U.S. President Donald Trump stuck to a traditional script in his first public appearance since returning from Europe and the Middle East as the White House grapples with revelations of mounting scrutiny into son-in-law Jared Kushner’s outreach to Russian officials.
Trump, paying tribute Monday to the nation’s military dead at a Memorial Day event in Arlington, Virginia, praised fallen soldiers for the “depth of their devotion, the purity of their love” and “the totality of their courage.” He singled out the family of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, whose son died in Afghanistan, as an example of Americans who “carry the burden of freedom.”
After nearly nine days abroad he characterized as a “home run” while seeming to create more distance with European allies, Trump must now contend with a federal probe reaching into his inner circle, a vacancy at the top of the FBI, a decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord and persistent rumors of a staff shakeup. And that was before North Korea launched another ballistic missile in violation of UN resolutions early Monday.
Trump marked his return to the U.S. this weekend with a flurry of Twitter posts about a Republican health care overhaul, a double-murder in Oregon, the North Korean missile test and several messages lashing out at the “fake news” media after not holding a press conference once during his overseas trip.
Confidence in Kushner
The president also defended his son-in-law after reports emerged that Kushner, who carries the title “senior adviser,” considered setting up a secret line of communication between the incoming administration and the Russian government, primarily to discuss a resolution to the crisis in Syria.
In a statement to the New York Times, Trump said that Kushner “is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him.” He added that the 36-year-old, who has a portfolio ranging from Middle East peace to streamlining the federal bureaucracy, is “respected by virtually everyone” and “is a very good person.”
Not everyone sees it that way.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Kushner should appear before the panel and that his security clearance needs to be reviewed. Schiff would neither confirm nor deny the reports about Kushner, but said if they are accurate, “it’s obviously very concerning.”
Trump’s trip, which took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium and Italy, gave many U.S. allies their closest look yet at the president’s “America First” approach to foreign policy. He lectured NATO partners about fulfilling commitments to defense spending, appeared to push past Montenegro’s prime minister at a photo opportunity and refused to go along with other G-7 leaders in a statement of support for the Paris climate accord.
In the wake of the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled the growing distance between Europe and the U.S.
“The last few days have also shown me that the times when we could completely rely on others are to some extent over,” Merkel said in a speech at a climate conference in Berlin on Monday, echoing her language of the day before. “We are and remain close partners,” she said of the U.S. and Germany, “but we also know that we Europeans really must take our destiny into our own hands.”
The best news for the White House this week may be that Congress is out of session, meaning no new hearings on issues such as the Russia probe or the firing of FBI chief James Comey earlier this month. And after getting settled back in Washington, Trump was quick to praise a bit of good, though not surprising, news he received while abroad: a Republican victory in a special election to fill a vacant House seat in Montana.
“Does anyone notice how the Montana Congressional race was such a big deal to Dems & Fake News until the Republican won?,” Trump tweeted Sunday. The victory, he said “was poorly covered.”