Trump faces new controversies as trip winds down
Taormina, Sicily (AP) — President Donald Trump faced new controversies over his team's possible ties to Russia as he closed out his first trip abroad Saturday, a grueling five-stop sprint that ended with the promise of an imminent decision on the much-discussed Paris climate accord.
Trump tweeted that he would make a final decision next week on whether to withdraw from the pact. European leaders have been pressuring Trump to stay in the accord during their meetings with him this week, arguing that America's leadership on climate is crucial.
Following a second day of meetings at the Group of 7 summit in Sicily and remarks to U.S. troops stationed at a nearby air base, Trump was returning to Washington and a new crush of Russia-related controversies. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. about setting up secret communications with Moscow.
Trump has held no news conferences during the nine-day trip, allowing him to avoid questions about the Russia investigations. His top economic and national security advisers refused to answer questions during a press briefing Saturday.
The White House had hoped to use Trump's five-stop trip as a moment to reset. The president was warmly received on his opening stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, though he has come under more pressure in Europe, particularly over the Paris accord.
Trump was cajoled for three days — first in Brussels at meetings of NATO and the European Union, then in Sicily for G-7 — but will leave Italy without making clear where he stands.
As the G-7 summit came to a close Saturday, the six other members — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan — renewed their commitment to the accord. The summit's communique noted that the Trump administration would take more time to consider whether it will remain committed to the 2015 Paris deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
Backing out of the climate accord had been a central plank of Trump's campaign and aides have been exploring whether they can adjust the framework of the deal even if they don't opt out entirely. Other G-7 nations leaned heavily on Trump to stay in the climate deal, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying "we put forward very many arguments."
The president's trip has largely gone off without a major misstep, with the administration touting the president's efforts to birth a new coalition to fight terrorism, while admonishing partners in an old alliance to pay their fair share.
"Big G7 meetings today. Lots of very important matters under discussion," Trump tweeted between events. "First on the list, of course, is terrorism. #G7Taormina."
Trump also touted a renewed commitment by NATO members to spend more on defense.
"Many NATO countries have agreed to step up payments considerably, as they should. Money is beginning to pour in- NATO will be much stronger," he said. Trump was referring to a vow by NATO countries to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Only five of NATO's 28 members meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the United States, which spends more on defense than all the other allies combined.
There is no evidence that money has begun to "pour in" — and countries do not pay the U.S. or NATO directly. But Germany, for instance, has been increasing its defense spending with the goal of reaching the 2 percent target by 2024.
But after the pomp of presidential travel overseas, Trump will return to Washington to find the same problems that have dogged him.
As a newly appointed special counsel is beginning his investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Kushner has become a focus of the probe. His lawyer said Kushner will cooperate with investigators.
James Comey, the former FBI director leading the Russian probe until Trump abruptly fired him, is still expected to testify before Congress about memos he kept on conversations with the president that involved the investigation.
The search for a new FBI director continues.
And Trump's policy agenda has run into problems. The GOP health care bill that passed the House faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, after a Congressional Budget Office analysis that it would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026. The president's budget was widely criticized for deep cuts to safety net programs. And some are starting to question the chances for tax reform.
By Jonathan Lemire and Julie Pace, Associated Press. Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The Gayly – May 27, 2017 @ 10:20 a.m.