WASHINGTON – President Trump wanted to revoke a law that prohibits companies from bribing foreign officials, calling the ban “unfair” to US companies, two Washington Post reporters report in a new book.
In the spring of 2017, Trump was at an informational meeting with Rex W.illerson, then secretary of state, and assistants in the Oval Office. Upon mention of an accusation of bribery, Mr. Trump “cheered up” and told Mr. Tillerson that he wanted his help to eliminate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the authors write.
That law, enacted in 1977 and strongly applied since about 2005, prohibits companies operating in the United States from bribing foreign officials to obtain or retain business. It has become an important factor in making corporate decisions about operations abroad.
Mr. Trump said it was “so unfair that American companies cannot pay bribes to do business abroad,” according to the book “A Very Stable Genius,” by Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig.
“I need you to get rid of that law,” Trump told Tillerson.
Mr. Tillerson explained to the president that he could not simply repeal the legislation, according to Mr. Rucker and Mrs. Leonnig. He noted that Congress would need to get involved in any effort to eliminate it.
Undeterred, Trump told Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor, to write an executive action to repeal the law. Mr. Tillerson, the authors write, later met Mr. Miller in the hallway, where Mr. Miller said he had some skepticism about whether that unilateral executive action plan could work.
The anecdote fits with the president’s past views on the anti-corruption law. In a 2012 CNBC appearance, He called it a horrible rule and said “the world is laughing at us” for enforcing it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice began to enforce the Law of Corrupt Practices Abroad in a more concerted manner about 15 years ago. It has caused huge fines for companies, including the Siemens engineering conglomerate and Brazil’s state energy company Petrobras.
Critics of the government’s search for cases under the law have argued that regulators are reading their language too expansively, slowing down business.
Skeptics have included Jay Clayton, president of the Securities and Exchange Commission, whom Mr. Trump nominated for the position in in early 2017. Clayton authored a 2011 article that argued that US anti-bribery policies tended to “place disproportionate burdens on regulated companies in international transactions,” which hurt US competitiveness.
Despite such criticism and Mr. Trump’s doubts, senior administration officials have pledged to respect the law.
“We will continue to strictly enforce” anti-corruption laws, said Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at that time, in a speech in April 2017. “Companies should succeed because they provide superior products and services, not because they have paid the right people. ”
And under the current attorney general, William P. Barr, who was confirmed last year, enforcement actions have continued to make rapid progress.
“The last three years have shown that very little has changed,” said Joshua D. Roth, a lawyer specializing in these issues at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, despite initial expectations that the law will be applied. It could fall under the Trump administration. “What some of us were predicting didn’t really materialize.”
The administration has taken other measures that fit the president’s disdain for anti-bribery laws.
At the beginning of his administration, Trump signed a congressional measure that overturned a regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission that would have required oil, gas and mining companies listed on the US stock exchanges to disclose how much they were paying to foreign governments
After that decision, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and former Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, the legislators who had sponsored the original legislation that ordered the commission to enforce that rule, He wrote that Congress and the Trump administration had “abdicated American leadership in the fight against corruption worldwide.”
A Republican bill that would have permanently repealed the underlying law that the government of the energy industry did not vote in the House before the Democrats took over the chamber in January 2019.