What Bob Woodward taught us about Trump’s foreign policy | Pod Save the World 9/5/18



Alex you recently reported that President Trump promised Kim jong-un that he would sign a declaration to end the Korean War a quick reminder that the Korean War ended with an armistice but not an official peace treaty so technically they would need this next step to happen um why is this promised creating problems now for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he tries to hammer out the final details of a deal with North Korea sure so it's it's kind of bricks down to the current impasse in the negotiations right the United States wants North Korea to give up all of its nuclear weapons and give a list of its entire arsenal its facilities etc etc and the US and sorry and North Korea wants a peace treaty and so when Trump tells Kim jong-un that he wants a peace that he would sign a peace declaration what that really means is that Trump would be moving in the direction of giving North Korea what it wants moving the direction of the peace treaty and that's a big deal for Pompeo because Pompeo consistently has been authorized to ask for a lot of weapons up front from Kim jong-un and basically this comes down to the North Korean saying your president has told us that he's going to sign this declaration why are you asking us for all of our weapons and quite literally has told pump air in the room call your president so Trump has caused a massive issue from Pompeo and at this point it almost seems like they don't want to deal with Pompeo but ret would rather deal with trumpet as well so what it seems like we're learning is not only with nothing accomplished at the Singapore summit even though President Trump declared shortly afterwards that the threat from North Korea's nuclear weapons program was now gone but it sounds like in fact we have may have given up far more than we initially understood because he made this promise to sign a peace declaration in the North Korea and so dragging their feet on doing anything meaningful on a nuclear program until that piece of the the sequencing is done right right in sequencing matters a great deal of North Korea if we actually look at the documents that Trump and Kim signed in Singapore in June what it actually shows if you look at the four points the talks about peace come first or the first two points right the nuclearization bit actually comes second so if you're the North Koreans you're thinking Trump is promised he's going to sign this declaration to the Singapore document says that this peace and normalization of relations comes before we give up our weapons so what is Pompeo talking about when he meets with us right no wonder then that they are so angry and they'd rather deal with come directly which brings us back to a point that you guys make a lot on worldly that I hear about a lot on the weeds which is the details matter and this is a pretty big detail and the hard part of the negotiation was now handed to Mike Pompeo and it reminds me of an anecdote from Bob Woodward's new book that leaked out today where he talks about an NSA meeting on North Korea with Trump where he questioned why we're spending any money in the region to begin with and he showed apparently according to Woodward so little understanding of the issues that general mattis complained or sorry secretary defence matters complained that he sounded like a fifth or sixth grader we've heard anecdotes like this since Trump first took office but now it seems clear that he is actually screwing up negotiations when he tries to go in there by himself and meet one-on-one with Kim jong-un or with Putin are you hearing any increased concern among Republicans of Congress or people at the State Department about the handling of these like fraught critically important national security issues I mean I well first you mentioned the Whooper book I think what we've learned not just the North Korea bit but generally is that it seems worse than we thought yeah on North Korea itself you're you're basically hearing everyone say well we're at an impasse it's usually the North Koreans you know they're at fault they're the ones on negotiation and look you can make a fair argument about right that's true right for decades North Koreans have been cheating on on talks they've been lying and then frankly they could be using Trump's promise as a way to drive a wedge between Trump and Pompeyo so it's possible that this is a bit overblown but let's let's be real if Trump is promising to sign a declaration both in person to Kim and has signed a document that says so then it seems crazy that they have not that the u.s. at least has not coordinated on its end to work on that process before anything else to make those kind of dual commitments and then say oh no we want your weapons upfront before we do anything else I don't blame the North Koreans for feeling at least a bit of whiplash mm-hmm speaking of whiplash Trump canceled I think via tweet secretary Pompey Oz was supposed to be I guess last weekend trip to North Korea I guess reporters were getting briefed in real time as this happened no one knew it no new who was gonna be a canceled and he just did it at the same time Trump wants to have another meeting reportedly with Kim jong-un I mean do you think that this thing just stalls out until they either do or do not get back together at some forum I think that's right and in a weird ironic twist of fate I think you know Trump and Kim are the kind of only ones that can figure this out at this point right you know when Trump says I want to meet him and and others kind of balk at that I think it makes some sort of sense obviously this is diplomacy turned on its head this isn't the usual way it should be done or frankly even the way it should be done in general but we've reached the sort of point where they kind of do needed me to guess and they do need to maybe hash something out of course taking mattis's warnings it would be nice if Trump cared about details more than at a 5th or 6th grade level because to discuss these issues with Kim requires a pretty deep understanding of what's happening but I don't see you know sending Pompeo or the new top negotiator stephen vegan over there will really lead to any sustained progress unless Trump goes in and maybe hatches something out I mean while I mean is North Korea slowed down and Eve its nuclear development efforts are they benefiting from sanctions I mean how do you feel like they have fared from the deal so far such as it is up front I mean North Korea is continuing its nuclear program we've heard that from our own intelligence estimates we've heard that from the International Atomic Energy Agency we even heard today Dan Costa Director of National Intelligence say that North Korea basically continues apace and that he's not even sure that they really do want to give up its nuclear weapons so that they're willing to concede anything so if you're the North Koreans you've kind of won something you've won prestige you're still in negotiations with the u.s. the talk of war has gone away you're possibly getting some economic benefits right you've seen China and Russia and even South Korea relaxed some of the sanctions they've been put on earlier so you're coming away with fewer threats more money and still developing a program if they may have to give up some nuclear weapons or some part of its arsenal down the line but as of now it seems like a general win for North Korea yeah I want to stay on the Woodward book for a minute because you know he's obviously a once-in-a-generation reporter but these books take on an added weight in Washington based on who he is and you know his process is pretty well worn and successful over you know I think eight presidents now basically what he does is he invites administration officials over to his house his chef cooks you dinner you aren't seen coming and going because you can park in the garage and then he sort of sits down with a list of you know criticisms of that staffer who happens to be in this house at that moment and they quickly cough up all the details and talk about their colleagues and Brynn's repeat you got a great book so you learned something from these things one thing I noticed today I believe you wrote this up for Vox was apparently President Trump told general mattis that he thought we should assassinate President Assad of Syria in response to his use of chemical weapons I think that's an understandable sentiment in the moment but I I read that and I wondered should I feel like okay that's a very impulsive response and it confirms my fear about this administration or should I feel like mattis has actually done a pretty good job of walking back some of these worst impulses or maybe a combination of both well how would you make a bet yeah I felt I felt one that so I kind of wanna take away putting aside I can't believe me to say this so putting aside what's good for the America in the world okay if you just take the process I by itself right Trump has has a feeling he wants to do he wants to pursue an objective it's unclear if it was an order or just kind of an on the phone comment but let's say it was an order and mattis slow rolls it that does go away against the process of the u.s. foreign policy making to a certain extent obviously staffers provide options and the president decides but it seems pretty clear what Trump wanted do and so format is to kind of push back on that I find just kind of interesting in a breakdown on the way this administration works now putting back in what's good for the world see it of course makes sense why mattes would push back on this killing Assad would not only be a massive escalation of America's involvement in the war it would be a logistics bite some what logistical II hard because you know who knows where I was going to be right no bunker or some deal it was clearly anger Russia and Iran it would mat it would just become a even worse crisis in Syria so you can see why Madison push back but yeah I mean it's your own fears this is we've known this from about Trump before I mean in 2011 he was criticizing Obama for not killing Gaddafi or openly want you know calling for his death and said it basically if you were leading he would want the same he would do that so yeah it looks like if Trump is leading which he is he's gonna at least bring this issue up but as sort of a norms level if Woodward's reporting is true and there's really no reason to doubt it at this point it looks like the present United States has abolished the norm that is sort of been going on of we do not open we do not try to kill the leader yeah assassinations are I've been a no-no for a while in the White House but you know what are you gonna do another recurring theme in the book it that in my view is disrespect for members of the military there's the insults of McCain including confusion that he left a imprisonment in Vietnam early rather than actually staying and and refusing to be released early so until his fellow soldiers were released he mocks general McMaster he apparently blows up at a group of generals during a meeting at the Pentagon and one in the in the Situation Room there is there's some elements of this that are a little gossipy right like making fun of the way McMaster talks but there's also the fact that he still hasn't visited US service members in Afghanistan and I'm I'm just waiting for some real rumblings out of the Pentagon about the repeated disrespect and hope curious have you heard anything like that are you surprised that the disrespect during McCain's funeral again for example that more you know military officials weren't speaking out I'm not surprised that military officials didn't speak out solely because they stay apolitical as much as they can while they're still in uniform I mean you've seen retired people come to run in this defense or whatnot right but usually in uniform they're not going to even really much in background even say anything however you will notice that when Trump was disrespecting McCain you just saw veterans groups come out and drove it right this is when the when the flag went back up yep veterans groups just came out in droves to say how hurt they were driven by veterans calling their the you know their group representative clearly people that were in the military and certainly are in the military too sir I'm sure have noticed this trend with Trump you didn't even need to him to be President to know that you could see this with the Khan family during the campaign you could see this as he talked about McCain himself you know he was captured I like people who weren't captured Trump's disdain for the military or at least lack of respect for it in the way that he should his commander in chief has been evident for quite some time and frankly he's also done very little to command it I mean since the very beginning he offered the military total authorization quote-unquote to do effectively what it wanted yeah that's that's led to massive bombing increases in the Middle East in Africa really all over the place and so his respect for the military is you go off and do what you want but when it comes to individual members their service does not necessarily matter to him as long as they are loyal to some sort of extent which actually makes me wonder what's going to happen between Trump and mattis now yeah that's interesting I mean in the one area where actually I think he has not gotten what he wanted was Afghanistan you know there were all these rumblings that he was just gonna pull out all troops and end our involvement there and a precipitous manner in fact he sent more do you think that there was any likelihood of policy changes in Afghanistan or is this something that he's just put on the backburner and and not focused on anymore there's good reason for Trump to a push back on his men on his advisors about Afghanistan right it's been a long war why are we there really any chance to win you remember even Tillerson was kind of like look we may not win with the Taliban neither yeah there was it was sort of this feeling in the administration that were just kind of there for for being their sake at this point and so I'm wondering at what point Trump kind of blows up here and says they're all coming out obviously we know that it took months and months and months for the administration to really convince Trump that he needed to stay of course then he only chose about 3,000 or so troops which helped set the margins on advising Afghans but at the end of the day is won't change the battle and you're also having them come back into the city so sorry that's a long thing that I'm I'm genuinely interested in how Trump views this war day-to-day but my my instinct is Trump is not following this for day-to-day yeah therefore something really really really bad he's happened in Afghanistan in order for him to take notice even though the war has obviously been getting worse over the last couple of months and we just lost a sixth service member this year yeah I mean look it's funny I'm genuinely very interested in what he decides to do to but I'm it's also strangely a policy area where I'm the most sympathetic to his frustrations about the lack of a plan that seems different or new or designed to change the outcome in any way and it does seem like there's this consensus in Washington that as John McCain said in 2008 that we can kind of muddle through is unacceptable or maybe the best policy and I do wonder if a trump-like eruption may be the only one to to break through that you know log jam that's existed for what 17 years now right I mean that's totally possible and the thing with with Afghanistan especially and this is sort of the other part that interests me is as you just rightly said there's really kind of no winning option here but Trump likes to win and that so even though he has an instinctive I want to get us out of there we're spending too much money our troops are dying how many more loss limits do we need can you know can we afford there's a part of him I'm sure that goes well if I kind of pull everyone out am I not admitting defeat am I not the the president that lost right you could imagine you know that's going through his mind and just on reporting on Afghanistan and just kind of talking through this with people in DC I literally find myself in almost every conversation going I feel like I've asked this question before yeah I feel like I've had this conversation before there's really nothing new at this point we're having the same debates over and over and over and over again and obviously pleading to no real results on the ground yeah I mean look I lived through the 2009 you know Afghan policy review the President Obama did and you know the decision to send tens of thousands more u.s. servicemembers into Afghanistan and it does you know I wonder what real value was derived for the United States what was that really in our national interests do that I mean there's an argument to be made at the time that things were getting so bad that you might have lost major cities or population centers where the government could have fallen and that would have been a catastrophe but yet no one has articulated a plan for success that that makes me feel better about the prospect of losing more men and women you know between now and when we eventually get out but I'm wondering and in sort of your own debates with Afghanistan I mean where was that it was the ultimate objective was I'm assuming at least the discussion was can we win this war and if not what can we manage I mean were you I'm assuming you were having that kind of high-level discussion and then I'm assuming you guys had the conversation of winning the wars probably not a really viable option right yeah that's right I mean I think like one of the earliest things President Obama did was to try to step back as far as humanly possible and say what is the objective here is it to destroy al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven from which to plan the next 9/11 yes is it to destroy every last vestige of the Taliban no because that's probably not possible and so I think it was an effort to you know push you know the Taliban and other forces back to build up local capacity for the asking Afghan you know police army everyone else you know increase our intelligence collection our counterterrorism abilities in the region but yeah I mean I think like scoping what's possible is very important and in President Trump from the reports out of Woodward's book seems to have no real sense of what he wants the objectives to be he's like just wants them to kill bad guys and doesn't know really that means right but I do think it's at least visceral for him and frankly a decent question asked which is all the things that you described right building partner capacity improving ourselves I mean all that's good and important but I think his sort of main line question is is all that worth American blood and treasure yes it kind of the ultimate question and I think he's fair for continuously asking that he's he's become a kind of one-man Red Team for that administration on Afghanistan and frankly sort of our debate on this issue and I think that's at least a healthy thing for him to promote now what that ultimately means for Afghanistan most importantly and ourselves dealing with that issue and dealing with that war I think obviously those of us sitting next to speak kind of questions but for him and sorry and for him to also deal with but for him to harp on that main issue I think is frankly I don't say it's correct anyway but I think it's a completely natural and for him to keep doing it oh yeah I think it's valuable I'm with you I think that the great thing about the US military is that they believe that they can work through fight through every single challenge and I think sometimes the president's role in these cases is to say looking at the entirety of what you have to be in charge of the federal budget across every department national security interests in every region of the world whether it makes sense to take on that fight given the potential losses that could come from it and yeah I'm glad rum kind of pushes them on this – I mean you're gonna well no I mean the militaries were saying of course you know where we can do that why wouldn't they I get their optimism right right but you listen to intelligence agency your agents or sorry but you listen to intelligence officials may have a completely horse ombré view of it yeah so it's it's fascinating you know just you know where you stand depends on where you sit but I do kind of again not to be a broken record but I do kind of get Trump's insistence on really red teaming this issue out as far as yeah I'm you Tim switching gears a little bit one really crazy story that we've been tracking for a better part of a couple years now is what happened to US diplomats in Cuba a bunch of them fell ill they had like symptoms aid hearing issues a bunch of like really strange mysterious problems over the weekend the New York Times reported that doctors and scientists are increasingly looking at whether microwaved weapons are the culprit what the hell are microwave weapons you ask good question I ask that myself apparently you can concentrate microwaves on an individual's brain to incapacitate them or potentially even cause them to hear specific word so I could microwave words or seemingly thoughts into your brain which is crazy science fiction stuff um the story itself is fascinating for a bunch of reasons like we don't know what happened and that's a huge problem we don't know who did it though there are some assumption that it might have been the Russians but you know if this is an attack on these US diplomats and not an illness of some sort or something else there is a real serious question here about the risk to other service members diplomats intelligence officials around the world right I mean this is something that people are are concerned about well I mean yeah concerning if there's another entity that has this weapon that they can effectively target American and Canadian diplomats wherever they are I know the US had previously tried to have this kind of weapon and in it and I'm kind of referring to Sharon Weinberger's reporting here who for years had been following sort of a sonic weapon development effectively you know we've been trying to the Air Force has been trying to do this for quite some time we haven't perfected it so we'd be worrying one just that another country has it and to that another country has it and we and we haven't been able to figure out that technology obviously there were some stuff with microwave weapons in the Cold War and so this is I get why this is a theory but I gotta be honest I don't buy it I really am skeptical that I feel like we've all gone to them you know the least likely option yeah the the maximally interesting sexy reportable option versus a more likely one which is that one person got sick I mean there's literally a syndrome called mass hysteria where all of a sudden groups of people start thinking they have the same illness at the same time and I've seen other reports that maybe point to that as the solution right I buy that I buy that they all you know maybe drink same food or water or whatnot it and led to some sort of infection that's causing that I buy that more than a coordinated microwave weapon campaigns look doesn't mean it's not possible right I mean it's and if so my cod the implications are are mystifying and then horrible effectively say that no matter where we send our diplomats or troops that our adversaries have a weapon that we don't really understand or can defend against and they figured out before us I mean that is that would be remarkable but it's almost for that reason those reasons alone that I don't feel that's what's happening look if that's what's happening then we really need to rethink it yeah I mean I think that yet and that is what's interesting about this story is I agree with you I think it's probably the least likely option besides something more mundane like an illness like some other problem but you the implications as you said of being able to just you know take someone out of commission without killing them in without leaving any trace that we can you know point back point the finger back to whoever did it or cure them or figure out you know how to prevent it is is truly disconcerting and I'm if I was in the State Department I would be very very nervous right I mean I'm not I want to minimize the fact that you know 30 or plus folks no diplomats Americans Canadians are hurt they have brain damage they have hearing issues they have suffered real medical symptoms arson they've suffered real medical complications obviously we don't know what caused it I get this but something has happened our diplomats are getting hurt abroad we've also seen it happen outside of cube I'm not exactly rember in which country but I've been China right in China that's right it happened in China as well so you can its seeming like there's some there is something going on right there's clearly just and I can't I'm trying to articulate it I can yeah clearly something happening but uh and we do need to figure it out because obviously our folks are getting hurt very strange story the the the last numbers going to ask you about is is Burma something that we've talked about a bunch on this show which is the ongoing genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma on Monday a judge in Burma found two Reuters reporters guilty of violating a so called state secrets law and jailed them for a seven year sentence these reporters have been investigating the massacre of Ranga villages in Burma by security forces this is a horrifying horrific ongoing humanitarian disaster on the one hand it's also a massive setback for press freedom and democratic progress in Burma so do you expect the administration to take you know stronger steps like potentially sanctions or actions of the UN in response to this or how do you imagine they will handle it well I can they might do some UN things they may sanction Burma right off the bat we will do with UN our unilaterally that seems to be one of comes favorite tools the one thing you cannot basically rule out is that we won't be at least coming from the White House we won't be hitting Burma over press freedom I mean just we've kind of lost that Authority it's see that's right when you've got I mean and I don't think I'm saying that and I'm not proselytizing or doing hot bedding here I'm I think that's just a state of fact we've lost the the moral ability to say that you know you are hurting American reporters or just reporters in general and you need to stop doing that we've stopped being the vanguard because of the White House of press freedom and we've kind of seen that play out in the president's own diplomacy right he didn't cause he didn't ask Chinese leader Xi Jinping to stand for press conference he let Kim jong-un go in Singapore without really talking to press we're not standing up for First Amendment press issues so of course we might say the niceties of you know bring these Americans home we might harm you for jailing them but when we talk of when if the u.s. speaks from the aim of sorry if the u.s. speaks from the vantage point of you know we are the vanguard of press freedom that that argument rings hollow yeah I mean literally this morning he questioned whether NBC should lose its license for mistakes made god that is a very depressing reality though I mean this is that's fact I wasn't gonna ask you hold on my notes here oh yeah here is there anything that you know journalists or Reuters can do to put more pressure on on the government to try to you know fix this problem get these guys out I mean it truly is horrific injustice right I mean I don't know what specifically they can do one of them just kind of bang the drum that you know these fine reporters are in jail for doing their job of exposing government horrifyingly killing their own citizens right well what I will there might be some right side here which is perhaps one of the best parts of Trump's foreign policy or is this is not really a hostage situation right but he does seem to care deeply about bringing Americans home yes he's done that in Egypt he's trying to do that in Turkey although you can quibble with the exact reasons but i but he's done that North Korea I mean this is something that he does seem to genuinely care about it so if it's brought up to him that you know these two Americans were unjustly imprisoned in Myanmar or Burma then he may move on that that's completely possible and in a way it may change somewhat the perception of him as this person who's so standoffish on the press obviously even if he does succeed in bringing those reporters home that wouldn't really change the overall dynamic on that but it would help a little bit but I think it has to be framed that way that two Americans are reporters or four Reuters are are stuck in Myanmar they shouldn't be you president Trump could possibly bring them home you brought attention to this both you know with your Twitter account and with policy but I'm gonna guess that's not going to yeah I mean I'm handling more swayed by your by your first point which is the philosophy moral standing to push on press freedom I mean it was notable that the initial response came from the State Department spokesperson and not from secretary Pompeo himself not from the White House I mean when I was when I was the White House I mean we would put out statements from the NSC spokesman all the time to sort of raise the stakes a little bit to show the White House's concern about a specific issue and I think I almost never see them do that you know would be great to see president Trump come out and and call for their release but yeah I'm I'm not hopeful that this White House is gonna push hard here right and I mean statements in and of themselves as you say they can push certain direction I would quibble that like they have probably a massive impact I think you probably agree at the end of the day but is but at least you could argue it in the Obama White House those kind of statements carried some weight because you knew where he stood morally on these issues Trump if he puts out I mean even today there was a statement about Trump's call with Argentina about financial crisis now he's dealing with it and he talked to the president there I mean there were two things that stuck out in this statement one was you know we totally support Argentina dealing with us through the WTO and you know there are major non-nato Ally and you're kind of reading that you're going well Trump doesn't really care about NATO he doesn't really care about this NPT oh so I'm not buying this statement from the White House theme kind of deal might happen if he does put out a statement saying you know the basis of press freedom and just American this we'd really like these reporters to come home but that would ring hollow hollow truth yeah yeah I mean I hear yeah but the statements certainly don't fix the problems I do think that other countries watch our words are very closely and they will interpret who something comes from give that even more weight than say even we would the statement comes from the White House it becomes a spokesperson it comes from the secretary or from the US UN Ambassador so I imagine the folks in in Burma who are making these decisions are not sweating that response from state very hard today Alex thank you for talking with me today everyone who listened today should check out your podcast the worldly podcast part of Vox you guys do amazing work reporting out North Korea issues reporting on what's happened in the world every week and it's a great show so thanks for coming on Julie you had an amazing piece at the Wall Street Journal last week about how the government of Qatar is trying to influence the Trump administration's foreign policy and foreign lobbying is hardly new but I don't know that it's widely understood and in its current iteration but what Qatar is doing to try to reach president Trump is is strange and insidious in my opinion so hoping we could start by just a quick overview of what they care about and and what they're doing to solve that problem why is Qatar feverishly lobbying the Trump White House right now sure it all started last June when President Trump sort of unexpectedly sided with Carter's rivals that blockaded the tiny country Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in several other countries decided in June of last year to block Qatar financially and diplomatically and where President Trump comes in is even though the State Department intelligence agencies the Defense Department all were trying to stay a little bit out of this squabble in the in the Mideast president Trump sort of dove in there and said that he essentially sides with cutters rivals it really sort of took people's breath away especially Qataris who thought that they could view the u.s. as an ally or at least someone that would be sort of neutral in this sort of fight so to regroup from that they decided to hire slew of lobbyists which is a pretty typical response to a foreign policy problem but where they started to get a little more creative was they drilled down to President Trump himself deciding that they needed to try to get inside his head and convinced him that Qatar is not a bad guy and is actually someone who was a friend of the US and could be trusted and they decided that the best way to do that was to get to people around the president people who are Mara Lago Resort members where Trump frequently vacation people who were business associates of him in New York friends of his people who are loosely associated with the White House and this is just a really unique approach to lobbying in general and in particular foreign lobbying yes so I mean a normal lobbying operation me you have an embassy and an ambassador in Washington but you can also hire a lobbyist to help you meet the right people you can develop policy papers you can hold events at think-tanks but these had they made this list of 250 Trump influencer that includes random citizens that are thought to be friends with him Alan Dershowitz is on there does this create a totally new and unaccountable way of influencing key decisions it's definitely a new path in that you know like you said these are in some ways random citizens and it's sort of reflective of how the president this particular president approaches lots of different policy decisions he turns to sort of an eclectic kitchen cabinet of advisers you know people he just knows and has known over the years people he can feel comfortable with and call up on the phone for their thoughts and so it was up to the Qatari lobbyists to determine you know who exactly would be the people that the president would be most likely to listen to and they thought of this not as like let's have these people directly tell the president an opinion let's just try to get to him through you know columns they write in publications that we think the president reads tweets that we think that the president might see that might surface on his own Twitter account radio shows that the president is known to listen to so it was a little bit of an indirect route into the president's mind yes I think there are only indirect routes these days just to put a dollar figure on it he sent you report that Qatar spent sixteen point three million dollars on lobbying in 2017 in the US is that a relatively high number for a country or how does that rank that's a great question so compare to its own previous lobbying over the years just a year before it spent about four point two million dollars so it was a big increase in its own spending and it put it much more on par with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in what those two countries have disclosed as their lobbying budgets from year to year and that's you know Qatar when they were talking when the embassy was talking with me for this story really emphasized that they just hadn't felt that they had to spend that kind of money before this blockade and before the president's reaction to the blockade and so they were playing a little bit of catch-up you know and their response was to be both creative and also just to do the traditional let's spend lots of money in lots of different ways route right I mean so traditionally if you lobby for a foreign country or for an entity in Washington you have to register under the foreign agents Registration Act Farah so there is some disclosure and transparency well you know around whether lobbyists Bob Smith is working for the government of Saudi Arabia or wrote an op-ed for Qatar but what another part of this that interested me is they were paying to bring all these officials to Qatar for visits for these you know tours to sort of butter them up one of the people that got paid off is Mike Huckabee you all know him as the least funny joke writer on Twitter he's a trump defender he has a terrible TV show his daughters a press secretary he got 50 grand for a visit for an honorarium to visit Qatar did he have to disclose that at all or did that come out through your reporting well it was a little bit like putting a puzzle together so one of the lobbyists in this story Joey Elohim who's actually one of the featured people that I talked to he's the one who sort of went out and recruited all these Trump influencers to try to get them to visit Doha he originally didn't even register with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent and that became a problem for him because you know this is a very high-stakes fight and so the other countries involved were sort of scouring to see what they could learn about anyone and everyone who was involved in the campaign and so through a lawsuit of all things involving an email hack of a person who is related to the United Arab Emirates through business interests that sort of surfaced Joey as someone who was doing work on behalf of cutter Joey turned around and many months after he should have registered as a foreign agent and it was through his filings which again he originally did not make as required that we learned about some of the people who were being paid to visit Doha and among that group was former governor Huckabee's consulting firm again I can't stress enough how bad Mike Huckabee's Twitter jokes are they're really the most offensive part about this conversation so my final question for you like is this the new normal these sort of creative new ways of lobbying President Trump that make an end run around the traditional system or infrastructure of places like the State Department and traditional disclosure laws and focus more on things like Fox and Friends segments or mar-a-lago membership or you know getting close to Rudy Giuliani and his golf buddies is that the way lobbying is kind of trending or other countries going to do this well it's certainly you know in some cases clear that the most direct and effective saying that an interest group or a country can do is convince the president that they are in the right and so to that end we are seeing more interest kind of pop ups with commercials on fox and friends during Fox and Friends I think everyone knows based on the president's Twitter account that he is an avid some might say religious watcher of Fox & Friends and so lobbyists also know that and are encouraging their clients that to go ahead and advertise on on Fox Twitter is becoming more important geo-locating certain tweets to target merrill ago members you know lobbyists are just having to get creative because government right now is so centered on one particular person not even just a branch of government but one person within that branch and that of course is the president man that is unnerving well Julie thank you for for doing the show it was an incredible report everyone check it out in The Wall Street Journal and thank you for helping us understand all the ways many people including foreign actors are trying to legally influence our government it is something we need more awareness of that's for sure thanks for having me you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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