×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
April 19, 2018
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Trump entered office believing that his legacy-defining deal would be Middle East peace, but he doesn't talk about that anymore — "the peace deal looks dead and cremated," so "there's very little point," says Jonathan Swan at Axios. Instead, Trump now sees the North Korea situation as his "great man" moment, Swan reports, and "sources close to him say he genuinely believes he — and he alone — can overcome the seemingly intractable disaster on the Korean Peninsula."

Trump "definitely thinks it's a duel of personalities," a source familiar with the president's thinking on North Korea tells Axios. Another added, "He thinks, 'Just get me in the room with the guy [Kim Jong Un] and I'll figure it out.'" People close to Trump told Swan that Trump viewed his Twitter brinkmanship with Kim as "pretty intentionally calibrated," though one source said, "I'm not sure people thought it was a coherent strategy, and certainly I don't think the Pentagon signed off on it." And Trump's aides are much more skeptical than the president about the chances of success in the Trump-Kim summit, if it happens.

All "great men" probably faced skeptics, too, and personally tackling the North Korea standoff is a high-risk proposition for Trump that promises high rewards, if successful. If not, North Korea is a burgeoning nuclear power. "If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting," Trump said at a press conference Wednesday. Peter Weber

April 16, 2018
Jorge Silva/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is slowly moving away from his uncharacteristic docility toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, but in private and on Twitter, he continues to hold out hope for a better relationship — a tension that has occasionally escalated into anger, The Washington Post reports. When Trump's aides briefed him in March on the plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats to protest a Russian nerve attack in Britain, he reportedly told them the U.S. will "match" the number of diplomats expelled by America's European allies. "We're not taking the lead. We're matching."

When Trump learned that France and Germany were only expelling four Russian officials each, "Trump erupted," the Post reports:

The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia. His briefers tried to reassure him that the sum total of European expulsions was roughly the same as the U.S. number. "I don't care about the total!" the administration official recalled Trump screaming. ... Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. "There were curse words," the official said, "a lot of curse words." [The Washington Post]

Trump was initially reluctant to believe the intelligence that Russia was responsible for the attack, "a fact that some aides attributed to his contrarian personality and tendency to look for deeper conspiracies," the Post said. "To persuade him, his advisers warned that he would get hammered in the press if he was out of step with U.S. allies," and one senior White House official told the Post that Trump asked British Prime Minister on the phone, "Why are you asking me to do this?"

"The United States essentially has three Russia policies," Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University, told the Post: "The president's, the executive branch's, and Congress'." Peter Weber

April 13, 2018
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said Friday that despite reports that talks between President Trump's legal team and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office have deteriorated in the wake of the FBI raid of Michael Cohen's office earlier this week, it is still imperative that the president sit for questioning. "I don't understand how he would have the moral authority to lead this country if he didn't answer those questions," she said at the Women in the World conference in New York City, as reported by The Associated Press' Steve Peoples.

Yates was fired in early 2017 after she refused to defend Trump's executive order banning travelers from majority Muslim countries.

Prior to the FBI raid on Monday, Trump and Mueller's teams were reportedly finalizing the timing, length, and scope of the interview. "Trump's legal team is now re-evaluating what, if any, interview the President should offer," CNN reported Friday, with one person claiming the president's lawyers considered the raid a "major breach of trust." Trump has aimed to silence multiple reports claiming he has attempted to fire Mueller, or will soon, tweeting Wednesday: "if I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him." Jeva Lange

April 10, 2018

A new interview excerpt of Queen Elizabeth speaking with David Attenborough for ITV shows the pair walking the grounds of Buckingham Palace, their conversation frustrated by the noise of a loud helicopter buzzing overhead. "Why do they always go round and round when you want to talk?" the queen jokes. "Sounds like President Trump — or President Obama."

Whether she meant the presidents themselves or their aircraft is up for interpretation: The Hill reads it as a swipe at Trump's speaking style, with Obama mentioned as an afterthought to avoid political commentary. Politico, however, sees the queen poking fun at the presidents' noisy means of transportation during state visits.

Watch the clip below to reach your own conclusion. Bonnie Kristian

April 5, 2018
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) needs only one word to describe President Trump's announcement that he's considering imposing an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese products: "Nuts."

Earlier this week, in response to the U.S. hitting China with tariffs on $50 billion in products, Beijing decided to raise import duties on $50 billion in American goods. On Thursday, Trump called this an "unfair retaliation," and announced he was contemplating the additional tariffs. This was all too much for Sasse.

In a statement Thursday night, Sasse said he hopes Trump is "just blowing off steam again, but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts." In justifying the tariffs, Trump has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, and Sasse said that while "China is guilty of many things," Trump has "no actual plan to win" a trade war. "He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire," Sasse continued. "Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this." Catherine Garcia

April 5, 2018

President Trump made a qualitative assessment of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) on Thursday, appraising him as "definitely the biggest governor." The odd comment followed Trump affectionately calling Justice "Big Jim" multiple times.

Justice is more than six-and-a-half feet tall; Trump is around 6 feet 3 inches. For scale:

Embed from Getty Images

As the Los Angeles Times points out in an article about a 6-foot-11-inch gubernatorial candidate in Oregon in 2010, "Republicans are no strangers to tall leaders, Abraham Lincoln was a lean 6'4" and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee towered at 6'6"." Watch Trump's comments about Justice's size via CSPAN, here. Jeva Lange

April 4, 2018
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is frustrated that people are focusing on ethical questions surrounding his taxpayer-funded first-class air travel and 24/7 security, sneaky raises for two favorite aides, and sweetheart rental deal with the wife of a top energy and transportation lobbyist, rather than on his successes in rolling back environmental protections.

"It's toxic here in that regard," Pruitt told The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard on Tuesday. He dismissed the flap about his paying $50 a night — only on nights he stayed at the unit — for a two-bedroom Capitol Hill condo partially owned by Vicki Hart, the lobbyist wife of top Washington lobbyist J. Steven Hart, whose firm had business with the EPA last year, according to disclosure forms. "I'm dumbfounded that that's controversial," Pruitt told Bedard. He said Hart "has no clients that are before this agency" and insisted that "if you look at the lease it's very clear it's market value." Steven Hart "talked proudly about the rental agreement with Pruitt," The Washington Post reports, though Hart, too, said he "had no lobbying contact with EPA in 2017 or 2018."

Over the six months he leased the condo, Pruitt paid a total of $6,100, or just over $1,000 a month, The Associated Press says, noting that a two-bedroom condo on the same block is currently renting for the more typical $3,750 a month. "Under the lease, Pruitt technically rented only one of the condo's two bedrooms, but his daughter stayed in the second room from May to August," AP adds, and "records show that while Pruitt was living in the condo, he met in his EPA office with a lobbyist from Hart's firm" about scrapping coal-fired power plant rules.

Pruitt left the condo last summer, and one of the two aides whose salary he jacked up, Millan Hupp, "spearheaded Pruitt's subsequent moves," The Washington Post reports. "Part of Hupp's search took place during office hours," a likely violation of federal rules. Peter Weber

April 2, 2018
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

"It was sweet redemption for Charles Kushner last year when his son Jared was named senior White House adviser," The New York Times reports. The elder Kushner had pleaded guilty in 2004 to federal charges stemming from a scheme to entrap his brother-in-law using a prostitute, then served two years "making wallets at a prison camp in Alabama," but his hopes for redemption, even a pardon, due to his son's relationship to President Trump have not panned out, the Times adds. "For the patriarch and his family, the pinnacle of American political power has turned out to be a wellspring of trouble."

The Times runs down some of the Kushner family's "criminal and regulatory inquiries largely rooted in their newfound access to presidential power."

The family's East Coast-based real estate empire is under a fiscal and ethical cloud, shunned by some investors who fear being dragged into the spotlight trained on the Kushner nexus with President Trump. Two major Manhattan properties are on creditors' watch lists, one after foreign investors backed out of a financing deal. [The New York Times]

Jared Kushner's sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, 34, is under investigation over whether her business pitch to Chinese investors constituted misuse of a visa program for high-dollar investors, and 32-year-old Josh Kushner has reportedly upset his older brother because "has made no secret of the fact that he did not vote for Mr. Trump" and has criticized the Trump administration. Charles Kushner, in an interview with the Times, says business is great and his family is united. You can read more about his rosy outlook and where it may diverge from reality at The New York Times. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads