WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is suggesting that a congressional hearing Democrats arranged with his former personal attorney may have contributed to his failure to reach a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump left his summit in Vietnam with the North Korean leader last week without reaching an agreement after Trump said he wasn’t willing to give in to Kim’s demand to lift U.S. sanctions at this time.
After sending his national security adviser, John Bolton, to the Sunday talk shows to paint the summit as a success, Trump lashed out at Democrats in a tweet Sunday night, criticizing their decision to hold the hearing featuring his former lawyer Michael Cohen while he was overseas.
“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk,'” Trump tweeted. “Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about why the hearing would have contributed to Trump’s decision not to accept Kim’s terms or whether members of the North Korean negotiating team indicated they were aware of the split-screen news coverage in the U.S.
As Trump wrapped up his trip to the summit last week, he complained that Democrats had scheduled the hearing at the same time as his negotiations. He described it as a “fake hearing” and said having it in the middle of this “very important summit” was “really a terrible thing.” Trump said they could have held it a few days later and had more time to prepare.
During the House Oversight Committee hearing, Cohen, who has turned on Trump and has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress earlier to protect Trump, was harshly critical of his former boss, calling him a racist, a con man and a cheat.
In his Sunday show appearances, Bolton described the summit as a success despite the lack of an agreement providing for verifiable dismantling of the North’s nuclear sites. Bolton, in three television interviews, tried to make the case that Trump advanced America’s national security interests by rejecting a bad agreement while working to persuade Kim to take “the big deal that really could make a difference for North Korea.”
The U.S. and North Korea have offered contradictory accounts of why last week’s summit in Vietnam broke down, though both have pointed to American sanctions as a sticking point.
Bolton said that the leaders left on good terms and that Trump made an important point to North Korea and other countries that negotiate with him.
“He’s not desperate for a deal, not with North Korea, not with anybody if it’s contrary to American national interests,” Bolton said.
Bolton also sought to explain Trump’s comments about taking Kim’s word about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was held prisoner in North Korea and was sent home in a vegetative state and later died. Trump said he didn’t believe Kim knew about or would have allowed what happened to Warmbier.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said at a news conference last week.
Bolton said Trump’s “got a difficult line to walk to” in negotiating with North Korea.
“It doesn’t mean that he accepts it as reality. It means that he accepts that’s what Kim Jong Un said,” Bolton said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a close Trump ally, broke with the president.
“I think Kim knew what happened, which was wrong,” McCarthy said.
Some have been critical of Trump for letting Kim stand with him on the world stage given North Korea’s poor human rights record. Kim will be able to portray himself to his people and supporters as the charismatic head of a nuclear-armed power, not an international pariah that starves its citizens so it can build weapons.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, summarized the summit as a “spectacular failure” made all the worse by Trump’s comments on “murder of an American citizen, Otto Warmbier.”
But Bolton said that Trump’s view is that he “gave nothing away.”
And Bolton said Trump has “turned traditional diplomacy on its head, and after all in the case of North Korea, why not? Traditional diplomacy has failed in the last three administrations.”
An example of that non-traditional diplomacy was formally unveiled Sunday when South Korea and the U.S. announced they would not conduct massive springtime military drills and were replacing them with smaller exercises. They described it as an effort to support diplomacy aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
“The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!”
Bolton spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’s “Face the Nation.” McCarthy was on ABC’s “This Week,” and Schiff was on CBS.