Corrupt Trump “Birds of a Feather Flock Together”—Kellyanne Conway and Leonard Leo December 26, 2022
December 19, 2022. That was the date that the House panel investigating the January 6, 2021 attempted coup on the U.S. Capitol unanimously recommended that Demagogue Donald, the former occupant of the Oval Office, be criminally prosecuted on four counts, a first in U.S. history. Those counts are-- insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, knowingly and willfully making materially false statements to the federal government, and conspiracy to defraud the United States (latimes.com, Wire, S., 12/19/2022). This criminal referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ) is non-binding and cannot compel the DOJ to act. However, it shows that the January 6 House Committee believes it has gathered sufficient evidence to prove that Trump provided “aid and comfort” to a mob that ransacked the Capitol and actively tried to prevent the peaceful transition of power to the new president elected by the voters in 11/2020, Joe Biden (Wire, latimes.com). The Jan. 6 Committee investigated this matter for eighteen months. It held nine public hearings, and at those hearings, heard from more than 40 witnesses.This panel held more than 1,000 witness interviews and reviewed more than one million pages of documents after issuing more than 100 subpoenas (nytinmes.com, Broadwater & Haberman, 12/23/22). This panel referred former CA attorney John Eastman for criminal charges. Eastman concocted a legal theory that Trump embraced that then VP Pence could reject certain electors. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter concluded that Trump and Eastman probably conspired to overturn the election, an act Judge Carter called “a coup in search of a legal theory (latimes.com, Wire, 12/19/22).” The poisonous and corrupt legacy of Trumpism ensnared many more of his followers, aides, and sympathizers. Before the 11/2022 midterm, voters in Long Island NY’s 3rd Congressional District (CD) had no idea that their GOP nominee George Santos, a Trump disciple, was an imposter with a “Capital I.” Santos made defeated GA Senate GOP nominee Herschel Walker’s biography look rather “truthful.” Santos, like Trump, was one “heck of a liar.” Santos blatantly made up stories about his previous life in Brazil, his educational background, his job, and his ancestry (nytimes.com, Ashford & Gold, 12/19/22, cnn.com, 12/22/22). And now let’s add two more people heavily tied into Trump’s orbit who played fast and loose with ethical standards and made millions from such behavior. Their names? Kellyanne Conway and Leonard Leo.
Kellyanne Conway. Remember her? New Jersey native Conway (55), graduated from D.C.’s Trinity College and received her law degree from George Washington University. She clerked for D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard Levie (ibtimes.com, Pascaline, ballotpedia.org). While in law school, Conway worked as a research assistant for the Wirthlin Group, a GOP polling outfit that aided President Reagan. After law school, Conway worked for Luntz Research Companies. She had become friendly with its GOP founder Frank Luntz. In 1995, Conway founded her own firm, the Polling Company. Her firm often consulted on consumer trends regarding women. Her clients included Vaseline, American Express, and Hasbro (Ball, theatlantic.com/magazine, 4/17, Lizza, newyorker.com/magazine, 10/17/16). GOPer Conway aligned herself with conservative women pundits, Laura Inghraham, Barbara Olson, and Ann Coulter who made punditry into “stylish stardom” in D.C. and on cable television (Osnos, newyorker.com, 10/17/16, Kurtz, 10/16/98, washingtonpost.com). Conway views herself as a “Generation X” conservative (Burkett, theatlantic.com, 9/96) She worked for GOP Cong. Jack Kemp (R-NY) ,VP Dan Quayle, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and Cong. and later VP Mike Pence. Conway advised Gingrich in his unsuccessful 2012 presidential race and worked with controversial and unsuccessful anti-abortion U.S. Senate candidate MO’s Todd Akin (nymag.com, Kilgore, 8/17/16).
Conway lived in Trump World Tower from 2001-2008 and knew Donald well. However, in 2016, she initially backed Ted Cruz for the presidency. She initially criticized Donald as “extreme” and “not a conservative (politico.com, 10/03/16).” However, once Trump won the GOP presidential nomination, Conway’s views quickly changed. On 8/19/2016, Trump hired Conway as his third and final campaign manager. She was viewed as someone who could better appeal to female voters as he ran against Hillary (Lizza, 10/17/16). Conway was the first woman to run a GOP presidential campaign and the first woman to win one (Lange, the week.com, 11/09/16).
After Donald took office, Conway was a senior counselor to him. Conway quickly became known for her controversial comments. Two days after Donald’s inauguration, Conway coined the term “alternative facts” on “Meet the Press” to defend WH press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments regarding Trump’s alleged (NOT) great inauguration crowd size (Gabbatt,theguardian.com, 1/23/17). On 2/02/17, Conway spoke to Chris Matthews on the “Hardball” television show about the “Bowling Green massacre” to justify Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration ban. No such event had ever taken place (Resnick, 2/02/17, thedailybeast.com). On 2/09/17, Conway on the “Fox & Friends” show pushed her audience to buy some of First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s products. Several organizations, including Public Citizen, filed complaints with the Office of Government Ethics for Conway’s allegedly violating federal law by promoting use of a federal position to “endorse any product, service, or enterprise (law.cornell.edu).” Her many exaggerations, frankly, lies while serving Trump were responsible for her being banned from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe’s” news show (nydailynews.com, 2/15/22).
While working in her White House post, Conway played a key role in advocating that Trump nominate anti-choice and right- wing judges pushed by conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo. Conway and Leo wanted Trump to turn the Supreme Court further to the right. These judges were on a list that Leo had given Trump. Trump’s promise to name Supreme Ct. Justices from Leo’s list was crucial in getting conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants to vote for him in 2016..These judges Conway successfully lobbied for included Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and also Brett Kavanaugh (politico.com Przybyla, 12/20/22). These Justices overturned the pro-choice Roe v. Wade decision in 2022 and gave the High Court a 6-3 conservative majority. Conway is anti-choice and spoke at the 2017 March for Life protesting the Roe decision (Scott & Murray, cnn.com, 1/27/17). While heavily lobbying for Leo’s list of potential Supreme Ct. Justices, Conway was under congressional pressure to sell her polling firm, The Polling Company, to avoid conflicts of interest. Leo, according to financial documents reviewed by government ethics groups, appears to have helped facilitate the sale of Conway’s polling company in 2017 while she was outspokenly lobbying for Leo’s judges. It appears that Leo, via one of his dark money groups, helped finance the transaction between the firm Creative Response Concepts, (CRC) Inc. and Conway that was worth between $1 million and $5 million (politico.com, Przybyla, 12/20/22). At the time, CRC was also bringing in millions of dollars from dark money groups to promote Leo’s picks (politico.com, Przybyla).
On the same day of the sale of Conway’s polling firm, 9/21/2017, a lawyer filed liens with Virginia regulators listing collateral for two loans, one for the buyer and the other for a dark money group controlled by Leo, BH fund. These liens were filed within five minutes of each other. Government ethics and finance experts say the timing and the similarity of the two transactions suggest the BH Fund may also have been involved in the purchase of Conway’s firm (politico.com, 12/20/22). The Conways and Leo have longstanding ties. At the time of the sale of Conway’s company, Leo was executive president of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group in which many of Trump’s judicial appointees had membership. Conway’s husband, George, was a longtime friend of Leo’s and one of the earliest Federalist Society members. The dark money BH Fund and CRC are highly connected. Leo is currently a partner and chairman of CRC. From 2016-2020 while Leo’s dark money network conducted media campaigns to install hard-right judges to overturn abortion rights, CRC took in more than $52 million from groups in Leo’s network, according to Politico and the non-partisan organization OpenSecrets. Leo now controls more than $1.6 billion in conservative donor funds. Leo, a Long Island, NY native graduated from Cornell Law School. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a vice-president of Brooks Brothers. He has stellar GOP credentials. He worked as an intern for Utah’s late GOP Senator Orrin Hatch. After law school, Leo clerked for H.W. Bush appointee D.C. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph (Toobin, 4/17/17). Leo founded a Federalist Society chapter while at Cornell Law and is a close friend of Supreme Ct. Justice Clarence Thomas. Leo has receive an annual salary of more than $400,000 from the Federalist Society for a number of years. He has worked for the Federalist Society for more than 25 years. He took leaves of absence from that group to get W Bush’s nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the U.S. Supreme Ct. Leo worked heavily with GOP Senators to block Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing to replace the late Scalia on the High Court. Leo is connected to ultra conservative GOPers Charles Koch and Rebekah Mercer. Conway also had ties to the Mercers (washingtonpost.com, Sullivan, S., 7/01/16). Leo first contacted Neil Gorsuch about the possibility of Trump appointing him to Scalia’s seat (O’Harrow & Boburg, washingtonpost.com, 5/21/19, Flegenheimer , Hulse, et al, nytimes.com, 3/20/17). Leo is a devout Catholic who strongly opposes abortion and same-sex marriage (See O’Harrow & Boburg, washingtonpost.com).
Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) strongly hinted at potential violations of ethics laws following the reports of Kellyanne Conway’s selling her business to a firm with ties to Leo at the time she was advising Trump on Supreme Ct. nominees. In Durbin’s words, “This is further evidence of the troubling role that Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society played in driving Donald Trump’s judicial selection process (politico.com, Hooper, 12/20/22).” Yes the Conway-Leo connection is indeed quite “troubling,” and, IMHO, the Democratic Senate should investigate it.
Again, Trumpism has ensnared far too many accomplices in a “culture of corruption.” It will take us years to uncover the full extent of the damage Demagogue Donald has done and recover from it. However, we must do this to keep our judicial system and all our other branches strong. Our democracy depends upon it.