• Tue. Jan 19th, 2021

‘Becoming radioactive’: Trump races to rehabilitate his brand in final days in office

WASHINGTON — As the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for inciting last week’s violent breach of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, President Donald Trump has an increasingly singular focus in his final days in office: rehabilitating his brand.

Trump’s concern about the future of his personal fortune is among the reasons some of his allies have suggested in recent days that he invite President-elect Joe Biden to the White House for the customary meeting between a sitting and a newly elected president, according to three people familiar with the discussions. And it is why Trump may deliver a farewell address, a tradition for outgoing presidents, to highlight what he sees as his accomplishments.

Proponents of such moves have made the case to Trump that anything he can do to make good on his very recent commitment to a smooth transition of power, even at this late date, “will be better for your brand in the long term,” a Trump ally said.

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“The brand is becoming radioactive,” this ally said. “That matters more to him, because that’s going to have real, tangible effects on his life immediately.”

Wednesday marked the second time the House had approved articles of impeachment against Trump. The Senate will not issue its verdict before Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.

No invitation for a meeting has been extended from the White House, Biden transition officials said.

But conversations between Biden’s transition team and the White House have escalated to more senior ranks this week. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has spoken with senior Biden transition officials within the past 24 hours, Biden and Trump officials said Wednesday evening. The conversations focused on policy issues, an administration official said, although the officials did not know whether the topic of a meeting between Biden and Trump was discussed.

NBC News has previously reported that if any such meeting took place, it would involve strict coronavirus protocols and that it would likely occur outside, according to Biden aides.

Melania Trump similarly has not invited Jill Biden to the White House for the customary tea between the current and soon-to-be first ladies, a Biden aide said.

Trump administration officials have been conferring with their counterparts on the Biden team at various levels. White House spokesman Judd Deere had a phone call Wednesday with several members of the Biden transition team — Karine Jean-Pierre, TJ Ducklo and Meghan Hays — who will be working in the White House press office. Deere said that during the half-hour call they discussed transition-related topics and press operations.

As Congress moved forward with impeachment, Trump and his shrinking group of advisers have been looking at ways to use his remaining time in the White House to salvage his reputation and minimize the blow to his post-presidential financial standing.

Trump has also made calls this week to ask about the environment for his business ventures, including reaching out to at least one banker to whom he owes money, a person familiar with the call said.

“He’s got to get his branding back up or they’re in trouble,” a Republican close to the White House said. “He went too far.”

Keeping Trump’s brand from further damage is in part what prompted Kushner and deputy White House chief of staff Dan Scavino to object to the idea of his joining some fringe social media platforms — such as Parler or Gab — after he was banned from using mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook. An administration official said advisers did not think the more fringe platforms best served Trump’s interests.

In the week since Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, his business’ bottom line has taken a large hit. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America pulled a prestigious tournament from his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. New York City announced Wednesday that it was severing its multimillion-dollar contracts with the Trump Organization. And some banks have said they will not do business with Trump.

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Trump could issue pardons to curry favor in ways that might help protect and rebuild his personal and business brands. In the last week, there has been discussion among his allies over whether he should rethink issuing more controversial pardons, given his diminished political capital, or whether he should “open the floodgates,” as an ally put it, to dilute backlash over pardons of himself or family members and to maximize the number of people who might be indebted to him once he leaves office.

Trump could issue those pardons in two or three groups, with some additional ones, on the evening of Jan. 19 and morning of Jan. 20, hours before his term ends.

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Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is among those who is concerned that Trump could waver on a pardon for him, two people familiar with the matter said. Bannon, who was indicted on charges of fraud, has recently expressed worries about his chances of a pardon, and he has told people close to Trump that he thinks Kushner will try to block Trump from pardoning him.

“This is the last time he’s going to have any kind of power,” the Trump ally said. “He might as well use it.”

Trump’s focus on his life post-presidency, rather than on how his final days in office are unfolding, is also evident in the lack of a clear legal strategy or defense team for his Senate trial, according to several people involved in the discussions.

Trump views any impeachment trial as something that is happening after Jan. 20, if at all.

Longtime Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who is among those expected to receive pardons — has said he might lead a potential group of lawyers. But others who were involved in impeachment in 2019, such as Alan Dershowitz, said they have not been contacted by the White House for any such assignment.

Mike Memoli contributed.