Trump’s Russia Lawyer Isn’t Seeking Security Clearance, And May Have Trouble Getting One

The ongoing investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia involve reams of classified material. Yet Marc Kasowitz, the New York lawyer whom President Donald Trump has hired to defend him in these inquiries, told ProPublica through a spokesman that he does not have a security clearance — the prerequisite for access to government secrets. Nor does he expect to seek one.


Several lawyers who have represented presidents and senior government officials said they could not imagine handling a case so suffused with sensitive material without a clearance.


"No question in my mind — in order to represent President Trump in this matter you would have to get a very high level of clearance because of the allegations involving Russia," said Robert Bennett, who served as President Bill Clinton's personal lawyer. Like many Washington lawyers, Bennett has held security clearances throughout his career.


As the spotlight on Russia intensifies with new email disclosures that his son, son-in-law, and then-campaign manager met in June 2016 with a Russian attorney who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Kasowitz's lack of a security clearance could hinder the president's legal and political response to the scandal.


One possible explanation for Kasowitz's decision not to pursue a clearance: He might have trouble getting one.


In recent weeks, ProPublica spoke with more than two dozen current and former employees of Kasowitz's firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, as well as his friends and acquaintances. Past and present employees of the firm said in interviews that Kasowitz has struggled intermittently with alcohol abuse, leading to a stint in rehab in the winter of 2014-15.


Several people told ProPublica that Kasowitz has been drinking in recent months. (The vast majority of those who spoke to ProPublica for this article declined to be quoted by name, citing Kasowitz's penchant for threatening lawsuits.)


Experts on federal security reviews told ProPublica that recent episodes of alcohol abuse are a major barrier to receiving clearance, a process that involves government agents poring over a person's past and interviewing family, friends and colleagues. Investigators typically raise flags about behaviors that might make someone vulnerable to blackmail or suggest poor judgment.


Kasowitz's spokesman said he doesn't need a clearance. "No one has suggested he requires a security clearance, there has been no need for a security clearance, and we do not anticipate a need for a security clearance," the spokesman said. "If and when a security clearance is needed, Mr. Kasowitz will apply for one with the other members of the legal team."


Kasowitz's spokesman did not directly respond to questions about whether he has struggled with alcohol abuse, but said the attorney is able to drink in moderation without a problem.


While not a government employee, Kasowitz has become a public face of the administration on the Russia case. Last month, he went before the cameras to deliver the president's response to the landmark testimony of fired FBI Director James Comey. White House officials have regularly referred media inquiries about Russia-related matters, including queries about Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, to Kasowitz.


In Washington, where every word and action of the president's lawyer is scrutinized, Kasowitz is a neophyte. Instead of negotiating deals among the capital's power brokers or fending off FBI investigations, Kasowitz, 65, built a lucrative practice in civil court suing banks and representing, among others, a leading tobacco company.


Kasowitz has been described by colleagues in the scrappy world of New York lawyers as the "toughest of the tough guys." Bloomberg News called him a "Pit Bull Loyal to The Boss" while The New York Times described him as "the Donald Trump of lawyering." His aggressive legal style has spurred rebukes from two judges.


For over 15 years, he represented Donald Trump, earning the president's loyalty through his eager pugilism. Kasowitz has defended him in the Trump University fraud lawsuit. He fought to keep records from Trump's 1990 divorce private, and threatened to sue The New York Times for publishing a story in which women accused Trump of unwanted touching and sexual assault. He also recently represented Fox News' Bill O'Reilly after multiple women accused O'Reilly of sexual harassment.


Before representing Trump in the Russia inquiry, Kasowitz was informally advising the president. He has told friends he recommended firing Preet Bharara because the crusading prosecutor posed a danger to the administration. He has told people Trump wanted him to be attorney general.


Trump reportedly sought a classic Washington lawyer to represent him on Russia before choosing Kasowitz. Initially Kasowitz was reluctant to take it on. "He didn't seek this," said Joseph Lieberman, the former senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate who is now senior counsel at the firm. "In the end, the president said, 2018I need you. I know you and trust you.'"


Lieberman and Kasowitz first met in New Haven, Connecticut, where Kasowitz grew up. The future senator used to see Kasowitz's father, who ran a scrap-metal business, walking through the neighborhood, greeting everyone as he went. Kasowitz went to Yale to study American history and then to Cornell Law School. After graduating in 1977, he started his law career in New York. In 1993, Kasowitz broke off from the prominent firm Mayer Brown to found his own firm.


As the firm met with early success, Kasowitz became wealthy. He brags to friends he makes anywhere from $10 million to $30 million per year. He owns an apartment in a white-glove building on Park Avenue and a mansion in Westchester County. He travels by private jet and, when in New York, is driven around in a black Cadillac SUV. He owns at least two horses, according to a lawsuit Kasowitz once filed against his daughter's equestrian stable.


From the start, Kasowitz Benson had a hard-drinking culture that its leaders epitomized.


"It's like a time warp," said one former employee, citing the firm's "macho, scotch-drinking, fist-fighting" ethos. Multiple former attorneys said they saw Kasowitz under the influence at the office, an accusation Kasowitz denies.


Associates would vie to join powerful partners in Kasowitz's inner circle during the day at the Palm West Side, the steakhouse just across the street from the firm's offices, and more recently, at another midtown steakhouse a couple of blocks away called Gallaghers. A framed magazine profile of Kasowitz hangs on the wall across from the bar at the Palm. Three former employees at the firm recall attorneys having to go across the street to the restaurant during the workday to consult Kasowitz on work matters, as he held court, drinking and eating. In response to questions, a spokesman for Kasowitz disputed that, saying he never had a drink during the day at the Palm outside of lunch and dinner and never handled firm business while at the restaurant.


Former employees pointed to reckless behavior by Kasowitz while drinking. ProPublica spoke with 10 people who attended the firm's holiday party on Dec. 10, 2013, at the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan. Spouses and significant others were not invited.


Kasowitz, according to an attendee, was visibly inebriated, appearing to have a hard time standing on his feet without support. During the festivities, Kasowitz and a much younger woman not employed by the firm hit the dance floor. According to multiple eyewitnesses, they danced intimately in a way many employees felt was inappropriate for a work event. One person described it as "dirty dancing." Some employees had seen Kasowitz's dancing partner before: the then-25-year-old woman had been a hostess at the Palm. "It made women feel uncomfortable," said one former female attorney who attended the party.


Kasowitz's spokesman, Michael Sitrick, initially said Kasowitz "does not recall whether he danced with her at a holiday party over 3.5 years ago." Later, he said that the descriptions of Kasowitz dancing at the party were "untrue." Kasowitz said in a statement he never had "a romantic relationship" with the woman, "who many of us came to know (as we have many others) because she worked at the Palm Restaurant across the street from our offices."


Kasowitz has been married for 25 years to Lori Kasowitz, a former Mayer Brown administrator and regular on the Manhattan charity circuit. The couple has one daughter.


Sitrick supplied eight statements from Kasowitz employees attesting to his character and behavior at the party and denying the allegations about the young woman. He said ProPublica could not quote the employees' statements by name without their permission. ProPublica reached out to all of them. Two declined to be named, and six did not respond to requests to use their names.


That was not the only dramatic incident involving Kasowitz and the Palm hostess. Late one Thursday night in March 2013, the same woman was arrested for felony assault at Beauty & Essex, a lower Manhattan restaurant and club, after allegedly throwing a bottle that hit another woman in the head, according to NYPD records. A former partner in the law firm said that Kasowitz was with her and sustained an injury. Afterwards, Kasowitz walked around the office with two black eyes looking "like a raccoon," according to the former partner.


Asked about that incident, Sitrick did not answer directly. He said Kasowitz attended a dinner at a restaurant where the woman was in attendance. As Kasowitz was leaving the restaurant, he was "assaulted by a total stranger," Sitrick wrote in a statement. The Palm hostess was not involved in that assault and Kasowitz's assailant was arrested, the spokesman said.


According to current and former attorneys at the firm, Kasowitz hit a low point in the winter of 2014-15. He abruptly left New York for Florida, where he owned a mansion at the Equestrian Club Estates in Wellington. Kasowitz sought alcohol treatment at the nearby Caron, a high-end rehab facility, according to two people who heard it from Kasowitz himself.


According to Sitrick, that winter had been difficult for Kasowitz because of the death of his father and that he had "sought out counseling" like "millions of Americans." The spokesman did not answer directly whether Kasowitz was in rehab that winter but said he was not "at Caron in January 2015."


Anyone whose job involves classified information, from White House officials to State Department diplomats to outside contractors, must get a security clearance. The applicant fills out paperwork disclosing where he or she has lived, worked and traveled abroad, as well as any contacts with foreign government officials. The form also asks about substance abuse, criminal history and mental health.


The government then undertakes an investigation that can take anywhere from weeks to over a year, depending on the position. In the case of White House positions, the FBI does the investigation. Agents comb through educational and financial records and speak to neighbors, former employers and associates. They then present a recommendation to the hiring agency, which makes the final call.


It's not clear who currently makes decisions on clearances for White House hires. Spokeswoman Hope Hicks told ProPublica that the Trump administration does not comment on security clearance issues.


Alcohol abuse is one of many issues examined as part of the security clearance process. The standard form that those seeking clearance must fill out asks whether in the last seven years "your use of alcohol had a negative impact on your work performance, professional or personal relationships, your finances, or resulted in intervention by law enforcement." According to the official security clearance guidelines, "Alcohol-related incidents at work, such as reporting for work in an intoxicated or impaired condition, [or] drinking on the job" can be a reason to withhold clearance.


While all clearance decisions are subjective, "You probably wouldn't get your clearance if you had serious drinking problems in the last five years," said Sheldon Cohen, a longtime Washington, D.C, security clearance lawyer.


The security clearance guidelines also flag personal conduct "that creates a vulnerability to exploitation, manipulation, or duress by a foreign intelligence entity."


In 2016, over 1,100 people appealed their denial of security clearance. Alcohol and drug use were common reasons for such denials.


Attorneys representing clients in Washington frequently are required to seek security clearances in matters ranging from Hillary Clinton's Benghazi hearings to employment disputes involving undercover CIA agents.


Already, there's ample evidence that many aspects of the Russia case involve classified material. When former FBI Director James Comey testified about his interactions with President Trump, he said that he took notes after one classified briefing. "I wrote that on a classified device," he said.


Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, testified last month of his interactions with Trump that could relate to the obstruction of justice issue: "Those conversations were classified."


Meanwhile, congressional intelligence committees looking at the Russia issue have been scheduling hearings with key witnesses in classified sessions. A congressional meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller also took place in a classified setting.


In a statement, Kasowitz said that "we are unaware of and not involved in ... any investigation involving 2018highly classified' (or even classified) information."


The firm has gone through multiple rounds of punishing layoffs. In the past six years, the number of lawyers has shrunk from around 370 to 260 today. Several major rainmakers have departed, including two of the most prominent women at the firm: Eleanor Alter, a well-known divorce lawyer, and Robin Cohen, who led Kasowitz's insurance group.


Now its founder's increasingly high-profile relationship with Trump has some partners worried that it could damage the firm's brand and future business prospects.


Last year, with Election Day weeks away, Kasowitz fired off a letter threatening to sue The New York Times for a story in which women accused Trump of unwanted touching and sexual assault.


Kasowitz's letter to the Times dismissed the women's accounts as "false and malicious allegations" and demanded a retraction.


"People were embarrassed by the letter," said one former attorney at Kasowitz's firm.

The Times stood by its story. No lawsuit has been filed.

In February, several lawyers were upset when Michael Cohen, the former personal injury lawyer and real-estate investor who is best known as Trump's former in-house attorney, arrived at the office.


"I came to see him because we were working on several matters together after the inauguration," Cohen told ProPublica regarding his multiple visits to Kasowitz. Former employees say the firm briefly converted a conference room for Cohen to use as an office, with his nameplate on it.


Cohen said the "multitude of legal matters" he and Kasowitz were discussing included working as co-counsel for a client. Asked if anything came of those talks, Cohen said yes.


Sitrick, the Kasowitz spokesman, said, "Michael Cohen never worked for the firm or occupied any office at Kasowitz Benson." He added: "They were working together on one civil matter for President Trump." He didn't specify what it was.


During roughly the same period that Cohen was visiting the firm, The New York Times reported that he was under FBI scrutiny in the Russia case. Cohen has denied wrongdoing.


One Kasowitz Benson partner, Zachary Mazin, departed in May for another firm, McKool Smith. In a private Facebook post, Mazin praised many of his former colleagues, but said that he and his wife concluded their family could not be associated with the firm. "As the extent of the Firm's support for Trump's presidency became clear, Amanda and I concluded that we would not be living our values if I stayed," he wrote, adding: "Our most important consideration was the message that this choice sends to our daughters, both now and when they look back on this moment as adults."


When Kasowitz traveled to Washington to respond to the Comey testimony, he brought at least two other lawyers from the firm with him.


In the rush to respond to the former FBI director's testimony accusing President Trump of inappropriate meddling, a team of Kasowitz lawyers, along with another spokesman, Mark Corallo, drafted a statement that was riddled with errors. It started with the widely mocked misspelling, "Predisent Trump."


Corallo said in an email that the statement went out to reporters with typos because of a technical glitch.


The day after the June 8 Comey hearing, sources linked to the Kasowitz team told reporters they would file a complaint against the former FBI director for giving what they described as "privileged information" to the press. Three weeks later, that plan fizzled entirely.


In recent weeks, employees say, Kasowitz has tried to calm fears within the firm, holding a series of town hall-style meetings.


"You can work toward steering this president toward the best possible decisions whether or not you agree with his politics," Kasowitz said at one such event, according to a person familiar with his remarks.


President Trump selected Kasowitz Benson to represent him despite high-profile instances in which judges criticized the firm for ethically questionable tactics.


In one particularly heated case, the firm sued investors on behalf of a Canadian insurer, Fairfax Financial Holdings. The company accused the hedge funds and others of conspiring to release information that would send the stock lower. Michael Bowe, Kasowitz's deputy on the Russia case, was the firm's lead lawyer.


In 2006, employees of Kasowitz's in-house investigative arm, KBTF Consulting, tried to ensnare employees of Morgan Keegan, a broker-dealer whose insurance analyst was publishing critical research on Fairfax, according to a court document. They wanted to find out if Morgan Keegan gave certain clients access to its analysis before making its reports public. Kasowitz employees, including two lawyers who worked for the investigative arm, created a fake hedge fund called Blackwood Group Capital Partners. Posing as investors, the Kasowitz private investigators met with the Morgan Keegan analyst who covered Fairfax, asking if they could have advance copies of his reports. He said no.


Years later, Morgan Keegan hired a Rutgers law professor, John Leubsdorf, to assess whether the Kasowitz employees violated New Jersey ethical standards. The state bars attorneys from misrepresenting themselves. Leubsdorf called the firm's conduct "inconsistent with the standards of professional responsibility."


The Morgan Keegan attorneys tried to get Kasowitz's firm thrown off the case, a request the judge rejected. But the judge said he was troubled by what the Kasowitz firm had done.


"I was brought up as a person and as an attorney to think you tell the truth, that that's the only way you can deal with life. You tell the truth and, right, wrong, or indifferent, the truth will prevail. I don't recall as an attorney ever participating in a deception such as [this] one," Stephan Hansbury, a judge for the Superior Court of New Jersey, said at a 2011 hearing. "I don't think that was an appropriate use of an investigator. I don't think you're supposed to go out and create evidence in order to justify a case. That's not what the law allows."


In 2007, Kasowitz had to defend his law firm from allegations of unethical conduct when another firm accused his team of violating a protective order in a legal proceeding. The order barred disclosure of bank records obtained during discovery in a federal shareholder lawsuit against Kasowitz's client, a Canadian pharmaceutical company then known as Biovail.


But when Kasowitz's law firm filed a separate complaint in New Jersey state court on behalf of Biovail, it used the bank records from the federal proceeding to bolster its case. Lawyers for the bank cried foul and in February 2007, Kasowitz had a testy conference call with Richard Owen, the U.S. district judge overseeing the federal case.


Owen was furious: "You get a whole bunch of the bank's records and you're sitting there drafting a complaint in New Jersey and you're saying nobody ever said, 2018Where the hell did we get these records from, how come we have them?'" he asked Kasowitz, according to a court transcript of the call.


Kasowitz said his law firm did not know about the protective order and countered that the documents were not marked "confidential." Owen did not see that as a good enough excuse and the two men went back-and-forth. Finally, Owen lost his temper.


"The record may show I hung up on Mr. Kasowitz," said Owen, who has since died.


Kasowitz's spokesman said the firm did nothing wrong in either case.


Eventually, Biovail fired Kasowitz's legal team over the issue, only to rehire the firm a few months later. The firm was not sanctioned by Owen.


How Kasowitz's aggressive style will play during the Russia inquiry is unclear — especially without a security clearance. On Monday, President Trump tweeted, "James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!"


If that allegation were true, Trump's own lawyer wouldn't be able to review the material.


Correction, July 12, 2017: This story previously said former senator Joseph Lieberman grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. In fact, he grew up in Stamford, Connecticut.


Annie Waldman, Jessica Huseman, Cezary Podkul and Kiara Alfonseca contributed reporting to this story.


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Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

This story was co-published with The New York Times.


President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.


But the effort — a signature theme in Trump's populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.


Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.


Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.


The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.


At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.


So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.


The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency's headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.


Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency's visitor logs before meeting with appointees.


The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.


And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.


When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.


Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: "As previous administrations have recognized, it's good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books."


With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.


"Competition will be fierce," the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. "In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates."


Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.


"You may say this is an agency's job, but the agencies are totally overloaded," Luxton said.


On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter "L" across the agency's sign-in sheet.


Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.


But Peterson had an in with the new administration.


Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.


The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.


Neither side would reveal what was discussed. "I'm not sure that's reporting information I have to give you," Peterson said.


But lobbying records offered clues.


Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.


For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.


Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.


Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron's nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.


The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing "the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species." One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit's mission includes creating "business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species."


Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron's organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its "generous sponsors."

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was "getting biocontrol agents to market faster," according to meeting minutes.


Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: "Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers' access to innovation."


A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron's relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.


Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.


In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump's deregulation teams have done either.


One such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.


The Republican association's work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.


The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.


Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused herself from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had discussed regulations with any of them.


"As you will find when you receive Samantha's calendar, she has met with a range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a wide range of issues," Bowman said.


Bowman said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request. ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records including calendars, but the agency's response did not include those documents. (An appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)


"We take our ethics responsibilities seriously," Bowman said. "All political staff have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations."


Addressing the agency's regulatory efforts, she said, "We are here to enact a positive environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people, without unnecessarily hamstringing our economy."


At the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the deregulation team is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top executive both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.


The department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop insurance and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock had recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.


At the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian McCormack, who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical utilities.


While there, McCormack worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group. Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses across the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their own power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send surplus energy back into the grid.


Though the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities, it does help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of renewable energy and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the department, McCormack helped start a review of the nation's electrical grid, according to an agency memo.


Clean-energy advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate, as a threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public utility commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for electrical utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.


Disclosure records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group lobbied the federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues including grid reliability.


The department would not answer questions about McCormack's involvement with those issues.


Across the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been granted waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine others have pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or clients.


Some of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration and the Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team and was vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of for-profit colleges.


Another recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a senior government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas company.


Hess was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution controls by the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records show that Brown's wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of the company.


An EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess stock, though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from evaluating regulations affecting the company.


The agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from issues affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife's company is a member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas rules, complaining in a recent letter to Brown's team about an "unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry."


Before being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maren Kasper was a director at Roofstock, an online marketplace for investors in single-family rental properties. Financial disclosure records show Kasper owned a stake in the company worth up to $50,000.


Changes at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a company like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal government's Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.


Ethics officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take actions that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper's tenure on the deregulation task force has since ended.)


One by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached the microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations intended to protect children from lead.


The forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington, was part of the agency's push to identify regulations that were excessive and burdensome to businesses.


Few businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played out in recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead met with Trump administration officials behind closed doors.


Still, the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public meetings. The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them critical of potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small pleading for relief from regulatory costs or confusion.


After a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of a local painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.


McCracken was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to test for lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit costs about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to hire him, those costs come out of his pocket.


"I don't think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not hurt children," he said. "That's not what we are talking about. What the contractor needs is a better way to test."


His voice quavered: "Why do I have to educate the general public about the hazards that generations before me created? It doesn't make sense at all."


Trump is not the first president to take on such frustrations.


President Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate "without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society." He assigned Vice President Al Gore to collect agencies' suggestions for rules that should go. One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.


President George W. Bush's regulatory overhaul focused more on how new regulations were created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each agency who generally had to sign off before any significant new rule could be initiated. At the EPA for a time, that official came from an industry-funded think tank.


President Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the effectiveness of rules already on the books.


"When you raise the profile, when it's clearly an executive priority, it gets attention," said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government. According to the auditor's analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify and streamline rules, not eliminate them.


Like Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies have included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order from Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees are generally believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has imposed regular reporting requirements.


But Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.


The same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he addressed a large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.


"We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing," Trump said. "We're going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business."


Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said Trump's decision to create teams of political appointees — formally known as regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White House to overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.


"To the extent there's a deep state effect in this administration," Narang said, "the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in place."


The New York Times' Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story.


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Drugmakers’ Money-Back Guarantees: an Answer to Rising Prices or a ‘Carnival Game’?

This article was produced in partnership with The New York Times.


More than a decade ago, Italy tried a novel approach to help bring down drug costs: asking pharmaceutical companies to return money to the national health system if some of their medicines failed to work as expected. The effort largely flopped.


The Trump administration is now considering whether to encourage a similar approach. Pharmaceutical executives presented the idea to President Trump at a meeting in January, and the general concept was raised last month in a draft executive order aimed at combating rising drug prices.


A number of drug companies have recently entered into such deals, which they call outcomes-based contracts. Merck has done so for its diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet, promising to return money if patients' diabetes did not meet goals for control. And Novartis, which makes the heart failure treatment Entresto, is refunding money if too many patients taking the drug are hospitalized. In more typical deals, drugmakers pay rebates to insurers based on the number of drugs sold and to gain easier access for members to their products.


But there is scant evidence this new approach lowers costs. Pharmaceutical companies still set the drug's list price and have to agree to the criteria upon which they will be measured. Some experts say such arrangements are a ploy to deflect attention from substantive changes that could hurt companies' bottom lines, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Moreover, the savings don't always trickle down to consumers.


"Most of them get launched with great fanfare," said Dr. Steve Miller, the chief medical officer at Express Scripts, which manages the drug benefits of more than 80 million Americans. "But then you never hear anything about it after the launch because most of them collapse under their own weight."


In a recent note to investors, David Maris, an analyst at Wells Fargo, described the approach as a "carnival game" and said he did not know of any such arrangements "where a drug company did not consider it a win for them."


Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group, said the approach was in keeping with a trend toward paying doctors and hospitals for the quality of care they deliver rather than the number of services they provide.


"We recognize that as science is moving forward, the way we pay for medicines needs to evolve as well," Zirkelbach said. The group has been promoting the idea in an advertising campaign.


To understand how these deals work, consider the one that the drugmaker Amgen made with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a nonprofit insurer in Massachusetts and one of the insurers to most aggressively test the concept. It has entered into at least eight such deals over the past two years. This spring, Amgen agreed to pay a full refund to Harvard Pilgrim if patients who took its pricey new cholesterol drug, Repatha, suffered a heart attack or stroke. Repatha is intended for patients with very high cholesterol levels, for which cheaper drugs, known as statins, do not work.


As part of such deals, insurers eased restrictions on which patients could gain access to the drug, said Dr. Joshua J. Ofman, a senior vice president at Amgen. Sales of Repatha and similar drugs have disappointed in part because insurers have been reluctant to pay for them given their price. Repatha can cost up to $16,000 per year.


If Harvard Pilgrim patients taking Repatha have a heart attack or stroke, they share in the refund, getting back all out-of-pocket payments that they have made toward the drug, said Dr. Michael Sherman, chief medical officer at Harvard Pilgrim.


Doctors who prescribe Repatha said the deals do not affect how they treat patients. "We're completely agnostic to it," said Dr. Frederic S. Resnic, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, who sees patients with Harvard Pilgrim insurance. The drugs are so costly that doctors still only prescribe them when patients really need them, he said.


Dr. Peter B. Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, is skeptical. He said the pharmaceutical industry is conflating setting drug prices based on the value they bring to patients and the health care system, which he supports, with negotiating givebacks when patients don't respond to drugs, which he sees as too little, too late.


The arrangements, he said, carried "bells and whistles" that made them look good in theory. "But as long as you control all the contract terms, it can be a lot of optics but no substance," he said.


Bach and others say the pharmaceutical industry is using this approach to justify seeking major changes to federal regulations that could benefit them even more — including rolling back a requirement that Medicaid programs for the poor get the lowest drug prices, and another that bars companies from giving kickbacks to health providers. The industry says the changes are needed to allow more flexibility in the type of deals they can offer.


Drug companies and insurers touted these contracts when they were announced, but participants in several deals either declined to comment recently or provided little information about their programs.


At a conference last month in Virginia, a senior director with Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy benefit manager, offered a blunt assessment of such contracts, saying they were not cost-effective. But in a phone interview, his boss, David Lassen, the chief clinical officer, was a bit more measured, saying that though the deals carry promise, the work to track patient outcomes is expensive and burdensome. "In their current state, where they're falling short is where you look at the return on investment," Lassen said.


Sherman at Harvard Pilgrim said the deals would not work for every drug and that drugmakers typically showed no interest when there were no competing brand-name drugs that worked in a similar way.


Some pharmaceutical executives acknowledge the model should not be seen as a panacea. Leonard S. Schleifer, the chief executive of Regeneron, questioned how such pricing would work for a drug like Dupixent, an eczema drug his company makes that was approved this year.


"Are we going to start calculating the surface area of the rash that's improved?" said Schleifer, whose company has entered into some outcomes-based deals for Praluent, a competitor to Repatha.


Other drugmakers said proof that the concept works can be seen in the interest they are getting from insurers. "No one is going to enter into these contracts if they don't believe the prices they are paying are of good value," Ofman, of Amgen, said.


Italy's experience is instructive.


Beginning in 2006, the Italian National Health System negotiated deals with drugmakers for certain medicines. It required doctors to track whether their patients were meeting certain goals, and if they were not, the pharmaceutical company would reimburse a share of what it was paid.


In 2015, researchers studying Italy's experiment concluded that the amount of money refunded by the companies was "trifling."


"The performance of this system was very, very poor," said Filippo Drago, director of the Department of Biomedical and Biotechnological Sciences at the University of Catania in Italy and an author of the study. He attributed the low savings to the administrative complexity of tracking the results and said drug companies fought efforts to reimburse for bad outcomes.


Italy now asks drug companies to provide some of their products for free — at first. Manufacturers are only paid once results are demonstrated.


"This system is working very well," Drago said.


Correction, July 10, 2017: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to deals between drugmakers and health plans for coverage of drugs like Repatha. The deals made it easier for patients to gain access to Repatha through their insurer; they did not ease restrictions on which patients were prescribed the drug.


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