Trump Says No to Exxon’s Waiver Request

The big news the other day was Exxon’s request for a waiver from the Russian sanctions. It is a huge story because (1)  of the amount of money involved — Exxon wants back in on a half trillion dollar oil exploration and drilling deal, and (2)  it tests whether Trump et al would act on a pro-money, pro-Putin bias.

We find out today that Trump said “nyet”. Does this change anything?

First, we should keep in mind that Exxon folks are not stupid. They are fully aware that even talking about this kind of waiver request triggers negative PR. They made the request anyway. In light of the potential downside, I think they did so because they have a reasonable belief that they could get the waiver now or in the future. In other words, the Trump “no” is not the end of the story. Exxon just made a first attempt and they will try again. Too much is at stake for them not to do so.

Does Trump’s “no” signal that he can be trusted to “do the right thing” with respect to Putin? As with Exxon’s motivation, we can only speculate. Here is my best guess. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated that two things motivate him. The first is ego. The second is money. Indeed, the money may be just a metric for ego.

Based on that, I think Trump sees the waiver as a card to play with Putin for his personal gain in either ego or money. Playing that card now with all of the investigations pending would have ended any hope that Trump has to regain credibility as president. It might even have triggered impeachment talk. Talk about a blow to one’s ego! So there was a huge potential cost to saying “yes”. At the same time, the value of he card does not go down by delaying the play. So there is no huge downside to saying “no” for now. To the contrary, it helps Trump look a bit better for doing the right thing.

Will this change? As long as Trump is on the hot seat, I think it will not. I think he will hold back. The minute he senses that he can get away with it, I think that waiver request gets approved.

What do you think?


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