I’ve been out of the loop for awhile, for a bunch of personal and work reasons, but hope to be reporting regularly from The Swamp again soon. I confess I’m finding the current media coverage about companies paying Michael Cohen to curry favor with Donald Trump to be a bit over the top.
Not that there shouldn’t be outrage. AT&T, Novartis, Columbus Nova and other firms were clearly paying Cohen large sums of money as a way of seeking favor with the Trump administration. The payments, in short, were payoffs to Cohen offered in hopes of gaining access to and influence with Trump.
But this is the way Washington politics has worked for a long time, under Democratic as well as Republican presidents. Trump era corruption may be crasser than what previously existed — “Trump is not even bothering to hide how he is using the presidency to enrich himself,” Ryan Cooper noted in The Week — but to think that it’s fundamentally different is willful naiveté.
There were plenty of Democratic influence peddlers who operated in similar fashion to Cohen during the Obama years. One shining example is Tony Podesta, the lobbyist and fundraiser, and brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Tony’s lobby shop recently collapsed, as detailed in this excellent Wall Street Journal story, but he and his brother had ties to the top in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Barrack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. The next day Tony’s Podesta Group reported well more than $1 million in revenue from several dozen firm, among them Amgen, Boeing, BP, Corrections Corporation of America and General Dynamics.
OK, these were pre-existing clients but they knew that paying Podesta’s lobbying firm guaranteed them access to the new administration. And the Podesta Group’s revenues rose from about $12 million in 2008, the year Obama was elected, to $30 million in 2010.
The main difference is that the Trump administration operates with all the subtlety of Goodfellas, while Democrats prefer the Corleone family model (after Sonny gets whacked and Michael takes charge). But it’s still the same operating system: Those who pay, play.