“Recording Shows That the Swamp Has Not Been Drained”


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.

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