Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, speaks to members of the media outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019.
TJ Kirkpatrick | Bloomberg | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is “looking at” making changes to a decades-old global anti-bribery law, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told reporters on Friday.
“We are looking at it, and we have heard some complaints from our companies,” Kudlow said, responding to a question about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law generally prohibits American companies from paying bribes to secure contracts overseas.
“I don’t want to say anything definitive policy-wise, but we are looking at it,” Kudlow added.
Pressed about the specific changes the White House might try to make to the FCPA, Kudlow declined to offer details but signaled that the administration was working on a “package” of reforms.
“Let me wait until we get a better package,” before addressing specifics, Kudlow said at the White House. A White House spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions from CNBC about what was being considered.
The questions about possible changes to the FCPA were sparked by revelations in a soon-to-be-released book about Trump, which describes an episode in which Trump bitterly complained about the law, which he sees as a hindrance to U.S. businesses competing overseas.
According to Washington Post reporters Phillip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, in 2017 Trump told his then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that it was “just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas.”
Trump then said he needed Tillerson “to get rid of that law.” When Tillerson said it would be virtually impossible to get Congress to authorize a repeal of the law, Trump reportedly ordered a senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, to draft an executive action to repeal the FCPA.
Business experts, however, say the FCPA is a powerful tool for fighting corruption around the world, and a perfect example of American “soft power,” or the influence that the U.S. exerts simply by virtue of its reputation.
While other countries have their own anti-corruption statutes, none exerts as much influence over the global economy as the FCPA. Passed into law decades before the rest of the developed world adopted similar guidelines, the FCPA has served as model legislation for other nations seeking to tamp down official corruption and encourage U.S. investment.
This wasn’t the first time that Trump, an international hotel and real estate developer, has complained about the FCPA. Appearing on CNBC in 2012, he called it a “horrible” rule and said “the world is laughing at us” for abiding by it.
Despite Trump’s disdain for the law, there is little to no appetite in Congress for making changes to it, and any unilateral executive action Trump attempted to take would likely be challenged immediately in court.
The book, “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” will be released Tuesday.