In the months following Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory, Cohen cashed in. Advertising his title as the president’s personal lawyer and his continued access to Trump, Cohen told companies that he could provide valuable “insights” into the new administration.
Huge multinational corporations lined up to purchase these “insights,” dumping millions into Essential Consultants LLC, a shell corporation that Cohen had initially set up to funnel money to a porn star.
Companies’ explanations for what they were buying from Cohen vary from the improbable to the ridiculous. Korea Aerospace Industries, a company bidding for a major U.S. defense contract, said that it knew nothing of Essential Consultants’ connection to Trump and was paying him $150,000 for advice on “accounting” practices.
This is despite the fact that Cohen’s previous business experience was primarily in personal-injury law (when he represented clients who had reportedly staged traffic accidents to defraud insurance companies), running a taxi business and scouting Trump licensing deals with sketchy partners across the former Soviet Union.
In other words: not accounting.
Whatever their stated rationale, these clients certainly appear to have been hoping that Cohen could provide them with access and influence in this administration. But the best-case legal scenario for Cohen and Trump, and one that is actually possible, given their sometimes strained relationship, may be that Cohen collected money for providing . . . no work at all.
That, in fact, is what at least one of Cohen’s clients says happened.
Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, hired Cohen because it thought he “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act,” it said in a statement. Novartis agreed to pay Cohen $100,000 a month for this service.
But after its first meeting with Cohen, “Novartis determined that Michael Cohen and Essential Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.”
And yet Novartis paid him for the duration of the contract — a cool $1.2 million — because it determined that it could terminate only “for cause.” Quoting an unnamed employee, Stat News reported that Novartis continued with the contract because it was afraid of angering Trump if it fired Cohen.
A million bucks for providing zero actual work? Enviable way to lift yourself up by your bootstraps.
Cohen is hardly the only prominent Trumpster invoking White House connections in an effort to make bank.
A year ago, representatives of the Kushner family business — at an event featuring Nicole Kushner Meyer, sister of Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner — implied to Chinese investors that an investment in a Kushner Cos. project, given the company’s connection to the White House, could guarantee a fast track to a green card. Jared Kushner resigned as chief executive of the firm when he joined the administration but continues to have a sizable stake in it.
The Kushners had also sought funding from the Qataris for the company’s massively underwater property at 666 5th Ave. in New York, including while Jared was helping to shape Trump’s Middle East policy. Kushner Cos. had (unsuccessfully) sought funding from a Chinese insurance company with ties to the government for the same struggling flagship building as well.
These are not amenities secured through brains, honesty and hard work, the virtues that Republicans traditionally say are required for upward mobility and financial comfort. They are the fruits of luck, cronyism and a loose approach to ethical lines.
It’s tempting to see all of these unsavory stories as unique to Trump, his extended family or his administration. But in fact they are illustrative of exactly the kind of economy that Trump’s party is intent on creating.
Shielding officials from public scrutiny, rolling back campaign finance law, and kneecapping enforcement of existing laws and regulations designed to protect the public are precisely the conditions that help grifters and swamp monsters thrive.
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