New Administration, Same Game

Ex-Trump Aide Becomes Lobbyist, Brags About White House Ties

Another former Trump aide has jumped into the swamp with both feet.

A former Trump campaign aide has registered to lobby on behalf of a foreign government, and public records suggest she is flaunting her ties to the president.

Healy Baumgardner-Nardone registered as a U.S. lobbyist for the government of Malaysia last week, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. She will provide “government relations and public relations services in support of the Government of Malaysia and strengthening the U.S.-Malaysian relationship.”

She is just the latest person in Trump’s orbit to attempt to monetize her connections to the president, who has pledged to crack down on the influence of special interests on his administration—particularly foreign government interests. Though Trump ran on a mantra of “draining the swamp,” Washington’s influence industry has swept up former Trump aides and provided significant staffing for his administration.

Baumgardner, a veteran political operative and former Bush White House communications hand, resigned from her senior press post on the Trump campaign in September, citing unspecified differences with campaign leadership.

“It is clear the campaign is now going in a direction I am no longer comfortable with and I have decided to move on,” Baumgardner said at the time, adding that she looked forward “to honorably casting my vote for Mr. Trump on Election Day.”

Despite that unceremonious exit from the campaign, two former Trump campaign staffers say Baumgardner remained well-liked on the campaign and has maintained connections to the president’s inner circle.

She appears to be marketing those connections in her private communications practice. Corporate records on file in West Virginia, where Baumgardner’s company Mona Lisa Communications is incorporated, show that she formed a new trade name for the firm in January that subtly referenced her ties to Trump-world: The 45 Group.

Baumgardner’s work for the Malaysian government will take place under that banner, according to DOJ records.

Those records reveal that the 45 Group was paid $250,000 on May 9 for work that includes U.S. public and government relations services and “business consulting services for activities that are not governed” by laws requiring the disclosure of foreign government advocacy.

The check came from a Malaysian company called the Godfrey Group Ltd. Public information on that firm is sparse, and it was not immediately clear what exactly the company does or who is involved with it.

Baumgardner did not respond to questions about her foreign agent lobbying work.

She is not the first Trump aide to sign on as a foreign government lobbyist. Such clients are the bread and butter of Avenue Strategies, a consulting firm founded by senior Trump campaign staffers Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett in December. Lewandowski resigned from the firm this month, and has been suggesting he is in line for a White House post.

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Fox News political commentator Monica Crowley was in line for a White House national security position before reports surfaced that she had plagiarized large portions of her book and graduate dissertation. She took a part-time job lobbying for a Ukrainian oligarch instead.

Baumgardner’s DOJ registration documents did not list specific issues on which she would work, but Malaysia has sought to refute President Trump’s that the country engages in unfair trade practices. Malaysia was one of more than dozen countries targeted by a March executive order that directed the Department of Commerce to crack down on trade “cheaters.”

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is also at the center of a major corruption scandal involving the siphoning of more than a billion dollars from a state-run investment fund. Razak’s stepson is one of the defendants in a Justice Department lawsuit seeking to recover assets allegedly pilfered from the fund, and Razak himself is reportedly mentioned 32 times in the complaint.

Since Trump took office, Razak has sought to publicly play up their ties. “Great to reconnect with President-elect Trump following his outstanding win,” he said in a Facebook post following his first official communication with the president-elect in late November.

According to Razak, they first met when the prime minister was in New York for a United Nations summit. As Trump is wont to do, the two played golf. After their round, they took a photo, and Trump signed it, “To my favorite Prime Minister. Great win!” Razak says he still keeps the photo on his desk.