BRUSSELS -- The day before special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report to the Justice Department in March, Washington was abuzz with what revelations it might contain about contacts between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and foreign officials. But Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was an ocean away, delivering a paid speech to a room full of Romanian politicians and policy elites.
Legal analysts said Parscale's visit breaks no laws so long as he does not do any lobbying in the United States on behalf of foreign clients without registering. But ethics experts said any money changing hands between foreign citizens and campaign officials created an obstacle course of potential risks. And some ethics lawyers worried that Parscale's engagement -- which received little attention outside Romania at the time -- is a sign that the 2016 Trump campaign's freewheeling approach to foreign contacts may be carrying over to its 2020 successor.
"The appearances are terrible," said Richard Painter, a chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush. "You would certainly think that a campaign manager would not take money from foreign nationals in this political environment."
In a statement, Parscale said the "handful of international speeches" he has delivered gave him a chance to see the world with his wife and recuperate from campaign responsibilities.
"We did not grow up with the opportunity to travel internationally, and speaking opportunities have allowed me to share my talent with other professionals in a university setting while having a brief break from the rigorous campaign schedule that I maintain," Parscale said. "This speaking engagement was fully vetted and approved through the necessary channels in advance."
He added, "This is yet another effort by the biased fake news media to systematically target another person in President Trump's orbit."
Parscale did not respond to a question about how much he had been paid in Romania -- a trip sponsored by McCann/Thiess Conferences, an event-planning partnership co-founded by Romanian businessman Adrian Thiess and the Bucharest outpost of the McCann international marketing firm. Parscale also would not say how he decides which foreign engagements to accept.
Since 2016, Parscale has also spoken at conferences in Portugal, Monaco and Croatia.
Trump campaign spokesman Kayleigh McEnany emphasized that Parscale was traveling "as a private citizen" and "followed the Trump campaign's approval process governing invitations for outside speaking engagements."
Neither 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook nor 2012 Barack Obama campaign manager Jim Messina gave paid speeches -- foreign or domestic -- while running their campaigns.
Nor did full-time staff members working on Republican presidential campaigns for George H.W. Bush, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, businessman and diplomat Jon Huntsman or former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, according to John Weaver, a campaign strategist who occupied senior roles for all of those candidates.
"I've never heard of anything like this before," Weaver said. "There are too many opportunities where there could be potential conflicts between a presidential campaign and the policies that the candidate could espouse and potential income."
A top Republican campaign finance lawyer who reached out at the request of the Trump campaign said it was unfair to compare Parscale's speaking engagement with the business relationships of 2016 campaign officials such as Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn.
A Section on 05/01/2019
Print Headline: Trump aide gives speech in Romania