Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager for Donald Trump who remains one of his closest confidants, on Wednesday launched a government affairs and political consulting firm, openly advertising plans to benefit from loyalty to his former boss.
A news release issued by the firm, Avenue Strategies, touted its location “just a block from the White House” on Pennsylvania Avenue and quoted Lewandowski saying, “I will always be President-elect Trump’s biggest supporter.”
Lewandowski is being joined at the firm by Barry Bennett, the former campaign manager to Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson who later became an adviser to Trump.
In separate interviews, Lewandowski said he has no plans to register as a federal lobbyist while Bennett said he is prepared to do so if work with clients requires it.
Bennett said he expects clients to include a “combination of corporations, coalitions and trade associations.” While the firm might represent foreign corporations, the two men said they have no plans to represent foreign governments directly.
Lewandowski was ousted as Trump’s campaign manager in June but has retained direct access to the president-elect.
“I possess a unique knowledge of a number of the players going into the government,” Lewandowski said, adding that he will be prepared to “help guide businesses to the right person in government to get you a quick no rather than a prolonged maybe.”
Lewandowski said he also plans to engage in political work with candidates who support Trump’s agenda, including those who face primaries — “something I might have a core competency on,” he said, referring to his work steering Trump to the GOP nomination.
The launch of the firm comes in the wake of promises by Trump to “drain the swamp” in Washington, a reference to the influence of entrenched lobbyists and other influence-peddlers. Critics argued Wednesday that Lewandowski was joining the very class his former boss denigrated.
“What's becoming increasingly apparent is that the whole pledge of ‘draining the swamp’ by Trump and his colleagues really appears to have been just campaign rhetoric,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the ethics watchdog group Public Citizen. “We are seeing no movement to address the ethics problems of both the incoming and outgoing officials in the Trump circles.”
Lewandowski, Holman said, is “going to be a pricey consultant for very wealthy special interests who want very direct and immediate access to members of the Trump administration.”
Lewandowski disputed the notion that his new venture was at odds with Trump’s promise, stressing that he has no plans to become a registered lobbyist.
That distinction has recently been criticized by some, including Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign during the general election.
“Draining the swamp is not just about lobbying and politicians, it's also about consultants,” Conway said during an interview on “The Laura Ingraham Show” radio program on Tuesday.
Lewandowski himself was highly critical of federal lobbyists in a February interview with Stephen K. Bannon, then the chairman of Breitbart News and now the incoming senior White House adviser.
“This is the fundamental problem with the ruling class in Washington, D.C. — the party bosses, the K Street crowd, the lobbyists who control all these politicians,” Lewandowski said at the time. “They will do anything to maintain their power. They will do anything.”
On Wednesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has served as an adviser to Trump, suggested the president-elect has tired of the rhetoric regarding lobbyists and consultants. “I’m told he now disclaims that,” Gingrich told NPR of the “drain the swamp” promise. “He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”
Bennett said that any lobbying work of his would be focused on clients that share Trump’s priorities — distinguishing him, he said, from lobbyists who take on clients with opposing objectives to the officeholders with whom they’ve previously worked.
Carson, whose campaign Bennett managed, has now been tapped to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his biography on the new firm’s website, Bennett boasts of helping Carson raise $60 million during his tenure as campaign manager.
In the news release, Lewandowski said that he had considered multiple opportunities within the incoming Trump administration but ultimately decided that he could “best help [Trump] outside the formal structure of government.”
During the interview, he declined to elaborate on what positions he had considered.
Lewandowski’s continuing influence with Trump was indicated by his role in arranging the president-elect’s recent meeting with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Lewandowski quietly visited Mexico City on Dec. 9 to meet with Slim.
In the aftermath of his June firing as Trump’s campaign manager, Lewandowski took what proved to be a controversial job as a CNN commentator. During his tenure, critics raised questions about Lewandowski’s continuing role as an informal adviser to Trump and what the campaign characterized as monthly severance payments.
Abby Phillip contributed to this story.