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Michael McKenna, a former lobbyist who worked in Trump’s White House legislative affairs office, said he had no intention of lobbying for foreign governments but thought other former Trump administration officials would jump at the chance.

“I’m pretty confident that a bunch of people would absolutely love to represent Monaco, France, the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Trump’s “lifetime ban” on former officials in his administration representing foreign governments was part of his 2016 campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He even criticized President Bill Clinton for revoking his own ethics rules right before leaving office two decades ago, arguing Clinton had “rigged the system on his way out.”

“He is undoing really the only example of policy that was supposed to evidence his commitment to drain the swamp,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher ethics rules.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires those who lobby for foreign governments and political parties — along with some other foreign interests — to disclose their work with the Justice Department. Several prominent Trump allies failed to do so, ensnaring them in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and other federal investigations. .

Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, was sentenced in 2019 to 7 ½ years in prison for failing to register as a foreign agent, among other crimes.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted to lying to investigators about his role in a lobbying campaign on behalf of Turkish interests, though Flynn wasn’t charged with violating FARA.

And Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to failing to register as a foreign agent even though he knew he should’ve done so.

Trump pardoned all three men before leaving office.

There’s nothing illegal or even unethical about lobbying for foreign governments, but many lobbyists try to avoid representing countries that have tense relationships with Washington or troubled human rights records. Two lobbying firms cut ties with Turkey late last year after Turkey aided Azerbaijan in a controversial conflict with Armenia, and several prominent firms quit lobbying for Saudi Arabia in 2018 after the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

But lobbying for foreign governments is one of the most lucrative niches on K Street, and Trump-connected lobbyists who registered as foreign agents thrived in Washington during his administration, earning millions of dollars lobbying for the governments of countries such as Turkey, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic.

Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a New York lobbying firm that once counted Trump as a client, capitalized on the connection after Trump’s 2016 victory, opening a Washington office and signing clients including the Libyan government. Like others on K Street, the firm is now trying to reposition itself for the Biden era.

Earlier this month, the firm sent a memo to several foreign governments and other potential clients highlighting its ties to a different New York politician: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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“Our Washington D.C. office stands ready to advocate for you with the Senate Majority office of the Honorable Charles Schumer!” the memo reads.

Trump’s ethics rules never barred former administration officials from lobbying entirely. Those who left the administration were allowed to lobby Congress, and loopholes also let them lobby the administration in some cases. At least 84 former Trump administration officials registered as lobbyists while he was in office, according to a POLITICO analysis of disclosure filings.

But the rules did include significant limitations, prohibiting former Trump administration officials from lobbying the agencies in which they served for five years after leaving the government.

Now that Trump has revoked his ethics pledge, they’re mostly free to lobby the executive branch. (Those who’ve left within the past year are still prohibited by law from trying to influence their former agencies.)

Some on K Street have cheered Trump’s decision. “It puts a number of people who were on the sidelines [back] in the game,” said one lobbyist whose firm has hired former Trump administration officials.

But others are skeptical staffers from the previous administration will have much sway.

“I’m not sure the Biden people are going to want to be lobbied by us,” said one former Trump administration official who’s now a lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Trump administration officials are also now free to lobby Republican lawmakers on behalf of foreign interests — but demand for such work will be softer with Democrats in control of Congress, said Ivan Zapien, who leads Hogan Lovells’ government relations and public affairs practice.

“There’s not many world leaders who are trying to figure out how to deal with Republicans right now,” Zapien said.

Some ethics lawyers said Trump’s lifetime ban on foreign lobbying might have been excessive. (The ethics rules Biden debuted on Wednesday only bar those who serve in his administration from representing foreign governments until Biden leaves office or for two years after they leave government, whichever is later.)

Would the contacts former Trump administration officials made in government still give them a lobbying edge in 20 or 30 years?

“It sounds really good, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tom Spulak, a Washington lawyer who’s advised clients on the Foreign Agents Registration Act and has also lobbied for foreign interests himself. “But is it really serving a purpose?”

But Paul Light, a New York University professor who has criticized lengthy lobbying bans in the past, said he couldn’t support Trump’s last-minute repeal after all the ethics scandals during his administration.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is the right person to undo any ethics rule,” he said.


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Stephen Miller tangles with Florida GOP freshman at House immigration meeting

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Freshman GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar got into a lively exchange over immigration with former Trump aide Stephen Miller during a meeting with a group of House Republicans on Wednesday, according to multiple Republican sources.

The back-and-forth came during the end of Miller’s presentation before the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus within the House GOP. Miller, the architect of Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, spoke before the group alongside other former Trump administration immigration officials.

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Sources say Salazar pushed for immigration policies that would broaden the GOP tent while challenging Miller on how Republicans can attract Hispanic and Latino voters given the ultra-conservative policies he is advocating.


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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s sister dies from Covid as city passes 1,000 deaths

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The statement came as the mayor declared Wednesday a day of remembrance for the more than 500,000 Americans and 1,000 D.C. residents who had died from the disease. The city announced that it had passed 1,000 deaths on Wednesday.

Bowser ordered flags to fly at half-staff and encouraged houses of worship to honor those who died in the pandemic on Wednesday evening.

“These beautiful souls who passed were grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends and loved ones,” Bowser said in a statement announcing the day of remembrance. “This tragic milestone is a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities.”

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Mercia Bowser had previously worked for Catholic Charities and the D.C. Office on Aging, focusing her work on children, the elderly and those with behavioral disorders, the mayor said in her statement.


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A possible Tanden replacement privately touts her own Senate support

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Privately, too, O’Leary has reiterated her belief that the White House could and should still muster the votes needed for Tanden’s confirmation—noting that Tanden is qualified for the job and that her friends and allies should come to her side and not back down from defending her.

It’s a message that synced with administration officials who have refused to retreat from the nomination despite mounting evidence it’s going down.

But, at the same time, O’Leary has not shied away from touting her own qualification for the Biden administration’s top budget job should that no longer be the case. In conversations with numerous Democratic associates since her name began appearing in news stories as a possible fallback option, O’Leary has portrayed herself as a skilled policy architect and less partisan alternative, according to three Democrats familiar with the exchanges. O’Leary has gone as far as telling them that she could be confirmed by the Senate, two of the sources told POLITICO.

Reached by phone Wednesday, O’Leary restated her support for Tanden.

“Neera Tanden is exceptionally well qualified and should be confirmed for this position,” O’Leary said. “I have worked with her for years and years, and I can’t imagine a better advocate for President Biden to get his budget through Congress and help manage the policies of this administration. I am 1,000 percent behind her.”

One friend who spoke with O’Leary said the feeling they got from their conversation was that she was not campaigning for the OMB post. But the timing of O’Leary’s private comments raised eyebrows for others given her stated commitment to Tanden’s Senate confirmation battle and their history together. The two, at one point in time, were considered part of an exceedingly small “brain trust” for Hillary Clinton that included Heather Boushey, who now is on the Biden White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.

O’Leary’s private conversations in recent days also lend credence to a dynamic the White House itself has refused to publicly acknowledge: that Tanden’s chances of confirmation are increasingly dim and that machinations are underway to be her replacement.

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Several alternatives have emerged with competing constituencies in their corners. House Democrats are making the case for Shalanda Young, Biden’s deputy director nominee at OMB, whom they know from her time as staff director of the Appropriations Committee. Support for Shalanda on the Hill is so strong that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and lieutenants, including Rep. Jim Clyburn, were on board before Biden named Tanden. Progressives in the party are coalescing behind Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council director.

O’Leary has a close relationship with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who she would likely need the backing of to secure the OMB nomination if one opens. But she faces headwinds from her tenure with Newsom, a Democrat whose stewardship of the state amid the coronavirus crisis has been so uneven that opponents are closing in on the signatures to qualify a recall effort.

While O’Leary has loyal allies in California, including current and former Newsom aides who praise her policy command and record of accomplishments with Newsom, she confounded other advisers who argued that she struggled to get up to speed on the inner workings of Sacramento and its complex power dynamics.

She also co-chaired the state’s now-defunct Covid business task force with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer that ultimately was more for optics than actually addressing the issues at hand, with some high-profile defections at the end including Bob Iger.

The possible recall campaign, which comes against the backdrop of shuttered schools and irate business owners who blame their struggles on the state’s see-sawing coronavirus restrictions, could form the basis for critics trying to thwart an O’Leary Senate confirmation.


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