‘We owe these people’: Trump loyalists find soft landings after getting ousted

When Carl Higbie’s degrading comments about African Americans, women, gays, and Muslims surfaced in January, he resigned from his job in the Trump administration. Yet just two months later, the former Navy SEAL landed at the pro-Trump group America First Policies, earning roughly the same amount as his White House salary, he says.

Higbie, who worked on advocacy issues and tax events for America First, said he never intended to stay at the group forever. But he acknowledges it gave him a soft landing among sympathetic peers at a low point in his career.

“Trumpworld is still very small, and people within Trumpworld generally try to stay within it. Because of my profile, I could never go to a company like Deloitte or McKinsey,” Higbie told POLITICO. “When you are publicly supporting Trump you close a significant number of doors, given how adamantly some people hate the president. Once you’re Continue reading “‘We owe these people’: Trump loyalists find soft landings after getting ousted”

Trump tried to ban top aides from penning tell-all books

Long before Omarosa Manigault Newman lodged explosive claims against her former boss, President Donald Trump’s White House foresaw the potential problems with ex-staffers’ tell-all books.

Embedded in the White House’s two-page non-disclosure agreement was a seemingly innocuous clause that prohibited top aides from disclosing confidential information in any form including books, without the express permission of the president, according to a former administration official and an official familiar with the document.

And if aides violated those terms, the non-disclosure agreement stipulated they would have to forfeit to the U.S. government any royalties, advances or book earnings. It’s not unusual for former administration officials to negotiate with the White House over the anecdotes and insider details of their books. But the terms of the White House’s NDA — and even the decision to compel government officials sign an NDA at all — are unprecedented.

NDAs are not typically used for Continue reading “Trump tried to ban top aides from penning tell-all books”

Trump’s inner circle gets whiter

The West Wing is expected to lose one of its most prominent minority aides in the coming months, opening President Donald Trump’s inner circle up to new scrutiny as he continues to stoke racial tensions.

Deputy press secretary Raj Shah, an Indian-American, is expected to step down following the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to multiple people familiar with his plans. He has told associates that he only planned to stay in the White House for 18 months, but extended his tenure to lead communications on the Kavanaugh nomination. Shah declined to comment.

Shah, who is among the dwindling number of original staffers remaining in the West Wing, is widely seen as a stabilizing presence in an administration known for chaos.

His resignation would follow the departure of two other minority White House aides: communications staffer Steven Cheung, who was one of the last remaining veterans of Continue reading “Trump’s inner circle gets whiter”

Trump pivots to border wall, China and ‘Manafort this, Manafort that’

President Donald Trump has spent his week at his Bedminster retreat fine-tuning an aggressive fall agenda that could benefit his reelection chances in 2020 but imperil Republican congressional candidates in the midterms.

While keeping a light golf schedule, the president is using his “working vacation” – which has included rallies, fundraisers and dinners with donors and business executives – to test lines about potentially shutting down the government to get a border wall and turning up the trade war with China.

Trump’s frenetic campaign schedule picks up immediately next week, when he’s set to travel to upstate New York to raise money for a vulnerable congresswoman. But interviews with a dozen administration officials, outside advisers and Bedminster visitors offered a portrait of a president continuing to grapple with balancing his responsibility to help Republicans hold onto a tenuous majority with his instinct to rile up the base with populist rhetoric Continue reading “Trump pivots to border wall, China and ‘Manafort this, Manafort that’”

How Judicial Watch became Trump’s favorite Mueller attack dog

Tom Fitton, the head of conservative group Judicial Watch, has made a career of suing the federal government over suspected bureaucratic corruption, irritating every president since Bill Clinton.

But in Donald Trump, Fitton has found an enthusiastic booster — a president who, rather than bristling at Judicial Watch’s frequent accusations of malfeasance throughout the government he oversees, welcomes the group’s efforts to hold the “deep state” accountable.

The broadsides that have come to define Trump’s presidency — from his attacks on Hillary Clinton’s email habits to his assertion that the Mueller investigation is a “rigged witch hunt” controlled by a pack of angry Democrats — have been shaped at least in part by documents obtained by Judicial Watch and blasted into the conservative media sphere.

People close to the president say he’s come to see Fitton as one of the most effective critics of the Mueller probe. The president, who Continue reading “How Judicial Watch became Trump’s favorite Mueller attack dog”

Melania’s policy director leaves White House

First Lady Melania Trump’s top policy aide has left the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

Reagan Hedlund, a former executive assistant at the National Security Council who joined the first lady’s staff in January as policy director, left the role last week.

Hedlund, who went by Reagan Thompson until she took her husband’s last name after their April wedding, told POLITICO that she plans to work on foreign policy issues, but declined to provide more details.

“I am very grateful to the first lady for the opportunity to help launch her policy initiative,” Hedlund said. “It was a rare opportunity to contribute at such a high level. It was a difficult decision to leave, however I have decided to return to my roots in the foreign policy world.”

Melania Trump’s small staff is tight-knit and has a reputation for avoiding leaks. Indeed, multiple West Continue reading “Melania’s policy director leaves White House”

How drug companies are beating Trump at his own game

A July tweet from President Donald Trump sent panic through the C-suites of some of the world’s biggest drug companies, prompting Pfizer and nine other companies to roll back or freeze prices.

But there’s less to those announcements than meets the eye. The gestures turned out to be largely symbolic — efforts to beat Trump at his own game by giving him headlines he wants without making substantive changes in how they do business.

The token concessions are “a calculated risk,” said one drug lobbyist. “Take these nothing-burger steps and give the administration things they can take credit for.”

Of the few companies that actually cut prices, for instance, most targeted old products that no longer produce much revenue — such as Merck’s 60 percent discount to a hepatitis C medicine that had no U.S. revenues in the first quarter.

Others volunteered to halt price increases for six Continue reading “How drug companies are beating Trump at his own game”

Bolton: Trump ‘will not tolerate interference’ in U.S. elections

National security adviser John Bolton said in a letter to Senate Democrats Thursday that President Donald Trump is doing more to defend U.S. elections from foreign influence than any previous administration, and he offered to hold classified briefings for Congress on the White House’s efforts.

“President Trump has not and will not tolerate interference in America’s system of representative government,” Bolton wrote in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats. “He has directed a vast, government-wide effort to protect electoral procedures and processes while investigating, prosecuting, and holding accountable those who illegally attempt to interfere.”

The letter comes after Trump faced intense criticism for appearing to question his own intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia is continuing to target the United States ahead of the November midterms. After senior intelligence officials across the government publicly underscored the threat, Trump and his senior advisers have Continue reading “Bolton: Trump ‘will not tolerate interference’ in U.S. elections”

Trump takes his hard sell to the heartland

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Donald Trump traveled to the American heartland to greet workers Thursday, but he never left familiar territory — portraying another policy climb-down as a victory.

Trump touched down here amid rising concerns over the economic impact of several rounds of tariffs on the farmers and rural voters who make up his political base, and immediately went into sales mode.

There was no talk of the administration’s pledge Tuesday to provide $12 billion in relief aid to farmers hit by the trade war — a trade war of his choosing. Nor was there an acknowledgment of the deep anxiety surrounding the impact of his trade policies on the local economy. What voters got instead was a hard sell about a newly announced agreement with Europe that would serve as a potential boon to the Midwest agricultural economy.

The moment was trademark Trump: Claim victory for digging out of Continue reading “Trump takes his hard sell to the heartland”

In abrupt shift, Trump makes nice with EU, gets tough on Russia

Over the course of just 11 days, President Donald Trump went from calling the European Union a “foe” and publicly questioning his own intelligence agencies to palling around with a top EU official in the Rose Garden and scheduling a meeting with his senior advisers to discuss election security.

It was an abrupt tonal shift for the president — and it underscored the growing pressure on Trump from fellow Republicans to toughen his public stance against Russia and to limit the fallout of the escalating global trade wars.

Few people close to the president believe he has changed much, and they expect the president to continue bashing long-time U.S. allies and cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin whenever he gets the chance. Still, the announcements on trade and Russia appeared to serve as high-profile messaging after a week of chaos that Trump is on the same page as Continue reading “In abrupt shift, Trump makes nice with EU, gets tough on Russia”

Trump meets with drug giant’s CEO as part of price squeeze

The CEO of drug giant Pfizer met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday as the administration pressures drugmakers to voluntarily rein in prices, according to multiple industry sources.

Ian Read’s appearance followed a Trump tweet this morning that thanked Pfizer and the Swiss manufacturer Novartis for pledging not to raise drug prices further this year. Top pharmaceutical industry CEOs are in Washington for an annual planning meeting of the major drug lobby PhRMA.

Trump blasted Pfizer earlier this month on Twitter for dozens of price increase that went into effect July 1. Following the scolding, Pfizer agreed to delay the increases until early 2019.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan also announced Wednesday that the company would not have further price hikes this year after it raised prices for three costly cancer therapies a few weeks ago. Another major manufacturer, Merck, today announced a 60 percent drop in Continue reading “Trump meets with drug giant’s CEO as part of price squeeze”

Top economic official leaving White House

Everett Eissenstat, a senior White House official who represented President Donald Trump at major international meetings, including this month’s dramatic G-7 summit in Canada, is leaving the administration next month.

Eissenstat, a former top aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), joined the administration last year for a joint appointment on the National Economic Council and the National Security Council, where he focused on international economic affairs.

It’s the latest high-level staff departure from the White House in recent months. His departure further diminishes the White House’s policy chops. The announcement comes just weeks after Shahira Knight, the NEC’s top domestic policy adviser, announced plans to leave the White House. Knight, who is a candidate to replace the White House legislative affairs director, Marc Short, decided to stay on temporarily in the aftermath of NEC Director Larry Kudlow’s recent heart attack.

When Eissenstat departs early next month, he’ll take with him Continue reading “Top economic official leaving White House”

White House eyes Helsinki for Trump-Putin sitdown

The White House is blocking off three days on the back end of President Donald Trump’s upcoming mid-July trip to the United Kingdom and Brussels, leaving room for a potential summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Plans for a potential sitdown are still being finalized, White House sources warned. But the current frontrunner venue under consideration for the meeting, a source familiar with the planning said, is now Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The location would offer Putin his desired neutral ground in a country close enough to Russia that he could return to Moscow in time for the final World Cup match on July 15.

While nothing final about a potential summit has been put in writing, “everyone’s preparing as if it’s Helsinki,” said a person familiar with the planning.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the new frontrunner location. Trump is Continue reading “White House eyes Helsinki for Trump-Putin sitdown”

‘A potential gold mine’ for Trump’s summit planner

Shortly before Donald Trump’s first international trip as president in May 2017, two Washington-based security contractors dined at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh as U.S. and Saudi officials began wrapping the president’s hotel in a security bubble.

The pair, Steve Atkiss and John Meyers, were catching up as co-partners of a flourishing security and intelligence firm, Command Group, that at the time had a lucrative contract with a U.S. company operating in Saudi Arabia. But Atkiss was in Riyadh for something else: A volunteer role as the White House’s on-the-ground logistics lead mapping out Trump’s schedule at a summit with leaders of 55 Arab and Muslim countries.

Atkiss had his Command co-founder, Joe Hagin, to thank for that plum position. A veteran Republican operative, Hagin left Command to become one of Trump’s deputy chiefs of staff, and was in charge of choreographing Trump’s entire swing through Saudi Arabia, Israel Continue reading “‘A potential gold mine’ for Trump’s summit planner”

‘I’m ashamed of what they’re doing’: Backlash grows for Trump and his aides

The furor over President Donald Trump’s decision to forcibly separate thousands of migrant children from their families reached new heights on Wednesday after news broke that the administration is placing babies and toddlers in “tender age” shelters.

The revelation, published late Tuesday night by the Associated Press, capped a grim 24 hours that stood out as a low point even for a White House that long ago grew accustomed to operating in a perpetual state of crisis.

With cable news flashing images of migrant children in cages and lawmakers’ offices facing a flood of angry phone calls, the president and his allies looked increasingly disconnected from the uproar over the policy, which a recent poll showed was deeply unpopular across the country.

On Tuesday night, shortly before the AP story broke, Trump attended a $100,000-plus-per-person fundraiser at his hotel in Washington, D.C. Before that, he met with House Continue reading “‘I’m ashamed of what they’re doing’: Backlash grows for Trump and his aides”

White House deputy chief of staff Hagin to leave

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin is stepping down, leaving behind another hole in the senior ranks of the West Wing.

Hagin, who also served in the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, is expected to depart next month.

“Joe Hagin has been a huge asset to my administration," Trump said in a statement. "He planned and executed the longest and one of the most historic foreign trips ever made by a President, and he did it all perfectly. We will miss him in the office and even more on the road. I am thankful for his remarkable service to our great country.”

Hagin, who played a central role in planning Trump’s summit in Singapore last week with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, is one of the most experienced aides in a White House that has often had trouble attracting top-tier Continue reading “White House deputy chief of staff Hagin to leave”

Judge Jeanine still tangoing with Trump over an administration role

Jeanine Pirro has a top-rated Fox News show and a forthcoming book — “Lies, Leakers, and Liberals” — but she still wants to be President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

A former prosecutor and judge, Pirro has repeatedly told Trump’s aides and advisers over the past 18 months that she’s interested in taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement official, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Trump has dangled the possibility of giving her a top appointment. During a November meeting in the Oval Office, the president raised the possibility of nominating Pirro to a federal judgeship, according to a former administration official, though this person added that Trump was more likely engaging in flattery than seriously considering putting Pirro on the bench.

Pirro’s Fox News colleagues have laughed at her frequent mentions of the possibility of getting senior-level government work, according to one Fox employee. Two White Continue reading “Judge Jeanine still tangoing with Trump over an administration role”

Trump seeks to reorganize the federal government

The Trump administration is preparing to release a sweeping plan for reorganizing the federal government that includes a major consolidation of welfare programs — and a renaming of the Health and Human Services Department.

The report, set to be released in the coming weeks by the White House OMB, seeks to move safety-net programs, including food stamps, into HHS, two sources with knowledge of the plan told POLITICO. The plan would also propose changing the name of the sprawling department, while separately seeking cuts at USAID and the State Department.

The $70 billion food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is run by USDA and makes up the vast majority of the department’s budget. The program helps more than 40 million low-income Americans buy groceries each month.

“You have low-income assistance in a bunch of different shops without one point of oversight and without a whole Continue reading “Trump seeks to reorganize the federal government”

Kelly Sadler, who joked about McCain’s health, has left White House

Kelly Sadler, the Trump administration communications aide who came under fire for a flippant comment about Sen. John McCain’s health, no longer works in the White House, according to two administration officials.

Sadler joked last month during a closed-door meeting at the White House that McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA didn’t matter because he’s “dying anyway.” McCain, who has an aggressive form of brain cancer, has been receiving treatment in Arizona and has not appeared in the Senate this year.

Sadler’s leaked comments set off a firestorm in Washington, but neither President Donald Trump nor his staff publicly rebuked her. Instead, the president viewed the widespread reporting about her comments as a sign that leaking in the White House had gotten out of control. During an Oval Office meeting shortly after the episode, Trump pressed Sadler to identify the leakers in the administration.

Trump Continue reading “Kelly Sadler, who joked about McCain’s health, has left White House”

Melania Trump emerges at White House after weekslong absence

Melania Trump emerged on Monday after more than three weeks out of the public eye, ending an absence that inspired wild conspiracy theories about her health and well-being.

She appeared at a closed-door Memorial Day reception at the White House with the families of fallen members of the U.S. military. Reporters, photographers and videographers were barred from covering the event, but the first lady issued a statement on Monday evening in what might have been an effort to quell the mounting questions about her lengthy departure from public view.

“It was a privilege to welcome Gold Star Families to the White House today to recognize our nation’s fallen heroes and their families,” she said. “To all those who have lost loved ones in service to our country, our nation grieves with you. … Thank you to those who joined us this evening, and to the men and women currently Continue reading “Melania Trump emerges at White House after weekslong absence”