Access to the prez while you wait

how to influence trump

Flier by Delcan & Company. Photo illustration by Sam Kaplan for The New York Times. Prop stylist: Gozde Eker. Lewandowski: Al Drago/Getty Images.

There are about 10,000 registered lobbyists in Washington — roughly 20 for every member of Congress — and thousands more unregistered ones: consultants and ‘‘strategic advisers’’ who are paid to help shape government policy but do not disclose their clients. By whatever name, they are the people companies and countries hire to help roll back regulations, unstick bids, tweak legislation or get meetings. Lobbying is at once Washington’s most maligned, enduring and essential industry. Underpaid young politicos and retiring lawmakers depend on Beltway lobby shops — known as ‘‘K Street’’ after the city boulevard that once housed many of them — for the high-six-figure salaries that will loft them into Washington’s petite aristocracy. Congress needs K Street, too: After decades of cutting its own staff and research arms, much of Capitol Hill’s institutional memory and policy expertise now resides in the lobbying industry. But the private sector needs lobbyists the most. The modern federal government is so sprawling and complex that it practically demands a specialized class of middlemen and -women.

Over the decades, lobbying has evolved from a niche trade of fixers and gatekeepers to a sleek, vertically integrated, $3-billion-a-year industry. A good lobbyist doesn’t go into a meeting asking for legislation; she or he already has the bill drafted, a coalition of businesses and trade groups poised to support it, a policy brief to hand out to reporters and to the officials positioned at dozens of decision points throughout the bureaucracy and relationships with advertising and polling firms to manage the public rollout. Everyone has a lobbyist — or three, or 50 — and the lobbyists know everyone. K Street is majestic and immovable, veined through Washington like fat through a prime steak.

Like virtually every other candidate for president, Trump campaigned against this thicket of money and influence, positioning himself as an outsider who would ‘‘drain the swamp.’’ This pledge would soon prove more rhetorical than real, but it contained a grain of truth. Trump arrived in Washington with a relatively short baggage train of Beltway relationships and obligations. He didn’t read policy briefs; he barely had policies. His inner circle was a hodgepodge of Breitbart alumni, nominally Democratic financiers, Trump Organization employees on loan, the odd reality-show star and Republicans who would have been unemployable in almost any other administration. The smart money in Washington — K Street and K Street’s clients, the big corporations and trade associations — didn’t quite know what to expect. But mostly, they didn’t know whom to call.

‘‘Many companies want to understand: What are the president’s priorities?’’ Corey Lewandowski told me in February, a few weeks after the inauguration. ‘‘But there are so few people in Washington who have a relationship or an understanding of him.’’ Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign manager, was happy to tell you that he was one of the few exceptions.

Lewandowski’s journey from obscure New Hampshire political operative to celebrity power broker was emblematic of how Trump’s election scrambled Washington’s hierarchies. Much like Stryk, Lewandowski had spent years in the lower ranks of conservative politics and lobbying. Being hired as Trump’s campaign manager moved Lewandowski into the political big time, and being fired, midway through the race, did little to dislodge him. There were speaking gigs, a stint as a reliably pro-Trump pundit on CNN. At one point last year, Lewandowski even tried selling a book, tentatively titled ‘‘Let Trump Be Trump’’; Stryk, introduced to Lewandowski by a mutual friend, helped him shop the proposal. ‘‘Corey had a brand,’’ Stryk told me, and that brand was valuable. HarperCollins offered Lewandowski $1.2 million, an astounding figure for a campaign manager — though the deal evaporated when Lewandowski refused to show HarperCollins a copy of his nondisclosure agreement with Trump.

Through it all, Lewandowski remained close to Trump and spoke to him often. But after the election, the White House job Lewandowski hoped for never quite materialized. Now Lewandowski, too, was on K Street. He had joined up with another former Trump aide, Barry Bennett, to start a lobbying firm called Avenue Strategies.

Unlike other people on K Street, Lewandowski did not pretend to be an expert on the legislative calendar or the fine points of the Administrative Procedure Act. He was an expert on Trump. ‘‘There are just so few people in Washington who know the president,’’ Lewandowski told me in February. ‘‘It’s a comparative advantage.’’ He was not shy about playing up their friendship. He sometimes tweeted from the White House grounds. When journalists or other visitors came to his office, on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House, he would point out his window to where, he claimed, he could see the president’s bedroom.

His mind-meld with Trump was what made him valuable to clients, Lewandowski explained to me. ‘‘I think what I bring is a level of understanding of the president’s thought process,’’ he said, ‘‘only because I had the privilege of being next to him for so long.’’ He was doing as many as nine or 10 meetings a day: Chief executives, prominent Republicans, even other lobbying firms wanted his advice. He offered it freely, Lewandowski told me. He wanted to be helpful. ‘‘You know what a guy said to me the other day?’’ he said. ‘‘ ‘You’ve got a hot hand. Just remember, that hand’s not going to be hot forever.’ ’’

One good source of business was the president’s habit of calling chief executives to the White House for televised meetings. In January, when the chief executive of Whirlpool was summoned by Trump to discuss how to revive American jobs, the company asked Avenue Strategies to advise it. As one lobbyist who shared clients with Lewandowski put it to me, companies like Whirlpool needed to know the lay of the land inside the White House: How much sway did Wilbur Ross have? Was Steve Bannon for real? And what should the company do if Trump started dumping on it on Twitter?

Everyone had seen what happened to Lockheed Martin. Lockheed, the federal government’s single biggest contractor, is a powerful presence inside the Beltway. But through the winter, Trump had lashed out at the company over cost overruns on the F-35 fighter jet. The company’s shares dropped each time, taking Lockheed’s value down by billions of dollars. These were the kinds of problems that Lewandowski believed others on K Street couldn’t help with. ‘‘If you’re a corporate C.E.O. and the president has tweeted at you and your stock has dropped 4 percent, you say: ‘Why am I paying all these guys so much money?’ ’’ Lewandowski said. The old model of Washington influence wouldn’t work on Trump, he believed. ‘‘They don’t know him, and they don’t know any of his guys, and they don’t understand how he thinks.’’ Eventually Lockheed, too, turned to Avenue.

Over the course of a few conversations with the company’s Washington office, Bennett told me, they advised Lockheed on how Marillyn Hewson, its president and chief executive, should approach conversations: ‘‘Short, direct, honest answers,’’ as Bennett recounted it for me later. ‘‘Feel free to educate the president. In the end, it’s going to be transactional.’’ The next time Hewson met with Trump, a week before the inauguration, she came bearing gifts: a potential F-35 price cut and a promise to add jobs at a Texas plant.

The Twitter attacks ceased. By the end of February, Trump was praising Lockheed. ‘‘They’ve just announced eighteen hundred new jobs,’’ Trump told reporters after a meeting with Hewson and other manufacturing executives. ‘‘I have to say this, Marillyn, you’ve gotten a lot of credit because what you did was the right thing.’’

Lewandowski’s help did not come cheap. A typical boutique lobbying firm might charge $10,000 to $15,000 a month. A big lobbying or law firm, with teams of para­legals or assistants and high overhead, might charge twice that, with a three-month retainer. Avenue sometimes asked for as much as $50,000 a month — a top-shelf price on K Street — and Lewandowski on occasion tried to go higher. But there were plenty of takers: By midwinter, Avenue had ‘‘more than a dozen, less than 50’’ clients, Lewandowski told me at the time.

The demand was so great that would-be Trump-whisperers were popping up in Washington like toadstools after a rainstorm. The former Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich, a ‘‘senior adviser’’ to the lobbying practice at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, was hawking a book titled ‘‘Understanding Trump.’’ Established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find: Jim Murphy, Trump’s former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends and hangers-on had made their way into Washington’s influence business.

Read the complete article on The New York Times.

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The Republicans who urged Trump to pull out of Paris deal are big oil darlings

James Inhofe: climate change’s biggest enemy in the Senate, and the co-author of the letter. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A withdrawal by Donald Trump from the Paris climate accord would go down as a hallmark of his presidency. It would be unilateral, reckless and splashy – trademark Trump. The president has said he will announce his decision at 3pm ET (8pm BST) on Thursday.

But while Trump has often stood on a range of issues as a maverick outlier from mainstream Republican politics, on climate change he is at the centre of the party’s orthodoxy. Trump’s disbelief in climate change and imminent decision on whether to support the Paris agreement reflects an area of unusual agreement between the president and elected Republicans, whose track record of climate change denialism is plain and long.

Unmissable behind the elected Republicans stand other interests: the oil, gas and coal industries, which together are some of the most influential donors to Republican candidates.

The big-money supporters got a return on their investment last week, when 22 Republican senators whose campaigns have collected more than $10m in oil, gas and coal money since 2012 sent a letter from the president urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal.

Donations from oil, gas and coal interests to the signatories of the letter are Open Secrets that seemed ready for a new review. A Guardian survey of Federal Elections Commission data organized by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the industries gave a total of $10,694,284 to the 22 senators over the past three election cycles.

Visible donations to Republicans from those industries exceeded donations to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle by a ratio of 15-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that does not include so-called dark money passed from oil interests such as Koch industries to general slush funds to re-elect Republicans such as the Senate leadership fund.

At least $90m in untraceable money has been funneled to Republican candidates from oil, gas and coal interests in the past three election cycles, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here is a breakdown for the past three election cycles (2012, 2014 and 2016).

James Inhofe, Oklahoma

Oil & gas: $465,950

Coal: $63,600

Total: $529,550

John Barrasso, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $458,466

Coal: $127,356

Total: $585,822

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $1,180,384

Coal: $361,700

Total: $1,542,084

John Cornyn, Texas

Oil & gas: $1,101,456

Coal: $33,050

Total: $1,134,506

Roy Blunt, Missouri

Oil & gas: $353,864

Coal: $96,000

Total: $449,864

Roger Wicker, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $198,816

Coal: $25,376

Total: $224,192

Michael Enzi, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $211,083

Coal: $63,300

Total: $274,383

Mike Crapo, Idaho

Oil & gas: $110,250

Coal: $26,756

Total: $137,006

Jim Risch, Idaho

Oil & gas: $123,850

Coal: $25,680

Total: $149,530

Thad Cochran, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $276,905

Coal: $15,000

Total: $291,905

Mike Rounds, South Dakota

Oil & gas: $201,900

Coal: none

Total: $201,900

Rand Paul, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $170,215

Coal: $82,571

Total: $252,786

John Boozman, Arkansas

Oil & gas: $147,930

Coal: $2,000

Total: $149,930

Richard Shelby, Alabama

Oil & gas: $60,150

Coal: $2,500

Total: $62,650

Luther Strange, Alabama

(Appointed in 2017, running in 2017 special election)

Total: NA

Orrin Hatch, Utah

Oil & gas: $446,250

Coal: $25,000

Total: $471,250

Mike Lee, Utah

Oil & gas: $231,520

Coal: $21,895

Total: $253,415

Ted Cruz, Texas

Oil & gas: $2,465,910

Coal: $103,900

Total: $2,569,810

David Perdue, Georgia

Oil & gas: $184,250

Coal: $0

Total: $184,250

Thom Tillis, North Carolina

Oil & gas: $263,400

Coal: $0

Total: $263,400

Tim Scott, South Carolina

Oil & gas: $490,076

Coal: $58,200

Total: $548,276

Pat Roberts, Kansas

Oil & gas: $388,950

Coal: $28,825

Total: $417,775

Sum total for all 22 Republican signatories: $10,694,284

Perhaps the only reason Donald Trump promoted ‘Drain The Swamp’ was to make it easier for oil & gas companies to drill.

Read the complete story on The Guardian web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump had been said to be on the fence about the deal. Members of his inner circle, including his daughter, were reported to favor staying in.

“We strongly encourage you to make a clean break from the Paris Agreement,” read the letter, drafted by Wyoming’s John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and public works, and Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, a longtime climate change denier and senior member of that committee.

The letter argued that the Paris deal threatened Trump’s efforts to rescind the clean power plan, an Obama-era set of regulations and guidelines that include emissions caps and other rules deemed onerous by the fossil fuel industries.

It was not as if Trump wanted for advisers urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal even before the letter was sent. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Stephen Bannon urged withdrawal, while energy secretary Rick Perry favored renegotiation.

White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, in his office on Monday. The White House has challenged Mr. Shaub’s authority to demand information on former lobbyists now working for the government. Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.

Mr. Shaub returned a scalding, 10-page response to the White House late Monday, unlike just about any correspondence in the history of the office, created after the Nixon Watergate scandal.

Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.

Mr. Shaub, who is in the final year of a five-year term after being appointed by President Barack Obama, said he had no intention of backing down. “It is an extraordinary thing,” he said of the White House request. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as general counsel and acting director of the agency during the George W. Bush administration, also called the move by the Trump White House “unprecedented and extremely troubling.”

“It challenges the very authority of the director of the agency and his ability to carry out the functions of the office,” she said.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Office of Management and Budget rejected the criticism and instead blamed Mr. Shaub, saying his call for the information, issued in late April, was motivated by politics. The office said it remained committed to upholding ethical standards in the federal government.

“This request, in both its expansive scope and breathless timetable, demanded that we seek further legal guidance,” the statement said. “The very fact that this internal discussion was leaked implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics.”

Ethics watchdogs, as well as Democrats in Congress, have expressed concern at the number of former lobbyists taking high-ranking political jobs in the Trump administration. In many cases, they appear to be working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks — as recently as January.

Read the complete article on The New York Times web site.