Furor erupts over city proposal to hire lobbyist with Trump ties

Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday may approve a $96,000 contract to hire a lobbying firm that is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a move that is drawing fire from many residents.

Additionally, the city’s point person at Mercury Public Affairs would be Bryan Lanza, who served as President Trump’s communication director during the campaign and recently joined CNN as a political commentator.

“Do we need to hire a consultant with dubious political leanings from D.C.? Are we now bringing the swamp here?” Menlo Park resident Pushpinder
Lubana wrote in an email to the council.

The council received more than two dozen emails yesterday about the possi- bility the city may hire Mercury Public Affairs and Lanza. Only one email was in support of the contract.

“The s— storm is beginning to form amongst the snowflakes who can’t come to grips with the election results. I would urge the City Council to hire based on qualifications and not based on your decision on whomever some one voted for or what campaign they worked on,” resident Bruce Forshee wrote to council.

Mercury Public Affairs was subpoenaed for records and testimony regarding its work for the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, which was referred to the group by Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, who both were indicted by Mueller on Oct. 30.

Mueller’s investigation is now looking at the leader of Mercury, Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman, and head of Podesta Group Tony Podesta, to see how much they knew about Manafort and Gates’ involvement with the former pro-Russian president of the Ukraine.

“I’m shocked to see that we are considering a contract with Mercury Public Affairs, who are currently under federal grand jury investigation. Furthermore, one key contact for the city from that company is specifically a focus of that investigation,” resident Drew Camens wrote to council.

Housing and Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan said he “completely understands” residents’ concerns. However, he was directed to find a lobbying firm that would help the city get federal and state funds to reinstate the Dumbarton rail corridor.

“If we are going to get funding from this administration we need to hire someone who can help with that, and if we don’t and we’re not interested in federal funding, then that’s fine,” Cogan said. “We are not advocating for the administration. We are simply offering our best advice for who will be the most successful in helping us.”

Councilman Ray Mueller said he thinks that the council needs to decide whether hiring a lobbyist is a good idea to start with.

“The case isn’t made to me in the staff report that at this time we need to proceed with the hiring of any lobbyist,” Mueller said.

The council may determine whether to hire Mercury at its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting at 701 Laurel St.