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Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Reince Priebus is a Republican operative who is best-known for his humiliating tenure as President Donald Trump’s first White House chief of staff. Priebus now holds senior roles at affiliated lobbying and legal firms; his law firm is connected to the Trump Organization and has collected over $280,000 in fees from GOP campaign groups such as the Republican National Committee.

Despite all that, CBS News announced on January 22 that the network has hired Priebus as a political analyst. He appeared on its coverage of the Senate impeachment trial, where he was the only political operative guest and his conflicts of interest went undisclosed. 

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, whose organization employs Reince’s firm for legal services, congratulated Reince on his hiring. 

Priebus worked in the Trump White House from January 2017 to July 2017, when he was ousted in embarrassing fashion. In October 2017, he returned to work at “Michael Best & Friedrich LLP as President and Chief Strategist and Chair of the Board of Advisors for Michael Best Strategies LLC, the firm’s government relations and public affairs group.” 

He is also a serial misinformer who was recently called out by his own future employer. Priebus appeared on CBS in November to talk about Trump’s impeachment and falsely claimed that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his infamous phone call to speak with Attorney General William Barr, not Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani (in fact, as CBS noted, “Trump did mention Giuliani by name”). 

Priebus has continued his defense of Trump outside of the White House, stating recently on Fox News of the Senate impeachment trial: “Sometimes the best defense is the ‘so what’ defense, which is, if everything the Democrats said is true, it’s still not impeachable. If everything Lev Parnas has said is true, it’s still not impeachable”

In addition to his credibility problem, Priebus arrives at CBS News with numerous conflicts of interest. 

Priebus financially profits from the success of Republicans through his law firm. According to a search of available 2019 Federal Election Commission records, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP has received over $280,000 in legal fees combined from the Republican National Committee, the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Convention, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), and the Republican Party of Wisconsin. (Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) also paid $247 to the Wisconsin-based firm for an “event space rental.”) 

Stefan Passantino, a former White House deputy counsel and current partner at the firm, also represents the Trump Organization regarding congressional inquiries into the president’s business. 

Additionally, Priebus could potentially appear on CBS and discuss issues relevant to companies he’s financially connected to through his law firm and its government affairs and public relations affiliate. Michael Best Strategies, which has an office in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “one of the nation’s fast-growing B2B consulting firms specializing in lobbying, government relations, public affairs, crisis management, shared value strategies, political partnership development, and community/stakeholder engagement strategies” and states that it works on issues related to “the healthcare, energy and environment, manufacturing, tax and finance, higher education and agriculture, food and beverage industries.” According to a search of federal government lobbying records, Michael Best Strategies has lobbied for companies that include NACCO Industries (the public holding company for the North American Coal Corp.), Plains All American Pipelineand the Primex Family of Companies. (Priebus himself has not registered to lobby for clients.) 

Public relations activity is not subject to federal disclosure rules, meaning that Priebus is likely connected to numerous other companies beyond what’s publicly available.

During his first appearance as a CBS News commentator, where he heavily defended Trump, Priebus was simply introduced by host Norah O’Donnell as a Trump’s first White House chief of staff and a CBS News analyst. His financial conflicts of interest were not mentioned. He was the only partisan commentator on the panel, which included CBS personalities Margaret Brennan, John Dickerson, and Leslie Stahl. 

Hiring former and current Trump officials has been a failure for non-Fox News outlets. CNN has famously cycled through Trump advisers Corey Lewandowski, Bryan Lanza, and Steve Cortes. And Sinclair Broadcast Group recently dropped “must-run” segments featuring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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