Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage before speaking at the Westin Portland Harborview on High Street in Portland March 3, 2016. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

About a month after the 2016 presidential election, Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump congratulating him on his “well-deserved and overwhelming” election.

But that wasn’t the only purpose of the letter. LePage, who had two years left in his second term as Maine’s governor, was also looking for a job: overseeing national welfare reform in the Trump administration.

“I’m writing to express my strong interest in a position within your administration,” LePage wrote, noting that Trump received one electoral vote in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which he dubbed “LePage Country.”

“With my personal experience growing up in severe poverty and my significant record of achievement in reforming welfare in Maine, as well as preventing the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare,” he continued, “I believe I could be instrumental as a national point person for welfare reform, working on your behalf with other states to reform their welfare programs.”

That wasn’t the only time LePage sought a position in Trump’s administration.

In summer 2017, as the governor was making frequent trips to Washington, D.C., and staying at the Trump International Hotel, he expressed “strong interest” in becoming the chief executive officer for the Millennium Challenge Corp., an independent U.S. government foreign aid organization.


“I am eager to take my experience dealing with governmental budgets as high as $7 billion, combined with my private-sector business career and my lifelong passion for helping the poor, to an international level,” LePage wrote. “Thank you for considering me for as (sic) CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.”

Details of LePage’s efforts to land a job in the administration before his term expired have not previously been reported and are contained in official records maintained by the Maine State Archives.

The documents, along with LePage’s official calendar, show LePage was actively seeking positions in the administration for himself and his allies while also waging public battles in support of Trump’s agenda, especially related to issues such as the Affordable Care Act, welfare and immigration.

LePage is seeking a third nonconsecutive term in office. He’s running against incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who clashed with LePage repeatedly when she served as attorney general, and political newcomer, Sam Hunkler, an independent who is not raising money for his campaign.

Despite declaring he was “Trump before Trump,” LePage has dodged questions from reporters about the former president and he has criticized the Department of Justice’s raid on Trump’s Florida home to recover highly classified documents.

Campaign officials did not make LePage available for an interview last week. Instead, they provided their own written statements saying LePage always planned to finish his term before starting any job with Trump and that he and his wife, Ann, had no interest in moving to Washington.


“There was no chance that Gov. LePage would ever step down prior to his term as Governor ending,” said John McGough, who was chief of staff from 2011-2018. “That’s just wishful thinking by the intelligentsia. Paul LePage took his responsibilities as a steward of the Maine people very seriously. A good example of his work ethic is that dating back to the beginning of his first term, he served as Mayor of Waterville until the very last days prior to his inauguration as Governor.”

McGough also said that it was the White House that suggested LePage lead the Millennium Challenge Corp., but the former governor decided not to pursue the position.

The letters and other archival records did not contain any indication that LePage would only accept a position at the end of his term or that the White House was actively recruiting him.

Although he didn’t end up working for Trump, LePage made several trips to D.C. for black tie dinners at the White House and to discuss issues such as welfare reform, replacing Obamacare, energy policy and national monument designations.

His 2016 letter offering to oversee national welfare reform did generate a handwritten response from Trump, which the governor received a couple weeks later.

“Paul – I’m thinking about this. Best wishes,” Trump wrote in all capital letters on top of the first page of LePage’s letter before sending it back to Maine.


Trump also highlighted a paragraph where LePage wrote that welfare reform was a key part of his two campaigns and noted that he was reelected in 2014 with “the most votes ever cast for a Governor in Maine’s history.”

“Great,” Trump wrote in the margin.

Trump’s post-presidency press office did not respond to questions about LePage’s outreach and whether the former president was supporting LePage’s reelection campaign against Mills.

That exchange with Trump about welfare reform came as LePage was facing opposition at home, not only from Democrats but also from fellow Republicans. He’d also just escaped an impeachment effort in early 2016 over his threat to withhold funding from a charter school that sought to hire one of his most vocal Democratic opponents, former House Speaker Mark Eves. LePage dismissed the impeachment effort, which failed, as a “political witch hunt that had absolutely no merit.”

LePage’s correspondence with Trump wasn’t all business.

In January 2017, he directed staff to send Trump a copy of a letter he was given by Jean “Duke” Dulac, an Augusta barber who, before his death this month, was known for his political predictions. The letter was written by a customer of Dulac’s who apologized for questioning the barber’s prediction 18 months before the election that Trump would win the presidency.


“Dear President Trump, I recently visited with a barber friend who gave me a copy of the enclosed letter,” LePage wrote by hand. “It dawned on me that you would get a kick out of it. This same barber predicted I would be elected Governor a year before the election.”

LePage’s note also directed staff to “Type on the small letterhead. He will get a kick out of it.”

The letter seeking a job overseeing national welfare reform seemed to have put LePage on the radar. Before Trump took office, congressional Republicans reached out to LePage for ideas about how to improve or replace Obamacare. LePage responded in January 2017 to specific questions from congressional leaders taking aim at able-bodied adults without dependents who received Medicaid, among other things.

Days later, LePage wrote on Jan. 17 to the administration about another issue that long-occupied his attention – allowing the state, rather than the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to regulate small hydropower facilities.

That letter preceded a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., for Trump’s inauguration at the invitation of the Republican Governors Association. LePage and his staff stayed at the Hyatt Place Washington.

The following month, LePage would write the first of several letters of recommendation for people seeking positions in the Trump Administration.


On Feb. 2, he wrote on behalf of Lance Henderson, who LePage said was critical to his reelection campaign, responsible for direct mail, telemarketing and overseeing seven field offices and a staff of three dozen people. The letter described Henderson as “quite capable and extremely loyal.”

“This guy is great,” LePage neatly wrote by hand in cursive at the end of the letter next to his signature.

LePage would also provide letters of recommendation for Sen. Rick Bennett on March 20, 2017 (LePage highlighted Bennett’s experience working with businesses in Singapore), and for Mary Mayhew, his former Health and Human Services chief who oversaw his welfare reforms, on June 28, 2018. LePage’s letters suggest Mayhew was seeking a position as an undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while Bennett was being recommended for a State Department job in the Asia-Pacific region.

LePage again emphasized loyalty when recommending Mayhew.

“Mary was a superstar who accomplished very difficult reforms in the face of withering attacks from the media, social service activists and special interest groups,” he said. “She is a tough, loyal and can-do administrator who is dedicated to crafting and implementing good public policy.”

After the inauguration, LePage would return to D.C. in late February, this time staying four nights at the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown hotel. He was there to attend the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, its executive roundtable and related corporate events. His official schedule included a meeting with the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Association, which he chaired. Talking points for the event focused on offshore energy exploration and production, primarily oil and gas.


While in D.C., LePage was invited to have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at the vice president’s residence. He was scheduled to hold a breakout session on welfare reform for CPAC, or the Conservative Political Action Conference, as well as an in-studio interview with Fox News.

His trip included a morning meeting scheduled at the White House with President Trump, as well as a meeting with other governors, Trump, Pence and Cabinet officials. That evening, LePage and his wife were invited to a black tie dinner with Trump and his wife, Melania.

Less than two weeks later, LePage wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan to say Republicans were not going far enough to repeal and replace Obamacare.

LePage called for  a “truly conservative, free-market replacement of Obamacare that would completely roll back Medicaid expansion for non-disabled adults and provide Medicaid to states in the form of block grants.”

“The American people have sent a clear message to Washington, D.C., that they are no longer willing to tolerate half-measures and politicians who don’t keep their promises,” LePage said. “This movement resulted in the improbable election of perhaps the most reform minded, anti-establishment president in modern history.”

LePage included details of his upbringing in his letter to Ryan.


“I am the walking symbol of the American Dream,” he wrote. “My transition from childhood homelessness to managing one of the state’s most respected businesses had absolutely nothing to do with government handouts and everything to do with hard work and persistence.

“That is the story I tell limousine liberals who say I don’t have empathy for the poor because I veto Medicaid expansion bills,” he added.

LePage may not have benefited from welfare programs, but he did receive help along the way, including from businessmen who helped him get into college and paid his freshman year tuition.

LePage was back in D.C. two days after writing to Ryan, and this time had separate meetings about replacing Obamacare with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who founded the conservative Freedom Caucus and would later become Trump’s chief of staff.

During that two-day visit to D.C., LePage stayed at the Holiday Inn. But on several future trips, he would stay at the Trump International Hotel, a move that would later entangle LePage in Trump’s emolument’s lawsuit.

In his final two years in office, LePage and his staff stayed at the Trump hotel about a dozen times, booking 40 rooms and spending at least $22,000, according to documents obtained by the Press Herald in 2019. Prices of the rooms for LePage, his staff and security detail ranged from $362 to $1,100 a night.


Watchdogs were concerned that Trump was using the hotel to make money off his presidency and that officials traveling to D.C. would stay there to curry favor with the president. The cost of the rooms also was flagged by the state controller’s office for exceeding the maximum allowance.

During his two-day visit, LePage was also scheduled to meet with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and Paul Winfree, the deputy assistant to the president, deputy director of the domestic policy council and director of budget policy. The meetings focused on welfare reform.

About a week after his trip to D.C. to discuss welfare reform, LePage wrote Ryan again, calling for “courage, leadership and vision” in repealing Obamacare.

While LePage participated in welfare reform discussions at the highest levels, he never landed the position he sought overseeing national reform. So he set his sights on the Millennium Challenge Corp. job. His pitch cited his conservative credentials as a “budget hawk” and his previous experience as a retail store manager and “turnaround specialist” in the pulp and paper industry.

He highlighted his fluency in French and his travel history as governor – to Morocco, China, Colombia, Japan, Iceland, Finland, Canada and other countries. He also returned to his 2014 reelection, again stressing that he received the most votes of any governor in Maine history. 

At the time, LePage was engaged in an increasingly public battle with Attorney General Mills, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and joining national lawsuits opposing Trump’s immigration policies.


LePage supported both Trump’s travel ban on people from Muslim-majority countries and his efforts to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that removes the threat of deportation for people who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Records from the LePage administration highlight the governor’s early opposition to the program, created by President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2012. LePage expressed an interest in a 2014 lawsuit filed by Greg Abbott, who was the Texas attorney general at the time, alleging that Obama had exceeded his executive authority.

“I believe in executive action – but do not believe that the President can act like an emperor,” LePage wrote on a post-it note to staff. “Let’s join the lawsuit, I believe they are overstepping.”

LePage also wanted to send a strong message that Maine would comply with Trump’s executive order prohibiting people from Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S.

In January of that year, LePage was forwarded an email that the University of Southern of Maine sent to its student body, explaining the so-called travel ban and telling students what resources were available to them.

LePage laid out his directives in a handwritten note to an adviser.


“It is critical that make it clear that the Univ. System must abide by immigration laws,” LePage wrote. “If they fail they will feel the brunt in there (sic) budget and litigation. Be sure to abide by the laws of the country. P.”

LePage also wrote to Trump about other issues, including lowering the drinking age to 18. That 2017 letter came on the heels of the Maine Legislature overturning his veto of a bill that raised the legal smoking age to 21.

LePage strongly believed that someone should be considered an adult at the age of 18 and wanted the laws to be consistent. He asked Trump to end the practice of withholding highway funds for states that lower the drinking age to 18. If not, he said, the minimum age to vote and serve in the military should be raised to age 21.

LePage’s message to Trump was similar to one he delivered to Republicans who voted to overturn his veto.

“If a person is not adult enough to decide whether to buy beer and cigarettes at age 18, then they certainly are not adult enough to decide how to vote or go to war,” LePage wrote to Trump, adding that he does not encourage the use of alcohol or tobacco. “If we can send our young adults to war at 18, then we should at least allow them to buy a beer.”

As time went on, LePage appeared to question why Trump was not acting on any of the issues he raised. An undated letter, typed on paper that does not include the governor’s official letterhead, raises the prospect that Trump’s priorities were being blocked from within his own administration.


“President Trump, I have submitted several requests to your administration that are of vital importance to the State of Maine, but they have not been acted upon,” LePage wrote. “I believe efforts by your Cabinet to assist with these issues are being thwarted by ‘deep state’ bureaucrats.”

His campaign did not respond to a question about whether the letter was actually sent.

Although he never landed a position in the administration and didn’t get his policy priorities addressed by Trump, LePage looked back wistfully on his two years of working with Trump and his administration. LePage expressed an ongoing interest in serving.

The day after Christmas in 2018 as LePage was preparing to leave office, he again put pen to paper to write Trump. The original draft of the letter was written on a Maine Military Authority notebook and later typed up on official letterhead.

“As my time as governor winds down, I want you to know what an honor and a privilege it has been to know you and work with you,” LePage wrote. “Never in my life could I have imagined coming from the streets to become a governor, culminating with meeting and working with a person of your caliber. Thank you.”

LePage told Trump that America is on the move and that the president is “making America great again,” a nod to Trump’s slogan. And he wished the president and his family a happy holiday.

“If ever I can serve you again – just call on me,” LePage said.


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