Trump fumes, but Sessions may have the upper hand

President Donald Trump calls him “beleaguered” and “weak” – but it’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions who actually has the power in the relationship.

White House aides have warned the president against firing Sessions, according to a former Trump administration official, because of the risk that he could be a potent weapon in special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation. And the Republican-controlled Senate has made clear it will not confirm another attorney general.

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Trump has for months obsessed publicly over the perceived disloyalty of his attorney general, tweeting again this week that he wished he’d picked someone else for the job. In private, Trump has leaned on Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from Mueller’s sprawling probe – and his firing now over a refusal to do so, some say, would bolster Mueller’s case that Trump has tried to block that investigation from proceeding.

The president is aware that Sessions may have the upper hand, according to two senior administration officials, and his unrelenting campaign against his attorney general is in part fueled by that knowledge.

“He’s got a ton of leverage,” said Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who has argued that Mueller’s appointment, without the identification of a specific underlying crime to be investigated, violated Justice Department regulations.

Everything Trump does in the way of personnel movements, if it even tangentially touches on this investigation, is a potential landmine for the president, McCarthy added.

Trump allies and legal experts agree that firing the attorney general is within the president’s rights as the head of the executive branch. But just as Richard Nixon’s 1973 decision to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox triggered a wave of resignations and firings in the Justice Department – the Saturday Night Massacre – a decision by Trump to get rid of Sessions would unleash suspicions about Trump’s motivations.

“He attempted to persuade [Sessions] to un-recuse himself. Think how much worse it’d be if he fired him because he wouldn’t un-recuse himself,” said a Republican attorney close to the White House. “You’re going to be aggravating your problems if you do fire him.”

Others, however, argue that the damage is already done – because Trump’s request that Sessions retake control of the Russia investigation is as much about meddling in the Mueller probe as firing the attorney general over his refusal would be.

Regardless, obstruction of justice, including Trump’s efforts persuade Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the investigation, to is already a focus of Mueller’s investigation. According to the New York Times, the special counsel wants to ask the president questions including “What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions” and “What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?”

Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe amid reports that he met twice in 2016 with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., despite having told senators during his confirmation hearings that he had no contacts with Russian officials during his time as an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign. Sessions has denied any wrongdoing.

Trump returned to his grievance campaign against the attorney general on Wednesday, responding to South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy’s suggestion that “he could have picked somebody else” to do the job: “I wish I did!”

Some administration officials have come to feel sympathy for Sessions, and describe the constant attacks on him from the president as personally painful for the AG. They view his commitment to stay in the post despite the president’s displeasure as honorable.

The White House declined to comment.

Republicans on Capitol Hill moved to protect Sessions months ago in the face of Trump’s parade of insults, with Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley saying in July that he will not hold hearings to confirm a successor if Sessions is dismissed.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN the same month.

When asked why Trump doesn’t simply fire his attorney general if he is displeased with him, press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday: “The president has made his viewpoint very clearly known, and I don’t have any personnel announcements at this point.”

Sessions allies say he has vowed to stick it out. The immigration hardliner has promised allies in the West Wing that he will never quit – he has told them that he understands the immigration agenda he is quietly implementing is worth the public humiliation of being publicly demeaned by the commander-in-chief.

But those close to Sessions concede that he is less effective in the job than he would be if he had a close working relationship with the president. A push for criminal justice reform, for example, led by Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is proceeding apace inside the White House with the president’s approval – and over Sessions’ vehement objection.

“Sessions would be a really effective opponent if he had the president’s ear,” McCarthy said. “If he wants to be a very effective attorney general, he’s got to have a good relationship with the president.”

Trump’s pardons skew toward celebrity

To get a pardon from President Donald Trump, it clearly helps to be famous.

As conservative filmmaker and author Dinesh D’Souza received clemency Thursday for a felony conviction for making campaign contributions through straw donors, Trump seemed to confirm that D’Souza’s high public profile — primarily in right-leaning media outlets — contributed to his case.

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“I’ve always felt he was very unfairly treated. And a lot of people did, a lot of people did, ” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “I read the papers — I see him on television.”

Trump also floated two other high-profile convictions he is considering wading into, suggesting a commutation for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who’s serving a 14-year sentence for corruption, and a pardon for Martha Stewart, who served a short term in jail for lying to investigators during an insider-trading probe.

The string of six pardons and commutations Trump has issued in recent months initially buoyed the hopes of clemency advocates that Trump would dive into the backlog of more than 10,000 applications pending at the Justice Department. But some of those activists are now growing concerned that only the famous or well-known will get relief.

“I don’t want to criticize the robust use of the clemency power, but this is not the priority list we would have drawn up,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “You see a lot of people who are oversentenced … I guess all we can do is hope this is the beginning, as he and the administration learn about some of the injustices.”

“Every president has done at least one of these special deals, but they’ve all also done more regular grants in addition,” said Margaret Love, a former Justice Department pardon attorney. “None has ignored the ordinary pardon caseload.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters Thursday that Trump was looking at “plenty of people” for pardons.

President Barack Obama’s use of the clemency power got off to a slower start than Trump’s, but Obama eventually delivered 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons — the highest tally of individual grants since President Harry Truman. Most of Obama’s actions came in his second term, after the administration invited nonviolent drug convicts serving long sentences to request commutations, triggering a flood of applications.

Trump’s clemency actions thus far have been in cases celebrated by right-wing activists or commentators, but also involving opportunities for the president to thumb his nose at his enemies and the ongoing special counsel investigation into his presidential campaign.

The pardon of D’Souza seemed to many like a rebuke of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office prosecuted the case and whom Trump eventually fired. In a statement announcing the pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump considered D’Souza “a victim of selective prosecution.”

“The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness,” Bharara tweeted Thursday.

Likewise, Trump’s pardon last month of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, — who the president said had been “treated unfairly” — was seen in many quarters as an attack on special prosecutors and on former FBI Director James Comey, who tapped the special prosecutor who pursued Libby as part of a probe into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

And Trump’s pardon of Navy sailor Kristian Saucier — another case publicized on Fox News — was an obvious slap at Hillary Clinton. In January, Trump complained on Twitter that Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin were never prosecuted over their handling of classified information, while Saucier was charged over taking photographs on a military submarine.

“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid [sic], Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump tweeted in January. “Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail!”

Other presidents have issued pardons and commutations to friends and have snubbed special counsels by pardoning individuals they charged. President Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother Roger on a drug conviction and extended relief to a slew of targets of special prosecutors. President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra defendants, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

Perhaps the most famous pardon in modern American history, President Gerald Ford’s unconditional grant of clemency to former President Richard Nixon, was widely seen as a partisan political move at the time and may have led to Ford’s defeat in the 1976 presidential election.

But some observers say Trump’s string of score-settling pardons is a departure from history.

“I think they’re not political. They are very personal. It’s the most personal use of the pardon power in the last 150 years,” Love said.

“It’s not new to give favors to your friends,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Michigan. “That’s been done in the past. What is new is using clemency to poke at your enemies.”

Whether less famous people or those with no obvious political angle to their cases will be granted Trump’s mercy remains to be seen.

In the case of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, advocates are hoping a famous intermediary will do the trick. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West met with Trump at the White House on Wednesday to lobby on Johnson’s behalf. The meeting was facilitated in part by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has made criminal justice reform a top priority.

The meeting was “positive,” but Trump made no concrete commitments, according to Brittany Barnett, one of Johnson’s lawyers who was briefed on the meeting.

“I think we’re definitely making progress. The entire country is paying attention to this issue,” Barnett said. “He’s definitely taking it under consideration.”

Gidley, the White House spokesman, said Trump was looking at the case, describing the meeting with Kardashian West as “brief.”

Based on Trump’s recent pardons, just how much media attention the Johnson case garners could help determine her fate.

Regardless of his decision, Trump clearly enjoyed the opportunity to rub elbows with Kardashian West.

“Great meeting with @KimKardashian today, talked about prison reform and sentencing,” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon, including a picture of Kardashian West standing beside him at the Resolute Desk where he sat, beaming.

While Trump hasn’t approved any pardons or commutations through the normal process, he did deny a batch last month. Trump turned down 98 commutations and 82 pardons, according to rolls on the Justice Department’s website. As of the end of April, 2,108 pardon petitions and 8,833 commutation requests were on file at DOJ.

D’Souza did not have a pardon application on file with the Justice Department, a DOJ spokeswoman said, and he would not have been eligible to pursue a pardon that way because of a five-year waiting period. But the president is free to pardon individuals who don’t apply.

“The thing that bugs me is you’ve got the normal-process people who have followed the rules and put in their applications to the pardon attorney … and are facing life or 30 years for nonviolent narcotics crimes. Meanwhile, reality show people are getting access right away,” Osler said. “The fact is that he is granting based on who is on Fox News and what celebrity shows up in his office. That is something that is going to bother people.”

Democrats have applied some political heat over Trump’s decision to bypass the Justice Department with the clemency grants he’s issued thus far.

At a hearing last month, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) lit into Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the issue, pointing out that Sessions condemned Bill Clinton for leaving the Justice Department out of the loop with many of his own last-minute pardons.

“At the time, you made comments … saying that not going through that process was an abuse of power. So, my question to you is whether or not you think not going through the pardon attorney is an abuse of the power?” Van Hollen asked, citing the fact that Trump pardoned Libby and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — a supporter on the campaign trail who was awaiting sentencing for contempt of court — without consulting the Justice Department.

“There are opportunities that the pardon attorney can be utilized very effectively … but I don’t think it’s in any way required,” Sessions said.

The attorney general also argued that Trump’s one-off pardons were more justified than Clinton’s.

“The pardons that President Clinton made were stunning, shocking and unacceptable on the merits,” Sessions said. He added that Arpaio and Libby both had long records of service.

“They contributed greatly to America,” Sessions said.

Despite the criticism, some clemency advocates say that — intentionally or not — Trump is confirming their argument that the Justice Department application process for pardons and commutations is hopelessly broken and should be moved back to the White House or made a freestanding agency.

“There’s an opportunity here,” Osler said. “If Trump’s going to ignore that process, maybe he’ll scrap it and create something better and more direct …That would be a good outcome.”

Trump pours kerosene on the global trade wars

President TrumpDonald John TrumpKoch brothers company tweets support for Kim Kardashian after Trump meeting Romney reveals he wrote in wife’s name for president in 2016 Pompeo has dinner with top North Korean official in New York: report MORE‘s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico has pushed his administration to the brink of an all-out trade war with three of the nation’s largest trading partners. 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHillicon Valley: Senators pressure Bolton to save cyber post | Judge rejects Kaspersky lawsuit | DHS, Commerce release report on fighting botnets | Trump official worries EU data law will hurt trade Trump will hit EU with steel, aluminum tariffs: report Overnight Finance: Fed advances Volcker rule rewrite in win for banks | Trump official knocks Mnuchin over China ‘trade war’ talk | Study says auto tariffs will cost 157K jobs MORE announced Thursday morning that the U.S. would be ending the temporary exemptions that had been granted to the three countries for steel and aluminum imports. With the exemptions lifted, those imports will face tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. 

The move drew withering criticism from congressional Republicans, business groups and U.S. allies, who had all tried to push the president onto another path. 

But true to form, Trump defied U.S. allies in favor of the “America First” agenda he had promised as a candidate.

Trump has downplayed the danger of a trade war, calling such conflicts “easy to win.” That theory will now be put to the test, with the three countries now moving to inflict maximum pain on parts of the American economy. 

Canada, Mexico and the EU all announced a series of retaliatory measures following the Trump administration’s decision.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa would impose upward of $12.8  billion in tariffs starting July 1 on U.S. steel, aluminum and a range of other American products.

U.S. steel components will be taxed at 25 percent, while other goods, including aluminum, toilet paper, whisky and orange juice, will see tariffs of 10 percent. The tariffs will remain in place until the United States drops its duties.

“This is the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the post-war era,” Freeland said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said, “the U.S. leaves us no choice but to proceed with a [World Trade Organization] dispute settlement case and the imposition of additional duties on a number of U.S. imports.”

“This is protectionism, pure and simple,” Juncker said.

EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said the EU will impose “rebalancing measures and take any necessary steps to protect the EU market from trade diversion caused by these U.S. restrictions.

In a statement, the EU referenced a 10-page list of possible targets for $3.3 billion in tariffs. The list includes iconic U.S. products like Kentucky bourbon, jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Mexico said that it would impose tariffs on a wide range of American products, including steels such as hot and cold foil, lamps, pork, sausages, apples, grapes, blueberries and various cheeses.

“Mexico deeply regrets and condemns the decision of the United States to impose these tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Mexico from June 1, at the discretion of national security,” the government said in a statement.

“Mexico has indicated repeatedly that such measures under the criteria of national security are not adequate nor justified.”

Last year, nearly 50 percent of U.S. steel and aluminum imports came from the EU, Canada and Mexico.

Liam Fox, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for international trade, noted that his country is a supplier of steel for the U.S. defense industry. He called the tariffs “patently absurd.”

“This is deeply disappointing, to try to prevent this we are working with the steel industry, and the U.S. and our European allies to find a solution to this,” Fox said during a Sky News interview.

“A trade war will be bad for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.

The action on tariffs came a week ahead of the Group of 7 meetings in Canada, where Trump is likely to face the ire of other world leaders. The tariffs go into effect on Friday. 

Ross dismissed suggestions that the U.S. is igniting a trade war with allies and downplayed the effects on the U.S. economy as “trivial.”

“As you know, this has been under discussion for quite a long time and it’s a very small percentage of the respective economy. A fraction of 1 percent,” Ross told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” during an interview from Paris.

But Dan Ikenson, head of trade at the Cato Institute, predicted the U.S. economy will suffer — and said it’s a lesson Trump’s supporters will have to learn the hard way.

“The boil must be lanced. The fever needs to break. History is no longer persuasive. We need fresh evidence that trade wars cause economic contraction and job loss,” Ikenson said on Twitter. “The rubes who delivered us Trump will bear the brunt. That’s a just outcome.” 

Republicans in Congress, who have tried to steer the president away from tariffs, expressed dismay at his decision.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRomney reveals he wrote in wife’s name for president in 2016 Senate grapples with prison reform bill Romney: I don’t see Trump as role model for my grandchildren MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the tariffs were “a tax hike on Americans and will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers.” 

His counterpart in the House, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Finance: White House planning new tax cut proposal this summer | Schumer wants Congress to block reported ZTE deal | Tech scrambles to comply with new data rules White House plans to release new tax cut proposal this summer Senate health committee to hold hearing on Trump drug pricing plan MORE of Texas, said the tariffs “are hitting the wrong target” and instead should be aimed at China, a sentiment echoed by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHillicon Valley: Senators pressure Bolton to save cyber post | Judge rejects Kaspersky lawsuit | DHS, Commerce release report on fighting botnets | Trump official worries EU data law will hurt trade The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Sponsored by NSSF — Trump weighs in on Roseanne controversy House GOP leader accuses tech companies of anti-conservative bias MORE (R-Wis.).

“I disagree with this decision,” Ryan said in a statement. “Instead of addressing the real problems in the international trade of these products, today’s action targets America’s allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China.” 

Republican Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyWH backpedals on Trump’s ‘due process’ remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race Newly declassified memos detail extent of improper Obama-era NSA spying MORE (Pa.) said the decision was “bad news,” while Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseThe Memo: Trump’s feud with Sessions grows toxic House GOP prepares to consider Trump’s billion clawback GOP senators introduce Trump’s plan to claw back billion in spending MORE (Neb.) called it “dumb.” 

Beyond the possible economic effects, Trump’s decision to hit U.S. allies with tariffs could portend more drastic moves on trade from the administration, such as withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or imposing new tariffs on imported cars.

“This represents another signal that prospects for a near-term NAFTA deal are fading, just a few weeks after it had appeared fairly likely that a ‘skinny’ agreement involving the auto sector might be reached,” said Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips.

The stock market, once among Trump’s favorite barometers of success, reacted badly to the tariff news. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 250 points, about 1 percent.

Business groups, meanwhile, voiced increasing concern about how the tit-for-tat on tariffs would affect their industries.

Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, said “this announcement opens the floodgates to billions in new tariffs on American agriculture.”

“These tariffs will harm U.S. farmers and take many American farm operations to the breaking point,” Kuehl said.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) said “starting a trade war with three of our nation’s largest trading partners and strongest allies will disrupt the entire global trading system, placing American manufacturing jobs at risk.”

Trump was defiant in the face of the criticism.

“FAIR TRADE,” he tweeted.

Ex-FBI honcho blasts Trump over Blagojevich

Robert D. Grant is pictured. | Getty Images

Robert Grant, who headed the FBI’s Chicago office at the time of the Blagojevich investigation, said Trump was working to upend the FBI’s work as personal revenge for Robert Mueller’s probe. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

President’s remarks a product of ‘spite and animus’ toward Mueller, Comey.

CHICAGO — A top former FBI official accused President Donald Trump of acting out of spite against federal law enforcement after the president suggested Thursday he might commute former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison term.

Robert Grant, a longtime colleague and friend of Special Counsel Robert Mueller who headed the FBI’s Chicago office at the time of the Blagojevich investigation, told POLITICO in an interview that Trump was working to upend the FBI’s work as personal revenge for the special counsel probe he’s facing.

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“It’s so disheartening to think that the president of the United States would overturn the evidence heard by a judge and jury, all out of an animus toward Bob Mueller, James Comey and [former U.S. Attorney] Pat Fitzgerald,” said Grant, who is now retired from the FBI. “Blagojevich got caught by wiretaps and microphones and he was engaging in a practice that we believed he was taking part in for quite awhile … I don’t think anybody who listened to those tapes would think anything but it was an incredibly corrupt governor who was dealing with corrupt associates.”

Grant said he views the possible commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence as in line with Trump’s pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby — all part of a broader attempt to discredit Mueller in his role as the special counsel.

In April, Trump pardoned Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and false statements in connection with an investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

“So if Trump gets himself into an obstruction of justice case or lies, then that’s OK. But that’s not the case for the poor kid on the South Side,” Grant said. “I think [Trump] tries to hurt anybody he doesn’t like. He will use his office because he can. Not to use it judiciously, but out of spite and animus. When the framers of the constitution framed that power, I don’t think they envisioned this.”

Trump asserted to reporters on Air Force One that the former Illinois governor’s actions did not justify his sentence, and that he “shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

In addition to his remarks about Blagojevich — who appeared with Trump on the president’s television show, The Apprentice — Trump floated a pardon for TV personality Martha Stewart, who in March 2004 was convicted on felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding and making false statements to federal investigators.

Trump told members of the press she “was harshly and unfairly treated,” adding that “she used to be my biggest fan in the world” before he launched his political career. The remarks about Blagojevich and Stewart came on the same day Trump pardoned controversial conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

The prospect that Trump might commute Blagojevich’s sentence stoked deep emotions here Thursday, angering federal law enforcement officials but also offering hope to a family that’s exhausted its legal options.

Blagojevich’s family and legal team were heartened by the president’s remarks, as they’ve long argued the 14-year sentence was out of line with the governor’s convictions.

Blagojevich was convicted of an array of schemes, including attempting to shake down the CEO of a children’s hospital for $25,000, delaying his signature on a horseracing bill as he sought a $100,000 donation and, most famously, attempting to cash in on his unique power to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama’s 2008 election as president.

“I’ve got this thing, and it’s fucking golden,” Blagojevich, who served as governor from 2003 until 2009, was heard saying of his appointment power.

After the Supreme Court in April turned down Blagojevich’s appeal, shutting down future legal avenues for relief, the Blagojevich family quickly saw Trump as their last best hope.

Hours after the ruling, the former governor’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, appeared on FOX’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and seemed to feed Trump’s anger toward federal law enforcement, making clear some of the players with whom Trump was sparring also played a role in the probe against the former governor.

Mueller served as FBI director during the Blagojevich probe, while Comey was deputy attorney general and Fitzgerald served as U.S. attorney in Chicago.

“This is so dangerous because it allows the FBI and power-hungry, overzealous prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald who prosecuted both my husband and Scooter Libby to go after anyone that they don’t like just because they’re unpopular or controversial,” Mrs. Blagojevich said at the time.

Earlier this week, the imprisoned ex-governor published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing prosecutors had criminalized routine conversations. “So today from prison, I am warning all candidates and elected officials to watch out,” he wrote. “This new, lesser standard used against me to infer a quid pro quo can now be used against you, too.”

Robert Blagojevich, the ex-governor’s brother, who was initially charged in the case, said the family had sought clemency through Obama — a plea he said fell on deaf ears.

“Here you have Donald Trump, the ultimate political disruptor who’s finally potentially bringing justice to my brother who never should have been sentenced to 14 years in prison,” he told POLITICO.

Robert Blagojevich was tried alongside his brother but a jury deadlocked on all counts against him. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges against Robert Blagojevich in a second trial.

“People like Michael Cohen, they’re victims just like with me,” said Robert Blagojevich. “They want them to flip on the president. And it’s Mueller who’s doing it now and it was Fitzgerald who did it to screw with me. These are bad people. There are no consequences to it. So Donald Trump — more power to him.”

Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.

How the trade war hits home

Beam Inc. employees are pictured. | Getty Images

Kentucky bourbon, Virginia ham and Florida orange juice and are all expected to be hit with retaliatory tariffs by the European Union, Mexico and Canada. | Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has said that trade wars are easy to win.

But winning will involve patience on the part of American consumers, importers, exporters and others. The flip side of the trade war is the squeeze that America’s strongest allies will impose.

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It is not clear how long the escalating tensions will play out. In the meantime, there are also many industries that will suffer collateral damage of higher tariffs that they may absorb by cutting jobs, pinching wages or taking other cost-cutting moves.

Here’s a look at how the new trade war could play out:


Consumers could soon be paying higher prices for cars and trucks, electronics, homes and staple goods like canned foods and canned beer. Aluminum has been a lightweight substitute for heavy steel components in manufacturing, and Canada provides 40 percent of the U.S. imports of the metal.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers warned Thursday of a direct correlation between Trump’s tariffs and the sticker prices of cars at dealerships. “Automakers already source the majority of their steel and aluminum from U.S. producers. However, these tariffs will result in an increase in the price of domestically produced steel — threatening the industry’s global competitiveness and raising vehicle costs for our customers,” the trade group said in a statement.

Some may say that the counter-tariffs that U.S. trading partners are imposing won’t be felt by Americans. But the tariffs that Canada is imposing on goods like cheese — and Mexico is imposing on products like pork bellies — could result in a glut in the United States if consumers abroad don’t want to pay more for U.S. imports.

Manufacturers and exporters

The tariffs may be good news for American steel plants and aluminum smelters — who are counting on the tariffs to bring back jobs.

But factories here have to compete with global companies. Higher costs (whether for U.S.-made steel and aluminum or that made abroad) mean that manufacturers like Boeing will have to pay more for raw materials than rivals like Canada’s Bombardier or Europe’s Airbus will. In addition, Canada and the European Union are already working on bringing down tariffs with each other on all sorts of other goods.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Florida orange juice, Virginia ham and Washington state apples are all expected to be hit by retaliatory tariffs by the European Union, Mexico and Canada. Those producers could, in turn, make adjustments to lower their expenses, leading to other economic harm here.

U.S. manufacturers also have to contend with potential new rounds of uncertainty, as the White House on Thursday left open the possibility that future negotiations with Canada, Mexico and the European Union could make the administration change or cancel the tariffs.

Farmers and agricultural products

America’s farmers and ranchers, a crucial part of Trump’s political base, often find themselves on the front lines of trade disputes, but stand to gain little from the benefits of the steel and aluminum penalties. One of the U.S. heartland’s biggest cash crops — corn — is on the EU’s retaliation list. Wisconsin produces about half of the U.S. cranberry crop — another product on the EU’s list.

Bourbon whiskey (which Congress has deemed to be a “distinctive product of the United States”) is also on Europe’s target list. And citrus farmers in Florida and California are in no position to absorb trade hits, having seen their crops destroyed by blight and Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight said that exporters are worried that years of hard-won gains could be lost. “We have spent years building markets in these countries based on a mutual belief that increasing trade benefits all parties,” he said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross left open the possibility that the U.S. government would aid farmers hurt by retaliation.

“Let’s see what evolves as things goes forward,” he said Thursday. “The president is a great supporter of the farm community, and as you may be aware earlier directed [Agriculture] Secretary [Sonny] Perdue to take whatever measures he could to try to offset any retaliation that might occur on the farm community.”

Global suppliers

Parts and supplies crisscross the globe, especially in automotive manufacturing, but also in hundreds of other industries. If a company has a choice of putting a plant in Detroit, where it may have to pay the tariffs, or over the border in Windsor, Ontario, where it doesn‘t, it may choose the latter.

The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users is concerned that overseas customers will flee to other sources. “Our members are also reporting concerns over their own exports as their overseas customers shift to non-U.S. suppliers who do not face government restrictions on steel and aluminum,” said Paul Nathanson, a spokesman for the group. “And when a customer removes you from their supply chain, especially for smaller, family-owned businesses, it is tough to bring that work back to the U.S.”