Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s polarizing first campaign manager, is not joining the White House and is instead launching a political consulting firm along with former Trump adviser Barry Bennett.
The move from a close Trump ally to start a lobbying firm — one that will be based just one block from the White House — further calls into question Trump’s campaign pledge that he will “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Lewandowski, who was fired in June but stayed in touch with Trump throughout the election, including occasionally traveling on his campaign plane, met on Monday with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to discuss possible posts inside the administration. POLITICO reported on Tuesday that Lewandowski would be presented with options but that the job he wanted — senior adviser to the president — was not among them.
“I will always be President-elect Trump’s biggest supporter,” Lewandowski said in a statement. “After considering multiple opportunities within the administration, I informed him and his team I think I can best help him outside the formal structure of the government. I very much look forward to doing that every day.”
The website of the new government affairs and political consulting firm, called Avenue Strategies, advertised Lewandowski’s and Bennett’s close ties to Trump and even their office’s physical proximity to the White House, at 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue (the same building that currently houses Trump’s transition team).
Bennett told POLITICO the firm will work for any cause but not for foreign governments.
“A lot of people have reached out to us, corporate clients, trade associations, individuals — we’re not going to limit ourselves,” he said. “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 and Bennett are joining a rush of Trump associates making moves to cash in on their ties to the new administration. Bill Smith, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s former chief of staff in Congress and the governor’s office, recently started lobbying at the federal level through his friend Terry Allen’s firm, Fidelis Government Relations. David Schwartz, a New York lawyer whose Gotham Government Relations & Communications has worked with Trump in the past, also announced plans to open a Washington office. Rudy Giuliani is also staying in the private sector, where he has built a lucrative consulting business.
The gold rush appears to erode Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp,” but even the president-elect apparently is backing away from that slogan, according to adviser Newt Gingrich. “I’m told he now just disclaims that,” Gingrich said in an interview with NPR. “He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”
Lewandowski himself has railed against lobbyists and consultants to colleagues on the Trump campaign, at one point advocating the idea of a “blacklist” of consultants who opposed Trump and who he hinted would be barred from lucrative political work under Trump.
In an interview, Lewandowski said his firm didn’t conflict with Trump’s message, suggesting that “drain the swamp” referred to bureaucracy, not people profiting on government contacts. (In fact, all five points of Trump’s plan to “drain the swamp” involved lobbying, and none involved bureaucracy.)
“The message he has talked about is bureaucracy that has ran amok is a problem,” he said. “I think most companies would prefer to have a fast ‘no’ than a long ‘maybe.’ We are going to help companies get a faster answer.”
Bennett and Lewandowski both said on Wednesday that Trump and his team were informed ahead of time of their plans to launch a firm.
“They all knew what we were doing,” Bennett said. “The president knew, and all of his top people knew. It is what it is.”
He added that the firm will begin taking clients in the new year, and pledged that he and Lewandowski will not be “your standard lobbyists.”
“We are going to help Trump advance his issues. If you’re adamantly opposed to his policies, you shouldn’t hire us,” Bennett said.
While Bennett said he has never been registered before as a lobbyist, Lewandowski was previously a registered lobbyist between 2005 and 2011, with clients including Passport Systems and Borrego Solar.
Lewandowski did not commit to registering as a lobbyist.
“I’ve never said I’m going to be a registered lobbyist,” he said. “What we’re going to do is make sure individuals who want to support Trump’s agenda will have the opportunity to do that.”
Bennett served as Ben Carson’s campaign manager and later as an informal senior adviser to Trump, although they had parted ways by late summer. He and Lewandowski first met two decades ago.
“Corey knows everyone in that world,” Bennett said. “I’m more closely tied to the first part.”
People professing ties to the new guard are threatening to turn the Washington power structure upside down and supplant longtime K Street titans. But it remains to be seen how much business they will poach from established firms considering how much the influence economy revolves around Congress.
Lewandowski’s statement made it sound like the firm’s purpose was to help advance Trump’s agenda: “It is necessary to have strong, organized outside groups who can help ensure the president-elect’s agenda is achieved. My goal is to make sure the priorities of the Trump administration become a reality.”
But the firm’s website makes clear it’s in business for its clients: “Our firm provides client-tailored strategy and guidance carefully designed to help our clients navigate our government.”
Lewandowski had openly jockeyed for a top job in Trump’s White House, at one point telling people that he wanted to be chief of staff. But a number of Trump’s close allies objected to the prospect of hiring Lewandowski for an influential job, citing his penchant for bitter infighting and allegations of aggressive behavior.
Opening the firm was his “fallback plan,” said an associate who worked with Lewandowski during the campaign. “He needs to make money,” the associate said.
The associate argued that Lewandowski’s earning potential would have been much greater had he worked in the Trump White House for even a short time before starting the firm, though Trump’s ethics plan would have barred Lewandowski from lobbying for five years.
“If anybody thought I was the type of person who was going to become a government bureaucrat, they don’t know me or what I’ve done in the past 20 years,” Lewandowski said.
He also said, “I told them that I was going to start a small business today after they gave me an offer of several jobs.”
Lewandowski, who lives in Windham, New Hampshire, with his wife and their four young children, started looking for a place in Washington a couple weeks after Election Day, according to the associate. Bennett said Lewandowski will move to Washington.
During the campaign, Lewandowski shopped a book proposal, at one point getting a $1.2-million offer from HarperCollins to write a book about his time running the campaign. But after Lewandowski’s June firing, the publisher backed away from the deal amid concerns about Lewandowski’s nondisclosure agreement, as POLITICO revealed.
Lewandowski did sign a deal reportedly in the six-figures to serve as an on-air political analyst for CNN. The network was criticized for hiring Lewandowski while he continued to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance payments from the Trump campaign through September.
Lewandowski resigned from the network after Election Day, ostensibly to join the Trump administration. His decision to start a firm and not pursue employment in the government could free him to become a paid television commentator again.
Lewandowski follows other so-called Trump originals who have been passed over for administration jobs despite their loyalty to the president-elect. Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have also been frozen out. The resolution of Lewandowski’s role helps clear the way for more senior West Wing staff announcements to be announced soon.
“If you look at a value proposition, that is what I bring,” Lewandowski said. “It is defined in one word: Loyalty.”
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