After exiting the White House Raj Shah joins powerful lobbying firm

Former White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah.  (The New York Times)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Raj Shah, who exited the White House earlier this month, becomes the second high-profile Indian American to leave the Trump administration halfway through the term of President Trump.

Shah, former White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, like Nikki Haley, ex-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, departed the administration on friendly terms with Trump, unlike several other senior administration officials whose exits were mostly unceremonious.

Shah, however, will not be going too far from the White House or Trump’s orbit, since he has joined the Washington, D.C. office of Ballard Partners, a leading lobbying firm, founded and run by Brian Ballard, Trump’s former lobbyist in Florida, who has been a friend and confidante of Trump for nearly three decades, and has been described by Politico as “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.”

Ballard Partners announced that it is launching Ballard Media Group, “a bipartisan, full service, multi-disciplinary strategic communications division that brings together the talents of professionals with unrivaled real-world expertise.” Leading the new venture would be Shah, who will join the firm as a partner, and James Rubin, who joined the firm last year. 

In a statement, the firm said, “Raj Shah has over a dozen years of experience at the highest levels of national politics, issue advocacy and public affairs. Shah oversaw strategy and communications for the White House’s successful effort to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“Serving as the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, he briefed the press, handled crisis communications and policy rollouts, and took a leading role in preparing the President and senior officials for media appearances,” it added.

The statement noted that Shah, who before he joined the White House, was the Research Director and Deputy Communications Director at the Republican National Committee, in his new role would “serve clients consistent with post-government restrictions on the activities of senior White House officials and political appointees of the Trump Administration.”

Rubin, in welcoming Shah, said, “These times call for collaboration and strategic thinking across every discipline and, working with Raj, our team will provide our clients with unique insights and value. For those looking to navigate an ever-changing landscape and communicate at the intersection of policy and politics, they need to look no further.”

Rubin, who joined Ballard Partners in 2018, since serving as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Clinton Administration and the State Department’s chief spokesman, has beena leading voice on foreign affairs, serving as a senior foreign policy advisor to four Democratic presidential campaigns, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

He has also hosted a weekly international affairs show on PBS and served as an editor at Bloomberg News, and the Ballard Partners statement said, “Jamie’s background as a journalist, diplomatic spokesman and presidential campaign advisor make him uniquely qualified to provide strategic and crisis counsel on a full range of domestic and global matters.”

In its profile of Shah’s new boss, Politico’s magazine on April 2, 2018, said, “Ballard is closer to the president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town.”

“He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else on K Street,” it said.

As the New York Times reported, Shah's departure comes at a time when the White House press and communications teams have been depleted and several aides have moved on to roles at government agencies or have left the Trump administration entirely.

On various occasions Shah substituted for Sanders and conducted the White House press briefings, but in July last year was moved from the communications office to White House Counsel Don McGahn’s office to help McGahn in pushing the confirmation of Kavanaugh through the Senate.

Since Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation, although Shah returned to the press office, he was not as visible as he was earlier, except at the White House Diwali ceremony on Nov.13, featuring Trump, which he helped choreographed, and it was then that it was widely rumored that he would leave the administration before the year was out or in early January 2019.

Shah, was one of the earliest White House hires and last year was both thrown under the bus by Trump, but also lauded during the Diwali

Early in September, it was apparent that POTUS had thrown Shah under the bus during a conversation with legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame.

The Washington Post, on Sept. 4, made public a telephone conversation between Trump and Woodward in August when an evidently exasperated President complains to Woodward that he wishes the latter had spoken to him before writing his explosive book ‘Fear: Trump in the White House.’

When Woodward mentions that in seeking an interview with Trump, “I talked to Raj…He was going to work it out,” Trump replies, “If you would’ve called directly — a lot of people are afraid . . . Raj, I hardly have . . . I don’t speak to Raj.”

Once again, Woodward brings up Shah’s name, noting and asking, “It’s surprising to me that these people — did Raj have access to you?”Trump continues to throw Shah under the bus, asserting, “Not really, but he would’ve been able to do it. But I have an office. You have the office number. I have an office that’s directly into my office.”

But on Nov. 13, at the Diwali ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Trump in recognizing all of his senior Indian American officials serving in his administration, gave a shout out to Shah, saying, “And Deputy White House Press Secretary, Raj.  We just have to say “Raj.”  (Laughter.)  Where’s our Raj?  Come here, Raj.  Good job.  Raj has been with us for a long time, and what a great job he does.”

On Nov. 30, Shah got some press, which he probably rather would not have, when along with five other former and current White House staffers was reprimanded for posting political tweets—in violation of the Hatch Act-- such as the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and “MAGA,” on Twitter accounts they use for government business.

MAGA is the acronym for “Make America Great Again,” the presidential campaign slogan of Trump.

First reported by the Associated Press, this admonition to Shah and the others was issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which according to the AP had “sent warning letters to the six warning them that their tweets violated the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities of federal employees working in the executive branch.”

It said the special counsel’s office reviewed the tweets after receiving complaints from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that works to ensure that public officials work on behalf of all taxpayers.

The special counsel’s office had sent a five-page summary of its findings to CREW, which acknowledged that Shah violated the Hatch Act when he used his official “@RajShah45” Twitter account in June 2018 to post a message that linked to a Republican National Committee website.

Shah had said in his tweet, “Fantastic @RNCResearch release #Winning: 500 Days of American Greatness,” and included a link to an RNC webpage that outlined RNC research on what Trump accomplished in his first 500 days in office.

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