Wild Trump week of ‘wrecking ball’ diplomacy ends with another blow from Robert Mueller

 thestar.com  7/13/2018 10:41:01 PM 

By Daniel DaleWashington Bureau Chief

Fri., July 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump bellowed into Belgium and then bumbled into England, confusing and alarming a succession of allies with his trademark electric-shock diplomacy.

Then special counsel Robert Mueller reminded him that there’s at least one person around capable of giving him a Trump-sized jolt.

The "Trump Baby" blimp, a helium-filled effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump, lifts off from Parliament Square in London on July 13, 2018. Thousands of people across Britain protested Trump’s visit.
The "Trump Baby" blimp, a helium-filled effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump, lifts off from Parliament Square in London on July 13, 2018. Thousands of people across Britain protested Trump’s visit.  (Bloomberg photo by Luke MacGregor.)

Another wild week concluded Friday with Trump scrambling to make amends for his latest foreign insults, this time in the United Kingdom, and Mueller making his most direct and detailed accusation of Russian responsibility for the 2016 hacking campaign Trump has repeatedly insisted someone else might have committed.

Mueller, who is leading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia, announced charges against 12 Russian military intelligence members he says committed the hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The charges arrived at a particularly delicate time for Trump with regard to Russia. He is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, widely believed to have been behind the hacking initiative, on Monday in Finland.

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Democrats called on Trump to cancel the summit. Trump declined even to offer mild criticism of Russia. The White House issued a statement that did not address the alleged Russian role in the hacking — which the statement called an “alleged hacking” — and instead emphasized what the administration said was the innocence of Trump and his campaign team. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Mueller should “end his pursuit of the president.”

The indictments were announced Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of the ongoing special counsel probe into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. (The Associated Press)

Mueller’s indictment included some intriguing new details. One of them: the Russians allegedly made their first attempt to hack into Clinton’s personal office on the same day, July 27, 2016, that Trump made an extraordinary public request for Russian hackers to hack Clinton. Trump had said on camera that day: “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing."

Mueller offered no comment on whether he thought the timing was a coincidence.

The indictment also included more details of Russian interaction with Trump’s orbit: it included details of communication between the Russian intelligence operatives, who posed as a hacker called “Guccifer 2.0,” and “a person who was in regular contact with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.” That person has been widely reported to be longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who may be in legal jeopardy.

The charges were unveiled by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with a side of admonition that appeared to be directed at members of his own party. Rosenstein said, “We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings.”

The announcement came a day after a succession of Republicans tried to undermine public faith in the probe at an acrimonious congressional hearing featuring Peter Strzok, the embattled senior FBI agent who was found to have sent anti-Trump text messages, among texts criticizing a variety of other public figures, while he was a key figure in investigations into Trump and Clinton.

Rosenstein said: “When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on which side was victimized.”

Rosenstein made his announcement as the president met with Queen Elizabeth II, prompting television stations to switch from the cheery castle pomp to a sombre scene in Washington. This was only one of the ways Trump’s day did not go as originally planned.

“Trump’s trip to Europe is the single most chaotic and destructive of an American President,” Nicholas Burns, a U.S. ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, said on Twitter. “He has put us at odds with the EU, weakened NATO, disparaged Germany and directly undermined May. He is a wrecking ball. American credibility has been diminished.”

The president forced himself into damage-control mode by giving an explosive and highly unusual Thursday interview to a British tabloid, The Sun, in which he extensively criticized U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and further undermined her precarious position in Brexit negotiations — while praising Conservative rival Boris Johnson, who had just resigned from May’s Cabinet.

Among his other incendiary and unorthodox remarks, Trump resumed his dormant assault on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whom he accused of performing badly on crime and terrorism, and accused immigrants of ruining Europe’s “culture,” providing no specifics but urging people to “look around.”

Trump, trying to calm the waters, struck a markedly different tone at his joint news conference with May on Friday, complimenting her as an “incredible woman” doing a “fantastic job.” He suggested The Sun’s article was “fake news,” apparently because it emphasized his criticism rather than his compliments, and he said he had told May he wanted to apologize — not for his remarks themselves but because The Sun didn’t cover them how he wanted.

Trump’s see-sawing tone followed a similarly dizzying performance at the NATO summit in Belgium. There, he alternately lambasted U.S. allies for their military spending levels and professed that his relationships with them were superb. Just before leaving the summit, he held a news conference falsely claiming that NATO members had made dramatic new commitments to increase their spending, which forced the president of France and other leaders to explain that Trump was being inaccurate yet again.

Allied officials said Trump had left them confused.

“Nobody knows when Trump is doing international diplomacy and when he is doing election campaigning in Montana,” Danish defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said, Politico reported. “It is difficult to decode what policy the American president is promoting.

Daniel Dale is the Star's Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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