For the second time in two weeks, President Donald Trump interrupted a busy schedule of trashing Joe Biden to say nice things about the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
But Trump’s decision, during remarks in Japan in May, to side with Kim over Biden was a brazen but unsurprising violation of the tradition that “politics ends at the water’s edge,” whereas his comments today were far more baffling.
Two accounts, a new book by the Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield and a Wall Street Journal story, report that Kim’s brother Kim Jong Nam was a CIA informant. Kim Jong Nam was killed in a shocking chemical-weapons attack in the Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Trump was asked about the revelation as he left the White House for a trip to Iowa, and his answer was jarring.
“I see that, and I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un,” Trump said. “I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with regard to his brother or half brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices. I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un.”
The first surprising thing here is that Trump gave no sign of having been aware of the story prior to the Journal report. He did not, however, dispute its accuracy. Given how personally involved the president has been in negotiations with North Korea, if the report is indeed accurate, it is hard to imagine he would have been in the dark. Perhaps Trump is simply playing dumb, though he doesn’t typically have much of a poker face.