Bri­tish en­voy ex­co­ri­ated by Trump quits after memo leak

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Christina Boyle and Laura King

LON­DON — Wash­ing­ton’s “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” with Bri­tain has had its ups and downs un­der Pres­i­dent Trump. But this week, to the dis­be­liev­ing eyes of many ob­servers across the At­lantic, it seem­ingly was turned on its head.

Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to the United States, Kim Dar­roch — Sir Kim to his com­pa­tri­ots — re­signed Wed­nes­day, after a leak of bru­tally frank diplo­matic ca­bles he wrote about Trump and, in re­sponse, a storm of in­vec­tive from the pres­i­dent.

In a se­ries of tweets on Tues­day, Trump called the vet­eran en­voy, who rose from work­ing-class roots to a highly lauded diplo­matic ca­reer last­ing four decades, “wacky,” “pompous” and a “very stupid guy.” In the leaked ca­bles, Dar­roch re­ferred to Trump as “in­ept” and his ad­min­is­tra­tion as “chaotic.”

The episode, play­ing out over just a few days, was a jar­ring re­minder of how Trump’s dis­rup­tive and highly per­sonal style is color­ing the United States’ deal­ings with the rest of the world — in this case, with one of its his­tor­i­cally clos­est al­lies.

The head of the For­eign Of­fice, Si­mon McDon­ald, who for­mally ac­cepted Dar­roch’s res­ig­na­tion, seemed to be grasp­ing for words as he ex­plained the diplo­matic de­ba­cle to a com­mit­tee of law­mak­ers. He said there had never been an in­stance, dur­ing his 37-year ten­ure in the depart­ment, when one of the United King­dom’s am

bas­sadors had, in ef­fect, been booted out by the head of state of an al­lied govern­ment.

“This is not the first time a Bri­tish am­bas­sador has left post or re­signed be­cause of ac­tions against the host govern­ment,” McDon­ald said. “But usu­ally they are gov­ern­ments with whom we have prob­lem­atic re­la­tions, rather than friendly re­la­tions.”

Dar­roch wrote in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter that he had de­cided to quit be­cause “the re­spon­si­ble course is to al­low the ap­point­ment of a new am­bas­sador.” It was un­clear when that would oc­cur.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May had staunchly stood by the 65-year-old en­voy, say­ing he was only do­ing his job when he pro­vided blunt as­sess­ments of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Wash­ing­ton. She said his de­ci­sion to step down was a “mat­ter of great re­gret.”

Ad­dress­ing law­mak­ers, May — who is her­self set to de­part within weeks — said it was “es­sen­tial” for pro­fes­sional diplo­mats such as Dar­roch to be able to be can­did in their re­ports to their home gov­ern­ments.

The leaked ca­bles ap­peared in the Bri­tish tabloid the Mail on Sun­day. The diplo­matic memos, which spanned from 2017 to the re­cent past and were sup­posed to have been con­fi­den­tial, de­picted Trump as er­ratic, un­pre­dictable and seem­ingly im­mune to scan­dal. His White House was por­trayed as a nest of in­fight­ing.

Al­though all sides in­sisted that An­glo-Amer­i­can ties were fun­da­men­tally un­shak­able, the events in­jected fresh drama into the race to re­place May as prime min­is­ter.

The am­bas­sador’s de­ci­sion to quit came hours after a tele­vised de­bate in which Boris John­son, the fron­trun­ner to be­come the next prime min­is­ter, re­fused to de­fend the am­bas­sador or crit­i­cize Trump.

On Wed­nes­day, John­son’s fail­ure to stand up for Dar­roch was draw­ing some heavy fire from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, in­clud­ing within his Con­ser­va­tive Party. One prom­i­nent mem­ber of May’s govern­ment, Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Alan Dun­can, said John­son had “ba­si­cally thrown our top diplo­mat un­der the bus.”

Bri­tish me­dia re­ports said the am­bas­sador’s de­ci­sion to re­sign was ce­mented when he watched Tues­day night’s de­bate, when John­son re­fused to an­swer a hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion as to whether, as prime min­is­ter, he would keep Dar­roch in place un­til his sched­uled de­par­ture at year’s end.

The White House re­sponse was muted, at least ini­tially. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told re­porters that “in light of the last few days, [Dar­roch’s] abil­ity to be ef­fec­tive was pretty lim­ited.”

“So it was prob­a­bly the right choice,” he said of the en­voy’s res­ig­na­tion.

The Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal scene for months has been con­sumed by an on­go­ing brawl over Brexit, the coun­try’s planned de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union that is now set for the end of Oc­to­ber. And the leak of the ca­bles, which is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the For­eign Of­fice, was widely seen as re­flect­ing those bit­ter di­vi­sions.

Lead­ing up to the 2016 ref­er­en­dum that set the di­vorce from the bloc in mo­tion, tabloids in­clud­ing the Mail were loud and col­or­ful back­ers of Brexit. Dar­roch, who spent much of his ca­reer build­ing closer ties with the EU, had long been vil­i­fied by hard-lin­ers as a “glob­al­ist” who was not fully on board with the de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

Dar­roch’s fate was prob­a­bly sealed when Trump said this week that “we will no longer deal” with the am­bas­sador, whose abil­ity to func­tion ef­fec­tively was highly de­pen­dent on ac­cess. Dar­roch pre­vi­ously had cor­dial ties with se­nior mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, of­ten en­ter­tain­ing top Trump aides at em­bassy gath­er­ings, and a cut­off of such con­tacts would have se­verely im­peded his abil­ity to gather in­for­ma­tion and to ad­vance Bri­tain’s in­ter­ests.

John­son’s ri­val for the prime min­is­ter’s post, For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt, said in a state­ment that he was “deeply sad­dened” by the am­bas­sador’s res­ig­na­tion. He also made a point of declar­ing that Dar­roch’s frank dis­patches had been ex­actly in line with his diplo­matic du­ties.

“I am sure that our Am­bas­sadors world­wide will con­tinue to pro­vide the ob­jec­tive and rig­or­ous re­port­ing that the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice has al­ways prized,” he wrote.

May, whom Trump de­rided as “fool­ish” in his Tues­day tweets at­tack­ing Dar­roch, made a veiled but pointed ref­er­ence to un­war­ranted out­side in­flu­ence when she spoke to the House of Com­mons.

“I hope the House will re­flect on the im­por­tance of de­fend­ing our val­ues and prin­ci­ples,” she said, “par­tic­u­larly when they are un­der pres­sure.”

John­son, for his part, said that who­ever was be­hind the leak “re­ally has done a grave dis­ser­vice to our civil ser­vants.” Em­ploy­ing typ­i­cally col­or­ful lan­guage, he added: “I hope that who­ever it is, is run down, caught and evis­cer­ated.”

Many re­tired Amer­i­can and Bri­tish diplo­mats have fol­lowed the saga over the last few days with mount­ing dis­may, not­ing the dra­matic break with es­tab­lished norms of diplo­macy. In a tweet, Ni­cholas Burns, a for­mer se­nior U.S. diplo­mat, praised Dar­roch as a “true pro­fes­sional.”

“Am­bas­sadors world­wide un­der­stand they can be re­placed at any time,” Burns wrote. But Dar­roch, he said, “was the vic­tim of scur­rilous Bri­tish of­fi­cials who leaked his ca­bles and of the van­ity and venge­ful­ness” of Trump.

Trump’s al­lies, mean­while, sought to dis­pel the no­tion that the pres­i­dent had done any­thing un­to­ward.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, the South Carolina Repub­li­can who is one of Trump’s staunch­est de­fend­ers, praised Dar­roch as “out­stand­ing” and said he was sorry to see him re­sign — but did not ac­knowl­edge any role by Trump in the af­fair. In­stead, he wrote on Twit­ter that the am­bas­sador “got a raw deal from the press.”

Trump’s Demo­cratic crit­ics said that al­though the pub­li­ca­tion of con­fi­den­tial ca­bles pre­cip­i­tated the diplo­matic melee, the pres­i­dent had thrown fuel on the fire.

“Part of what drove this is Pres­i­dent Trump tak­ing to Twit­ter to in­sult the am­bas­sador, to in­sult Theresa May,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who sits on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, told CNN.

The am­bas­sado­rial rup­ture came just weeks after Bri­tain pulled out all the cer­e­mo­nial stops for a state visit by Trump. In June, the pres­i­dent dined with Queen El­iz­a­beth II and met other se­nior roy­als, in­clud­ing Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and Prince Wil­liam, next in the line of suc­ces­sion.

One ex­cep­tion to the royal meet-and-greet, how­ever, was the Los An­ge­les-born Duchess of Sus­sex, Meghan Markle, who was on ma­ter­nity leave. Be­fore mar­ry­ing Prince Harry, Charles’ younger son, she had been quoted as call­ing Trump “misog­y­nis­tic.”

In a pre-visit in­ter­view, Trump said he was un­aware that the duchess had been “nasty” re­gard­ing him.

Jes­sica Tay­lor House of Com­mons

BRI­TISH Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, who had stood by Kim Dar­roch, the am­bas­sador to the U.S., said his res­ig­na­tion was a “mat­ter of great re­gret.”

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