The March Meeting

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In the previous post I explained that Trump national security advisor, J.D. Gordon, who monitored platform deliberations for President Trump at the 2016 convention now admits he did push to soften language on arming Ukraine. He says he did so at the direction of President Trump.

We know this from a Thursday report from CNN’s Jim Acosta in which he said the following …

I asked Gordon why that, why did you advocate for the language. He said this is the language that Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March at a meeting at the unfinished trump hotel here in Washington, D.C. J.D. Gordon says then candidate Trump said he didn’t want to, quote, go to World War 3 over Ukraine. And so J.D. Gordon says at the Republican convention in Cleveland he advocated for language in that Republican party platform that reflected then candidate Trump’s comments.

This got me highly interested: what was this meeting in March 2016?

A review of contemporaneous press accounts shows that Trump made two visits to Washington, DC in March – once on the 21st and again on the 31st. It was almost certainly during the latter visit where the meeting took place.

Let’s first look at the visit on the 21st.

This was a big day, known most for Trump’s speech at the AIPAC convention that evening. But there was more involved. Trump started the day at a private Capitol Hill luncheon convened by top surrogate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). The lunch was attended by Newt Gingrich, Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint, among others. This was the first major effort to began building ties to Republicans on Capitol Hill.

From there Trump went to an on-the-record meeting with the editors of The Washington Post. This was a big news event at the time. Trump started the discussion by announcing his first foreign policy advisors, a generally little known group of five advisors which included Carter Page. (Sessions was the chair of Trump’s National Security Advisory Committee. As Allegra Kirkland explained yesterday, in the spring of last year, Sessions was Trump’s everything on Capitol Hill.) Trump went on to make a series of comments suggesting he would reduce the US commitment to NATO and that he wanted to reduce us involvement in Ukraine.

Asked about the future of NATO by the Post’s Jackson Diehl, Trump said:

Look, I see NATO as a good thing to have – I look at the Ukraine situation and I say, so Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we are doing all of the lifting, they’re not doing anything. And I say, why is it that Germany is not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of the Ukraine not dealing with — why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war, okay, with Russia? Why are we always the ones that are doing it? And I think the concept of NATO is good, but I do think the United States has to have some help. We are not helped. I’ll give you a better example than that. I mean, we pay billions– hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are.

From there Trump went to his then-under construction DC hotel and held a freewheeling press conference and then led whichever reporters were wiling on a tour of the building. Later in the evening, he gave his speech to AIPAC. As best as I can tell, there were no press reports about a meeting of national security advisors at the DC Trump hotel. That’s not odd in itself. Not everything on a candidate’s schedule was public.

The meeting Gordon referred to seems to have occurred on the 31st when Trump returned for a unity meeting with RNC chief Reince Priebus after a week in which he reneged on his commitment to support the eventual nominee. The meeting with the national security advisors happened the same day and, according to this report in the Post, was something of an anti-NATO fest …

Trump also met with several foreign policy advisers while in Washington – a team whose members he has not fully disclosed, but which he said will be unveiled Friday. The meeting, according to his campaign, took place at the Old Post Office Pavilion, which the billionaire is transforming into a Trump-branded hotel.

The real estate mogul has come under fire for refusing to take the use of nuclear weapons off the table as a component of military confrontations. He further raised eyebrows when he suggested that countries like Japan and South Korea may be justified in pursuing the development of their own nuclear weapons in service of their own defense, for which he says the United States bears a disproportionate burden.

He told Fox News Thursday that his foreign policy advisers agreed with him on nuclear power and on his calls to reconfigure NATO, which he said last week is “obsolete.”

“A number of them commented that what I said was absolutely correct as to nuclear,” Trump said. “They also felt I was right as to NATO because we are paying a disproportionate share of NATO and NATO is largely obsolete. It’s got to be restructured and it’s got to be changed and other countries have to pay some of the bills.”

Page and another of the five foreign policy advisors announced on the 21st said they had not yet met with Trump. It seems a good bet some or all did meet with him in this follow-up meeting on the 31st.

This is the first time we’ve heard any Trump advisor or operative tie Trump specifically to the platform language change and more generally to specific actions on Russia and Ukraine. The first meeting happened on a day that was filled with consequential foreign policy actions, including the initial announcement of Carter Page as his advisor on Europe and Russia.

How do these event fit together and what more can we learn about this meeting?

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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