President Trump’s Negotiation Skills (or Lack Thereof) – Part 5

In this installment of the potentially-infinite series on President Trump’s negotiation skills or lack thereof, we examine the negotiation leading to the end of the latest shutdown of the federal government as well as other negotiations by Mr. Trump and his associates.

Last Friday, Mr. Trump announced that he would sign a bill re-opening the government for three weeks, during which time negotiations would continue for longer-term funding. This result is the same as he could have negotiated and accepted before the shutdown, which he publicly proclaimed that he would be proud to own.

From Mr. Trump’s perspective, the results of the resolution of the latest shutdown are spectacularly bad. He didn’t achieve his stated goal of getting funding for a border wall nor did he avoid the ire of influential conservative media personalities. His opponents are unified and strengthened while his constituencies in Congress and the public are divided and demoralized. In particular, this conflict strengthened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman in that role, who has repeatedly demonstrated that she is an extremely effective negotiator and who made zero concessions in this battle. She humiliated Mr. Trump by quickly forcing him to back down on his foolish plan to give the State of the Union address in Congress without her consent. Polls show that Mr. Trump and his party are widely blamed for the shutdown. He will be in a weaker negotiating position when he enters the next round of negotiations over government funding – and probably about many other issues as well.

Other than that, it was a great success. Mr. Trump denied making any concessions to re-open the government, and he may just keep “winning” like this in the future.

Many of Mr. Trump’s associates have tested or will test their negotiation skills with the Special Counsel’s office. According to the New York Times, Mr. Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and Wikileaks, or their intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition. The Washington Post reports, “Trump’s former campaign chairman, deputy campaign manager, former national security adviser, personal lawyer and a campaign foreign policy adviser have all been accused of lying to investigators exploring Russia activity. In their new indictment against Stone, prosecutors said he lied to Congress about his efforts to learn about WikiLeaks’s plans in 2016 as the group was publishing Democratic emails allegedly stolen by Russian operatives.” Here’s a complete list of charges and dispositions as of January 25.

Michael Flynn, George Papadopolous, Rick Gates, and Michael Cohen have pleaded guilty. Paul Manafort initially negotiated a plea deal and now is litigating whether he lied to the government after making the plea agreement. Roger Stone vows to vigorously fight the charges just filed against him.

Information continues to drip out from the Special Counsel’s indictments and court filings as well as investigative media reporting. It seems likely that more criminal charges will be brought and that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will conduct public investigations.

At this point, the criminal investigations mostly have not identified Mr. Trump directly. However, in Michael Cohen’s plea agreement, he said under oath that Mr. Trump directed him to commit campaign finance violations by paying off women that Mr. Trump had sex with. In a separate guilty plea, Mr. Cohen stated under oath that Mr. Cohen regularly briefed Mr. Trump about his Russian contacts during the time when Mr. Trump publicly denied having any dealings with Russia.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump will be accused of any crimes (though possibly not criminally charged while in office) or investigated for malfeasance, corruption, or even possible impeachment. If so, this may further test his negotiation skills and those of his lawyers. He is represented on TV by former U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is no Roy Cohn and actually seems more like Inspector Clouseau.

As many people have observed, Donald J. Trump is not a normal president. Among other things, he pursues unusually risky and ineffective negotiation strategies.

Stay tuned.

For prior installments in this series, click here. You can also see Andrea’s preview of the forthcoming issue of Negotiation Journal on the subject as well as Marty Latz’s book analyzing his history of negotiation .

2 thoughts on “President Trump’s Negotiation Skills (or Lack Thereof) – Part 5”

    1. Thanks, Jill. President Trump not only has incredible skills of his own, but he also hires lawyers with unbelievable skills.

      It’s not just Mr. Giuliani. Remember his two lawyers who were discussing the case so loudly in a restaurant that a NYT reporter overheard them? And his selection of attorneys general with obvious biases — two of whom declined to recuse themselves from supervising the Special Counsel investigation despite obvious biases and one who was constantly pilloried and eventually sacked by the president because he appropriately did recuse himself. Think Matt Whitaker. One could go on …

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