Back when Michael Cohen was still the president’s personal lawyer – and, arguably, Washington’s sketchiest unregistered lobbyist – a major Trump donor promised to pay him $10 million if he successfully persuaded the White House to give said donor a $5 billion loan.
Specifically, Franklin L. Haney, a real-estate mogul and Donald Trump campaign patron, was looking for Uncle Sam to chip in on the construction of a couple nuclear reactors that he’d recently purchased in Alabama. To further that end, he offered the president’s personal attorney a monthly retainer to lobby the White House on his behalf, along with a $10 million “success fee” if the $5 billion loan came through – or so, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In a statement to the paper, Haney’s attorney denied that the mogul ever entered into such a contract. On the other hand, the Journal’s previous reporting on Cohen’s sordid, secret lobbying contracts with well-heeled business interests has all held up.
Remarkably, it’s unclear whether it is actually illegal for the president’s personal attorney to try and score a client a $5 billion loan in exchange for a $10 million kickback. As the Journal explains:
Century-old court rulings deemed fees contingent on lobbyists obtaining public funds or killing legislation unenforceable and counter to public policy, saying they encouraged corruption, he said. Several lobbyists contacted by the Journal said $10 million was an unheard-of sum to pay a consultant for government-related work.
There is no blanket federal ban on success fees being included in contracts for Washington lobbyists. And modern courts may be more disposed to such fees now that lobbying is deeply entrenched in law and policy-making and subject to stricter regulation, such as registration requirements, some lobbying experts say.
Alas, Cohen did not bother to register as a federal lobbyist. And for this, and other reasons, the FBI won a warrant to search his home, hotel and office. Those raids put an end to Cohen’s career as a lobbyist – and, by all appearances, put him on the path to an exciting new life as a stool pigeon.