Trump fixer Michael Cohen last year shook down major corporations for cash in exchange for promised access to President Donald Trump -- but were his actions illegal?
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, this week talked with the Washington Post's Greg Sargent to outline the range of possibilities for just how dirty Cohen's pay-for-play operation was, including one scenario that involves Cohen funneling corporate cash directly to the president himself.
In this scenario, Cohen's Essential Consultants LLC would serve as a "pass through" entity that would send a portion of its earnings to either Trump personally or to Trump's businesses. In fact, argues Bookbinder, this kind of scheme wouldn't be too much different from foreign officials who are trying to curry favor with Trump by staying at his hotels.
"If it were to turn out that the president had some kind of interest in Essential Consultants, it wouldn’t be so different from everything else that’s going on, in the sense that he’s got all these businesses that people who want to impress him are giving money to," he said. "If the payments are linked to efforts to influence a specific action, that could become bribery."
Of course, even if Cohen were to be guilty of running a bribery scheme, it would be more difficult to prove that Trump himself had direct knowledge of such plans.