White House

Trump pledges to reject dirt from other countries on 2020 foes

POTUS has new warnings for China and Iran, including even more tariffs for Asian rival

President Trump (right) speaks as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán looks on in the Oval Office on Monday. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Monday vowed to reject any dirt on his 2020 opponents that originates in a foreign country, just a week after his personal attorney canceled a trip to Ukraine allegedly to search for just that.

Trump also threatened to slap tariffs on even more Chinese-made goods as the two economic powerhouses barreled toward a full-scale trade war as markets around the globe dropped significantly. 

“Well, I never did use [it]. As you probably know, that's what the Mueller report was all about. They said, ‘No collusion,’” Trump told reporters. “And I would certainly agree to that. I don't need it. All I need is the opponents that I'm looking at. I'm liking what I see.”

The president’s comments about the long list of Democratic presidential hopefuls came as former Vice President Joe Biden has opened a large lead over the other frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in key early primary states. His remarks also come as multiple polls show him trailing Biden, Sanders and several other Democratic candidates in important battleground states.

[Trump threatens China over trade talks, contradicts top adviser on tariffs’ effect at home]

One of Trump’s personal lawyers, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, told The New York Times last week he planned to travel to Ukraine to speak with the country’s president-elect about re-starting a probe into a company there with ties to Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son. Giuliani also said he would look into whether Democrats worked with Ukraine in any way to prompt the FBI probe into Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump used part of a televised press conference to urge Russia to locate missing emails from a private server Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state under former President Barack Obama. And he frequently praised Wikileaks for releasing Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee emails during the election.

Meantime, Trump refused to take a stance on whether his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, should be held in contempt of Congress if he or the White House opts against him testifying about Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia election meddling report.

“I don't know anything about what's going on. I can tell you that there has never been anybody so transparent as the Trump administration,” he said in the Oval Office alongside his Hungarian counterpart. “And it was no collusion, and no obstruction. And we're wasting a lot of time with that stuff. But the Mueller report came out, and it was a very good report for us.”

The report did not clear him of obstruction of justice, however, and many House Democrats want to hear directly from Mueller on evidence that suggests obstruction did occur. They also want to hear from McGahn on whether, as the report states, the president instructed McGahn to tell senior Justice Department officials to remove Mueller.

By the time the president had finished speaking about the China trade situation, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had plummeted by around 550 points. At the market's close, it was down 617 points, an apparent response to a Trump morning tweet barrage that warned China to cut a deal or he would urge firms to move production to other Asian countries. Beijing announced it would slap tariffs on $60 billion in U.S.-made goods.

Trump, however, used three different estimates when trying to tout how much money he says his import fees are pumping “directly” into the U.S. Treasury Department’s coffers

“But we're taking it right now hundreds of billions of dollars, we're taking in billions of dollars of tariffs and those tariffs. … We've never taken in 10 cents until I got elected,” he contended without providing supporting data. “Now we're taking in billions and billions.”

Then came another threat.

“In addition to that, we have another $325 million that we can do, if we decided to do it. So we are taking it in tens of billions of dollars,” he said, using another figure. “We've never done that before with with China. We've never done that before with anybody, frankly, because we've been taken advantage of all of our trade deals.”

[Trump team struggles with Iran, global tests after months of Mueller probe battles]

Trump announced he will meet one-on-one with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Japan next month. He also plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite ongoing House Democratic probes into his contacts with Russians, as well as the GOP-run Senate Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation.

And on a day when his tweets and the Chinese retaliation have sent nervous stock markets tumbling, Trump sounded a hawkish tone toward Iran.

Asked if war with the Middle Eastern country is possible, the president dropped a familiar refrain, saying: “We’ll see what happens.”

Asked minutes later about Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Mediterranean Sea, Trump issued a cryptic warning.

“It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that,” he said. “They're not going to be happy.”

Asked to clarify, POTUS responded: “You can figure it out yourself. They know what I mean by it.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.