WASHINGTON • US President- elect Donald Trump yesterday named Wall Street veteran Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary and billionaire Wilbur Ross as his Commerce secretary, filling key slots on his economic team.
Just before the confirmation from Mr Trump's transition team, Mr Mnuchin and Mr Ross told CNBC in an interview that they had been chosen. "We're thrilled to be here and we're thrilled to work for the President-elect and honoured to have these positions," said Mr Mnuchin, 53, a former Goldman Sachs partner who was Mr Trump's campaign chairman.
"Steve Mnuchin is a world-class financier, banker and businessman, and has played a key role in developing our plan to build a dynamic, booming economy that will create millions of jobs," Mr Trump said in a statement.
Mr Ross has made billions of dollars turning around distressed companies.
Mr Mnuchin said the Trump administration would target tax reform and trade pact overhauls as top priorities.
Trump decides to leave businesses
WASHINGTON • President- elect Donald Trump said yesterday he plans to leave his businesses "in total" to focus on the White House, and will discuss the matter at a news conference on Dec 15 in New York with his children, some of whom are business associates.
"While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses," Mr Trump said in a series of tweets.
"Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!"
Concerns about potential conflicts of interest in domestic and foreign affairs have already begun to bubble up for the billionaire ahead of his January inauguration.
Mr Trump did not say if he would sell or gift his businesses to his children, nor did he spell out what structure he would put in place to distance himself from the Trump Organisation.
Former White House ethics lawyers have urged him to fully divest of his assets and put the cash in a blind trust to avoid any conflicts of interests.
Presidents are exempt from the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, an exception crafted in the belief that presidents should not have to worry about triggering ethics probes when making decisions.
Outlining their agenda, Mr Mnuchin and Mr Ross told CNBC this would include the largest tax overhaul since the Ronald Reagan administration, including cutting corporate taxes.
Both men said lower tax rates would be offset by reductions in the number of income tax deductions. "Taxes are way too complicated and people spend way too much time worrying about ways to get them lower," Mr Mnuchin said.
They also said trade reform would be a top agenda item. Both men criticised regional trade pacts, saying they favour bilateral agreements with trade partners. "We've been doing a lot of dumb trade," Mr Ross said.
Mr Mnuchin also said the Treasury and Commerce departments have trade enforcement capabilities. With regard to China's foreign exchange policy, he said: "If we determine we need to label them as a currency manipulator, that's something the Treasury would do."
With his appointment, Mr Mnuchin is being rewarded for taking Mr Trump's side at a time when the Republican Party's major political donors, such as the billionaire Koch brothers, had avoided him.
Mr Mnuchin has an unusual resume. He studied at Yale University, worked for Goldman Sachs, then launched an investment fund backed by Democratic Party supporter George Soros and also financed Hollywood block- busters such as Avatar and Suicide Squad.
A former Democratic Party donor, he surprised his Wall Street and Hollywood associates in April when he joined Mr Trump's White House campaign, all the more so because the Republican candidate had once sued a Mnuchin company over the financing of a Trump building in Chicago.
Mr Ross is a billionaire investor known for taking over ailing steel and coal companies, and then selling them for a big profit.
"Wilbur Ross is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed," Mr Trump said.
Mr Ross will oversee many of the trade disputes with countries such as China, many of which are complaints about dumping of cheaply produced steel and aluminium on the US market.
Mr Ross has also advocated steep tariffs on Chinese imports.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS