Still Pretending To Be President, Trump Even Has An 'Envoy'

Richard Grenell

Richard Grenell

Ever since he sullenly departed from the White House in January 2021, a portion of Donald Trump’s supporters have maintained that he is actually still in charge of the “real” government and running the military while President Joe Biden is left with a fake government and a ”bad military.” That view may be deep into the land of deplorable delusions, but in a way, Trump really has been running his own government.

That “shadow government” has been making promises and deals with authoritarian leaders, attempting to overturn democratic elections, and making moves that seem connected to lucrative real estate deals. That includes Trump holding a pseudo state dinner with Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, using a shadow veto to crush a border security bill, and even dispatching former diplomat and intelligence official Richard Grenell to negotiate with governments around the world.

Trump has described Grenell as “my envoy,” and his work includes not just attempting to overthrow the government of Guatemala but also returning to the Balkans to talk to the successors of a democratic American-allied government that he helped destroy while Trump was in office. And of course, there’s money involved.

The Washington Post reports on Thursday that when Bernardo Arévalo won the 2023 presidential election in Guatemala on a pro-democracy, anti-corruption platform, the Biden administration moved quickly to acknowledge the victory and to help the new president shore up his incoming government against threats from right-wing election deniers.

But Grenell took the opposite approach. Trump’s shadow ambassador showed up in Guatemala days before Arévalo was due to be sworn in and immediately met with right-wing authoritarians trying to reverse the results of the election. He then met with a group trying to block the inauguration, supported an effort to throw out election results, and criticized the U.S. State Department for sanctioning those who tried to block the peaceful transfer of power.

Thankfully, though Guatemala's highest court granted right-wing parties a temporary injunction that prevented certification of the election results in the first round of voting, and continued tensions in Guatemala City caused a delay in the eventual inauguration ceremony, Arévalo was sworn into office just one day late.

Grenell may have failed in his efforts to end democracy in Guatemala, but he had more success in Kosovo when he visited as a diplomat for Trump in 2020. As NPR reported at the time, Kosovo had long had the support of the United States in its conflict with Serbia, while Serbia had connections with Russia, but Grenell arrived with demands that seemed to match those of Serbia.

Former diplomat Molly Montgomery told NPR that Grenell put “extraordinary pressure” on the Kosovo government. Trump and Grenell appeared to have “given up the United States' traditional role as Kosovo's main champion,” she said. The result was that Kosovo's Parliament voted to remove Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who, like Arévalo in Guatemala, had run on a platform of fighting corruption and democratic reform. According to NPR reporter Joanna Kakissis, Kurti called his removal “a parliamentary coup d'état supported by Grenell.”

In Kurti’s place, a new prime minister promised a deal with Serbia. However, following Trump’s departure from Washington, Kurti—who continued to express his support for America—was elected a second time as prime minister in February 2021.

But if Kurti is back, so is Grenell.

In November 2021, shortly after visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Grenell headed for Kosovo and Serbia, according to the Post. He has reportedly used his visits to undermine the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts in the region and damage the prospects for a new peace deal between the two sparring nations. Grenell appears particularly tight with Serbian officials, who regard him as a “friend,” one source told the Post. That includes partying with Serbian officials tightly aligned with the Kremlin.

Grenell’s visit was followed by an amazingly generous real estate deal featuring Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. As The New York Times reports, the deal would give Kushner “a 99-year lease, at no charge, and the right to build a luxury hotel and apartment complex and a museum” on a site in central Belgrade.

Grenell’s work didn’t stop there. He was also on hand in Turkey when that nation’s vote was the only barrier to Sweden’s entry into NATO. According to The Washington Post:

Amid those tense negotiations, Grenell, a fierce critic of NATO and the Biden administration’s foreign policies, made a startling offer: a meeting between Trump and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, who was coming to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, according to the two people close to the former president.

Grenell’s actions in Kosovo in 2020, however contemptible, enjoy the protection of his role as a U.S. official. His subsequent trips to that region, his meddling in Guatemala, and his attempts to sway Turkish officials do not.

In 2021, there were questions about whether Grenell’s actions were a violation of the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from dealing with foreign governments “in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” But there are no mentions of the act in more recent coverage from The Washington Post or The New York Times.

Maybe, like the Hatch Act, this is just one of those laws now seen as optional if you’re a Trump supporter.

President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have been improving since his fiery State of the Union speech—as we predicted. At the same time, the Republican Party cannot stop the infighting, even as Donald Trump’s takeover seems to be complete. Markos and Kerry get into Biden’s improving fundamentals as the race to save America heats up.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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