The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

Suddenly, Pyongyang Wants to Negotiate Denuclearization! Maybe. South Korea Says So.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes during a parade in Pyongyang, February 9, 2018. (KCNA/via Reuters)
If North Korea wants to negotiate denuclearization, that's great. But it might just be a South Korean hope.

If this really pans out, it’s a remarkable breakthrough for peace and stability.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has told South Korean envoys that his country is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while it is engaged in such talks, South Korean officials said on Tuesday.

During the envoys’ two-day visit to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, which ended on Tuesday, the two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April, Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement.

“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”

But the very next sentence offers that giant caveat: If the statement is corroborated by North Korea. . . .” Meaning this is South Korean’s understanding of North Korea’s position.

You’re likely to see a lot of oversimplified interpretation of the peaceful South Koreans succeeding where the bellicose, hostile Trump administration could not. But remember that Vice President Mike Pence was willing, and in fact scheduled, to secretly meet with the North Koreans during his trip to the Olympics last month.

For the past year or so, the Trump administration offered both the carrot and the stick. Could it be working?

Was It Unethical for Television Networks to Interview Sam Nunberg Monday?

Axios’ Mike Allen is really, really angry that CNN and MSNBC put former Trump aide Sam Nunberg on air yesterday afternoon and last night, as he made increasingly odd statements about whether he would comply with a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller. Allen called it, “A sad, epic meltdown — a troubled Trump flunky, pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame. . . . This is one of the reasons America hates the media. Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself — live. One of Nunberg’s friends was furious, telling me that the anchors were knowingly taking advantage of an obviously fragile man.”

No doubt, this ranks as one of the most awkward exchanges in broadcast journalism history:

Near the end of the wide-ranging interview, Burnett again referenced speculation about Nunberg’s mental state and said she noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath. Nunberg denied he had had anything to drink.

“My answer is no, I have not,” Nunberg said.

Nunberg denied being on anything else either.

“Besides my meds, antidepressants, is that OK?” Nunberg said.

More than a few other journalists are noticing that Axios’ Jonathan Swan used Nunberg as a source in a Sunday article: “Of course Nunberg is the witness who gave me the subpoena. He’s made that very clear on TV today. He told me I could print contents without naming him; & I did so because a grand jury subpoena is objectively newsworthy. That Sam is doing reckless harm to himself is another matter.”

If Nunberg is too mentally overwhelmed or capacitated to make rational judgments about appearing on television, and it’s unethical to interview him . . . why is it ethical to accept documents from him? What, he was sane Sunday, but went cuckoo Monday?

There’s a lot of voices echoing Allen this morning, contending that CNN and MSNBC did something terrible and unethical by bringing Nunberg in for interviews. Just how clear is the line between “man, that’s guy’s nuts!” and “man, that guy is having a genuine psychological breakdown and should not be interviewed on television”?

You’ll have to pardon the broadcast media, but the baseline for “sane behavior” has been ratcheted down in recent years. We’ve seen the president of the United States claim that a judge presiding over a case involving him cannot be fair because “he’s a Mexican,” tweet claims about the plastic surgery of Mika Brzezinski, claim that Trump Tower had been illegally wiretapped by the Obama administration, boast that his nuclear button is bigger and more powerful than North Korea’s, and tweet out a video of himself wrestling CNN. This is a White House where former Apprentice contestant Omarosa had a key staff position for a year, was summarily dismissed, then reinvented herself as a Trump critic on another reality show. This is the White House where Anthony Scaramucci was dismissed after eleven days, after trashing the rest of the White House staff on the record to a New Yorker reporter. This is a White House where Steve Bannon provided Michael Wolff a ton of access because he thought he would write a flattering portrait of Trump and himself, and then trashed the president’s children in front of that author.

On the Democratic side, nutty conspiracy theories flourish. A DNC spokeswoman asked whether former congressman Jason Chaffetz was a Russian spy; Devin Nunes faced the same loony allegations. Massachusetts senator Ed Markey claimed, without any evidence, that a “grand jury has been impaneled up in New York” to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians. Congressman Ted Lieu speculated that a Republican campaign staffer’s suicide was secretly a result of foul play stemming from a conversation with former Trump national-security adviser Michael Flynn.

In this light, is a former Trump staffer boasting that he’ll defy a subpoena really that “crazy”? This isn’t even that unprecedented. Doesn’t anyone remember Susan McDougal?

By the end of the day, Nunberg reversed course and told the Associated Press, “I’m going to end up cooperating with them.”

The VA Scandal that Concerned Veterans Won’t Let Tammy Baldwin Forget

Back in February, I told you about how Concerned Veterans for America is launching an advertising campaign reminding Wisconsinites about Senator Tammy Baldwin’s failure to address an opioid over-prescription scandal at the Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center in 2015.

This morning brings word that CVA is investing another $1.6 million to air a pair of television ads focusing on the Tomah VA scandal. Mark, a former nurse and patient at the Tomah facility, laments in his ad that at one point he was on “seven different medicines” as the VA continued to prescribe to him, and that “their idea of treating the vets was to throw more pills at them.”

Jean laments, “The Tomah VA almost cost us my kids’ father, my husband — they almost cost him his life.”

Yesterday, Marquette University Law School released a new survey of Wisconsin registered voters, showing 37 percent have a favorable opinion of the senator and 39 percent an unfavorable opinion. For an incumbent, that’s not good.

The same poll found Governor Scott Walker at an even 48-48 split on approval and disapproval.

ADDENDA: Hey, remember Friday’s big tariff announcement?

The unsettled nature of a final policy was magnified by a conversation on Sunday between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.

Ms. May, a person briefed on the call said, warned Mr. Trump how dangerous the tariffs would be. Mr. Trump disagreed, but concluded the conversation by telling Ms. May that he had not made a final decision on what to do.

It’s like being governed by a Magic 8-Ball. “Reply hazy, ask again.”

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