Ross and Navarro didn’t drive the decision to impose the tariffs, but they helped Trump craft it in secret, senior administration officials said, aware that lawmakers and other top advisers would try to torpedo any decision if they found out in advance. Cohn learned of Trump’s decision hours after he made it and was furious, according to five people who spoke to him.
But Trump had made clear to advisers that he was sick of lawmakers urging caution. That’s why he had elevated Navarro, an economist who believes that China has abused free-trade rules and destroyed much of the U.S. manufacturing industry, back into his inner circle. Navarro advised Trump during the 2016 campaign, and their views overlapped on the need for a tougher approach to trade, particularly with China.
Trump wanted to give him a senior role in the new White House last year, making him head of a newly formed National Trade Council, but he was effectively demoted by the summer, reporting to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. He was often relegated to an obscure floor in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The National Trade Council idea fizzled.