Tossed aside by Trump, industry lobbyists scramble to connect

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

For weeks, Kevin O'Connor was the quiet Trump campaign transition leader for the Department of Justice. O'Connor is the managing director and general counsel of Point72 Asset Management, hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen's private firm.

He also worked for the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani (as in Rudy) and for the Justice Department under President George Bush.

O'Connor's appointment was likely to attract both praise for his deep knowledge of the Department of Justice, and criticism for his role at the side of a billionaire whose firm was involved in a massive insider trading case.

But never mind all that, because O'Connor is gone.

An apparent victim of a purge of top level transition officials, O'Connor joins former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and a bevy of other well connected Trump transition officials who suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. Some of those departures were reportedly related to a broad ouster of aides who were perceived as being close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led the Trump transition until last week.

On Wednesday, the Trump purge accelerated, now with an effort to push out lobbyists close to the effort. NBC News confirmed that Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who has taken over the transition leadership, had ordered the removal of all lobbyists from the team. That move came in the wake of criticism for Trump's use of lobbyists on his transition team despite his pledge to "drain the swamp" and clean up Washington ethics.

In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes," Donald Trump seemed to express frustration that his team had to depend on lobbyists for expertise. "That's the only people you have down there," Trump said. "Everybody's a lobbyist down there." At the same time, he pledged to make changes: "We're going to phase that out. You have to phase it out."

That has caused confusion as industry groups in Washington try to figure out whom to deal with on the new team. One said he was dealing with a key contact on the Trump transition last week, "but now he's being tossed aside."

The back-and-forth over who will be involved in planning a Trump administration underscores a key difficulty for Trump in staffing it. The reality is there are not enough Republicans in Washington who supported Trump during the campaign and share his views on trade, globalization and foreign policy to staff an entire White House and administration. Traditionally, many Republicans have advocated for policies counter to Trump's: more free trade agreements, more globalization of corporations and an activist, interventionist foreign policy.

That means Trump will have to rely on people outside of his core group of insiders as he takes the reins of power in Washington. And that can be an uncomfortable feeling, both for the former insiders and for the new team.