Federal prosecutors on Friday provided new details on the extent of former Donald Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s attempts to cash in on his access to President Trump, detailing more than $4 million that Cohen extracted from major corporations in return for his supposed insight into White House policy making.
According to prosecutors, Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to eight federal criminal charges, immediately sought to monetize his connections to Trump in the wake of his former boss’ 2016 election victory.
“Cohen successfully convinced numerous major corporations to retain him as a ‘consultant’ who could provide unique insights about and access to the new administration,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed on Friday. “Some of these corporations were then stuck making large up-front or periodic payments to Cohen, even though he provided little or no real services under these contracts. Bank records reflect that Cohen made more than $4 million dollars before the contracts were terminated.”
Among Cohen’s confirmed consulting clients were telecom giant AT&T, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, and Columbus Nova, the investment fund linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
But Cohen had contact with at least one more previously unreported and politically connected individual.
Two individuals familiar with the relationship told The Daily Beast that Cohen met, or spoke to, Imaad Zuberi, a venture capitalist and a major Obama donor, in 2016 and 2017. Those sources said Zuberi initially spoke with Cohen about his plans to attend Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and inquired about access to high-level events. Zuberi had been told that he would need to pay upward of $1 million to attend the events, where he would rub shoulders with senior administration officials including President-elect Trump himself.
Zuberi had already donated more than $900,000 to the inaugural committee and spoke with Cohen about the inaugural schedule, according to sources with first-hand knowledge of those conversations.
Cohen told Zuberi that he [Cohen] would be involved in the new administration's federal infrastructure spending plans, according to two sources with knowledge of the fund’s management. Proposals for that spending at the time ranged from $500 billion to $1 trillion, and Cohen used the fund as a vehicle to peddle Trump administration influence. According to a report in The Intercept, Cohen asked Qatari government officials in late 2016 to chip in $1 million to the infrastructure fund in exchange for access to the Trump administration. That offer was apparently declined, but Cohen asked others for similar donations, according to those sources, and spoke with Zuberi about the fund.
Zuberi, who does business all over the world, including in Qatar and with that government, spoke with Cohen before and after the inauguration about potential business opportunities the two could embark upon during a Trump administration, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversations. According to those sources, Cohen asked Zuberi to be included as a lawyer on a Manhattan real estate project. One individual said that deal never went forward.
Zuberi was also in contact with Elliott Broidy, the former RNC finance chairman, according to two sources with knowledge of the meetings. Broidy and Zuberi spoke about potential business.
After publication, a spokesperson for Zuberi reached out to The Daily Beast with the following statement:
“Cohen never said he would be involved in government nor managing any infrastructure fund, nor did Cohen solicit Zuberi for any such hypothetical fund. Imaad had three brief conversations with Cohen, two of them very brief. Zuberi never donated to such a fund and no such fund has ever existed, even to this day. Zuberi also did not talk to Broidy about business until 2018 and nothing came of those conversations, either.”
Broidy hired Cohen to arrange a $1.6 million payout to a former Playboy model in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter. Two other payoffs to alleged Trump mistresses Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were at the center of felony campaign finance violations to which Cohen admitted as part of his plea deal. In the sentencing memo on Friday, prosecutors said that those payoffs were undertaken “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump.
Prosecutors described Cohen’s consulting business as just one part of a decades-long career marked by deception and greed. They implored the judge in the case to impose a sentence serious enough “to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”Franklin Haney, the developer of a nuclear energy project in Tennessee, agreed to pay Cohen $10 million to help secure federal backing for that project, the Wall Street Journal reported in August.
A company owned by Haney also donated to the Trump inaugural committee, a donation that, like Zuberi’s, stuck out due to his history as a Democratic political donor.
Cohen’s corporate clients had more bipartisan donation histories, but they too sought to leverage Cohen’s ostensible access to and influence with the president to steer key federal policies. Novartis reportedly paid Cohen $1.2 million for insights on Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. AT&T paid Cohen $600,000 for advice on antitrust issues surrounding its efforts to purchase Time Warner.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred The Daily Beast to Trump’s outside counsel for this story. But President Trump did tweet his take on the day’s developments. “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” he wrote.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Broidy’s lawyers did not immediately respond to comment. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, simply said on Friday evening that he is currently unable to comment, per the advice of Cohen’s New York counsel.
Prosecutors requested that Cohen receive a sentence of up to five years in prison. Cohen hopes that his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling will ease the sentence that the federal judge in New York will hand down in the criminal case against him.
The one-time Trump fixer has already burned bridges with his former colleagues and political and business associates, chiefly Trump himself. “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” the president tweeted August after it was revealed that Cohen was cooperating with the special counsel investigation.
“I was previously positively disposed to Michael,” said Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign communications adviser who has himself been interviewed by both the special counsel’s team and congressional investigators. “But I don't like what he's doing to the president... in order to save his own skin.” Caputo, who knew and worked with Cohen during Trump’s political rise, said he has “learned more about Michael Cohen in the past couple of months... and it points to the fact that I didn't really know him.”
Caputo continued that “as someone caught up in this jackpot as a witness, I've had my own taste of the Mueller investigation and the congressional investigation. I cannot imagine what he's going through.”
“I'm moved to empathy,” he added, “because he wears this torture on his face.”
UPDATE 10:16 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify Zuberi's relationships with Cohen and Broidy.