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July 2, 2019

CAFE Brief 07/02: North Korea, China, Putin, and the border

July 2nd, 2019

No sign of the news cycle slowing down, and we’re on top of it. President Trump made headlines on North Korea and China; a federal court ordered the government to improve conditions at Texas facilities housing migrant children; and a court ruling has hampered the Trump administration’s efforts to fund a border wall without congressional approval. Let’s dive in!

PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA – JUNE 30 (SOUTH KOREA OUT): A handout photo provided by Dong-A Ilbo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the South and North Korea on June 30, 2019 in Panmunjom, South Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un briefly met at the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) on Sunday, with an intention to revitalize stalled nuclear talks and demonstrate the friendship between both countries. The encounter was the third time Trump and Kim have gotten together in person as both leaders have said they are committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. (Handout photo by Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images/Getty Images)

G20 Roundup 

President Trump’s whirlwind of a weekend that began on Friday in Osaka, Japan for the annual G20 Summit has been the subject of intense media scrutiny: the President unexpectedly set foot in North Korea and agreed to resume nuclear negotiations with Chairman Kim Jong-un; announced that he would resume trade talks with China and lifted a ban on sales to Huawei; and made light of a reporter’s question about Russian interference in the 2020 election during a joint-press conference with President Vladimir Putin. Trump also passed on the opportunity to call out Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for last year’s murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, instead bestowing lavishing praise on the Saudi Crown Prince and calling him a “friend” during a breakfast meeting.

North Korea

On Friday, Trump caught his own advisers off guard by tweeting that he would be flying to South Korea to meet with President Moon Jae-in after the G20 summit, and that “if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees [the tweet], [he] would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” Chairman Kim responded positively to the invitation, and the two leaders met in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) early Sunday morning, making Trump the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea.

Trump and Kim held a closed-door meeting for nearly an hour where they agreed to resume stalled nuclear negotiations. The New York Times reports that the administration is considering a new approach that would “amount to a nuclear freeze,” that is, it could prevent the Hermit Kingdom from growing its arsenal but wouldn’t “dismantle any existing weapons,” thus falling short of the President’s initial vow of full denuclearization.


Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to restart trade negotiations which had broken down in May, de-escalating tensions in what observers see as a big win for China. Reversing course, Trump postponed threatened tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese imports and said U.S. companies could again sell to the Chinese telecom giant Huawei as long as it does not present a “great, national emergency problem.” This decision comes nearly six weeks after the Commerce Department suspended the sale of American-made goods to Huawei because the U.S. intelligence agencies believe the company is funded by Beijing’s state security apparatus. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are criticizing Trump’s turnabout on Huawei with Senator Marco Rubio (R-F.L.) calling it “a catastrophic mistake” that “will destroy the credibility of his administration’s warnings about the threat posed by the company.”

Trump-Putin relationship

When Trump and Putin met face-to-face on Friday for the first time since the release of the Mueller report in April, a reporter asked Trump if he would warn Putin not to interfere in the 2020 election. Trump replied, “of course,” and jokingly told Putin, “[d]on’t meddle in the election.” The two leaders went on to share their contempt for the news media as Trump told Putin in front of reporters: “Get rid of them, fake news. You don’t have the problem in Russia. We have it; you don’t have it,” to which Putin responded: “Yes, yes, we have it. The same.”

The rapport between Trump and Putin stood in stark contrast to Putin’s interactions with other global leaders, many of whom publicly condemnedPutin’s claim to the Financial Times that western-style liberalism is “obsolete.” Asked about it, Trump appears to have misunderstood that the term “western liberalism” refers to political systems that embrace democratic elections and individuals rights, not left-leaning American cities. Trump said of Putin’s claim: “[H]e may feel that way. He’s sees what’s going on, I guess, if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people.”

Tensions at the border

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Court Judge Dolly Gee ordered Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to permit health practitioners inside migrant detention centers and to immediately improve the health and sanitation conditions at the facilities in El Paso and Rio Grande Valley areas where children are being housed. Judge Gee ordered an expedited mediation between the federal government and the immigration-rights attorneys in front of the court-appointed independent monitor to ensure that conditions at detention centers are promptly addressed.

Meanwhile, in two separate cases on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. ruled against the administration’s plan to construct a wall along the southwestern border, thwarting White House efforts to fund the wall without congressional approval. Judge Gilliam found that Trump’s attempt at directing $2.5 billion in Defense Department funding toward building the wall was “unlawful” and conflicted with “fundamental separation of powers principles.” Trump called the court’s decision “a disgrace,” adding that the government would immediately challenge the decision and likely “win the appeal.”

OSAKA, JAPAN – JUNE 28: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L), US President Donald Trump (2nd L) and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman (2nd R) pose for the family photo on the first day of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28, 2019. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


  • The House Ethics Committee announced that it would be launching an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-F.L.) for a February tweet in which he appeared to threaten Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen with blackmail the day before his Congressional testimony.
  • On Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law significant restrictions to Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to felons who had completed probation and parole. The new law requires felons to pay all court-ordered fines and fees to be eligible to vote. Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that it is unconstitutional to make the “restoration of voting rights contingent on a person’s wealth.”
  • The transcript of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s May 2019 interview with the House Foreign Affairs Committee was released last week, revealing Tillerson’s frustration with White House adviser Jared Kushner. Tillerson told the Committee that Kushner independently metwith powerful world leaders and did not coordinate with the State Department on important matters like evolving U.S. policy and emerging geopolitical crises.
  • Ukrainian businessman Pavel Fuks told The New York Times that he hired Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to be a “lobbyist for Kharkiv and Ukraine,” raising suspicions that Giuliani may have been illegally acting as an unregistered foreign agent. When asked about it, Giuliani rejected the use of the word “lobbyist” to describe his work and said: “That makes it sound like I lobbied the U.S. government, which I never did.”
  • In an op-ed for The Atlantic, Donald Ayer, U.S. Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush, argues that Attorney General Bill Barr is not only trying to mislead the public about the Mueller investigation, but that he is “creating an all-powerful president and frustrating the Founders’ vision of a government of checks and balances.”

Further Reading

“Trump asks for military tanks on the Mall as part of grandiose July Fourth event,” The Washington Post, 7/1/2019

“Trump’s House allies lie in wait for Mueller,” Politico, 7/1/2019

“‘The enigma of the entire Mueller probe’: Focus on origins of Russian investigation puts spotlight on Maltese professor,” The Washington Post, 6/30/2019

“Report: U.S. is underestimating Putin’s ‘grand strategy’ for Russian dominance,” Axios, 6/30/2019

“Judge raises doubts on charge against Flynn partner,” Politico, 6/28/2019

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

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