An editorial that ran Friday in South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh elevated fears over the weekend that President Donald Trump could spark a conflict with North Korea in an attempt to boost Republican odds of winning in the upcoming midterm elections.
Meanwhile, the Russia scandal is raising the possibility that Trump not only faces a difficult road to re-election but could end up impeached. Depending on how the mid-term elections in November turn out, he could find himself a lame duck. This raises the troubling question of whether he might consider a strike against North Korea as a way out of his domestic political crisis.
Indeed, White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matthew Pottinger reportedly said in a recent closed-door meeting with US experts on Korean Peninsula issues that a limited strike on the North might help in the midterm elections.
It is unclear what language Pottinger actually used during the meeting, but in seeking clarification, Business Insider learned that the statements attributed to him in the editorial should be taken as implied and not verbatim:
Hankyoreh told Business Insider that the author of the op-ed had used the quote from a previous story that was published one day earlier. That article, written by the newspaper's Washington correspondent, also cites the source as saying that the comment attributed to Pottinger was implied, and not a direct quote.
White House officials were quick to condemn the reporting as fabrication.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Pottinger on Friday night and criticized Wall Street Journal Seoul bureau chief Jonathan Cheng, who tweeted the original story with attribution to Hankyoreh.
"Never happened. Pottinger is a Marine who served in two wars and doesn’t take military action lightly," Sanders said. "Can’t believe @ WSJ reporter didn’t reach out for a comment before repeating such a reckless accusation."
But the journalist responsible for the reporting maintained confidence in both the source and subsequent editorial:
Business Insider contacted the correspondent, who said that he had confidence in his source and acknowledged that the English version of the op-ed may have been misinterpreted during translation.