OTTAWA — Two of Donald Trump's senior advisers took to U.S. airwaves Sunday to lash out against "weak, dishonest" Justin Trudeau, accusing the Canadian prime minister of stabbing their boss in the back at the conclusion of the G7 summit.
"There is 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," Peter Navarro, the U.S. president's trade adviser, told Fox News Sunday.
The accusation came "right from Air Force One," said Navarro, as Trump was flying to Singapore for a historic summit with the dictator of North Korea. It's part of an aggressive response, aimed at Trudeau for telling reporters that Canada would not be "pushed around" by the United States as it imposes significant tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
The prime minister said he told Trump that it was with regret that Canada would retaliate with equivalent tariffs on July 1.
"Canadians, we're polite, we're reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around," Trudeau said, during what Navarro described as a "stunt press conference."
"To my friends in Canada, that was one of the worst political miscalculations of a Canadian political leader in modern Canadian history," Navarro said.
Trump did Trudeau the "courtesy" of travelling to the Quebec region of Charlevoix for the G7 meeting when the president had bigger things on his plate, said the White House adviser.
"He did him a favour and he was even willing to sign that socialist communiqué and what did Trudeau do, as soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace? Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand."
His comments were echoed later Sunday by Trump's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who called Trudeau's actions a "betrayal."
The Americans negotiated with the G7 leaders in good faith and were ready to support the final communiqué and then, as Kudlow recounted, "We get on the plane and then this guy Trudeau starts blasting us."
'An attack on our political system'
While Navarro said the dispute was about a brewing trade war, and equated Canada's actions fighting the tariffs as engaging in "nothing short of an attack on our political system."
Kudlow complained that the whole world had listened to Trudeau's remarks — "It was a betrayal. He essentially double-crossed him" — and that the prime minister should apologize.
He tied the White House's bitter response to concerns the president now appeared weak going into high-stake discussions with Kim Jong Un.
"POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around, push POTUS around, President Trump, on the eve of this," Kudlow told CNN's Jake Tapper. "He is not going to permit any show of weakness, on the trip to negotiate with North Korea ... Kim must not see American weakness, it is that short."
I don't think even Trump supporters think the Canadian trade relationship is a problem.Stephen Harper
The White House advisers may be laying the groundwork to blame Trudeau if the meeting with the North Korean leader is unsuccessful. Appearing on Fox Sunday, former prime minister Stephen Harper said he learned during his time in office to be quite a skeptic of North Korea but gave Trump credit for bringing the regime to the negotiating table.
Harper went on to say he doesn't understand the White House's trade obsession with Canada.
"Canada is the biggest single purchaser of U.S. goods and services in the world," he noted, stressing that the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada. "I don't think even Trump supporters think the Canadian trade relationship is a problem."
On Saturday, Trump took to Twitter to air his complaints, calling Trudeau "dishonest and weak" and saying he'd instructed his team not to endorse the communiqué in response to the prime minister's "false statements" and new tariffs.
Kudlow suggested the PM had taken a "cheap shot" for his domestic audience when the two parties "were very close to making a deal with Canada on NAFTA — bilaterally, perhaps."
That claim is heavily disputed by the Canadian federal government. Trudeau has said he does not intend to sideline Mexico, and still has his sights on signing an agreement with all three NAFTA partners.
Kudlow warned Trump would push back.
"How many times has President Trump said, if you hit me, I am going to hit you back? And this was a case where Trudeau, I don't know, was pouring collateral damage on this whole Korean trip. That was part of Trudeau's mistake."
Speaking to reporters Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canada would not respond to the personal attacks levied by Trump and his advisers.
"Canada doesn't believe that ad hominem attacks are a particularly appropriate or useful way to conduct our relations with other countries," she said.
The real insult, Freeland suggested, was that Canada was being subjected to unfair and illegal tariffs.
The White House's words would not deter the Liberals government's actions to protect workers and domestic industries, she repeated several times. Retaliatory tariffs would come into effect in a July, as planned. "We have no choice."
In a statement on Saturday, Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad said the prime minister had said "nothing he hasn't said before — both in public, and in private conversations with the President."