Casting Emmanuel Macron as the bad boy of NATO, President Donald Trump kicked off a two-day alliance meeting by sounding off on everything from the French president’s “insulting” comments, his own impeachment and a possible Mike Pompeo Senate bid to an ally’s crucial elections and beyond.
During a 50-minute gaggle with reporters during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Trump appeared to revel in putting heat on Macron as their relationship continues to sour. Unprompted by reporters, he dinged Macron over his country’s unemployment rate and sputtering economy and offered something of a warning to France as he — in a complete 180-degree shift — became the NATO alliance’s defender.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” said Trump, who long has criticized the alliance and said its members shortchange its mutual defense coffers. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump was responding to Macron’s assessment of the alliance in a November interview with The Economist. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said, warning the Europe stands on “the edge of a precipice” and could soon be “no longer be in control of our destiny.”
“President Macron has been on quite a tear since hosting the G-7 summit in Biarritz in August,” Rachel Ellehuus, a former U.S. and U.K. defense official, said Tuesday.
“Of course, this energy and this own disruption in some ways has been very unhelpful to the alliance,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if President Trump and President Macron agree on … the path forward on NATO — even the path forward on Russia.”
A day after a report surfaced that he is considering slapping 100 percent tariffs on some French imports like wine, cheese and handbags, Trump appeared eager to pressure Macron as he continues wooing leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and feuding with longtime U.S. allies.
“Then Turkey responded by saying he was brain dead, which was interesting. NATO serves a great purpose,” Trump said. “It got to be unfair for the United States because the United States was paying a disproportionate amount, and I heard that President Macron said that NATO is brain dead, and I think that’s insulting to a lot of different forces.
“It’s a tough statement. When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to, essentially, including them, 28 countries,” Trump said.
“You have a very high unemployment rate in France. France is not doing well economically at all,” he said hours before he will meet one-on-one with the French leader. Trump appeared to confirm the report about the wine, cheese and handbag tariffs.
“They’re starting to tax other people’s products, so therefore we go and tax them, which is taking place right now on technology, and we’re doing their wines and everything else,” he said. “It’s a very tough statement to make when you have such difficulty in France.”
The president also was asked about several domestic matters, including months-old rumors that he might press Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek a Senate seat in Kansas.
“He is a tremendous guy doing a tremendous job,” Trump said of his top diplomat. “If I thought there was a risk to losing that seat, I would sit down and seriously talk to Mike.”
The president also weighed in on a simmering dispute within the Justice Department ahead of two reports about the agencies’ handling of its 2016 Russia election-meddling probe — including efforts to investigate his campaign organization.
A coming DOJ inspector general report is expected to conclude that DOJ and the FBI had enough evidence to justify launching the probe — though Attorney General William P. Barr reportedly objects to the draft finding.
“I’m hearing the report is very powerful, but I’m hearing that by reading lots of different things, not from inside information,” said Trump, who predicted there will be “a lot of devastating things in that report.”
In classic form, he took both sides of the fence on the IG’s findings.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Look, we have a few days to wait. … If what I read is correct, that will be a little disappointing, but it was just one aspect of the report.”
But then he was back to forecasting bold findings, saying: “I hear it’s devastating.”
Trump plugged another report due from thr Justice Department soon, this one by the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, who has been looking into how U.S. intelligence agencies went about investigating Russia’s election meddling.
“I do think the big report to wait for is going to be the Durham report,” he said. “That’s the one that people are really waiting for. He’s highly respected, and he’s worked very hard. He’s worked long hours, I can tell you, and gone all over the world.”
For the first time, Trump acknowledged that House Democrats’ impeachment probe casts a cloud over his talks with Macron and other NATO leaders, as Roll Call reported Tuesday morning.
“Does it cast a cloud? Well, if it does, then the Democrats have done a very great disservice to the country, which they have. They’ve wasted a lot of time,” he said, again predicting that voters will side with him over the impeachment question come November.
“It’s having a reverse effect, which some people thought it might have,” he said. “But I can tell you the districts where I won, and then they had an election in between mine, they had an election and other people got in, Democrats got in, those districts are leaning very big toward me.”