Cana­di­ans leave just be­fore tur­moil hits Trump

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has as­sured his U.S. coun­ter­part over the phone that there might be 10,000 prob­lems that land on his White House desk — and Canada won’t be among them.

How true that prom­ise rang Tues­day.

Trudeau had barely left Wash­ing­ton and the cheer of a drama-free day was swiftly over­shad­owed by an in­com­ing storm of palace in­trigue, back­stab­bing, leaks, in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dents and a spying scan­dal that rocked Don­ald Trump’s White House. It built through­out the af­ter­noon. Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn wan­dered in to watch the Trudeau-Trump news con­fer­ence. It made for an awkward scene, as, just a few feet away, a U.S. jour­nal­ist was chat­ting on air about whether Flynn might be fired. He was, hours later. Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists fumed that the White House pre­vented them from ask­ing Trump at that news con­fer­ence about in­ter­cepted phone calls be­tween Flynn and Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. — Trump’s team picked which U.S. me­dia got ques­tions. Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists even pleaded with their Cana­dian col­leagues to try slid­ing in a Flynn ques­tion. The re­quest went nowhere — the Cana­di­ans were des­per­ate to get Trump to fi­nally speak pub­licly about Canada-U.S. relations.

There was in fact a Cana­dian con­nec­tion to Flynn’s story. He su­per­vised the re­gional of­fices that han­dle for­eign relations in­side the White House, in­clud­ing over­see­ing the West­ern Hemi­sphere sec­tion that cov­ers Canada. Not any more. Less than 24 hours later, at an­other news con­fer­ence, Trump’s spokesman was asked why Flynn was fired. Sean Spicer said it was be­cause the for­mer mil­i­tary man and cam­paign sur­ro­gate had mis­led the pres­i­dent about his phone calls.

“Pure and sim­ple, it was a mat­ter of trust,” Spicer said.

He in­sisted the fir­ing had noth­ing to do with a deeper ques­tion: the le­gal­ity of con­ver­sa­tions with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment be­fore the Trump in­au­gu­ra­tion about the pos­si­bil­ity of Trump eas­ing sanc­tions.

Sev­eral me­dia out­lets were tipped off about the ex­is­tence of tran­scripts of Flynn-Rus­sia phone calls, in­ter­cepted by U.S. in­tel­li­gence. It’s just one of sev­eral high-level calls leaked to jour­nal­ists re­cently.

There are now grow­ing de­mands for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­ac­tions with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment — Democrats want one and the idea is gain­ing sup­port among Repub­li­cans. Trump, mean­while, wants to pur­sue the leak­ers. He tweeted: “The real story here is why are there so many il­le­gal leaks com­ing out of Wash­ing­ton? Will th­ese leaks be hap­pen­ing as I deal on (North) Korea?”

Speak­ing of North Korea, the nu­clear-armed nation pro­duced two sur­prises this week. The first was its lat­est mis­sile test — as Trump spent the week­end with the leader of North Korean neme­sis Ja­pan.

Then the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was as­sas­si­nated at an air­port in Malaysia. As he died, he told med­i­cal work­ers he’d been at­tacked with a chem­i­cal spray, an of­fi­cial there said.

In­ter­na­tional ten­sions didn’t end there.

Rus­sia re­port­edly tested a new cruise mis­sile de­spite U.S. com­plaints that it vi­o­lated a land­mark 1987 arms treaty. With re­spect to Rus­sia, Spicer told Tues­day’s brief­ing that U.S. pol­icy hasn’t changed — sanc­tions will re­main and Rus­sia should re­turn Crimea to Ukraine.

Then there was Venezuela: the U.S. on Tues­day of­fi­cially des­ig­nated its vice-pres­i­dent a drug traf­ficker. In the mean­time, more leaks. Sev­eral sources close to the Trump White House have now re­ported that top White House aide Reince Priebus might be the next to hear the re­al­ity-show-star-turned­pres­i­dent de­liver that sig­na­ture phrase: You’re fired. A me­dia mogul and Trump pal said last week­end there was grow­ing un­hap­pi­ness with the chief of staff. Now an elab­o­rate hit piece, with sev­eral anony­mous sources, has ap­peared on the Bre­it­bart web­site.

That’s the site for­merly run by se­nior White House strate­gist Steve Ban­non and close to an­other anti­estab­lish­ment White House aide. The piece de­scribed a power strug­gle within the White House pit­ting the more tra­di­tional Repub­li­can wing, fea­tur­ing fig­ures like Priebus, against the rene­gade wing.

So the Cana­dian visit was not a big story in Wash­ing­ton Tues­day. There were some guf­faws when Spicer tripped on the prime min­is­ter’s name — he saluted the “in­cred­i­bly pro­duc­tive,” meet­ing with, “Prime Min­is­ter Joe Trudeau of Canada.”

But the Cana­di­ans got out of town with a doc­u­ment di­rect­ing the na­tional gov­ern­ments to con­tinue co­op­er­at­ing — on trade, faster move­ment at the bor­der, labour mo­bil­ity re­forms, and joint in­fra­struc­ture projects. Nor­mal, com­pa­ra­bly bor­ing bilateral stuff and not very news­wor­thy in Don­ald Trump’s Wash­ing­ton.


Michael Flynn, cen­tre, Don­ald Trump and Reince Priebus in Dec. 2016.

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