Standing in a grand ballroom that bears his name at his Mar-a-Lago estate, President Donald Trump on Wednesday seemed mindful of the legacy-defining potential of his planned denuclearization talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his side after two days of meetings, Trump said his tough stance on Kim’s regime had helped create the potential for an “historic moment” that eluded previous presidents. But Trump also said he’s willing to cancel the talks ahead of time or “respectfully leave the meeting” if he believes the summit will not be successful.
“We’ve never been in a position like this with that regime…And I hope to have a very successful meeting,” Trump said of the talks with Kim.
“If I think that it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go. If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting and will continue what we’re doing,” Trump said.
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Trump and Abe fielded questions from U.S. and Japanese journalists beginning about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in the multi-chandeliered Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom at Mar-a-Lago.
In response to a question about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of possible collusion with Russia by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Trump dismissed collusion claims as “a hoax created by the Democrats” to explain Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
As for persistent speculation he might fire Mueller or Mueller’s immediate supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump said: “They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months and they’re still here. So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us and we have to get back to business with negotating with this gentleman and plenty of others.”
North Korea was the most pressing topic as Trump and Abe met for the third time in 14 months. But Abe, through a translator, said at the press conference that he has agreed to “start talks for free, fair and reciprocal trade” with the U.S. In response to a reporter’s question, he said he realized Trump preferred a bi-lateral agreement, but he believes a Trans-Pacific Partnership type of deal would be more beneficial for the Asia-Pacific region and both would be discussed.
The leaders also discussed Japan’s desire for the release of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. And they got in 18 holes of golf Wednesday at nearby Trump International Golf Club just west of West Palm Beach.
Trump credited Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping with imposing sanctions on North Korea as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign to get the Kim regime to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“We will not repeat the mistakes of previous administrations. Our campaign of maximum pressure will continue until North Korea denuclearizes,” Trump said.
“There is a bright path available to North Korea when it achieves denuclearization in a complete and verifiable and irreversible way. It will be a great day for them. It will be a great day for the world,” Trump said.
Abe also urged caution.
“Just because North Korea is responding to dialogue, there should be no reward. Maximum pressure should be maintained,” he said through a translator.
Wednesday began with tweetstorm from the president, who by 8:05 a.m. had confirmed a top-secret meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s leader, seemingly contradicted his previously stated rationale for last year’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, made his first social media foray into the Stormy Daniels controversy and continued his feud with California Gov. Jerry Brown over illegal immigration.
The salvos appeared on Trump’s Twitter account before he and Abe departed Mar-a-Lago at 8:17 a.m. to make the 4½-mile trip to Trump’s golf club on Summit Boulevard. While the two leaders hit the links, first lady Melania Trump and Akie Abe, the prime minister’s wife, toured the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach.
Trump and Abe also played golf when Abe visited Palm Beach in February 2017 and when Trump visited Japan in November. Golf was not on the official schedule for this week’s meeting, but Trump told reporters Tuesday that he and Abe planned “to sneak out” and play Wednesday if time allowed.
The White House rarely releases pictures of Trump on the golf course, but Trump posted a picture of himself and Abe at Trump International on Wednesday, saying the leaders were “building an even deeper and better relationship while playing a quick round of golf.”
Trump used Twitter Wednesday to confirm a Washington Post report that Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet with Kim. Trump tweeted that the meeting “went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”
Trump also used Twitter to blast Comey, who this week launched a highly publicized tour to promote a book that criticizes Trump.
“Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!” Trump tweeted.
The tweet seemed at odds with the explanation of the Comey firing that Trump gave last May in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. In that interview, Trump said he had already decided to fire Comey before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended doing so for Comey’s handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation.
“He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump said in May 2017.
Trump has denied porn star Daniels’ claims she had an affair with him in 2006, but until Wednesday had avoided weighing in on the controversy on social media. At 6:08 a.m. on Wednesday, however, the president mocked Tuesday’s release by Daniels and her attorney of a composite sketch of a man she says threatened her in 2011 to keep silent about her alleged affair with Trump.
“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!” Trump tweeted.
Less than 30 minutes later, Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti tweeted: “In my experience, there is nothing better in litigation than having a completely unhinged, undisciplined opponent who is prone to shooting himself in the foot. Always leads to BIGLY problems…like new claims (i.e. defamation). LOL. #xmas #hanukkah #basta.”
Trump, who arrived Monday for his 17th visit to Mar-a-Lago as president, is scheduled to fly to Key West on Thursday to visit a federal anti-drug trafficking agency, then return to Palm Beach through Sunday. Abe and his wife also are scheduled to leave Palm Beach Thursday.
Melania Trump, meanwhile, will attend the funeral for Barbara Bush in Texas on Saturday.
Read The Post’s complete coverage of President Trump in Palm Beach County at myPalmBeachPost.com/donaldtrump