White House

Diplomats now know Trump is not going anywhere – at least until 2020

The findings — or lack of findings — in the Robert S. Mueller report removes one of the major hurdles that has frustrated President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

On the eve of a critical meeting between Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Monday, the diplomatic community, including allies and adversaries, now must accept that Trump is likely to remain in power for the next two years.

That is welcome news for Israeli officials, who on Sunday told McClatchy that the report clears the air for the president’s meetings with Netanyahu. The Israeli leader — himself embattled with indictments at home he claims are similarly political — visits Washington just two weeks before a heated election.

“It obviously lifts the cloud of prosecution off him for conspiracy or obstruction,” said Brian McKeon, who served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under former President Barack Obama. “It was never likely that Mueller would seek to charge a sitting president, based on DOJ guidance, but I suspect most foreign officials didn’t fully understand that.”

The news drew a mix of reactions from diplomats around the world. While leaders in Israel were relieved, one British official expressed surprise that the report didn’t have more of an impact on Trump.

Speaking from Palm Beach before boarding Air Force One, Trump declared victory after calling the investigation the “most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“This was an illegal takedown that failed,” Trump said. “And hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side. So it’s complete exoneration. No collusion. No obstruction.”

Wayne White, who served as senior State Department intelligence official for the Near East and South Asia under former President George W. Bush, said foreign leaders must consider Trump’s reelection in 2020 as a much more serious possibility and adversaries in Venezuela and Iran should be forewarned of a stronger Trump.

“Consequently, they probably will be more receptive to improving relations (as in the case of NATO & EU countries),” White said. “On Trump’s part, we can expect a more precocious overseas actor, probably willing to push harder along existing foreign policy lines: upping the pressure against (Venezuelan leader Nicolás) Maduro and Iran, feeling freer to cozy up even more to overseas chums like Putin.”

Trump has complained that the Mueller report was a distraction when meeting with world leaders. Foreign leaders have privately and publicly questioned whether the findings of the report would be damaging enough that Trump may not complete his first full term.

“Countries around the world are now more likely to accept that President Trump will be staying in power at least until the end of 2020 when the elections will take place,” said Fernando Cutz, who was senior advisor to former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster under Trump. “And there seemed to be some uncertainty about that around the world, some anxiety about what was going to happen and whether impeachment was real or not. Now at least, that question seems to be settled and folks can start planning for the next year or so at least.”

Arab officials privately expressed relief at the news after several were implicated throughout two years of investigation over their own relations with the Trump family, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But additional federal inquiries into organizations related to Trump, including his inaugural committee, might keep Mideast governments on their toes.

Attorney General William P. Barr delivered a summary of the findings to Congress in which he stated that neither Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 campaign. The summary reports that Mueller requested evidence of 13 foreign governments, and a full accounting of that list will likely expose allies to a fresh round of questions over their activities in the 2016 race.

“He’s a tough guy. He’s smart and he’s honest,” said Nicholas Rostow, who worked with Barr and previously served as legal advisor to the National Security Council. “Just like Bob Mueller. They’re not going to take the evidence where it doesn’t go. They’re people you can trust. So I have a lot of confidence in the Justice Department on that score.”

White House officials are breathing a sigh of relief, including those working on the president’s most ambitious foreign policy initiatives.

“The feeling is, ‘I told you so,’” texted one administration official. “And they’re right.”

It doesn’t completely take away the cloud of suspicion. Democrats will continue to pour over details. They’ll seek the full report and continue holding hearings on other allegations of wrongdoing and potential criminal activity by the president or his campaign.

McKeon and others predict there will be other charges brought against Trump allies or affiliates in New York.

Foreign governments will continue to follow every new subpoena, committee hearing and possible indictment.

“If the Barr summary is accurate, it certainly appears the president will complete his first term,” said Benjamin Gedan, who was National Security Council director for South America during the Obama administration. “That said, many governments will still attempt to wait him out unless his reelection seems assured.”

Some foreign leaders were already predicting his reelection even before the Meuller report was released.

“I do believe Donald Trump is going to be reelected, fully,” Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said in a joint conference with the president at the White House last week.

“I agree,” Trump replied.

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Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.