It ain’t easy being friends with Donald Trump.
Australia, Britain, and Italy are being sucked into the conspiracy-filled quagmire of impeachment-era Washington, after Trump and his Attorney General William Barr reportedly leaned on friendly governments to assist a probe widely seen as intended to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the 2016 elections.
Trump enlisted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s help over the phone, and now he’s already under fire at home.** Critics say his desperation to be mates with Trump is taking Australia into dangerous territory, and the flap has limited Morrison’s political dividend from his big state dinner at the White House last month.
This story was originally published in the October 2 edition of CNN’s “Meanwhile in America” newsletter. Subscribe to this email or share with a friend by clicking here.
Normally there’d be nothing to see here – US attorneys general huddle with foreign counterparts all the time. But Trump and Barr appear to be chasing a conservative media concoction that US allies plotted with rogue American spies to thwart him in the 2016 elections (a claim shot down by the British government in 2017.)
This puts allied leaders in a tough position – right next to Ukraine, whose President was also asked by Trump to investigate multiple unsubstantiated theories. All must choose between playing along with a powerful and vengeful US President, or risk permanent damage to their national interests in the fetid swamp of Washington politics.
And those are just the countries we know about.
**Morrison is on the spot because back in 2016, a Trump campaign aide told an Australian diplomat rumors about alleged dirt from Hillary Clinton’s emails. The diplomat passed the tip back to US intelligence and the rest is history.
“You’re making me look like an idiot!”
That’s Donald Trump back in March, shouting during a panicked meeting over migration, according to the New York Times. The report says Trump also speculated over shooting migrants in the legs.
At that same meeting, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner tried to reason with the President. “All you care about is your friends in Mexico,” the President reportedly responded.
True friends pay cash
Most of the world, and the CIA, blamed Saudi Arabia for killing and dismembering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago today. But Trump’s team still insists it’s too early to tell how the investigation will pan out.
The gruesome affair is a prism for current US foreign policy, driven by the idea that true friends pay cash — often through weapons sales — in return for US protection.
Early on, the Trump administration made Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) the centerpiece of their anti-Iran campaign. Neither Khashoggi’s death nor the humanitarian misery of the Saudi-led bombardment and blockades in Yemen seem to have caused any second guessing. Rather, Trump has gone out of his way to rehabilitate the prince-turned-pariah at global summits, and is frank about what he sees in him. “(Saudi Arabia) have been a great ally. They (spent) $400 billion in our country over the last number of years,” he said last month.
But with world energy strategy shifting, the Saudis are not quite as important to the US as they were. Plenty of Republicans as well as Democrats are disgusted with MBS and see him as a loose cannon who could drag America into a new Middle East war. His good credit in Washington may last only as long as Trump is President.
Bernie Sanders seems to be slipping behind fellow lefty Elizabeth Warren in the race for the Democratic nomination, but the Vermonter’s massive third quarter fundraising haul means he can stay in the contest – and cause trouble for his reviled party establishment – as long as he pleases.