It was a petulant Donald Trump who appeared at a White House press briefing on Tuesday with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. When a reporter asked if Trump had confidence in the deputy attorney-general, Rod Rosenstein, given the latest complicated twists in the investigation into collusion with Russia, Trump snapped that Moon didn’t want to hear about it. But it won’t be easy for Trump to dismiss these questions as piffle for long. Even as the old boy tries to pose as a great statesman, tales of his past shenanigans keep mounting.
The latest is an exposé in New York magazine that suggests the Republican fund-raiser Elliott Broidy, who confessed last month to an affair with a platinum blonde Playboy model named Shera Bechard, was actually taking the fall for Trump. Broidy, whose lawyer in this instance was the Trump fixer Michael Cohen, paid Bechard $1.6 million in exchange for terminating a pregnancy that resulted from their affair.
After reports of the lavish payment and the affairs in April, Broidy, who was deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee and convicted of bribery in 2009, resigned and issued a public apology to his wife of several decades. But speculation is growing that this was just a cover-up. That it was Trump, not Broidy, who had the affair.
Why would Broidy take such a blow for Trump? According to various reports, he was negotiating a deal in which he would use his influence to get the Justice Department to drop its investigation of a Malaysian company called 1MDB, for which Broidy and his wife would be paid £75 million. But the real prize was still to come in the Middle East.
As the Associated Press has shown in a major story, the Middle East is where Broidy teamed up with a wealthy Lebanese American named George Nader. Nader, who served a six-month sentence in Virginia in the early 1990s for the possession of child pornography, was convicted in May 2003 on ten counts of sexually abusing boys and spent a year in prison in Prague. No matter. He went on to set up shop in the United Arab Emirates, where he became chums with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Broidy’s and Nader’s efforts centred around persuading the Trump administration to adopt a hostile stance toward Qatar, which it did. Broidy indicated in an email to Nader that he was a ‘close friend’ of the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and would push him to look favourably on sanctioning Qatar. But Broidy ended up landing an even bigger bauble: he met Trump in the Oval Office on 6 October last year to discuss Qatar. According to the AP, ‘In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America’s government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men.’ Huge indeed. They pitched plans to the princes that would have netted them more than $1 billion.
Perhaps the most piquant detail is that Nader was desperate for a photo with Trump. The Secret Service apparently put the kibosh on it. But Broidy donated a cool $189,000 to the Republican National Committee and any lingering reservations about Nader’s background as a paedophile vanished. On 25 October, Nader got the picture he wanted with a grinning Trump in front of an American flag at a Republican fundraiser in Dallas.
Trump can shout fake news all he wants. But it is becoming increasingly clear that he has not drained the Washington swamp. Instead, it’s become more fetid than ever.
To counter the welter of reports about the corruption of his administration, Trump is working overtime to go on the offensive. His tack is to try to turn the tables on his investigators by arguing that a vast conspiracy, led by deep state officials, seeks to oust him from power and that the real malfeasance all along was Obama administration spying on his campaign. ‘If they had spies in my campaign,’ he said on Tuesday, ‘that would be a disgrace to this country.’
Trump has spared no effort to portray efforts by the FBI to probe the extent of his campaign’s links to Russia as a sinister plot. On Monday he met with the FBI director Christopher Wray, deputy attorney-general Rosenstein and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to push them to turn over details about an FBI informant to Congress. The informant happens to be the former Nixon, Ford and Reagan administration official Stefan Halper. Halper taught for many years at Cambridge, where he resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar in 2016, along with Sir Richard Dearlove, over allegations of undue Russian influence. He has also co-authored a book with the former British diplomat Jonathan Clarke called America Alone, which seeks to recover Republican realist foreign policy traditions from neoconservatives. Now this lifelong Republican is being vilified as a tawdry fellow out to subvert the Trump campaign on behalf of Obama and Hillary. Go figure.
Meanwhile, Trump keeps getting dragged back into the murk of his New York past. On Tuesday, New York prosecutors announced that Evgeny Freidman, the so-called Taxi King and partner of Michael Cohen, had pleaded guilty to tax evasion and agreed to cooperate with federal and state prosecutors.
Poor Trump. His great conviction had been that a North Korea summit would catapult him away from grubby stories related to the inquiry and into the empyrean sphere of a Ronald Reagan. But that isn’t happening. The glittering foreign policy triumph he was banking on is turning into something of a public relations fiasco. It looks more and more like Trump got played by Kim rather than the reverse. Now Trump has had to concede that his cherished 12 June summit meeting in Singapore is looking increasingly iffy. ‘There’s a very substantial chance it won’t work out,’ he said.
Oops. So much for the ‘World Peace’ that Trump tweeted might be in the offing. Instead of basking in the potential glow of an upcoming photo-op, he is getting mocked for the production of 250 commemorative summit challenge coins that obsequiously refer to ‘Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’ and features the visages of Trump and Kim staring at each other. The White House is blaming the military for producing the coin, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Trump has already installed a case in the Oval Office to feature the Nobel Peace Prize he covets.
Anybody who gets hold of a coin should hold it close: if the summit fails to take place, it will probably be even more valuable. Trump’s foreign policy, by contrast, suddenly looks close to worthless.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.