On the same day last week that fired FBI Director James Comey delivered his damaging Senate testimony, President Donald Trump’s team summoned about a dozen top donors to the White House to rally support for Trump’s agenda.
The donors — including Ken Griffin, Doug DeVos, Tom Hicks, Jr., Bekah Mercer, Todd Ricketts, Tom Saunders, Paul Singer and Dick Uihlein — gathered in the Roosevelt Room on June 8 for a briefing from Trump’s legislative director Marc Short, according to a senior administration official and other people familiar with the event.
These people said that Trump himself stopped by the briefing to greet the donors, while Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway also spent time at the event.
It took place just days after Short acknowledged to reporters that the Russia investigations were “detract(ing) from our legislative agenda” and “from what we’re trying to deliver for the American people.”
And, as if underscoring the distracting effect, the briefing occurred soon after Comey finished testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dealings with Trump related to the FBI’s investigation into connections between Trump’s team and Russia.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the donor briefing.
But a senior administration official said that topics covered during the briefing included healthcare, tax reform, the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, pending judicial nominations, the Paris accord and the Saudi arms sale.
"[It was a] ‘here’s what we see as the legislative calendar and how you can be helpful’ type of meeting," the official said.
Nonetheless, the briefing was seen as notable in GOP finance circles partly because of the timing and also because Trump’s team has not engaged in as much donor maintenance as have past presidential administrations.
The support of such donors is seen as critical to salvaging Trump’s agenda, since they are among the leading funders of the outside groups being counted on to pressure lawmakers, activists and voters to rally behind Trump.
Some Trump allies privately blame the defeat in Congress of the first version of the American Health Care Act on a lack of support from outside groups, though the House did eventually secure passage on the second try.
However, the Senate so far is struggling to find the 50 votes needed to secure passage on their own yet-to-be released version of an Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan.
The White House has also made big promises on quickly pushing through a tax reform package and a major infrastructure bill, but there’s no clear strategy for delivering on those goals.
An operative briefed on the donor confab downplayed it, calling it “pretty perfunctory. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It was coincidental that it happened on the same day as the Comey hearing, but there was not a mood of panic.”
Mercer, whose hedge fund billionaire father donated $2 million to a pro-Trump super PAC during the campaign, served on the executive committee for Trump’s transition team, and has since launched an outside group that ran ads attacking Comey for being too political.
She and Saunders also are on the board of the Heritage Foundation, which has provided significant policy expertise to the Trump administration.
A Mercer family spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Saunders.
Ricketts was a leading funder of another pro-Trump super PAC and was tapped for a Commerce Department position, but withdrew.
A Ricketts family spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Singer had been a leading funder of the never-Trump movement, but more recently seemed to make peace with the president, donating $1 million to his inauguration.
Griffin, a hedge fund founder, also did not donate to the Trump campaign, but gave $100,000 to his inaugural committee.
Griffin did not respond to an email seeking comment.