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Donald Trump goes against vow to ‘drain the swamp’ by filling his transition team with lobbyists

It should have been obvious that Trump would to turn to the Washington conservative complex for help

David Usborne
New York
Friday 11 November 2016 16:48 GMT
Jeffrey Eisenach, a consultant who has lobbied for years for Verizon, will head team making appointments to Federal Communications Commission
Jeffrey Eisenach, a consultant who has lobbied for years for Verizon, will head team making appointments to Federal Communications Commission (Getty)

Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, has engaged a bevy of lobbyists to assist with his transition, many helping to assemble departments of government of direct interest to clients they represent.

The rush that has already begun up and down Washington’s K Street corridor, long known for the thicket of lobbying firms that have their addresses on it, not just to tap into the cash river that will come from Trump transition team but also to start work on influencing key areas of policy.

That there seems to have been little effort so far to screen out lobbyists with barely disguised commercial reasons to inject themselves into the process risks opening Mr Trump to criticism that he sold voters a bill of goods when he promised to do things differently.

Lobbyists whose names appear on a widely circulated list of K Street denizens already given specific assignments by the transition team have connections to a variety of industries with a great deal to gain – or lose – once the Trump administration begin its work next year. They include the energy, telecommunication, agri-food, mining and hospitality sectors.

The leader of the transition team, Jeffrey Eisenach, is a consultant who for years offered his services to Verizon. The individual offices of government for which his team will help pick top staff includes the Federal Communications Commission. The “energy independence” portfolio, The New York Times reported, has been handed to Michael Catanzaro, another lobbyists whose clients inlaced several energy-sector players like Devon Energy.

Also tapped to help pick top officials who will oversee energy policy is Michael McKenna, who has lobbied on behalf of Southern Company, that has been a strong voice resisting emission limits instituted by President Barack Obama to help counter climate change.

While many others involved in the feverish effort to build a fully functioning administration in time for the swearing in of Mr Trump on 20 January do not have clear lobbyist credentials, they are nearly all well known Republican movers and shakers in Washington often with ties to the last Republican president, George W Bush and even his father George H Bush.

With no experience of governing, Mr Trump may have had little choice but to reach out to the conservative complex in Washington, which includes not just lobbying firms but also those think tanks that have led the Obama opposition for the last eight years, like the Heritage Foundation. One of its fellows, Edwin Meese, US Attorney General for Ronald Reagan, is a leader of the transition effort.

Yet, what is emerging appears to fly in the face of what he promised during the campaign, which included what he advertised as a five-point plan to shut out lobbyists in Washington. He said he would ask Congress to institute a five-year ban on members of the executive branch or of Congress lobbying government upon leaving their positions. The goal was to “make our government honest once again,” he said in one speech in October.

“If I am elected president, I will end the special interest monopoly in Washington,” Mr Trump said at another event this summer. “The choice in this election is a choice between taking our government back from the special interests, or surrendering, really, the last scrap of independence to the total and complete control of people like the Clintons.”

“Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you the American people,” one of the final Trump campaign television advertisements assured voters.

Other individuals already involved in the transition and now drawing scrutiny include Michael Torrey, a lobbyist whose firm has represented the American Beverage Association and the dairy giant Dean Foods. He will be helping pick future leaders of the Department of Agriculture.

David Bernhardt of another lobbying outfit, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, who, according to Politico, has been appointed to lead the Interior Department team, lobbies for the Westlands Water District in central California and, in the past, for energy and mining companies.

“His whole idea that he was an outsider and going to destroy the political establishment and drain the swamp were the lines of a con man, and guess what - he is being exposed as just that,” Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Presidents Bush and a long-time Trump critic, told the Times. “He is failing the first test. And he should be held accountable for it.”

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