Wall Street Journal
By Rebecca Ballhaus
May 16, 2017
An outside group charged with bolstering President Donald Trump’s agenda held an “inaugural event” Tuesday night, where top donors could mingle with White House officials and congressmen.
The group, called America First Policies, has spent the past five weeks amassing a $15 million war chest together with its allied super PAC and preparing to launch a push for the Senate to pass health-care legislation.
About an hour before the group’s event was set to start, news broke in the New York Times that Mr. Trump had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to shut down a federal investigation into his former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn —the second major revelation to rock the White House in 24 hours.
Mr. Trump’s aides said the story is false. But fresh controversies, including the president’s decision to fire Mr. Comey last week, could stall much of Republicans’ efforts to push through legislation on Capitol Hill and threatens to consume the White House.
On Tuesday evening, as the White House denied reports about Mr. Trump’s discussion of Mr. Flynn with his former FBI director, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short and adviser Kellyanne Conway gathered at the Washington, D.C., home of Jeff Miller, a former campaign adviser to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who also attended.
The event featured a dinner and reception followed by a panel, where Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Kevin Brady and Sen. Tim Scott were set to discuss tax reform, immigration, health care and other policy issues.
The group declined to comment about the reports. But asked whether the recent controversies had hurt the efforts of America First Policies, its senior adviser, Katie Walsh —who quit her post as deputy chief of staff at the White House to join the group in late March—pointed to its fundraising haul and said: “No.”
About 70% of the group’s cash is in the nonprofit’s bank accounts, officials said. The nonprofit isn’t required to disclose its donors, while the super PAC it is allied with will report its donors to the Federal Election Commission in July.
The two groups have also gathered another $15 million in “hard commitments” they will collect this month, said Nick Ayers, chairman of the board for America First.
America First spent about $2 million on its health-care push in the House earlier this year on TV ads, phone calls and grass-roots efforts, and it is expected to spend more than that on its Senate campaign.
The lack of outside support for the White House, particularly during its first push for the House to pass a health-care bill in March, irked top Trump administration officials. Mr. Priebus said at the time that he was deploying Ms. Walsh to America First to fix the problem.
On Wednesday, officials for the group will launch a federal leadership PAC for Mr. Pence called Great America Committee, with the immediate purpose of turning over the former Indiana governor’s state-controlled assets—including voter files, lists of donors and supporter email addresses—to the federal level. The leadership PAC will then be able to either share the information with, or rent it to, other pro-Trump groups, depending on FEC rules.
Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com
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