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Impeachment cloud to follow Trump across pond for ‘celebratory’ NATO meeting

‘The politics of this alliance are so difficult,’ former State Department official says ahead of talks

President Donald Trump will meet privately with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at this week’s NATO summit in London. Above, the three leaders at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August. (Ian Langsdon/AFP via Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump will meet privately with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at this week’s NATO summit in London. Above, the three leaders at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August. (Ian Langsdon/AFP via Getty Images file photo)

Donald Trump’s attendance this week in London for a summit with world leaders comes with a cloud of scandal and controversy hanging over the American president.

White House aides say Trump will use the two-day NATO summit Tuesday and Wednesday to continue pressing member nations to pay more into the alliance’s coffers. He also will urge his counterparts to do more to counter what one U.S. official described as China’s attempts to infect NATO soil with “cheap money” and “cheap investment” that aims to “trap nations in debt, and thus bring diplomatic concessions.”

Trump will huddle privately in formal and informal settings with a few European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The U.S. official did not mention British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on that list as Johnson tries to navigate his country’s ongoing Brexit drama with parliamentary elections looming on Dec. 12.

Heather Conley, deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs under President George W. Bush, noted that Trump was “disruptive” during a NATO summit last year.

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“The politics of this alliance are so difficult,” she said. “President Trump can be … disruptive to the U.K. election. … President Trump is deeply unpopular in the U.K. [and] we will see if he speaks out.”

The president used his final comments before leaving Monday for London to hammer House Democrats, predicting voters will punish them next year for their impeachment probe. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a visit to the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center (and a discussion with the center’s namesake, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to praise his boss for forcing, as he described it, alliance members to pay more for NATO’s mutual defense needs.

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Macron and Merkel are two of the European leaders Trump has sharply criticized for, in his view, failing to provide enough military and other assistance to Ukraine in its ongoing conflict with Russia.

Senior Trump aides who briefed reporters recently on the president’s plans did not say whether he intends to press Macron, Merkel and other NATO leaders to do more to beef up Ukraine’s defenses, but the last time Trump was rubbing shoulders and meeting with American allies, he had some advice for them.

“We’re putting up the bulk of the money. And I’m asking, ‘Why is that?’” Trump said in late September during a United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

In a sentiment he has echoed since, Trump said, “Everybody in the administration knows that what I want — and I insist on it — is that Europe has to put up money for Ukraine also.”

“Why is it only the United States putting up the money?” he said. “I always ask: Why aren’t other countries — in Europe, especially — putting up money for Ukraine?”

The matter is just the latest on which Trump has driven a wedge between the country he represents and its traditional allies. Independent fact-checking organizations and analysts have challenged the president’s view.

For instance, recently concluded that Trump “wrongly said that ‘Europe and other nations’ were ‘not’ contributing to Ukraine, specifically calling for Germany and France to ‘put up money.’” According the fact-checking site, “the European Union and European financial institutions have contributed more than $16.4 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine since 2014.”

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That compares to “between $270 million and $510 million” worth of assistance Washington has sent to the Eastern European country since 2014, according to Iain King of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Yet, as he often does even when experts say facts contradict his claims, Trump has persisted with his contention — refuted by current and former administration witnesses during impeachment hearings — that part of the reason he froze a nearly $400 million military aid package to Ukraine was out of frustration over Europe not doing enough to help that country.

‘No drama?’

As the House Judiciary Committee holds its first impeachment hearing Wednesday and the Intelligence panel readies its report from closed-door and public testimony by a slew of officials, lawmakers will be watching Trump’s London visit closely.

“I would love for there to be no drama,” Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego, a House Armed Services member, said last month at a forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council.

But fireworks are possible this week, and Trump was in a combative mood as he left Washington.

He rose early Monday, tweeting before 6 a.m to lash out at House Democrats over the impeachment probe and at other countries over what he contends are trade practices that hurt two critical sectors of the American economy.

Accusing Brazil and Argentina of a “massive devaluation of their currencies,” Trump tweeted around 7 a.m. that he will restore steel and aluminum tariffs on both countries. The president contended that U.S. farmers and manufacturers — both groups part of his political base — are hurt by other countries’ tactics.

Still, senior aides are confident about the trip.

The U.S. official said the summit will be “celebratory” in tone, contending that Trump — who has canceled overseas trips and threatened to skip others — “is greatly looking forward to it.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.