Donald Trump's Kiwi 'right-hand' man Chris Liddell apparently working to salvage reputation in New Zealand

Former Labour Govt senior advisor Neale Jones called Liddell Trump's "right-hand man".
Former Labour Govt senior advisor Neale Jones called Liddell Trump's "right-hand man". Photo credit: Getty

It has been suggested that Chris Liddell, the New Zealander pulling the strings behind the scenes in President Donald Trump's administration, intends to relocate back to Aotearoa following President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20. 

But after the Capitol Hill riots on Wednesday, which many say amounted to an attempted insurrection, he may not be welcomed - and it appears the Matamata-born official is now attempting to change that.

Following Biden's triumph in the November election, the President embarked on an ongoing bid to overturn the results, alleging widespread voter fraud. Despite presenting no viable evidence to corroborate the claims in a series of doomed lawsuits, Trump - continuing to spout the unsubstantiated allegations - refused to concede defeat, maintaining he was the rightful winner. Liddell - Trump's Deputy Chief of Staff and operational head of the White House transition team - was subsequently involved in halting plans for the transition of presidential power. 

Amid last week's fracas, it was reported by multiple news outlets that Liddell was considering his resignation. However, on Friday, Trump begrudgingly confirmed there would be "an orderly transition" to Biden's presidency on January 20 - and in an interview with Newsroom, Liddell confirmed he would be staying on to ensure a smooth transition to the new administration.

Yet as Trump's political antics have become progressively more inflammatory, it appears Liddell, who joined the administration at the very beginning of Trump's incumbency in 2017, has largely been tarred with the same brush. 

Donald Trump's Kiwi 'right-hand' man Chris Liddell apparently working to salvage reputation in New Zealand
Photo credit: Getty


With recent events doing little to bolster Liddell's popularity back home, it appears the White House official is now attempting damage control. 

"Chris Liddell has been Trump's right-hand - [Trump's] lied to the American people, stoked dangerous conspiracy theories and pandered to far-right extremists," former senior political advisor to the Labour Government, Neale Jones, told Newshub on Monday. "He's disgraced himself and his country, and he should be a social pariah for his choices."

Over the weekend, a Facebook post by Auckland PR consultant and columnist, Matthew Hooton, fuelled speculation that Liddell is seeking to salvage his reputation. In the post, Hooton revealed that Liddell had initiated a call - arranged via a PR agent - following the publication of his opinion piece on Thursday, which branded Liddell as an "enabler" to Trump's undermining of American democracy. Hooton claimed the agent had first tried to contact him before the Capitol had even been fully clearly - noting it was odd that Liddell appeared to be prioritising interviews at that time. 

In the post, Hooton acknowledged that Liddell appeared to be making an effort to speak to local journalists.

"I see that Mr Liddell has spoken with other New Zealand writers or journalists in the last two days," he wrote.

"He did indicate he is concerned about his reputation. It appears he intends to return to New Zealand sometime after 20 January, which is perhaps why he is following so closely what is being written about him here.

"He offered to give me an interview when he returns to New Zealand."

PR bid

The post was quickly picked up on social media, and putting two-and-two together, commentators came to a consensus that Liddell is likely embarking on a bid to rebuild his reputation before his supposed return to New Zealand. New Zealand PR firm SweeneyVesty has since been named on Twitter as the company representing Liddell. Newshub has contacted the firm for confirmation, but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Speaking to Newshub on Monday, Auckland-based PR agent Ben Thomas wouldn't confirm on the record if Liddell is indeed a client of SweeneyVesty - however, he agreed with Hooton that the timing of Liddell's sudden interest in interviews is odd.

"His PR guys were manning the phones to try and do image interviews while there were still riots in the Capitol. That undercuts his narrative about being head down, working on the transition," Thomas said. 

"Once you see that one of his priorities - while there was a mob rampaging in the Capitol - was to do interviews back home, you start to doubt that narrative that he was trying to do the important work of helping Biden into office."

Speaking from his experience, Thomas suggested that an apology should be Liddell's first step on the pathway to redemption.

"They're trying to disassociate him from Trump - and that's a pretty big task," Thomas said. "In terms of image, the currency of the modern age is apologies. If you're not apologising and [instead] looking to justify what you're doing, that would make it much harder.

"The second thing would be to try and disassociate himself. The third thing is not so much addressing the past, but moving on - becoming involved in worthy causes, pointing out his philanthropic efforts.

"If there's one thing that social media and the Trump Twitter ban has shown, it's that the rich and powerful do care what everyday people think of them... being thought well of is clearly something that's important to [Liddell]. And now, it appears he's engaged a PR firm to try and soften his image or detach him from the chaos of the last week."

However, Thomas seemed sceptical that Liddell's apparent bid to redeem his reputation would prove successful. 

"Objectively, you'll find it pretty hard to rehabilitate his image in New Zealand following the carnage of the last few days. I think the last week has made it much more difficult for anyone from the Trump regime - let alone one of his senior advisers for the entire term he's been there - to slip back into the same circles with the same reception he would've had beforehand."

Image 'bruised' but not broken

However, Auckland-based PR representative Deborah Pead disagreed, telling Newshub that "it won't be easy to restore" Liddell's reputation, but it is "salvageable". Speaking to Newshub on Monday, Pead said it was inevitable that Liddell would continue to be a divisive figure, but the fallout of the last few days would not leave a permanent stain on his career.

"The issue is that people will question his judgement," Pead said. "He hasn't discussed his motivations for joining the Trump administration, and that to me is the missing piece."

She said that while an apology is essential, a strong, public condemnation of Trump's more controversial actions would be more significant, suggesting that whether or not an apology is required depends on Liddell's intentions as a senior player in Trump's team.

"Was serving under Trump purely a career move or for more noble intentions? He needs to explain why he served the Trump administration and justify his decisions to help us understand," Pead said.

"Liddell needs to condemn the things we saw throughout the administration that were divisive, such as the deplorable border policies. Until then, there will be little tolerance for his comeback - however, a comeback is possible. His next steps will determine how he is perceived from here."

Donald Trump's Kiwi 'right-hand' man Chris Liddell apparently working to salvage reputation in New Zealand
Photo credit: Getty

She suggested that playing a pivotal role in the transition of power - and doing so seamlessly and successfully - will be vital to rebuilding his reputation, particularly if his work receives praise from the incoming administration. 

"His reputation is not broken, but it is bruised as people will question his judgement," she said. "He needs to answer questions, participate in discussions, and play up his achievements - remind audiences of his successes.

"He could be very valuable to the incoming administration - and his experience will mean people will be interested in him and his opinions."

Pead also noted that New Zealanders are more likely to be forgiving of Liddell's past foibles as Kiwis are proud of their own - however, political commentator Jones disagreed.

"I think that he has a right to represent himself in the media and I think that for Liddell, it makes sense to play on New Zealanders being proud of our boy from Matamata - my point is we should not be proud of him," Jones argued.

He also rejected the notion that Liddell has simply been 'doing his job' as someone inside Trump's trusted inner circle.

"As someone who has been a senior political adviser to politicians in New Zealand - there's a certain point where if they cross a line, you need to decide whether to stay or not," Jones said. "Ultimately you are the right-hand - but when you're putting children in cages, systematically lying to overturn legitimate election results, inciting people to storm the Capitol building - you've got to take responsibility. If he was the good guy, trying to stop it going off the rails, he must be very bad at his job - because it's gone entirely off the rails and he was at the centre of it. "

Liddell has been nominated by the President to lead the OECD (Organisation for Economic Coordination and Development), a grouping of the world's 37 most developed nations, including New Zealand. Interviews for the role commenced this month, and as reported by Newsroom, it is unclear whether Biden will support the progression of Liddell's nomination after January 20.