Cohen: Return of the Swamp Creature
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, adult-film 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 hangers-on 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.”