Trump Returns To Face Scandals

May 29, 2017
Originally published on May 29, 2017 7:38 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is back home. He's calling his nine-day overseas trip a great success. But while Trump was gone, the biggest problem he's facing - that Russia investigation - became worse for him.

Now Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny. The Washington Post first reported Kushner tried to set up a secret back channel to Russia. He wanted to use Russian secure diplomatic facilities for conversations. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly played down the reports of the back channel yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

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JOHN KELLY: I think any channel of communication, back or otherwise, with a country like Russia is a good thing.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow is here to sort through all of this. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So Secretary Kelly there saying it's good to have any channel of communication with Russia, sort of downplaying this, a lot of people saying if Kushner did this it's a huge deal. So which is it?

DETROW: I think we're still trying to sort that out right now. We should point out that this back channel communication never actually was set up, but the conversation about it raises a lot of questions. Specifically, why didn't Kushner, as The Washington Post reported, want U.S. intelligence agencies, want the U.S. government to know what the transition team was talking to Russia about?

And I think that question is especially big at this point given the larger context of how much this Russia scandal and investigation has really ballooned and how much we've learned about repeated contacts that Kushner, had that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had with Russian officials. And something we learned from former CIA Director John Brennan last week, that U.S. intelligence saw Russian intelligence operatives try to contact members of Trump's campaign.

GREENE: Well, what has President Trump said about these allegations about Jared Kushner?

DETROW: He issued a statement to The New York Times last night saying, quote, "Jared is doing a great job for this country. I have total confidence in him." He said that Kushner's a great businessman and a good person. Trump also weighed in on Twitter yesterday, saying the leaks are fabricated lies made up by the fake news media. This is, of course, the response that Trump has to a lot of different stories critical of him.

GREENE: We've heard that term fake news before.

DETROW: A lot. But I think the tweet storm was notable because he had not tweeted anything like that during the entire overseas trips. He had been very on message. The tweets were clearly kind of planned out. And a lot of his White House staff was frankly thrilled that the president had not gone on his Twitter rants.

GREENE: Many of his aides are thinking you're back home and you're back at it again, Mr. President.

DETROW: You know, some people upload pictures of their vacation on to Facebook. He gets back on Twitter after a trip.

GREENE: (Laughter) He gets back on Twitter. Well, you know, I mean, Scott, just going back to Secretary Kelly's point that this is not that unusual what Kushner was reportedly trying to do, I mean, can't there be some value to back channel diplomatic communication? I think back to President Obama, for example, when he was trying to reboot the U.S. relationship with Cuba. Didn't he sort of have some back channel communications with the Vatican?

DETROW: Oh, certainly. And I think back channels do play a key role in diplomacy. The difference here is that the Obama administration was in office when that was happening. This Kushner proposal came during the transition. Of course, a president-elect and his staff have to talk to other countries. Typically, that's done with and through the State Department.

We already saw that the Trump transition was doing things a lot differently, kind of fielding these calls from foreign leaders without any notes or briefing from the State Department. This seems to be another example of that. Again, the key question is why didn't Kushner want the U.S. government to be aware of these conversations? I think that's something we're all going to be asking questions a lot going forward.

GREENE: OK. Well, another thing we're going to be asking a lot of questions about going forward is the big Paris climate agreement. So President Trump is back from this foreign trip. He made that stop in Europe where this question of whether the United States is going to pull out of that climate accord right in front of us. Do we have any idea what the president might say?

DETROW: We're not sure yet. I mean, it was interesting at the G7. You had six of the countries issue a statement supporting the Paris climate agreement and the United States abstaining from that statement. The White House officials say that President Trump has an open mind about this, that he was listening to other leaders when he was in Italy and Brussels. But I think this decision has really essentially already been made.

And that's because President Trump has directed the EPA to begin dismantling the regulations that were the main way the U.S. was going to meet its goals, largely by shifting away from coal and toward renewable energy. So really that decision has kind of already been made by the Trump administration.

GREENE: Well, work this through with me if you can. We have this big international agreement. If the U.S. backed out of it, I mean, would that have a big impact on this agreement and its goals?

DETROW: For sure. I think most climate experts say that the Paris Agreement doesn't go far enough to begin with. And along with China, the U.S. is one of the world's top carbon dioxide emitters. So if the U.S. says it's not going to meet these reductions, lower its carbon footprint along with other countries, that would certainly slow down the agreement.

I think the upside is that either way, the U.S. likely is going to be making progress over the coming decades. That shift from coal to natural gas to solar to wind, it's basically happening anyway because of the market at this point. And on top of that, you have big states like California, a lot of big cities saying regardless of what the federal government does, we're going to keep trying to lower our carbon footprints.

GREENE: Scott, thanks for chatting this morning.

DETROW: Thank you.

GREENE: That Scott Detrow from NPR's Politics team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.