'Apoplectic' Trump juggles legal drama and North Korea

One moment, Donald Trump is "apoplectic" about the gathering legal storm bearing down on his presidency that is threa...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 1:57 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 1:57 PM

One moment, Donald Trump is "apoplectic" about the gathering legal storm bearing down on his presidency that is threatening to lift the lid on his most guarded personal and business secrets. The next, he's presiding over covert diplomacy aimed at ending the most intractable foreign policy standoff of the last 70 years.

The juxtaposition of Trump's personal turmoil -- often exploding into Twitter rage -- with a daring bid to court North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exemplifies the dramatic, unpredictable rhythm of his presidency. Trump has proven to be an unconventional commander in chief who prefers to live on his wits and seems perpetually mired in crisis.

Rather like President Richard Nixon, who pursued crucial nuclear diplomacy with the Soviet Union as the Watergate scandal gathered pace, Trump is attempting to make a historic mark on the world stage even as his presidency is threatened by growing legal entanglements at home.

At the front of his mind are events unfolding after the raid against the offices and residences of his lawyer Michael Cohen, which may have left the deepest secrets of The Trump Organization in the hands of government lawyers.

With such turmoil swirling around the President, it is no wonder that a source close to him told CNN's Pamela Brown that Trump is "apoplectic" about evidence seized in the FBI raid on Cohen and fixated over everything else.

The source says the President is concerned that prosecutors may know everything he told Cohen and about all the legal fixing that his lawyer did for him over a decade as a crucial cog in the Trump Organization.

Split focus

Trump is currently navigating his legal drama and North Korean diplomacy as he hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The split focus played out in a pair of pre-dawn tweets while most of America was still sleeping.

"A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!" he wrote, lashing out at porn star Stormy Daniels who alleges she slept with Trump before he was President and who released a composite sketch of a man she says threatened her in 2011. The White House has said Trump denies the affair.

A half hour later, Trump dispatched a tweet on the stunning news that his CIA chief made a secret trip to North Korea to prepare his sit-down with Kim.

"Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!"

Trump, meanwhile, is under a prolonged assault from James Comey, who is condemning him as morally unfit for office on a book tour that is provoking a fierce counter-attack by the President. Trump is calling the fired FBI director a "slime ball," a leaker and a liar.

He tweeted later on Wednesday morning that he did not fire the former FBI director because of the Russia investigation over which Comey was at the time presiding -- a statement that contradicts his statement in an NBC interview last year that raised questions over whether he had obstructed justice.

"Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!" he tweeted.

Trump told NBC's Lester Holt last May that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he got rid of Comey.

The President could potentially face questions about all the competing demands on his attention during a press availability set for Wednesday evening with Abe. The media encounter will be the first formal opportunity for reporters to also cross-examine Trump about Friday's military strikes on Syria to punish an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.

Trump declared "Mission Accomplished," but in the days since, it's become clear there is no follow-up diplomatic strategy in the works that could lead to a permanent solution to Syria's murderous civil war. The President could also come under new scrutiny over his attitude toward Vladimir Putin following reports that he opposes the imposition of new sanctions against Russia.

Kim summit is the key question

But the key question on Wednesday, when Trump will hold talks with Abe -- and in the President's words, "sneak out" for a round of golf -- is the run-up to Trump's summit with Kim.

Asia policy analysts and US allies are seeking pointers about the President's proposed approach with Kim -- though there is no sign yet that the US has gamed out the kind of multilayered strategy that will be necessary.

Trump is still talking in generalities about the summit.

"It will be taking place probably in early June or a little before that -- assuming things go well. It's possible things won't go well and we won't have the meetings, and we'll just continue to go along this very strong path that we've taken," he said Tuesday.

The President did drip out a couple of intriguing details, telling reporters that preparatory diplomacy was under way at "extremely high levels" with the North Koreans -- a comment that sparked speculation that he had spoken personally to Kim but later was revealed to be a reference to Pompeo's trip.

Trump also said there were five possible locations for the summit.

He also recognized one of Abe's top political concerns -- the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea -- and stressed Tokyo and Washington were "locked" together on policy ahead of the summit.

But as he often does, he also strayed into ambiguity, self promotion and trawling for credit.

The President said that South Korea had been "very generous that without us -- and without me in particular, I guess -- you would have to say, that they wouldn't be discussing anything, including the Olympics, would have been a failure."

Then he offered a plug for his Mar-a-Lago resort where the talks are taking place -- in a way likely to perturb critics who accuse him of using his presidency as a platform to promote his businesses.

"Many of the world's great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach ... many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically."

Abe who made strenuous efforts to court Trump even before he was inaugurated, showed he understood the unique skills needed to deal with the US President, praising his "courage" for agreeing to meet Kim.

But Abe was blindsided by Trump's sudden decision to meet Kim and Japan wants to make sure that its most crucial issues -- including North Korean short- and medium-range missiles that could strike its territory -- do not get forgotten by the President.

Abe, who is facing his own political scandals and dipping popularity back home, is also seeking some wiggle room from the White House on the Trump administration's proposed aluminum and steel tariffs following the White House decision to offer a waiver to European allies.

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