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Westlake Legal Group > State Department

Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump pressed the Ukrainian president in a July call to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, according to a person familiar with the conversation, an apparently blatant mixture of foreign policy with his 2020 re-election campaign.

Mr. Trump also repeatedly told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to talk with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been urging the government in Kiev for months to investigate Mr. Biden and his family, according to two other people briefed on the call.

Mr. Trump’s request for an investigation of the family of Mr. Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is part of the secret whistle-blower complaint that is said to be about Mr. Trump and at least in part about his dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the complaint.

The president has made no secret that he wanted Ukraine to investigate whether there was any improper overlap between Mr. Biden’s own diplomatic efforts there and his son’s role with a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch. “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday in response to a question about whether he brought up Mr. Biden during his call with Mr. Zelensky.

The new revelations gave added urgency to critical questions about Mr. Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. At the same time that the president sought an investigation into a potential political rival, the Trump administration for weeks froze military aid for Ukraine, which is battling Russian-controlled separatists in the country’s east.

The United States suspended the assistance to Ukraine in early July, according to a former American official. Mr. Trump did not discuss the aid in the July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky, whose government did not learn of the suspension until August, according to people familiar with the call. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of it.

For Democrats who want to examine the whistle-blower complaint — itself the subject of an internal administration dispute over whether to hand it over to Congress, as is generally required by law — the key question is whether Mr. Trump was demanding a quid pro quo, explicitly or implicitly. Democratic House committee chairmen are already investigating whether he misappropriated the American foreign policy apparatus for personal political advantage and have requested the transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House.

The burgeoning controversy had echoes of the dominant scandal of the first years of Mr. Trump’s administration: whether his campaign sought help from Russia to benefit him in 2016. Ultimately, the special counsel found that although “insufficient evidence” existed to determine that Mr. Trump or his advisers engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians, his campaign welcomed Moscow’s election sabotage and expected to benefit from it.

Any attempt by Mr. Trump to ask a foreign power to “dig up dirt” on a political rival while withholding aid is corrupt, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the panels examining Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings.

“No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” tweeted Mr. Schiff, who has also pushed for the whistle-blower complaint to be given to Congress.

Mr. Trump opened a direct counterattack on Friday on the whistle-blower, whose identity is unknown, as are many details about the complaint. The president dismissed the allegations and labeled the whistle-blower, without evidence, a political partisan.

“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistle-blower,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, though he acknowledged he did not know the person’s identity. “They shouldn’t even have information.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have pressed for an investigation of the Bidens for weeks, after reports this year in The New York Times and elsewhere examined whether a Ukrainian energy company that had faced corruption investigations sought to buy influence in Washington by hiring Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter Biden, who had a lobbying business in Ukraine while his father was vice president.

During his vice presidency, Mr. Biden cast himself as both the Obama administration’s booster of military assistance to Kiev as well as the chief antagonist of the notorious corruption in Ukraine’s government. In early 2016, he threatened to withhold $1 billion in American loan guarantees if Ukraine’s top prosecutor was not dismissed after accusations that he had ignored rampant corruption.

Mr. Biden succeeded; the prosecutor general was voted out office. And Hunter Biden had an interest in the outcome: The owner of the energy company whose board he sat on had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.

The former vice president accused Mr. Trump in a statement of using the power of the United States to extract “a political favor.” Mr. Biden called for the president to release the transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky and said that if the reports about it proved true, “there was no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.”

He also said the allegations that he or his son committed wrongdoing in Ukraine were baseless. “Not one single outlet has given any credibility to his assertion,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Friday after a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Controversy over the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy has swirled for weeks but was confined mostly to foreign policy experts. The revelations about the whistle-blower complaint plunged the issue into the center of the political debate.

Congress has still not seen the whistle-blower’s allegation. Although the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, has sought to provide it, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has blocked him in a dispute over legal requirements.

Mr. Maguire and his general counsel decided against providing the complaint to Congress after consulting with Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, according to a person familiar with the move.

Mounting evidence that the White House was involved in the effort to withhold the complaint from lawmakers has stirred anger on Capitol Hill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Mr. Maguire of violating the law.

“If the president has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his administration and our democracy,” she added in a statement.

Republicans were largely silent about Mr. Trump’s calls for a foreign investigation of his political rival. Their apparent desire to avoid criticizing the president during a political crisis stood in contrast to the criticism from Republicans, including Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, after the administration froze aid to Ukraine.

The administration, critics said, has struggled to explain the move, which has convinced some Democrats that it was part of an effort bring about a Biden investigation.

“They have no shame,” said Michael Carpenter, a former aide to Mr. Biden and expert on Ukraine. He added: “They released the assistance in mid-September after the bipartisan uproar over the freeze — and under pressure from the House investigations. But strikingly, the administration never articulated why the assistance was frozen in the first place.”

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push for a Biden inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to pursue investigations into the family as well as whether Ukrainian officials took steps during the 2016 election to damage Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani tweeted shortly after an appearance on CNN, where he first denied, then admitted, asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Although they agreed to meet with Mr. Giuliani, the Ukranians have so far refused to open the investigations. But there is little doubt the pressure from Mr. Trump is causing stress on the new government, according to a former Ukranian official.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been under attack by Russia and its proxy, a fight that has become a grinding conflict that has made it difficult for Kiev to continue its overhaul efforts and work to become more integrated with Europe and the West.

But now Ukraine also finds itself potentially at odds with the leader of its most critical partner, the United States, and at the center of a political battle in Washington.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official confirmed after Mr. Zelensky’s office announced the meeting on Friday. But the administration has put off any commitment for a White House meeting, which Mr. Zelensky views as critical for the relationship.

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Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader as Giuliani Pushed for Biden Inquiry

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader as Giuliani Pushed for Biden Inquiry Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump repeatedly pressed the Ukrainian president in a phone call to talk with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been urging the government in Kiev for months to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family, according to people briefed on the call.

Mr. Trump’s request for a Ukrainian investigation of Mr. Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is part of the secret whistle-blower complaint that is said to be about Mr. Trump and at least in part about his dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The new revelations add to new scrutiny about Mr. Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. He has made no secret that he wanted Kiev to investigate the Bidens, repeatedly raising it publicly.

But questions have emerged about whether Mr. Trump’s push for an inquiry into the Bidens was behind a weekslong White House hold on military aid for Ukraine. The United States suspended the military aid to Ukraine in early July, according to a former American official.

Mr. Trump did not discuss the aid in the July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and Kiev did not learn of the suspension until August, according to people familiar with the call. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of it.

Mr. Trump dismissed earlier on Friday as a “partisan” attack the whistle-blower complaint said to involve his dealings with Ukraine amid mounting questions about his interactions with the country’s new government.

“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistle-blower,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, though he also acknowledged he did not know the person’s identity. “They shouldn’t even have information.”

When asked whether he had brought up Mr. Biden during the call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump waved away the question but added, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden said on Friday that the allegations that he or his son did anything wrong in Ukraine are baseless.

“Not one single outlet has given any credibility to his assertion,” Mr. Biden told reporters after a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said he had no more comment, but added: “The president should start to be president.”

The existence of the complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, emerged late last week and exploded into the open late on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that it concerned Mr. Trump. The administration has not shared the complaint with Congress, as is generally required by law, angering Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a sharp warning to the Trump administration on Friday, saying in a statement that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, was violating the law by refusing to disclose the complaint to Congress.

“If the president has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his administration and our democracy,” she said in a statement.

After the Ukraine link emerged in news reports late Thursday, Mr. Giuliani shed more light on it in a rambling CNN appearance, where he first denied, then admitted, to asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push for such an inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to ramp up investigations into two matters regarding the Biden family: the question of any overlap with Mr. Biden’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine, as well as the details of his son’s involvement in a gas company there.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter shortly after his appearance on CNN asserting the same thought.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official confirmed after Mr. Zelensky’s office announced the meeting on Friday.

In recent weeks, congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was delaying the military assistance package for Kiev, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Three Democratic House committee chairmen have requested the transcript of the president’s July call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating the American foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently met with Mr. Zelensky in Poland, denied bringing up Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Mr. Biden in their conversations, but said Mr. Trump was still making the decision on “the latest tranche of financial support.”

Mr. Trump also sought to allay concerns about his dealings with other foreign leaders. Part of the whistle-blower’s complaint deals with an unspecified commitment he made to an unnamed foreign leader, a person familiar with it has said. Mr. Trump also said on Friday that he did not know the leader in question.

“I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he said. Sitting alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who had just arrived for a state visit, Mr. Trump called his communications with other leaders “always appropriate.”

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Trump Calls Whistle-Blower ‘Partisan’ and Defends Conduct With Other Leaders

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Calls Whistle-Blower ‘Partisan’ and Defends Conduct With Other Leaders Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump dismissed on Friday a whistle-blower complaint said to involve him as a “partisan” attack, but acknowledged that he did not know the identity of the person who lodged it.

Details of the complaint remained murky, but the allegations deal at least in part with Ukraine, two people familiar with it have said. That revelation immediately increased scrutiny on Mr. Trump’s public push for the country’s new government to investigate a political rival, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and whether it was related to the White House’s hold this summer on a military aid package for Ukraine that it has since released.

Mr. Trump was also playing defense concerns that he was ill-equipped to handle delicate communications as other details of the complaint surfaced, including that it dealt in part with an unspecified commitment he made to an unnamed foreign leader, a person familiar with it has said. Mr. Trump also said that he did not know the leader in question.

“I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he told reporters in the Oval Office after the arrival of Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia for a state visit.

Mr. Trump derided the complaint as a “ridiculous story” and said his communications with other leaders were “at the highest level always appropriate.” When asked whether he had brought up Mr. Biden during a July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mr. Trump waved away the question but added, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

The existence of the complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, emerged late last week and exploded into the open late on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that it concerned Mr. Trump.

And Thursday after the Ukraine link emerged in news reports late Thursday, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani shed more light on it in a rambling CNN appearance, where he first denied, then admitted, to asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push such an inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to ramp up investigations into two matters regarding the Biden family: the question of any overlap with Mr. Biden’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine, as well as the details of his son’s involvement in a gas company there.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter shortly after his appearance on CNN asserting the same thought.

Three Democratic House committee chairmen have requested the transcript of the president’s call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating the American foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

And in recent weeks, congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was delaying the military assistance package for Kiev, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently met with Mr. Zelensky in Poland, denied bringing up Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Mr. Biden in their conversations, but said Mr. Trump was still making the decision on “the latest tranche of financial support.”

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Robert O’Brien ‘Looks the Part,’ but Has Spent Little Time Playing It

WASHINGTON — Even his many critics conceded that the former national security adviser John R. Bolton brought useful credentials to the job: decades of foreign policy experience and a keen grasp of how the gears of government turn.

Mr. Bolton’s main problem, as it turned out, was that he knew too much. Confident in his experience to a fault, he was unwilling to shade his deeply held hawkish views, which he defended with a prickly personality that alienated colleagues — and ultimately President Trump himself, leading to his ouster last week.

Robert C. O’Brien, Mr. Trump’s choice to succeed Mr. Bolton, flips that equation. He is a former Los Angeles lawyer with limited government experience before he became the State Department’s point man for hostage negotiations. But his friends all cite an affable, ingratiating personality that has earned him allies throughout the Trump administration, notably including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, both of whom supported his appointment.

His physical appearance did not hurt, either. Whereas Mr. Trump was known to grouse about Mr. Bolton’s famous bushy mustache, the president has been taken with Mr. O’Brien’s well-tailored looks and easy demeanor, and thinks he “looks the part,” as one person close to the president said.

Mr. O’Brien has a record of traditional conservative foreign policy views, and has supported a tougher American approach toward China, Iran and Russia. And Mr. O’Brien served with Mr. Bolton when he was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. But Mr. O’Brien is no ideological firebrand in the mold of Mr. Bolton, who pushed Mr. Trump to take military action against Iran and wore contempt for the federal bureaucracy on his sleeve.

Friends and Trump officials say that while Mr. Bolton saw himself as a crusader for specific policy goals — and some said a necessary counterweight to Mr. Trump’s instincts — Mr. O’Brien, 53, is more likely to act as an arbiter of competing views and a facilitator of Mr. Trump’s decisions. One Trump official said that Mr. O’Brien would bring “no outside agenda” to the job.

That approach fits the traditional definition of the national security adviser job, a potential source of comfort to a foreign policy establishment at home and abroad long rattled by Mr. Trump’s impulsive style, and more recently by Mr. Bolton’s disregard for deliberative, organized policymaking.

But questions remain about whether Mr. O’Brien’s background has adequately prepared him for the myriad challenges of his new job. Mr. Trump is currently navigating, among other things, a broiling crisis with Iran, a deadlocked trade war with China, a stalemate in nuclear talks with North Korea and the recent collapse of peace talks in Afghanistan.

“I think the greatest challenge he will have is his relative lack of experience inside the U.S. government, and with the interagency process, given that a gigantic part of the job is coordinating the interagency process,” said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security.

Mr. Fontaine, who considers Mr. O’Brien a friend, said that “in stark contrast to Bolton,” the president’s new aide will have to spend time “learning the nooks and crannies of government.”

“When you’re in the Situation Room, you can be surprised by how many people are actually there,” he added.

Mr. O’Brien, a founding partner of the Los Angeles-based law firm Larson O’Brien, is not a complete newcomer to the Situation Room. As the United States government’s top hostage negotiator, he has interacted with military, intelligence and diplomatic officials in his efforts to free Americans held prisoner across the globe.

Among those freed during Mr. O’Brien’s tenure are Andrew Brunson, a pastor held by Turkey for two years, and Danny Lavone Burch, an oil-company engineer kidnapped in Yemen and rescued in a raid by forces from the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Trump has often celebrated these releases with on-camera meetings in the Oval Office, where Mr. O’Brien praised the president lavishly.

“This wouldn’t happen with all of these hostages and detainees without the support of the president,” Mr. O’Brien said in March after Mr. Burch’s release. “The president has had unparalleled success in bringing Americans home without paying concessions, without prisoner exchanges, but through force of will and the good will that he’s generated around the world.”

More recently, Mr. Trump sent Mr. O’Brien to Sweden for the unusual mission of trying to win the release of the rap star ASAP Rocky, who had been arrested on charges of criminal assault. A Swedish judge released the rapper pending a resolution of the case and a court later found him guilty; he was ordered to pay damages but did not have to spend more time behind bars.

Mr. O’Brien waged a low-key campaign for his new job, making his desire clear to the president and encouraging others to talk up his credentials. He encountered little opposition in contrast to candidates like Brian H. Hook, the special envoy for Iran, whose personal loyalty to the president is doubted by some administration officials.

He is a longtime friend of Mr. Pompeo’s and was on the secretary of state’s short list of acceptable choices, according to two people involved in the process. His warm relationship with Mr. Pompeo will, for now, reverse the dysfunctional rivalry that existed between Mr. Bolton and Mr. Trump’s senior diplomat.

Mr. O’Brien will be Mr. Trump’s fourth national security adviser in three years, the most any president has had in a first term. Following two predecessors who came to grate on the president and were fired — Mr. Bolton and the man who preceded him, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — his survival will depend in part on keeping the president happy.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday with Mr. O’Brien by his side, Mr. Trump suggested they were off to a good start.

“I think we have a very good chemistry together, and I think we’re going to have a great relationship,” Mr. Trump said. “He is a very talented man.”

In brief remarks, Mr. O’Brien twice mentioned the goal of maintaining “peace through strength,” perhaps best known as a catchphrase of former President Ronald Reagan.

And while he does not have the record of television punditry that helped land Mr. Bolton the job, he has written regularly about foreign policy and collected a series of essays into a book, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis,” published in 2016 with a cover blurb from Mr. Bolton and a glowing introduction from the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt.

In his book, Mr. O’Brien cites Winston Churchill as a hero, condemns what he calls President Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy and calls for America to face down emboldened “autocrats, tyrants and terrorists.” That view would seem out of sync with Mr. Trump’s well-documented affinity for autocratic leaders, from Russia to Saudi Arabia to Brazil.

In 2012, Mr. O’Brien was an adviser to Mitt Romney when he ran against Mr. Obama. And he was not an early supporter of Mr. Trump in the 2016 campaign. During the Republican primaries, he first advised Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and then joined the campaign of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

In one published opinion piece for Politico in October 2015, Mr. O’Brien counseled Mr. Cruz to criticize Mr. Trump more aggressively on foreign policy and advised “playing up how chummy he will be with Vladimir Putin if he is elected.”

Jerrold D. Green, the president and chief executive of the Pacific Council on International Policy, a foreign affairs organization in Los Angeles, said that he has known Mr. O’Brien for more than a decade and that Mr. O’Brien had been scheduled to be the keynote speaker on Wednesday at Pepperdine Law School’s Constitution Day, but had to cancel because of his appointment as national security adviser.

“He’s well loved in California, which is interesting, for a rather conservative Republican in this which is the heartland of liberal Democratic politics,” Mr. Green said. “He’s a very, very popular, well-respected, well-liked guy here, despite the fact that his political universe is Scott Walker and Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz, who are somewhat less than iconic amongst most Angelenos. It kind of speaks to his personal qualities.”

After John Bolton Was Fired
Read about what led to Mr. O’Brien’s appointment.
Trump Names 5 Candidates for National Security Adviser

Sept. 17, 2019

Westlake Legal Group merlin_158639664_3ac82bd8-9d51-4a7b-a734-2ad9f99b54bf-threeByTwoSmallAt2X Robert O’Brien ‘Looks the Part,’ but Has Spent Little Time Playing It United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike O'Brien, Robert C (1952- ) Bolton, John R Appointments and Executive Changes
Trump Ousts John Bolton as National Security Adviser

Sept. 10, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 10dc-bolton-promo-threeByTwoSmallAt2X-v3 Robert O’Brien ‘Looks the Part,’ but Has Spent Little Time Playing It United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike O'Brien, Robert C (1952- ) Bolton, John R Appointments and Executive Changes
Five Policy Clashes Between John Bolton and President Trump

Sept. 10, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 10dc-policy-threeByTwoSmallAt2X-v2 Robert O’Brien ‘Looks the Part,’ but Has Spent Little Time Playing It United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike O'Brien, Robert C (1952- ) Bolton, John R Appointments and Executive Changes

Michael Crowley reported from Washington, Peter Baker from Los Angeles and Maggie Haberman from New York. Tim Arango contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

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For Mike Pompeo, a Moment of Singular Influence

WASHINGTON — It took about five minutes after John R. Bolton’s unceremonious fall from grace this week before Washington’s official whisper factory started floating a surprising suggestion for a replacement: Mike Pompeo.

Not that Mr. Pompeo would give up his post as secretary of state to succeed Mr. Bolton as national security adviser. Instead, he would take on both jobs, occupying the corner West Wing office and the Foggy Bottom diplomatic headquarters simultaneously, just as the now-legendary Henry A. Kissinger did in the 1970s.

The notion may be fanciful; it may only be the fevered dream of Mr. Pompeo’s ambitious camp. But even if it never comes to pass, just the fact that it was floated speaks volumes about how singular a figure Mr. Pompeo has become in President Trump’s factional foreign policy circle, the victor in his cage match with Mr. Bolton and the one true survivor as every other original member of the national security team has been cast aside or fled.

Unlike Mr. Bolton or other departed advisers like H.R. McMaster, Rex W. Tillerson, Jim Mattis or Dan Coats, Mr. Pompeo has navigated Mr. Trump’s choppy presidency without capsizing. While conservative like Mr. Bolton, Mr. Pompeo has learned to advance his policy goals where he can, dispense with them when he has to and keep himself in the good graces of a notoriously fickle commander in chief.

“Secretary Pompeo has figured out how to advise the president in ways the president wants,” said Kori Schake, deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a former National Security Council official under President George W. Bush.

For now, anyway. As the last 32 months have shown, the only permanent aspect of Mr. Trump’s administration is impermanence. Next week, Mr. Pompeo could just as easily find himself on the wrong side of the president — even the talk of his potentially taking both jobs might irritate Mr. Trump.

But at the moment, no other foreign policy adviser has the president’s ear like Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton’s exit gives him a chance to further enhance his influence.

Even if he does not take on twin titles, the list of apparent candidates for the national security adviser job includes a couple of Mr. Pompeo’s special envoys, Stephen E. Biegun and Brian Hook, either of whom would give Mr. Pompeo a stronger connection to the White House than he had during Mr. Bolton’s 17-month tenure.

And he already has important allies at the Defense Department — Secretary Mark T. Esper was a West Point classmate — and at the C.I.A., whose director, Gina Haspel, previously worked for Mr. Pompeo when he ran the agency at the start of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Yet Mr. Pompeo’s own commitment to the administration has been in question lately as he flirts with a possible run for the Senate from Kansas. He has months to decide and the emergence of a new national security structure without Mr. Bolton and with his own role enhanced could tilt the odds toward him staying.

For Mr. Pompeo, 55, the rise to the top of Mr. Trump’s team is the culmination of a rocket ride from obscurity in just eight years. A backbench Republican congressman from Kansas, he made himself into a hero of conservatives and the bête noire of liberals with an aggressive performance on the committee investigating Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, over the 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

First as C.I.A. director and then as secretary of state, Mr. Pompeo has shown a knack for connecting with Mr. Trump. Widely viewed as smart and strategic, if at times testy and even bombastic, Mr. Pompeo has made loyalty to the president his first “mission set,” a phrase he uses constantly from his time at West Point and in the Army.

And while he agreed with and facilitated the president’s desire to abandon the international nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated by President Barack Obama, he also kept private any skepticism he may have had over Mr. Trump’s diplomatic outreach to North Korea and Iran.

Even the recent collapse of the proposed peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan may have served Mr. Pompeo’s complicated interests. He pleased Mr. Trump by delivering a deal as requested and yet when the president canceled it over a suicide bomb attack, he was off the hook for whatever blowback the deal might have caused.

“Pompeo is a guy who on one hand wants to deliver for the president, and is often also the guy who kind of has to placate the State Department, whch often is dovish,” said James Jay Carafano, a national security scholar at the Heritage Foundation. “So there’s a lot of triangulation there.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_68977141_cf16147e-9582-4615-9861-f40e077552fd-articleLarge For Mike Pompeo, a Moment of Singular Influence United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike National Security Council Kissinger, Henry A Bolton, John R

Henry A. Kissinger, right, with President Richard M. Nixon in 1973. Mr. Kissinger was the only person to simultaneously serve as both secretary of state and national security adviser.CreditGeorge Tames/The New York Times

But putting him in dual roles like Mr. Kissinger held under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford would be fraught with risks — some for Mr. Pompeo, and many for the national security establishment, which, in more normal times has come to view the National Security Council as a somewhat neutral arbiter among competing departments and agencies, from the Pentagon to the State Department to the intelligence agencies.

Colin Kahl, who was the top foreign policy aide for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., noted that the national security adviser is expected to focus on the inside game, staffing the president and coordinating a collection of agencies and departments, while the secretary of state is the public face of American diplomacy.

“Given how much care and feeding Trump needs from staff, and how complex and fast moving the world is — even compared to Kissinger’s time — it is hard to imagine anyone effectively playing both roles,” Mr. Kahl said.

Yet Ms. Schake noted that Mr. Trump clearly does not want the kind of rigorous interagency process that other presidents have had and so in that sense there may be less of a problem in combining the roles. “But mainly what appointing Pompeo to both State and NSA jobs would show is that, like Nixon, President Trump doesn’t actually trust anybody else,” she said.

The prospect of being the most powerful national security figure since Mr. Kissinger would hold obvious appeal for Mr. Pompeo. As Mr. Nixon’s national security adviser, Mr. Kissinger played an outsized role and effectively overshadowed Secretary of State William P. Rogers, so that when Mr. Rogers stepped down, it made sense to formalize his expanded role.

When Mr. Nixon resigned, Mr. Ford kept Mr. Kissinger in both jobs after he became president, but ultimately the dual role came to be problematic and, in a broader reshuffling of his team, the president stripped Mr. Kissinger of his national security adviser title and left him at State.

Instead, it was his successor, Brent Scowcroft, who became known as the model national security adviser. He was known for letting agencies present their views, and not coloring them with his own. He was so successful that he was later brought back for a second stint in the job under President George Bush.

For Mr. Pompeo, the challenge would be satisfying his boss while convincing the rest of the national security establishment that he was a neutral player — and also representing the views of the State Department.

One recent former White House official said the biggest risk for Mr. Pompeo would be “proximity.” The official noted that while it was one thing to move in and out of the White House, Mr. Trump frequently tires of those who are constantly in his sight — and, eventually, seek to contain his instincts. As the former official noted, an adviser loses altitude as soon as he settles into an adjoining office.

“The biggest reason this is unworkable though is that Trump is too insecure to rest this much prestige in one adviser,” agreed John Gans, author of “White House Warriors,” a new book on the National Security Council.

He noted that Mr. Trump was reported to be upset in 2017 when, Stephen K. Bannon, then his chief strategist, landed on the cover of Time magazine. “How is he going to feel when everyone rightly calls Pompeo the most powerful foreign policy player since Kissinger?” he asked.

David Rothkopf, who has also written about the history of the National Security Council, noted other risks of giving both jobs to Mr. Pompeo. “It might seem tempting and fuss free to Trump, but it would be a big mistake,” he said. “It would be tempting because Trump is comfortable with Pompeo and he won’t have to at least attempt or pretend to introduce someone new into his inner circle.”

But Mr. Rothkopf noted that such a move would be complicated by the fact that Mr. Trump often “tweets out positions before deliberations had taken place,” forcing aides to reverse-engineer a policymaking process to justify a decision that has already been made. The result is that national security adviser “isn’t much of a role under Trump. In fact, it is both the most negligible and the most dysfunctional NSC process since the Reagan years and the debacle of Iran-contra.”

Whether he takes the second job or simply continues in the one he already has, Mr. Pompeo now has a window of opportunity to shape Mr. Trump’s foreign policy as no other adviser has been able to do.

He has shown that he may try to steer the president but will not try too hard to dissuade him from his strongest impulses. Instead, it seems, he will wait for his moments and make the most of them.

Whether that dynamic is sustainable, of course, is anyone’s guess. “Pompeo has been able to walk through the rain drops so far, but how long does that last?” said Mr. Gans. “No one else on the national security side has managed to stay dry forever.”

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Jason Greenblatt, a Designer of Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan, Is Leaving the Administration

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s special envoy for Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, will leave the administration, according to a senior Trump official, raising new questions about a long-delayed plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Greenblatt has worked closely since early 2017 with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to design what Mr. Trump has called the “ultimate deal.” But their secretive plan has been delayed for several months, and it is unclear when it will be released — and whether Mr. Greenblatt will be around for the rollout.

Trump administration officials have said that the plan would not be released before Israel’s Sept. 17 election, which would determine the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally who has overseen expansionist policies in the occupied West Bank. The vote, if close, could be followed by months of political jockeying to build a governing coalition, which could further delay the plan’s release.

On Thursday, the Trump official would say about the plan only that “the vision is now complete and will be released when appropriate.”

Mr. Trump had warm words for Mr. Greenblatt on Twitter. “Jason has been a loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer,” Mr. Trump tweeted, praising his “dedication to Israel.”

By the time the administration’s peace plan is revealed, Mr. Greenblatt, formerly a longtime top lawyer to the Trump Organization, may have returned to private life. He accepted a huge pay cut in early 2017 when he took his White House job at an annual salary of about $180,000. His wife and six children have remained at their home in Teaneck, N.J. It is unclear whether Mr. Greenblatt will return to the Trump Organization after he leaves the government.

Westlake Legal Group all-the-major-firings-and-resignations-in-trump-administration-promo-1530825933054-articleLarge Jason Greenblatt, a Designer of Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan, Is Leaving the Administration United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Palestinians Netanyahu, Benjamin Middle East Kushner, Jared Greenblatt, Jason D

The Turnover at the Top of the Trump Administration

Since President Trump’s inauguration, White House staffers and cabinet officials have left in firings and resignations, one after the other.

Mr. Greenblatt will remain on the job “in the coming period,” the Trump official said. The absence of a commitment to stay through the plan’s release is sure to stir doubts about its viability, which many regional experts and officials already doubt will break a decades-long stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some Trump administration critics expect it will be a largely political document meant to bolster Mr. Netanyahu, assuming he survives this month’s election, and to affirm Mr. Trump’s domestic standing with conservative Jews and evangelical Christians who support Israeli territorial expansion.

But Trump officials argue that their peace effort is a serious one that incorporates lessons from the mistakes of several past administrations, although they have so far provided few details beyond a call for major new economic development in Palestinian areas.

After Mr. Greenblatt’s departure, Avi Berkowitz, an adviser to Mr. Kushner, will become “more involved in the process,” the Trump official said. So will Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran.

Mr. Hook has already worked closely on the Israel-Palestinian file, a reflection of the Trump team’s theory that Israel and its Sunni Arab enemies can unite against a shared adversary: Tehran’s Shiite-led government.

Mr. Hook joined Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt for a midsummer Middle East tour meant to build support for their proposal from Arab leaders, whose backing they hope to win for a peace initiative that is expected to demand far more concessions from the Palestinians than from the Israelis. The Trump administration has been closely aligned with Mr. Netanyahu’s government on security and territorial issues, while taking an openly adversarial stance toward Palestinian leaders.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have worked in the White House for over two and a half years under the leadership of President Trump,” Mr. Greenblatt said in a statement. “I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace. This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region.”

Mr. Kushner added in a statement that Mr. Greenblatt “has done a tremendous job leading the efforts to develop an economic and political vision for a long sought after peace in the Middle East,” saying he would remain a “close friend and partner.”

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Peace Road Map for Afghanistan Will Let Taliban Negotiate Women’s Rights

WASHINGTON — Roya Rahmani is neither royalty nor from a powerful family, so she was initially surprised when she was appointed as the first woman to be Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States. Now she understands why: to signal Kabul’s commitment to women’s rights as the Trump administration pushes for a peace deal with the Taliban.

Ms. Rahmani, a longtime women’s rights activist, remembers all too well what Afghanistan was like during the 1990s, under the Taliban’s rule, when women were beaten for leaving their homes and barred from attending school or holding jobs. “People were drained of hope” and were “living zombies,” she said this week in an interview. Today, she noted, women make up 28 percent of the Afghan National Assembly — more than in Congress.

But as the Taliban and the United States move toward a preliminary peace agreement — which could be released in days — there are growing fears that Afghan women will lose the gains they have made over nearly two decades.

The agreement, hashed out over months of talks between the Trump administration and the Taliban, is expected to outline steps for the eventual withdrawal of 14,000 American troops and pave the way for future talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Officials said the preliminary deal is not expected to include specific assurances that women will continue to have equal opportunities in education, employment and government.

Women’s rights are supposed to be addressed in the future talks, which could result in a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Although some American and Afghan officials say the Taliban appear to be more receptive to women’s rights than in the past, others worry that women will be given lip service in that final accord, or left out entirely.

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American diplomats are negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. We talk to women about the future of freedom for women in Afghanistan.CreditCreditYousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times

“Afghan women have made it loud and clear that they want peace without oppression,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Trump administration, she said, “needs to fully recognize that Afghan women are our greatest asset to advancing the cause of freedom in this war-torn country.”

“Their rights and future must not get lost in these negotiations,” she added.

After American troops forced the Taliban from power after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, Afghan women literally came out of their homes. Now, more than 3.5 million are enrolled in primary and secondary schools and 100,000 women attend universities, according to the State Department. American auditors estimate that nearly 85,000 Afghan women work as teachers, lawyers, law enforcement officials and in health care. More than 400 women ran for political office in elections held last fall.

But many of the gains are among women in Kabul, the capital, and in other major cities. In recent years, the Taliban’s hold across the country — especially in rural areas — has expanded.

The group controls at least 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population — 59 of the country’s 407 districts, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Another 119 districts are considered contested.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_155291994_8ba5a8c6-84e8-46eb-ba35-344958fb405b-articleLarge Peace Road Map for Afghanistan Will Let Taliban Negotiate Women’s Rights Women's Rights Women and Girls Wells, Alice G United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Taliban State Department Khalilzad, Zalmay Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan

Girls at a school in Yakawlang, Afghanistan. The Taliban acknowledged in a statement that women have rights to education and jobs under Islam. CreditJim Huylebroek for The New York Times

As part of the next phase of peace talks, American and Afghan officials are insisting on a permanent cease-fire. But even that will not assure peace for Afghan women, Ms. Rahmani said.

“When we are talking about peace, and a peaceful environment for all of us, we are not only talking about the absence of guns and bullets and bombs,” she said. “We are talking about an environment where human security is present, where people will live free of all forms of violence — not only physical, but emotional, too.”

“It should be free of fear and abuse,” Ms. Rahmani said.

Ms. Rahmani, 41, grew up in Kabul but fled to Peshawar, in neighboring Pakistan, after civil war broke out in Afghanistan in 1992 and accelerated the Taliban’s rise. On a trip back to Kabul with her family in 1998, she said, she was shocked by what she saw as a ghost city, drained of energy, where people put blankets over every window to keep Taliban religious police from seeing anything, no matter how innocuous, that might merit a beating.

The debate over women’s rights in a final deal is a widely expected to split along each side’s interpretation of the role of women in Islam, Afghanistan’s national religion.

Under the Afghan Constitution, adopted in 2004, men and women have equal legal rights and duties. The Constitution specifically outlaws discrimination and requires a “balanced education for women.” It states that all of its provisions and laws adhere to Islamic rules and faith.

In a statement in February, the Taliban said they recognized that women have certain rights under Islam, including access to education and jobs, property inheritance and the ability to choose a husband.

Afghan women in 1996 at a market in Kabul. The Taliban imposed strict restrictions on women after taking control of the capital.CreditB.K. Bangash/Associated Press

The Taliban’s policy, according to the statement, which was released at a forum in Moscow, “is to protect the rights of women in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened.”

But the statement also described immoral and indecent influences by the West and religions that it said have encouraged women to violate Afghan customs “under the name of women’s rights.” It cited “dissemination of Western and non-Afghan and non-Islamic drama serials” as evidence of the corruption of Afghan women.

Afghan officials and activists who attended the negotiations between the Taliban and the United States said that informal talks with members of the extremist group revealed that the Taliban have changed since 2001 — and may be even more open to women’s rights.

“One thing that we noticed is that the Taliban were not like those Taliban that they were 20 or 18 years before,” Asila Wardak, a human rights activist who attended the negotiations, which were held in Doha, Qatar, said at a forum in July at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She said there were “many chances” for Afghan women to talk to Taliban negotiators, and to share their concerns, at the discussions in Doha.

Research by the London-based Overseas Development Institute indicates that Taliban shadow governments work with local officials in some Afghan districts on health care, education, law enforcement and taxes. That is a contrast to 2001, when the Taliban were consumed with keeping power.

“They’ve changed profoundly because they’ve developed an interest in governing, and in providing services,” said Rebecca Zimmerman, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a think tank.

Women voting during last year’s election in Kandahar Province. CreditJawed Tanveer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Experts on Afghan issues remain skeptical of Taliban claims that they support women’s rights — a declaration that, at best, is largely untested. At worst, it is defied by continued attacks, threats and oppression against women by Taliban members in local districts across Afghanistan even as their leaders say they want peace.

Attacks this year against girls’ schools in Taliban territory near the western city of Farah, and the extremists’ forced closure of a radio station that employed women in Ghazni Province, in the country’s east, indicate otherwise. (Taliban officials have denied responsibility for the attacks outside Farah, although graffiti sprayed on the walls of the schools praised the extremist group.)

“You don’t have to look at 2001 to see what the Taliban has done in areas that it has held — you can look at 2017, 2018, 2019,” said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations’ women and foreign policy program.

“It’s certainly much harder for women who are living in Taliban-influenced areas to go to work, to hold jobs, for girls to go to school and for women to be in any kind of public sphere,” she said.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the American envoy who will continue to shepherd a final agreement in upcoming peace talks, pledged last month that women would “have a seat, or several seats, at the negotiating table” alongside the Taliban.

Alice G. Wells, the acting assistant secretary of state who oversees Afghan diplomacy, also has said that a final accord must respect — and protect — women’s rights or risk losing international support and aid. The United States alone has promised $2 billion in aid since 2002 for programs for women and issues focused on gender equality.

Female delegates during the opening ceremony of Afghanistan’s grand assembly in April.CreditJawad Jalali/EPA, via Shutterstock

Preventing widespread terrorism from resurfacing, in part by helping stabilize Afghanistan, “cannot occur if half the country’s population is deprived of opportunity,” Ms. Wells said last month at the Georgetown Institute event.

In interviews with The New York Times, Ms. Rahmani did not rule out working in a government that shared power with the Taliban, saying only that she would defer to the leadership selected by her country’s citizens. First and foremost, she said, Afghans want peace.

But as a mother of a young daughter and as a former advocate of women’s rights — at nongovernmental organizations and as a consultant to the United Nations, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and to the government of Canada — she insisted that women must not be forced to give up progress they have made.

“If the Taliban says, ‘We can find a way to address each other’s concerns,’ that is fine,” Ms. Rahmani said. “But given the past experiences, it’s extremely alarming for the women of Afghanistan.”

Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Trump’s Hong Kong Caution Isolates Him From Congress, Allies and Advisers

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WASHINGTON — President Trump’s cautious distance from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has left him politically isolated from both parties in Congress, the State Department, European allies and his most hawkish advisers at the White House.

Despite ringing declarations of support for the protesters from leading Democrats and Republicans as well as European officials, Mr. Trump has shown little sympathy for the mass demonstrations against China’s encroaching political influence on the former British colony. And in his almost-singular focus on his showdown with Beijing over trade and tariffs, Mr. Trump is ignoring the view of his conservative advisers, who believe that China’s authoritarian model threatens American interests worldwide.

Speaking to reporters as he headed to a campaign event on Thursday, Mr. Trump was complimentary toward China’s president, Xi Jinping. “I really have a lot of confidence in President Xi,” Mr. Trump said, predicting that if the Chinese leader met with protest leaders, “things could be worked out pretty easily.” Mr. Trump offered no words of support for the goals of the protesters, which include preventing China’s repressive political system from subsuming Hong Kong’s open society.

Two senior administration officials said top foreign policy advisers to Mr. Trump have pressed him to take a more forceful public stand on Hong Kong as the pro-democracy protests have escalated, along with police violence against them. One tough internal critic of China’s government is Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who in an interview on Wednesday with Voice of America used far stronger language than Mr. Trump has about the protests.

“The Chinese have to look very carefully at the steps they take, because people in America remember Tiananmen Square, they remember the picture of the man standing in front of the tanks,” Mr. Bolton said, referring to the 1989 demonstrations that China’s government brutally repressed, killing hundreds of unarmed people. “It would be a big mistake to create a new memory like that in Hong Kong,” Mr. Bolton added.

The State Department, also using language tougher than the president’s, issued a statement on Tuesday saying it was “staunch in our support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong,” sympathetically noting the protesters’ “broad concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Mr. Trump has conspicuously avoided that kind of language as he seeks to negotiate a trade agreement with Beijing. On Twitter and in comments this week, he has sounded ambivalent about the Hong Kong unrest, saying that he hopes “it works out for everybody, including China.”

Mr. Trump has also shown sympathy for Mr. Xi. In a tweet on Thursday, he called the Chinese leader “a great man who very much has the respect of his people,” who can bring the Hong Kong crisis to a “happy and enlightened ending.” To many of the Hong Kong protesters, Mr. Xi is an untrustworthy tyrant determined to squelch their political freedom.

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is also in sharp contrast to the words of Republicans and Democrats, who are warning Mr. Xi of grave consequences, including congressional action, should he order a bloody 1989-style crackdown. Fears of such a response grew this week after images circulated online of a buildup of Chinese military forces near Hong Kong, which Beijing says is part of a long-planned exercise.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a North Carolina Republican who often advises Mr. Trump on foreign policy, tweeted on Tuesday that “30 years after Tiananmen Square all Americans stand with the peaceful protesters in Hong Kong.’’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement that the protesters “have inspired the world with the courage and determination with which they are fighting for the freedom, justice and true autonomy that they were promised.”

Similar rhetoric has come from European allies. “I do support them, and I will happily speak up for them and back them every inch of the way,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said of the protesters last month, arguing that China must honor Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Mr. Trump’s language shows little connection to his administration’s stated intolerance for China’s political repression. An official national security strategy that the Trump White House released in December 2017 declared Beijing to be a strategic competitor whose political system must be confronted along with its economic and military strength. The document quotes Mr. Trump as saying that the United States will “raise our competitive game” to “protect American interests and to advance our values.”

The drama in Hong Kong is only the latest example of Mr. Trump’s disinclination to let human rights and democracy complicate his diplomacy. He has taken no position on recent mass protests in the streets of Moscow, which have constituted the most open challenge in years to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, with whom Mr. Trump has a friendly relationship. Mr. Trump also rarely criticizes the repressive practices of several other governments with which he has forged close alliances, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Poland.

The crisis in Hong Kong has cast a particularly bright spotlight on the role of western democratic values at a moment when authoritarian politics are on the rise across the globe. Mr. Trump’s critics call this a vital moment to reassert American leadership.

“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,” Ms. Pelosi said in her statement.

“Our democratic allies are looking to us for leadership,” said Daniel Kliman, a former Pentagon official and director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Mr. Trump’s defenders say he has good reason to tread carefully. One is that Mr. Trump has limited tools for backing up any tough words; it is unthinkable that the United States military would come to the protesters’ rescue.

Another is that China’s government has openly accused the United States of instigating the protests as part of a covert regime-change strategy, and support from the White House could play into Beijing’s narrative. The Chinese state news service Xinhua reported on Thursday that China’s Foreign Ministry office in Hong Kong had condemned “certain U.S. politicians for colluding with the extremist and violent offenders” there.

“Western leaders have a fine line to walk: supporting the democratic aims of Hong Kong protesters without feeding paranoia in Beijing that the demonstrations are a foreign conspiracy to divide and weaken China,” said Jessica Chen Weiss, a China scholar and professor at Cornell University. “As for Trump, his actions speak louder than his words.”

President Barack Obama faced similar concerns in June 2009 after a wave of pro-democracy uprisings emerged in Iran. Mr. Obama was relatively restrained in his commentary about the Iranian protests, largely because of fears that expressions of support would play into the hands of Iranian leaders who insisted that the protests had been stirred up by the Central Intelligence Agency. But Mr. Obama still made clear his support for the protesters’ goals, saying that “the democratic process — free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all those are universal values and need to be respected.”

Nor would Mr. Trump be the first American president to tread carefully when it comes to the internal affairs of China. Human rights groups criticized Mr. Obama for failing to more forcefully challenge Mr. Xi’s clampdown on civil society during his administration. And Mr. Obama’s then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, told reporters on her first trip to Beijing that, while Washington must press Beijing on its values, “pressing on those issues can’t interfere” with such other priorities as the economy and climate change.

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The U.S. Has Joined Secret Talks With Israel and the U.A.E. The Topic? Iran.

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WASHINGTON — The United States is participating in secret talks between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to confront threats posed by Iran, a shared adversary among the three countries.

The talks aim to broaden cooperation for military and intelligence sharing between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, two cautiously allied Middle Eastern nations, a foreign official with knowledge of the diplomacy said on Thursday.

The United Arab Emirates and Israel already share some security connections, experts said, and have held below-the-radar discussions in the past. Both view Iran as a top threat to the region, and Israel has sold fighter jet upgrades and spyware to the United Arab Emirates.

But including the United States in a new phase of security talks could signal the United Arab Emirates’s intent to demonstrate its commitment to the Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran — even as Emirati officials have stepped back from some of their own hard-line policies targeting Tehran.

The three-sided talks, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, grew out of a February conference in Warsaw that was billed as a Middle East security forum but was used by the Trump administration to push its campaign against Iran. Since then, the three allies have met twice.

The foreign official confirmed the talks were being coordinated by Brian H. Hook, the senior State Department envoy on Iran issues. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm the secret discussions.

Neither the State Department nor the Israeli Embassy in Washington responded to requests for comment, and Emirati officials refused to discuss the issue.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates pulled most of its forces from Yemen after years of supporting Saudi Arabia’s efforts there against Houthi rebels supported by Iran. Emirati officials also recently held maritime security talks with Tehran.

Emirati officials are trying to “strike a very careful balancing act,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“They want to signal to the Trump administration and members of Congress — especially Republicans — that they aren’t walking away from the administration’s policies and the maximum pressure campaign against Iran,” he said.

The Trump administration’s campaign against Iran has been met with mixed success since the United States withdrew in May 2018 from a nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers.

United States sanctions have stopped Iran from exporting oil and other goods to foreign buyers, starving its economy. But the economic constraints have also irritated American allies and other nations that had sought to open markets in Iran.

On Thursday, in a sign of the diplomatic strain, the authorities in Gibraltar released an Iranian oil tanker that the United States had sought to seize. Gibraltar is a semiautonomous British territory.

The United Arab Emirates and other Arab states are generally careful to avoid appearing too close to Israel, given longstanding disputes over the rights of Palestinians and access to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Mr. Goldenberg said it was surprising that Emirati officials would agree to allow the United States into its longstanding and secretive talks with Israel.

“It is a sign they are willing to lean further forward, that they are not as worried about secrecy as they were,” said Mr. Goldenberg, who worked on regional security issues at the State Department and Pentagon during the Obama administration.

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Trump Adds to Sanctions on Russia Over Skripals

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President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Russia, responding to growing pressure from Congress to further punish Moscow after a nerve agent attack last year against a former Russian spy in Britain.

It is the second round of sanctions by the administration after a botched attempt in March 2018 to fatally poison a former Russian military intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, in the British town of Salisbury.

The attack put Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, into a coma, and sickened at least three others. One of them, a British woman named Dawn Sturgess, died.

American and European intelligence officials accused Russia of staging the attack. Moscow has denied any involvement.

The sanctions came a day after Mr. Trump spoke to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in a call Mr. Trump characterized on Thursday as focusing on huge wildfires in Siberia. Public readouts from the White House and the Kremlin on Wednesday made no mention of the sanctions.

Mr. Trump has been reluctant to take punitive actions against Russia, instead seeking better relations with Moscow despite its well-documented interference in the 2016 election.

But in recent weeks, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized his administration’s delay in taking what they have called legally mandated action to follow up on sanctions imposed last August.

Shortly after the nerve agent attack, believed to have been conducted by two Russian operatives posing as tourists, the Trump administration expelled 60 Russians from Moscow’s embassy in Washington in concert with similar expulsions of Russians from Britain and other European countries.

Mr. Skripal was recruited as a double-agent by British intelligence in the 1990s. He was convicted in Russia of spying but resettled in Britain after his release in a 2010 spy swap. His actions earned him the scorn of Mr. Putin, who has called him “a traitor” and “a scumbag.”

In August 2018, the State Department determined that the deadly use of the nerve agent, Novichok, had violated a 1991 law passed by Congress to stigmatize the use of chemical and biological weapons. That prompted an initial round of sanctions with little bite, given that they largely mandated penalties that the United States had already applied to Russia for other reasons.

The law, known as the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, also requires the administration to certify that a country found to have employed such weapons has stopped their use, has provided assurances it will not do so again and has allowed for on-site inspections. Because Russia continues to maintain that it was not behind the botched poisoning, the State Department notified Congress in November that it could not make such a determination.

That the Trump administration did not follow through with the additional penalties prescribed by law frustrated lawmakers. In May, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, Andrea Thompson, told a Senate panel that the State Department had “teed up” the additional sanctions.

“We’ve been extremely vocal and active in pushing back on Russia’s heinous attack on the Skripals,” Ms. Thompson insisted, suggesting that the slow action on sanctions was “part of a larger Russia strategy.”

On Monday, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a joint letter to the White House threatening new congressional action to force the administration’s hand.

“Failure by the administration to respond to Russia’s unabashed aggression is unacceptable and would necessitate that Congress take corrective action,” wrote the members, Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, and Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas.

The law provided the administration with numerous sanctions to choose from. The executive order released by the White House on Thursday banned loans or other assistance to Russia by international financial institutions and prohibited most loans from American banks to Russia’s government.

European officials, especially from Eastern European countries that feel more directly threatened by Russia, have been pushing the administration for months to put the chemical weapons sanctions in place.

European officials initially expected the White House to act late last year, and then early this year. But for months, the administration stalled on the sanctions, the diplomats said.

One senior administration official said that there was no intention to delay the sanctions, but that they had not been put into place earlier this year over concern that Russia would misunderstand the message.

In June, Mr. Trump had a friendly meeting at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, with Mr. Putin, shortly after the Russian leader said in an interview with The Financial Times that the Skripal “spy story” was “not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for that matter.” At the same summit, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain looked disgusted as she shook hands with Mr. Putin for the cameras.

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