With the Democratic-run House gearing up for a marathon of hearings and investigations into the Trump administration, one prominent D.C. public affairs shop is selling current and potential clients on a new service: a team of former Hill staffers, administration officials, and journalists who understand the experience of being in congressional investigators’ crosshairs.
Lobbying and public relations firm FTI Consulting has opened a new practice devoted exclusively to managing the congressional investigations process. Eyeing recent Democratic changes to House rules designed to empower the chamber’s subpoena-wielding gumshoes, FTI is hoping to court new business by offering expertise on managing both the legal and public relations pitfalls for clients that find themselves dragged before a congressional committee.
“It is our view that these changes to Congress’s investigative powers are significant, and could pose a hazard to private interests, especially those perceived to be a beneficiary of Trump’s policies,” the firm wrote in a memo circulated on Tuesday.
“If the matter [under investigation] relates to a topic currently in the news, the Congressional inquiry will likely become part of the public narrative,” the company’s memo advised. “The negative coverage could trigger concerns among investors, causing the stock price to drop and generating additional headlines... All this fallout can occur before Congress issues a single subpoena.”
FTI’s new congressional investigations team includes a former aide to House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a former Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission official, and a former aide to one-time House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).
That sort of expertise is well-suited to clients who are facing a potential grilling in front of House Democrats chomping at the bit to use their new chairmanships to burrow into the details of two years of Trump-related controversy.
Those hearings are slated to begin soon. On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee announced it will bring in Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer and fixer, to publicly testify. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the new chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, has already stated her intent to interrogate executives of financial giants Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo. Other potential corporate hearing targets include AT&T, Time Warner, Facebook, Google, and even the Trump Organization. Even foreign governments such as Saudi Arabia could find themselves in need of advice on congressional investigative action.
On the surface, all the investigations and oversight portends two years defined by gridlock and chaos. But for Washington’s influence industry, it screams opportunity.
“It’s a full employment act for lobbying shops that specialize in oversight investigations,” said Jim Manley, a former top Democratic staffer who has represented clients seeking to influence federal lawmakers.
It’s not just congressional investigations that are creating a potentially new pool of clients for influence peddlers. The ongoing shutdown may have brought government to a standstill but the prospect that President Trump might declare a national emergency to secure funding for his proposed border wall has sparked chatter of a lobbying boon too. Such a declaration, the thinking goes, would give lobbyists the opportunity to pitch clients on getting their preferred policy problems declared as national emergencies and addressed accordingly.
“They’re pissed,” one lobbyist close to the White House told The Daily Beast of his clients’ views of the shutdown. At the same time, the lobbyist added, if Trump does declare a national emergency, “then I get to be creative. Then I say let’s figure out what else we can get done under national emergencies... I want to see what the order looks like, but I tell my clients let’s look to see if this thing creates some opportunity for us.”
A separate lobbyist, a Republican who works at a bipartisan firm, was both caught off-guard and intrigued by the idea that an emergency declaration could create additional business.
“Shit,” the GOP lobbyist said, “I hadn’t thought of that, but yeah, sure.”
That influence-peddlers can find a way to pitch their services in the wake of gridlock is both a testament to their professional ingenuity and illustrative of the ways Washington D.C. truly works. There are times in governance where one wants to be at the center of congressional action and there are times when one wants to remain as inconspicuous as possible. In each, K Street is there to offer its assistance.
One top lobbyist noted that over the next two years, the first type of people these companies will reach out to are law firms, both to ensure that they are prepared for hearings that may ensnare them and “because they want everything to be privileged communication.” For companies that can’t keep a low profile, the law firm will eventually recommend that they hire a shop that has expertise in political affairs. At that point, the PR specialists are brought on board and, eventually, the lobbyists. It’s a tale nearly as old as Washington itself, and the impetus for FTI’s hybrid approach to the legal and PR challenges such investigations pose.
“You can anticipate that you might have a problem but until they start calling you with subpoenas you don’t really understand it,” said the lobbyist.
Even the White House itself recognizes the immediate need to additional legal muscle to deal with forthcoming battles with congress. In recent weeks, the White House counsel’s office has hired 17 new attorneys to deal with the anticipated torrent of subpoenas and other investigative demands from House Democrats, who themselves have gone on a legal hiring spree.
For established lobbying firms, the only option is to adjust too. That can mean steps as simple as reshuffling personnel to put professionals with the right expertise out front or bringing on individuals who previously worked in newly relevant offices on Capitol Hill. Either way, the money will roll in.
“Bluntly, yes” said one top Democratic influence peddler, when asked if business would be good these next few years. “You got a lot of businesses with national and Washington D.C. interests who are concerned they will wind up on the dinner plate, for lack of a better term.”