Trump supporter hired for Commerce Department post, to push hardline China policies until January: Sources

Corey Stewart will be acting as principal deputy assistant secretary for export administration, sources said. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Mr Corey Stewart, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, has been named to a newly created senior post at the US Department of Commerce, where he can help push through hardline policies on China before the end of the administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Trump administration has signalled it intends to continue efforts to beef up restrictions on China, despite Mr Trump's short time left in office.

Mr Stewart's appointment is expected to be used to reinforce the tougher policies, the sources said.

Mr Stewart, an international trade lawyer who lost a 2018 US Senate race in Virginia, will be acting as principal deputy assistant secretary for export administration, the sources said.

A Commerce spokesman declined to comment on personnel matters, and a White House representative declined comment.

Mr Stewart also declined to comment.

Mr Stewart was brought in by the Presidential Personnel Office, the sources said. The office is headed by Mr John McEntee who was tasked by Mr Trump with ensuring loyalty among senior aides at Cabinet agencies.

Mr Stewart is expected to serve in the new role until the end of the Trump administration on Jan 20.

Mr Stewart's post is above Mr Matthew Borman, deputy assistant secretary for export administration.

Mr Richard Ashooh, who had served as US assistant secretary for export administration for most of the Trump administration, resigned in July. Mr Ashooh was known as a moderating voice on China issues.

Mr William Reinsch, a former Commerce under-secretary, said he viewed Mr Stewart's hiring as "peculiar" since he is filling a position that does not exist.

Mr Reinsch also said the purpose of Mr Stewart's hiring was unclear.

"There have been rumours for several months that the president intends to take tougher actions against China," said Mr Reinsch.

"He's never been clear about what those might be. Bringing Mr Stewart on is probably an indication he intends to move, but there's no indication what he intends to do."

Mr Stewart ran in 2018 in Virginia against Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, whose campaign described him as "a cruder imitation of Donald Trump who stokes white supremacy."

He appeared at a February 2017 event with Mr Jason Kessler, who helped organise the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of that year. Mr Stewart later said he did not know who Mr Kessler was when he appeared with him and that he disavows racism.

Mr Stewart is also an outspoken critic of illegal immigration and opposes the removal of Confederate monuments.

Republican Trump has refused to accept the results of the presidential election he lost to Democratic former Vice-President Joe Biden, and has launched a series of legal challenges based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

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