Lots of stuff to unpack from Donald Trump’s meeting with Emmanuel Macron, but let’s start with the Michael Cohen query from ABC’s Jon Karl: Stupid question to ask or stupid question to answer? The latter is most certainly the case, but the question of pressure on Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to “flip” has gotten the attention of Trump’s defenders, such as Alan Dershowitz. Jay Goldberg wondered aloud how long Cohen would remain loyal while facing some daunting, er, matrimonial prospects in the Big House.
Trump could eliminate all of Cohen’s risk with a pardon — at least on federal charges. When Karl asked about the potential, Trump didn’t seem too pleased:
"Stupid question," President Trump declares when asked during an Oval Office meeting with French President Macron whether he would consider a pardon for his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. pic.twitter.com/mhPDnGYRoz
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) April 24, 2018
It may not be a stupid question, but it’s at best an entirely speculative question. The White House has given no indication that Trump is considering pardons for any of the figures connected to the Robert Mueller or Department of Justice investigations into corruption and/or Russian collusion in the 2016 election cycle. The only pardons Trump has issued so far have gone to Kristian Saucier in a long-overdue correction to an overzealous prosecution, former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, and to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to remove his conviction in the special-counsel leak investigation stemming from the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA officer. His next pardon will apparently go to former boxer Jack Johnson in another long overdue rectification of injustice.
It would be stupid indeed for Trump to have answered the question, of course. He’s got enough issues with allegations of obstruction to create more of them with hints of pardons.
Karl also gave Trump a question more in the president’s wheelhouse, however. When Karl mentioned that Iran had threatened to restart its nuclear program if the US pulled out of the deal made by Barack Obama and John Kerry, Trump responded that “they’re not going to be restarting anything,” or else:
Asked if Iran would restart their nuclear program if Pres. Trump pulls U.S. out of nuclear deal, Pres. Trump tells @jonkarl, "They're not going to be restarting anything."
"They restart it, they're going to have big problems, bigger than they've ever had before." pic.twitter.com/GGTIqwmOZH
— ABC News (@ABC) April 24, 2018
Nevertheless, French president Emmanuel Macron has managed to wrangle Trump into a discussion about remaining in the agreement. Trump criticized the deal in his usual terms but pledged to keep an open mind during Macron’s state visit:
“People know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. It should have never, ever been made,” Trump said Tuesday during an Oval Office photo opportunity with Macron. “It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made, but we will be talking about it.”
Macron argues the nuclear agreement is worth preserving.
“We have a common objective, we want to make sure there’s no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward,” Macron said, through an interpreter.
Well, at least a somewhat open mind:
But moments later, Trump was putting to rest any notion he might be swayed on the Iran deal, which Macron hopes to salvage, perhaps by altering its terms.
“Iran seems to be behind everywhere there is a problem,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “They’re testing missiles. What is that all about?”
“What kind of a deal is this where it wasn’t even discussed?” he added.
Macron not only wants to salvage the Iran deal, he also wants to get the US back into the Paris climate accord. Trump skipped over the topic, but Macron didn’t:
Macron, however, did not avoid the topic, saying the differences over climate change were surmountable. “On this issue we do not always agree as to the solutions, but in the end, such is the case in any family and in any friendship, and it is also where the fate of our children is at stake,” he said through a translator.
Who knows? Anything is possible. For instance, who thought that Trump would have ever described “Rocket Man” as “very honorable”?
— CNN (@CNN) April 24, 2018
Trump does say that he’s prepared to walk away if Kim turns out to be intransigent. For the moment, this looks more like keeping the channels of diplomacy open, but it raises the expectations that Trump will come away from the summit with something in hand. After all, Trump insists that he’s the world’s best deal-maker, and resolving the Korean conflict will give Trump real evidence for his claim. He’d better beware of that trap before going into it, though … because that’s precisely how and why Barack Obama made that deal with the Iranians, and look how well that worked out.