Stock Market Falls as Trump threatens tariffs on $11 billion of EU goods

U.S. stocks closed lower Tuesday, with the S&P 500 snapping its eight-day winning streak, on fears over escalation of trade tensions with the European Union and a weaker global outlook from the International Monetary Fund.

How did the benchmarks fare?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.72%  dropped 190.44 points, or 0.7%, to close at 26,150.58, while the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.61% fell 17.57 points. or 0.6%, to 2,878.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.56% declined 44.61 points, or 0.6%, to 7,909.28.

What drove the market?

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative threatened to levy tariffs on many European goods late Monday. The threat is a retaliation against European companies’ subsidies for aircraft manufacturer Airbus SE EADSY, -1.82% If the U.S. follows through, the proposed tariffs would affect about $11 billion in imports to the U.S., including helicopters, bicycles, cheese and wine.

Lighthizer said the Trump administration would wait for World Trade Organization clearance to implement the duties. President Donald Trump Tuesday morning tweeted that the EU has taken advantage of the U.S., adding that it would “soon stop!”:

The U.S.-EU tensions comes with the administration reportedly close to resolving a yearlong spat with China, which has roiled markets amid fears the clash between the world’s largest economies could disrupt global economic growth.

The IMF lowered the outlook for global economic growth in 2019 to 3.3% from 3.5% projected in January, marking its third reduction of growth expectations in six months. The decline has been broadly felt, with all advanced economies, including the U.S., and most major emerging-market economies seeing deterioration in their outlook.

Meanwhile, data pointed to a tightening of the U.S. labor market. The number of job openings in the U.S. fell by 538,000 to 7.1 million on the last business day of February, marking the smallest number of job openings since March of 2018.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s small-business optimism index edged up 0.1 point to a seasonally adjusted 101.8, marking the third month in a row in a narrow range.

What were strategists saying?

“The tariff threat is probably what’s moving markets negatively,” Karen Cavanaugh, senior market strategist with Voya Investment Management, told MarketWatch, though she noted that tariffs being discussed are relatively small. “We’re in an information vacuum before earnings season, and right now any little thing could move markets until we get something substantial to sink our teeth into.”

“Sentiment in continental Europe is holding up well, considering the heightened tensions between Washington, D.C., and Brussels in relation to the threat of $11 billion worth of tariffs being imposed on European imports,” wrote David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets, in a research note.

Which stocks were in focus?

Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.30%  surrendered early gains to fall 0.3%, bringing its nine-day win streak to a close as its effort to reclaim $1 trillion in market cap took a pause.

Shares of Wynn Resorts LtdWYNN, -3.86% dropped 3.9% after the company terminated talks to purchase Australia’s Crown Resorts.

Shares of Paris-listed Airbus SE AIR, -1.86%  were off 1.9% amid the U.S. tariff threat. U.S. listed shares EADSY, -1.82% also fell 1.8%.

Avaya Holdings CorpAVYA, +4.17% shares gained 4.2% after Bloomberg reported that the communications software company is organizing a sales process for the company, following the receipt of unsolicited bids.

General Electric CoGE, -2.85% shares slid 2.9% a day after J.P. Morgan analyst Stephen Tusa downgraded the stock.

Shares of American Airlines Group IncAAL, -1.68% fell 1.7% after the company cut its first quarter guidance.

How were other markets trading?

Markets in Asia closed on a mixed note, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK, -0.61%adding 0.2%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -0.35% rising 0.3%, while the Shanghai Composite Index SHCOMP, -0.39% lost 0.2%. European stocks were lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -0.47% down 0.5%.

In commodities markets, the price of oil CLK9, +0.19% retreated from five-month highs, while gold futures GCM9, -0.13% settled higher. The U.S. dollarDXY, +0.02% was mostly unchanged.

[MarketWatch]

Trump Overrules Own Experts on Sanctions, in Favor to North Korea

President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran and Venezuela, but not North Korea.

However, economic penalties were imposed on Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies suspected of helping North Korea evade international sanctions. Those penalties, announced with news releases and a White House briefing, were the first imposed against North Korea since late last year and came less than a month after a summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal.

It was initially believed that Mr. Trump had confused the day that the North Korea sanctions were announced, and officials said they were caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Asked for clarification, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to give specifics.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

Hours later, two officials familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking said the president was actually referring to additional North Korea sanctions that are under consideration but not yet formally issued.

That statement sought to soften the blow that Mr. Trump’s tweet had dealt to his most loyal aides. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, personally signed off on the sanctions that were issued on Thursday and hailed the decision in an accompanying statement.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” Mr. Mnuchin said in the statement. He described the sanctions as part of an international campaign against North Korea that “is crucial to a successful outcome.”

Sanctions are one of America’s most powerful tools for pressuring rogue nations. Mr. Mnuchin has taken great pride in bolstering Treasury’s sanctions capacity and often says that he spends half of his time working on sanctions matters.

Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, referred questions about Friday’s sanctions confusion to the White House.

John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, had also hailed the earlier action against North Korea in a tweet on Thursday: “Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.”

Mr. Trump has been eager to strike a deal for North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons arsenal and, in turn, hand him a signature foreign policy achievement that has eluded his predecessors. Hawks in the administration, such as Mr. Bolton, have been wary of trusting Mr. Kim despite Mr. Trump’s professed strong personal connection to the North Korean leader.

Last month, Mr. Trump was criticized for defending Mr. Kim over the death of Otto F. Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 after being imprisoned in North Korea. Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Kim’s claim that he was not aware of Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing signs that the thawing relations between the two countries could again turn frosty.

This month, a vice foreign minister of North Korea, Choe Son-hui, accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Bolton of creating an “atmosphere of hostility and mistrust” despite the chemistry between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

In another sign of hardening on Friday, North Korea withdrew its stafffrom the joint liaison office it has operated with South Korea since September. The office was viewed as a potential first step toward the Koreas establishing diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals. But North Korea has expressed frustration with how South Korea has been handling its role as a mediator with the United States.

The talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim broke down because North Korea wanted the United States to roll back some of its most economically painful sanctions without the North immediately dismantling its nuclear program.

As the linchpin of the global financial system, the United States relies on sanctions as one of its most powerful tools for international diplomacy. Officials at the Treasury and State Departments, including career staff members and political appointees, spend months carefully drafting sanctions based on intensive intelligence gathering and legal research.

The North Korea sanctions were no different, and the White House held a formal briefing on Thursday afternoon to explain the rationale behind the actions.

During the briefing, senior administration officials pushed back on the idea that the sanctions sought to increase pressure on North Korea. Instead, they said, the new measures were meant to maintain the strength of existing sanctions.

But one of the senior administration officials strongly rebutted any suggestion that the administration would ease some sanctions as confidence building, or in return for smaller steps by North Korea.

“It would be a mistake to interpret the policy as being one of a step by step approach, where we release some sanctions in return for piecemeal steps toward denuclearization” said the administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. “That is not a winning formula and it is not the president’s strategy.”

While it is not unusual for the White House to have comment and even final approval of major sanctions, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed doubts about Mr. Trump’s ability to execute sanctions policy responsibly.

In 2017, Congress passed legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting the president’s authority to lift them. Under pressure from his own party, Mr. Trump reluctantly signed the bill.

The reversal on the North Korea sanctions drew swift condemnation on Friday from Democrats, who accused the president of being reckless with national security.

“Career experts at the Treasury Department undertake a painstaking process before imposing sanctions,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. “For Donald Trump to overturn their decision via tweet because he has an inexplicable fondness for one of the world’s most brutal dictators is appalling.”

He added, “Without a well-conceived diplomatic strategy, Trump is simply undermining our national security by making clear that the United States is not a trusted foreign policy partner.”

Some Republicans also pushed back against the president, with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado saying that North Korea sanctions should be imposed. “Strategic Patience failed,” he tweeted. “Don’t repeat it.”

Mr. Trump’s decision stunned current and former Treasury Department officials, some of whom wondered if the move was planned in advance as a gesture to Mr. Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regime had been compromised.

“For an administration that continues to surprise, this is another first — the president of the United States undercutting his own sanctions agency for imposing sanctions on Chinese actors supporting North Korea,” said John E. Smith, the former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who left the department last year. “It’s a win for North Korea and China and a loss for U.S. credibility.”

Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was deputy Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, said the sudden backtracking on a decision that would normally be made with comment from intelligence agencies and the National Security Council was perplexing.

“Reversing sanctions decisions within hours of making the announcement that you would impose them in the first place is a head-spinner,” she said. “This reversal signals the injection of some peripheral consideration or factor that only the president seems to know about and that may have nothing to do with national security.”

The Trump administration did issue some new sanctions on Friday. The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Iran, targeting a research and development unit that it believes could be used to restart the country’s nuclear weapons program. It also imposed sanctions on Bandes, Venezuela’s national development bank, and its subsidiaries, as part of its effort to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

[The New York Times]

Trump says he’s ‘very proud’ to hear Bolsonaro use the term ‘fake news’

President Trump said Tuesday that he was “very proud” to hear Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro use the term “fake news” during a news conference at the White House.

Trump offered praise for his Brazilian counterpart, who has earned the nickname “Trump of the Tropics” for his similarities to the U.S. leader, during a diatribe against tech companies and broadcast networks. Trump suggested that those two groups are biased against him and other conservatives.

“You look at the networks, you look at the newscasts. I call it fake news,” Trump said. “I’m very proud to hear the president use the term fake news.”

Bolsonaro invoked the term Trump regularly uses to describe unfavorable news coverage during his opening remarks.

“Brazil and the United States stand side-by-side in their efforts to ensure liberties in respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes and against fake news,” he said through a translator.

Tuesday’s news conference underscored the similarities and friendly relationship between Trump and Bolsonaro, who took over as president in January. The two men spoke of improving relations between their respective countries, and referenced their closely aligned views.

“I also know that we’re going to have a fantastic working relationship,” Trump said. “We have many views that are similar.”

Bolsonaro later predicted that Trump will win reelection in 2020.

“It’s an internal affair, we will respect whatever the ballots tell us on 2020,” he said through a translator. “But I do believe Donald Trump is going to be reelected.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Bolsonaro promised in his campaign he would shoot political opponents, including the press. Donald Trump is again promoting violence against those who disagree with him.

Trump points to Dems over failure of North Korea summit

President Trump on Sunday appeared to point blame at Democrats for the collapse of his negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week.

“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the “walk” Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!” Trump tweeted.

The president was referring to the testimony of his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, which occurred simultaneously with his summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Cohen testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where he accused the president of lying to the public about hush money payments and floated the possibility of Trump’s collusion with Moscow.

Cohen was sentenced to prison last year after pleading guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. He sentence is set to begin on May 6.

While Cohen was on Capitol Hill, Trump was in Hanoi, at his second meeting with Kim.

Trump entered negotiations with the hope of securing a deal that involved North Korea denuclearizing, but talks ended abruptly without any type of deal, which Trump alludes to in his tweet. 

The president told reporters following the summit that the U.S. was not willing to fully lift sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization, stating that “[s]ometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”

A North Korean official disputed that characterization of the country’s position adding that Kim “may have lost the will” to engage in future negotiations.

“This proposal was the biggest denuclearization measure we could take at the present stage in relations to [the] current level of confidence between the DPRK and the United States,” North Korea’s foreign minister said.

[The Hill]

Trump claims Otto Warmbier comments were ‘misinterpreted’

President Trump on Friday claimed that he was “misinterpreted” when he said he took Kim Jong Un “at his word” when the dictator denied knowing what happened to US college student Otto Warmbier’s while he was in a North Korean prison.

“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family. Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch,” Trump wrote on Twitter after increasing criticism of his acceptance of Kim’s denial.

“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!” he continued, without mentioning Kim or his denial.

Earlier Friday, Warmbier’s parents directly blamed Kim for their son’s death and blasted his “evil regime.”

“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a scathing statement that rebuked Trump’s assertion.

“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that,” added the couple, who were Trump’s guests at his 2018 State of the Union address.

The president drew criticism when he praised Kim’s leadership and said he believed the despot’s claims that he was unaware of how the 22-year-old college student from Ohio had been treated in a North Korean prison.

“Some really bad things happened to Otto — some really, really bad things. But he tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said during a press conference after his summit with Kim broke down.

“I really don’t think it was in his interest at all,” he said, adding that Kim felt “very badly” about the young man’s death.

[New York Post]

Trump Calls Kim Jong-un a ‘Real Leader’ in Hannity Interview

President Trump continued to sing Kim Jong-un’s praises in a new interview with Sean Hannity, calling the North Korean politician a “real leader,” among other compliments.

“He’s a character and he’s a real personality and he’s very smart. He’s sharp as you can be,” Trump told Hannity in a sit down interview on Thursday night. “He’s a real leader.”

The president immediately added Kim was “pretty mercurial” —  but that he didn’t “say that necessarily in a bad way.”

Trump’s comments follow his trip to Vietnam for a second in-person meeting with Kim. Talks of nuclear disarmament, according to The New York Times on Thursday, fizzled out over a disagreement on lifting stiff sanctions on North Korea.

“It was about the sanctions,” Trump said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

On Thursday, Trump said he didn’t believe Kim knew about the treatment of American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in early 2016 on charges he stole a North Korean propaganda poster. Warmbier was returned to the U.S. in a comatose state in June 2017 and died shortly after. Kim, according to Trump, “felt very badly about” Warmbier’s death.

The Warmbier family, in a statement to MSNBC on Friday, responded to the president’s recent comments.

“We have been respectful during this summit process,” the family said.”Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity.”

The Warmbiers added:  “No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

[The Wrap]

Trump defends Kim Jong Un over death of Otto Warmbier

President Trump on Thursday defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family says he was “brutally tortured” while imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 after being flown back to United States in a coma.

The president condemned the “brutality of the North Korean regime” following Warmbier’s death at 22 years old, but he took a softer stance toward Kim at the conclusion of their second summit.

“I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”

Trump said that he spoke to Kim about the death of Warmbier — whose family has called it a murder — and that Kim “feels badly about it.” He said the North Korea leader, who rules the country with an iron grip, knew about the case but learned about it only after the fact because, Trump suggested, “top leadership” might not have been involved.

“He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word,” Trump said.

Richard Cullen, the attorney for Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who in December won a $501 million judgment against North Korea for the death of their son, said the couple probably will not say anything publicly about the president’s comment.

Trump’s defense of Kim mirrors his willingness to take the word of autocrats in other cases despite the findings of his own government or experts, particularly when confronting the leader is not what Trump sees as in his political interest.

Trump has not agreed with his intelligence community’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia who has forged an alliance with the administration — ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, was reportedly cut up with a bone saw, and messages later showed that the crown prince had plotted in the past to kill him. The Saudi government has blamed the operation on a rogue band of operatives who were sent to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

Trump has repeatedly said that the crown prince has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death while emphasizing his own view that preserving the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is most important.

“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said of whether Mohammed knew of the plan to kill Khashoggi. The remarks were included in an October news release defending his administration’s handling of the situation.

And Trump has sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his denial that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election — even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere as part of an effort to sow discord and help Trump.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said standing beside the Russian president during a joint news conference in Helsinki in July.

Trump’s remarks about Warmbier and Kim drew bipartisan criticism. Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s denial of responsibility was “reprehensible.”

“He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier,” said Santorum on CNN, adding, “I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump’s remark was “detestable.”

“Walking away from the summit was better than making a bad deal,” he wrote in a Thursday morning post. “It’s also the result of a poorly planned strategy. But accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from Ohio, was detained in Pyongyang after participating in an organized tour in December 2015 and was held for 17 months, after being charged with spying for the United States and being coerced into making an on-camera confession. His parents have stated that all the charges against him were untrue. Warmbier returned to his hometown of Cincinnati in a coma and died a few days later.

Trump said at the time that he was incensed by the death. He forged a relationship with the Warmbier family, even meeting with them in the Oval Office, and introduced them to a rousing ovation at his 2018 State of the Union address.

“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat,” he said, with Warmbier’s tearful family looking on as he described the regime’s grisly actions.

Fred Warmbier accompanied Vice President Pence as part of the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February 2018.

In a statement announcing a lawsuit against the government of North Korea in April 2018, Warmbier said his son was “taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un. Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son’s life.”

As his relationship has warmed with Kim, Trump has played down human rights abuses in North Korea and has infrequently brought up Otto Warmbier’s death.

Trump has said to advisers that human rights are not a key concern when negotiating with North Korea, and human rights advocatestold The Washington Post in December that they have lost momentum with the administration. 

At the end of his first summit with Kim in June in Singapore, when asked about Warmbier, Trump described his death as a turning point that helped lead to a ratcheting-down of tensions with Kim and a move toward negotiations over its nuclear program.

“I think without Otto this would not have happened,” he said. “Something happened from that day — it was a terrible thing. It was brutal. A lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

On Thursday, Trump jumped in when an American journalist asked Kim about his human rights record, saying they would discuss it privately.

“You’ve got a lot of people,” Trump said of North Korea during Thursday’s news conference. “Big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you’ve got a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. . . . But [Kim] tells me he didn’t know about it.”

[Washington Post]

White House press corps abruptly ordered out of hotel ahead of North Korea summit

The White House press corps was being evicted from its dedicated workspace for the summit here between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — possibly to make room for the North Korean head of state.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted late Monday night that the White House press corps would be relocated from its planned staging ground at the Melia Hotel — including a 200-seat ballroom and stand-up spots for broadcast reporters — to an international media center.

“You must go now! This way,” a Vietnamese security officer barked at members of the press corps in the hotel lobby Wednesday morning.

The forced move was highly unusual because the White House had approved of and supported the use of the space by media who cover the president.

Foreign press have been reporting that Kim would stay at the Melia, and the hotel let guests were made aware over the weekend that a “head of state” would be staying there.

It was not immediately clear who made the decision to boot the White House reporters: North Korea, Vietnam, the U.S. or a combination of those governments.

[NBC News]

Trump Tweets on North Korea, ‘My Friend Kim Jong Un’ Ahead of Summit

Ahead of his summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, President Donald Trump touted the “AWESOME” potential for North Korea if they denuclearize.

“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un,” the President tweeted.

He also swiped at Democrats for not being able to do “it” while Barack Obama was president:

Trump cited Putin to push back on North Korea long-range missile reports

Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe wrote in his new book that President Trump did not believe U.S. intelligence reports about North Korean missile advances because of claims he’d heard from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Washington Post reported that McCabe’s book, “The Threat,” details an instance in July 2017 where Trump did not believe information in an Oval Office briefing that North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. 

McCabe wrote that Trump called the launch of the long-range missile a “hoax,” telling officials he knew North Korea did not have the ability to launch that type of missile “because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

Asked for comment, the White House pointed to a statement earlier Thursday from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that said McCabe “has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country.”

Those remarks came in response to an interview in which McCabe revealed he opened a probe into whether Trump obstructed justice when the president fired James Comey as FBI chief in 2017 amid the Russia investigation.

Trump ripped McCabe on Thursday morning, tweeting that the former FBI official “pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax.”

McCabe was fired last year after an internal watchdog report found he had a “lack of candor” with investigators looking into FBI leaks about its probe into the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 presidential race.

The former deputy director’s account of the 2017 meeting is the latest instance calling into question Trump’s relationship with Putin. Democrats and critics of the president have repeatedly chastised Trump for his friendly rhetoric toward Russia and the Putin.

Special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has so far implicated six former Trump associates. The president has repeatedly decried the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and denied colluding with Russia.

The president’s defenders have argued that Trump has been tougher on Russia than past administrations, pointing to various sanctions.

[The Hill]

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