As Scott hammers Venezuela, his campaign takes contribution from biggest buyer of its oil

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Rick Scott hits the campaign trail trashing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, he is accepting contributions from Valero Energy Corporation, a Texas oil refiner that is the biggest buyer of the country’s oil.

Scott’s campaign took $5,000 last month from the company, which in recent months has purchased 200,000 barrels-a-day from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the country’s state-run oil company. The company boosted its purchases from Venezuela ahead of U.S. sanctions that were imposed earlier this week after Maduro was reelected, according to Reuters. The donations have not been previously reported.

Valero is the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil, but Scott’s team says that any company giving to his campaign supports his platform, which includes ousting the Venezuelan president. A Valero representative didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

“The governor’s position concerning Venezuela is abundantly clear,” said Kerri Wyland, a campaign spokeswoman. “Those who contribute to the campaign do so to support his candidacy, which includes calling for an end to the Maduro regime."

Scott has built part of his political brand around being a vocal Maduro critic over the past year. The U.S. government called this week’s Venezuelan election “a sham," and the country has been reeling in financial crisis.

In 2017, Scott got the Florida Cabinet to approve a plan blocking state investment in Venezuela, then during the 2018 legislative session led the charge to pass a bill putting that measure in state law. Scott also met earlier this year with opposition leaders and promised to crack down on Maduro when meeting with Venezuelan Supreme Court justices in January. The justices say they are exiled because they pushed for democratic reforms in the country.

Scott’s focus on Venezuela comes as people from the country become more politically important in Florida, and as Scott eyed a run for Senate, a post that requires a broader foreign policy portfolio.

“Together, we will continue to shine a light on the unacceptable political tyranny and violence that is inflicted by Maduro and his ruthless thugs,” Scott said in a statement when lawmakers passed the Venezuela investment ban legislation.

Scott has not yet had to file a quarterly campaign finance report, but some contributions to his campaign show up in Federal Election Commission records because other donors must report each month.

He has been running aggressively since announcing his campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott and his allies quickly funded more than $10 million in TV ads, a sign that his campaign is both raising large sums of cash and that he is likely using his personal wealth to give his run an early boost.

Source: https://subscriber.politicopro.com/states/florida/story/2018/05/25/as-scott-hammers-venezuela-his-campaign-takes-contribution-from-biggest-buyer-of-its-oil-438367

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Lewandowski advising T-Mobile on Sprint merger

Corey Lewandowski is advising T-Mobile on how to win approval for its proposed merger with Sprint, according to the company.

Lewandowski is advising T-Mobile through Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm started last year by two fellow veterans of President Donald Trump’s campaign, which Lewandowski managed before being fired.

T-Mobile hired Turnberry last year, but Lewandowski has denied any connection to the firm in the past. “I have nothing to do with Turnberry Solutions,” he told POLITICO in September.

But T-Mobile said on Friday that Lewandowski was advising the firm on the proposed merger as part of its work with Turnberry.

“Corey Lewandowski is now affiliated with that firm and they have offered perspective to T-Mobile on a variety of topics, including the pending transaction,” T-Mobile said in a statement.

The arrangement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Lewandowski didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Jason Osborne, a Turnberry lobbyist, said in an interview that Lewandowski was acting as an “unpaid strategic adviser” to the firm and had never lobbied for its clients.

“Corey Lewandowski has never gotten any money from Turnberry Solutions,” Osborne said. “He is not a paid employee of the firm.”

Lewandowski started a lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, with another Trump campaign veteran weeks after Trump was elected. But he never registered as a lobbyist, saying he did consulting work that didn’t meet the definition of lobbying.

Lewandowski quit Avenue last year after questions arose about whether he was selling access to the president. Two of Lewandowski’s former colleagues at Avenue, Mike Rubino and Osborne, left the firm around the same he did and started Turnberry, bringing along several former Avenue clients. Lewandowski sometimes lived and worked out of the same Capitol Hill rowhouse that served as Turnberry’s headquarters, but he insisted he had no connection to the firm.

Osborne declined to say when Lewandowski became an informal adviser to Turnberry.

“Corey has been providing, as a friend for over 20 years, advice and counsel, and that relationship has never changed,” Osborne said.

There’s evidence that Lewandowski has offered at least some advice to other Turnberry clients, as well. Joel Sheltrown, vice president of governmental affairs at Elio Motors, a Turnberry client, told POLITICO last year that Lewandowski had joined a conference call that it held with Turnberry.

Lewandowski is also working as an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence’s leadership PAC, Great America Committee.

The PAC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Marty Obst, the PAC’s executive director, told The Wall Street Journal that Lewandowski had been “nothing but professional.”

“To the best of my knowledge, he has never mentioned any clients in front of the vice president and the vice president’s team,” Obst said.

T-Mobile isn’t the only telecommunications company to turn to the president’s associates for advice on navigating Trump’s Washington. AT&T secretly hired Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, paying him $600,000 in consulting fees.

Like Lewandowski, Cohen offered the company’s advice without registering as a lobbyist. Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive, later apologized for hiring Cohen and said it had been “a big mistake.”

T-Mobile maintains a major presence in Washington, spending more than $8.3 million on lobbying last year, according to disclosure flings. The company retains nine other lobbying firms in addition to Turnberry.

The company said it hired Turnberry in August, although Turnberry didn’t register to lobby for T-Mobile until January. Osborne said Turnberry’s work for T-Mobile in the first few months didn’t require the firm to register.

T-Mobile has paid Turnberry $100,000 in lobbying fees, according to disclosure filings, although that does not include any earlier payments for work that Turnberry didn’t count as lobbying.

Marianne LeVine and Daniel Lippman contributed reporting.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/corey-lewandowski-tmobile-consultant-sprint-merger-609168

Trump issues orders making it easier to fire federal employees

President Donald Trump on Friday issued a series of executive orders to weaken the influence of government unions and make it easier for agencies to fire civil servants.

The orders will standardize agency rules to make it easier and quicker to remove poorly performing employees. They also direct federal agencies to renegotiate their labor contracts and cap the amount of paid time that workers can take off to conduct union-related business.

“The president is fulfilling his promise to promote more efficient government by reforming our civil service rules,” Andrew Bremberg, director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters. “These executive orders will make it easier for agencies to remove poor-performing employees and ensure that taxpayer dollars are more efficiently used.”

The changes could save taxpayers more than $100 million a year, the White House estimated. It referenced a 2015 Government Accountability Office report that found it can take a year or more to dismiss a permanent federal employee.

The largest federal employee union condemned Friday’s orders.

“This is more than union busting — it’s democracy busting,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “This administration seems hellbent on replacing a civil service that works for all taxpayers with a political service that serves at its whim.”

In addition to hemming in union power, the executive orders could be abused to reduce accountability or punish whistleblowers, said Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

“Weakening civil service protection laws would make the government less effective and put us all at risk, “ he said. “It would impede Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of the executive branch: Congress’s best sources of information are the employees inside agencies, and without robust protections and due process, more sources will remain silent.”

The executive orders are Trump’s latest salvo against the government workforce, which he has promised to reform as part of his “drain the swamp” agenda.

They direct agencies to charge rent to employees who use federal office space for union activity and to stop covering travel expenses for non-agency business.

Preference given to long-tenured workers will be eliminated. The common practice of agency gag orders, in which managers promise to keep silent about employees in exchange for their resignations, will be eliminated. Civil servants whose performance isn’t up to par will get 30 days to show improvements.

Agencies will be required to report disciplinary activity to the Office of Personnel Management for publication. They are also directed to negotiate new contracts with unions, which also will be made public. Unions will be charged for the use of agency office space.

The use of “official time” — legally sanctioned time off for labor-related activities — will be capped at 25 percent of an employee’s working hours.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found this week that more than 12,500 employees took advantage of official time in 2017. The Department of Veterans Affairs was among the worst offenders, the House panel found. There, 472 employees spent 100 percent of their working hours on labor-management-related business in fiscal 2017, according to the GOP report. Those employees included a VA nurse anesthetist and dentist each making more than $190,000 a year.

The moves are sure to be challenged by labor groups and Democrats, who have accused the administration of targeting labor for political purposes.

Meanwhile, worker complaints to the Federal Labor Relations Authority are piling up because the agency has been without a presidentially appointed general counsel since November. The vacancy has prevented labor complaints cases from
being prosecuted.

A senior administration official said on Friday that the White House had no announcement to make on the labor relations appointment.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/trump-federal-employees-unions-civil-servants-609167

Trump pick for refugee bureau draws flak for anti-immigrant views

President Donald Trump’s choice of an anti-immigration hardliner to lead a State Department division overseeing refugees has alarmed top Democratic lawmakers as well as human rights activists.

The White House announced this week that Trump had nominated Ronald Mortensen, a retired Foreign Service officer with humanitarian assistance experience, to serve as the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The bureau has been a quiet conflict zone as Trump and his aides have tried to dramatically scale back refugee admissions to the United States.

Mortensen is listed as a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies. The center, founded in 1985, is known for advocating severe restrictions on immigration to the United States. It bills itself as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that provides data and analysis to policymakers.

The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the center a hate group for a range of reasons, including that it “has routinely disseminated the works of white nationalist writers.” Other critics say the center’s research is shoddy and misleading.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed reservations about the nomination on Friday, a stance likely to be echoed by other Democrats in the Senate confirmation process.

“I am deeply concerned with Mr. Mortensen’s deep involvement with some of our nation’s most anti-immigrant organizations, and I find some of his past statements not only offensive and inaccurate but fundamentally in contradiction of American values and history,” Menendez said in a statement.

Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was even harsher in his assessment of the nominee.

“Mr. Mortensen’s racist, vile and disparaging comments against immigrants and refugees disqualify him from serving our government in any capacity,” he said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League also weighed in.

“Mr. Mortensen’s role at CIS, an organization with disturbing longstanding ties to racists, and his past extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric are disqualifying,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the ADL, said in a statement. “He is simply unsuited to head a bureau whose charge it is to provide protection to refugees around the world escaping persecution.”

The ACLU pointed out that Mortensen had spoken out against legislation designed to protect so-called Dreamers —undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

“Mortensen’s previous statements and animosity toward civil rights and civil liberties are deeply concerning and should be raised by senators,” the ACLU’s Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns, added in a statement.

In one item posted on the center’s website, for instance, Mortensen bemoans the fact that a Dreamer has to be convicted of a crime before being deemed ineligible for legal protection. “This means that Dreamer gang-bangers, Dreamer identity thieves, Dreamer sexual predators, Dreamers who haven’t paid income taxes, and Dreamers committing a wide range of other crimes all qualify for DACA status as long as they haven’t been convicted of their crimes,” he wrote.

The White House, in its announcement of Mortensen’s nomination, did not mention his affiliation with the Center for Immigration Studies. Rather, it emphasized his history of development and aid work, as well as his diplomatic background.

It noted that Mortensen, an Air Force veteran from Utah, has worked with both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that he had won awards for his efforts.

“He has worked on humanitarian responses that saved lives and alleviated the suffering of millions of people in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Libya, Haiti, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many other countries in West Africa,” the White House said.

Mortensen could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Refugees, who are often fleeing war or political persecution in their homelands, are generally categorized separately from other legal immigrants to the United States. Refugees must undergo security and other types of background checks lasting months, sometimes years, before being admitted to the United States — more scrutiny than any other group permitted on U.S. soil, advocates say.

Trump has made no secret of his hostility toward immigrants, in particular undocumented immigrants and refugees. He has blamed them for crime and alleged they could be terrorists trying to reach the U.S.

Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign coincided with terrorist attacks in Europe, which was also grappling with a wave of Syrian refugees at the same time. Trump’s hardline approach helped destroy longstanding bipartisan U.S. support for refugees.

Now Republican lawmakers have largely turned against the U.S. refugee resettlement program, while Democrats have been trying to protect it.

President Barack Obama, in his final two years, sought to lift the cap on U.S. refugee admissions from to 110,000 from 70,000 people a year in response to a global migration crisis that has seen a record 65 million people displaced from their homes.

As part of his travel bans, Trump initially tried to completely halt refugee admissions for several months, moves that ran into legal trouble. His administration eventually lowered the cap on refugee admissions to 45,000 people a year, but because of bureaucratic and other hurdles that Trump and his aides have imposed, it appears that fewer than half that many refugees will be admitted.

The White House has been especially suspicious of career Foreign Service and civil service employees who work in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Trump advisers such as Stephen Miller, a former congressional staffer well known for his anti-immigration views, have repeatedly sought to undercut the bureau, according to several former and current U.S. officials familiar with the issue.

Earlier this year, a Miller ally, Andrew Veprek, was named a deputy assistant secretary in the bureau, a role that doesn’t require Senate approval. Veprek, officials said, has repeatedly expressed hardline views on immigrants, including refugees.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/ronald-mortensen-state-department-anti-immigration-609162

Pruitt spent $3.5M on security in his first year

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security detail cost about $3.5 million for his first year in office, more than twice what his predecessor spent in the final year of the Obama administration, according to spending summaries released today by EPA.

Pruitt’s security spending jumped as his protective detail roughly doubled in size to provide unprecedented 24/7 coverage and began flying alongside Pruitt in first class on domestic flights. Some lawmakers have recently questioned whether the extra spending was justified by the threats made against Pruitt.

Salaries and travel costs totaled $3,489,981.67 between April 2017 and March 2018. The data was tabulated in quarterly increments. Pruitt took office in mid-February last year.

That’s nearly a 110 percent increase over security spending on his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, in 2016, according to the data. McCarthy’s security costs totaled $1,665,157.28 for the calendar year 2016.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox reiterated that Pruitt has faced "an unprecedented amount of death threats" and that EPA plans to post the costs of his security detail on a quarterly basis.

"Americans should all agree that members of the President’s cabinet should be kept safe from violent threats,” Wilcox said.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/what-does-scott-pruitt-spend-on-security-609160

Trump administration presents Capitol Hill with deal to rescue Chinese firm ZTE

The Trump administration has reached a deal that will put Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE back in business by rolling back severe sanctions put in place last month by the Commerce Department, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The move to settle with the Chinese company removes a major barrier to U.S.-China trade talks as Beijing opposed a penalty that would have shuttered the firm by prohibiting U.S. suppliers from doing business with ZTE for seven years.

It also comes a week before Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing to continue efforts to negotiate a trade truce between the two countries.

Commerce notified officials on Capitol Hill of a deal, which will have ZTE pay a bigger fine, hire American compliance officers and replace the firm’s current management team, the source said.

Once those terms are met, the U.S. will lift a denial order, allowing ZTE to start doing business with American companies again, the source said.

But the news of a deal also brought quick condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Many on Capitol Hill view the action as a sign of weakness against China, especially as the administration tries to take Beijing to task over policies it says have robbed U.S. companies of sensitive technology.

“Yes they have a deal in mind. It is a great deal… for #ZTE & China,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted. “#China crushes U.S. companies with no mercy & they use these telecomm companies to spy & steal from us. Many hoped this time would be different. Now congress will need to act."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal as reported “would be helping make China great again.“

“Both parties in Congress should come together to stop this deal in its tracks,” he said in a statement Friday.

The Senate Banking Committee approved an amendment Tuesday that would bar the president from modifying any civil penalties against “Chinese telecommunications companies” unless he could certify that the company has not violated U.S. law in the past year and is fully cooperating with an investigation. That action follows a similar measure approved by a House panel last week.

The deal between the administration and ZTE largely follows elements shared publicly by President Donald Trump and other senior officials this week.

”What I envision is a very large fine of more than a billion dollars,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Could be a billion-three. I envision a new management, a new board and very, very strict security rules. And I also envision that they will have to buy a big percentage of their parts and equipment from American companies.”

ZTE had already been hit with $1.19 billion in fines announced last year, following a two-year Obama administration investigation. The company was initially penalized for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea by supplying those countries with telecommunications equipment containing U.S. parts.

Ross announced the seven-year ban would be put in place after ZTE violated the terms of deal that suspended the denial order in exchange for the company following a strict compliance plan.

That — to the Trump administration’s apparent surprise — prompted the company a few weeks later to announce it was ceasing major business operations.

Then in a further stunning development, Trump tweeted that he had talked to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the issue and had instructed the Commerce Department to look into easing the ban on ZTE to save Chinese jobs.

The matter is also complicated by national security concerns. Intelligence leaders have been warning for months that the Chinese government was leveraging domestic companies with footprints abroad like ZTE to spy on other countries. Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said during congressional testimony that he did not want foreign companies like ZTE gaining access to the U.S. telecommunications network.

That drama was taking place against the backdrop of Trump’s threat to impose duties on $50 billion to $150 billion worth of Chinese exports to pressure Beijing to do more to stop intellectual property theft, and China’s vow to strike back if those duties were imposed.

Heading into high-level trade talks between the two countries earlier this month, news reports said that China would agree to drop its retaliation on about $3 billion worth of U.S. agricultural exports if the U.S. eased off on sanctions on ZTE. Beijing originally threatened the retaliation in early April, after Trump imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum products.

A joint statement released after the meeting was silent on the ZTE issue, and Beijing has not lifted its retaliatory duties on U.S. farm products, nor has the United States lifted its new tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. But as part of the preliminary deal announced last Saturday, Ross is expected to go to China in early June to negotiate long-term contracts for sales of U.S. farm goods and energy products.

On Tuesday, Trump reiterated that he had asked the Commerce Department to look at easing current penalties on ZTE as a favor to Xi. But he insisted his administration would not go easy on the company.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other administration officials have insisted there was nothing unusual about Xi asking Trump to review the penalty because Trump often phones world leaders to ask them to do favors for U.S. firms.

"The president asked myself and the Commerce secretary to look into it. He didn’t dictate any terms. He just asked us to look into it," Mnuchin said earlier this week during an interview on CNBC. Any changes to ZTE’s penalty are not part of the broader trade negotiations going on between the two countries, he added.

"The [Commerce Department’s] intent was not to put the company out of business. It was an enforcement issue," Mnuchin said.

ZTE reported having nearly 75,000 employees last year.

American firms are also closely tied to ZTE’s fortunes. About 65 percent of ZTE phones use chips made by American company Qualcomm, according to Canalys, a tech market analysis firm. Stocks of several of ZTE’s U.S. suppliers fell after Commerce took action last month.

Reports of a deal to rescue ZTE were first reported by The New York Times.

Taylor Miller Thomas contributed to this report.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/trump-administration-congress-zte-deal-573430

Manafort Virginia trial delayed two weeks

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial in a Virginia federal court on tax evasion and bank fraud charges filed by special counsel Robert Mueller will be delayed two weeks to now begin in late July, the judge in the case said Friday.

Alexandria-based U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III announced in an order that he is sliding the start date for Manafort’s trial from July 10 to July 24.

The judge said the delay was due to a medical procedure for one of his family members. However, last week he ordered a two-week delay in a hearing on some key motions in the case. That move led to speculation that Manafort’s trial would wind up being delayed.

The Virginia case is one of two criminal cases Manafort is facing. The other case, also brought by Mueller’s prosecutors, charges the longtime political consultant and lobbyist with money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent in connection with his Ukraine-related work. That case, pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, is set to go to trial Sept. 17.

With the Virginia trial expected to last at least several weeks, it seems possible that any further delays in Manafort’s Virginia trial would lead to a delay in the Washington case.

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the judge’s announcement. A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined to comment.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/paul-manafort-trial-schedule-609041

How to Fail at Summitry: Lessons for Trump From the Middle East

As of this writing, the much-anticipated summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been cancelled. Or postponed. Or, based on what the president is now saying, it might still happen as scheduled.

Accounts of why Trump pulled the plug on the summit are confusing and contradictory: Some say it was due to North Korea’s hot rhetoric, including calling the vice president a “political dummy”; others say it had more to do with North Korean officials’ failure to engage ahead of the scheduled June 12 meeting. It might also have due to the president’s dawning realization that Pyongyang was not going to meet his demand for comprehensive de-nuclearization, a demand that may or may not have been made, given the mixed signals Trump and his harder-line advisers were sending.

The situation now is just as murky: The U.S. is still, maybe, threatening with complete annihilation the country with which it wishes to reach a historic diplomatic agreement. And South Korea, whose president Trump just hosted at the White House and whose cooperation on any summitry would be crucial, might or might not have been forewarned. To sum up the Trumpian attitude toward all this—whatever. We’ll see what happens.

We write from the rather humbling vantage point of former policy advisers who’ve had their share of failed presidential summits. Across several administrations, we participated in a few successful leader-to-leader meetings, but been part of – and played our part in – many more botched ones: between Israelis and Palestinians (most notably at Camp David in July 2000) and, in various incarnations, between Israelis and Syrians. No two summits are alike, and the one President Trump appears, for now, to have scotched was in a class all its own. Still, a few lessons from this checkered track record – about what is required to maximize chances of success, and what to do in case of failure – bear keeping in mind.

As to the differences: The U.S. president’s role in Mideast summitry typically has been as mediator, not protagonist. The U.S. was interested and invested in the meetings’ outcomes but not truly at their mercy. From an American perspective, the day after an abortive presidential summit looked pretty much like the day before. Not so in the case of the putative Trump/Kim meeting, where the U.S. was to be a direct participant, whose goal should be to prevent North Korea threatening it with a nuclear-tipped missile, and which conceivably could put the two nations on the path to a peace treaty, or to war, depending on the outcome.

Higher stakes mean a greater imperative to avoid failure, which is where experience gained from mostly unsuccessful Middle East summitry might be of some relevance.

First lesson: The president’s advisers ought to have ensured that they were roughly on the same page. That may seem a self-evident proposition, but it’s one surprisingly often honored in the breach. Had one asked the half-dozen members of the U.S. team who, in 2000, accompanied Bill Clinton to Camp David, to describe the contours of an anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, they would have offered more than half a dozen answers. That made it difficult for the U.S. to thoroughly prepare for the summit or adhere to a consistent view once there, and contributed to the encounter’s bumper-car quality as well as to the ability of Israelis and Palestinians (the former far more expertly than the latter) to pull us in their preferred direction.

For Trump’s team, whose lingua franca often is cacophony, speaking in one voice might seem an impossibly tall order. In this case, confusion was on public display even before the now non-summit was to take place, from national security adviser John Bolton’s ill-advised – albeit evidently premeditated – comparison to the Libyan model (by which he seemed to mean the illusory prospect of North Korea’s complete and upfront denuclearization); to President Trump’s and Vice President Mike Pence’s subsequent confusing and no more reassuring attempt at clarification (in which they implicitly threatened North Korea’s destruction if no deal were reached); to Trump’s periodic and offhand suggestions of a more incremental and realistic approach; to his seeming desperation to hold such a meeting with the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize at the end of the rainbow. The public lack of harmony and intermittent provocative utterances clearly had an effect on the North Koreans, who chose to answer in kind. One potential benefit of postponing the meeting would be for the administration to use the time to better define, align and discipline its views and messaging.

A second lesson: Before holding a summit, the parties ought to share a minimal understanding of what it is designed to achieve. That doesn’t mean agreeing on the substance of a possible accord, but on its basic nature — a final resolution; an interim step; a broad set of principles; or, more modestly, the launch of a negotiating process. When Arabs and Israelis came to Madrid in 1991, they did so under the premise that theirs in fact was that humbler objective: to launch a process of negotiation not consummate a deal. Eight years later, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met in Camp David, Barak was hoping to force through a comprehensive agreement, while Arafat’s goal was to keep the talks going and escape blame. Madrid was relatively successful. Camp David a failure. The run up to Trump’s canceled Singapore summit seems a lot more like Camp David—the unusually public and contentious pre-summit back and forth about what was to be achieved was both unusual and symptomatic of a misalignment of American and North Korean expectations and profoundly different narratives.

Which brings us to a third lesson: Keep those expectations in check. North Korea’s immediate agreement to implement a detailed, verifiable denuclearization plan, destroy its existing nuclear material, freeze all production of fissionable material and give up its long range missiles would be optimal. It’s also almost entirely fanciful. There’s nothing wrong in principle in aiming high, but failure often lies at the other end, and a failed high-level summit (or failed high-level non-summit) is no trivial matter.

Again, think Camp David: With the U.S. and Israel focused on achieving what, in retrospect, was an illusory comprehensive settlement, the end of the summit also meant the end of serious peace efforts, at least for a while. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, that meant a deadly and disastrous Palestinian uprising and violent Israeli response, which was bad enough. In the U.S./North Korean case, it could mean reverting back to nuclear brinkmanship, which would be far worse.

There are many potential outcomes for a U.S.-North Korean summit that, while falling short of a comprehensive deal, nonetheless would have been, and still would be, worth pursuing. The U.S. and North Korea could agree on broad principles, including an eventual end state of full de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and normalization of U.S./North Korean and intra-Korean relations. North Korea could commit to continue its freeze on nuclear and missile tests and agree to initial verification measures. The U.S could pledge to adjust the timing and scope of its joint military exercises with South Korea to quell Pyongyang’s fears. And both could agree on a sequence of expert-level talks to iron out details. That’s not everything the U.S. would wish for, but nor would it be inconsequential.

The corollary to the third lesson is the fourth: Avoid a do-or-die mentality of the kind Barak insisted on in 2000 when negotiating with Palestinians at Camp David, and persuaded us to carry out when President Clinton met with then-President Hafez Assad of Syria earlier that year. The Israeli prime minister swiftly quashed any talk of a series of meetings, arguing that only under the pressure of a decisive encounter would his Arab counterparts take the plunge. He got his way, but his way didn’t get him – or us – what he wanted. Even the prospect of failure, of a crisis in their relations with Washington, of forfeiting whatever economic or other incentives would accompany a deal proved insufficient to get either Arafat or Assad to agree to less than they were determined to achieve. Kim may still be a mystery, but the prospect of a failed summit or of not having a summit at all almost certainly won’t get him to give up overnight all his regime built over decades. If and when it happens, any Trump-Kim summit should be seen as the first of several meetings to come. Putting too much pressure on any one meeting is a recipe for failure.

The corollary to the corollary is to have a realistic Plan B in the event no summit takes place or one ultimately does but ends in a crisis, with no prospect for continued talks. We didn’t have a Plan B at Camp David, which tells us something about whether it was wise to go to the summit under those circumstances in the first place. That’s the fifth lesson: Trump needs a fallback and it certainly oughtn’t be war. Rather, it should be something less glorious, but more effective: containment, deterrence, diplomacy and sanctions.

Sixth and final lesson: Don’t shut other parties out. In negotiating with Syrians and Palestinians, we did and shouldn’t have. Instead of mobilizing key Arab states to support its efforts, the U.S. excluded them from our planning, largely because of Israel’s worry about leaks and pressure. Midway through Camp David, when we needed them, their lack of information made it hard for them to help; their lack of involvement made them unwilling to try. In this instance, keeping South Korea, Japan and China involved makes sense. If, as seems the case and as Seoul’s statements in the aftermath of the issuance of Trump’s odd letter suggests, South Korea was not consulted or informed, that would be an example of what not to do. And if steps were not taken to ensure China was on board, it’s hard to see how the administration’s policy of maximum pressure can succeed.

From the tone of his half-plaintive, half-accusatory letter, Trump still strongly wishes to have a summit, which, considering the alternative, is a good thing. He also tends to believe he has little to learn from the experience of others, particularly when he regards that experience as littered with flops. He already violated at least one piece of orthodoxy. Insulting and provocative tweets of the sort the president regularly was lobbing at Kim is not what a negotiating textbook would counsel. That he got away with it, at least for a time, and that North Korea made several gestures ever since (including the release of three American prisoners) is unlikely to make him doubt his convictions or trust any others’. His unpredictability – and predictable heterodoxy – might allow him to bend certain rules and challenge certain orthodoxies.

Fair enough. Still, there are lessons from the past, and this week’s debacle is an indication that some of those might have been worth heeding. It is premature to declare diplomacy with North Korea over, even though risks of it being derailed have obviously risen. If there is going to be a second act, Trump at least has gained some time to get it right.

Source: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/25/donald-trump-north-korea-summit-lessons-from-the-middle-east-218542

In veiled message to Trump, Powell warns against meddling on Fed rates

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday issued his sternest warning yet that politicians should not interfere with interest-rate policy, in what appeared to be a precautionary message to President Donald Trump.

In a speech in Sweden, Powell indirectly referred to a previous Fed chairman, Arthur Burns, who was pressured by President Richard Nixon in the lead-up to the 1972 presidential election to keep interest rates low.

That episode eventually contributed to a rapid rise in prices, requiring one of Burns’ successors, Paul Volcker, to raise interest rates as high as 20 percent to combat inflation.

“For a quarter century, inflation has been low and inflation expectations anchored,” said Powell, a Trump appointee. “We must not forget the lessons of the past, when a lack of central bank independence led to episodes of runaway inflation and subsequent economic contractions.”

The Fed chairman’s remarks come as the central bank continues to gradually hike interest rates to a more normal level, after they sat near zero for almost a decade in an effort to boost the economic recovery. The central bank is widely expected to raise rates again next month.

The White House and congressional Republicans are eager to see economic growth and wages accelerate following the tax cut bill Trump signed into law last year, and the president has said publicly that he would like interest rates to stay low. If the Fed raises rates too quickly, it could slow the expansion.

Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor who along with Powell was on the short list for the chairmanship, told POLITICO earlier this month that Trump — during an hourlong Oval Office interview — appeared to want to know exactly what Warsh would do on interest rates.

“If you think it was a subject upon which he delicately danced around, then you’d be mistaken. It was certainly top of mind to the president,” Warsh said about Trump’s questioning on interest-rate policy. “The president has a view about asset prices and stock markets. He has a view based on his long history in his prior life as a developer and real estate mogul of the role of interest rates.”

In his speech, Powell said Americans’ trust in government and public institutions is at an all-time low. This dynamic is particularly tricky for the central bank, which is given considerable freedom from day-to-day politics; Fed governors’ time in office is not strictly tied to a particular president and the agency sets its own budget.

“In this environment, central banks cannot take our measure of independence for granted,” said Powell. “For monetary policy, the case for central bank independence rests on the demonstrated benefits of insulating monetary policy decisions from shorter-term political considerations.”

The Fed’s obligation, Powell said, is to communicate as clearly as it can to the public what it is doing and why.

“Public transparency and accountability around both financial stability and monetary policy have become all the more important in light of the extraordinary actions taken by central banks in response to the global financial crisis,” he said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Laurence Meyer, a former Fed governor who now heads a policy analysis firm, said the remarks underscore Powell’s style of being particularly direct for a Fed chairman. He said there was "no question" that those words were aimed in part at the president.

"He may see this statement as especially important to emphasize that, notwithstanding that Trump nominated him as chair, he is absolutely committed to and will vigorously defend the independence of the Fed as [it] continues to raise rates gradually to avoid an unacceptable rise in inflation," Meyer said.

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/25/powell-warns-against-meddling-on-fed-rates-572058

Menendez suggests he doesn’t need to pay back anything more to Melgen

RIDGEFIELD, N.J. — Sen. Bob Menendez suggested Friday that he may not pay back anything more than he already has for private jet flights and gifts he received from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, his friend and co-defendant in last year’s federal corruption trial.

A jury failed to convict Menendez and Melgen on bribery charges for nearly $1 million in political contributions and gifts the senator received from Melgen, allegedly in exchange for official action by the Democratic senator. But the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Menendez, demanding, without going into specifics, that he amend his financial disclosure reports to reflect the gifts and pay them back.

“I think the Ethics Committee was unaware that there were a series of payments that were made before they continued their review,” Menendez said at an unrelated press conference in Bergen County. “Remember, [the ethics complaint] was filed in 2012 by Republicans here in New Jersey, and I think they’re unaware. We are making them aware."

Amid media scrutiny in 2013 and after the ethics complaint was filed by a Republican state lawmaker in New Jersey, Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for two flights on the doctor’s private jet. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also reimbursed Melgen almost $15,000 for a third flight.

But at Menendez’s trial, prosecutors outlined far more than three flights Menendez took on Melgen’s plane. Some of those flights were different legs of single trips, and some had more passengers on board than just Menendez. Prosecutors also detailed gifts to Menendez that included a Paris hotel room worth thousands of dollars and many stays at Melgen’s villa at a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic.

In demanding repayment, the Ethics Committee did not specify how much Menendez owed.

“My attorney is engaged in conversations with them to let them know everything that was paid,” Menendez said.

The senator then waived off a question from POLITICO, asking him to explain the other gifts, saying “that’s all I have to say about that.”

Paying back Melgen for expensive gifts would be a challenge for Menendez, whose income is mainly from his $175,000 Senate salary.

Menendez‘s legal and ethical troubles seem to have taken a toll on his popularity. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Friday morning, Menendez leads his likely Republican opponent, Bob Hugin, by just 4 percentage points, 28 percent to 24 percent, with 46 percent undecided.

Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, said he wasn’t worried about the poll, noting that two other recent polls, from Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University, showed him leading Hugin by 17 points and 21 points, respectively.

“You all have to judge whether a poll is actually on point or is an outlier. But [the FDU poll] is a total contrast to every other poll, and all of those polls largely had all the information that’s out there already,” Menendez said. “If you’re going to live your life by polls then you’re going to be either taking a vacation because you’re so far ahead that you don’t have to do anything, or you’ll be worried and paralyzed about what you see. I am neither. I am neither taking a vacation nor worrying. I am fighting on behalf of the people of New Jersey every single day.”

There is a major difference in the timing of the polls. The FDU poll was the only one of the three conducted after the Ethics Committee formally admonished the senator.

Menendez said that as voters become aware of Hugin’s leadership at Celgene — a Summit-based pharmaceutical company that has come under fire for sharply raising prices on cancer drugs, putting up obstacles to generic versions of its products and parking money overseas — they will see the “contrast” between the two candidates.

Menendez also highlighted Hugin’s financial support for President Donald Trump, noting he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect him, served as a finance chair for Trump’s New Jersey campaign and a Trump delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

“I know he doesn’t like to suggest that he’s a Republican and he won’t answer the question of whether or not Donald Trump is someone he wants campaigning for him, but at the end of the day that’s the challenges we have,” Menendez said. “So when I put on the floor of the Senate a vote — and amendment — to actually restore the state and local property tax [deduction], every single Democrat voted for it. Every single Republican voted against it. We don’t need to send more Republicans to the Senate to be voting with Donald Trump to take a beating on New Jersey.”

Megan Piwowar, communications director for the Hugin campaign, said New Jerseyans are “fed up“ with Menendez.

"If Senator Menendez can look New Jerseyans in the eye and honestly tell them their lives are better after his 25 years in Washington, then he is either clueless or a better liar than we gave him credit for," Piwowar said. “If Bob Menendez fought as hard for average New Jerseyans as he did for his convicted felon ‘best friend’ from Florida, maybe we wouldn’t be dead last in what we get back from Washington.

“Bob Hugin has the momentum in this race because Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in New Jersey are fed up with being poorly represented by someone whose greatest accomplishment is managing to stay one step ahead of the law."

Source: https://subscriber.politicopro.com/states/new-jersey/story/2018/05/25/menendez-suggests-he-doesnt-need-to-pay-back-anything-more-to-melgen-437067