Trump Calls Trip ‘Home Run’ as Kushner Questions Left Unanswered

  • President takes no questions from reporters on nine-day trip
  • Speech wraps up Trump’s visit to Middle East, Europe

President Donald Trump declared his first foreign trip a “home run” and said he’d rallied the world’s governments to stand strong against terrorism, despite a series of stark differences that emerged between the U.S. and its allies.

“I am now more hopeful than ever that nations of many faiths and from many religions and from many regions all over can join together in a common cause,” Trump said as he stopped at a U.S. military base in Sicily on his way back to the U.S.

Citing the bombing attack this week in Manchester, Trump said it shows the need for the world to join forces and “absolutely and totally defeat” terrorism.

Trump ended his nine-day overseas trip, which stretched from the Middle East to the Group of Seven meeting in Taormina, Sicily, without holding a news conference to take questions from reporters. That allowed him to avoid addressing the story now dominating headlines back home: the FBI’s interest in his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner, who serves as senior adviser to Trump, has drawn the attention of the FBI because he considered setting up a secret line of communications between the incoming administration and the Russian government, primarily to discuss a resolution to the crisis in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Military Base

Ahead of Trump’s remarks to the troops, two of the president’s top advisers also declined to answer questions on Kushner. “We’re not going to comment on Jared. We’re just not going to,” Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn said of Kushner, who had been on the trip but returned home as planned after participating in Trump’s visit to the Vatican.

At the military base, Trump ran through the various stops on the trip, declaring, “I think we hit a home run wherever we are.”

He again chided NATO allies for not paying what he sees as their fair share to support the alliance, and pledged to the troops gathered, “I will give you my complete and unshakable support.”

“Peace through strength. Peace through strength, right?” Trump said. “We’re going to have a lot of strength and we’re going to have a lot of peace. You’re going to do a lot of winning.”

He spent the bulk of his 25-minute remarks, delivered with the help of a teleprompter but partially improvised, focused on the fight against terrorism, saying the May 22 bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which killed 22 people, and a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Friday stiffened the European leaders’ resolve. As for the threat for terrorism, Trump said simply, “We will win.”

Busy Agenda

Earlier, two of his top advisers faced reporters and swatted away questions about Kushner.

“The president since he left Washington has been dealing with foreign leaders, has been dealing with jobs, has been dealing with economic growth. He’s been dealing with diplomacy. He’s been dealing with unfair trade. He’s been dealing with Paris. He’s been dealing with China. His agenda has been overflowing,” Cohn. The issue of Kushner “is not one that he’s spending time with on this trip.”

H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, also declined to talk about Kushner and said he had no knowledge of any effort to set up a line of communications to the Russians. Generally speaking, he said, such back-channels can have value in diplomacy.

‘Discreet Manner’

“We have back-channel communications with a number of countries, and so generally speaking about backchannel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster said.

As for the trip, the two aides said Trump succeeded in pressing NATO to do more to fight terrorism, bringing home billions in business deals, and calling on European allies to drop trade restrictions.

“The president delivered,” McMaster said. “This trip was mainly about the high principles we all stand for.”

The two U.S. officials sought to accentuate areas of agreement amid the many differences between Trump and European allies.

On climate, Trump stood alone in effectively abstaining from the final communique expressing strong support for Paris Agreement. Cohn said the European leaders understood that Trump needed more time to decide whether to stay in the pact. Trump said on Twitter that he’ll announce his decision next week.

‘Give and Take’

“In these communiques it’s always a give and take,” Cohn said. “We’re all trying to get to the right place and be respectful” of one another.

“It does say the other countries respect the United States’ decision to take time” to make the decision, he added.

Cohn said Trump also pressed the issue of unfair practices that Trump believes contribute to trade deficits in the United States. Trump raised the issue of dumping cheaper steel and other products, non-tariff barriers and subsidies, he said.

“The president does not like having large trade deficits” and wants and needs to bring jobs back to the U.S., Cohn said. “He was fixated” on getting “American workers back to work.”
Trump and his team talked to G-7 leaders about how he was going to get tax reform, deregulation and an infrastructure plan passed in the U.S., Cohen added.

McMaster also said the suggestion Trump wasn’t firmly behind the Article 5 doctrine of mutual defense at NATO was “baseless.”

“It is a matter of fact” that the United States and Trump stands “firmly behind” the doctrine, McMaster said.

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