Cohen:

Re­turn of the Swamp Crea­ture

The Week (US) - - News 17 -

Don­ald Trump won the pres­i­dency promis­ing to “drain the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton, said USA To­day in an ed­i­to­rial. In­stead, he is cre­at­ing “whole new wet­lands.” We all learned last week that Michael Cohen, Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, made mil­lions of dol­lars af­ter the elec­tion by promis­ing blue-chip com­pa­nies ac­cess to and in­sights about the pres­i­dent. Cohen’s re­tain­ers— paid into Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants, the same shell com­pany he used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels—in­cluded $1.2 mil­lion from drug­maker No­var­tis, $600,000 from AT&T, and $500,000 from Colum­bus Nova, an in­vest­ment firm linked to a Rus­sian oli­garch. In­flu­ence ped­dling this bla­tant is “an eth­i­cal mon­stros­ity,” said Eric Le­vitz in NYMag.com, yet also per­fectly le­gal. And the com­pa­nies who paid Cohen seem to have got­ten lit­tle in re­turn. No­var­tis said it re­al­ized he’d be un­able to help them only a month into their con­tract; AT&T de­scribed his hir­ing as a “big mis­take.” But if any of this money made its way to Trump, or was used to pay off mistresses, it would be “the slim­i­est pay-to-play scan­dal in the his­tory of the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency.”

These firms paid Cohen for a rea­son, said Chris Cil­lizza in CNN.com. “No one thought Trump would win” in 2016, and his mot­ley campaign team in­cluded few well-con­nected Belt­way denizens. So when Trump tri­umphed, big cor­po­ra­tions fell into a “panic” about their lack of ac­cess. What’s harder to ex­plain, how­ever, said Alexis Madri­gal in TheAt­lantic.com, is why Cohen di­rected ma­jor com­pa­nies like AT&T and No­var­tis to write such big checks to a shell corporation based in Delaware. Amer­i­cans know that “pow­er­ful in­ter­ests pay for ac­cess to politi­cians, but they likely do not ex­pect the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal lawyer to com­min­gle the money of cor­po­ra­tions, adult­film ac­tresses, and oli­garchs.” Is there some­thing about this shake­down that we don’t yet know— and that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors will dis­cover?

Cohen may be a “sleazy in­flu­ence ped­dler,” said Jonathan Tur­ley in USA To­day, but he’s noth­ing new in Wash­ing­ton. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s hang­er­son had their own acro­nym—“FOB, or Friends of Bill”—and the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion was essen­tially a ve­hi­cle to curry fa­vor with Bill and Hil­lary. Trump should take full blame for fail­ing to drain the swamp, but let’s not pre­tend Democrats will ever clean up the cap­i­tal, ei­ther. “Try­ing to bar the sell­ing of ac­cess in Wash­ing­ton is like try­ing to ban corn sales in Iowa.”

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