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Trump's 'Envoy' to Kosovo Draws White House Eye-Roll

Real Clear Politics logo Real Clear Politics 13 mins ago Philip Wegmann
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It was a diplomatic mission, albeit a non-commissioned one, and the White House was less than pleased with the unofficial overture.

But this one bore an even stranger twist: Donald Trump had dispatched his former director of national intelligence to eastern Europe this week to discuss relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and while the strained relationship between those two powers is certainly significant, the fact that Richard Grenell was there at all was highly unusual.

Washington first learned of the foreign excursion not through normal diplomatic channels but from Trump's political action committee. The announcement was delivered via email Thursday morning, and it reported that Grenell would be touring the Kosovo-Serbia border later that day to highlight the so-called Washington agreement that the two republics had struck almost a year prior in the Oval Office.

This agreement was "historic, and should not be abandoned," the former president said in a statement, because "many lives are at stake." And Grenell, who had hosted talks between the two parties previously, was there now to tour the area as "my Envoy Ambassador," Trump explained. There was a final line of encouragement ("peace is possible, don't give up — long term prosperity for those two nations is at stake") and then directly below that a big red button soliciting political donations.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, dismissed it all as theatrics. A senior official told RealClearPolitics that "outside of his very active imagination, Donald Trump is no longer President and doesn't have any ‘envoy ambassadors' representing the United States."

Despite the Trump-granted honorific, Grenell is a private citizen and therefore not authorized to conduct diplomatic negotiations of any kind on behalf of the United States. Hence, the first words out of his mouth at a press conference along the border. "I want to start by saying that I am no longer with the U.S. government. I come here as a private citizen," said Grenell, who had also previously served as ambassador to Germany. He added, "I am here solely as a private citizen from the Trump administration."

But that administration ended last January, and the former president is not in a position to be negotiating anything, a fact that his critics quickly seized upon. They speculated that Trump had violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from interfering with diplomatic relations between the United States and foreign governments.

Tom Nichols quipped that "envoy ambassador" was "just above Platinum Tier member." A professor at the U.S. Naval War College, he added that the odd episode was evidence of "a former president dispatching former appointees to foreign countries to engage in foreign policy."

For his part, Grenell stressed to reporters that what he was there to do was try "to implement these economic agreements now from the private sector side." He told the foreign press that "the Biden administration has to be much more aggressive on leadership," complaining that the region had been overlooked and that "they don't have an ambassador in Kosovo."

Tensions are, in fact, rising between Serbia and Kosovo, where war raged in the 1990s before peace was established by the United Nations. The leader of the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, recently warned that conflicts over anti-smuggling operations in the region could flare up and unravel the "steady but fragile progress made in rebuilding trust among communities" in Kosovo and Serbia. Last month, Kosovo police clashed with ethnic Serbs during one of those anti-smuggling operations. According to the Associated Press, at least 11 people were injured.

The overseas overture came as Trump continues to court Republicans ahead of elections next year and in 2024. Before he sent his old diplomat across the Atlantic, the former president was taking credit for Glenn Youngkin's victory in the Virginia governor's race, reigniting hostilities with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for daring to tell the GOP to get over their 2020 loss, and then hinting at another presidential campaign.

"You think I kid," Trump told a Mar-a-Largo crowd last weekend of a potential rematch with Joe Biden, "but I'm actually not. I'm actually not."

Representatives from the governments of Kosovo and Serbia did not return RCP's requests for comment. Neither did a Trump spokesperson. But a former Trump staffer told RCP that the Grenell gambit should be dismissed as a publicity stunt. "It's just classic," the former senior White House official said. "This falls somewhere between denial and boredom."


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