He was a political nobody who helped Donald Trump win the White House. Then Corey Lewandowski went to Washington, hell-bent on making his fortune and changing the lobbying game forever. Here’s how those grandiose plans blew up—and what they say about the sketchy new opportunities available in Trump’s Washington.
The first thing Corey Lewandowski wanted to discuss was the view. “You’ve gotta check this out,” he said, beckoning me behind his desk and pointing toward the window, eager that I appreciate his proximity to power in Donald Trump’s Washington. The sky that day was the gray, gloomy color of slate. But the future—his future—seemed to him impossibly bright.
It was January, and from the window of his still-brand-new lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, Lewandowski directed my attention to the horizon. There, in the distance, was the clock tower of the Old Post Office Pavilion, the Romanesque Revival edifice rechristened as a Trump hotel. In the foreground, as alabaster as a wedding cake, was the White House, a prize that, even to Lewandowski, had seemed hopelessly out of reach when Trump tapped him to run his campaign in 2015. But so much had changed since then—and now even the iconography of Washington was being refashioned. For nearly a century, the straight line from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to the Capitol had defined the city. Suddenly, all that seemed outdated to Lewandowski. He held his hands aloft and—like some latter-day L’Enfant—beheld for me a new axis of power.
“O.P.O.,” he said, framing the clock tower of Trump’s new hotel.
“White House.” He spread his hands wider to encompass the presidential mansion.
“Avenue Strategies.” He threw open his arms and looked around his office, seven stories above Pennsylvania Avenue, smack dab in the middle of the action. “This,” Lewandowski said, satisfaction dripping from every syllable, “is Trump World!”
Then as now, Lewandowski’s place in that kingdom was a curious one. He had come to Washington eager to make use of his connections, seemingly impatient to capitalize on his closeness to Trump. And though he had never before worked as a lobbyist, he harbored outsized ambitions to transform the entire influence industry, sharing with me a vision to utilize his own “disruptive” powers—which he’d likened to those of Uber—to build his firm into what he dreamed might one day be “a billion-dollar company.”
It sounded grandiose, but of course, Lewandowski had had some recent experience with the improbable, having served as a key cog in the rudimentary machinery of Trump’s political rise. For 18 months, as Trump’s first campaign manager, Lewandowski had been at the tycoon’s side as he improbably barreled toward the GOP nomination. The ride had been rocky; but Lewandowski’s pushy, abrasive manner seemed to please Trump—even as it put him crosswise with other campaign power players, including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then–Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.
Lewandowski wasn’t polished, he wasn’t polite, he even got himself arrested for assault after grabbing the arm of a female reporter (the charges were later dropped). Ultimately, as the Republican convention neared, Lewandowski was fired in favor of more seasoned political operatives. “It was going from checkers to chess,” one Trump campaign adviser told me, “and they didn’t feel like Corey was up to it.”
But he never really went away. Lewandowski emerged from his defenestration as a paid commentator on CNN, where he boosted his profile while spouting pro-Trump talking points. For a guy who often appeared to be out of his depth as a political operative, he suddenly seemed to know what he was doing, to be setting himself up for something bigger. “This campaign has always been about one thing,” Lewandowski told me last September, sitting on the rooftop of the New York City hotel where CNN was putting him up. “Loyalty. And my loyalty is to Donald Trump.” His fidelity was appreciated. By the end of the campaign, Lewandowski—now ostensibly a member of the media—was again flying aboard Trump’s private plane.
When Trump won the White House, Lewandowski promptly quit his job at CNN and readied himself for a role within the administration. He told at least one friend that he was “waiting on pins and needles” to find out what job Trump would give him. There was chatter he might become deputy White House chief of staff or chairman of the RNC.
But Lewandowski’s old detractors on the campaign crushed those dreams. “They want to find something for him,” one Trump insider told Politico at the time, “but it needs to be someplace where he can’t do too much damage.” It was a humiliating and public comedown for Lewandowski, who’d been plucked by Trump from the obscure backwaters of New Hampshire politics—and was in no rush to go back to them. He devised a new plan: If Trump wouldn’t take him to Washington, Lewandowski would take himself.
When we met in his Avenue Strategies office, Lewandowski insisted to me that he had turned down “a number of significant positions inside the administration” before he decided to hang out his own shingle. “I thought I could be more effective on the outside than the inside,” Lewandowski said, explaining his eagerness to help promote Trump’s agenda around town—and, of course, make some serious money in the process.
But in the chaotic weeks ahead, Lewandowski’s attempt to capitalize on his proximity to the new president turned out to be a lot more complicated—and perilous—than he originally imagined. Indeed, as Lewandowski navigated the first few months of Trump’s administration, his stumbles would reveal a great deal about the temptations, the opportunities, and the avarice suddenly running wild in the swamp that Trump had once vowed to drain—and how easy it can be for someone to drown in the muck.
Lewandowski, 43, is a trim man with the high-and-tight haircut and Monster-energy-drinking habit that, in Washington, are typically favored by those in a politician’s security detail. (A dozen years ago, during a rough patch in his political-consulting career, Lewandowski enrolled in the New Hampshire Police Academy and eventually worked part-time as a marine patrol officer.) Even in his new office, with its view of the West Wing, Lewandowski didn’t much cut the figure of a high-priced D.C. lobbyist.
Though he seemed eager to play that game. Sure, he may have been new to town; he may have lacked the deep connections of the traditional D.C. power broker, but to Lewandowski, none of that seemed to matter anymore. In Trump World, he had the one connection that counted.
“If companies want to understand the decision process of the administration, I might be a person who can provide value in that regard,” Lewandowski had humbly offered, describing for me his ambitions at the start of the Trump era. “I’ve had an inside look at how decisions are made in this world for a couple years, and very few people have had that who aren’t going inside that building.” Meaning, of course, the large white one two blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. “What I think I bring,” he continued, “is the knowledge of how the president makes his decisions and what’s important to him.”
It’s no secret that Trump seeks counsel from a sprawling and unwieldy kitchen cabinet that includes fellow moguls, talk-show hosts, and various friends. And across the first months of the Trump presidency, Lewandowski—a charter member of that kitchen cabinet—has stayed in close contact with the president. By day, he’s paid visits to the Oval Office. By night, he’s dialed Trump in the White House residence—ringing the same cell phone number that Trump used in his pre-POTUS days. If Trump has been in the mood to chat, he’s simply called Lewandowski back on a secure line. Whenever there’s been a White House event that interests Lewandowski—like, say, the Rose Garden visit in April by the New England Patriots—he’s snagged a VIP seat.
Among other Trump associates, Lewandowski’s continued access to the president has been a source of both fascination and consternation. “The big guy feels like his hand was forced when he moved Corey out,” one Trump apparatchik explained, “and the boss hates it when his hand is forced.” Roger Stone, the political dirty trickster, Trump adviser, and Lewandowski detractor, was more succinct. “For whatever reason, the president has a soft spot for Corey,” Stone told me. “Maybe it’s sentimentality.”
“There are big bags of cash falling out of the sky for Republicans right now,” one GOP lobbyist crowed. “It’s a great time to be a Republican in D.C.!”
To those outside the Trump orbit, Lewandowski’s presence in the D.C. power game has been even more confounding. “A year and a half ago, no one had ever heard of this guy,” one venerable Washington lobbyist, with a laundry list of Fortune 500 clients, recently explained to me. “Now he’s calling CEOs and they’re taking his calls!” We were sitting in a conference room that afforded an even more enviable view of the city than Lewandowski’s—a panorama that this lobbyist felt no need to narrate for me. He seemed at once amused and astounded by Lewandowski’s chutzpah. The lobbyist shook his head.
“It’s a whole new world.”
Not that he was complaining. Even though this lobbyist caters to more establishment Republicans, Trump has been good for his business. “There are big bags of cash falling out of the sky for Republicans right now,” another GOP lobbyist crowed. “It’s a great time to be a Republican in D.C.!”
That Trump’s arrival has provided a boost to Washington’s already-thriving influence industry would make sense: The GOP now controls the White House and Congress for the first time in a decade. But to the denizens of the swamp, Trump has provided an even more lucrative gift: chaos. “There’s just so much uncertainty around Trump—both in terms of what he’s going to do on any given day, but also who’s up and who’s down in the administration,” explains Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director and Washington wise man. “And the uncertainty has been very profitable for lobbying firms all over the city. Every company is doubling down on their D.C. help. They’re trying to navigate a world that was always foreign to them and is now extremely foreign to them.”
And across Washington, a business that has long endeavored to cloak its grubbier aspects in high-minded talk about “providing insight to clients on the policy process”—as one lobbyist explained his work to me—is now in a Trumpian state of flux. “The D.C. influence game has always been slimy and transactional, but it’s now more out in the open,” says Tim Miller, a Republican political operative and partner at a Washington public-affairs firm. “It’s like everything with Trump: The subtext becomes text.”
A percolating question in Washington these past few months is who will become the symbol, the living embodiment, of this new, even more debased state of affairs. After all, every administration serves up a poster child for corruption. In Ronald Reagan’s, it was Mike Deaver, the former White House deputy chief of staff turned lobbyist who was convicted of perjury. In Bill Clinton’s, it was Webb Hubbell, the associate attorney general and old Arkansas law partner of Hillary’s who ultimately went to prison for some Little Rock shenanigans. Trump’s Washington would appear to offer a heretofore unthinkable plethora of candidates. “There’s a lot of line-testing going on right now,” one longtime lobbyist told me in the earliest days of the Trump administration. “Someone’s going to be the first guy to run into the electric fence.” A couple of months later, some would wonder whether Corey Lewandowski had done just that.
Lewandowski’s improbable ascent to the uppermost echelons of American politics began in a rented Zipcar, procured near his home in Windham, New Hampshire. It was January 2015, and a sit-down with Donald Trump had been arranged by a friend, though as Lewandowski recalls, he didn’t know quite why. He was game nonetheless. “Who wouldn’t want to go see Donald Trump in New York?” Lewandowski has said. For a man who still likes to describe himself as “a poor kid from Lowell, Massachusetts”—the son of a single mother, the grandson of a union printer, a proud graduate of that blue-collar city’s Catholic high school and U-Mass satellite campus—an invitation to Trump Tower was too enticing an opportunity to pass up.
When Lewandowski arrived at the Fifth Avenue office, the businessman started in with some small talk about his “air force” of personal planes and helicopters. For about 30 minutes, they chatted before Trump came around to a question: Would Lewandowski like to run Trump’s presidential campaign?
As unlikely a presidential candidate as Trump was 30 months ago, Lewandowski was an even more implausible pick to manage a presidential campaign. His experience in politics had been far from exemplary. When he hadn’t been failing in his own political ambitions—he managed just 143 votes in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the Republican nomination for a Massachusetts House of Representatives seat in 1994 and lost a race for the treasurer of his New Hampshire town 18 years later—he was coming up short on behalf of other politicians. Lewandowski had a stint working on Capitol Hill for an Ohio Congressman who’d later resign in scandal and serve 17 months in prison, and he managed the dismal reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, who was the rare incumbent to lose a party primary. He eventually washed up at the New England Seafood Producers Association. For years, his closest brush with the big leagues of GOP politics came via his side-gig duties as a marine patrol officer on Lake Winnipesaukee, where Mitt Romney and his clan vacation. “He wasn’t even considered a B-teamer,” says one prominent Republican strategist, who first encountered Lewandowski on Smith’s campaign. “He was like a C- or D-level political operative.”
To the extent Lewandowski was thought of at all in broader political circles, it was because of his work for Americans for Prosperity, a group funded largely by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which in 2008 hired Lewandowski to serve as its New Hampshire state director. (“The Koch operation is the island of misfit toys,” explains the prominent Republican strategist.) It was propitious timing. Riding the Tea Party wave in 2010, AFP helped Republicans take back the New Hampshire legislature and the state’s two seats in the U.S. House. Lewandowski created his own momentum, as well. Noticeable for the fact that he was invariably wearing a suit—a rarity in New Hampshire politics—Lewandowski became famous for “debating” a life-size cardboard cutout of the state’s Democratic governor at political rallies. “It got attention,” says Greg Moore, a New Hampshire conservative activist who succeeded Lewandowski as AFP state director. “You have to have someone who’s out there and leading the charge, and Corey certainly was that.” After the 2010 triumph, Lewandowski was promoted inside AFP to a regional director.
But according to multiple sources, Lewandowski ultimately ran into trouble at AFP. One former Koch adviser says it was because of spending and management issues—including an incident in which Lewandowski threatened to “blow up” the car of AFP’s chief financial officer because of a late reimbursement check. (Lewandowski has denied making this threat.) A GOP political operative says the Kochs were embarrassed when AFP was accused of voter-suppression tactics after its North Carolina chapter, which Lewandowski oversaw, sent a mailer to voters there with incorrect voter-registration information. Another former Koch adviser says Lewandowski was simply one of many AFP apparatchiks whose heads were put on the chopping block after the group spent hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012 and Republicans failed to win back the White House or the Senate. Whatever the reason, these sources say, by the time Lewandowski met with Trump at the beginning of 2015, he had fallen out of favor at AFP.
But Trump, according to people close to him, did not realize that. Indeed, when he offered Lewandowski the job of campaign manager, he believed he was poaching one of the Koch Brothers’ top talents. “Trump thought he was getting somebody who left the Kochs to go work for him,” says Sam Nunberg, an adviser to Trump at the time who later clashed with Lewandowski. “He thought he was getting the Kochs’ shiny trophy, when he was really getting their dog shit.”
And yet, in some ways, Lewandowski was the perfect campaign manager for Trump—at least at the beginning. “Five of us, that was the whole team,” he’s recalled wistfully. “You could have put ’em in a minivan.” Unburdened by any previous national campaign experience, and eager for his new boss’s approval, Lewandowski didn’t try to force the candidate into a conventional box. Instead, his mantra was “Let Trump be Trump”—which turned out to be a singularly important insight, a strategic directive that ultimately propelled Trump to the White House. “Mr. Trump’s gut instinct is better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Lewandowski told me.
While Lewandowski’s critics were quick to point out that his duties for Trump were less those of a traditional campaign manager than of an “advance man”—the political worker bee who ensures the rallies have the right number of flags—that particular job, given the nature of Trump and his campaign, was a crucial one. If Trump decided on the spur of the moment that he wanted to go campaign Philadelphia, Lewandowski would find the biggest arena; if an aide played the wrong walk-on music for Trump—like a live version of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” instead of the studio one—Lewandowski made sure the mistake never happened again. “Trump really pays attention to how his rallies work,” says one reporter who covered his campaign from its inception. “Corey was very good at making sure the thing that mattered most to the candidate, and at that point the campaign, were top-notch.”
The problem was that, as the campaign progressed, Lewandowski didn’t grow along with it. “You’re looking at a guy who not only didn’t understand strategy,” says a Republican political consultant who worked with Lewandowski on the Trump campaign, “he didn’t have a clue what a tactic was.” Even worse, Lewandowski resented those who did—and he became increasingly preoccupied with, and paranoid about, the people who were joining the campaign and turning the Trump minivan into a bandwagon.
According to multiple sources, Lewandowski was discovered not only shopping damaging stories about Trump’s son-in-law to reporters, but also trying to keep Kushner from talking to higher-ups at the RNC.
His primary obsession was Paul Manafort, whom Trump had brought on in March 2016 to help with convention strategy. In April, Lewandowski sacked a mid-level staffer for disobeying his order to not communicate with Manafort. When that staffer’s firing—and the reason for it—merited a brief mention deep in a Politico story on Trump campaign infighting, Lewandowski demanded a correction, claiming he’d terminated the aide not because of anything to do with Manafort but because the aide was a chronic masturbator. Lewandowski went so far as to e-mail multiple reporters “a partial statement” that he said he’d extracted from another campaign worker (whom he refused to identify) about the fired aide’s alleged deviancy. Such were the critical concerns that occupied the campaign manager’s time on the day after Trump finished a distant second in the Wisconsin primary. With Lewandowski embroiled in his own fictive masturbate-gate, Trump’s hold on the Republican nomination seemed, for the first time, tenuous.
“Corey could have salvaged a pretty decent role for himself on the campaign,” says one Trump campaign adviser, “had he not spent all his time trying to put the screws to everybody else.”
But Lewandowski had the good sense not to burn his bridges. That afternoon, he appeared on CNN (in what would turn out to be a job audition of sorts) to sing Trump’s praises. “Corey recognized it was an honor, it was a gift, and it was time to hand off the torch,” says Bryan Lanza, a Lewandowski friend who also worked on Trump’s campaign. “Corey’s a professional.”
He’d also been in Trump World long enough to realize that being dumped didn’t always mean you were out of chances.
As soon as he threw open the doors in January at Avenue Strategies, Lewandowski was boasting that business was booming. “The phones are ringing off the hook,” he told me then. Lewandowski had not yet registered as a lobbyist—nor would he ever—but he didn’t seem to believe that would be an impediment to his new career. Lewandowski’s partner, Barry Bennett, a veteran GOP operative who’d been around Washington for decades (“a real slow-lane guy,” as one D.C. politico put it to me), was enjoying a newfound cachet of his own after a stint on the Trump campaign. And the pair, Lewandowski said, was suddenly hearing from potential clients of all kinds: “From Fortune 100 companies to smaller companies who’ve been stuck not getting answers from the federal government for a long time.”
One of those smaller companies was Flow Health, a San Francisco–based startup that needed some help navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs. The relationship that Avenue Strategies struck up with Flow Health would veer from hopeful to acrimonious quickly—and reveal a lot about how Lewandowski was selling himself in Washington.
Last October, Flow Health had partnered with the VA on a project to use artificial intelligence to improve patient care. When the agency abruptly terminated the deal in December, Flow Health began shopping for a lobbying firm to help it convince the VA to reconsider. The medical startup talked to a venerable D.C. lobbying shop, but the strategy that firm proposed—working with offices on Capitol Hill, forming a Super PAC, and other familiar pages from the K Street playbook—would take months to bear fruit. Flow Health, which had a major deal with a technology company riding on the VA partnership, couldn’t wait that long. It was hoping to get the VA decision reversed before Trump’s inauguration. It turned to brand-new Avenue Strategies.
The day after Christmas, Alex Meshkin, Flow Health’s CEO, traveled to a Ritz-Carlton in suburban Virginia to meet with Bennett, while Lewandowski dialed in from his home in New Hampshire, where he was spending the holidays with his wife and four children. According to sources familiar with their discussions, Lewandowski and Bennett told Meshkin that if Flow Health hired Avenue, getting the VA’s decision reversed before the inauguration would be no problem. Bennett boasted that he and Lewandowski were “personally vetting” the various candidates Trump would consider to become the new VA secretary and that they would solicit Meshkin himself on recommendations for the VA’s new Chief Information Officer—the very official who’d administer the partnership Flow Health hoped to reinstate. “What’s better than us getting you a meeting,” Bennett told Meshkin, “is you picking the person who’s going to be there.” (Bennett denies that he had any role in vetting candidates for open positions at the VA and says that there was no lobbying of the VA during the transition.) Lewandowski, meanwhile, boasted about his personal access to Trump and about what he could do with that on Flow Health’s behalf.
They were the type of promises that Lewandowski and his Avenue colleagues—by the beginning of May, the firm boasted seven principals—had frequently made. When Lewandowski met with representatives from Facebook and the Blackstone Group to pitch them on Avenue’s services, BuzzFeed reported, he claimed that he has “access to Trump’s Twitter account.” (Lewandowski has denied this.) In order to get hired by the payday lender Community Choice Financial, a person familiar with the matter says, Lewandowski pledged that he would get Trump to fire that industry’s arch-nemesis, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray.
And then there were the promises that Lewandowski and his Avenue colleagues made to potential clients outside the United States. Although he and Bennett told reporters when they founded the firm that they had no plans to work for any foreign governments, that approach was quickly abandoned. Since January, Lewandowski or other Avenue employees pitched the firm’s services to multiple foreign embassies in Washington and, according to sources, reached out to State Department officials on behalf of the Indian government to try to arrange a meeting between that country’s foreign secretary and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Bennett says, “We have zero relationship with India,” and says that Avenue has no foreign clients.) Lewandowski and Bennett also traveled to the Middle East and Central America to drum up business. And Politico has reported that Lewandowski and Bennett even co-founded a separate firm—called Washington East West Political Strategies—that circulated a memo among Eastern European politicians promising “meetings with well-established figures,” including Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and “key members of the U.S. Administration.” Their two partners in this venture included an Azerbaijani oil executive and an American political consultant with extensive ties to Russia. (Lewandowski has publicly denied any knowledge of Washington East West Political Strategies.)
“I think their business is foreign governments,” one person who’d been briefed on Lewandowski and Bennett’s plans told me last month. They were “intending for the international work to pay for things and the domestic, political work they do will be for window dressing.”
But regardless of the clients they sought, Avenue Strategies apparently struggled to keep promises or achieve results. “Here’s the thing about lobbying. Your clients expect results, not double talk, not happy horseshit, not show and tell,” Roger Stone told me, predicting that Lewandowski would fail. “It’s not enough to impress them on TV. It’s about getting something done.”
After their meeting in December, at the Ritz-Carlton, Avenue Strategies was retained by Flow Health. According to sources familiar with the arrangement, Flow Health proposed an incentives-heavy contract: If the VA reversed its decision by February 17, the company would pay Avenue $250,000; if the VA reversed by February 24, Flow Health would pay Avenue $100,000. When Bennett informed the startup that such a “success fee-based” agreement would technically run afoul of lobbying regulations, a new contract was drawn up in which the same deadlines would remain, but Flow Health would pay Avenue a series of severance fees rather than incentives.
In the end, none of that mattered. The deadlines came and went. And the assurances from Bennett and Lewandowski about how they’d have a say in selecting the new VA secretary proved to be bluster. Trump’s pick for the job turned out to be David Shulkin, the Obama administration holdover who’d co-authored the very letter nixing Flow Health’s VA partnership in the first place. But Flow Health was still made to believe that Avenue could solve its problem. According to sources familiar with the matter, Bennett promised that he’d arrange a meeting between Flow Health’s CEO, Meshkin, and the new secretary, Shulkin, which he and Lewandowski would attend. Their presence, Bennett said, would send a message to Shulkin that “he can do it willingly, or he can do it the hard way and have Mr. Trump tell him what to do.” (Bennett denies ever offering, or attempting, to set up a meeting between representatives from Flow Health and Shulkin.)
On March 2, Meshkin traveled to Avenue’s Washington digs to further discuss the matter. Sitting in Bennett’s corner office—which afforded an even better view of the White House than Lewandowski’s—Meshkin met with Lewandowski and another Avenue staffer named Mike Rubino, who’d also worked on Trump’s campaign. According to sources familiar with the meeting, Lewandowski suggested an end-run around the VA, directly to the president himself. One route went through Sean Hannity. Lewandowski proposed using an upcoming appearance on Hannity’s Fox News program to brand Shulkin, a “bad hombre” who needed to be fired. After seeing him trash his VA secretary on his favorite cable-news channel, Lewandowski said, Trump would almost certainly call him to find out what was up. “Sometimes it’s best to talk to Trump through the TV,” Lewandowski explained.
Alternatively, Lewandowski proposed that he could go to the White House directly, specifically to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs. And if Dearborn wasn’t receptive? Lewandowski intimated that he’d raise the matter with the president himself. “I’m not willing to call the White House unless it’s something I’m comfortable asking Mr. Trump to do,” Lewandowski said.
A few days later, after Lewandowski failed to bring up Shulkin on Hannity, Meshkin checked in with Rubino to find out what was going on, according to sources familiar with their communications. “We have to elevate to the WH,” Rubino told Meshkin in one text. In another text message to Meshkin, Rubino reported: “OK I spoke to Corey and he says he is willing to make a call into the WH.” Whether or not a call to Trump was ever made, the VA hasn’t budged and Flow Health dumped Avenue as its lobbyists.
Then, two weeks ago, it all came crashing down. Dogged by questions about possible foreign clients and by accusations that he was trying to sell access to the president, Lewandowski announced, on May 4, that he was resigning from Avenue.
By now, after becoming increasingly evasive—canceling interviews and dodging my calls—he had stopped speaking with me altogether. (During the process of fact-checking this article, Lewandowski sent GQ a final, terse e-mail: “I refuse to participate in a story which will only perpetuate a false narrative about me and this administration. The questions raised are not only biased [but] designed to sully my reputation. They do however, further the President’s accurate narrative of Fake news.”) He shared a bit more with Bloomberg News, flatly denying that he’d done anything untoward—or that his plan was ever to leverage help from Trump. “I’m not in the business of asking the president for favors,” Lewandowski said. “That’s not my job or my role. I’m sure he has enough requests already for things and I don’t ask him for anything.”
All of Lewandowski’s big plans, which had seemed to him so easy—an entire industry ripe for upending—were kaput. “The old model is, slow roll everything. Tell the client you’re gonna move a knob and twist a lever, and it’s gonna take six months to get that meeting. That’s not me,” Lewandowski had told me back in January. “I don’t want to wait six months. I want to do it today.” But now, not even six months later, he was admitting defeat.
Lewandowski blamed his departure on Bennett and other Avenue employees who, he said, had used his name without his authorization and signed up clients of whom he disapproved. “The most important thing is my reputation,” Lewandowski told Bloomberg. “I know I have a giant target on my back. People want to see me fail.”
For his part, Bennett complained that Lewandowski’s decision not to register as a lobbyist had made things difficult. “It is hard to not lobby and own a chunk of a lobbying firm,” he told The Washington Post.
Immediately after his resignation from Avenue, Lewandowski headed back to New Hampshire, where his wife and kids still live. But it’s doubtful he’ll be gone from Washington for long. There’s talk he’s already cooking up plans for a new firm, and that a few of his Avenue colleagues may follow him. In the meantime, according to his friends, Lewandowski continues to plot a way to join the Trump administration. Indeed, Lewandowski’s refusal to register as a lobbyist (despite doing things that arguably should have made him register) may have been precisely because he thought it might harm his chances of eventually working in the White House.
“He’s been smart enough to hang back,” one Lewandowski friend told me. “He knew it was going to be chaos and the first wave would get chewed up. He’ll go in in the second or even the third wave.” That may be a tall order, given Jared Kushner’s animus toward him. “People will come and go in that White House,” says one Republican strategist, “but Jared and Ivanka are forever.” Nonetheless it’s difficult to imagine a Trump-run Washington without Lewandowski, and those like him, playing some role in it.
Before he broke off contact with me, Lewandowski—who’d initially seemed quite eager to be profiled by GQ—sent me an e-mail with an enticing subject line. “This should be all you need,” he wrote atop a message that contained a link to an interview he’d recently done at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. The session was mostly a farrago of well-worn anecdotes and quotes he’s trotted out to reporters to countless times before.
But there was one portion of it that caught my ear. Lewandowski’s interlocutor asked him how “a kid from the wrong side of the tracks” had gone on to achieve the success he experienced with Trump. Lewandowski had a ready response.
“When they tell you you can’t do something, you don’t listen to them,” he said. “When they say you’ll never be successful, you disregard that. I think at some level maybe it puts a little bit of a chip on your shoulder to say, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’”
It’s an appealing idea: that accomplishing life’s grandest endeavors is simply a matter of silencing the doubters and overcoming the odds; that all it takes to win, even in a place like Washington, is pressing forward. Indeed, it’s an idea that’s practically Trumpian in its populist, score-settling simplicity. But for Lewandowski—and a whole cast of newcomers, swept from nowhere into the fantasyland of Trump World, eager to get what they can while they can—it’s an idea that’s proving remarkably resilient. No dream is too grandiose; no failure is too humiliating. So long as Trump himself remains, anything is still possible.