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 MnuchinBen Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal 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 CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship 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 TrumpPentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports Dozens of British lawmakers stand behind 'Squad' amid Trump attacks #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'Send her back' 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) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' 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 RubioTrump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Colombian official urges more help for Venezuelan migrants Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei 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) MoranEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Bottom Line Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown 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.