Commerce Department IG to audit Trump's tariff exemptions

Commerce Department IG to audit Trump's tariff exemptions
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The Commerce Department's office of inspector general (IG) is planning to audit the process by which firms gain exemptions to U.S. tariffs, according to documents obtained by The Hill.

According to an internal letter dated Monday, the IG is investigating how decisions are made to assign exemptions for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE's steel and aluminum tariffs.

The IG will review the Bureau of Industry and Security and the International Trade Administration's processes for assigning aluminum and steel tariff exemptions.

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A spokesman for the IG confirmed to The Hill on Thursday that the audit is taking place.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns about the process by which tariff exemptions are adjudicated.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRon Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe Blumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (R-Wis.) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossNOAA hurricane forecast predicts record number of storms in 2020 33K laptops meant for Alabama distance learning are stuck in customs, could be held until October Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE in August demanding he explain how firms are granted exclusions and calling the process "arbitrary."

"The Department's denial of the exclusion request has resulted in [one] Wisconsin business incurring an additional $2.6 million tariff cost that can not be used to expand production or to pay salaries of new employees," Johnson wrote in the letter.

"Across the country, many businesses share the same frustration about the difficult and time-consuming process."

That same month, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Nearly 100,000 children tested positive for coronavirus over two weeks last month | Democrats deny outreach to Trump since talks collapsed | California public health chief quits suddenly On The Money: Administration defends Trump executive orders | CBO reports skyrocketing deficit | Government pauses Kodak loan pending review Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE (D-Mass.) called on the IG to look into the steel and aluminum tariff exemption review process.

"This process appears to be running on an ad hoc basis, with little transparency, and bending to political pressure from well-connected lobbyists and administration officials," she contended.

There have been complaints about the exemption process since the tariffs rolled out, after the Commerce Department was caught in a flood of requests, allegedly leading to disarray, The New York Times reports