Thursday, May 10, 2018


Michael Cohen might go to prison -- or need a presidential pardon to avoid going -- but his story, or at least this aspect of it, won't upset any American apart from those of us who already despise President Trump and his circle:
Armed with the self-appointed title of “personal attorney” to the president, Mr. Cohen, who had served as a personal-injury lawyer and owned a taxi business, became seen as the man who could help others gain access to the seat of power.... Major corporations including AT&T, Novartis and the law firm Squire Patton Boggs collectively paid him over $2 million for advice about navigating the suddenly foreign terrain of Mr. Trump’s Washington....

Novartis, the Swiss drug maker, said it had paid Mr. Cohen $1.2 million after he approached the company early last year promising insights into Mr. Trump’s views on health care. AT&T, which has been pursuing a major corporate merger, said it had paid him $600,000 for advice on regulatory matters....

It is not clear what Mr. Cohen delivered for clients. One cut short his contract, while another paid him even after concluding that he could not provide the services he had promised.
Why won't that upset people? Isn't it shockingly corrupt? Isn't this what ordinary people mean when they talk about "the swamp"? And what did Cohen do for the money? He wasn't a registered lobbyist. He has no expertise on any of the issues relevant to these companies.

I've quoted from a New York Times story. You'll note that AT&T -- which wants to merge with Time Warner, parent company of CNN, a news organization Trump despises -- paid $600,000 to Cohen's Essential Consultants LLC. Read further into the story and you learn this:
... AT&T donated $2 million to the inauguration festivities and an additional $80,000 for telecom equipment used during the event.
That's more money than AT&T gave Cohen, and it was a gift, not a payment for services rendered -- but this donation was not only perfectly legal, it was routine and not considered at all newsworthy. If you expect Americans to be scandalized by what seems like an illegal bribe paid to Cohen, this is legal bribery.

As a Daily Beast story notes, what Cohen offered is hardly unprecedented:
Ethicists say that the advocacy practiced by President Trump’s longtime right-hand man and fixer speaks to a phenomenon that good government groups call “shadow lobbying.” It’s the practice of influencing policy and policymakers through activity informal enough to fall short of the legal definition of “lobbying.” An army of consultants, government relations executives, and “political intelligence” professionals earn tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars each year through such soft advocacy, and none of its activities are disclosed to the public....

Cohen ... appears not to have been retained for actual advocacy but for access. According to CNN, his pitch to investors boiled down to: “I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the president. I’m his personal lawyer.”

It may be the type of setup that gets Trump’s longtime aide off the hook, legally, in so far as Cohen can plausibly claim that he never functioned as a lobbyist per se.
This is just a Trumpy version of business as usual. It seems bad, but no worse than what goes on in Washington in a normal political climate. Apart from Trump-haters, I don't expect the public to care, even if some of the money went to a porn star -- a story the non-Trump-hating public also seems to be shrugging off.

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