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Amid Presidential Access Questions, Former Trump Campaign Manager Quits Lobbying Firm

Shortly after the November election, President Trump's initial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski launched a new career — co-founding a lobbying firm called Avenue Strategies.

But he did not register as a lobbyist.

That caused critics to demand investigations into his lack of registration, and now, Lewandowski is quitting.

Barry Bennett, who co-founded the firm, said in an email to NPR that Lewandowski has left "to focus on his speeches and some politics ... Avenue of course continues with the other partners."

Lewandowski's quick change in career plans comes in the wake of reports about his efforts to promote his ties to Trump while working with Avenue Strategies, which set up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, less than a block from the White House. For his part, Lewandowski has said that he focused on strategy not lobbying.

In recent days, Politico has turned up documents that it said showed Lewandowski had been "pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and senior members of their administration."

That prompted Public Citizen, a progressive public-interest group in Washington, on Wednesday to call on the Department of Justice, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to investigate whether Lewandowski is in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 or the Lobbying and Disclosure Act of 1995.

Craig Holman of Public Citizen said an inquiry was needed, because "Lewandowski has been making frequent visits to the White House" while his firm advertises his "access to the administration in order to solicit clients."

The White House has declined to make public its visitor logs.

Asked for a response to Public Citizen's calls for investigations, Bennett told NPR Wednesday that Lewandowski "isn't registered, because he doesn't lobby. He chooses not to lobby."

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Lewandowski said he has left Avenue Strategies in the wake of the questions about his work. "The most important thing is my reputation," he said.

Bloomberg said Lewandowski was "willing to dissolve the partnership to distance himself from negative publicity and what he called conjecture that he's not following the rules."

Holman said Friday that he was surprised by Lewandowski's response. "This is not the outcome I expected when filing the letter of inquiry," he said. "I would have preferred that Lewandowski register and disclose his lobbying activities."

Holman also speculated on what he believes is Lewandowski's real reason for quitting. "It appears Lewandowski feared he would lose access to the White House if he complied with the lobby laws, especially if he registered as a foreign agent," Holman said, "and so chose to give up his businesses instead."

The controversy around Avenue Strategies not only involved questions about Lewandowski's work, but also about its clients. Bennett confirmed a Politico report that Avenue Strategies has agreed to lobby for CITGO. That's the oil company owned by Venezuela, whose left-wing government is extremely antagonistic towards the United States. CITGO also has ties with the Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft.

Bennett dismissed concerns about that business relationship.

"Yes, we represent CITGO's operations, which [are] all U.S. based," he said by email. "They are a critical part of our energy chain."

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Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
Rebekah Entralgo