Trump at­tempts dam­age con­trol in U.K.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Eli Stokols, Noah Bier­man and Jackie Calmes

ELLES­BOR­OUGH, England — Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day sought to re­pair his newly dam­aged re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, ef­fu­sively prais­ing her at a joint news con­fer­ence af­ter an ex­plo­sive tabloid in­ter­view in which he crit­i­cized her, praised her ri­val and warned of an end to free trade be­tween their coun­tries.

The pres­i­dent did strongly re­it­er­ate one con­tention from his in­ter­view Thurs­day with the Sun, a Bri­tish tabloid owned by Trump sup­porter Ru­pert Murdoch: that im­mi­grants were ru­in­ing Europe’s cul­ture. May, in re­sponse, coun­tered with the sort of tribute to im­mi­grants that used to be a staple of Amer­i­can lead­ers.

Trump, echo­ing the lan­guage of white na­tion­al­ists, said of im­mi­gra­tion, “I do not think it’s good for Europe. And I don’t think it’s good for our coun­try.”

“I know it’s po­lit­i­cally not

nec­es­sar­ily cor­rect to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud: I think they bet­ter watch them­selves be­cause you are chang­ing cul­ture, you are chang­ing a lot of things. You’re chang­ing se­cu­rity,” the pres­i­dent said as May stood by, plainly dis­com­fited.

The prime min­is­ter in turn cited Bri­tain’s “proud history of wel­com­ing peo­ple who are flee­ing per­se­cu­tion” and said of im­mi­grants, “We’ve seen them con­tribut­ing to our so­ci­ety and our econ­omy.”

Trump, oth­er­wise do­ing his best at dam­age con­trol in a joint news con­fer­ence, blamed the me­dia for fo­cus­ing on dis­agree­ments and said the Sun had not pub­lished all of his pos­i­tive com­ments about May. “I didn’t crit­i­cize the prime min­is­ter,” he said, though the news­pa­per posted an au­dio record­ing.

He in­sisted the United States and Bri­tain have “the high­est level of spe­cial” re­la­tion­ship. “Am I al­lowed to go higher than that? I don’t know,” he said, steal­ing a friendly glance at May.

Their news con­fer­ence and pri­vate dis­cus­sions on eco­nomic and se­cu­rity is­sues were held at Che­quers, the sprawl­ing 16th cen­tury manor that is the prime min­is­ter’s coun­try re­treat and was the birth­place of Win­ston Churchill. Its location in the wooded coun­try­side about 40 miles from Lon­don kept Trump far from protests that filled the cap­i­tal’s streets for a se­cond day — a rare demon­stra­tion against an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Trump and his wife, Me­la­nia, later had tea with Queen El­iz­a­beth II at Wind­sor Castle, also out­side Lon­don.

Trump’s first trip to Bri­tain had been re­peat­edly de­layed, and was down­graded from a for­mal state visit, in part be­cause of ten­sions he’d pro­voked in the past and the threat of mass protests. He gave the in­ter­view that roiled his ar­rival on Thurs­day be­fore leav­ing Brus­sels, where he’d up­ended the an­nual NATO sum­mit with harsh crit­i­cisms of al­lies, es­pe­cially Ger­many and its chan­cel­lor, An­gela Merkel.

In the tabloid in­ter­view, Trump also trashed Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Mus­lim who has crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent, as be­ing soft on crime and ter­ror­ists, and lamented the protests be­ing staged against his visit. But it was his un­abashed in­ter­ven­tion into an ally’s do­mes­tic politics that so vi­o­lated prece­dent and the tra­di­tional def­er­ence shown by pres­i­dents to their coun­ter­parts abroad.

The pres­i­dent’s pub­licly dis­cor­dant re­la­tions with al­lies are the back­drop, then, for his first of­fi­cial visit on Mon­day with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Fin­land.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing that get-to­gether, on Fri­day while Trump vis­ited the queen, the U.S. spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, and pos­si­ble Trump cam­paign com­plic­ity, sought new in­dict­ments against a dozen Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers for al­legedly hack­ing Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosen­stein told re­porters in Wash­ing­ton that Trump was told of the com­ing charges. Yet the pres­i­dent — on for­eign soil — again as­sailed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as “a witch hunt.”

He even blamed the United States’ soured re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia on the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­quiry. “We’re be­ing hurt very badly by the — I would call it the witch hunt,” he said. “I would call it the rigged witch hunt.”

Shortly be­fore news of the in­dict­ments, as Trump and May walked away af­ter their news con­fer­ence, he re­sponded to a shouted ques­tion about whether he’d tell Putin to “stay out of our elec­tions.” “Yes,” Trump said. Likely to the cha­grin of Euro­pean al­lies, how­ever, Trump did not hes­i­tate to re­ply af­fir­ma­tively to a ques­tion about whether he and Putin can have a good re­la­tion­ship as long as Rus­sia con­tin­ues to oc­cupy Crimea, which it in­vaded and seized in 2014. NATO strongly con­demned Rus­sia’s oc­cu­pa­tion again this week, at the sum­mit Trump at­tended.

“Yes,” he said. “I think I would have a very good re­la­tion­ship with Putin if we spend time to­gether.” Yet again, Trump blamed Pres­i­dent Obama for Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea, ac­cus­ing him of weak­ness that he said was a green light to Putin.

The news con­fer­ence was dom­i­nated by ques­tions about his in­ter­view with the Sun, leav­ing both lead­ers de­fen­sive and some­times ir­ri­tated. The first ques­tioner, a Bri­tish reporter for the BBC, asked Trump of his pub­lished re­marks, “Is that re­ally the be­hav­ior of a friend?”

Yet, from the mo­ment they walked out of the brick manor, Trump and May ap­peared in­tent on show­cas­ing a united front; the pres­i­dent held her hand as he helped her down a few brick steps to the podium.

May did not re­buke Trump even mildly. But she em­phat­i­cally de­fended her han­dling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­move Bri­tain from the Euro­pean Union by March, as re­quired af­ter Bri­tish vot­ers in 2016 ap­proved the so­called Brexit ref­er­en­dum to with­draw from the EU and its com­mon eco­nomic poli­cies and open bor­ders.

The prime min­is­ter, whose gov­ern­ment was tot­ter­ing over the is­sue even be­fore Trump poured “ni­tro­glyc­er­ine” on it, in the words of the Lon­don tabloid, ac­knowl­edged that Trump had of­fered ad­vice on how to exit the EU, which she dis­re­garded, he told the Sun.

She added, “Lots of peo­ple give me ad­vice about how to ne­go­ti­ate with the Euro­pean Union. My job is ac­tu­ally get­ting out there and do­ing it. And that’s ex­actly what I’ve done.”

“This does de­liver on the vote of the Bri­tish peo­ple,” she in­sisted of her re­cently un­veiled plans, adding, “Let me be very clear about this: We will be leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.”

In the Sun in­ter­view, Trump said of May’s Brexit plan, “I would have done it much dif­fer­ently. I ac­tu­ally told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t lis­ten to me.”

Even as he in­sisted that the news­pa­per failed to print some of his praise for May, he did not back down from many of his com­ments, in­clud­ing a threat that a bi­lat­eral trade deal with Bri­tain would be in jeop­ardy if he did not like the terms of its sep­a­ra­tion from Europe.

He called the ne­go­ti­a­tions a “tough sit­u­a­tion,” adding, “I can fully un­der­stand why she thought it was a lit­tle tough.”

When a Bri­tish jour­nal­ist asked May about Trump’s praise for Boris John­son, her ri­val who re­signed this week as for­eign min­is­ter in protest of her Brexit plan, the pres­i­dent stepped in to an­swer the ques­tion. He stood by his praise that John­son would “make a great prime min­is­ter,” but com­plained that his com­pli­ments for May were un­der­played.

“I also said that this incredible woman right here is do­ing a fan­tas­tic job, and I mean that,” Trump said. “That Brexit is a very tough sit­u­a­tion, that’s a tough deal. She’s go­ing to do the best.”

As an aside, Trump noted ap­prov­ingly that John­son, who like the pres­i­dent con­sid­ers him­self a nationalist mav­er­ick, has said that Trump is do­ing a great job. The pres­i­dent agreed: “I am do­ing a great job — that I can tell you, in case you haven’t no­ticed.”

As he has on other for­eign trips, Trump also broke with Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial tra­di­tion by lash­ing out at the me­dia, calling it “fake news,” us­ing the phrase four times as he sin­gled out re­porters and me­dia out­lets whose cov­er­age he doesn’t like.

When an NBC reporter asked Trump whether his crit­i­cisms of al­lies were giv­ing Putin “the up­per hand,” he an­grily called such a no­tion “dis­hon­est” and her net­work “worse than CNN.” The pres­i­dent also de­clined to take a ques­tion from a CNN reporter, in­stead calling on a cor­re­spon­dent for Fox News, de­scrib­ing that Trump-friendly out­let as “a real net­work.”

His at­tacks prompted a state­ment from the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Assn. pres­i­dent, Mar­garet Talev of Bloomberg News. “Ask­ing smart, tough ques­tions, whether in a pres­i­den­tial press con­fer­ence or in­ter­view, is cen­tral to the role a free press plays in a healthy repub­lic,” she said.

Af­ter tea with the queen, Trump flew to Scot­land. He will spend the week­end at his golf re­treat there, which he pub­licly pro­moted both in Brus­sels and Bri­tain, ahead of the ren­dezvous with Putin in Fin­land.

Chris Jack­son Getty Im­ages

TRUMP also met with Queen El­iz­a­beth II at Wind­sor Castle be­fore de­part­ing for Scot­land. He meets Mon­day in Fin­land with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Pablo Martinez Mon­si­vais As­so­ci­ated Press

THERESA MAY is do­ing “a fan­tas­tic job,” Pres­i­dent Trump said, af­ter a tabloid in­ter­view in which he crit­i­cized the prime min­is­ter as well as im­mi­gra­tion.

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