As President Donald Trump’s impromptu DMZ meeting with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un turned into an hour-long conference featuring first family members Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on Sunday, one could almost hear diplomatic experts on the region sighing in unison.
“John Bolton’s in Mongolia, for God’s sake,” Mitchell Lerner, director of The Ohio State University’s Institute for Korean Studies, told TPM Monday. “But Ivanka, with all of her common sense and fashion design ability, she’s the advisor.”
Trump’s administration, Tuft University’s Sung-Yoon Lee wrote in The Hill, has reached “new heights” of “hubris and ignorance of history.”
“[Ivanka’s] presence undermines the professional look of the Trump delegation, both to other countries and to national security professionals in the Trump administration,” former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told The New York Times.
Even the U.S. government was unable to explain the staffing for the President’s improvised summit with Kim. Jared and Ivanka attended the conference at the building known as Freedom House, steps from the North-South border, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others. Fox News host Tucker Carlson was “in the room” as well, the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng noted. Whether there were regional experts in attendance on the American side remains unclear.
Asked for the attendance list, the State Department sent TPM the public phone number for the White House switchboard.
“We refer you to the White House,” a spokesperson wrote.
The White House wouldn’t comment for the record. Recently resigned press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted of Ivanka Trump and her father that they “actually created millions of new jobs and continue to make the US stronger on the global stage.”
“What this is, is kleptocracy,” said Vicky Ward, author of Kushner, Inc. “And what they are signaling to the entire world is that they are open for business.”
Ward called the summit “the most extreme example we’ve ever seen of take your children to work day.”
Seemingly lacking the weeks of planning that would normally precede such a high-stakes meeting — the Times reported that Trump’s steps into North Korea “forced an extraordinary scramble to arrange logistics and security” — the weekend’s events also highlighted Trump’s own view of who belongs in his inner circle.
Yes, Bolton, the national security advisor, was in Mongolia. He had only Twitter as a platform to strenuously deny that the administration was softening its stance on denuclearization.
Pompeo, too, was sidelined somewhat by the Trump kin: Ivanka Trump, for some reason, posted a video read-out from the G20 summit and then upstaged Pompeo at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
Also on the rise: Fox News’ Carlson, who broadcast from Japan for the week and accompanied Trump at the DMZ, alongside pool reporters whose work would usually represent the total contemporaneous media accounting of such an event, aside from state news networks. Fox News did not respond to a request for comment on Carlson’s weekend.
“It clearly crosses a line,” Lerner said of Carlson’s exclusive access. He referenced the Fox News host’s comment that “you’ve got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people.”
“If you’re going to get privileged White House access and be allowed into diplomatic functions and then go and defend it and shape the narrative, you’re not a journalist anymore,” Lerner said. Carlson has reportedly also recently advised the President on Iran.
The familial, inner-circle nature of the President’s DMZ jaunt, Ward told TPM, “is how Trump wants it to work. That’s all he knows.”
“The danger of the media is to cover this at face value,” she said. “They should not be covering this at face value. They should see it for what it is” — in her words, “a very visceral reminder that they’re a family, and that they’re a family business.”