Still reeling from the scandal surrounding his comments about halting immigration from “sh-thole countries,” U.S. President Donald Trump has again come under fire — this time for reportedly referring to an intelligence analyst as a “pretty Korean lady” and suggested she should be part of negotiations with North Korea.
NBC News reported Friday that the conversation last fall between the “career intelligence analyst,” an expert in hostage policy, and the president happened last fall in the Oval Office, when Trump was being briefed on the impending release of a family long held in Pakistan.
The network, citing two unidentified officials with direct knowledge of the exchange, said the president asked where the briefer was from, to which she replied New York. Unsatisfied, Trump pressed again, asking where “your people” are from.
The report said the analyst revealed that her parents were Korean, prompting Trump to ask an adviser in the room why the “pretty Korean lady” isn’t negotiating with nuclear-armed North Korea.
The exchange emerged amid the backlash from reports that Trump used derogatory language to refer to African nations, while also questioning why the United States should accept more immigrants from Haiti, reigniting charges that he is a racist.
The White House did not initially deny the remark, but Trump later said he had not made the comments during a meeting. However, one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Dick Durbin, confirmed that the phrase was used “repeatedly” when Trump was referring to Africa.
According to the NBC News report, the officials who revealed the fall exchange between Trump and the intelligence briefer said the president “likely meant no harm with his inquiry, but it raised concern of a lack of cultural sensitivity and decorum.”
Trump has been accused of harboring racist sentiments for suggesting that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was not born in America, for suggesting that some Mexican immigrants are “rapists,” and more recently for referring to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” during an event honoring Navajo code talkers.
Mieke Eoyang, of the Third Way think tank, writing in a commentary for Politico shortly after Friday’s NBC News report, said Trump was not alone in holding such an attitude.
“For many reading this anecdote, it seems like another beyond-the-pale example of President Trump’s insensitivity and racism,” Eoyang wrote. “And yet, for those of us who work in national security and trace our ancestry to Asia, the story is all too familiar.
“It’s pervasive. You get asked this all the time,” she wrote.
Mintaro Oba, a former Obama State Department official who worked on North Korean issues and is of Japanese descent, echoed those experiences.
“This has always been a big part of my life,” Oba said. “One big reason I chose not to specialize in Japan was because I didn’t want people to think I was doing so because of my Japanese heritage.
“When I was in school, I was so conscious of it I initially specialized in Europe before realizing I had a strong interest in the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
But, Oba added, “if one good thing came out of today’s news, it’s that people are finally paying attention to experiences that have long been a fact of life for Asian-Americans.”