Trump defiant after backlash over NATO remarks

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Former U.S. president Donald Trump defended his record on NATO Monday, saying he had made it “strong” after sparking a firestorm of criticism over comments downplaying his commitment to the alliance.

Trump was rebuked from all sides after saying in a speech Saturday that he would “encourage” Russia to attack members of NATO who had not met their financial obligations, in his most extreme broadside against the organization.

“I MADE NATO STRONG, and even the RINOS and Radical Left Democrats admit that,” Trump said on Truth Social Monday, using an acronym deployed by conservatives for critics within their own party: Republicans in Name Only.

“When I told the 20 Countries that weren’t paying their fair share that they had to PAY UP, and said without doing that you will not have U.S. Military Protection, the money came rolling in. After so many years of the United States picking up the tab, it was a beautiful sight to see.”

Trump has long complained about NATO, accusing Western allies of being freeloaders that do not pull their weight on military spending, taking for granted that they can rely on the U.S. as a defensive shield.

But he demonstrated repeatedly both during and after his time in office that he either doesn’t understand how NATO works or is unwilling to speak accurately about it.

In 2006, NATO countries made a vague commitment — formalized in 2014 — to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense, but members do not pay subscription fees and do not “owe” the alliance money for defense.

The two percent benchmark is voluntary and there are no penalties enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty for falling short.

Speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump had described what he said was a conversation with a fellow head of state at an unspecified NATO meeting.

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent? No, I would not protect you,'” Trump told his supporters.

“In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

U.S. President Joe Biden slammed the comments as “appalling and dangerous,” warning that his predecessor, who is running for reelection, intended to give Russian leader Vladimir Putin “a greenlight for more war and violence.”

Trump’s remarks came after Senate Republicans last week rejected a bipartisan bill that would have included $60 billion in funding for Ukraine, plus aid for ally Israel, along with reforms to address the U.S.-Mexico border crisis.

A foreign aid package that includes the Kiev support but decouples the funding from the border issue entirely passed a key procedural vote in the U.S. Senate on Sunday, though Republicans are still expected to block it from becoming law.

 ‘Immunity to prosecution’

Trump on Monday appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block a lower court ruling that had denied his claim to immunity for alleged crimes while he was president.

The appeal for the top court to stay the earlier ruling is crucial to deciding whether Trump can be put on trial for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in which he lost to Biden.

The appeal puts Trump’s fate in the Supreme Court’s hands nine months before election day in which the hard-right former president is likely to be the Republican nominee to face Biden for a second time.

Trump is the first major presidential candidate in U.S. history to be running under the cloud of multiple criminal and legal investigations and trials.

He faces 91 counts in four criminal cases over his removal of top-secret documents from the White House when he left, his use of hush money to silence damaging allegations of extramarital sex, and the multi-pronged attempt to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court — the level just below the Supreme Court — ruled that he could not claim immunity.

Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal liability for actions he took while in the White House is “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution,” the judges said.

Trump has continued to insist that a president must have full legal immunity to be able to carry out duties without “fear” of “retribution.”

However, the Washington appeals court said that putting a president “beyond the reach” of the judiciary and legislature through granting of immunity would “collapse our system of separated powers.”

The appeals court put the ruling on hold until Monday to give Trump the opportunity to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nine justices there must now decide whether to take the case or potentially decline — automatically allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

Trump’s trial over the attempts to subvert the 2020 election had originally been meant to start March 4, but was delayed by the appeal.

The timing of the Supreme Court’s response will further impact the calendar, with the presidential election rapidly looming.

Trump is accused of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to obstruct the certification by Congress of Biden’s win on January 6, 2021.

The allegation is related to Trump’s organizing of a raucous rally on the day of the certification vote, then telling his supporters to march on the Capitol, where they stormed past overwhelmed police officers and ransacked the building, delaying certification before finally being expelled.

Special Counsel Jack Smith filed the election conspiracy case against Trump in August and had been pushing hard for the March trial start date.

If Trump is able to get the trial delayed until after the election and wins another term, he could potentially order federal cases against him to be dropped.

 

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