manufacturing of those products here in the United States for the purposes of national security,” she said.
US Ambassador To UK Says Trump ‘Aware’ Of Giant Baby Blimp, Will Discuss Second Novichok Incident With May
WASHINGTON, July 6, 2018 — The United States’ Ambassador to the United Kingdom says President Donald Trump is aware of the numerous protests set to greet him when he arrives in London next week, including the large balloon depicting him as a phone-toting baby set to fly over Parliament for the duration of his visit.
“I think we’re all aware [of the protests],” Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson said Friday during a conference call with reporters.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan initially denied permission for the “Trump Baby” balloon — the brainchild of a U.K.-based crowdfunding campaign — to fly over Parliament but reversed course after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition.
The balloon is six meters in height and depicts the president as a diaper-clad infant holding a smartphone.
President Trump, Johnson said, appreciates the value of free speech as “one of the things that bind us together” in both the U.S. and U.K., but will be “very focused” on making sure the relationship between the two countries is improved and that American prosperity and security are enhanced by this trip.
The president’s reliance on helicopters to get to and from various locations around London and the UK is not out of any desire to avoid his seeing protesters, Johnson explained.
While Johnson acknowledged that getting Trump to and from some of the various sites he will visit “requires being in the air,” he said that the president will “use various modes of transportation.”
Johnson says Trump and May ‘are on the same page’ concerning Russian malfeasance despite Trump’s history of downplaying it
Johnson also said he thinks that Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May “are on the same page” when it comes to Russia’s malign activities, including Russia’s use of the chemical agent Novichok to poison an ex-spy and his daughter earlier this year. Residual poison left over from that attack is thought to have been what caused a British couple to be similarly stricken this past week.
Trump “was very receptive to what happened” to Sergei and Yulia Skripal — the Russian father and daughter who were poisoned — and “expelled 60 spies or people or whatever you want to call them very rapidly,” he said, adding that he knew that Trump and May would be discussing the matter when they meet at Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s country retreat.
However, Johnson did not address the numerous media reports which indicated that Trump was displeased with having to expel more Russian diplomats than other countries in retaliation for the poisoning or the statements made by Trump in which he downplayed Russia’s involvement or cast doubt on whether Vladimir Putin’s government was involved in the incident at all.
Trump has consistently refused to criticize Russia or its president and consistently downplays the extent of its malign activities
Trump has a history of downplaying or minimizing Russian malign activities dating back to his 2016 campaign for the presidency, during which he responded to a TV interview question about Putin’s history of murdering journalists by suggesting the U.S. “has a lot of killers” as well.
Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election despite reports affirming such a conclusion having been issued by the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russia’s international malfeasance also extends to its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. During an impromptu press conference last month, Trump suggested that the invasion — which was ordered by Putin — was actually the fault of then-President Barack Obama.
His reluctance to criticize Russia or Putin has continued through this month. During a July 5 campaign-style rally in Montana, Trump mocked critics who suggested that he should be wary of meeting with Putin, a former KGB officer, without any advisors or note takers.
“Putin’s fine,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”
“Getting along with Russia, and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing,” he added, “not a bad thing.”