ROBERT COSTA: President Trump unfiltered. From Singapore to the White House, he is, as ever, combative. I’m Robert Costa. How the Trump doctrine is rattling international order, and an FBI report quickly becomes a political flashpoint, tonight on Washington Week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) We haven’t given up anything. I think the meeting was every bit as good for the United States as it was for North Korea.
MR. COSTA: After a history-making handshake and signed agreement, President Trump declares North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. But some in his own party remain skeptical.
SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): (From video.) This is the beginning, I think, of a long, long process.
MR. COSTA: There are bipartisan concerns about the president’s decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea.
SENATOR CORY GARDNER (R-CO): (From video.) I think exercises are important. I’d like to see them continue.
MR. COSTA: Mr. Trump is now looking to host a similar one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Plus, the Justice Department inspector general delivers its report about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and President Trump’s former campaign chairman is headed to jail.
We discuss it all with Mark Landler of The New York Times, Anne Gearan of The Washington Post, Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, and Jeff Zeleny of CNN.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. The long history of American diplomacy has featured many turbulent chapters, but longstanding U.S. allies have rarely faced such blunt challenges over trade as they did at the G-7 meeting in recent days. And U.S. presidents have rarely directly engaged dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, as President Trump did this week in Singapore.
During the landmark meeting, both sides discussed North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and security assurances for Kim Jong-un, but they did not address human rights concerns about the Kim regime, North Korea’s ballistic missiles, or the missile defense system the U.S. helped install in South Korea. The signed joint statement calling for a nuclear-free North – Korean Peninsula is nonbinding and lacks a timeline or any concrete commitments from North Korea about how it would dismantle its nuclear arsenal or terms for verification. Speaking Friday, President Trump said –
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) We now have a very good relationship with North Korea. When I came into this job it looked like war, not because of me but because – if you remember the sit-down with Barack Obama – I think he will admit this – he said the biggest problem that the United States has and by far the most dangerous problem – and he said to me that we’ve ever had, because of nuclear – is North Korea. Now, that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem.
MR. COSTA: Mark, when you think about the handshake, it was a historic moment, but there’s also the meaning of the handshake in terms of policy. And the president’s put wargames and removing them from the South Korean area off – on the table now with the North Korean leader. What does that mean for the region, for China, that may want to see the U.S. have a smaller footprint?
MARK LANDLER: Well, the wargames – and that’s the term President Trump used, and it’s in itself a loaded term because it’s really these are joint military exercises; the North Koreans often refer to them as “wargames” to give them a more kind of provocative, aggressive sort of nature – but by putting them on the table, the message I think he’s sending is that the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is in play, to a certain extent. He’s willing to make a concession on something the South Koreans view as a real centerpiece of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. And it’s not just a South Korean issue. The Japanese will look at this and say: How committed is the U.S. to Japan and its alliance in the long run? President Trump has also talked about, in the long run, withdrawing American troops from the Korean Peninsula. So all of these things that our allies in East Asia took for granted for decades are now in play as a result of this diplomatic overture.
MR. COSTA: What are some other concessions that could be on the table?
ANNE GEARAN: Well, to continue on Mark’s theme, this is also something that China has wanted. China’s diplomatic play on North Korea for some time, which the U.S. used to reject out of hand, was what they called a freeze for freeze. The U.S. would no longer hold what China considers to be provocative exercises in its backyard and waters that China wants to consider as part of its – you know, we call it international waters and say that the Chinese are overstepping. They say we’re overstepping. That we would no longer do those exercises in exchange for a freeze on the Chinese part on sanctions. And so essentially what Trump did was to give the Chinese the part that they have been seeking from us in stopping these exercises. Which is not to say that that isn’t a prelude to potential concessions from North Korea. But we don’t know that part yet. What we know is that he offered to give up something that the Chinese and the North Koreans have been wanting him to give up for a while.
MR. COSTA: Where was South Korea at this summit?
JEFF ZELENY: Well, not there, but certainly played a huge role in making it happen. In fact, without President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, this summit would not have happened. What I was struck by, sitting in Singapore, was how quick it came together. Three months and three days after the president first walked into the briefing room on March 8th and said: I have an announcement coming up tonight, stay tuned. Like, what’s it on, Mr. President? I just happened to be in the briefing room. And he said, you know, the – he’s accepting this invitation. So that was an invitation that South Korea brought. So South Korea was central to this, but they were not at the summit and in fact were surprised and caught off guard by the fact that these joint military exercises were called off.
And as Mark said, I think something was extraordinary this week. I do not think the White House anticipated, talking to people afterward, that a joint headline was going to be, you know, the president travels to Singapore and makes a concession, you know, that is going to anger the Pentagon, cause concern of Republicans on Capitol Hill. They did nothing to pave the way for calling off these joint exercises. It seemed to me it was a last-minute thing. And using the word “wargames,” I’m not sure the president knew that he was using Pyongyang’s language, but he certainly was.
MR. COSTA: You say it angered the Pentagon, but Susan is that true? Is there a divide in this administration? Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon has been somewhat quiet in this whole process. It’s been really Secretary of State Pompeo who’s out front.
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, so Secretary of State Pompeo has taken the lead in preparing the summit and working with President Trump. According to some of the reporting, no easy task when it comes to pulling off this summit in this short amount of time. Secretary Mattis, however, made an extraordinary, and I think almost overlooked, speech today at the Naval War College. He made some tough comments about Russia, which seem very out of step with President Trump’s more favorable view of Vladimir Putin. But interestingly, he also made a comment about North Korea and this deal. And he said: It’s a possible path toward peace now with North Korea.
Now, that is a wildly different characterization of the outcomes of this summit than the president’s grandiose words that we already saw tonight in this program, saying that he solved the nuclear issue once and for all. Now, there’s nothing whatsoever to suggest in the actual outcome of the summit, or this very short, very vaguely worded four bullet point communique that they issued at the end of the summit – there’s nothing in there that says the nuclear program is resolved. There’s – it’s much more vaguely worded than previous commitments that North Korea has agreed to in negotiations with the United States and other countries. Previous commitments that, of course, North Korea has actually reneged on in the past.
So, you know, again, there’s this enormous gap between the president’s outsized claims for what he’s achieved in the North Korea summit, and there is this huge rift within his own government. In any other administration, we would be talking about that as the big story.
MR. COSTA: But didn’t Kim commit to denuclearization? Or is it more complicated than that?
MR. LANDLER: Kim committed in principle to denuclearizing, but North Korea’s committed to doing that several times in the past, as far back as 1992.
MS. GLASSER: I think it’s 12.
MR. LANDLER: That’s right. So it’s – this is a common thing that North Koreans have put this on the table.
MS. GLASSER: And they’ve never defined exactly what it is.
MR. LANDLER: And they’ve never defined it. And so the timetable for doing it, how you verify it, and the modalities of how you do it are all basically the substance of what negotiations are about. That’s what the Clinton administration spent years negotiating and it’s what the Bush administration also spent years negotiating, unsuccessfully in both cases. So a vague kind of aspiration to denuclearizing gets you basically to the starting line. It doesn’t get you any further than that. And the criticism is President Trump extracted that in return for all the prestige and validation and legitimation that he gave to Kim by doing –
MR. COSTA: But what does that prestige mean for Kim back in North Korea, where his power is always under threat? What does it mean when he sees these videos provided by the administration about hotels in Pyongyang?
MR. ZELENY: It means everything. And I think the flattery we’ve seen on previous examples of the president traveling around the world, other world leaders have flattered him. The president was flattering Kim Jong-un. He’s half his age, 34 years old. The president, as we know, turned 72 this week. Calling him a – you know, a terrific negotiator, a master negotiator, strong man. And I was so stuck by all that. But one thing, we were all briefed by the secretary of state in Singapore. And Secretary Pompeo said repeatedly: verified, verified, verified. That word was not in the statement at all. So I think the cleanup now, and the details here, obviously, are going to be left to the secretary of state.
MR. COSTA: The president’s doing his own thing. When you think about –
MR. ZELENY: Well, he’s talking about it, but the secretary of state is going to be left to actually do it. And, you know, it’s a much harder task.
MR. COSTA: But the president keeps building his own world order, his own new doctrine. You think about – Susan reported today that he’s looking to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after saying he would like to see Russia join the G-8.
MS. GLASSER: Well, that’s right. So first of all, obviously, we all know that President Trump has this longstanding fascination with Vladimir Putin. He is consistently the only person who President Trump has not criticized on the world stage, aside from that one minor tweet after the Syrian chemical weapons incident. Trump has had it in his head, as I reported, you know, this morning ever since March, when the famous do-not-congratulate phone call after President Putin won reelection.
And of course, President Trump did congratulate him. And he also invited him to the Oval Office. Nobody really took that seriously, I think, because they thought, that’s insane, right? The politics of this, in the middle of the special counsel investigation, with all the questions about Trump and Russia, why would he do this? And yet, in fact, they have been negotiating over this. It looks like it’s possible as soon as in July President Trump and President Putin could meet.
MS. GEARAN: Yeah, they could attach it to the NATO meeting. But, I mean, actually, Trump answered that question today. He said that talking to Putin, including Putin in things – like the G-7, formerly the G-8; he’d like to make it the G-8 again – is the same as talking to North Korea. That – and it gave a window into what Trump’s version of diplomacy is and the Trump world order, which is very personal, very direct. He thinks he can make a difference by having a personal relationship with dictators, with leaders, whoever they may be. And he is willing to set aside any number of concerns that the United States raises in other – in other forums in order to have that personal relationship, because he thinks he can get business done. And that’s exactly what he said he wanted to do.
MR. COSTA: And let’s not forget the G-7, which was only a week ago.
MS. GEARAN: Well, attacking our allies.
MR. COSTA: Attacking allies on trade. He’s taking on long-time U.S. allies. Now, he says it’s a transactional relationship that matters. The economic relationship that matters. But this is so different from the history of U.S. foreign policy, which has so often been about values.
MR. LANDLER: Well, you’re right about that. But the point I’d make, to build on what Anne said, is not only does Trump see the upside in foreign policy in talking to our adversaries, he sees our allies almost exclusively in terms of downside. Our allies are free riders, freeloaders. They have locked us into deals that are against our advantage. And I think that if one were to start to define a Trump world view, it’s to really shred the existing alliances and look for kind of a new form of relationships around the world.
MR. COSTA: Well, the NATO meeting’s coming up soon. Should we expect him to make some moves on that front?
MR. ZELENY: I mean, in Brussels it is, it’s in about four weeks or so. Sure. And I think some of these relationships, I mean, we’ve seen them go – everything seems so dramatic. And we had Emmanuel Macron here. You know, they were best friends. And then at the G-7 that was blown up. But tonight I noticed shortly before we were going on the air he tweeted again blaming all of the coverage from the G-7 on the fake news media, said, you know, there was no problem there at all. Well, that’s simply not true. So I’m not exactly sure why he’s doing that, but it’s clearly – a couple days after he reads a lot of news coverage and he’s had time to watch a lot of commentary, he’s obsessed and often changes his view by what he hears or sees. So I think he is actually a little bit worried about those fraught relations.
MR. COSTA: It’s not just the newspapers that he’s – that are piling up in the Oval Office that he’s reading, it’s Republican comments about his position on trade. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican, said this week that the GOP has become cultish in how it’s following along the president on trade.
MS. GLASSER: Well, that’s right, and he said that, you know, his fellow Republican senators were afraid to poke the bear and to poke President Trump. There’s some evidence to suggest that that’s true when it comes to the politics of it here. But I think actually that’s part of why Trump maybe has misread his allies in attacking them so hard. I don’t think he realized, A, they’re not – they don’t play politics the way that he does and they actually think that the rhetoric of the president of the United States matters in a way that Trump, I think is not used to being taken literally, number one. Number two, I think Trump may not really fully understand that the politics in other countries – in Canada, in Germany, in France, in many of the countries in East Asia as well. President Trump is wildly unpopular there. There is an enormous political imperative, actually, to these fellow allies and world leaders to stand up to Donald Trump. These countries don’t like Donald Trump to smack around their leaders, to insult the prime minister of Canada when he’s hosting a major global summit. The politics are good for Justin Trudeau to say, you know, in a polite Canadian way, like, you know, screw you, Mr. President. And I think that Trump hasn’t fully thought through what does it mean to be America alone. That’s the word I keep hearing from allies and people in Europe when I’ve traveled there recently.
MR. COSTA: And he’s – these are not isolated issues, trade, North Korea. Final thought for this, Anne, is that you have the president going after China on trade, 50 billion (dollars) in new tariffs, as he’s negotiating with North Korea.
MS. GEARAN: Right. I mean, absolutely simultaneously the Trump administration is asking China to really kind of go on a limb here and continue enforcing sanctions against North Korea and presumably prod North Korea along to make the deal that is outlined in that page-and-a-half agreement to keep talking, and at the same time he’s slapping, you know, up to 50 billion (dollars) – tariffs on up to $50 billion worth of goods with immediate retaliation by China. It’s kind of – yes, they’re two different tracks, but they are happening so close together, and they simply can’t be separated politically, and they certainly can’t be separated, you know, by Xi Jinping. I mean, he’s going to see both things, right, yeah.
MR. LANDLER: And Trump himself has kind of made an explicit connection between the two. He said at the summit part of the reason that China may not be as cooperative on sanctions is because he’s been tough on them on trade. So he’s actually put these two things on the same track, and that makes it very complicated for him going forward on North Korea and trade.
MR. COSTA: Exactly right. Talking about blurred lines, let’s turn to the Russia probe. Today a federal judge ordered former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to be jailed ahead of his trial. Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused the 69-year-old Manafort and a Russian associate of contacting potential witnesses and asking them to lie to the jury. Manafort is facing a number of federal charges, including money laundering, illegal lobbying, conspiracy, and tax evasion. President Trump was asked about Manafort today.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (From video.) Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me, what, 49 days or something? A very short period of time.
MR. COSTA: He worked – he was the campaign chairman and we know that. We got to fact-check that. But more importantly if you look at this Manafort trial, now that he’s going to jail, will he break? Will he cooperate, like so many others have, with Mueller?
MR. ZELENY: That’s the central question here. And that – I mean, the president has said so much about the special counsel’s investigation. Bob Mueller has been keeping his head down, doing his work in the courtroom, but what he did today is majorly significant. I would not have said up to this point that Manafort would break or cooperate, and he may not, but boy this certainly raises the stakes on all of that.
But I think just a bit of perspective. Yes, it was 49 days. But Bob, as you know, without Paul Manafort, Donald Trump likely would not have become the nominee or would not have been as smooth of a ride at the convention. Paul Manafort was in charge of those delegates. He had a smooth fight there. But this is an example of the president met all day on Thursday or most of the day with his lawyers, talked to them a lot throughout the day. It’s one of the reasons, I think, he is sort of unplugged a little bit in talking about all of this. We saw him out on the North Lawn of the White House this morning, you know, answering all these questions, trying to get his point of view, and seizing on that IG report, saying he’s implicated – or he’s – you know, he’s exonerated. But the Manafort thing, we have to keep an eye on that. This is as serious as it’s been, and we don’t know if he’ll flip or not.
MR. COSTA: And the president – you know, the president’s chief lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, today dangled the idea of pardons, not directly to Manafort but dangled the idea in a series of interviews.
MR. LANDLER: Yeah, well, that’s kind of been the implication, the unspoken thing that’s hung in the air all along. The president himself is widely thought of – you know, some of the other pardons he’s made even in unrelated cases in recent weeks have been seen as kind of setting a precedent in place for him to dangle pardons that are for people that are directly involved in this, so that’s the next sort of twist to watch in this whole Mueller story.
MR. COSTA: And, Susan, we got to make sure we turn to the other big news this week, because the Justice Department released a sweeping report about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private emails. The inspector general found former FBI Director James Comey made mistakes and should not have bypassed his boss, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in how he made announcements about the Clinton investigation. The IG report concluded that while Comey broke with protocol, the FBI was not motivated by political bias. Yet, there the president was today saying he was exonerated. These are separate investigations.
MS. GLASSER: Well, that’s exactly right. And, you know, that, in a – in a remarkable appearance before the press this morning on a variety of topics, probably the president’s mischaracterization of this inspector general’s report was one of the most consequential, right, in directly saying that it exonerates him from something it doesn’t even relate to, number one.
Number two, I’ve never ceased to marvel at the ability of the president and his defenders to flip around the subject when it comes to FBI Director James Comey and the 2016 election.
MR. COSTA: They’re making an institutional argument.
MS. GLASSER: Not only that, but you have to say to the extent that Comey intervened in the election, it was pretty clearly on behalf of Donald Trump and not on behalf of Hillary Clinton. And, you know, it’s almost this inversion of reality anytime the president talks about it that is – that is fascinating, number one. But, you know, Giuliani came out after the report, used it as a pretext to say that the president should now fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is not the subject of this report anyway.
MR. COSTA: He is not. And this whole – everything in Washington these days seems to be about perception because you look at some of these text messages from the FBI agents saying we’ll end it, talking about the Trump campaign, Republicans have seized on that and they say – and the FBI IG said that wasn’t appropriate conduct.
MS. GEARAN: Yeah, I mean, well, there’s something in the report for everyone, and Trump is seizing on a part that – and Republicans in Congress are also seizing on parts that support his narrative. The president is also distorting the narrative considerably, as Susan laid out. But there – I mean, the report not only says that individual agents behaved badly, but does deliver a reprimand to Comey that he rejects, and the overarching conclusion of the report is that the FBI institutionally did not act out of – out of bias. And if you add all of those things up together, it comes out that every single thing the FBI did and Comey did had the effect, whether intentional or not, of hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.
MR. COSTA: But it does bring up all these questions about credibility of the Justice Department. Different investigations, but a lot of this is about the public war, not necessarily the details of everything.
MR. ZELENY: The president has done a very skilled job, actually, in mixing all of this up and certainly raising, you know, serious issues about the investigation here. But the reality is Bob Mueller is going to do his own thing here. We’ll see what happens going down. But the president has a decision to make: Is he going to sit down with him or not? That’s coming up.
MR. COSTA: That’s for next week: Will he sit for an interview or not? Well, TBD.
Our conversation, meanwhile, will continue on the Washington Week Extra, where we will discuss Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his decision to separate undocumented migrant children from their parents. You can find that later tonight at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
And we want to send best wishes to longtime cameraman Charlie Voth, who will be retiring soon. It’s been great working with you.
And to all the dads out there, happy Father’s Day. I’m Robert Costa. Have a wonderful weekend.