Wednesday, September 05, 2018

U.S. stayed in NAFTA and Korea talks because staffer stole withdrawal letters from Trump's desk, new book reports

Bob Woodward's new book Fear: Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster, $30) paints a somber portrait of a senior staff obliged to work around President Trump in order to keep the government on its rails.

"A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead," Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report for The Washington Post. "Woodward describes 'an administrative coup d'etat' and a 'nervous breakdown' of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them."

According to Woodward's interviews with staffers, in the spring of 2017, Trump ordered a letter written to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was drawn up and placed on his desk, but Gary Cohn, then his top economic adviser, and others worried what that would do to the nation's economy and foreign relations. Cohn told the staff secretary he would simply take the letter off Trump's desk, and the U.S. did not withdraw from the trade agreement.

Woodward reports that Cohn did likewise with a letter that, if signed, would have withdrawn the U.S. from a trade agreement with South Korea. Trump did not notice it was missing, and the U.S. remained in negotiations with South Korea until a deal was struck in March 2018.

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