Little Rocket Man, I Presume

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The White House is beginning to look like an empty nest.  Since the beginning of the Trump administration there has been a 43% turnover of its original staff, but the president maintains that he can still recruit the best people for any position.  The latest to depart is Gary Cohn, who lost his appetite to stay on Trump’s team when Trump, against his advice, announced tariffs on steel and aluminum.  That announcement was apparently triggered by Trump’s being upset by the departure of Hope Hicks, but it was also a promise he had campaigned on.  The president is apparently not aware that the rust belt, where he won big in the election, is rapidly changing, and that a city like Pittsburg is now becoming a high tech hub.  He doesn’t hear those things from his remaining economic advisors: Peter Navarro, who is generally considered a loonie by the economic profession, and Wilbur Ross, who is best known for falling asleep during meetings.  Trump’s protectionism goes against both GOP free market orthodoxy and more liberal globalism, and in spite of the fact that he promised considerable flexibility in applying the tariffs there is fear of trade wars in both camps.

In the meantime the Mueller investigation is covering new territory.  It turns out that a meeting of Trump’s representative Eric Prince with a Russian oligarch on the Seychelles was engineered by UAE officials, with the intention to set up a backchannel with Moscow.  Prince lied about it under oath while testifying to Congress and will have to account for that.  Of an entirely different caliber is the battle between porn star Stormy Daniels and Trump’s legal team about a contract that would oblige Daniels not to talk about her relationship with Trump, in exchange for $130,000 paid to her by one of Trump’s lawyers, Mickey Cohen.  For Mueller the interesting question is where the money came from, Cohen or Trump.  If it came from Cohen it was an illegal campaign contribution, since its purpose was to eliminate a potential obstacle for Trump’s election, and if it came from Trump it was a campaign expense that has not been reported.  Daniels claims that the agreement is not valid because Trump never signed it and because Cohen broke it by talking about it to the press.  Trump’s lawyers try to keep her silent via a temporary restraining order issued by an arbitrator, which Daniels is challenging in court.

Things got worse for Trump when the news broke that he had spoken with Reince Priebus and White House Counsel McGahn about their interviews by Mueller, and in particular that he had put pressure on McGahn to lie about Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller, something McGahn had to report to Mueller.  Other than that he doesn’t pay his bills this is why prominent law firms didn’t take Trump on as a client.  He doesn’t listen to his lawyers and violates too many basic rules.

To save the week and to keep the Mueller proble off the front pages Trump came with a surprise of Wag the Dog caliber. Yesterday afternoon he walked into the White House press room and announced that a South Korean delegation visiting Washington would soon have important news.  On the White House grounds the South Koreans told the press that Kim Jong-un had invited Trump for a meeting, and that Trump had accepted.

It was a message that rocked Washington. For more than twenty years North Korean leaders have tried to get a meeting with a US President on equal footing and without preconditions, and Trump just gave it to them.  He has very few experts to advise him, but apparently trusts his instincts.  DC is holding its breath.

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