A Tennessee real-estate developer who owns the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in Alabama reportedly sought help from President Donald Trump’s embattled former personal attorney to get a $5 billion federal loan to complete construction of the nuclear power project.
Franklin Haney, a major donor to President Trump, agreed to pay $10 million to Michael Cohen, Trump’s then-personal attorney, if Cohen successfully helped obtain funding for the plant site, including a huge loan from the Department of Energy (DOE), the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The business tycoon, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, reportedly reached the agreement with Cohen just days before federal agents raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room. After the president’s victory in 2016, Haney donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund, even though he had previously been a long-time donor to the Democratic Party.
The Journal also reported that Haney agreed to pay Cohen a monthly retainer. The loan application submitted by Haney’s company, Nuclear Development LLC, is still pending at DOE.
Cohen is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for his business dealings, as well as for a $130,000 hush-money payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 presidential election.
The Journal said it was not able to determine how much Haney ultimately paid Cohen, if at all. But sources told the Journal that Cohen’s fee, if he had been able to secure the loan, would have been among the largest of his known consulting deals.
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A lawyer for Haney told the Journal that neither Haney nor Nuclear Development entered into a contract with Cohen for lobbying services related to the Bellefonte project.
In 2016, Nuclear Development entered into a contract to purchase the partially completed Bellefonte Nuclear Plant from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at auction for $111 million and invest up to an additional $13 billion to complete construction of the nuclear energy facility.
At the time of the auction, Haney put up $22 million as an initial down payment on Bellefonte. Haney has until this November to close his $111 million purchase of the twin-reactor plant.
In the mid 1970s, TVA began construction of the two Bellefonte nuclear units. Work on the project was suspended in 1988. TVA sought to restart work on one of the reactors in 2011, but by 2014, the utility was ready to discontinue the project again.
The site includes two partially constructed nuclear reactors, which are 55-percent completed, two high-voltage switchyards, reinforced containment buildings, and used fuel storage pools and high capacity cranes for fuel loading.
To help finance the projected $13 billion cost of finishing the nuclear project, Haney worked with Republican members of Congress, including Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) and Mo Brooks (R-AL), to get DOE to approve the $5 billion of federal loan guarantee for the Bellefonte project.
In May, Brooks, Fleishmann, and three other Alabama members of Congress sent a letter to the Trump administration urging it to “give this project proper attention and assist in completing the review” of the DOE loan application.
A month earlier, Haney reportedly met with Cohen to help pitch to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund Haney’s plan to complete the Bellefonte plant. The Wall Street Journal reported that Haney met with Cohen on his yacht in Florida on April 5. The two also reportedly met the vice chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority to seek an investment in Bellefonte at a meeting near Miami Beach.
According to the Journal, federal authorities are investigating whether Cohen engaged in unregistered lobbying in connection with his consulting work for corporate clients after Trump entered the White House. It is unclear if the deal with Haney’s Nuclear Development LLC is part of the investigation into Cohen’s consulting work or if it will be incorporated into the investigation.