Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Saturday June 3rd, 2017



If there has been a real number two person in the White House of President Donald Trump it is not Vice President Mike Pence. The apparently indispensable man has been Jared Kushner and as the president’s son-in- law, a man also seemingly untouchable. But that was before reports surfaced that last December, Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and sought to set up a secret communication channel with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House used up two of its most credible assets- National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly – to make the case that there was really nothing abnormal in what Kushner was doing as “back channels” have historically been used to communicate out of the limelight, sometimes with adversaries.

Here in Washington this past week, that cover story has come under intense skepticism, as there is very little precedent for a president-elect to have secret contacts with an adversary before his inauguration, and especially when that adversary stands accused of meddling in the just concluded American election. The fact that Kushner reportedly discussed using Russian communications facilities strongly suggests that he wanted to conceal Trump’s Russian conversations from the Obama administration, raising the question, what were they trying to hide?

This is a cover story that smells a lot like another cover-up in the Trump campaign’s attempts to deny any complicity in Russia’s hacking and propaganda efforts to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential vote. John McCain (R-Ariz) is one of the few Republicans openly critical of a benign explanation of Kushner’s talks with the Russians.  Meanwhile, reporting out of the White House itself indicates that Kushner may no longer be quite so indispensable or even untouchable. Ultimately, only Trump himself will decide that, but there have been rumblings that Trump has been critical of Kushner’s advice that he fire former FBI Director James Comey. Evidently he told Trump that such a move would be popular, even among Democrats. That clearly was wrong. In fact, the Comey dismissal led directly to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special council which has focused even greater public attention on the Russian investigation. This was the last thing Trump wanted. And given Trump’s refusal to ever accept personal blame when things go wrong, Kushner’s once absolute hold on White House power, may now be diminished.

The Russian probe moved ever closer to the White House this past week. In addition to the problems of Kushner, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was among those hearing from Congressional investigative committees asking for documents. Cohen dismissed the requests as a “fishing expedition” but said he would responded if he were to be subpoenaed. Small wonder some veteran reporters with Trump contacts are hearing that the president is feeling “alone” and “angry”, which frankly may be cause for concern.

Also on the bad news for Trump front, his first overseas trip, which initially was given a C plus by some analysts has been down-graded this past week. His speech and demeanor in Saudi Arabia were reexamined in the light of the contrasts between how the president interacted with autocratic Sunni kings and princes – and how he later treated our decades old democratic friends in NATO and the European Union.

Remember, virtually all acts of international terrorism have been committed or inspired by the Islamic State and al Qaeda who are Sunni Muslims. They are nearly all products of Saudi Arabia’s own highly conservative and harsh Wahhabi sect of Islam. These terrorists also continue to receive tangible financial support from Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. Trump mentioned this in his speech but made no attempt to link this behavior to the billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weapons he agreed to sell them. In my view his greatest mistake was to totally align the United States to the Sunnis in their power struggle with Shiite Iran. That raises the ante in the Sunni/Shiite power struggle in the region that will not end well.

One could say Trump escaped unscathed during his stops at the Vatican and in Israel, although the Pope looked grumpy. And the notion that Trump will get Israel and the Palestinians to make peace without offering the slightest suggestion as to how that might happen, strongly implies he is not serious.

Just how much of a debacle Trump’s involvement in the NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of Seven in Taormina, Italy, was evident in the faces of America’s allies as he publicly berated their contributions to post WWII peace and stability, even as he refused to publicly state America’s ironclad commitment to their security. It was by far the worst performance of a U.S. president at any International event I have ever seen, and I have witnessed many of them over fifty years.

But the opinion that really mattered was delivered at the end of a contentious week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most prominent leader in Europe and perhaps America’s most important political and economic ally. Europe, she said, “really must take our fate into our own hands.” Without mentioning Trump by name she added, the days when Europe could rely on others, “was over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.” Trump’s reported decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, adds insult to that injury. 

Hearing Merkel’s words, said more in sorrow than in anger, how could anyone possibly imagine that Trump’s trip was anything but an unmitigated disaster? To think otherwise indicates a complete lack of understanding of contemporary history and no appreciation for the central and positive role this country has played in the post war era. In the thirty years that I lived and reported from abroad there was never a time when the United States was so isolated from its allies, and soon to be so friendless. Trump has given Putin a victory - beyond Russia’s wildest dreams.

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