White House dodges questions on Cohen payments
The White House on Wednesday largely avoided questions about reports that President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, received payments from businesses seeking access to the administration.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders skirted several questions about the revelation that Swiss drug company Novartis and AT&T each paid Cohen in exchange for insights and access to the president.
She instead referred reporters to Trump’s outside legal team. She did not address whether Cohen is qualified to provide insight into the president’s thinking.
“I’m not going to get into somebody else’s qualifications. That’s something an independent company that hires that individual would have to make that determination, not me,” Sanders said during Wednesday’s daily press briefing.
Asked if Trump is concerned that organizations with business before the government sought access to his administration, Sanders said she hasn’t “heard the president express any specific concerns about that.”
AT&T has a pending case before the Department of Justice as it seeks to merge with Time Warner. Meanwhile, Novartis would have an interest in Trump’s vow to address the opioid crisis and drive down drug prices.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Novartis, AT&T and a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin paid Cohen through a shell company called Essential Consultants LLC. That same company was used to make a $130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement related to her alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
Novartis and AT&T have since confirmed they paid Cohen to gain insight into the Trump administration.
CNN reported on Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller has questioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg about payments to Cohen in the months since the 2016 election.