Canadians leave just before turmoil hits Trump
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.