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Trump's Diplomacy Dramas


This development in the Russia investigation was just one of several in a week of ups and downs for the Trump administration. In a moment, we'll hear about one of the high points. The Senate passed a massive tax bill the White House and GOP leadership want very badly. But first, back to the challenges President Trump faced this week - many were linked to diplomacy in one way or another. Here to break it down for us is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, thanks so much for coming in.


MARTIN: So let's just stick with the Russia investigation for a few more minutes. I want to start with the same question I asked the congressman. What's the significance of the guilty plea? And if you could, talk a bit more about the White House response to it.

MYRE: Right. And the response has been as previous, where they try to portray this as an act by an individual and, OK, Flynn will have to deal with the consequences of that. But what is fundamentally different here is that Robert Mueller, who's heading the investigation, has someone who's effectively changed sides. And he's now going to cooperate with Mueller, give him information. And then, Mueller can go to the other senior people and cross-check that information. And we now have - this is the second person who's pled guilty to lying to the FBI. So they'll know that's sort of hanging over their head if they say - if they have a discrepancy with what Flynn is saying. That will have to be sorted out.

And just step back a week or so and look how far this investigation has come and changed. Flynn's team was sharing information with Trump's legal team, and that broke off about a week ago. And clearly, it was leading to this because Flynn was going to go this way. So the fact that Flynn is now - his job is now to work with Mueller. And the sense - general sense is he got a fairly light plea deal here, seems to show something similar. One last thing. Flynn has just - the irony here of Flynn being opposed to Russia for so long and putting out a book last year about how Putin was not open to cooperation, and yet he is brought down by attempting to cooperate with Russia.

MARTIN: So let's turn to some other key figures in the Trump administration inner circle. We saw a number of reports that the president wants to dismiss Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. What's behind all this?

MYRE: Well, it seemed like it was a well-orchestrated Washington leak on Thursday, and then Trump denied it on Friday. So nothing's happened, but it did point to the fact that Trump and his secretary of state just seemed to be out of sync on so many things. Just look at a big issue like Iran and North Korea because Trump is talking about - or, sorry, not Trump - but the report was that he would be replaced by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. And Tillerson has sort of been this voice of calm and diplomacy. Pompeo - much more sharp-edged, seems much more in sync with Trump. So again, nothing's happened yet. Tillerson's off this week to Europe, so we wouldn't expect anything to happen now. But again, point to this friction in the diplomatic world.

MARTIN: We have two more things we want to run by you. The secretary of state currently, Rex Tillerson, has been very involved on the North Korea issue. There was another missile test. And this story can often be repetitive, and so I wanted to ask you, why is this significant?

MYRE: North Korea appears to have hit a real milestone. This missile can hit the East Coast of the United States. It went up 2,800 miles. The space shuttle is only up 250 miles, so it went up 10 times higher. Back in July, we were talking about North Korean missiles that could hit Guam. Now we're talking about the East Coast of the United States. So North Korea is making rapid technological improvements.

MARTIN: And finally, a trouble - friction with Britain this week. What's going on there?

MYRE: Trump retweeted these anti-Muslim videos linked to Britain First, a far-right group. They were ecstatic, but it put him in conflict with the British prime minister, Theresa May, members of Parliament. So probably nothing significant will come of this, but it just points to the fact that even with a country as friendly as Britain, there is this friction that we just haven't seen traditionally.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.