By Rebecca Ballhaus
WASHINGTON (Wall Street Journal) — Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday, January 18, named Ken Nahigian, who until November was registered as a lobbyist, to head the Trump transition team, raising questions about whether the appointment runs counter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to eschew lobbyists and “drain the swamp.”
Nahigian has been “deeply involved with transition planning” since July, the transition team said in a statement on Wednesday. He did not terminate his lobbying registration until Nov. 16—the same day the transition finalized a 13-point code of ethics barring registered lobbyists from working on transition matters on which they had previously lobbied the government.
Under Nahigian, the transition team will be responsible for guiding the new president’s nominees through their confirmation hearings as well as for the “peaceful transition of power,” according to the team’s statement. He is succeeding Rick Dearborn, who was named a deputy chief of staff in the White House.
Nahigian had been registered to lobby for Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd., an Israeli-based company known for its generic drugs business, to “advocate for pathway to improving existing therapies,” according to public lobbying records.
In 2016, Nahigian appears to have largely monitored the issue for the company, rather than actively lobbying, according to the records. He was paid at least $135,000 for his services in 2016. Previously, he had lobbied both chambers of Congress on the company’s behalf.
Overall, the company spent $3.1 million on U.S. lobbying efforts in the first three quarters of 2016.
A spokeswoman for the transition team said Nahigian’s firm, Nahigian Strategies, is a “public relations firm, not a lobbying organization.” The spokeswoman said Nahigian’s client required him to register as a lobbyist to comply with its ethics guidelines.
Nahigian didn’t respond to a question about his lobbying experience. His firm bills itself as a “full-service strategic communications and public relations firm” and counts among its clients major corporations including Oracle Corp. and the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. It also does consulting work for government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Trump during the campaign pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington and said that as president he would not be beholden to lobbyists and special interests. Yet he has often struggled to uphold that pledge. Many lobbyists were initially hired to serve on his transition team, until Trump appointed Pence to run the team, who subsequently ousted registered lobbyists — though some continue to informally advise the team. Others, like Nahigian, simply terminated their lobbyist registrations and remained part of the team.
Last month, two top advisers to Trump — former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and senior adviser Barry Bennett — announced they were launching a government affairs and consulting firm, housed in the same building as Trump’s transition team. While Lewandowski has said he doesn’t plan to register as a lobbyist, he says Bennett is willing to do so.