WASHINGTON — As the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for inciting last week’s violent breach of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, President Donald Trump has an increasingly singular focus in his final days in office: rehabilitating his brand.
Trump’s concern about the future of his personal fortunes is among the reasons some of his allies have suggested in recent days that he invite President-elect Joe Biden to the White House for the customary meeting between a sitting and newly elected president, according to three people familiar with the discussions. And it’s why Trump may deliver a farewell address, a staple for outgoing presidents, to highlight what he sees as his accomplishments.
Proponents of such moves have made the case to Trump that anything he can do, even at this late date, to make good on his very recent commitment to a smooth transition of power “will be better for your brand in the long term,” according to one Trump ally.
“The brand is becoming radioactive,” this ally said. “That matters more to him because that’s going to have real, tangible effects on his life immediately.”
Wednesday marked the second time House approved articles of impeachment against Trump, though the Senate will not issue its verdict before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
No invitation for a meeting has been extended from the White House to Biden, according to Biden transition officials.
But conversations between the Biden transition and the White House have escalated to more senior ranks this week. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, has spoken with senior Biden transition officials within the past 24 hours, Biden and Trump officials said Wednesday evening. The conversations focused on policy issues, an administration official said, though they didn’t know if the topic of a meeting between Biden and Trump was discussed.
NBC News has previously reported that, according to Biden aides, if any such meeting took place it would involve strict coronavirus protocols and likely occur outside.
First lady Melania Trump similarly has not invited her successor, Jill Biden, to the White House for the customary tea between the current and soon-to-be first ladies, according to a Biden aide.
Trump administration officials have been conferring with their counterparts on the Biden team at various levels, including Wednesday when White House spokesman Judd Deere had a phone call with several members of the Biden transition — Karine Jean-Pierre, TJ Ducklo and Meghan Hays — who will be working in the White House press office. Deere said during the half-hour long call they discussed transition-related topics and press operations.
As lawmakers moved forward with impeachment, Trump and his shrinking group of advisers have been looking at ways to use his remaining time in the White House to salvage his reputation and minimize the blow to his post-presidency financial standing.
Trump has also made calls this week to inquire about the environment for his business ventures, including reaching out to at least one banker to whom he owes money, according to a person familiar with the call.
“He’s got to get his branding back up or they’re in trouble,” a Republican close to the White House said. “He went too far.”
Keeping Trump’s brand from further damage is in part what prompted Kushner and deputy White House chief of staff Dan Scavino to object to the idea of him joining some fringe social media platforms — such as Parler or Gab — after being banned from using mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook, with an administration official saying they didn’t think the more fringe platforms best served the president’s interests.
In the week since Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, his business’ bottom line has taken a large hit. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America pulled a prestigious tournament from the president’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. New York City announced Wednesday that it was severing its multi-million-dollar contracts with the Trump Organization. And some banks have said they won’t do business with the president.
The president could issue pardons aimed at currying favor in ways that might help protect and rebuild his personal and business brand. And in the last week there has been discussion among the president’s allies over whether he should rethink consideration of issuing more controversial pardons, given his diminished political capital, or if he should “open the floodgates,” as one ally put it, to dilute backlash over any pardons of family members or himself and to maximize the number of people who might be indebted to him once he leaves office.
Trump could issue those pardons in two or three groups with some additional ones on the evening of Jan. 19 and morning of Jan. 20, hours before his term ends.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is among those concerned that Trump could waver on a pardon for him, two people familiar with the matter said. Bannon, who was indicted on charges of fraud, has recently expressed worries about his chances of a pardon, and he’s told people close to Trump he thinks Kushner will try to block Trump from pardoning him.
“This is the last time he’s going to have any kind of power,” the Trump ally said. “He might as well use it.”
The president’s focus on his life post-presidency, rather than how his final days in office are unfolding, is also evident in the lack of a clear legal strategy or defense team taking shape for his impeachment, according to several people involved in those discussions.
The president views any impeachment trial as something that’s happening after Jan. 20, if at all.
Longtime Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who is among those expected to receive a pardon — has said he might lead a potential group of lawyers. But others who were involved in impeachment in 2019, such as Alan Dershowitz, said they haven’t been contacted by the White House for any such assignment.
Mike Memoli contributed.
As House votes to impeach him, Trump’s focus shifts to brand rehabilitation The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ NBC News.