Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Axios on your phone

Get breaking news and scoops on the go with the Axios app.

Download for free.

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump has sent highly unusual, Sharpie-written notes to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at least twice, Axios has learned.

One missive was so odd, the Canadian ambassador double-checked with the White House to be sure it wasn't a prank. In at least one instance, Trudeau also wrote to Trump. The exchange of handwritten notes, never before reported, was confirmed by several sources with firsthand knowledge.

The diplomatic missives include:

  • A torn-out Bloomberg Businessweek cover featuring a portrait of Justin Trudeau.
  • A back-and-forth about U.S.-Canada trade figures that culminated in Trudeau sending Trump a printout of the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative with a smiley face beside the U.S. government figure showing America has a trade surplus with Canada (contrary to Trump's claims).

Context: The May 1–7, 2017, issue of Bloomberg Businessweek — featuring a picture of Trudeau headlined "The Anti-Trump" — caught President Trump's attention, according to 4 sources with direct knowledge. Trump tore the cover off the magazine and wrote on it, in silver Sharpie, something to the effect of "Looking good! Hope it's not true!" according to these sources.

  • Before the White House mailed this diplomatic correspondence, it went through the normal clearance process inside the National Security Council. While some White House staff thought it was not the appropriate way to communicate with a foreign leader, they ultimately figured "it was done in good fun and would be interpreted as positive outreach," said a source with direct knowledge of what happened. So the White House mailed the magazine cover to the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
  • The Canadian ambassador thought it was a prank, according to 2 sources familiar with the situation. He called the White House to check, and a White House official confirmed to the ambassador that the note was real, one of these sources said.

Months later, on Dec. 8, 2017, President Trump falsely told a rally crowd in Pensacola, Florida, that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada. Around that same time, Trump also mailed Trudeau a document purporting to show that the U.S. had a trade deficit with Canada, according to a source with direct knowledge.

  • Trump wrote in Sharpie on the document: "Not good!!" or something to that effect, the source recalled. Trump's document only mentioned America's deficit in the trade of goods and ignored its surplus in services (the two combined would gave the U.S. its overall surplus).

A few weeks later, Trump received a handwritten letter from Trudeau. The note, on Trudeau's official stationery marked by the Maple Leaf, began with a friendly tone, but ended with a drop of acid.

  • "Dear Donald," Trudeau wrote in the letter dated Dec. 20, 2017, according to a source with direct knowledge of its contents, which 2 other sources confirmed. "It's been a busy year! Enjoy the Christmas holidays — you deserve it."
  • "One thing," Trudeau added. "You gave a great speech in Pensacola, but you were slightly off on the balance of trade with Canada. USTR says so! All the best for 2018, Justin."

The second page of the letter brought the kicker. Trudeau enclosed a printout of Canada's informational page from the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

  • Trudeau underlined the section on the USTR website, which at the time reported that "the U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016." Trudeau circled the $12.5 billion and drew a cheeky little smiley face next to it, according to a source with direct knowledge.

A Canadian government official responded to this reporting: "We're not going to comment on whether or what paper was exchanged between our 2 countries. There was a lot of back and forth. That said, it is certainly true that there were disagreements between our 2 countries about the figures, and we repeatedly pointed to USTR and U.S. Commerce's own figures. On your second point (the Bloomberg cover), no comment, but we don't deny it."

Why this matters: The U.S.-Canadian relationship is, in normal times, low-friction. But not under Trump, who views Trudeau as an irritant at best. In a conversation in the White House last year, Trump told aides he thought Canada was "the worst" country to negotiate with. "Who would think? Canada?" Trump said.

  • Trump now says very little about Trudeau, according to an adviser, and believes he and his trade representative Bob Lighthizer got the better of the Canadians in their trade negotiations.

Behind the scenes: Trump privately refers to Trudeau as a "wise guy," per sources with direct knowledge. He describes Trudeau as young and cocky, and he resents it when Trudeau comments on American politics.

  • Trump has gleefully recounted to aides how he threatened the Canadians with auto tariffs. He says it got him a better deal on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
  • Trump has also privately described Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland as "very nasty," according to senior administration officials.
  • Trump was pleased with the optics of the G7 last year, an adviser said. Trump says he dominated Trudeau there, the adviser added, and loves the viral photo of himself sitting with his arms crossed as world leaders hover over him. Trump also relished leaving the summit early — snub to Trudeau, who Trump said had treated him with disrespect.
  • The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The big picture: The president is in Year 3 of his relationships with foreign leaders, and in some cases they've changed substantially. Trump's bromance with France's 41-year-old leader Emmanuel Macron has faded, and Trump privately places Macron in a similar “wise guy” category as the 47-year-old Trudeau.

  • Last week, Trump chided Macron on Twitter for "purporting" to represent the U.S. in conversations with Iran.
  • Trump has also hammered China with escalating tariffs and increasingly tough rhetoric — a significant change from his more frequent emphasis on his close personal relationship with President Xi Jinping in Year 1.

Go deeper

In photos: Life slowly returning to normal as restrictions lift across U.S.

Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty in New York City marking the end of New York State's pandemic restrictions in New York State and honoring frontline workers. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New Yorkers and Californians celebrated most COVID-19 restrictions lifting on Tuesday, as the two states became the latest to move toward fully reopening their economies.

The big picture: The pandemic has now claimed over 600,000 lives in the U.S., but vaccines have helped drive down the seven-day average to roughly 14,000 new cases and fewer than 400 deaths per day, helping most states to ease restrictions.

2 hours ago - World

China's government issues warning after sending 28 planes over Taiwan

A J-11B fighter aircraft from China's air force flying over the Dafangshen airport in Changchun, China. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

China's government issued a warning to "foreign forces" after Taiwan reported a record 28 Chinese military planes flew over the self-governed island's airspace Tuesday, per Reuters.

Why it matters: The warning and deployment of aircraft including fighter jets and bombers comes after G7 leaders issued a statement Sunday urging the Chinese government to respect human rights and calling on peace and "stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Southern Baptists reject push from right to elect Ed Litton as president

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) rejected a push from the right in a divisive vote on Tuesday, electing a president who has prioritized racial reconciliation and approving a measure that rejects any view of racism as "anything other than sin," AP reports.

Why it matters: Ed Litton, as the new SBC president, will have the power to determine committee appointments, which can set the tone for the country's largest Protestant denomination. The SBC is comprised of 14 million members.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!