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Former Obama aide ‘speechless’ at Trump reversal on ZTE

A former aide under the Obama administration said he was surprised on Sunday by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE’s announcement that he is working with China to help Chinese telecommunications equipment-maker ZTE get “back into business,” according to the Financial Times.

“I am speechless,” said Kevin Wolf, who was assistant secretary of commerce under former President Obama.

Telecom giant ZTE is the fourth-largest phone vendor in the U.S. But, last month, the company was slapped with an export ban from the Commerce Department after the U.S. said it had violated a deal by circumventing sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

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Wolf, who oversaw the beginning of the ZTE case during his time in the Obama administration told the Financial Times, “I’m highly confident that a [U.S.] president has never intervened in a law-enforcement matter like this before. … It’s so outside the way the rules were set up.”  

Trump said on Sunday morning via Twitter that he was working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to help boost ZTE. He added that too many jobs in China were lost because of ZTE’s issues and said he has instructed the Commerce Department to “get it done.”

Trump’s support for ZTE marks a departure from previous actions the White House and the federal government have taken against the company. Trump's comments also represent the second time in the past month that his administration has rolled back sanctions against a foreign company.

ZTE and competitor Huawei have routinely been scrutinized by regulators concerned that their products could pose a national security threat. 

The Justice Department has largely focused on sanctions violations while Congress has previously taken action against Chinese companies under the pretext of national security.

In Congress, lawmakers have pushed U.S. firms to distance themselves from Chinese companies, leading efforts to enact legislation barring the U.S. government from using products from companies such as Huawei, ZTE and others.

ZTE has reportedly been crippled by the ban because of its reliance on U.S. companies that provide critical supplies for its products. The company has submitted a formal request for the Commerce Department to stay the order that keeps American companies from selling it supplies.