Play for Pay — Swampy for Sure

Terry H. Schwadron

May 12, 2018

Michael Cohen is drawing us in again.

The idea that he was parading before potential clients, in effect offering access to the White House for large amounts of cash, is pretty disgusting, if not criminal.

But the whole chapter of reports, now apparently checked and found reliable, about a shell company used to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels for silence about having had sex with Donald Trump, payments into the company by a Russian oligarch, and American companies doing business with the federal government paying Cohen’s shell company millions “to understand” the Trump approach to policy definitely stinks.

I’ve let a few days pass since reports circulated thatthat Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company for Cohen, received $500,000 from an investment firm whose biggest client was a company controlled by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg,an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. About $4.4 million was said to have passed through the previously obscure company, including payments from Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace Industries.

I had thought things would settle a bit, but they have not. The connections between the different cases involving Trump are crossing over and influencing one another. The fact that Cohen’s history as a shadowy businessman with ties to the Mob, to Russians, to the taxi business and Trump fixer has crossed into the various all-things-Russia investigation just make the scandals facing the president all the more prominent.

At the same time, Vice President Mike Pence now has stepped forward to suggest that the Special Counsel investigation has gone on too long. What? It seems that the wrong-doing knows no end.

· That the White House does not have anything to say about payoffs for access to the White House all seems a wrongly placed sense of personal loyalty that otherwise has been missing for Cohen in recent weeks. Indeed, it was more like Trump was throwing Cohen under the bus by distancing himself from Cohen’s activities on his behalf.

· That the report about Essential Consultants LLC, the shell company Cohen opened just before the 2016 election, actually was made public by Michael Avenatti, Stormy’s lawyer, is plain weird. Indeed, other than throwing mud at the denizens of Trumpland, it is unclear how this helps that particular case.

· That Trump supporters like Rudy Giuliani and Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci just label it all “opposition research,” and dismiss the reports about shell company and payments as distracting and unimportant, seems inappropriate. Trump didn’t know anything about it, they argue, which could be true.

· That Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has already talked to all these paying companies and knows all about it should send some shivers up the appropriate spines.

· That this president, who insists on going back to his campaign promises, seems to have forgotten about the strong endorsement he gave for ethics legislation to end “pay for play” that he alleged Hillary Clinton ran on behalf of Clinton Foundation donations through the State Department, is more than unfortunate. It is another sign that this guy is out for himself, not for you and me.

The allegations were broadly backed up by reporting from The New York Times and NBC News, as well as acknowledgments from some of the companies that they made payments. The investment firm, Columbus Nova, however, insisted that it was false that it had been used as a conduit by the oligarch Vekselberg. There is no suggestion that Trump himself was party to any such agreement, nor has there been any acknowledgment from Cohen’s side that he was engaged in anything unethical.

White House Press Secretary has referred all questions to the president’s lawyers, who also have remained silent about this issue while remaining very vocal in their campaign to deride the Mueller investigation. Clearly, they all want us to look away.

The president, who likes to talk about how things look — the “optics,” as the pundits call it — ought to be looking in the mirror a bit as he wonders about “negative” press coverage.

Ethics scandals abound in the Cabinet, policy scrambles abound for the government, and the president praises himself for making gut decisions rather than considered policy.

According to the Washington Post, Cohen pitched potential clients on his close association with Trump, noting that he still was the president’s lawyer, according to associates. He showed photos of himself with Trump and mentioned how frequently they spoke, even asking people to share news articles describing him as the president’s “fixer.”

“I’m crushing it,” he said, according to an associate who spoke to him in the summer of 2017.

Four million dollars? Promoting access to the White House? How could Trump not have made it his business to know? Just what swamp are we draining?


Journalist, musician, community volunteer