President Trump confirms during marathon press conference that his priority before negotiating with the Russians is to shore up his position at home. He has taken a first step towards rooting out his opponents in the intelligence community by asking the Justice Department to instruct the FBI to undertake a criminal investigation of the leaks which brought down General Flynn.
President Trump’s gigantic sprawling 77 minute press conference was – as is always the case with him – a bravura performance that left the media reeling. Amid all the fire and thunder – which included denunciations of the media and warm and supportive words for General Flynn – it did however reveal some important things.
Firstly, Trump confirmed that the decision has been made to roll out a new ‘travel ban’ Executive Order next week.
This is a sensible step, clearly made following legal advice from the Justice Department, and follows logically from the Judgment of the appeal court of the ninth circuit which I have analysed previously.
The two most important things to come out of the press conference are however (1) that President Trump still wants a detente with Russia, and is aware that the plotting against his administration is intended to make that more difficult; and (2) that – as I predicted – he has asked the Justice Department to instruct the FBI to carry out a criminal investigation of the leaks which led to General Flynn’s downfall.
President Trump’s comments about Russia were in some ways the most remarkable amongst those he made during his whole press conference, with the President directly accusing his opponents of weakening his position in negotiations with the Russians by giving the Russians grounds to doubt that he is in a strong enough position to make a deal with them
If we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing. We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who’s going to be meeting with them shortly and I told him. I said “I know politically it’s probably not good for me.” The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water.
Everyone in this country’s going to say “oh, it’s so great.” That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you’ve had a lot of presidents that haven’t taken that tack. Look where we are now. Look where we are now. So, if I can – now, I love to negotiate things, I do it really well, and all that stuff. But – but it’s possible I won’t be able to get along with Putin.
Maybe it is. But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said “you know.” He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying “you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.” OK?
And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia – and by the way, China and Japan and everyone. If we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing……
All of those things that you mentioned are very recent, because probably Putin assumes that he’s not going to be able to make a deal with me because it’s politically not popular for me to make a deal. So Hillary Clinton tries a re-set. It failed. They all tried. But I’m different than those people.
Trump’s belief that the Russians doubt that because of the domestic opposition he faces he is capable of delivering on a deal he agrees with them is undoubtedly right. It is interesting that Trump himself realises it.
It shows that Trump’s priority at the moment is to shore up his position at home before he negotiates with the Russians. As an experienced deal-maker he clearly does not want to be put in a position where the Russians doubt that he is able to deliver on what he promises, and this explains why negotiations with the Russians have been put back.
This in part also explains the criminal investigation into the leaks he has asked the Justice Department to tell the FBI to undertake. Clearly he understands that until he has mastered his bureaucracy and proved to the Russians that he is the master of his own house there is no sense in his negotiating with them. That he has done what he previously hinted at, and has asked the Justice Department to instruct the FBI to investigate the leaks, he has now confirmed
Yes, we’re looking at them very — very, very serious. I’ve gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies and we’re — I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies — I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.
Note that the highlighted words all but confirm a point I have repeatedly made: that the reason Trump has been unable to act against the leakers before is because the Department of Justice under Sally Yates has been working against him.
To be clear this is going to be a very different investigation from the various FBI investigations into the nebulous claims of contacts between President Trump’s campaign team and the Russians details of which have been appearing all over the media. As Trump himself all but says – and as the FBI investigators undertaking them surely know – those investigations are a complete waste of time, and will lead nowhere, because no-one has identified a crime for anyone to investigate.
By contrast in the case of the leaks that brought about the downfall of General Flynn, not only is there no doubt a crime was committed, but The New York Times and CNN know the identity of the perpetrators, and probably enough is already known about them anyway to make it possible to identify them without too much difficulty.
Unlike the investigations into the allegations that are being made against Donald Trump’s campaign team, this investigation therefore stands a very strong chance of success, resulting in arrests, charges and legal action.
I would guess that already by now as I am writing this various people in The New York Times, CNN, the US intelligence community, and former officials of the Obama administration, are busy phoning their lawyers.