At a campaign rally last night, Donald Trump wasn't kidding when he declared, "Under my administration, we're fighting against the lobbyists, the special interests, and the corrupt Washington politics."
The president's timing could've been better. Trump, for example, has tapped a small army of lobbyists to work in his administration, many of whom help implement policy in the same areas in which they used to lobby. One of the president's cabinet officials, meanwhile, recently told a room full of wealthy bankers that the key to lobbying success in the Trump era is writing big checks to buy influence with policymakers.
And, of course, much of Trump World is the subject of ongoing investigations, raising the specter of Trump's presidency being the most corrupt in a generation.
But the comments were especially ill-timed because while Trump was taking a rhetorical stand against corrupt Washington politics, we were learning new details about the president's personal lawyer receiving undisclosed lobbying payments -- through a shell company used to pay hush money to a porn star -- from corporate giants hoping to influence his client in the Oval Office.
The fallout from the controversy continues to unfold. NBC News reported today:
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said hiring President Donald Trump's personal lawyer as a consultant was "a big mistake," according to a company memo sent on Friday.The telecom giant hired attorney Michael Cohen, who has worked for Trump in a personal role for years, for advice on its pending merger with Time Warner. The company has said it paid Cohen $600,000 to gain "insights" into the president's thinking. The memo was first reported by Reuters.
The company, which changed its story more than once this week, described the Cohen contract as "a big mistake" and "a serious misjudgment."
The telecom giant added that its top lobbyist, who was responsible for hiring Cohen, is stepping down from his position.
As for Novartis, the pharmaceutical company, it paid Cohen's shell company, Essential Consulting, $1.2 million -- quadruple its rate for actual lobbyists -- ostensibly for health care consulting. It, too, now regrets the contract.
Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan told employees in an internal memo Thursday that "yesterday was not a good day" for the company, after the pharmaceutical giant revealed that it paid $1.2 million to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.Narasimhan said "we made a mistake" in entering a contract in February 2017 with Cohen through his company, Essential Consultants, for guidance "as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters."
As for whether the undisclosed lobbying payments constituted attempted bribery, an NBC News analysis today added, "The corporate payments to Essential Consultants, Cohen's one-man Delaware company also used to pay off adult film actress Stormy Daniels, do not appear to fit squarely within the definition of bribery or extortion under federal law. But they are getting very close."
Those are words corporate lawyers and public-relations teams generally try to avoid.
It's a good thing Trump and his associates are fighting against the lobbyists, the special interests, and the corrupt Washington politics, right?