Fixer sold snake oil to drugmaker
Michael Cohen has worn his selflessness on his sleeve while trying to explain why he fronted the $130,000 hush-money payoff for Stormy Daniels. “I will always protect Mr. Trump,” he said in February.
But Cohen was cashing in on Donald Trump, too. Among the newly disclosed transactions that flowed into the shell company he used to pay Daniels was $1.2 million from the drugmaker Novartis. So how did Trump’s fixer make that score?
“He promised access to the new administration,” Eric Althoff, a Novartis spokesman, told ABC News. The mark was then-CEO Joe Jimenez, and the entrée Cohen offered was to Trump and his inner circle, according to an account in STAT, a pharma industry trade journal.
For the $1.2 million, Novartis said in a statement, it had one meeting with Cohen, determined he “would be unable to provide the services” he advertised, and never went back to him. But it was stuck with the contract. Novartis also said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has asked about its payment.
Sound kind of swampy? Asked whether Trump had expressed any concerns about reports Cohen was selling access to him and his administration, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: “I haven’t heard the president express any specific concerns.” She dodged most other Cohen questions.
Have influence, will peddle
Cohen’s sale pitch wasn’t exactly subtle, a GOP strategist told CNN, describing it as something like this:
“I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the president. I’m his personal lawyer.”
Other clients he landed included AT&T, which said it hired Cohen to gain “insights” into the new president and administration.
Rudy: Not our problem
Just a day earlier, Rudy Giuliani said that in his federal prosecutor says, he wouldn’t target “respectable people” like Cohen with early-morning raids to execute search warrants.
On Wednesday, Giuliani put more distance between his client, Trump, and Cohen.
“There’s not involvement of the president in any of that,” he told HuffPost. “We can’t be responsible for what Michael Cohen is doing.”
Giuliani also conceded that he wouldn’t have liked it as mayor of New York if his personal lawyer accepted big bucks for access to the mayor’s office. “I wouldn’t be happy about it. But I wouldn’t be investigated for it,” he said.
Giuliani also told Time that he spoke to Trump about the payments to Cohen, including the $500,000 from a company tied to a Russian oligarch, and the president said, “I don’t know anything about it.”
Janison: The rule of raw
The art of speaking circumspectly, or not at all, seems to be lost on many of the players in Trump-related investigations, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Trump himself has “no collusion!” and “witch hunt” on an endless loop. Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have rocketed to fame. Giuliani is churning out quotes, some of them bizarre, on an almost daily basis.
Who’s sticking with old-fashioned “no comment” about just about everything? Mueller’s office, that’s who.
Trump triumphantly announced that three U.S. citizens long detained by North Korea had been released and were expected to arrive back in the United States early Thursday morning on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s plane.
“I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!” Trump tweeted. That meant going to Joint Base Andrews for the plane’s estimated landing time of 2 a.m.
“I appreciate Kim Jong Un for doing this,” the president said. The Trump administration had been pressing for the release of the prisoners ahead of a high-stakes summit between Trump and the North Korean leader. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
She sees what IC sees
Much of the confirmation hearing of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel focused on her role in the agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” of terrorism suspects. But it was notable her views on Russia lined up more squarely with the intelligence community than the president.
Haspel said she agreed with their conclusion, and that of the Senate intelligence committee that questioned her Wednesday, about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
On the torture question, Haspel said that she doesn’t believe it works as an interrogation technique and would not bring it back even if the president ordered it.
“I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal,” she said.
Why isn’t press box cheering?
It’s not the flatter-me-First Amendment, but Trump wondered Wednesday whether he should “take away credentials” to retaliate for news coverage that’s too faint with the praise.
The tweet: “Despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt?”
Asked about the tweet at her briefing, Sanders said, “We’re very committed to a free press, and I think that we demonstrate that every single day.”
What else is happening
- Does Trump believe he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for the thaw with North Korea? “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” he told reporters.
- The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether Daniels’ lawyer Avenatti got confidential banking information involving Cohen’s company through a leak, The Washington Post reported.
- Giuliani seemed to have steadied his standing with Trump, if Sanders’ comment Wednesday is an accurate indicator. The president thinks he’s doing “a fine job,” she said, and Giuliani will be “happy” to give more interviews on questions that she won’t answer.
- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who argued against it, has fallen in line behind Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. But Mattis still hopes the European allies can address its shortcomings and “make it more compelling.”
- The Trump administration is leaning hard on European businesses to end their dealings with Iran or face U.S. sanctions themselves.
- Six Democratic senators have asked billionaire investor Carl Icahn, a Trump friend, and EPA chief Scott Pruitt to explain how an Icahn-owned refinery won a hardship waiver from the agency.
- Trump tweeted his satisfaction over Tuesday’s primary results, including the defeat of ex-jailbird coal baron Don Blankenship’s bid for the Senate nomination from West Virginia. “All candidates are those who have a great chance of winning in November,” Trump said.