Mike Pence has returned to Washington. So has his closest political ally, Bill Smith.
Smith spent a dozen years as Pence’s chief of staff while the current vice president was a congressman and later Indiana governor. He’s expanding his lobbying practice into the nation’s capital now that Donald Trump and Pence hold the White House. In a photo on his firm’s website, Smith and Pence are seen huddling in close consultation on an airplane. “It’s a new world,” the site declares.
The “new world” of Trump’s Washington was supposed to be one with fewer Bill Smiths. But the lobbyists, consultants and ex-government officials who make their living selling their influence aren’t dissuaded by that piece of Trump’s agenda.
Former campaign aides and other associates, like many before them, are setting up shop in Washington, eager to trade on their connections. This migration happens anytime a new president comes to town. Still, it demonstrates the uncomfortable reality Trump faces if he is serious about his promises to “drain the swamp” of those who use their ties to public officials to make “a fortune.”
It also belies a reality of such perennial promises to clean up Washington: No one, even those knee-deep in it, considers himself or herself to be part of “the swamp.”
Smith said his experience with Pence will prove valuable to clients and that it makes sense for those already with relationships to help shape the new Washington. Smith works with technology, defense, energy and insurance companies, among others.
Does that mean he’s part of what Trump described as the swamp?
“It’s really up to him to determine what’s in the swamp and what’s not,” Smith said. He said he senses among government relations types “a desire to be sensitive to the desires of the new administration when it comes to how they want to interact.”
The Trump campaign was far smaller and newer to politics than most, meaning those who have not gone into the administration are in hot demand by companies and industry groups hoping to make inroads with the new president.
Scott Mason, who was Trump’s chief liaison to the House through the campaign and transition, joined the government affairs firm Holland & Knight as a senior policy adviser this month.
“There’s that Trump campaign bond that’ll be beneficial to me, to Holland & Knight and ultimately to our clients,” Mason said. He’s not worried about how his old boss will feel about his new job.
“There’s the red-meat rhetoric, and there’s the reality, and President Trump has an extraordinarily good grasp of both,” he said. “I think he will come to realize that the government affairs professionals add value and add perspective — an important perspective.”
Indeed, neither Trump nor top advisers has condemned any of the former Trump team members’ spin through the revolving door of Washington.
Trump’s communications aides did not respond to requests for comment.
Lobbyists and trade groups were banned from contributing to the inauguration. But judging by the swarms of influencers who made appearances at official events this week, the new White House isn’t eager to wage an immediate war.
Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and campaign adviser Barry Bennett hung out their lobby-shop’s shingle just down the road from the White House. Their budding firm Avenue Strategies says it has already has signed clients, including the incoming governor of Puerto Rico.
Lewandowski eagerly promotes his ties to Trump. “I had the privilege of sitting on the President’s Platform to witness the swearing in of @realDonaldTrump as POTUS. What an amazing day!” Lewandowski wrote on Twitter.
Trump also gave prime access to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who contributed more than $20 million to the presidential race in its closing weeks. The Adelsons were front and center during the swearing-in, and then they dined with the new president and lawmakers at a congressional lunch that is usually reserved for family, lawmakers and their spouses, and other dignitaries.
When the business of the Trump presidency begins on Monday, the Trump-tinged lobby world will be ready.
One-time Trump national political director Jim Murphy recently joined the firm BakerHostetler as a senior adviser for federal policy. Trump’s former campaign national field director, Stuart Jolly, signed on as president of Sonoran Policy Group and has already helped connect the firm’s clients, including the New Zealand embassy, with new administration.
Jolly, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said confidence in his own character — which he described as not swamp-like at all — leaves him with no qualms about his work in the influence industry.
“I’m still me,” Jolly said.
Some inside Trump’s White House also have close ties to the government relations world that Trump derided during the campaign.
Communications aide Hope Hicks‘s father, Paul Hicks, is a managing director in the New York office of the Glover Park Group, a strategic communications firm with a large Washington presence. White House press secretary Sean Spicer‘s wife, Rebecca Spicer, has spent a decade with the influential trade group National Beer Wholesalers Association, serving as its chief communications officer.
Two of Trump’s most senior campaign and transition advisers, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have their own tightly entwined histories of government service and high-paying jobs leveraging that experience.
Gingrich immediately followed up his two decades in the House by helping to connect paying clients to his former colleagues. He’s not taking a job in the Trump administration but says he will provide Trump strategic advice.
Giuliani also will work as an unpaid adviser to Trump, leading his efforts on cybersecurity for the private sector. The role appears to mirror his paid gigs, as chairman of global cybersecurity practice at Greenberg Traurig and chairman and chief executive officer of security consulting firm Giuliani Partners.
He’s keeping those day jobs.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.