Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s first campaign manager, brokered the meeting between Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim and the president-elect last weekend, Lewandowski’s business partner said Wednesday.
Barry Bennett, who on Wednesday unveiled a new lobbying firm with Lewandowski, confirmed to POLITICO that Lewandowski traveled to Mexico City this month to meet with Slim and that he arranged the subsequent sit-down with Trump.
The meeting between Trump and Slim — over dinner this past Saturday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. — occurred about 10 days after Lewandowski’s visit with Slim.
The revelation that Lewandowski brokered the meeting — coming hours after he and Bennett unveiled their lobbying firm — could undermine Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” by reducing the power of lobbyists and special interests in Washington.
It also raises the specter that Lewandowski and Bennett, who was an informal senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, could take advantage of their relationship with Trump as they pursue their own outside business interests.
In an interview, Bennett stressed that Slim was not yet “an official client” of his new firm, Avenue Strategies, and that the firm didn’t plan to register any clients in 2016.
“It’s possible he becomes a client, and it’s possible he doesn’t,” Bennett said of Slim. “It’s unknown,” he said, adding “Everyone would love to have Carlos Slim as a client.”
Lewandowski did not directly answer a question about his role in setting up the meeting.
Instead, he pointed out that he was not paid by Slim and asserted he was not seeking a contract.
“Carlos Slim is not a client. I have never received a dime from him. He has never paid me a dime. They didn’t pay for my travel. I do not have a contract, they never asked me for a contract and I have not sought a contract,” Lewandowski said. “I went down as a private citizen.”
When POLITICO noted that Bennett said it was “possible” that Slim could become a client, Lewandowski responded, “There is absolutely no factual basis that I’m trying to sign Carlos Slim as a client.”
A spokesman for Slim could not be reached for comment.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, noting that Lewandowski and Bennett said they had not been paid by Slim, rejected a question about whether Lewandowski was trading on his relationship with his former boss.
“So ‘Selling access to Trump’ is not accurate,” she wrote in an email, recommending that POLITICO “follow up with Corey or Barry directly on any additional details.”
Notably, both Lewandowski’s meeting with Slim — and Slim’s subsequent meeting with Trump — came as Lewandowski was simultaneously talking privately with Bennett about starting the lobbying firm and openly jockeying for a top job in Trump’s White House.
Avenue Strategies’ website advertises the close ties of Lewandowski and Bennett to the president-elect, and even their office’s physical proximity to the White House. Avenue’s offices are located at 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue — the same building that currently houses Trump’s transition team.
Bennett told POLITICO in a separate interview earlier on Wednesday that “a lot of people have reached out to us, corporate clients, trade associations, individuals — we’re not going to limit ourselves.” He added, “I think we’ll be providing strategic counsel most, explaining the White House to people. There are a tremendous number of people in Washington who don’t know how the president-elect works.”
Lewandowski’s efforts to minimize his role in the Slim meeting by pointing out that he wasn’t paid might not matter much under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, although it’s not clear that Lewandowski would have to register under the act.
It requires anyone representing foreigners in the U.S to report their political activities to the Justice Department within 10 days “of agreeing to become an agent and before performing any activities for the foreign principal.”
The law applies to representatives of foreign individuals like Slim, not only to governments, according to the Justice Department’s website. It also captures any activity that tries to influence the U.S. public and isn’t limited to contacting government officials (like congressional lobbying disclosure requirements).
Lewandowski has never been registered under FARA, while Slim has never retained a lobbyist who registered under FARA.
Slim’s company, Telmex, had paid lobbyists to represent it before the Federal Communications Commission prior to 2004. Since then, however, no lobbyists have been registered to represent the firm.
Whether or not Slim ultimately pays Avenue Strategies for Lewandowski’s help in brokering the meeting, Slim appears to have benefitted from it.
During the presidential campaign, Trump ripped Slim, the largest single shareholder in The New York Times, as part of a global media conspiracy trying to elect Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. “The New York Times strings are being pulled by Mexico’s Carlos Slim, a billionaire who benefits from NAFTA and supports Hillary Clinton’s open border policies,” read an October statement from Trump.
But after the meeting between the two men, Trump tweeted, “Yes, it is true – Carlos Slim, the great businessman from Mexico, called me about getting together for a meeting. We met, HE IS A GREAT GUY!”
The Washington Post first reported Lewandowski’s meeting with Slim and Slim’s meeting with Trump, but did not reveal the former campaign manager’s role in brokering the meeting. Instead, it reported that Slim connected with Lewandowski to “discuss trade, economic and other issues.”
At the time, Trump’s team was discussing possible roles in the administration for Lewandowski.
A number of Trump’s close allies had objected to the prospect of hiring Lewandowski for an influential job, citing his penchant for bitter infighting and allegations of aggressive behavior. He had been fired as campaign manager in June following clashes with Reince Priebus, now Trump’s chief of staff, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who continues to play an influential role in the transition.
An associate who worked with Lewandowski during the campaign described opening the lobbying firm with Bennett as Lewandowski’s “fallback plan,” adding, “He needs to make money.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Lewandowski said during an interview that he had fully briefed Trump and his aides before going public with his new firm. “I told them that I was going to start a small business today after they gave me an offer of several jobs,” he said.
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