I should note upfront that he didn’t actually say anything “insulting.” When I saw the Star’s headline, I thought, “Oh God, he finally called Justin Trudeau a p*ssy, didn’t he?” No. All he said was that Canada would find his trade demands “insulting.” Which is okay, more or less.
I mean, not something you’d normally do to one of your closest allies, with whom you share a border and have fought alongside in every major war for the past hundred years. But “insulting” here really just means “drive a very hard bargain.”
The question, though, is how did the Star find out? Trump didn’t make his comments to a reporter at the paper, he made them to a reporter at another outfit, Bloomberg News. And the Star doesn’t dispute that the comments were off the record. Are journalists now handing off “off the record” Trump quotes to each other in order to get them into print, on the theory that it’s fine for Journalist A to induce POTUS to talk by promising not to publish what he says and then relaying his quotes to Journalist B, who’s free to publish since he made no such promise? Lesson for Trump, I guess: Never talk “off the record” again. There’s no such thing.
In remarks Trump wanted to be “off the record,” Trump told Bloomberg News reporters on Thursday, according to a source, that he is not making any compromises at all in the talks with Canada — but that he cannot say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”…
In another remark he did not want published, Trump said, according to the source, that the possible deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He suggested he was scaring the Canadians into submission by repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs.
“Off the record, Canada’s working their ass off. And every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala,” Trump said, according to the source. The Impala is produced at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario.
Occasionally you’ll see someone’s “off the record” comment appear in print and the source will be annoyed and complain: “Hey, I told you those were off the record! You betrayed my confidence!” To which the reporter will usually reply, “You said they were off the record but I didn’t agree to it. You can’t just utter the words ‘off the record’ like an incantation. The two sides need to agree.” But that’s not what happened here. The Star makes a point of noting that Bloomberg News “accepted [Trump’s] request not to reveal them.” They agreed, yet here we are. The comments are already an issue in U.S.-Canadian trade negotiations, having allegedly come up in a meeting between the two sides this morning. Now that Trump’s known to be crowing that he thinks the other side will have no choice but to cave, the Canadians will be forced to dig in to save face.
Is there any explanation for this besides the Bloomberg reporters feeling annoyed that they had a juicy quote which they weren’t allowed to use and deciding to launder it through the Star to get it into print anyway, even if it meant handing the scoop to another newspaper? If that’s what happened, Bloomberg’s editor is doing a good job of maintaining plausible deniability: He emailed the Star to say, “‘Off the record’ means ‘off the record’ — and we should respect that.” Another possibility is that there was someone from the White House in the room with Trump and the reporters and they leaked it to the Star. Alex Griswold makes a good point, though, in noting that the excerpts above read like direct quotes, not paraphrases. Was the White House aide recording the conversation? Seems hard to believe. And why would a trusted Trump advisor want to blow up negotiations with Canada by leaking this?
Yet another juicy theory from a Twitter pal: What if the Canadian government was spying on the Bloomberg reporters and somehow obtained the quotes illicitly, like, say, by accessing their smartphones and lifting the audio? Interestingly, the Canadian government told the Star when asked for comment on Trump’s remarks that it believed they were accurate. You’d expect them to be noncommittal unless they had reason to know that Trump had said what he apparently said. On the other hand, would Ottawa really risk an international scandal by secretly stealing American reporters’ work product and then leaking Trump’s quotes themselves to the Star to publicize them? Why not just sit on the information and confront U.S. negotiators about it privately?
Exit question: What the hell is Trump doing saying *anything* to the media that might damage him or America’s negotiating position if it leaked? He spends 85 percent of his time nowadays ranting about how you shouldn’t trust reporters. Then he turns around and goes off-the-record with them?
Update: He’s learned his lesson. I think?