Schwarzman is not the only outside adviser who stands to profit handsomely from the counsel he offers the president. Trump has also tapped Carl Icahn, Rudy Giuliani and Richard LeFrak to offer advice on topics ranging from regulatory matters to cybersecurity to infrastructure — areas that overlap with their personal investments.
Icahn grabbed headlines after he advised Trump to change a federal biofuels program in a way that would benefit an oil refining company he owns. Ethics experts cried foul, arguing that Icahn was acting as a de facto government official, but the billionaire and the White House insist he is merely a private citizen.
While Trump relies on a range of executives, Schwarzman has gained an especially influential spot as of late.
A White House official and one other source familiar with the conversations said Trump spoke to Schwarzman often in the leadup to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit earlier this month, citing the friendship the Chinese leader has with the Manhattan businessman. One White House official described the conversations as Trump testing his theories and ideas about China with Schwarzman, “who kind of gave him the pros and cons of each approach,” this person said.
While China was a frequent point of contention on the campaign trail -- Trump railed against the country manipulating its currency nd ripping off America with trade deals — he didn’t have a deep knowledge of the country, one person close to Trump said.
And Trump has gone beyond economics topics with Schwarzman, asking him about the management structure inside the White House and foreign policy issues, one White House official said.
Schwarzman has never asked Trump to do anything “specifically for Blackstone or his company,” the White House official said, and the company doesn’t usually come up in conversations.
Blackstone spokeswoman Christine Anderson defended Schwarzman advising Trump.
“Just as Mr. Schwarzman has assisted presidents from both parties in the past, he has provided his views to President Trump when asked, alongside a long, bipartisan list of business leaders from around the country,” Anderson said. “His only reason for doing so is serving the common good and helping produce positive results for the American people.”
The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s also not unprecedented for executives to provide regular advice to the president that could impact their own companies and personal wealth. Former President Barack Obama regularly relied on Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, who headed up his President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, an advisory board focused on creating jobs after the recession.
Schwarzman, who was named as the chair of Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum in December, has known Trump for years. He has a palatial estate — called the Four Winds — near Trump in Palm Beach and often retreats to the Florida island on the weekends. He likes to dine at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, as he did recently as the Saturday night after the Chinese president’s visit.
Trump generally initiates the calls with Schwarzman, who has visited the White House on several occasions. One adviser said Trump respects most people who are wealthy “like him.”
That’s not the limit of Blackstone’s influence. Several senior administration officials are also close to Wayne Berman, a Blackstone executive in Washington who has been rumored as a potential replacement for chief of staff Reince Priebus. While that talk has died down, Berman frequently speaks to a range of top officials, including Steven Mnuchin, the president’s treasury secretary, one White House official said.