Inside the ‘Lewandowski embassy’

Corey Lewandowski has a new base of operations in Washington: an elegant, century-old rowhouse that resembles his own version of the “Breitbart Embassy.”

Just as Steve Bannon does at the rowhouse a dozen blocks away where Breitbart News sometimes holds meetings and hosts parties, Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, stays upstairs when he’s in town, according to five people familiar with the arrangement. The lower floors serve as his workspace, as well as the offices of Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm started this summer by another Trump campaign veteran.

Lewandowski has said he has nothing to do with Turnberry, but the firm lists the rowhouse’s address on all of its lobbying disclosures, and a Turnberry nondisclosure agreement recently sat on a desk in the front room. Signs of Lewandowski’s presence also abounded when a POLITICO reporter visited the house last month, including framed copies of articles about Lewandowski the print editions of POLITICO and The Sun of Lowell, Massachusetts, his hometown.

“You could call this the Turnberry embassy,” said John Fredericks, a friend of Lewandowski’s who sometimes broadcasts his syndicated radio show, “The John Fredericks Show," out of the dining room and allowed a POLITICO reporter to join him there.

Pressed on that description, he corrected himself.

“Nobody knows what Turnberry is, so I would call it the Lewandowski embassy,” Fredericks said. “On the air, I call it the Corey Lewandowski galactic headquarters.”

Lewandowski and his family live in New Hampshire, but his Capitol Hill headquarters is the latest sign that he is committed to building a presence in Trump’s Washington. And Turnberry — a name that calls to mind Trump Turnberry, the president’s Scottish golf resort — appears to be the latest of a series of companies with ties to Lewandowski that have cashed in on connections to the administration.

Lewandowski started a lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, late last year with another Trump campaign veteran, Barry Bennett, but quit in May after a series of stories raised questions about Lewandowski selling access to the president. He quickly started another firm, Lewandowski Strategic Advisors, which The New York Times reported was advising an Ohio payday lender that was previously a lobbying client of Avenue Strategies.

Lewandowski hasn’t been registered as a lobbyist since 2011, and he’s insisted repeatedly that the work he’s doing doesn’t meet the definition of lobbying. But two people familiar with Lewandowski’s work said he has pitched clients on his ties to Trump, even though he lost some of his access to the president with the arrival of chief of staff John Kelly, as did other outside advisers. (Lewandowski has complained to associates about it, according to people who have spoken to him.)

“He’s clearly making high-level asks of key people in the administration, and at times even the president himself,” said one consultant who shares clients with Lewandowski and has heard his pitch to them. “Those clients are clearly hiring him for his knowledge and expertise of how the administration works.”

“He sells how well he knows Trump and that he understands Trump and knows all the people around him,” said another person who has spoken with Lewandowski, adding that he boasted of offers to represent foreign governments.

Lewandowski may be considering working with other firms, too. He’s held discussions with the BGR Group, a top Washington lobbying firm, about working together as well, according to a person familiar with the talks. But it’s unclear whether those talks are going anywhere or exactly what Lewandowski’s role would be.

Asked for comment last week, Lewandowski responded by text message that he was on a plane and asked a reporter to send written questions. But he didn’t respond to emailed questions or further texts or phone calls.

Lewandowski’s stately new digs are a world away from the cramped offices he rented when he started Avenue. While he no longer has a view of the White House, the rowhouse boasts hardwood floors, fireplaces and three chandeliers. There’s a gleaming kitchen in the back of the main floor and a leafy backyard. Five unopened bottles of wine sat on the counter recently, along with a big, half-empty bottle of Bulleit bourbon sitting high on a shelf.

“It’s very much like the Breitbart Embassy,” said a Trump campaign veteran who knows Lewandowski, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Unlike with his previous ventures, Lewandowski has tried to keep his distance from Turnberry — perhaps because he signed a non-compete agreement when he quit Avenue. The agreement prohibits Lewandowski from lobbying for foreign or domestic clients for one year or directing others who do such work, according to Bennett.

Mike Rubino, a former Trump campaign staffer who worked with Lewandowski at Avenue Strategies, started Turnberry in July, two months after Lewandowski left Avenue, according to documents filed in Delaware. Jason Osborne, another Avenue veteran, and Rubino are the only lobbyists listed on Turnberry’s registrations.

Lewandowski insisted when Turnberry reported its first lobbying clients in September that he wasn’t involved with the firm. "Get your facts right,” Lewandowski said in an interview at the time. “I have nothing to do with Turnberry Solutions.”

But Joel Sheltrown, vice president of government affairs for Elio Motors, a Turnberry client, said in September that Lewandowski had been on a conference call with Turnberry. Lewandowski also appeared at the time to have a Turnberry email address.

During discussions between Turnberry and the Azerbaijani government this year, Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.S., insisted on talking with Lewandowski before continuing with talks, according to documents shared with POLITICO.

Turnberry hasn’t registered to represent Azerbaijan or any other foreign clients. In an interview, Suleymanov said he’d met with Turnberry only once and said he had met Lewandowski on social occasions.

“I meet with five lobbying firms a day. We never discussed signing a contract,” he said of his dealings with Turnberry.

Rubino, the Turnberry lobbyist, is often spotted with Lewandowski, according to two people familiar with his work. “Wherever Corey is, Mike is there, whether that’s hanging out at the Trump hotel or pitching business,” one of those people said, referring to Rubino.

The clearest evidence linking Lewandowski to Turnberry, though, may be the rowhouse. Asked whether the house was Corey’s personal office or Turnberry’s offices, Fredericks said there wasn’t a distinction.

“Turnberry is Corey’s public affairs company,” Fredericks said. “They’re one and the same.”

The house, built in 1900, is owned by the Citizens United Foundation, according to Washington, D.C., property records. It’s not clear whether Lewandowski, Turnberry or another entity rents the house or whether Lewandowski is allowed to use it for free.

Lewandowski worked with David Bossie, Citizens United’s president, on “Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency,” a book due out next month. Bossie did not respond to requests for comment.

Lewandowski “does TV and radio interviews” in the house, said one person who knows Lewandowski and has been to the rowhouse. “He lets friends of his use it. It is pretty open-door.”

One of those friends, Fredericks, said Lewandowski will sometimes “just come downstairs and pop on” his radio show.

The house also provides nods to Lewandowski’s new influence in Washington, a city where few had heard of him before he took the helm of Trump’s campaign in 2015.

The framed POLITICO story was a May piece headlined "Trump eyeing Lewandowski, Bossie as crisis managers.”

And a letter from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that hangs on the wall, dated July 20, 2017, thanks Lewandowski for addressing members of the Conservative Opportunity Society, of which King is chairman.

"Corey, you lit them up!" King wrote in a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter. "And you took action — many of us will follow through on your excellent advice."

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