Sen. Mark Warner: We'll 'absolutely' try to block 'awful, awful' deal with China's ZTE

An “overwhelming majority” of the Senate is united against the Trump administration’s deal to end sanctions on China’s ZTE – and will “absolutely” try to block the agreement, Sen. Mark Warner told CNBC on Thursday.

Wilbur Ross announced the deal on CNBC, which includes a $ 1 billion penalty against the Chinese telecom giant and a U.S.-chosen compliance team.

“This is an awful, awful deal,” Warner, D-Va., said on “Power Lunch.” “This is not something that you should trade in Mr. Trump’s trade war.”

Warner, who is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, added: “Trump may have done something I didn’t still think could still be accomplished. He may have unified virtually every United States senator to make sure that we stop this effort.”

On Thursday afternoon, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to address the issue.

“Our amendment would essentially reinstate the earlier penalties until the president makes certain certifications to the Congress,” Van Hollen said on “Closing Bell.”

“What happened today amounts to a slap on the wrist,” he added. “There is strong bipartisan opposition to letting them off the hook.”

Warner, who was in the telecom industry for 20 years and co-founded the company that became Nextel, said the FBI, CIA and NSA all have said in public testimony that the U.S. should not buy ZTE’s equipment.

In April, the Commerce Department banned U.S. companies from selling components to ZTE, which makes smartphones and telecommunications networking gear, after it determined the company violated U.S trade sanctions against North Korea and Iran. ZTE said the ban was unfair and threatened its survival, according to a Reuters report that month.

However, Warner said there is a larger issue at stake. “The truth is ZTE is a national security risk.”

“We have to decide whether we’re going to protect our intellectual property,” Warner noted, which China has been accused of stealing, he said.

And while Ross said the U.S. is “literally embedding a compliance department of our choosing” to monitor the company, Warner doesn’t think it will be able to get to the root of the problem.

“The notion that ZTE is going to adequately redesign all its equipment so that the Chinese government doesn’t have access to the back doors that our intelligence community has identified — I didn’t see any of that in this agreement,” he said. “And candidly I’m not sure the Commerce Department has that level of expertise.”

Warner wants to declassify information pertaining to ZTE so he and others can do a better job of getting their message out.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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