Pence says Cohen selling access to the president is none of your business

"Is that draining the swamp?"

CREDIT: SCREENGRAB
CREDIT: SCREENGRAB

During an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence downplayed the pay-for-play scandal involving President Trump’s longtime personal attorney and fixer as “a private matter.”

Mitchell pointed out to Pence that “you now have the president’s lawyer getting millions of dollars from companies that he says he can get access, including one company that had a Russian connection. Is that draining the swamp?”

Pence dismissed the scandal, and tried to distance himself from it.

“Well, what I can say is that, that private matter is something I don’t have any knowledge about, and the White House issued a statement saying the same,” he said.

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Pence’s comments come a day after we learned that the Novartis pharmaceutical company provided Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, with $1.2 million in payments beginning in February 2017. Cohen doesn’t have any background in health care policy, and in a statement, Novartis admitted he did no real work for them.

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As Talking Points Memo details, Novartis entered into the agreement with Cohen shortly after Trump ramped up his rhetoric against pharmaceutical companies. On January 11, 2017, then then-president-elect accused them of “getting away with murder.” Norvartis’ statement says it “believed Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters.”

Novartis wasn’t alone — AT&T also provided Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, with $200,000. Like Novartis, AT&T says Cohen did no “legal or lobbying work,” but the company made the payment while it was seeking approval from Trump’s Justice Department to merge with Time-Warner.

Other companies made payments to Essential Consultants as well. A total of $500,000 came from Columbus Nova, a company controlled by a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg. Though Columbus Nova claimed it is “solely owned and controlled by Americans,” ThinkProgress reported on Wednesday that an archived version of its website indicates it was controlled by Vekselberg when the payments to Cohen began in January 2017.

Essential Consultants is the same shell company Cohen used to make a $130,000 hush payment just before the election to an adult film actress who says she had an affair with Trump. Trump initially claimed to have no knowledge of the payment, but was contradicted last week by his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who told Sean Hannity that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment in installments throughout 2017.

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Giuliani has since retracted his claim about Trump reimbursing Cohen, but the White House has yet to provide an alternative timeline. On Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders referred reporters’ questions about the Cohen scandal to Giuliani.

In short, Cohen appears to be at the center of a major pay-for-play scandal involving the president of the United States. But for vice president, it’s apparently nothing more than a “private matter.”

“Wrap it up”

During another portion of the interview with Mitchell, Pence urged special counsel Robert Mueller to “wrap it up.”

“Our administration has been fully cooperating with the special counsel, and we’ll continue to,” Pence said, ignoring a question about whether he shares Trump’s belief that the investigation is a “hoax.”

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“What I think is that it’s been a year since this investigation began, our administration has provided over a million documents, we’ve fully cooperated in it, and in the interest of the country I think it’s time to wrap it up,” Pence said. “And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.”

Pence may have motives for encourage Mueller to end his investigation that go beyond looking out for the best interests of the country. As law professor Jed Shugerman has detailed, Pence was involved in the Comey firing and Michael Flynn scandal, meaning he too might be in legal jeopardy.