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The case of Donald Trump and his mysterious piece of paper

In defense of a secret side deal with Mexico, Trump held up a mysterious piece of paper. We now have a sense of what it says.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing for a trip to Iowa, on the South Lawn of White House, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing for a trip to Iowa, on the South Lawn of White House, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Washington.

When Donald Trump backed off his threat to impose new trade tariffs on Mexico, the president pointed to three purported accomplishments. The first was a series of new steps our neighbors agreed to take to stem the tide of immigration, but those steps proved to be illusory: Mexico had already agreed to implement those measures months ago.

The second was a major agricultural purchase the Republican said Mexico had agreed to make, though it now appears Trump just made this up.

But the third has become the most interesting. The American president said there was a secret side deal, excluded from the formal agreement, which Trump and his team secured with Mexico thanks to his threat. Mexican officials have spent the last few days denying the existence of this secret accord.

All of which led to some fresh drama yesterday afternoon at the White House.

It's all right here -- but you can't see it yet.That's what President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday as he removed a piece of paper from his suit jacket pocket, waved it around and claimed it contained the details of his secret agreement with the Mexican government that Mexican officials have expressed confusion about.

Asked specifically about a possible "safe-third-country" agreement with Mexico -- rumored to be what Trump is referring to as the secret deal -- the president held up a folded piece of paper. "That's the agreement that everybody says I don't have," Trump said, refusing to let anyone see it.

He added, "[R]ight here is the agreement. It's very simple. It's right here. And in here is everything you want to talk about. Done. It's done. It's done. It's all done."

Two days after Trump said the secret agreement will need the approval of Mexican lawmakers, the Republican said something different yesterday, telling reporters, "It goes into effect when I want it to."

While the president didn't let anyone read the document, photographers were able to take enough shots of the piece of paper to learn more about it.

We learned, for example, that it was apparently signed by legal advisers from the U.S. State Department and the Mexican Foreign Ministry, not the presidents of the two countries. We also learned that the piece of paper references changes to "refuge" policy and "burden-sharing."

When all of this caused a stir, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard spoke to reporters yesterday, clarifying matters and adding some additional context. The Washington Post reported:

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard held a news conference in which he said that the Friday agreement with the United States gave Mexico 45 days to prove that it could diminish migration without agreeing to a "safe third" deal.He acknowledged that in 45 days, if the United States does not assess that progress has been made, the Trump administration probably will ask again for a "safe third" agreement. But he said Mexico has not committed to that agreement, which would have to be approved by lawmakers and probably negotiated with other countries in the region.

Taken together, it appears there's some policy work underway, but Trump's rhetoric yesterday -- "It's done. It's done. It's all done." -- shouldn't be accepted at face value.