September 9, 2018

China's trade surplus with the United States hit a record monthly high in August despite the Trump administration's imposition of two rounds of new tariffs on Chinese goods and plans to levy additional taxes soon.

The surplus increased from $28.09 billion in July to $31.05 billion last month. "In the short term, it is difficult for the trade gap to narrow because American buyers cannot easily find alternatives to Chinese products," said economist Liu Xuezhi of China's Bank of Communications.

President Trump on Twitter Saturday indicated he will not call a trade truce any time soon. On Sunday, he doubled down, arguing that he is heavily taxing American consumers as a matter of fairness. As Chinese consumers suffer when buying our products, so we must suffer when buying theirs:

In a previous post, the president rejoiced that Ford will no longer sell a small, affordable vehicle in the United States because his tariffs have made it too costly:

Trump proposed Ford build the car in the U.S., but the company has already said it does not make economic sense to do so. Read more about Trump's "unutterably stupid trade war" here at The Week. Bonnie Kristian

9:32 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified for 10 hours on Thursday as part of the House's impeachment inquiry against President Trump, telling lawmakers he was "disappointed" by Trump's order to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on Ukraine policy.

Before starting his closed-door testimony in front of members of three House committees, Sondland released his opening remarks, and distanced himself from Giuliani and attempts to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. "For purposes of the impeachment inquiry, it really doesn't matter whether Sondland was a knowing participant in this scheme or if he was an unwitting pawn," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said. "He was still executing the policies of Rudy Giuliani and Rudy was following the orders of the president."

Lawmakers said Sondland responded "I don't know" and "I don't recall" throughout his testimony, but Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told reporters that he was still able to shed light on something. "It is clear you have a shadow shakedown going on by Giuliani," he said. "I think it is just important for the American people to understand Rudy Giuliani is Donald Trump and Donald Trump is Rudy Giuliani. If Rudy Giuliani is doing something it is because he's the lawyer for Donald Trump, and lawyers don't take actions that are not authorized by their clients."

Sondland, a Trump donor and political appointee, has been mentioned by other witnesses, including George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Ukraine. During testimony earlier this week, Kent said he was told in May by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that he needed to "lay low," as Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker — who called themselves the "three amigos" — would now handle Ukraine policy. Catherine Garcia

8:16 p.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Brexit will go through on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, but European Union leaders aren't on the same page.

A new agreement was cobbled together on Thursday, which would allow Britain to leave the EU, but go through a transition period until the end of 2020. Over the next year, EU and British negotiators would work on a trade deal and other arrangements. "This is a great deal for our country — the UK — and our friends in the EU," Johnson said Thursday night. "Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to get this done."

The House of Commons will meet for a vote on Saturday, and already, the revised agreement has been rejected by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and dragged by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said it's an "even worse deal" than the one crafted by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Under U.K. law, Johnson is required to seek a Brexit extension if a deal is not approved by Saturday, but he has been adamant about leaving the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline, deal or not. One EU diplomat told The Guardian they are leaving "the door open to the possibility of an extension," if needed. European Council President Donald Tusk said the "ball is in the court of the U.K. I have no idea what will be the result of the debate in the House of Commons on Saturday." Catherine Garcia

6:41 p.m.

Not long after acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admitted President Trump's decision to hold up aid to Ukraine was partly linked to his wish for the country to launch an investigation based on an unproven conspiracy theory about the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack, Mulvaney walked back his comments.

The theory pins the hack on Ukraine, not Russia. Mulvaney made his initial remarks on Thursday in front of reporters, during a televised press conference. It was a surprising acknowledgement, as Trump has repeatedly denied engaging in any quid pro quo. Mulvaney said this was something "we do all the time," and anyone with a problem should "get over it." Almost immediately, Trump's legal team distanced the president from Mulvaney, with Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow saying his "legal counsel was not involved" in the press conference.

In his follow-up statement, Mulvaney said "there was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server," and tried to shift the blame for his words onto the media, claiming they were misconstrued to "advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump." Catherine Garcia

5:23 p.m.

Rick Perry is out, and he's taking his glasses with him.

Perry informed President Trump on Thursday that he'll be resigning as energy secretary in the near future, The New York Times reports. The decision isn't a surprise, but it's hard not to see a connection between his resignation and Perry's Wednesday interview that dragged him deeper into the Trump administration's Ukraine scandal.

Perry is one of Trump's few Cabinet officials who have been on the job since the beginning of his presidency — not that he and Trump were exactly friends during the 2016 campaign. The former Texas governor has been supportive of Trump's environmental platform throughout his tenure, but was reportedly looking to leave by the end of this year earlier this month.

That exit plan became official after Perry explained his ties to Rudy Giuliani and the Ukraine controversy to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Perry led the U.S. delegation to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration this year in what a whistleblower said was Trump's attempt to avoid Zelensky until he was sure the leader would "play ball" and probe former Vice President Joe Biden. Perry backed up the characterization of Trump refusing to meet Zelensky when talking to the Journal, but said Trump only wanted to ensure Ukraine "cleaned up their act" before a meeting. Perry also said Trump told him to call Giuliani to facilitate a Ukraine meeting, which Perry said he did. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:03 p.m.

Maybe there's a reason Mick Mulvaney's gig never went full time.

The acting White House chief of staff admitted on Thursday the Trump administration had engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine, withholding aid from the country until its role in the 2016 DNC email hack was further investigated. But the rest of the Trump administration isn't being so forthcoming, with Justice Department officials brushing off possible roles in the exchange entirely.

"If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us," a senior DOJ official said in a statement to reporters Thursday. This comes after another DOJ official told reporters they "have no idea what [Mulvaney] is talking about."

But over on President Trump's personal legal team, things aren't going so well. "I think people are a bit stunned," one person familiar with the team's thinking told CNN. Another source called Mulvaney's briefing "not helpful," per CNN. Trump's top attorney Jay Sekulow, meanwhile, briefly said "the legal team was not involved in the acting chief of staff's press briefing."

Mulvaney's shocking comments were briefly characterized as taking the impeachment inquiry "from very, very bad to much, much worse," House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday. After all, "no quid pro quo" has been Trump's simple defense from the day his call with Ukraine's president was first made public. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:17 p.m.

It's not Facebook's job to keep false information off your timeline.

At least that's the perspective of Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, which he shared with shared with The Washington Post ahead of a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday. While Zuckerberg says he's worried about "the erosion of truth" in society, he's just not ready to root out falsehoods on his platform altogether.

Zuckerberg and Facebook have been criticized for letting false news stories and even false claims from politicians stand on the site. That issue was the focus of an experimental ad from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in which she claimed Zuckerberg endorsed President Trump for re-election just to see if the site would take it down. Facebook didn't, and on Thursday, Zuckerberg gave a reason why. "I don't think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true," he said, adding that he fears "potentially cracking down too much" on free expression even if it can lead to confusion.

Still, Zuckerberg acknowledged that the power Facebook has on political systems is very much on his mind. He even considered banning political ads on Facebook altogether, he said Thursday at Georgetown. But that would result in a site that "favors incumbents and whoever the media covers," Zuckerberg added. Read more of Zuckerberg's political thoughts at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:14 p.m.

President Trump just created an "enormous headache" for himself with his plan to hold the 2020 Group of Seven summit at his Florida resort, according to Fox News' Andrew Napolitano.

The network's legal analyst reacted Thursday after the White House announced the 2020 meeting of world leaders would be held at the president's Doral golf resort, calling this a violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from accepting "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

After quoting from this clause, Napolitano noted its purpose is to "keep the president of the United States of America from profiting off of foreign money," and so Trump holding the summit at his private resort is "about as direct and profound a violation of the emoluments clause as one could create."

The White House has claimed the resort was simply the best venue for the event and that Trump will not profit from it. Napolitano, however, dismissed this defense.

"The president owns shares of stock in a corporation that is one of the owners of this, along with many other investors," Napolitano said. "He also owns shares of stock in the corporation that manages it. Those corporations will receive a great deal of money from foreign heads of state because this is there. That's exactly what the emoluments clause was written to prohibit."

Fox host Neil Cavuto also sounded fairly baffled by Trump's decision, saying he'd think Trump would "bend over backwards to avoid" holding the event at a location with his name on it. "You would think so," Napolitano responded. "But you know the president. He loves a fight, and he just picked another one." Brendan Morrow

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