The White House is pushing a top aide to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross out of the Trump administration, the first round of house-cleaning after the 2020 census debacle and clashes over tech policy.
In recent months, Commerce policy director Earl Comstock has angered Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House lawyers, members of the National Security Council and officials at the National Economic Council, according to five current and former administration officials. The irritation extends to the highest staff level of the White House, several officials stressed, citing both Comstock’s handling of the 2020 U.S. census’s citizenship question and the internal debate over spectrum policy as key areas of disagreement.
One former administration official said he could not think of anyone who “had pissed off as many senior White House officials” as Comstock, who critics allege often tried to exceed his own authority as a top Commerce policy staffer. Comstock also clashed with officials across federal agencies, according to one administration official.
While officials said the process of forcing out Comstock through a firing or resignation is underway, the date of his actual departure remains unclear. He was at the agency until the end of the day on Wednesday.
The White House referred questions about Comstock to the Commerce Department. A Commerce spokesperson said “there is no truth to these rumors. Earl Comstock is an instrumental and valuable member of the Commerce team. He has a keen understanding of the functions of the federal government and has spearheaded multiple departmental initiatives as the deputy chief of staff for policy. Earl will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the Secretary, the Department of Commerce and the American people.”
As Mulvaney has sought to exert greater control over federal agencies, Comstock’s performance has come under far greater scrutiny — similar to how the White House also has paid close to attention recently to top officials at the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.
Comstock’s role in failing to put the citizenship question on the U.S. census was just the latest high-profile blow for him, since it’s an issue the president cares about deeply — adding to widespread views inside the White House that Commerce is not effectively executing the president’s agenda.
Administration officials said Comstock’s eventual departure is not necessarily a foreshadowing of Ross’s own tenure in the Cabinet — though the president has been frustrated over the past year with his Commerce secretary’s negotiating prowess in trade talks and the census question.