Trump Was Angry That Bribing Foreign Officials Is Illegal

In a profile of Secretary of State Rex Tilerson, Dexter Filkins includes this little tidbit:

In February, a few weeks after Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate, he visited the Oval Office to introduce the President to a potential deputy, but Trump had something else on his mind. He began fulminating about federal laws that prohibit American businesses from bribing officials overseas; the businesses, he said, were being unfairly penalized.

Trump was referring to the Foreign Corrupt Powers Act (FCPA) of 1977, which makes it “unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities, to make a payment to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.” In other words, the legislation made it illegal for a U.S. business to bribe foreign officials to advance their business interests.

Why would the president, who had only been in office a few weeks, be going into a rage about the FCPA?

Less than a month before that meeting with Tilerson, Buzzfeed had published what we’ve now come to call the “Steele Dossier.” With all of the focus on “golden showers” and collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign, there is one portion of the dossier that has been completely overlooked.

According to Steele, that information came from Source E, who Seth Abrams suggests is most likely Boris Epshteyn. During the campaign, Epshteyn, a Russian immigrant, was one of Trump’s most vocal defenders and was eventually tasked with coordinating the inauguration. His association with the candidate dates back to attending school with Eric Trump. He is now the chief political analyst for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which requires local affiliates to regularly air his commentary.

Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, what we have is the president complaining to his Secretary of State about the FCPA less than a month after the release of the Steele dossier, which claims that the Trump campaign was relieved about the focus on Russia because it distracted attention away from the candidate’s payment of bribes in China and other emerging markets. The reason they were relieved is that those payments were obviously illegal. Is the timing of all that a coincidence? I doubt it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .