TUR­BU­LENT TRIP TO BRI­TAIN

Pres­i­dent praises British leader af­ter crit­i­cism in tabloid

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Eli Stokols, Noah Bier­man and Jackie Calmes

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May con­duct a joint news con­fer­ence Fri­day af­ter pri­vate talks at Che­quers, May’s of­fi­cial coun­try house in Buck­ing­hamshire, Eng­land. Dur­ing Trump’s visit to Bri­tain, they worked to avoid a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis af­ter his widerang­ing crit­i­cism of May in a tabloid in­ter­view pub­lished be­fore his ar­rival. Mean­while, the pres­i­dent was met with fierce protests in Lon­don on Thurs­day and Fri­day.

ELLESBOROUGH, Eng­land — Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 the pub­li­ca­tion of 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 re­it­er­ate one con­tro­ver­sial 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 U.S. 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.

Their news con­fer­ence, and pri­vate dis­cus­sions on eco­nomic and se­cu­rity is­sues, were held at Che­quers, the sprawl­ing 16th­cen­tury manor that is the prime min­is­ter’s coun­try re­treat. 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 a U.S. 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.

In the tabloid in­ter­view, Trump also trashed Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan as be­ing soft on crime and ter­ror­ists, and lamented the protests 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 Mon­day with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in 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 brought new in­dict­ments against a dozen Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers for al­legedly hack­ing Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

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 Barack Obama for Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea, sug­gest­ing his weak­ness was a green light to Putin.

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 on Mon­day.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

STE­FAN ROUSSEAU/GETTY

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and Pres­i­dent Trump make their way to a news con­fer­ence.

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