August 16, 2022

POLITICO Playbook: Bunny Mellon’s millions at play in D.C. divorce

GOOD NEWS FOR THE ASYMPTOMATIC — On Monday, the CDC announced that people who test positive for Covid-19 and are asymptomatic only need to isolate for five days, down from the 10 previously recommended. More details from Adam Cancryn

DR. OZ HAS A ‘HOT MIC’ MOMENT — N.Y. Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi was working on a profile of MEHMET OZ, the T.V. doctor running for Senate in Pennsylvania, when she phoned his wife LISA OZ, who abruptly hung up on her. Or so she thought.

“Dr. and Mrs. Oz did not or could not hear me, and they did not realize that, rather than end the phone call, Lisa Oz had mistakenly connected her device to what sounded like the sound system of a vehicle, meaning that as they engaged in paranoid conversation and argument for more than four minutes, I remained on the line, hearing every word of it.” What they said, and much more, from N.Y. Mag

MELLON MONEY IN DIVORCE DRAMA — Millions of dollars from the estate of BUNNY MELLON, a late grand dame of D.C. social life, are up for grabs in a messy divorce between her grandson, THOMAS LLOYD, and former Trump White House Social Secretary RICKIE NICETA.

Lloyd, a wealth-management adviser who sits on the board of the Children’s Hospital Foundation and on the trustees council of the National Gallery of Art (which his family founded), has made a side-career off his grandmother’s legacy. In the last few years, he’s co-authored three books about her — “Bunny Mellon Style,” “Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon” and “Bunny Mellon Garden Journal” — two of them with BRYAN HUFFMAN, the Charlotte interior designer who famously helped Mellon funnel money to former Sen. JOHN EDWARDS (D-N.C.), which the Edwards campaign then used to cover up his affair with RIELLE HUNTER during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I never knew that [Thomas] was an authority on horticulture,” said a prominent Democratic donor who is a cousin of PAUL MELLON. “He’s going to have to sell a lot of books about gardening to pay off that post-nup.”

Bunny Mellon, a Listerine heiress who married into the Mellon banking fortune, was renowned for her philanthropy, close friendship with JACKIE KENNEDY and for designing the White House Rose Garden at President JOHN F. KENNEDY’S request. While having a presence in the D.C. social scene (her primary estate was based in northern Virginia), she was known to treasure her privacy, which is why some family members are furious over how Lloyd has attached himself to her name publicly amid a public divorce dispute, according to a relative.

In the middle of divorce proceedings, Lloyd made a splash in the society pages when he listed Mellon’s “Scallop Path” 5,000-square foot estate in Cape Cod for $19 million, citing $500,000 upkeep as a reason for offloading the property.

While the couple officially divorced in October, Niceta has argued in public court documents that Lloyd still owes her $7 million after he violated a postnuptial agreement by having an extramarital affair. The document was created in 2015 with the help of four attorneys after Niceta claimed she first discovered that Lloyd was cheating but allegedly agreed to stay in the marriage after Lloyd offered her a “monetary award” if he cheated again.

According to her court filings, Niceta discovered several years later that Lloyd was again having an affair. In doing so, Niceta argued that he activated the postnuptial agreement and therefore owed her $7 million within 90 days of her discovery of the relationship. Lloyd did not respond to several requests for comment. Contacted by Playbook, Lloyd’s alleged paramour declined to comment for this item.

Niceta filed for divorce in October 2019, and Lloyd shot back with a countersuit in which he admitted that he has “engaged in and continues to be involved in a close, intimate relationship that includes sexual relations with another woman,” while arguing that the post-nuptial agreement is invalid because it was the “product of duress and undue influence.”

Niceta, who declined to comment, resigned from her position as Trump’s social secretary on January 6 in protest of that day’s pro-Trump riots.

Good Tuesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

STATS OF THE DAY — New Yorker writer Evan Osnos’ massive new profile of influential conservative talk show host/internet personality DAN BONGINO is worth reading in full, but contains two statistics that jumped out at us as saying a lot about the state of media in 2021:

— 1) “In recent months, according to Facebook data, [Bongino’s] page has attracted more engagement than those of the Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal combined.”

— 2) And yet… “As liberals argue over the algorithm at Facebook and ponder the disruptive influence of TikTok, radio remains a colossus; for every hour that Americans listened to podcasts in 2021, they listened to six and a half hours of AM/FM radio, according to Edison Research, a market-research and polling firm.”

TRUTH STRANGER THAN FICTION — WSJ’s Joe Flint explores the sexual assault allegation that has rocked ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and finds a surprising origin. While writer JAY CARSON was doing research for the hit Apple TV+ drama “The Morning Show,” he spoke with GMA producer KIRSTYN CRAWFORD about the prevalence of sexual harassment in network news. Crawford told him that two years earlier, she was sexually assaulted by the show’s top producer, MICHAEL CORN. Carson then reported the incident to his friend, GMA anchor GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, who “told people he then informed key company executives,” Flint reports. In a lawsuit filed by Crawford, she claims that Disney and ABC officials “failed to probe [her allegations] — along with other claims of misconduct against Mr. Corn — for several years.”

THE SENATE and THE HOUSE are out.

PHOTOS OF THE YEAR

THE WHITE HOUSE

BIDEN SIGNS NDAA — On Monday, President JOE BIDEN signed the $768 defense policy bill into law “after Democrats and Republicans rejected his initial Pentagon plans and endorsed a major boost to military spending,” Connor O’Brien reports. “The enactment of the compromise National Defense Authorization Act — which was rolled out in its final form and passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly this month — marks the 61st consecutive year Pentagon policy legislation has become law.”

THUNBERG: BIDEN ISN’T LEADING ON CLIMATE — In a new interview with WaPo Magazine, climate activist GRETA THUNBERG criticized Biden, saying that “it’s strange that people think of Biden as a leader for the climate when you see what his administration is doing. The U.S. is actually expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. Why is the U.S. doing that?” The full interview

ALL POLITICS

2024 WATCH — Which prospective 2024 candidates had the best 2021? Which had the worst? Bill Scher breaks it down for POLITICO Magazine. Including assessments of: Biden, Trump, Vice President KAMALA HARRIS, Gov. RON DESANTIS (R-Fla.), Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.), Transportation Sec. PETE BUTTIGIEG, former VP MIKE PENCE, Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.), former Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-N.J.), Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-Calif.), Sen. TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.), Sen. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minn.), Gov. ROY COOPER (D-N.C.), Sen. TOM COTTON (R-Ark.), Gov. PHIL MURPHY (D-N.J.), Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-Mich.), Sen. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.), Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) and many more.

THE SHIFT EVERYONE WANTS TO UNDERSTAND — Since the 2020 election, a lot of ink has been spilled parsing what caused a substantial increase in Latino voters supporting Trump. WSJ’s Aaron Zitner looks at how that shift plays out at the local level, reporting from Reading, Pa., that “the social constraints that were once a barrier to voting Republican have eroded, in large part because the strong economy during much of Mr. Trump’s term caused many Latino voters to give the party a second look.”

DE BLASIO NEARS DECISION ON NY-GOV — In an appearance on “Morning Joe” on Monday, New York City Mayor BILL DE BLASIO said a decision on whether he’ll jump into the state’s gubernatorial race is coming “very, very soon,” Bloomberg’s Laura Nahmias reports.

POLICY CORNER

ANOTHER BIG ABORTION CASE — A federal appeals court is set to “hear oral arguments Jan. 7 in a high-profile case centered on the country’s most restrictive abortion law,” NBC News’ Dartunorro Clark reports. “The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Louisiana, scheduled the hearing after the Supreme Court this month declined to block enforcement of the Texas law known as S.B. 8 while allowing abortion providers in the state to proceed with their legal challenge.”

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

NEW YEAR, NEW COMMITTEE PHASE — The House select committee on Jan. 6 “plans to begin holding public hearings in the new year to tell the story of the insurrection from start to finish while crafting an ample interim report on its findings by summer, as it shifts into a more public phase of its work,” WaPo’s Jacqueline Alemany and Tom Hamburger write. “The rough timeline being discussed among senior committee staffers includes public hearings starting this winter and stretching into spring, followed by an interim report in the summer and a final report ahead of November’s elections.”

THE PANDEMIC

RED-STATE BENEFITS FOR REFUSING VAX MANDATES — A handful of Republican-led states — Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee — “have extended unemployment benefits to people who’ve lost jobs over vaccine mandates,” WaPo’s Aaron Gregg reports. “Workers who quit or are fired for cause — including for defying company policy — are generally ineligible for jobless benefits. But [these states] have carved out exceptions for those who won’t submit to the multi-shot coronavirus vaccine regimens that many companies now require. Similar ideas have been floated in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri.”

TRUMP CARDS

LOOKING AT TRUMP’S IMPACT — While Trump appointed a chunk of the federal judiciary during his presidency, Vox’s Ian Millhiser writes that “nearly one year into Biden’s time in office, the result hasn’t exactly been a bloodbath for his policies — in contrast to the seemingly never-ending array of lawsuits seeking to repeal Obamacare, no federal judge has yet tried to repeal Biden’s major legislative accomplishments such as the American Rescue Plan or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But in two areas in particular, immigration and public health, the courts have been unusually aggressive.”

MISCELLANY

A year-end list you didn’t know you needed, from WaPo: “The weirdest and wildest political moments of 2021.”

David French announced he has Covid.

Steve Bannon had a “game recognize game” moment, praising the work of Democratic super-lawyer Marc Elias.

Liz Bruenig continued to flex her incredible baking skills.

TRANSITIONS — Bridget Hogan is joining JPMorgan Chase as a VP for federal government affairs. She previously was a legislative director for Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.).

Frances (Holuba) Lanzone is now manager for social impact, executive engagement and philanthropy at Amazon Web Services. She most recently was founder of Chief Social Architects and is also a POLITICO and Obama White House alum.

ENGAGED — Maegan Vazquez, White House reporter for CNN, and Jonathan Monaghan, a visual artist, got engaged at their home on Dec. 19, an early Christmas when they were opening presents together before visiting their families. She opened the pickleball set he’d gotten her under the tree, and when she turned around, he was on one knee. The couple originally met on Tinder. Pic Another pic

BIRTHWEEK (was Sunday): Alexander Robson (25) … (was Monday): Brennan Bilberry

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) … NBC’s Sahil Kapur … AP’s Josh BoakSteve Castor of the House Judiciary GOP … Roll Call’s John Bennett … POLITICO’s Zach Montellaro, Han Ah-Sue and Tom Frank … E&E News’ Erica MartinsonSusanna QuinnKevin BoydEmil Henry … NPR’s Melissa BlockMaria Olson … Pinkston’s D.J. JordanSeth Wimer of Brandywine Public Affairs … Shari Yost GoldDebbie Willhite … former Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) … former Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) … Christina SevillaJacqui Bassermann of the American Red Cross … Clara Brillembourg of Foley Hoag … David Eisner … CBS’ Christa RobinsonMichael TrujilloRaquel WojnarGabrielle Wanneh … former CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger … former Arkansas Gov. Mike BeebeAdrienne Fox Luscombe

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