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Mar 02 2018

The Reign of the Chaos President*

There is a huge storm hitting the northeast coast, a Nor’easter, that is causing chaos with ground and air transportation. With winds reaching near hurricane force, there are downed trees and power lines. It will be gone tomorrow and the clean up begins. Slowly, everything will return to normal. Too bad that can’t be said for the chaos that is emanating from the White House.

The week started with Trump’s jack of all trades and master of none losing his security clearance and his closest confidant Hope Hicks testifying before the House Intelligence Committee and abruptly resigning Wednesday. Rumors have been flying for weeks that National Security Advisor General H. R. McMaster would be leaving his position to return to the Pentagon. It’s no secret that Chief of Staff John Kelly is not well liked among what remains o Trumnp’s hangers on, so rumors of his departure persist, egged on by the firing of White House Staff Rob Porter over spouse abuse accusations. And, lest we forget, Trump’s televised meeting with a bipartisan group of congress critters to express his wishes on gun control, starting with violating the Fourth Amendment by confiscating guns without due process. Even this current Supreme Court might have an issue with that idea. It didn’t end there.

Apparently, Wednesday night, hurt and licking his wounds, Trump met with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and White House Director of Trade, who had also invited for steel and aluminum executives unbeknownst to other White house officials. That prevented the Secret Service from vetting nor was Chief of Staff Kelly given their names. Ross and company talked the “unglued” Trump into launching a tariffs war that has tanked global stock market for the last two days. NBC News Stephanie Ruhle and Peter Alexander reported this:

With global markets shaken by President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to impose strict tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the president went into battle mode on Friday: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he wrote on Twitter.

But the public show of confidence belies the fact that Trump’s policy maneuver, which may ultimately harm U.S. companies and American consumers, was announced without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff, according to a review of an internal White House document.

According to two officials, Trump’s decision to launch a potential trade war was born out of anger at other simmering issues and the result of a broken internal process that has failed to deliver him consensus views that represent the best advice of his team. [..]

A trifecta of events had set him off in a way that two officials said they had not seen before: Hope Hicks’ testimony to lawmakers investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, conduct by his embattled attorney general and the treatment of his son-in-law by his chief of staff.

Trump, the two officials said, was angry and gunning for a fight, and he chose a trade war, spurred on by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the White House director for trade. [..]

By midnight Wednesday, less than 12 hours before the executives were expected to arrive, no one on the president’s team had prepared any position paper for an announcement on tariff policy, the official said. In fact, according to the official, the White House counsel’s office had advised that they were as much as two weeks away from being able to complete a legal review on steel tariffs. [..]

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance. [..]

The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule. Shortly after it began, reporters were told that Ross had convened a “listening” session at the White House with 15 executives from the steel and aluminum industry.

Then, an hour later, in an another unexpected move, reporters were invited to the Cabinet room. Without warning, Trump announced on the spot that he was imposing new strict tariffs on imports.

By Thursday afternoon, the U.S. stock market had fallen and Trump, surrounded by his senior advisers in the Oval Office, was said to be furious

Needless to say, this didn’t please congressional Republicans, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and economics advisor Gary Cohn who were all caught off guard.

That was Thursday’ chaos. Today Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking if son-in-law Jared Kushner’s foreign business ties influenced Trump’s foreign policy.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, according to witnesses who have been interviewed as part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election.

As part of the scrutiny of Kushner’s discussions with Turks, federal investigators have reached out to Turkish nationals for information on Kushner through the FBI’s legal attache office in Ankara, according to two people familiar with the matter. Separately, Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

Kushner’s family real estate business, Kushner Companies, approached Qatar multiple times, including last spring, about investing in the company’s troubled flagship property at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York, but the government-run sovereign wealth fund declined, according to two people familiar with the discussion. Another discussion of interest to Mueller’s team is a meeting Kushner held at Trump Tower during the transition in December 2016 with a former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, or HBJ, according to people familiar with the meeting.

HBJ had been in talks with Kushner Companies about investing in its Fifth Avenue property, which is facing roughly $1.4 billion in debt that is due in 2019, these people said. Those talks with the company continued after Kushner entered the White House and stepped away from the business, but last spring HBJ decided against investing, these people said.

In the weeks after Kushner Companies’ talks with the Qatari government and HBJ collapsed, the White House strongly backed an economically punishing blockade against Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the country’s support for terrorism as the impetus. Kushner, who is both President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser, has played a major role in Trump’s Middle East policy and has developed close relationships with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The weather in Washington improved enough for Trump to leave this afternoon for his Mar-a-Lago country club to surround himself with the club’s patron and play some golf. Maybe this will be a peaceful weekend for all of us, too, at least until he starts tweeting or Monday comes.