President Donald Trump walked out of the Oval Office on Friday without signing two executive orders he had just touted to the press. The disappearing act occurred as a reporter asked the president about his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
In a video of the event by Politico, Trump talked up the orders, both concerning trade policies, which he had complained are culpable in the “theft of America’s prosperity,” CNN reported. He called foreign nations that abuse the system “cheaters,” noted USA Today. “From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences, and they’ll be very severe consequences.”
He concluded at a lectern in the Oval Office before reporters: “You’re going to see some very, very strong results very, very quickly.”
As Trump walked away from the lectern, a reporter called out a question about Flynn, asking the president if a tweet he’d sent earlier in the day was “trying to tell the Justice Department to grant immunity to Michael Flynn” to testify before congressional committees investigating Russian involvement in the Trump campaign. Trump continued walking — out the door and didn’t acknowledge the question.
Flynn has offered to testify about his Russian contacts in hearings before the House and Senate intelligence committees — but only if he were granted immunity, which hasn’t been granted. Trump tweeted Friday that he “should” ask for immunity and called the investigation into Russian connections a “witch hunt.”
Vice President Mike Pence appeared to speak to Trump just before the president ducked out of the room, perhaps trying to persuade him to return to his desk, where the orders remained unsigned. Trump made a gesture to Pence that seemed to indicate he wanted the vice president to bring the documents to him. Pence then returned to the president’s desk to gather up the orders and followed Trump out the door. The president signed the orders out of sight of the media, CNN reported.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, had watched as Trump touted the orders.
The first order requires a report by the Commerce Department on the causes of the U.S. trade imbalance within 90 days, focusing on 16 trading partners. The second calls for developing a strategy for customs agents to use current anti-dumping laws to crack down more effectively on foreign manufacturers who flood the market with underpriced products to undermine U.S. companies.