Trump Trade-Chief Pick Says Foreign Work Shouldn't Block Him

  • USTR nominee didn’t initially disclose work for Brazil, China
  • Lighthizer is due to testify before Senate committee Tuesday

Trump Picks China Critic for U.S. Trade Representative

Robert Lighthizer says legal work he did for industry groups associated with the Brazilian and Chinese governments shouldn’t block his confirmation as Donald Trump’s chief trade negotiator, according to documents filed with the Senate Finance Committee.

Lighthizer, nominated to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, initially informed the committee that he hadn’t aided a foreign government in trade matters, according to a copy of a new disclosure memo obtained by Bloomberg News. A 1995 amendment to the 1974 Trade Act prohibits the president from appointing a USTR who has directly represented, aided or advised a foreign entity in a trade negotiation or dispute.

Robert Lighthizer

Source: Skadden

Lighthizer later revised his response to include work he did in 1985 and 1986 for the Sugar and Alcohol Institute of Brazil in negotiations related to an anti-dumping and countervailing probe on ethyl alcohol, according to the memo dated March 13 from the committee’s bipartisan staff.

He also helped a partner at his law firm with a case involving the China Chamber of Commerce for Machinery and Electronics Products in 1991.

In both cases, Lighthizer believes his work doesn’t violate the prohibition against foreign lobbying, according to the memo.

Lighthizer will testify Tuesday before the finance committee, which will vote to recommend whether he should be confirmed by the full Senate. The start of his hearing was delayed to 2 p.m. from 10 a.m. because of snow in Washington. Democrats say he’ll need a waiver from both the House and Senate before he can be confirmed because of work he’s done on behalf of foreign governments. The White House disagrees, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who chairs the committee, is examining the question.

Questions Raised

The memo raises the question of whether Lighthizer was recently involved in cases connected with U.S. Steel Corp. and Tensar International Corp., an engineering and construction firm.

In a follow-up response to the committee, Lighthizer listed U.S. Steel and Tensar as companies that might present conflicts of interest. Under an ethics order decreed by Trump, nominees commit not to participate for two years in any cases related to work by former employers.

Lighthizer said he didn’t perform legal work for U.S. Steel in the past two years. While he’s listed as having represented Tensar in two cases since September, he said he didn’t do any work for the company. He said his name appears on recent filings or other documents because it’s often standard procedure for his firm to list all partners or a broad section of employees in such cases.

Under an ethics agreement filed in January, Lighthizer pledged to recuse himself from any case involving his law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

— With assistance by Bill Allison

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