Emails obtained by American Oversight through a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a friendly relationship between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) officials and lobbyists representing the steel industry. The emails show Jamieson Greer, chief of staff to USTR Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, and Lighthizer himself providing access and information to lobbyists from their former law firm. Both Greer and Lighthizer worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a law firm that lobbies on behalf of the steel industry, before they were hired by President Trump.
In March 2018, President Trump announced his administration would impose steep tariffs on imported steel. USTR, along with the Commerce Department, is responsible for rolling out the tariffs—which will benefit the industry that Lighthizer previously lobbied for. To learn whether USTR has allowed the steel industry influence over the agency’s policy and enforcement actions, we asked for emails between USTR and industry officials.
In a June 2017 exchange, Skadden lobbyist Nathaniel Bolin asked Greer to connect him with the USTR official in charge of handling “232 issues.” Bolin’s query references Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962—the law on which Trump has based steel tariffs. Greer directed Bolin to Jean Kemp, the deputy assistant USTR for industrial competitiveness. Kemp has since left USTR for a position as Senior Vice President at the Steel Manufacturers Association.
A month later, Bolin asked Greer for another favor. The lobbyist wanted Greer to connect him with the USTR official handling a World Trade Organization proceeding regarding a steel dispute between the U.S. and India. In response, Greer said, “I’ll see what I can do,” pledging to track down a USTR official to get in touch with Bolin.
Soon after, Greer followed through on his promise: he told Bolin that Juan Millan, the Assistant USTR for Monitoring and Enforcement, would be contacting him.
The emails also show that Lighthizer himself has kept in touch with at least one Skadden official, and may have even kept Skadden apprised of impending USTR policy changes before they became public. In an August 2017 email from his personal account, Lighthizer attached a pro-tariff op-ed accompanied by the sentence, “[the author] should be a validator when the time comes.” Lighthizer addressed the email to Jeffrey Gerrish, who, at the time of the message, was the head of the International Trade Group at Skadden. Lighthizer also sent the email to Dennis Shea, a current deputy USTR who was unconfirmed at the time, and three USTR officials.
This type of insider dealing within the Trump administration is far from unique. Trump himself has refused to divest from his own businesses, trading favors with foreign governments that support the Trump Organization. Insider dealing seems to extend to the president’s family, too: days after the Chinese government awarded Ivanka Trump’s company seven trademarks, Trump vowed to help save Chinese telecom giant ZTE—even though the company breached U.S. sanctions by making illegal shipments to North Korea and Iran. Like Lighthizer, many of Trump’s political appointees are cozy with the industries they regulate: we learned that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s 2017 calendar was full of meetings with representatives of the energy and chemical industries, and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos took numerous meetings with officials from religious, charter, and for-profit schools. It’s not a surprise that officials across the Trump administration have no qualms putting the interests of industry above the public: that’s the message sent by the president himself.