Trump seeks news reset with Kim after Cohen testimony

Posted at 9:28 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 21:29:41-05

President Donald Trump tamped down expectations he will strike a master deal with Kim Jong Un during their nuclear talks in Hanoi on Thursday local time, repeating he’s in no rush and instead suggesting a final accord would come down the road.

“I’ve been saying very much from the beginning that speed is not that important to me,” Trump said at the start of his second summit with Kim. “Speed is not important to me. What is important is that we do the right deal.”

Kim, for his part, also expressed cautious optimism a deal would eventually be struck. But he did not suggest such an accord would come soon.

“It’s too early to say,” he said. “I would not say I’m pessimistic.”

Trump is pursuing two objectives as he sits down once again with the North Korean dictator here on Thursday — draw North Korea closer to the prospect of abandoning its nuclear weapons and regain control of the media narrative.

Neither will be easy.

As he arrived at the swanky Metropole Hotel on Wednesday to advance his historic direct diplomacy with Kim, Trump was quickly upstaged by the damning congressional testimony of his longtime former attorney and adviser Michael Cohen. By the time Trump finished dinner with Kim, the airwaves were blanketed with coverage of Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee.

A grand agreement on denuclearization might have helped in that effort. But Trump downplayed the prospects of a deal emerging from the Hanoi talks. Instead, he suggested something more vague might result from his second summit with Kim.

“I can’t speak for today but over a little bit longer term … we’re going to have a fantastic success,” Trump said.

He described his dinner an evening earlier as positive, but did not describe in detail any of the negotiations underway.

“A lot of great ideas being thrown about,” Trump said.

As Trump awoke in Hanoi on Thursday morning, the Wednesday evening US prime-time newscasts continued to pick through the unsparing allegations Cohen had leveled against Trump.

During his seven hours of testimony, Cohen accused Trump of being a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.” He claimed that Trump was aware during the 2016 campaign of his longtime political adviser Roger Stone’s communications with WikilLeaks about the release of hacked Democratic emails. And once again — this time before the cameras — he implicated Trump in federal crimes.

During his full day of meetings with Kim, Trump is looking to refocus attention on his high-stakes diplomatic gambit with North Korea, even though it’s Cohen’s testimony that will surely be a focus of questioning during a news conference later on Thursday.

Trump is under pressure to demonstrate progress in his efforts to coax Kim into abandoning his nuclear weapons program, and while he expressed broad optimism on Wednesday that his efforts will ultimately be successful, he did little to counter the low expectations about the results of the second summit.

“I thought the first summit was a great success, and I think hopefully this one will be equal or greater,” Trump said during his first Hanoi encounter with Kim, even as he acknowledged that “some people would like to see things go quicker.”

Despite broad pledges to denuclearize, North Korea has not taken any concrete and verifiable steps in the eight months since Trump and Kim first sat down in Singapore. And US officials signaled in the days before this summit that the joint agreement Trump and Kim are set to sign in Hanoi will not represent a dramatic breakthrough, instead aiming to lay yet more groundwork for a path forward. And they worried that Trump might make surprise concessions to Kim in his eagerness to reach a deal.

Those concerns could now be compounded by the focus on Cohen’s testimony and Trump’s eagerness to move past this news cycle.

Trump was clearly distracted by the Cohen testimony on Wednesday, tweeting during a break in meetings to slam his longtime top former aide as a lying, unreliable witness.

“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!” Trump tweeted, falsely claiming Cohen’s testimony before Congress would help reduce his prison time.

After returning from his dinner with Kim, as Cohen laced into his former boss, Trump tweeted about his “great meeting and dinner with Kim.”

He then retweeted his earlier tweet about Cohen.

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