So embarrassing. And doubly embarrassing is the fact that every righty in the country would have taken a rhetorical flamethrower to Obama if he had pulled this swampy garbage.
Read this post for background if you haven’t been following the A$AP Rocky saga. Short version: He’s a famous rapper with even more famous friends, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who themselves have the most famous friend of all in Donald Trump. Rocky and his pals got into a fight while visiting Sweden in which they may or may not have been the aggressors; Sweden’s holding a criminal trial for them right now to determine their guilt, as one would expect. Problem: West, Kardashian, and Trump think celebrities should get special favors from governments so Trump dialed up the prime minister of Sweden and asked if something couldn’t be done to secure Rocky’s release. Uh, no, he was told. It’d be grossly improper for a politician to meddle in a criminal proceeding.
Trump didn’t like that and naturally registered his annoyance on Twitter. After all we do for Sweden, how dare they not corrupt their judicial system for a well-connected American entertainer?
Which is where Robert O’Brien comes in. He’s the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs, the sort of person who might normally be tapped to talk to the Taliban if a soldier was kidnapped in Afghanistan or a U.S. citizen arrested in North Korea a la Otto Warmbier. What he’s doing this week is … attending A$AP Rocky’s trial. Not because we think the Swedish criminal justice system is unfair or anything, but just so that Trump can impress Kim and Kanye by showing them how seriously he’s taking this very important crisis. And, I guess, to extend a middle finger to the prime minister by treating a European ally’s judicial process as if it’s some third-world kangaroo court that needs American supervision.
As I say, no doubt Obama dispatching a U.S. crisis negotiator to the trial of a rapper as a personal favor to another rapper would sit very well indeed with the opposition party.
Whether appropriate or not, the framing of Rocky’s case as akin to a hostage situation appears to have taken hold at the White House. A senior administration official said the main motivation for Mr. Trump is continuing his track record of getting hostages freed. Mr. Trump has taken pride in the freeing of hostages from Iran, North Korea and Turkey, including Andrew Brunson, a pastor who had been held by Turkish authorities for years…
James C. O’Brien, no relation [to Robert O’Brien] and the first person to hold the [hostage envoy] position, said in a phone interview that his successor’s efforts in Sweden did not fit the job’s original framework. The envoy, he said, should work to free Americans being held without good reason, oftentimes when there are no diplomatic alternatives.
There has to have been another way of handing the situation, James O’Brien said, especially since Sweden is an ally who could be a partner in working to release an actual hostage.
“The envoy’s presence in Sweden is a tweet come to life,” James O’Brien, the vice chairman of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global consulting firm, said.
Robert O’Brien gamely tried to defend his presence at the trial to reporters who asked why a hostage negotiator was involved in a non-hostage non-negotiation situation: “I also help free people that are held by governments, so unjustly detained Americans.” But that’s just it. There’s no evidence that Rocky has been unjustly detained, whatever Kanye might think about the situation. And there’s no reason to believe that he will, or should, go free if he’s convicted.
There’s this too:
On Wednesday, the United States Embassy in Stockholm asked that the three defendants be released from detention and allowed to reside at a hotel for the duration of the trial, according to a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, who called the request unusual.
Not gonna happen, Swedish officials told the Times. Trump had also asked about Rocky potentially being released on bail, whereupon he was informed that Sweden doesn’t do bail since it would be unfair to criminal defendants who can’t afford to pay. It’s the Swedes who have insisted repeatedly during this process on treating a rich, famous defendant the same as everyone else and our supposedly populist president who’s repeatedly asked for special privileges on his behalf.
But so what, you might say? If the White House can help out an American who’s in trouble, so much the better. Right, but the thing is that Rocky isn’t the only American out there who’s in trouble. Dan Drezner points to this list of U.S. citizens currently detained in several sh*thole countries — i.e. not Sweden — who might benefit from a presidential-level intervention in the person of Robert O’Brien. But they aren’t getting that, at least not this week, because the Kardashian family and their presidential enabler are preoccupied with a cause celebre. Exit quotation from Drezner: “President Trump has always prioritized celebrity over the national interest. This episode merely gilds the lily.”