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

(Reuters) - Corey Stewart, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, has been named to a newly created senior post at the U.S. 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.

FILE PHOTO: Former Virginia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Corey Stewart speaks to voters at a campaign event at a pizza parlor in Annandale, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The Trump administration has signaled it intends to continue efforts to beef up restrictions on China, despite Trump’s short time left in office. Stewart’s appointment is expected to be used to reinforce the tougher policies, the sources said.

Stewart, an international trade lawyer who lost a 2018 U.S. 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. Stewart also declined to comment.

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

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

Stewart’s post is above Matthew Borman, deputy assistant secretary for export administration. Richard Ashooh, who had served as U.S. assistant secretary for export administration for most of the Trump administration, resigned in July. Ashooh was known as a moderating voice on China issues.

William Reinsch, a former Commerce undersecretary, said he viewed Stewart’s hiring as “peculiar” since he is filling a position that does not exist.

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

“There have been rumors for several months that the president intends to take tougher actions against China,” said 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.”

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 Jason Kessler, who helped organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of that year. Stewart later said he did not know who Kessler was when he appeared with him and that he disavows racism.

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.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by Alex Alper in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Matthew Lewis