Every political scandal ultimately turns into a money scandal. The article of impeachment brought against President Richard Nixon included charges that he’d been party to the payment of “substantial” amounts of money to silence or influence potential Watergate witnesses. The Iran-Contra affair sluiced money from illegal arms sales to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan contras. Spiro Agnew resigned from the vice presidency while being investigated for bribery, tax fraud, and extortion.
This week, the Russia scandal vectored in that direction as Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s financial records ripped a pants seam and news of the ill-gotten cash he had deposited in his shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, gushed out. We learned that AT&T gave Cohen $600,000 for his “insights,” that Novartis dropped $1.2 million on him for political advice on “health care policy matters,” and Korea Aerospace Industries chipped in $150,000 for “legal consulting.” The most audacious money drop came from Columbus Nova—a U.S. company reportedly controlled by a Russian company controlled by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. government. Columbus Nova blew $500,000 on the besieged attorney, calling the payment a “consulting fee.” On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen pitched his consulting services to Ford, but they shut him down. On CNN, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti guessed that investigators would want to determine whether he had lied about what he could deliver. “If you lie to somebody to get their money, that’s fraud,” Mariotti said.
In an interview with HuffPost, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani asserted that the president had no idea Cohen was raking in influence bucks. “The president had no knowledge of it,” Guiliani said.
Money always leaves a trail. Dirty money leaves a trail of slime that taints everybody it touches. One unanswered question this week is whether all the consultative moolah coursing through Cohen’s LLC and moving through his “shadowy business empire” of real estate, New York City and Chicago taxi medallion holdings, and assorted investment is on the up and up. If proved dirty, will they contaminate his boss, Trump, who traditionally loves using other people’s money? And, if Cohen has committed the money crimes that some suspect of him, will special counsel Robert S. Mueller III convince him to flip on his one-time boss and testify against him? Mueller has already demonstrated his interest in the slosh of Cohen cash and deal-making on behalf of the Trump Organization to Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.