By David Z. Morris
May 19, 2018

News emerged yesterday that President Donald Trump allegedly personally pressured Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double what it charges Amazon.com and other companies to ship packages. That’s a shockingly direct effort to harm a U.S. business by a sitting president, especially since even Trump’s allies have acknowledged that his ongoing campaign against Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos is motivated largely by a personal and political grudge.

The reports about Brennan make the personal nature of Trump’s statements more obvious than ever. Trump has framed his stance on shipping rates as a defense of the Post Office, which he claims is losing money on its contract with Amazon. But Brennan herself has reportedly tried to convince the president he’s incorrect. According to the Washington Post, Brennan has explained, in conversations with Trump stretching back at least to 2017, that the Post Office’s relationship with Amazon is beneficial.

Those arguments, from the head of the body he claims to be going to bat for, seem irrelevant to Trump. The president has reiterated his claims that Amazon is ripping off the USPS regularly since the start of his reported conversations with Brennan, including in late March and early April. At the same time, he made inaccurate claims that Amazon didn’t collect state sales taxes.

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One factor that appears to have escalated Trump’s campaign to directly interfere with a contractual business relationship is the resignation of economic advisor Gary Cohn in March. According to sources speaking with Vanity Fair in early April, Cohn had previously tried to explain to Trump that Amazon packages help maintain Post Office revenue as letter mail volumes decline. Similar efforts by staffers have been reported by multiple outlets, including when a source told Axios that “It’s been explained to [Trump] in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon.”

(Notably, Cohn had also opposed Trump’s push for trade tariffs, which have since moved forward despite broad consensus that they could cost the U.S. jobs and harm the global economy.)

Trump’s persistence in the face of reasoned counterarguments from knowledgeable authorities and his own staff is all too easy to explain. It’s all about the Washington Post, which has been frequently critical of Trump, and is also owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Trump has frequently mentioned the Post in conjunction with his claims about Amazon and the USPS, including claiming that the Post is a “lobbyist” for Amazon. A source speaking to Vanity Fair painted an even clearer picture, saying:

“[Trump] gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos . . . Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”

But the Post has said Bezos does not influence its reporting, and conservative critics have even argued that Bezos is not interfering enough with the Post’s editorial work.

Claims about the USPS’s business practices, then, appear to be just one convenient line of attack in a fundamentally tangential feud. And according to Vanity Fair’s sources, Trump’s war on Amazon could expand to other fronts, including canceling government contracts and encouraging Republican state Attorneys General to open investigations into the company’s business practices. While his attacks on Amazon have so far been mostly bully-pulpit rhetoric, his direct pressuring of Brennan – along with his recent creation of a task force to review USPS business practices – shows this president is willing to directly use his office to harm a business run by a perceived opponent.

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