DealBook Briefing: What Does Trump Hope to Gain by Saving ZTE?

Good Monday morning. On the calendar: Upfront Week, where the traditional TV industry is still grappling with its advertising problem. (But hey, NBC picked up “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”) Some links require subscriptions.

President Trump surprised many when he called on the Commerce Department to lift sales penalties that the Chinese telecom equipment maker said had threatened its existence. His tweet yesterday came before a top Chinese economic adviser, Liu He, arrives in Washington to continue trade talks.

Now Washington is wondering: Is Mr. Trump trying to ease tensions with Beijing and perhaps score some unspecified concessions? And which faction is winning Mr. Trump’s war on trade?

The ZTE primer: The administration has accused ZTE of violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea (which the company says was a mistake). And it’s banned from selling products on U.S. military bases.

Andrew asks: When Mr. Trump says the Commerce Department would act independently on ZTE — after he instructed it to make a deal with the Chinese — is that different from when he said the Justice Department would act independently on AT&T after he urged it to block the Time Warner deal?

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Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in New York and Michael J. de la Merced in London.

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After a series of highly unusual twists — Xerox had ousted its C.E.O., then undumped him — the company said once again that it would replace its chief and some of its board, and withdraw from its deal with Fujifilm. It’s the latest attempt to settle with Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason, two of the company’s biggest investors and consistent opponents of the Fujifilm deal.

The state of play:

• Xerox said that it was withdrawing from the Fujifilm transaction because its Japanese partner had not delivered audited statements on time. Fujifilm said that it may seek damages.

• The new Xerox board will weigh alternative proposals, including other takeover bids.

Elsewhere in shareholder activism: Elliott Management is rallying opposition to a proposed reorganization at Hyundai. Has Jana Partners’ push at Apple opened the door for activists to pursue campaigns based on environmental and social issues?

As Europe considers how to respond to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. officials warned that allies should fall in line — or else. John Bolton, the national security adviser, said it was “possible” that European companies who continued to do business with Iran could face sanctions, adding:

Meanwhile, cybersecurity experts expect Iran to resume a global cyberhacking campaign in the wake of the deal’s demise. And Iranian officials have begun a global tour to shore up support from foreign leaders.

Elsewhere in trade: The chaos enveloping companies’ efforts to win exemptions from the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs. What corporate America plans to say at hearings on the matter.

• Rudy Giuliani suggested that President Trump personally intervened in trying to block AT&T’s bid for Time Warner — “the president denied the merger” — and then backtracked.

• States face a tough dilemma: Do they pass on increased revenue from the new federal tax law to residents, or shore up their budgets? (NYT)

• Ken Kurson, an ally of Jared Kushner and a former editor of the N.Y. Observer, is under consideration for an unpaid position in the Trump administration. (NYT)

• Shares in pharmaceutical companies jumped after President Trump unveiled milder-than-expected initiatives for lower drug prices. But pharmacy benefits managers shouldn’t necessarily breathe easy.

• The turmoil at Air France-KLM could test President Emmanuel Macron’s resolve in overhauling the French economy. (FT)

• The Education Department has de-emphasized a unit focused on fraud by for-profit institutions. (NYT)

When President Trump’s personal lawyer approached companies fretting about their lack of access to the new administration, he had a blunt message, according to the WSJ: No one outside the White House has a better connection to Mr. Trump than I do.

Obviously, that didn’t work out so well: Uber and Ford turned him down, and AT&T said hiring him was “a big mistake.” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, wants to know what Novartis hoped to gain by hiring Mr. Cohen.

The big picture: The FT points out that while AT&T and Novartis didn’t break any laws, the swamp is far from being drained.

Speaking to new graduates of his alma mater, Duke, the Apple C.E.O. touched on topics like gun control and the #MeToo movement. But he also cast shade on two tech rivals as Washington and other governments focus on user privacy, declaring, “We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy.”

The next big fight over privacy is coming in Silicon Valley’s backyard. If it becomes law, the California Consumer Privacy Act could restrict what tech companies could do to profit from user data, and those that violate the rules could face lawsuits. (Google and Facebook oppose the ballot measure.)

Elsewhere in tech: Several Mexican banks may have been hit by a cyberattack. HSBC struck a trade finance deal with Cargill using blockchain. Did Elon Musk have his Kanye West moment? Lex tells Silicon Valley to suck it up.

After Britain passed rules requiring companies to publish disparities in pay between men and women, the country’s businesses have been grappling over how to fix the problem. Here’s a look at some of those efforts:

• The cable company Virgin Media (median pay gap: 17.4 percent) has experimented with requiring that shortlists for every vacant job have at least one woman.

• The law firm Mills & Reeve (median pay gap: 34 percent) is emphasizing part-time work to help recruit and retain mothers.

Elsewhere in gender and the workplace: The actor Benedict Cumberbatch said that he would turn down roles if female co-stars don’t get equal pay. A group of women, including the actress Salma Hayek and the director Ava DuVernay, protested the film industry’s gender gap at the Cannes Film Festival. David Leonhardt wants readers to help make his columns more gender-inclusive.

• T-Mobile is hoping to avoid a replay of Sprint’s messy merger with Nextel. Holman Jenkins Jr. says that the AT&T deal’s outcome will be a pivotal test of the Trump administration’s stance on mergers.

• The hurdles that Paul Jacobs will have to overcome to buy Qualcomm. (FT)

• Toys “R” Us shows how lucrative bankruptcy can be for lawyers and other professionals. (NYT)

• The hedge fund magnate David Tepper is reportedly close to buying the N.F.L.’s Carolina Panthers. (Bloomberg)

• A deep dive into the merger of Luxottica and Essilor, which would create a global eyeglasses titan. (Guardian)

• A top Tesla safety executive, Matthew Schwall, defected to Alphabet’s Waymo. Tesla’s engineering chief, Doug Field, has taken a leave of absence.

Andrew Smith, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling who has represented Facebook and Uber, is expected to be named as the new head of the F.T.C.’s consumer protection unit. (NYT)

Anand Chandrasekher, who led Qualcomm’s server chip business, has left the company. (Axios)

• Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” nearly broke a Chinese box office record and has racked up $1.6 billion in ticket sales worldwide. (Deadline)

• How one of Silicon Valley’s favorite charities became ensnared in allegations of harassment and abuse by its former top fund-raiser. (NYT)

• After years of being almost an afterthought, the corporate compliance department is now a hot commodity. (FT)

• A federal fraud investigation has laid bare issues in the world of lawsuit financing. (NYT)

• Why Soho House, the exclusive members club, wants … well, more members. (WSJ)

• Steve Wynn’s bad luck with Picasso continued when his “Le Marin” was damaged before auction. (Bloomberg)

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