The Justice Department and offices in the House and Senate that oversee the compilation of lobbying disclosure records have received a complaint from a government watchdog group over lawyer Michael Cohen’s potential violation of lobbying laws. Watchdog group Public Citizen is requesting a probe into whether Cohen willingly failed to file reports about his clients. Its complaint questions whether Cohen has violated the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Reports surfaced this week that Cohen gained a handful of corporate clients following President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. As Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Cohen reportedly promised these clients access to the new administration. The complaint reads: “The public record thus far strongly suggests that Cohen made specific solicitations to companies who had business pending before the Trump administration, proposing that he could best assist in the pursuit of their interests, which could well constitute lobbying activity.”
According to figures confirmed by the companies, corporate clients paid Cohen at least $2.95 million through a company called Essential Consultants LLC after Trump’s election. Cohen set up Essential Consultants as a shell company shortly before the 2016 election. Essential Consultants was also used to pay adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to silence her about her alleged affair with Trump.
Telecommunications company AT&T reportedly paid Cohen as much as $600,000 for his services. Cohen’s contract with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the company’s proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators. Trump had voiced opposition to the merger during the presidential campaign.
Pharmaceutical giant Novartis hired Cohen in early 2017, paying him $1.2 million over a year, but decided not to “engage further” after finding that he would be “unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated”. The complaint from Public Citizen states that “it remains entirely possible that Novartis and AT&T violated bribery laws.”
Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, said in a statement, “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.” Cohen’s business dealings are already under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.