Trump abruptly cancels NATO news conference
President Donald Trump appeared to be in a fractious mood as he met with world leaders at the NATO summit outside London on Wednesday, calling the leader of the US’s northern neighbor “two-faced” and abruptly canceling his end-of-meeting press conference which was scheduled to take place while the House Judiciary Committee is holding its first hearing as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
The hearing and the overnight circulation of a viral video showing world leaders appearing to joke at Trump’s expense seemed to cast a shadow over Trump’s day.
“I think we’ve done plenty of press conferences … unless you’re demanding a press conference,” Trump said during a media availability with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We’ve had a tremendous two days and I think NATO is stronger than it’s ever been.”
Trump confirmed the decision shortly after on Twitter, “When today’s meetings are over, I will be heading back to Washington. We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!”
In the video shot Tuesday evening which was first circulated by CBC, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other NATO leaders appeared to jokingly chat about Trump’s lengthy press availabilities held during his meetings at the summit. No one can be heard saying Trump’s name, and none of the leaders appear to notice they’re being recorded.
Reacting to the video, Trump called Trudeau “two-faced.”
“Honestly with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy,” Trump said, adding that the Canadian Prime Minister made the comments because the President had called him out in front of the press about not contributing enough to NATO.
At a press conference soon after on Wednesday, Trudeau admitted he was talking about Trump in the video.
“Last night I made reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump. I was happy to be part of it but it was certainly notable,” Trudeau said.
Later in the day Trump was caught in a hot mic of his own, overheard by press leaving a working lunch with other NATO members saying that it was “funny” when he called Trudeau “two faced” earlier today.
“Oh, and then you know what they’ll say. ‘He didn’t do a press conference. He didn’t do a press conference.’ That was funny when I said the guy’s two-faced, you know that,” he said.
Johnson kept waiting
Trump’s arrival to Wednesday’s events was delayed, meaning British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg were kept waiting to shake hands and formally welcome the President.
“How long do you think?” Johnson was heard asking an aide. The Prime Minister and Stoltenberg stood on the stage in front of the cameras, talking quietly among themselves as they awaited Trump.
“How we doing, folks?” Johnson asked at one point.
When Trump arrived, he shook hands with Johnson, then Stoltenberg, and posed between the two for a photo. He initially exited the stage on the wrong side but Johnson pointed him in the right direction.
In a brief statement before the start of the meeting, Johnson pressed NATO leaders to remain unified amid tensions in the alliance on its 70th anniversary.
The Prime Minister spoke of the principle underpinning NATO, saying “that for as long as we stand together, no one can hope to defeat us — and therefore no one will start a war.”
The White House revealed that Trump met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday morning for a get-together that wasn’t on Trump’s official schedule.
The White House said the two leaders “discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.”
Later Wednesday, Trump praised Turkey’s intervention in northern Syria.
“The border and the safe zone is working out very well and I give Turkey a lot of credit for that,” Trump said, adding, “They can police their own border and that’s what they’re doing.”
On Tuesday, Trump praised Erdogan, who has been heavily criticized by other NATO leaders, including Macron, who on Tuesday expressed concerns over the country’s recent actions in Syria and its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system.
The White House readout did not mention the missile sale or Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, which has been condemned internationally and by members of Congress.
Trump, in one of three extended press availabilities during his bilateral meetings on Tuesday, was particularly critical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments last month that NATO was facing a “brain death” caused by American indifference to the transatlantic alliance. In a morning meeting, Trump said the comments were “nasty” and “insulting.” Later when the two leaders were face to face, Macron refused to back down, saying he stood by his comments.
But Trump claimed on Wednesday that Macron had “taken back” his comment on NATO — despite Macron saying otherwise.
“Speaking to the President of France yesterday we had a good meeting and he’s taken back his comments very much so on NATO. I think he feels strongly. He sees what’s happened and what’s going on and other countries are stepping up,” the President asserted.
Trump said early on that he was not focused on impeachment while abroad but also spent portions of his busy day telling members of the press that the inquiry was a “hoax” and sharing several tweets about impeachment.
Between tea with Prince Charles and opening receptions around London later that evening, House Democrats released findings from their impeachment hearings, which claimed evidence of Trump’s misconduct and obstruction of Congress is “overwhelming” and charged that Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine compromised national security.
During his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte Wednesday afternoon, Trump said he had seen the report and said it was “of no merit.” He then questioned why the House Judiciary Committee couldn’t move its first impeachment hearings to a time when he wasn’t at the summit.
The impeachment report released Tuesday details newly uncovered phone records which show a web of communications between the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani’s associate — Lev Parnas, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, and the White House Office of Management and Budget — the office that impeachment witnesses say was directed to halt foreign aid to Ukraine.
Trump questioned why it was a “big deal” that Giuliani called White House, and when asked why his lawyer specifically called the budget office, Trump responded, “I don’t really know.”
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he met with Johnson Tuesday evening at 10 Downing Street, during which they discussed “numerous subjects including NATO and Trade.”
A one-on-one meeting with Johnson was not on Trump’s schedule for the summit but he did attend a reception for NATO leaders hosted by the Prime Minister.
Later Wednesday, Trump met with Merkel and took part in a working lunch with NATO members representing countries contributing their two percent.
He also took part in a bilateral meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
Earlier this year, Trump canceled a trip to Denmark over comments made by Frederiksen. After Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland, Frederiksen called the idea “absurd.” Trump, in turn, called the Danish prime minister’s comments “nasty” and “inappropriate.”
When asked by CNN whether would raise the subject of Greenland with Frederiksen, Trump responded: “Will we discuss Greenland? What do you think?”
CNN’s Allie Malloy and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.