President Trump rescinded an executive order early Wednesday morning that had limited federal administration officials from lobbying the government or working for foreign countries after they leave their posts, undoing one of the few measures he had instituted to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
Trump had signed the now-reversed executive order with much fanfare in an Oval Office ceremony in January 2017.
“Most of the people standing behind me will not be able to go to work” after they leave government, Trump said at the time, flanked by senior aides.
The order required executive branch appointees to sign a pledge that they would never work as registered foreign lobbyists, and it banned them from lobbying the federal agencies where they worked for five years after leaving the government.
Ethics experts at the time noted the order had loopholes — but still offered cautious praise for Trump’s attempt at halting the revolving door that allows government employees to use their positions to land lucrative jobs in the private sector.
No explanation was given for why Trump chose to rescind the order. The White House released the directive at 1:08 a.m. on the day he will leave office. It had been signed Tuesday.
President-elect Joe Biden will ban his senior presidential appointees from accepting special bonuses akin to “golden parachutes” from former employers for joining the government, while putting in place other expanded revolving-door restrictions in his first days in office.
The new ethics rules, which were described by transition officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the draft executive order is not public, will in some ways go beyond the guidelines for senior appointees that were put in place by the Trump and Obama administrations.
The biggest shift is the new rule that will ban incoming officials from receiving compensation from their previous employer for taking a government job, a practice that has been a flash point for government reform advocates and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Under the Biden program, appointees would still be able to accelerate vesting for compensation they have already earned.
For departing administration employees, the Biden rules create a prohibition on lobbying the administration for at least the length of Biden’s term and add a one-year restriction on assisting lobbying efforts.
That is an effort to crack down on lucrative “shadow lobbying” jobs, in which former officials go to work at law firms to help guide lobbyists without making contact with government officials themselves.
The details of the accusations against Mr. Broidy are especially striking: They include a promised $75 million success fee from Mr. Low and discussions about arranging for Malaysia’s prime minister to play golf with Mr. Trump. But they follow a pattern that has become familiar since Mr. Trump began seeking the White House.
People who had backgrounds or were pursuing business that was likely to have raised red flags in other campaigns and administrations marketed themselves as intermediaries to individuals, companies and countries wanting something from the Trump administration. They were able to do so because Mr. Trump ran for office and came to Washington without the established networks of gatekeepers, lobbyists and fund-raisers that typically surround a president.
number of Mr. Trump’s associates have been charged in the nearly four years since he was elected. Among those who have pleaded or were found guilty of charges related to their work for him are Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser whose case the Justice Department is now seeking to dismiss; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser; and Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime friend whose sentence the president commuted.
Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, were charged with lobbying and financial crimes that predated their work for the president’s campaign. The two pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, as did Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer.
But few figures seized on the Trump presidency more ambitiously than Mr. Broidy, who owns a defense contracting firm.
Jack Abramoff, the onetime Washington insider who went to prison in a lobbying scandal, was charged with a criminal conspiracy related to cryptocurrency and lobbying disclosure, a U.S. prosecutor said.
Abramoff has agreed to plead guilty and faces as long as five years in prison, San Francisco U.S. Attorney David Anderson said Thursday at a press conference in San Francisco.
Separately, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Abramoff, alleging he was part of a fraudulent and unregistered offer and sale of digital asset securities by NAC Foundation LLV, a company that was in early-stage development of a blockchain-based digital token called AML BitCoin….
In the early 2000s, Abramoff was at the center of a scandal that led to 20 convictions or guilty pleas, including two officials in President George W. Bush’s administration, a member of Congress, congressional aides and nine other lobbyists. Abramoff served 43 months in prison before he was released in 2010.
Ot became such a central slogan of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign that at rallies his supporters would chant the three words representing his pledge to take on big donors and special interests: “Drain the swamp.”
But as President Trump ramps up his 2020 re-election bid, it is clear that he has tolerated if not fostered a swamp of his own in Washington, granting up-close access to deep-pocketed supporters and interest groups willing to write six- and seven-figure checks to his political operation. Some have used the opportunity to plead their cases directly to him.
The latest evidence came over the weekend, with the release of a secret recording of an April 2018 dinner for major donors and prospective donors to a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump.
While news of the recording primarily focused on Mr. Trump’s call for the removal of Marie L. Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine after a donor claimed she had disparaged the president, the recording revealed that Mr. Trump engaged in policy discussions with many other donors pushing their own agendas.
There was the New York real estate developer whose company’s project in South Korea was proposed to Mr. Trump as a possible site for his summit with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea.
There was the Canadian steel magnate who pushed the president to further limit steel imports to the United States, and whose companies donated $1.75 million to the super PAC.
Other attendees discussed government policies that could benefit their businesses, including building a highway for self-driving trucks and regulations that would help make trucks powered by gas compressors to be more competitive with electric-powered vehicles.
The recording is a glimpse into a broader pattern in which the administration appointed industry lobbyists to key policymaking jobs, heeded the deregulatory wishes of big corporations and granted regular access to donors and influential political supporters. Some of the policies sought by the donors at the 2018 dinner have been subsequently introduced in Congress; it is unclear in those cases whether the president or the White House intervened.
A number of prominent former lawmakers associated with the Tea Party Caucus have joined the ranks of K Street in the last year, bringing their small government agendas to the lobbying world.
The door revolves. From Politico:
The California Democrat, who spent a decade in the House and 24 years in the Senate, doesn’t plan to register as a lobbyist. Instead, she’ll advise clients of Mercury Public Affairs, which represents corporate clients such as Airbnb and AT&T, as well as foreign governments, including those of Qatar and Turkey.
ProPublica on the draining of the swamp.
A piece in the Atlantic on the governance options available to billionaires:
When people think about the political relevance of Michael Bloomberg’s money, they tend to think about how his massive spending helps his campaigns: the record $261 million he spent on his three successful mayoral runs, the billions he could end up spending on his quest for the presidency. What people often miss is that Bloomberg actually spent more of his own money boosting his policy efforts in city hall than he did to get there.
Part of Bloomberg’s presidential sales pitch is that his personal wealth—he’s worth an estimated $56 billion—makes him incorruptible. Not only is he unbribeable; being rich enough to never take political contributions, he can assume office unbeholden to donors. But Bloomberg is so rich that he shifts the direction of potential influence: Donors may not be able to buy influence, but he can use his wealth to push things in the directions he wants.
Speaking of mobilization, the Washington Times has questions:
The National Rifle Association, after shedding its president and top lobbyist this year amid a string of internal disputes and legal battles, finds itself at a crossroads with Republican politicos wondering whether the group is still high powered or a campaign dud.
The cloud of doubts about the NRA is stunning just four years after the gun rights group helped Donald Trump win the presidential election.
The NRA says it plans to play a pivotal role, as always, in elections this year, especially because gun rights advocates are rallying against gun control platforms of the Democratic presidential contenders.
It’s an open question, however, whether Mr. Trump and like-minded political candidates can expect the same level of financial and organizational support as they did in 2016.
I missed this last week:
Direct donations to campaigns for the Florida Legislature are limited to $1,000. . . . [But t]he amount of money a company or individual can donate to a legislator’s PAC is limitless. . . . A Daytona Beach News-Journal investigation found PACs controlled by current Republican House and Senate members total $728 million. In contrast, Democratic legislators’ PACs total just $19 million.
If I had more time, I’d write this up, but for now I will leave you with just the link to Calzone v. Summers.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.
Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.
Federal law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Law enforcement officials have made clear in recent years that covert foreign influence is as great a threat to the country as spies trying to steal government secrets.
A criminal investigation of Mr. Giuliani raises the stakes of the Ukraine scandal for the president, whose dealings with the country are already the subject of an impeachment inquiry. It is also a stark turn for Mr. Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same United States attorney’s office he led in the 1980s, when he first rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and later ascended to two terms as mayor of New York.