May 10, 2018

Public Citizen Files Ethics Complaint Against Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Alleging Violations of Federal Lobbying Laws

Lawyer Failed to Register As a Lobbyist While Soliciting Millions for Access to Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The aggressive solicitation by President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen to sell his access to the Trump White House to corporate clients may violate federal ethics and lobbying laws, and should be investigated, according to a complaint Public Citizen filed today with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The public record so far strongly suggests that Cohen made specific solicitations to companies that had business pending before the Trump administration, proposing that he could best assist in the pursuit of their interests, the complaint states. Spokespersons for Novartis and AT&T have acknowledged making financial contributions to Cohen’s Essential Consultants, with both saying the payments were meant to help them understand the new president and his administration.

“This appears to be far more than Cohen simply selling ‘political intelligence’ to corporate clients,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Cohen’s solicitations are based on the access he could provide to Trump and administration officials for paying clients. That sounds a lot like lobbying.”

“The kindest explanation of Novartis and AT&T’s actions is that they entered into incredibly stupid, sleazy and failed deals with Michael Cohen,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But the emerging evidence suggests more than just stupidity. At minimum, the arrangements appear likely to have violated lobby disclosure rules. But faced with the pay-to-play, transactional Trump administration, it remains entirely possible that Novartis and AT&T violated bribery laws.”

Public Citizen believes Cohen’s pursuit of payments for access to Trump likely is a violation of at least two federal lobby laws, specifically, the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA) and/or the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA).

“It is possible that even more nefarious violations of influence-peddling laws are at stake,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “Cohen’s corporate clients have huge financial interests at stake before the Trump administration, and they are paying exorbitant fees to Cohen. It’s hard to believe these payments are simply for some advice.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation also is considering Cohen’s receipt of corporate payments. A spokesman for Novartis admitted that the company was contacted in November by Mueller’s team. Cohen is under intense scrutiny by federal prosecutors in the state of New York but has not yet been charged with a crime.

Public Citizen’s ethics complaint against Cohen can be viewed here.

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