Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He refused to comment on why major international businesses and at least one Russian oligarchs were paying his "fixer" to do nothing.

Yesterday, Stormy Daniels' lawyer released documents showing millions of dollars flowing into the same shell company that Trump's attorney Michael Cohen used to pay hush money to cover up Daniels' sexual affair with Trump. "Essential Consultants," which was created in October of 2016 in order to make that payout anonymously, almost immediately started taking in millions of dollars in billings. The clients for Cohen's "services" were companies ranging from AT&T, the drug company Novartis, a scandal-plagued Korean aerospace company looking for federal defense contracts, and the US front company for the Putin-linked Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The most charitable interpretation is that this was a case of "pay for play," and that Trump was permitting Cohen to effectively sell Trump's attention and good favor on the open market. This is not, strictly speaking, illegal--although before the Trump administration it was rarely openly admitted. (Trump, of course, was opposed to the practice as a candidate when he thought he could pin it on Hillary Clinton.) 

The more damning possibility is that Cohen was funneling some of that money to Trump himself, or Trump's businesses, which would be bribery. 

Asked repeatedly about the matter at today's press briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders--mindful of the dangers of speaking too specifically about Trump's murky relationship with the man who pays his hush money--essentially refused to rule out either possibility.
Q Let me ask you this question, Sarah. The confidential financial records of Michael Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, were made public, prompting the Treasury Department’s Office the Inspector General to launch an investigation as to how that happened. 
But among the records were payments from AT&T to a person very close to the President at a time when AT&T was looking for government approval of a proposed merger with Time Warner. There were also payments of over $1 million from Novartis Pharmaceuticals at a time that the President was talking about doing something to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals. 
Is the President concerned about any aspect of what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours? 
MS. SANDERS: As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation, I would refer you to the President’s outside special — or outside counsel to address those concerns. 
Q But is the President concerned that major corporations were giving money to somebody very close to him at a time when they had business before the federal government? 
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t heard the President express any specific concerns about that.
Q Sarah, do you believe that Michael Cohen was ever in any way qualified to provide insights into this administration? 
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into somebody else’s qualifications. That’s something that an independent company that hires an individual would have to make that determination, not me. 
Q But let me ask you this — because what we know is Michael Cohen received millions of dollars, apparently peddling the insights that he said he could provide into this administration to America’s largest corporations. Is the President in any way embarrassed or ashamed of that? Because it seems to be the definition of swampy behavior — 
MS. SANDERS: I think that would be up to those individuals who make the decision to hire someone, just the same way that the companies that you work for make the decision to determine whether or not they think that you’re qualified to serve in a position. That’s the decision of an independent company and has nothing to do with the White House.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I’m happy to take the answer from the private counsel also, but I have made efforts and haven’t been able to. So I’ll pose it publicly, and if you can address it, I’d appreciate it. 
Do you know whether Mr. Cohen ever approached the White House as a representative of any of those companies, whether the President was aware of the payments, or whether he was aware that Mr. Cohen was marketing himself that way? 
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware. And again, I would refer you to the outside counsel.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President promised to drain the swamp. So does he feel it’s appropriate that Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, was selling access to him? 
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to weigh in on this. That’s a determination that individual companies have to make, and I haven’t spoken with the President. 
Q But, Sarah, based on what you know — you’re the Press Secretary, and you’re standing there at the podium. Based on what you know and what’s been revealed over the past 24 hours, does the President think it’s appropriate that his personal attorney was selling access to him, given that he promised to drain the swamp? 
MS. SANDERS: Again, I am purposefully — as has our team — we are not engaging in matters and this process at all. And I would refer you to the outside counsel for anything that has anything to do with Michael Cohen or others.

Anticipating questions like this may be why Trump threatened this morning to revoke press access to the White House altogether.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • The president's schedule and good will should not be for sale.
  • If this isn't corruption, nothing is.