Did Donald Trump’s attempt at a rapprochement in a difficult diplomatic jam backfire? The parents of a teen killed in a road accident involving the wife of an American diplomat in the UK met with Trump to urge him to withdraw Anne Sacoolas’ immunity and send her back to face criminal charges. Trump declined to do that, but offered instead to arrange a meeting between the parents of Harry Dunn and Sacoolas … who just happened to be in the next room, along with members of the media.
No thanks was the reply to the offer, which the parents called an “ambush” later. Charlotte Charles was aghast at the idea for Sacoolas’ sake as well:
The parents of British 19-year-old Harry Dunn, who was killed in a traffic accident involving American Anne Sacoolas, tells “CBS This Morning” they rejected President Trump’s surprise offer to meet with Sacoolas during a White House meeting on Tuesday.
After offering them his condolences, “it didn’t take long for [Mr. Trump] to then drop into the conversation that Anne Sacoolas was in the building,” mother Charlotte Charles said in her first U.S. TV interview since the meeting.
Dunn’s father, Tim, said when he first heard the offer to meet with Sacoolas, it took his breath away.
“He did ask two or three times,” Tim said, adding, “It was a bit pressure, but we stuck to our guns.”
Charles said it was the “wrong setting.”
“We’ve said all along that you know we are willing to meet her. We are still willing to meet her. But it needs to be on U.K. soil, you know, and with therapists and mediators,” Charles said. “And that’s not just for us. That’s for her as well.”
In fact, as CBS later explains, Sacoolas herself would have been ambushed by the circumstances of the meeting. She had been called to the White House and apparently informed that Dunn’s parents were meeting with Trump, but was not aware of the plans made for an attempt to bring them all together. As the attorney for the parents describes it, awkward might be the most polite description possible. Radd Seiger lays out four surprises that awaited his clients, with the third perhaps the most unpleasant of all:
“Thirdly that Mrs. Sacoolas was present in the building and fourthly that it was the president’s intention for Harry’s family to meet Mrs. Sacoolas in the Oval Office in front of several photographers in what was obviously designed to be a press call,” Seiger wrote in his statement.
The Dunn family blames National Security Adviser O’Brien for the misstep. “It struck us that this meeting was hastily arranged by nincompoops on the run and in particular Mr. O’Brien, who appeared to be extremely uptight and aggressive and did not come across at all well in this meeting which required careful handling and sensitivity,” Seiger wrote. “The family remain open to the possibility of meeting Mrs. Sacoolas one day in the future but in a neutral and appropriately controlled environment.”
The description by Daily Beast correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau might come closer to the mark:
You can almost imagine the reality-show excitement that surely went into the ill-considered plan to introduce Anne Sacoolas, the American diplomatic wife who killed 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn when she drove down the wrong side of an English lane in August, to Dunn’s grieving parents.
What was nat-sec adviser Robert O’Brien doing as facilitator for this meeting anyway? That should have been either Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State or one of his deputies, if the claim of diplomatic immunity relates to actual diplomatic function. O’Brien’s presence leaves the impression that Sacoolas’ husband is involved in a different kind of diplomacy (cough cough). This case needed an especially deft diplomatic touch regardless, not an intelligence operation.
Let’s be honest, though; we all know where the reality-TV show approach originated. It didn’t come from O’Brien, although one might have thought that a nat-sec adviser would have suggested to his boss that he needed to dial down the attention on this case rather than blow it up. It came from the man who leveraged his reality-TV experience into a presidency, and whose instincts still run in the reality-TV direction. Sometimes that works spectacularly well for Trump, but in this case it produced a traumatic backfire that victimized two already grieving families.
Even so, Charles remained gracious about Trump, both on CBS This Morning and on Good Morning Britain. She tells both programs that she thinks Trump sincerely wants to find a way to help her get justice for her son, although she also concludes that it’s not likely to happen. It’s a terribly sad situation, but Trump’s already got enough troubles with the diplomatic and intelligence communities. He can’t afford to touch off any more retaliation, especially right now.