Donald Trump’s adviser Peter Navarro apologises for saying Canadian PM deserves ‘a special place in hell’

A White House trade hawk concedes that in criticising Justin Trudeau, ‘I used language that was inappropriate’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 6:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 6:55am

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro apologised on Tuesday for suggesting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deserved a “special place in hell” for a perceived breach in protocol against US President Donald Trump.

“My job was to send a signal of strength,” he said at a Wall Street Journal CFO Network conference in Washington. “The problem was that in conveying that message I used language that was inappropriate.”

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Citing Confucius, Navarro said, “if you make a mistake and don’t correct it, that’s a mistake”. (Navarro seemed to be paraphrasing a quote from The Analects that the superior man, “when he makes a mistake, he doesn't hesitate to correct it”.)

Navarro, a supporter of tariffs to help reduce the US trade deficit and a longtime critic of China, turned his anger at Canada over the weekend as a Group of Seven meeting hosted by Trudeau ended in disarray and trade threats.

After leaving the meeting early, Trump tweeted that he was pulling US support from a joint statement and he accused Trudeau of being weak and dishonest during a news conference.

Navarro took the attack a step further on Sunday.

“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door,” Navarro said on Fox News Sunday.

The criticism was echoed by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who joined Trump at the G-7 meetings. He called on Trudeau to apologise to Trump.

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Kudlow was hospitalised after suffering a mild heart attack when he returned to Washington. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Navarro’s willingness to walk back his outburst marked a departure from the Trump administration’s never-say-you’re-sorry approach to political crises.

Trump often hurls personal insults, without apology, from calling some Mexican undocumented immigrants “rapists” and criminals to mocking a reporter with a disability on the campaign trail. Trump denied he made fun of the journalist.

Navarro’s apology could ease tensions after Canada’s parliament condemned the personal attack on Trudeau and as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland prepares to meet with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday in Washington.

Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s chairman, said on Tuesday that he was “glad” Navarro admitted that he misspoke. “The comment was a bit over the top,” Corker, a Republican, said.

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At his closing G-7 press conference on Saturday, Trudeau called US steel and aluminium tariffs “insulting” and pledged to proceed with previously announced retaliatory tariffs. Canadians are “polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around”, Trudeau said.

G-7 leaders jumped to the defense of Trudeau and reiterated their support for their joint statement. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “There is a special place in heaven“ for Trudeau.

Trudeau has declined to directly respond to Trump’s criticism of him.

Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday in Singapore, after he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, that Trudeau had “learned” from the experience.

“He learned,” Trump said. “That’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada.”

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Speaking at the same forum as Navarro on Tuesday, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett said that the US and Canada need to “take a deep breath”.

“There’s been a lot of emotional action on all sides. And I think what people need to do at this moment is take a step back,” Hassett said.

“Politicians can get into disagreements and they can have heated disputes, but you have to think about where does this go, how bad could it get – and the disputes are over a really, really small share of GDP.”