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'Tariff Man' Trump is no superhero as China trade doubts sink stocks

President Donald Trump, Secretary of the Treasury Steven

President Donald Trump, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and members of the U.S. delegation have dinner with China's President Xi Jinping and Chinese officials at the end of the G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires on Saturday. Credit: AFP / Getty Images/Saul Loeb

Read his lips, lose your shirt

It's nothing new that the words of U.S. presidents cause the markets to move. But Donald Trump's looseness with language and facts can bring them to motion sickness.

Investors were feeling pretty upbeat after Trump boasted of a big win in his trade talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Bloomberg News, and stock indexes rose. But by Tuesday, the realization set in that the truce wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The Dow plunged almost 800 points and the S&P 500 lost 3.2% — the biggest rout in almost two months.

 "There was a rally in the expectation that something had happened," Willie Delwiche, an investment strategist at Baird, told The Associated Press. "The problem is that something turned out to be nothing."

White House aides gave stumbling and fumbling explanations of what the two countries actually agreed on. China has not confirmed that it made most of the concessions that the Trump administration has claimed.

And then, Trump's tweets Tuesday morning put more whip in the whiplash as he declared himself "Tariff Man" — not only renewing his threats to escalate tariffs if a deal doesn't happen, but also sounding downright enthusiastic about it.

"When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so. It will always be the best way to max out our economic power. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN."

Fact check: It's American buyers, not the foreign sellers, who ultimately pay for the tariffs. The bottom line is that worry about a protracted trade war is intensifying fear of a global economic slowdown.

Janison: Trump-splain this

There are questions Trump doesn't want to hear about the Russia investigation. Asked last month if he wanted acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to "rein in" special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump fumed, "What a stupid question." Regardless, it shouldn't have been hard to answer. Newsday's Dan Janison offers five more "dumb, easy" questions for Trump.

Among them: How Michael Cohen went in his public estimation from trusted fixer and Trump Organization executive to a weakling who should be locked up. How is it that Roger Stone, once described by Trump as a "stone-cold loser," is now a hero with "guts" for not turning on the president? And why shouldn't voters consider it a conflict of interest if Trump and his company pushed for a Moscow hotel project while taking positions as a presidential candidate relevant to Russia's interests?

Mueller to judge: Let Flynn walk

Given Trump's salute to the Stone-waller and contempt for cooperator Cohen — but also his past public sympathy for Michael  Flynn — it was tough to predict the president's reaction to court papers Mueller filed Tuesday night.

The Mueller team's recommendation to the judge, who will sentence the former national security adviser, said Flynn has provided so much "substantial" information to the special counsel's Russia investigation that it would be fine with them if he does no prison time.

They said Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when first questioned about his contacts, participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe.

Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn's life has been "destroyed" by the special counsel's probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to give him a pass, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter. Click here to read the full Mueller memo.

Roger and out

Stone is refusing a request for documents and an interview from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing his Fifth Amendment rights.

The documents sought include communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, as well as those with Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign.

Unreasonable doubts

Two Republican senators who were inside a private briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said they can't go along with Trump's benefit of the doubt about crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said there is "zero chance" the crown prince wasn't involved and you have to be "willfully blind" not to see it. "There's not a smoking gun. There's a smoking saw," Graham said, referring to reports that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he believed that if the crown prince were on trial, a jury would find him guilty in "about 30 minutes."

Getting his numbers

The attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia are issuing subpoenas for financial records and other documents that The Washington Post reports could bring to light some of the most closely held secrets of Trump’s presidency: Which foreign governments have paid the Trump Organization money? How much? And for what? 

The records from more than a dozen entities are being sought in a lawsuit that charges the president’s business violates the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments. All relate to Trump’s hotel on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, which is at the center of the case because of events foreign governments have held there and the federal lease that allows the business to operate.

Conway Twittery

So how did conservative lawyer George Conway take it when the president's son Eric called him out on Twitter for showing "utter disrespect . . . toward his wife" — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway — through his anti-Trump commentary? Answer: George Conway took it up a few notches.

He retweeted author Reza Aslan, who said: "Wait. Did I miss something? Did George Conway pay money to have sex with a porn star right after his wife gave birth?"

He retweeted Ian Bassin, founder of Protect Democracy, who mimicked Eric's   tweet, saying, "Of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect the Trumps show toward the rule of law, the presidency and its place of work, and everything this nation has fought SO hard to achieve might top them all."

Another retweet came from legal commentator Renato Marotti, and asked: "How does noting that your father engaged in witness tampering today disrespect Kellyanne Conway?"

Kellyanne Conway wasn't heard from, but a friend of the couple, Sophia Nelson, advised Eric: "Stay out of grown married folks business and mind your own. NOBODY named Trump should ever talk about "disrespect".

What else is happening:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden said he's the "most qualified person" to be president and will decide within the next two months whether to be a 2020 candidate. He also admitted, "I am a gaffe machine, but, my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can't tell the truth." He was talking about Trump there. 
  • Out of the 2020 running before we even get to 2019: Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels lawyer. Avenatti, facing legal troubles including a domestic violence allegation, said he based his decision to bow out on family concerns.
  • Trump retweeted a conservative activist, Charlie Kirk, who claimed fuel-price rioters "through the streets of Paris" are chanting, "We want Trump." Journalists covering the protests haven't heard that. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said Monday he had heard about the chant from "friends who are there."
  • Steve Bannon, the erstwhile Trump campaign guru, has been teaming up with fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, who seeks U.S. asylum. They speak of smashing the dominance of the Communist Party in the People's Republc. 
  • Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is getting along better with Trump, who liked her response to the migrant caravan that reached the border, CNN reported. She's still expected to leave when Trump finds a replacement, but can exit more gracefully.
  • Defense Secretary James Mattis has approved extending through Jan. 31 the deployment Trump ordered of active duty troops to the southern border, the Pentagon announced.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia Tuesday it has 60 days to start complying with a landmark 1987 missile treaty or Washington could abandon the pact. The U.S. says Moscow has "cheated" by developing a new ground-fired cruise missile that could strike in Europe with little or no warning.

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