Trump administration won’t turn over auto import investigation report

Donald Trump

The Trump administration is snubbing Congress by rejecting to turn over a report detailing a probe into national security risks possibly posed by imported vehicles and auto parts, citing pending international negotiations and executive branch deliberations.

Congress added a provision in a spending bill earlier month demanding the White House turn over the long-secret government report that U.S. President Donald Trump used to declare in May last year that some unnamed imported autos pose risks to national security.

Trump opted not to levy any immediate tariffs on imported cars or auto parts due to the alleged security threat and then ordered another six-month review on a decision on tariffs of up to 25%.

The delay was to permit more time for trade talks with the European Union and Japan.

A person knowledgeable about the matter stated Trump had relied on a Justice Department opinion to order Commerce not to turn over the report under a Section 232 investigation.

The Commerce Department stated it was not issuing the 232 autos report because releasing it at this moment “would interfere with the President’s ability to protect confidential executive branch communications and could interfere with ongoing negotiations”.

Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, criticized the decision saying “by refusing to make public the statutorily-required report on automobile tariffs, the Department of Commerce is willfully violating federal law”. Toomey stated he was reviewing “the potential for corrective action to compel the rightful release of this report”.

On Tuesday, Trump stated he was still thinking about imposing tariffs and mentioned imported European vehicles in general, without singling out any brands.

“We expect to be able to make a deal with Europe. And if they don’t make a deal, we’ll certainly give that very strong consideration,” Trump stated. “But if we’re unable to make a deal, we will have to do something.”

The Justice Department opinion, observed by Reuters before it was and made public on Tuesday, stated Trump was justified in “withholding the report until the resolution of diplomatic negotiations” and any subsequent action. It added that he could “rely on the constitutional doctrine of executive privilege to decline to release the report”.

A representative for Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, stated the Justice Department memo “doesn’t seem to have much merit on its face. The law as passed by Congress is clear”.

The White House refused to comment.

Some U.S. lawmakers want to limit presidential authority to invoke the tariffs on national security grounds.

In May, Trump stated he agreed with the undisclosed report’s finding that found some imported automobiles were “weakening our internal economy” and threatened to damage U.S. national security.

But automakers have warned tariffs would cost many auto jobs, dramatically increase prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

An ad hoc group named “Here for America” representing significant German and Asian automakers, such as Toyota, Volkswagen, and Nissan, stated there is no sensible reason not to reveal “this report to the public, or to restrict trade in an industry that supports the jobs of millions of Americans”.

It referred to the national security designation “absurd”.

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