Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal

Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal
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A bipartisan group of Senators Tuesday demanded answers from Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTop economic adviser warned Trump on reelection chances ahead of China truce: report The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE on the Trump administration’s moves to rescue Chinese telecoms firm ZTE.

“Given the clear findings ZTE is guilty of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, why is the administration backpedaling to make it easier for a Chinese company to operate and compete with U.S. companies?” Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMeet the dog and 'sea turtle' who launched campaigns for office Senators demand briefing on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria 2020 Democrats push for gun control action at forum MORE (D-Del.) demanded of Mnuchin in an appropriations subcommittee hearing.

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ZTE was thrust into the political spotlight earlier this month when President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE tweeted support for helping the Chinese firm continue to operate following steep sanctions imposed on the company by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The Commerce Department had imposed the sanctions and banned the company from buying U.S. components after the company admitted to breaking U.S. sanctions by selling equipment to North Korea and Iran. The agency also cited security concerns that the firm could help China to infiltrate U.S. networks.

“If the U.S. were ever to go to war with China, which I hope never ever occurs and never even comes into the realm of talking about this, it’s not far-fetched to think that China could disable American cellphones or take control of American networks,” Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Senate Dems lose forced vote against EPA power plant rule Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE (D-W.Va) warned at Tuesday's hearing.

Mnuchin attempted to assure the committee that the administration was taking security matters into account in its approach to ZTE.

“I can assure you that whatever the Commerce Department decides, the intelligence community has been part of the briefings and we will make sure that we enforce national security issues,” he said, before clarifying that the administration was not out to put ZTE out of business.

“The objective was not to put ZTE out of business, the objective was to make sure they abide by our sanctions programs,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration and China had reached an outline for how to save the company from collapsing under the weight of the sanctions.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Youth climate activists get Miami Beach to declare climate emergency MORE (R-Fla.) responded to the report in a tweet, saying that China was running circles around the administration in trade negotiations. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that a half-hour conversation with Trump on the matter on Friday had left him worried.

“When President Trump shows weakness and backs off on the area where he’s been the toughest with China, it signals to them they can roll over us on issue after issue where they have been rapacious in terms of how they deal with our economy, our intellectual property, the ability of great American companies not to sell things to China,” he said Tuesday from the Senate floor.

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell signaling Trump trial to be quick, if it happens Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Furor over White House readout of Ukraine call | Dems seize on memo in impeachment push | Senate votes to end Trump emergency | Congress gets briefing on Iran Senate again votes to end Trump emergency declaration on border wall MORE (R-Kan.) emphasized the concern over national security risks while probing Mnuchin. 

“I was going to ask you to justify what appears to be a clear and present intelligence issue being resolved with, at least based on the what The Wall Street Journal reports, as changes in our policies regarding those sanctions,” he said.

Mnuchin seemed somewhat taken aback by the intense interest in the matter. 

“There seems to be more interest in this issue than any enforcement issue I’ve seen in recent times,” he noted.

The hearing came on the same day that the Senate Banking Committee approved an amendment that would block Trump from easing sanctions on ZTE without first certifying to Congress that the company is complying with U.S. law, and a week after the House Appropriations Committee approved a similar provision.