President Trump blamed Canada for the burning of the White House in the War of 1812 during a call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the administration's tariffs in Canadian steel and aluminum imports, CNN reported.
Citing unnamed sources, the cable news network reported that Trudeau asked Trump how he could cite national security as a justification for the tariffs, during a "testy" May 25 phone call.
"Didn't you guys burn down the White House?" Trump reportedly retorted.
When asked if Trudeau took it as a joke, CNN's source said, "To the degree one can ever take what is said as a joke. The impact on Canada and ultimately on workers in the U.S. won't be a laughing matter."
The president was evidently referring to the Aug. 24, 1814, burning of Washington by British troops. After defeating American troops in Bladensburg, Md., British soldiers invaded the city in the only occupation of Washington in American history. The soldiers burned several federal buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and White House (then referred to as the Presidential Mansion).
The attack was in response to an American assault on York, Ontario, but Canada did not yet exist as an independent country and was still a colony in the British Empire during the War of 1812. So, the troops who burned Washington were British, not Canadian.
"His statement was completely inaccurate," said Maj. Tanya Grodzinski, an associate history professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.
"This was exclusively a British operation," Grodzinski said of the occupation of Washington. "There were no Canadian troops involved whatsoever."
Grodzinski said she reacted to the CNN report with disbelief.
"To claim that some incident from 200 years ago is the rationale behind the tariffs is completely unjustified, and it makes me question the basis of his policy and if there's any thought to it whatsoever," Grodzinski said.
Trudeau called it "inconceivable" that national security concerns could be a legitimate reason to impose the tariffs during a press conference last week and said it was "an affront" to Canada, whose soldiers have fought and died alongside Americans in several international conflicts.
In response to the Trump administration's 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum, Trudeau intends to hit the U.S. with his own 25% steel tariff as well as a 10% tariff on consumer goods from the U.S.