Skilled in Strategy (and Grudges), Top Biden Adviser to Depart White House

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Anita Dunn, who is returning to her Democratic consulting institution adjacent month, has agelong faced questions astir however her power successful the White House intersects with her firm work.

Anita Dunn, a elder  advisor  to President Biden, astatine  the Capitol successful  Washington this week. She has prepped President Biden for each   interrogation  and quality    league  since she took implicit    his campaign.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Annie Karni

July 23, 2021, 7:35 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — For the past 17 months, since shaking up his run aft an embarrassing fourth-place decorativeness successful the Iowa caucuses, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has relied connected Anita Dunn, a seasoned Washington consultant, for some guidance and grudge-holding.

Ms. Dunn, 63, provided absorption erstwhile Mr. Biden’s run was flailing. Later, she refused to springiness Julián Castro, a erstwhile lodging secretary, a requested speaking slot astatine the Democratic National Convention, inactive upset astir his debate-night jab astatine Mr. Biden’s intelligence acuity, according to radical acquainted with the snub. And successful the West Wing, she has had a manus successful shaping each large argumentation propulsion truthful far.

Now Ms. Dunn is acceptable to instrumentality to her almighty Democratic consulting company, leaving a spread successful Mr. Biden’s tiny interior ellipse arsenic the highly infectious Delta variant is ripping done unvaccinated communities and the destiny of Mr. Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal is teetering connected the borderline of collapse.

“She brings stableness and a faithfulness to strategy,” said David Plouffe, the erstwhile Obama run manager. “You spot it successful the White House, wherever they’re precise disciplined connected their attack to Covid, to the economy, to the usage of the president. That subject and not swinging astatine each transportation is truly classical Anita.”

Ms. Dunn has prepped the president for each interrogation and quality league since she took implicit his run and driven the administration’s buttoned-up attack to dealing with the quality media. She is wide credited with elevating women to elder positions successful the West Wing. And she is adamantly opposed to Mr. Biden regularly taking questions from reporters, which she believes does small to beforehand his agenda. She prefers municipality hallway events.

But for each her subject and expertise, Ms. Dunn’s beingness successful the Biden administration, and successful the Obama medication earlier that, has raised questions astir however her power successful the authorities intersects with the firm enactment of her company, which represents clients seeking to power policy.

Ms. Dunn has lone separated herself from SKDK, the firm and governmental consulting institution she helped recovered and is returning to adjacent month, for little periods of run and authorities work. And the information that she is exempt from filing nationalist fiscal disclosures required of full-time statesmanlike appointees has drawn disapproval from immoderate morals watchdogs.

Her beingness successful the West Wing is besides grounds of however Mr. Biden has prioritized his reliance connected trusted figures with decades of Beltway experience, adjacent arsenic helium promised to extremity the access-peddling that proliferated during the Trump administration. (This week, for instance, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a adjacent person of erstwhile President Donald J. Trump and 1 of his apical 2016 run fund-raisers, was accused of utilizing his entree to Mr. Trump to beforehand the overseas argumentation goals of the United Arab Emirates and past repeatedly misleading national agents astir his activities.)

Ms. Dunn and her colleagues person said she has ever been scrupulous astir adhering to morals rules. SKDK emphasizes that it does not lobby but does governmental and media consulting.

Ms. Dunn and her husband, Robert Bauer, a erstwhile White House counsel who inactive serves arsenic the idiosyncratic lawyer for some Mr. Biden and erstwhile President Barack Obama, person agelong been portion of the infrastructure of nationalist Democratic authorities successful Washington.

After the 2020 election, Ms. Dunn intended to instrumentality to her presumption arsenic managing manager astatine her company, which represents Pfizer, AT&T and Amazon, among different firm behemoths arsenic good arsenic nonprofits similar the N.A.A.C.P.

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, however, had different plans. They pressed Ms. Dunn to articulation the incoming administration, reminding her that the pandemic was sidesplitting 3,000 radical a time and that Mr. Biden relied connected her acquisition and decisiveness.

Ms. Dunn did not consciousness arsenic if she could accidental no, colleagues said.

She agreed to travel successful lone connected a short-term basis, arsenic a “special authorities employee,” a designation that exempts her from nationalist fiscal disclosures required of full-time authorities unit members but besides caps the fig of days she tin walk successful the White House.

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Credit...Lexey Swall for The New York Times

She besides did not mean to oversee Mr. Biden’s campaign. But aft helium finished 4th spot successful the Iowa caucuses, followed by a disastrous fifth-place decorativeness successful New Hampshire, Ms. Dunn, colleagues said, was motivated by a premix of loyalty and desperation.

There was small wealth successful February 2020. There were nary crowds. Ms. Dunn seized power of the full operation, surviving retired of a Hampton Inn successful Philadelphia adjacent the run office and approving $200 successful bureau proviso expenditures, colleagues recalled.

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Credit...Josh Haner/The New York Times

Ms. Dunn helped Mr. Biden reason that the timing was not right. Mr. Biden turned to her again successful 2018 erstwhile helium began to earnestly ponder a tally against Mr. Trump.

In her existent role, she is making a wage of $129,000, conscionable nether the $132,552 threshold that requires filing nationalist fiscal disclosures. (Mr. Bauer, who is simply a co-chairman of the president’s commission to measure projected overhauls to the Supreme Court, is besides a peculiar authorities employee, though his relation is unpaid.)

Eleanor Eagan, a probe manager for the Revolving Door Project, criticized the medication for allowing Ms. Dunn to debar disclosure rules. “Biden promised to reconstruct spot successful authorities successful the aftermath of Trump’s fantastically corrupt administration,” Ms. Eagan said. “Allowing this and akin evasions is simply a wide usurpation of that pledge.”

Now Ms. Dunn is returning to the backstage sector, wherever her colleagues payment from her connections successful the West Wing.

Ms. Dunn’s institution was besides hired to grip the $2.2 cardinal nonstop message declaration for the Biden campaign, according to run filings, underscoring however the concern and governmental worlds are sometimes aligned.

Some of SKDK’s clients person drawn controversy, arsenic was the lawsuit with NSO Group, an Israeli cybertechnology institution that has been accused of utilizing its spyware to hack the phones of journalists and quality rights activists, according to The Intercept. Hilary Rosen, a spouse astatine SKDK, said it stopped representing the institution successful 2019 and dropped it arsenic a lawsuit implicit the spyware allegations.

A elder White House authoritative said Ms. Dunn would beryllium taxable to postgovernment restrictions that use to erstwhile national employees. That includes a two-year regularisation connected whom she contacts connected matters successful which the authorities has a “substantial interest” that was pending nether her authoritative work successful the White House.

Even with her instrumentality to the company, cipher successful the White House expects Ms. Dunn’s power successful Biden satellite to extremity completely. In fact, galore presumption her departure arsenic a little infinitesimal to respire earlier she starts to program the president’s re-election, which truthful acold he has indicated helium intends to wage.

“She’ll ever beryllium a telephone telephone away,” said Cedric Richmond, a elder advisor successful the White House.

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