Corporations’ lies keep shifting on pay-for-play with Trump
Donald Trump holds $1,000,000 in the vault of his Atlantic City casino in 1990. The latest revelations suggest millions of dollars more in payments from corporate clients have flowed through front company accounts set up by Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen. | "Harry Benson: Shoot First" Press Materials / Magnolia Pictures

It took less than 48 hours after the lawyer for a pornography star suing Donald Trump released documents alleging a massive pay-for-play scheme involving major U.S. corporations and the president for the companies mentioned to fess up.

Michael Avenatti, lawyer for the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who is suing Donald Trump, released his bombshell report Tuesday night, alleging that more than $3 million had been paid into a phony shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., by corporations and individuals seeking to buy access to President Trump. Within 24 hours, proof emerged that it was actually more than $4.4 million that flowed through that account—and only hours after that, it was learned that even that figure was probably low-balling the amount of money involved.

Admissions by the companies themselves that they paid money into Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s shell company verified the initial Avenatti allegations. Even more shocking than their confessions, however, were the constantly changing stories and lies that accompanied them.

Korea Aerospace, which was angling for a big U.S. government contract to build warplanes, first issued a statement that it “didn’t know” that the shell company to which it had given the money had any connection to Trump. The company’s spokespeople claimed they were paying Cohen for advice on regulations that govern corporations in the U.S. Cohen is known well as Trump’s fixer or bagman, and the idea that a major corporation would hire someone who publicly threatens people he opposes in court with making their lives “f—in’ miserable” is ridiculous at best.

The Avenatti documents alleged that AT&T was another company that paid money (initially $200,000) to the Cohen shell company to buy influence with Trump. The company confessed that it actually paid three times that amount—$600,000—to Cohen to share his “expertise” on regulatory reform. They changed that explanation about four hours after their communications director released it and said instead that they made the payments to gain insight “into the mind and the inner workings of Donald Trump.”

The company accompanied that hilarious statement with an explanation that it had paid Cohen $50,000 a month for 12 months and that it had been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and were “cooperating” with his investigation. At no point did AT&T admit their most likely reason for paying Cohen: to buy influence with the government for a favorable ruling on a corporate merger they were seeking.

Novartis, the drug giant, at first said its decision to pay Cohen was made by a former CEO who is no longer with the company. The corporation said it continued to pay Cohen for consultation regarding health care policy.

It would seem, if these companies are to be believed, that Cohen, the president’s bagman, is a Renaissance Man—someone like Benjamin Franklin, a jack of all trades. They have variously paid him for his expertise in corporate governance, psychology, telecom regulation, health care policy, and perhaps more.

Half a day later, Novartis changed their story and said, incredibly, that they had actually paid Cohen for nothing. The company said it realized several months into the deal that he was not giving them anything worthwhile.

That left Novartis with having to explain why, after realizing that they had paid him for “nothing,” they continued send cash his way for another eight or nine months.

Three different explanations were still not enough for Novartis, so last night they issued a fourth explanation saying the whole episode was a “mistake” but that they couldn’t get out of their contract with Cohen because it didn’t have an escape clause.

Can anyone really believe that a major corporation like Novartis would operate that way? The fact that Trump got the Novartis CEO a place at a dinner for the top 15 global corporate executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland was not mentioned at all in the company’s explanations. Nor did they mention anything about their hopes for expeditious approval of the drug patents they had pending before the U.S. government.

Corporations were not alone in lining up to pay-for-play by paying Cohen.

Viktor Vekselberg, the internationally active Russian oligarch and gangster, put a hefty $500,000 into the hands of Trump’s bagman.

The lies and the obfuscation by big corporations, the president, his bagman, and the assortment of oligarchs and gangsters with which they cavort shouldn’t surprise any of us by now, of course. It will be interesting to learn, however, whether the Cohen shell company was set up by Trump and his lawyer to sell access or whether it was set up for them by gangsters, oligarchs, and corporations to buy control over the White House and the U.S. government.

Either way, it’s pretty horrible, but it’s just about what we can expect when the capitalist system is allowed to operate unchecked.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.