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White House corrects top aide on China negotiations timeline

The White House corrected the transcript of a briefing call with National Economic Council Director Larry Ku...

Posted: Dec 4, 2018 8:14 AM
Updated: Dec 4, 2018 8:14 AM

The White House corrected the transcript of a briefing call with National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow Monday, stating that the 90-day clock on trade negotiations with China began December 1, not January 1, as Kudlow told reporters earlier in the day.

The correction came several hours after CNN asked the White House for clarity on Kudlow's comment, which created a period of confusion because even White House officials were under the impression that the clock had already started ticking on the trade truce between the two countries.

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"Well, on the tariff raise, the President has said 90 days beginning January 1, which is when it was going to go -- the 10 to 25 was going to go into effect. So that's his -- that's the policy," Kudlow said on the press call Monday. The White House later crossed through the word January and inserted the word December in the corrected transcript. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why they correction was made in that way.

After President Donald Trump's two-hour dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement announcing the two sides agreed to restart talks aimed at resolving a trade dispute and would "endeavor to have this transaction completed within the next 90 days."

Trump had previously set a January 1 deadline for an increase in tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion in Chinese goods. But after negotiating with the Chinese leader at the G20 summit, Trump agreed to delay the hike.

The miscommunication over the start date in the trade truce highlights a larger confusion inside the administration over what was accomplished during the high stakes discussion Saturday night. Extending the negotiation period would have been seen by trade hawks as beneficial to China.

Both Trump and Xi have touted the talks as successful, but there are differing accounts of the new trade terms in their respective statements. The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that the leaders "agreed not to impose new additional tariffs," but it has not confirmed the 90-day timeline announced by the White House.

Trump also later announced that China had agreed to "reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S." The tariff is currently 40%, but China has not said whether it agreed to lower or remove it.

Trump has continued to cast the meeting as a huge win for the United States, though it remains to be seen if any concrete changes come from it.

It's not the first time the White House has edited a transcript of an official event, having done so twice this year after questioning from the media.

In January, the White House had to release a corrected transcript of a meeting Trump had with Republican and Democratic lawmakers about restoring protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In that meeting, Trump agreed to back a request from California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to back a piece of legislation restoring DACA protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

When the transcript of the event was released, the quote from Trump agreeing to Feinstein's proposal was omitted. A few days later, it was added in a corrected transcript.

The White House corrected another transcript in October after a transcript of a press conference in the Rose Garden didn't reflect that Trump insulted a journalist. During the event, Trump told ABC White House corresponded Cecilia Vega, "I know you're not thinking, you never do" after calling on her to ask a question. However, the transcript read, "I know you're not thanking, you never do."

Trump's shot at Vega was included in a corrected transcript released on October 2.

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