President Trump named Robert Blair as his new "Special Representative for International Telecommunications Policy," where he will be responsible for supporting the administration's 5G efforts. Blair will work with Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economics adviser and the official who has acted as the president's main representative in 5G issues.
The action comes just weeks after a group of Democratic and Republican senators urged Trump to take a more cohesive and unified approach to 5G by appointing a dedicated official to oversee the nation's use of the new wireless technology.
However, Blair has no discernible background in telecommunications. According to LinkedIn, after graduating with a law and diplomacy degree from Tufts University, Blair moved from the Peace Corps to the US State Department to Congress, where he initially worked as a committee staff member mostly overseeing spending in areas such as energy and health. His most recent Congressional posts have involved managing $600 billion in defense spending.
Blair followed Mick Mulvaney into the White House in January as Mulvaney's senior adviser for national security issues. Mulvaney is Trump's acting chief of staff. Blair will continue to work in that position while also leading "the strategic prioritization of United States efforts to promote a secure and reliable global communications system," according to the White House.
Indeed, it appears that Blair's background in defense spending is the primary reason for his new position. "He will coordinate interagency efforts and serve as a liaison to industry, non-governmental, and international stakeholders to promote the development, deployment, and operation of the next-generation telecommunications infrastructure that will provide the security, data privacy, and stability required for a fully interconnected world," the White House said.
Such language likely represents a tacit nod to the US government's campaign against China's Huawei. Administration officials have been working to both block and eradicate the company from the US market, as well as convince international allies to prevent the company from selling equipment to global telecom operators. Officials argue that Huawei's equipment can be used for spying by the Chinese government, a claim that Huawei has loudly denied.
It's unclear whether the US government's position against Huawei will change as the US and China negotiate a new trade deal.
Aside from national security issues, it's also likely that Blair's loyalty to Trump played a role in his new appointment. On orders from Trump, Blair joined Mulvaney in defying a House subpoena to testify about Trump's dealings with Ukraine. Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate his leading domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. As CNN reported, Blair was among the administration officials who were on the line during Trump's July call with Ukraine's president -- the call that now sits at the center of Trump's impeachment.
"Some of that evidence has revealed that Mr. Blair was a percipient witness to the President's misconduct," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a closed-door meeting on Nov. 4, Politico reported. "We can only infer, therefore, that the White House's effort to block Mr. Blair from testifying is to prevent the committees from learning additional evidence of Presidential misconduct and that Mr. BIair's testimony would corroborate and confirm other witnesses' accounts of such misconduct."
Trump has argued that he did not do anything wrong and that he should not be impeached.