THE MORNING PLUM:
What did President Trump know about Michael Cohen’s quasi-shakedown operation, and when did he know it? That’s an important question, but in this particular case, we need to add a second one: Whether Trump knew about Cohen’s efforts, to what degree did he personally benefit from them?
Thanks to major new investigative pieces by The Post and the New York Times, we now have real insight into how Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, set up a company in October 2016 called Essential Consultants, which paid off the hush money to Stormy Daniels and subsequently took in millions of dollars in fees from corporations looking for “insight” into how the Trump administration functioned.
The story is straightforward enough. After Trump’s shocking win, corporations suddenly realized they couldn’t rely on traditional lobbying channels for access, and Cohen raced to capitalize on it. He overtly marketed himself as the president’s “fixer” to potential clients, and presented himself to companies as someone who was knowledgeable about Trump’s, er, thinking on questions important to their bottom line.
The result: Companies such as Novartis (which worried about policy impacting drug prices) and AT&T (which had a proposed merger) shoveled huge sums of cash into Cohen’s shell company. They didn’t get much in return, other than a legal and P.R. headache: Last fall, they were interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Investigators from the Southern District of New York and Mueller’s team are probing what we all want to know, which is how deep Cohen’s scheme ran and how it may have involved Trump himself.
And so, with the help of Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, I’ve created a taxonomy of possible scenarios, on a spectrum of corruption from least to most serious:
Trump didn’t know nothin’ and didn’t gain much of anything. Trump lawyer (sic) Rudy Giuliani is denying that Trump knew about any of these payments to Essential Consultants. If so, it would mean that Trump was unaware of the whole scheme and the only way Trump himself benefited from the company is from its $130,000 payment to Stormy (which he appears to have reimbursed). Cohen himself may be in serious trouble — investigators are likely probing whether he offered specific government favors in exchange for the money — but it may not mean much about Trump.