The art of the backpedal

The Saline Courier Weekend - - OPINION - DON­ALD LAMBRO

Have you been fol­low­ing some of the pol­icy de­ci­sions an­nounced by Pres­i­dent Trump, who then had to back away from them a few days later?

Ear­lier this month, Trump an­nounced he would host next year’s Group of Seven sum­mit at his swanky golf club, the Trump Na­tional Do­ral in Mi­ami.

But it wasn’t long be­fore Trump came un­der with­er­ing crit­i­cism from Repub­li­cans who com­plained that he was en­rich­ing one of his busi­nesses in open vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, by pro­mot­ing his ex­clu­sive golf club among the elite lead­ers of the world.

Less than a week af­ter the pres­i­dent an­nounced his de­ci­sion to hold the G-7 meet­ing at Do­ral, he was cav­ing un­der an avalanche of com­plaints, led by Se­nate Re­pub­li­can Leader Mitch Mccon­nell of Ken­tucky.

He had been warned by White House ad­vis­ers that the idea of us­ing his busi­ness to host G-7 lead­ers “would not play well” on Capi­tol Hill, but Trump re­jected that ad­vice.

Close ad­vis­ers told him that he would be in vi­o­la­tion of Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 9 of the Con­sti­tu­tion’s emol­u­ments clause that says “no per­son hold­ing any of­fice of profit or trust un­der them, shall, with­out the con­sent of the Congress, ac­cept any present, Emol­u­ment, Of­fice or Ti­tle, of any kind what­ever, from any King, Prince or for­eign State.”

The For­eign Gifts and Dec­o­ra­tions Act of 1966 also “enu­mer­ates sev­eral elected po­si­tions in its def­i­ni­tion of ‘em­ploy­ees’ who may not ac­cept any gift of more than min­i­mal value with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. Such ‘em­ploy­ees’ in­clude the pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent, a mem­ber of Congress, and the spouses and de­pen­dents of the same,” ac­cord­ing to the Le­gal In­for­ma­tion In­sti­tute at Cor­nell Law School.

Stunned by a wave of crit­i­cism, Trump backed down, af­ter it had be­come clear that his move “had alien­ated Repub­li­cans and swiftly be­come part of the im­peach­ment in­quiry that threat­ens his pres­i­dency,” The Wash­ing­ton Post noted.

Then there was the sweep­ing an­nounce­ment last De­cem­ber when Trump said he was bring­ing home all of what were then over 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

It wasn’t long be­fore he pulled back from that de­ci­sion in the face of strong po­lit­i­cal crit­i­cism at home and abroad.

“Ul­ti­mately, about half of the force was with­drawn. His an­nounce­ment early this month that all 1,000 re­main­ing troops were leav­ing cleared the way for a Turk­ish mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in north­east­ern Syria and led to charges he was aban­don­ing Syr­ian Kur­dish al­lies and ca­pit­u­lat­ing to Turkey. The Kur­dish forces have suf­fered thou­sands of ca­su­al­ties while help­ing beat back the Is­lamist State,” the Post re­ported this week.

Trump’s de­ci­sion was par­tially pulled back, de­cid­ing last week “to keep some troops in Syria af­ter or­der­ing a com­plete with­drawal,” the Post said.

His pull­out de­ci­sion didn’t an­tic­i­pate Turkey’s re­sponse, nor did it think through that it left Mid­dle East oil fields ex­posed to ISIS takeover.

“It would be highly em­bar­rass­ing for the U.S. for ISIS to start up oil op­er­a­tions again,” said David But­ter, as­so­ciate fel­low in Mid­dle East stud­ies at Chatham House, a Lon­don think tank.

All of this is go­ing on while the House con­tin­ues hold­ing its im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, which in­clude tes­ti­mony from wit­nesses that Trump with­held crit­i­cally im­por­tant se­cu­rity as­sis­tance from the Ukraine gov­ern­ment af­ter ask­ing of­fi­cials there to dig up dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion on one of his ri­vals in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

This in­for­ma­tion came this week in tes­ti­mony from our act­ing U.S. am­bas­sador to Ukraine, Wil­liam B. Tay­lor.

In his open­ing tes­ti­mony, Tay­lor said, “In Au­gust and Septem­ber of this year, I be­came in­creas­ingly con­cerned that our re­la­tion­ship with Ukraine was be­ing fun­da­men­tally un­der­mined by an ir­reg­u­lar, in­for­mal chan­nel of U.S. pol­icy-mak­ing and by the with­hold­ing of vi­tal se­cu­rity as­sis­tance for do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.”

Tay­lor told the bi­par­ti­san House im­peach­ment panel that U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, Gor­don Sond­land, “told me that Pres­i­dent Trump had told him that he wants [Ukrainian] Pres­i­dent Ze­len­sky to state pub­licly that Ukraine will in­ves­ti­gate” Joe Bi­den and his son, who got a high-pay­ing job with a Ukrainian en­ergy com­pany.

“He said that Pres­i­dent Trump wanted Pres­i­dent Ze­len­sky ‘in a pub­lic box’ by mak­ing a pub­lic state­ment about or­der­ing such in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Tay­lor tes­ti­fied un­der oath.

In­stead, as he has with past de­ci­sions, Trump may be find­ing him­self boxed in and look­ing for a way out. Stay tuned.

Don­ald Lambro has been cov­er­ing Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics for more than 50 years as a re­porter, edi­tor and com­men­ta­tor.

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