President Donald Trump told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that American businesses were being unfairly penalized by federal laws prohibiting the bribing of foreign officials, according to a profile of Tillerson by The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins.
Tillerson, who had initially called the meeting with Trump to introduce the president to a prospective deputy, was taken aback by Trump’s position.
“Tillerson told Trump that America didn’t need to pay bribes — that we could bring the world up to our own standards,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told The New Yorker.
Tillerson then relayed an anecdote to Trump from his time as the CEO of Exxon Mobil, when he met with a senior Yemeni official to discuss a deal. During the meeting, Yemen’s oil minister reportedly handed him a business card, with the account number to a Swiss bank account written on the back.
“5 million dollars,” the Yemeni official reportedly told him.
“I don’t do that,” Tillerson responded, per The New Yorker. “Exxon doesn’t do that.”
Tillerson told the Yemenis that they’d have to play the deal by the book if they wanted Exxon’s business. A month later, they acquiesced.
Abolishing federal laws barring foreign bribes has been something of a pet issue for Trump, whose family real estate company has been involved in deals around the globe.
In 2012, Trump told CNBC that The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars US companies from using bribes for a competitive advantage, is a “horrible law” that stifles American businesses working abroad.
“It puts us at a huge disadvantage,” he said.
In February, Trump’s administration killed a rule that forces energy companies listed on US stock exchanges to disclose their payments to foreign officials. Congress got rid of the rule, but kept the amendment — which means the Securities and Exchange Commission has to come up with a new disclosure policy, reports CNBC.
Jay Clayton, the SEC chairman, has expressed skepticism about the law in the past as well, leading some to believe he will be lenient with enforcement.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, said in April that the Justice Department would continue to enforce the FCPA, “and other anti-corruption laws.”
The relationship between Trump and Tillerson is strained amid reports that Tillerson called Trump a “moron” in a meeting. Tillerson called a press conference on Wednesday denying the report and expressed his commitment to remaining at the State Department, amid widespread rumors that he had to be talked out of resigning earlier this year.