On Saturday morning, Donald Trump spoke to reporters before departing Washington for California, where he’ll survey the damage done by a series of devastating wild fires on the way to invariably making things worse with God only knows what kind of tone deaf soundbites.
The President has already caused a firestorm (pardon the pun) by suggesting that trees and, specifically, the way trees are managed, are the real problem.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor”, Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding that the U.S. is wasting “billions of dollars each year” and if the “gross mismanagement” isn’t “remedied”, there will be “no more Fed payments!”
Firefighters weren’t amused. “Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong”, the Pasadena Fire Association said, before noting that “the fires in So Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management.”
Scott Austin, President of the association, then implored Trump to “come to SoCal and learn the facts and help the victims.”
Be careful what you wish for, Scott, because now, Trump is on the way. Brace yourself.
In any event, Trump was peppered with questions before leaving the White House and naturally, reporters wanted to know if the President is prepared to finally admit that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Friday evening, multiple media outlets reported that the CIA has determined Prince Mohammed in fact gave the order, a conclusion the entire world came to six weeks ago, but which the White House is reluctant to countenance for fear of irritating Riyadh.
Trump needs bin Salman’s support with regard to Iran and with respect to ensuring that oil prices don’t start rising again following the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Tehran. Prices have of course collapsed, but a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Riyadh could conceivably spark a rebound, something that would displease the President.
When asked by reporters on Saturday about the CIA’s findings, Trump claimed he hasn’t been briefed yet. Here’s the clip:
Got that? Trump “is President” (in case you forgot) and as such, he “needs to take a lot of things into consideration” before deciding whether to accept the CIA’s assessment of who was responsible for murdering and dismembering a Washington Post columnist in a consulate.
Like everybody else on the planet, Trump knows bin Salman ordered the killing. But the President simply isn’t going to hold him responsible, because sanctioning bin Salman risks enormous blowback from the Kingdom and this White House isn’t prepared to deal with that, especially in light of Jared Kushner’s close personal ties to Prince Mohammed.
Meanwhile, Trump denied that the White House is considering granting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-running request to have Fethullah Gulen expelled from the U.S.
On Thursday, NBC reported that the administration is considering ways of legally removing Gulen in an effort to placate Erdogan. The idea, apparently, is to make a deal with Ankara that involves expelling Gulen from the U.S. in exchange for a promise that Erdogan will stop leaking information that incriminates bin Salman in the Khashoggi murder.
On Saturday morning, Trump appeared to deny that the U.S. is in fact considering the move which, you’re reminded, would be extremely controversial. Here’s the clip:
There are two problem with the President saying that’s “not under consideration”. First of all, it’s a lie. But that’s just par for the course with Trump. More importantly, if Trump wants to insist on not holding Crown Prince bin Salman responsible for an extrajudicial killing that took place in Istanbul, he’s going to have to do something to pacify Erdogan.
If the U.S. opened the door to cutting Gulen loose, it’s going to be pretty hard to close it again. This is a genie/bottle, horse/barn type of deal. When Erdogan asks you if you might consider the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, you either give a hard “no” or else you should prepare yourself for a scenario where Erdogan decides that nothing short of that is going to suffice.