Dispatch May 23, 2018

OP-ED: Cohen’s Slush Fund is Not Business as Usual—But Business as Usual Needs to Change

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, sold his access to the president to multinational corporations, including one reportedly controlled by a Russian oligarch, and deposited the proceeds into a secret slush fund—the same slush fund he used to pay Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) to keep silent about an alleged affair with Trump.

Some commentators have said that at least part of this—the “selling access” part—is business as usual in the nation’s capital. (One D.C. morning newsletter introduced the Cohen story with the sensational heading “WELCOME TO THE REALITY OF WASHINGTON.”) And until more is known about how the money was solicited and used, it is also difficult to determine which aspects, if any, of Cohen’s activities actually constitute criminal behavior.

However, Cohen’s blatant influence-peddling is not “normal.” It is part of an unusually corrupt pattern of behavior by Trump’s circle of advisers that brings to mind political operators in former Soviet states, where there is little separation between business and politics. It is a mistake for anyone to shrug their shoulders and concede that this is just the way things work in today’s Washington. As it was recently put by Larry Noble, senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, “We shouldn’t normalize each new ethical low.”