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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump twice raised to the Iraqi prime minister the idea of repaying America for its wars with Iraqi oil, a highly controversial ask that runs afoul of international norms and logic, sources with direct knowledge tell me.
In March last year, at the end of a White House meeting with Iraq's then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Trump brought up the subject of taking oil from Iraq to reimburse the United States for the costs of the war there.
Between the lines: On the campaign trail, Trump complained that the U.S. had spent trillions in Iraq and lost thousands of lives but got "nothing" in return. He lamented that usually in war "to the victor belong the spoils" and he repeatedly said the U.S. should have seized Iraq's oilfields as reimbursement for the steep costs of the war.
In the March meeting, the Iraqi prime minister replied, "What do you mean?" according to the source in the room. "And Trump's like, 'Well, we did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil.'"
Al-Abadi "had clearly prepared," the source added, "and he said something like, 'Well, you know Mr. President, we work very closely with a lot of American companies and American energy companies have interests in our country,'" the source added. "He was smirking. And the president just kind of tapped his hand on the table as if to say 'I had to ask.'"
Why it matters: Trump's desire to raid Iraq's oil is illegal and unworkable. But it reveals a great deal about his approach to the Middle East. Trump remains hellbent on extracting payments from Middle Eastern countries, in the form of natural resources, for the trillions of dollars America has spent since the early 2000s. Bob Woodward and others have reported on the formal steps Trump took to push his team to extract rare minerals from Afghanistan as repayment for the war. (Security concerns have stymied that effort; though Afghan's leadership was more open to Trump's pitch than Iraq's leaders have been.)
Trump's national security team has mostly pushed back on or ignored these desires to raid Middle Eastern natural resources. The president raised the issue of oil again with al-Abadi on a phone call in the summer of 2017. The conversation was vague and didn’t go anywhere, but H.R. McMaster admonished Trump afterward, according to a source with direct knowledge.
Trump did not react kindly, the source said. "It was frustration that he was trying to get his advisers to do things that he wanted them to do and they were just pushing back."
The bottom line: It's not a one-time thing. Two sources described being in the Situation Room in 2017 with Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis and national security officials discussing Iraq. Both said Trump brought up the prospect of seizing Iraq's oil, and Mattis pushed back.
Asked about our reporting, Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said, "We do not discuss internal deliberations, and the secretary's advice and counsel to the president is private." And an NSC spokesperson said, "We do not comment on the details of the president's conversations with foreign leaders."
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
If the CIA confirms to him they believe Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Sen. Lindsey Graham tells me he will push to have MBS sanctioned.
In a phone interview, Graham told me he and some of his colleagues have requested an intelligence briefing this coming week to find out whether the reporting is correct that the CIA has "high confidence" MBS ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Why it matters: It doesn't look like the Khashoggi story is going away. It's unlikely new sanctions on Saudi will pass in the lame duck. That means this fight will likely carry over into next year — potentially pitting Democratic senators and a smaller group of Republicans against the president.
The bottom line: Graham is arguing the opposite. "We cannot have a normal strategic relationship with somebody this crazy," Graham told me. Graham said "everything would be on the table" to punish Saudi Arabia, including blocking arms sales.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
Three more danger signs for Trump's Saudi strategy — from today's shows:
The House is doing nothing meaningful on the floor this week. House Republicans will hold steering elections for ranking member slots on next year's committees.
The Senate is back in session for three weeks — the final stretch for 2018. Republican leader Mitch McConnell has a lot to get done, including averting a partial government shutdown when some spending bills expire on Dec. 7.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:
An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire Paradise, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
California's devastating Camp Fire, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in the northern part of the state, has been fully contained, according to Cal Fire.
The big picture: While the blaze, which started on Nov. 8, is now fully under control, there are still nearly 250 people unaccounted for, reports Axios' Khorri Atkinson. So the death toll for the state's deadliest wildfire on record could continue to rise as authorities make their way into the fire zone.
Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer with the Cato Institute, today tweets: "He really is the Ultimate Boomer President."
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Cliff Sims, former director of White House message strategy, sat down with Mike Allen and me for "Axios on HBO" and described what it's like sitting with @realDonaldTrump while he tweets.
Sims, who left the White House in May, said he's seen Trump dictate tweets to aides from the Oval Office or from the private dining room that adjoins it.
Behind the scenes: "I do think that he's very cognizant of the power that he has to set the media narrative," Sims said.
We interviewed Sims before he announced his White House memoir "Team of Vipers," set for release in January.