Friday, May 11, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said, via a spokesperson, that letting Michael Cohen sell access to him was "the definition of draining the swamp."

Many of the companies that hired Trump's sometime-lawyer, sometime-fixer Michael Cohen for his "insight" into Trump have apologized in the last few days. AT&T's CEO called it "a big mistake." Novartis's CEO echoed the sentiment: "We made a mistake in entering into this engagement."

(The exception is the American front company for Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, Columbus Nova, which has refused to comment except to say that the company is "solely owned and controlled by Americans." This is true in a literal sense--its CEO, Vekselberg's cousin, has dual U.S./Russian citizenship--but its main purpose is as a conduit for the Putin-linked billionaire Vekselberg to do business in the United States.)

At today's press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about those public apologies, and how it reflected on Trump's promise to "drain the swamp" of moneyed interests buying influence. This exchange followed:
MS. SANDERS: I think that this further proves that the President is not going to be influenced by special interests. This is actually the definition of draining the swamp, something the President talked about repeatedly during the campaign. And for anything beyond that, I would direct you to the President’s outside counsel.

Q: Explain one way this is the definition of draining the swamp. I mean, this is companies paying for information (inaudible). 
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s pretty clear that the Department of Justice opposed the [AT& T/Time Warner] merger, and so certainly the President has not been influenced by any — or his administration influenced by any outside special interests.
Essentially, Trump is claiming (via Sanders) that because at least one of the companies seeking to buy influence with him failed to get one thing they might have wanted, it wasn't wrong to allow Cohen to sell access to him.

Sanders didn't comment on whether influence-peddling would be wrong if, for example, Trump's policies favored the pharmaceutical industry, or he showed extreme reluctance to impose legally mandated sanctions on Russians like Vekselberg.

Why should I care about this?

  • The president's time, attention, and goodwill should not be for sale.
  • Corruption is bad even if the corrupters don't get everything they want.
  • A president who actually had a problem with billionaires and corporations buying and selling government would probably have said something by now.