TPM News

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is considering sweeping tariffs on imports from China, with an announcement possible as early as next week. And that has industry groups and some lawmakers scrambling to prevent the next front in a potential trade war that could reverberate across the U.S. economy.

Early indications from the White House have officials braced for tariffs across a wide variety of consumer goods, from apparel to electronics, and even on imported parts for products made in the U.S. The size and scope remain under debate, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is warning that annual tariffs of as much as $60 billion on Chinese goods would be “devastating.”

Trump’s focus on China could be even more consequential, both at home and abroad, than the recently announced penalty tariffs on steel and aluminum. And amid the staff turmoil at the White House, it’s being read as a sign of rising influence for the administration’s populist economic aides, led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and adviser Peter Navarro.

Even Larry Kudlow — an avowed free trader tapped to replace Gary Cohn as director of the White House National Economic Council — has said that China deserves a “tough response” from the United States and its friends. He told CNBC this week, “The United States could lead a coalition of large trading partners and allies against China.”

But with these tariffs, the Trump administration appears so far to be content to go it alone.

On Friday, the National Retail Federation, which recently hosted industry groups to organize opposition to another round of tariffs, convened a conference call to update its members. “They’re all concerned about this,” said David French, vice president for government relations. “Tariffs are a tax on consumers and they’re best used sparingly as tools.”

Trade experts and economists say the tariffs could lead to rising prices for U.S. consumers and businesses without accomplishing one of the president’s stated goals: reducing last year’s trade imbalance of $566 billion.

China, the largest source of the trade imbalance, would likely respond to any tariffs by retaliating with higher import taxes on U.S. goods, among other possible restrictions.

“They signaled that they will aim at things that affect the United States politically as well as economically,” said Claude Barfield, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and former consultant with the U.S. trade representative.

“The farmer in Kansas or Iowa could feel it,” he said. “U.S. high tech companies could feel it because the supply chains for iPhones go through China.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have largely been shut out of administration deliberations, fear tariffs would stunt economic benefits in the U.S. that could be stemming from the GOP tax cuts.

Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, have urged the administration to target any proposed tariffs as narrowly as possible, away from U.S. allies and focused on countries engaged in over-production and product dumping.

Republicans in Congress largely opposed Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and are working with the administration on a process for allowing waivers or carve outs for certain countries or types of metals, beyond the exemption the White House is allowing for Canada and Mexico.

“We want to narrow this,” Brady, who has been in talks with Ross all week, said Friday on Fox. “Tariffs are taxes — lower is better, zero is the best.”

The new tariffs on China would be tied to an investigation into the country’s failure to stop intellectual property theft, a probe that was launched in August as part of the rarely used Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.

Beyond the trade imbalance, the Trump administration hasn’t fully explained to the public which specific steps it wants China to take, creating a degree of uncertainty.

“Is the endgame just the tariffs or is this the beginning of negotiation? It’s hard to know what the ultimate intent of the administration is,” said Rod Hunter, a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie who previously coordinated global economic policies during George W. Bush’s administration.

Already, the steel and aluminum tariffs have sparked a response from the European Union, which Friday released a list of U.S. products — from whiskey and motorcycles to breakfast foods and batteries — it plans to introduce duties on if the 28-nation bloc is not exempted.

Trump is considering adjustments but appears undeterred on trade.

“The president’s going to continue fighting for the American worker,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He’s also working with a number of individual countries and negotiating on areas of national security where we can work together, and there’s some flexibility there, and we’re continuing to have those conversations.”

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a White House ally who spoke earlier this week with Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said he has been talking with Trump on measured approaches toward using tariffs to remedy trade imbalances.

“His instincts are exactly right: We need a level playing field with the rest of the world,” Perdue said recently on Fox Business. “And I think we’ll see a measured approach going forward. This is not a guy that wants to create isolationism or a trade war.”

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National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Friday afternoon brushed off a question about reports that he will leave the Trump administration by noting that everybody will leave the White House eventually.

“Sarah said it straight yesterday. Everybody’s going to leave the White House sometime,” he told ABC News, laughing, when asked if he has plans to leave.

Pressed on whether he’s leaving soon, McMaster replied, “I’m doing my job.”

Several reports recently have indicated that McMaster could be the next top official to leave the White House. The Washington Post reported Thursday evening that President Donald Trump had decided to fire McMaster, but that he will take his time in officially ousting his national security adviser while he lines up a replacement.

Following that report, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that McMaster will not be leaving at this time.

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Chief of staff John Kelly reassured White House staffers Friday morning that there were not going to be any personnel changes “at this time,” according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The reassurance came amid reports of a planned staff shakeup and comments from President Donald Trump this week suggesting there “will always be change” in the White House. On Friday, Sanders told reporters about the meeting, in which she said Kelly told staff they “shouldn’t be concerned” about their jobs.

“We should do exactly what we do every day and that’s to come to work and do the very best that we can,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’re focused on and many of us have relayed that to staffers that weren’t part of that meeting.”

NBC News’ Peter Alexander pressed her further, citing Trump’s own comments this week indicating further staff turnover: “We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”

“And he just nominated two new people to part of his cabinet, so we are getting close,” she shot back. “We would like those two individuals to be quickly confirmed and quickly put through that process so they can take a seat at the table, so they can continue to engage with the President on big issues that actually matter to the American people.”

When asked why there was still a need for change more than a year into Trump’s presidency, Sanders said that “policy priorities” guide personnel decisions.

“Look, as we’ve said many times before, you want the right people for the right time,” she said. “As policy priorities change, that means sometimes you’re going to have personnel change. That’s not different for this administration as it has been in any other administration and we’ll continue to add new staff regularly.”

The comments follow Trump’s decision to fire his secretary of state over Twitter earlier this week and amid reports that Trump plans to fire his National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in coming days. The White House has denied those reports. 

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Asked about claims that porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, was physically threatened in order to keep quiet about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee on Friday said that the White House does not condone any threats.

“Obviously we take the safety and security of any person seriously, certainly would condemn anyone threatening any individual,” Sanders said.

She would not address alleged threats made to Clifford, however, and referred reporters to Trump’s outside legal counsel.

“I have no knowledge of that situation,” she said, adding that she hasn’t spoken to Trump about the matter.

Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC Friday morning that Clifford was “physically threatened” to remain silent about her alleged affair with Trump. He later told TPM’s “Josh Marshall Podcast” that he and Clifford both fear for their “physical safety.”

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LONDON (AP) — British police said Friday they have launched a murder investigation into the death of London-based Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov after an autopsy revealed that he died from compression to the neck.

Counterterrorism detectives are leading the case “because of the associations Mr. Glushkov is believed to have had,” the Metropolitan Police force said.

Russia’s top agency for major crimes, meanwhile, said it has launched its own investigation into Glushkov’s death, which it is probing as murder.

Glushkov, 68, was an associate of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch and strong Kremlin critic who died under disputed circumstances in 2013.

Glushkov was found dead at his south London home on Monday. His death came a week after former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill from nerve agent poisoning in the city of Salisbury.

The London police force said “at this stage there is nothing to suggest any link to the attempted murders in Salisbury,” and they said there was no evidence that Glushkov has been poisoned.

British authorities say the substance that poisoned the Skripals is a powerful Russian-developed nerve agent known as Novichok. A British police officer who responded to the attack in Salisbury is in serious condition, and police say 131 people may have come into contact with the nerve agent.

U.K. police say “there are no wider public health concerns” around the investigation into Glushkov’s death.

Britain has accused the Russian government of responsibility for Skripals’ poisoning and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Friday it is “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself ordered the attack. Putin’s spokesman denounced the comment as “shocking and inexcusable.”

In light of the Salisbury attack, British police are looking again at the deaths of more than a dozen Russians in Britain, including Berezovsky.

After his death in 2013, an inquest failed to determine whether Berezovsky, who was found hanged at his home near London, had killed himself or died from foul play.

Glushkov, a longtime associate of the oligarch, had worked for various Berezovsky enterprises including the car factory AvtoVAZ and flagship Russian airline Aeroflot.

He was arrested in 1999 and put on trial for embezzling $7 million from Aeroflot. In 2004, he was sentenced to three years and three months in prison, but released because of time served.

Russian media reported that Glushkov was granted political asylum in Britain in 2010.

In 2017, a Moscow court reviewed Glushkov’s case and sentenced him in absentia to eight years for reportedly embezzling more than $122 million from Aeroflot.

Last year, Glushkov appeared on a list published by the Russian Embassy in London of Russian citizens wanted for serious crimes whom the U.K. had refused to extradite.

It said Russia had sought his extradition in 2015 “for committing a number of severe financial offences on the territory of Russia,” but the British government refused.

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A black man violently attacked at last summer’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was acquitted Friday on charges that he assaulted one of the racists in attendance.

DeAndre Harris was found not guilty on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Harold Crews, the North Carolina chairman of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, The Washington Post reported.

The verdict brings an end to a legal rollercoaster for Harris, a 20-year-old former special education teaching assistant, who was pummeled with flagsticks, shields, and pieces of wood by a crowd of white supremacists at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.

Video of the parking garage assault on Harris went viral, prompting outrage and a flood of donations to help cover medical bills for his injuries, which included a spinal injury and head lacerations.

Four of the white nationalists who assaulted Harris are currently awaiting trial.

Months later, in October, Crews filed a police report and persuaded a Charlottesville magistrate to issue an arrest warrant against Harris on a felony charge of unlawful wounding. As TPM previously reported, this was made possible thanks to an odd statute in the Virginia state code that allows private citizens to initiate the process of obtaining a warrant.

The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor, which would have resulted in a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a $2,5000 fine.

The case was based on a few short, chaotic moments of video. In one clip posted on YouTube, Crews and a friend of Harris’ are pulling on either end of a large flagpole. Harris cuts in and appears to swing a flashlight in Crews’ direction. Within minutes, he is chased through the garage and wrestled to the ground, where the brutal beating commences.

Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. determined that Harris intervened only to help his friend and did not intend to hit Crews, per the Post.

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Listen to the interview on “The Josh Marshall Podcast” »

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn actress Stephanie Clifford in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, told TPM’s “Josh Marshall Podcast” on Friday that both he and Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, fear for their physical safety.

Avenatti told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier Friday morning that Clifford has been “physically threatened,” but he emphasized to TPM later on Friday that he and his client are taking at least some of those threats seriously.

“I think she’s very concerned about her physical safety right now, and I think she has very — or a lot of reasons to be concerned. I likewise am slightly concerned about my physical safety,” Avenatti told TPM’s Josh Marshall. “There’s been a series of death threats that have been received by her and me. There’s a lot of kooky people out there. Many of those threats we laugh off, some of which we don’t laugh off. But regardless of the death threats, or threats of injury to us or our families, we’re not going home. We’re not packing up.”

Avenatti would not go into detail on the nature of the threats when Marshall followed up to ask whether any of the threats appeared to be credible. However, Avenatti said that the intimidation Clifford has faced should be addressed in her upcoming “60 Minutes” interview, set to air March 25, and he indicated that he believes viewers will find the threats serious.

“I think when the interview airs, people are going to hear in detail what happened, and they’re going to judge for themselves as to whether that was some kook, if you will, some wing-nut, that just happened to come out of the blue, or if it was more than that. And I think they’re going to conclude it was certainly more than that,” he said.

Later in the interview, Marshall asked if “surrogates” of President Donald Trump have bullied Clifford or spread false narratives about Clifford.

Avenatti replied that Trump allies have done “both,” but would not indicate who the individuals were or how closely connected they are to the President.

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Under pressure for killing a resolution denouncing white nationalism and neo-Nazism, Tennessee GOP lawmakers are belatedly offering an explanation.

In a Friday email to TPM, Rep. Bob Ramsey, one of three Republicans on the State Government Subcommittee, said they objected to language that would ask law enforcement to consider the groups “domestic terrorist organizations.”

“Our Committee has had several resolutions from various political parties, aimed at special prosecutors, designations of terrorist organizations, condemnation of religious sites and practices, and celebration of controversial historical sites, figures, or organizations,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey insisted that the GOP members agreed with the “intent and philosophy” of the resolution, which was originally introduced last year by Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, Va. white-nationalist rally.

“These subjects seem simple but have initiated some of the most bitter decisiveness [sic] and debates I have ever witnessed.”

Ramsey added that he and the other Republican lawmakers, Reps. Bill Sanderson and Bud Hulsey, were urging Clemmons to consider changes to the language of the bill in order to secure its passage.

As the Tennessean first reported, the resolution was “met with silence” from the trio of Republican lawmakers when it was brought before the panel on Wednesday. The other provisions would have required the House to “strongly denounce and oppose” the racist bigotry promoted by these groups.

National Democratic groups condemned the GOP’s failure to back the measure. Ben Wexler-Waite, communications director for super PAC Forward Majority, called on the Republican National Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee to publicly denounce the Tennessee lawmakers’ move.

“It’s beyond shocking that anyone in the year 2018 has to ask the RSLC or RNC why they won’t condemn neo-nazism,” Wexler-Waite said in a Friday statement. “The actions of the GOP-controlled Tennessee legislature are a punch in the gut to everything this country stands for and an insult to Jews, people of color, and all who have suffered at the hands of right wing extremists. There is zero excuse for why the legislature would even hesitate to pass this resolution and history will not forget the moment the Republican Party stood silent as its members condoned Nazis.”

Tennessee is home to a number of active white nationalist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recently released “hate map” for 2017 found 37 hate groups in the state, including chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Confederate League of the South, and the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.

Last weekend, Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group aimed at recruiting college students, held a flash mob demonstration in a Nashville park. In October, some 200 white nationalists convened in Shelbyville for a “White Lives Matter” rally.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fired top diplomat Rex Tillerson says he’s praying for America.

Tillerson, in a message sent to U.S. embassies and consulates three days after President Donald Trump ousted him, also told American diplomats he was proud of them and would be cheering for their success.

“Know that I will continue to pray for our country, our leaders, and your efforts to make this world a better place than we found it,” Tillerson said Friday in the message, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

He urged the diplomatic corps to “continue to exhibit the leadership qualities for which you are distinguished” as they prepare for new leadership.

Tillerson, whom Trump unceremoniously fired Tuesday, did not mention the president or his designated successor, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in the message. But he said the State Department was “in good hands” with its interim chief, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

“In this time of transition, I know you will continue to exhibit the leadership qualities for which you are distinguished,” he said. “I urge you to remain focused on our shared mission and embrace an orderly and smooth transition process. I have every confidence that you will continue to work diligently to advance our national interests and our values as a nation.”

Tillerson was widely criticized for trying to slash the State Department’s budget and staffing, sending morale plummeting. Nevertheless, he praised the diplomatic corps for their dedication, talent and patriotism as well as their willingness to serve the nation far from home and often at personal risk.

“Although you typically receive little recognition or acclaim for these sacrifices, your uncommon devotion allows hundreds of millions of Americans to live in peace and in freedom,” he said.

Tillerson has relinquished day-to-day responsibilities of the State Department to Sullivan but will continue to hold the secretary of state title until March 31.

Tillerson, who had been seen as a restraining influence on Trump, had clashed with the president over numerous foreign policy matters, including the Paris Climate Accord, the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Iran nuclear deal.

After months of speculation about his future in the administration, Trump fired Tillerson just hours after the secretary of state had returned to Washington from a five-nation tour of Africa.

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