Syria, Ukraine, Republican rebellion, G7: Trump's very bad week

Washington (AFP) –


Donald Trump has had some bad weeks in office, but rarely has the US president seen one as difficult as the week ending Sunday, with members of both parties as well as US diplomats rebelling over his Syria and Ukraine policies, while a public uproar forced him to beat a late-night retreat over his choice of a Trump golf resort to host next year's G7 meeting.

The week began with Trump's stunning announcement -- over Twitter -- that he was pulling American troops out of Syria and abandoning their Kurdish allies as Turkey prepared for what seemed sure to be a bloody invasion. The blast of criticism from Republican lawmakers had no precedent during Trump's time in office.

The critics included Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a man normally highly deferential to the president, who in a Washington Post op-ed called the move a "grave strategic mistake," and Trump loyalist Senator Lindsey Graham, who said America's Kurdish allies had been "shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration."

In the House of Representatives, two-thirds of Republican lawmakers voted with the Democratic majority for a resolution condemning the shift on Syria -- and that came hours before Trump had what House speaker Nancy Pelosi described as a "meltdown" in an angry White House meeting with Democrats.

As the Ukraine scandal that sparked Congress's impeachment inquiry of Trump continued to unfold, diplomats from Trump's own State Department came to Congress to testify in defiance of the president's refusal to cooperate.

A whistleblower from an American intelligence agency had reported in August that the president had pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue an investigation of Joe Biden, a potential Trump rival for the presidency next year, and of his son Hunter, who did business in Ukraine.

The whistleblower's allegations, which became public in September, have been largely confirmed by the "courageous" testimony of several US diplomats, one Democrat said, describing a series of closed-door interviews in the Capitol basement by lawmakers investigating the matter.

While the White House said no administration officials would cooperate with the probe, several diplomats did so after receiving congressional subpoenas.

They included Fiona Hill, a former adviser on Ukraine and Russia; Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union; a top State Department official for Europe, George Kent; and former diplomat Michael McKinley.

Others are due to follow them.

- 'Irrational Hostility' -

Not helping matters for Trump were confusing and contradictory remarks to reporters by the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday that Washington had frozen military aid to Ukraine in order to press it to launch investigations into US Democrats demanded by Trump -- before insisting hours later, amid an angry storm of criticism, that his televised remarks had been misunderstood.

On Sunday, he played down the call for an investigation of Democrats; he also insisted Trump had "absolutely not" asked him to resign despite the storm over his remarks.

With Republicans becoming more open than ever in their criticism of Trump -- even as most continue to support him in public -- Mulvaney was asked about the suggestion by one well-placed Republican that up to 20 percent of Republican senators might vote to remove Trump from office if the House first votes to impeach.

The US Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a president. Republicans hold a slim majority there, enough to block Trump's removal unless several Republicans defect.

"That's just absurd," Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday," referring to the 20 percent suggestion.

"The president's extraordinarily popular back home, more popular in the swing districts now that" the impeachment inquiry is under way.

As for the troop withdrawal from Syria, Mulvaney said Trump was simply carrying out his campaign promise to bring home American troops.

"He told people he would do this, if you will, and he's doing it now."

But amid a huge hue and cry, Trump was forced to make a concession late Saturday. He reversed his announcement that he would host the G7 summit meeting in June 2020 at his Doral golf resort in Florida.

Democrats had expressed outrage that Trump would engage in what seemed such a clear act of self-dealing, even as he continues to face lawsuits over whether his hotels and restaurants in New York and Washington are profiting in violation of constitutional anti-corruption clauses. Even some Republicans said the move was inappropriate.

Trump "was obviously surprised at the level of pushback," Mulvaney said. "He still considers himself to be in the hospitality business" and wanted to put on "the best show, the best visit" possible for G7 leaders.

Mulvaney said another venue would be selected, adding, "My guess is we will find somewhere else that the media won't like for another reason."

For his part, Trump blamed the reversal on "both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility."