Even after AT&T confessed yesterday that it paid six figures to Michael Cohen for nonexistent consulting work in order to get closer to Donald Trump, some folks pushed back when I characterized it as a “bribe.” Perhaps that’s partly because the mainstream media, which loves to incrementally slow-walk these narratives to drag out their ratings potential, largely has yet to use that word. But yes these really are bribes, and it’s not that difficult to establish as much.
Some are arguing that it doesn’t count as a “bribe” if the person on the receiving end doesn’t interpret it as being one, and doesn’t do anything to return the favor. In general, this is true. If I send a fruit basket to my favorite politician, it’s not a bribe just because he ate the fruit. In that instance the politician would have no idea why I was even sending it, or what if anything I was expecting in return. But when it comes to AT&T’s payment to Cohen, that’s not the case at all.
By AT&T’s own admission, it was hoping that the payment to Cohen would allow the company to work better with Trump. This payment came around the time AT&T was looking to acquire Time Warner, and deals that large always require the approval (or at least the lack of an objection) from the federal government. It doesn’t matter if AT&T was never given a meeting with Trump in exchange for the money it paid to Cohen. Trump and Cohen would both have implicitly understood that AT&T was paying the money in the hope of influencing Trump’s decision on the Time Warner acquisition.
As I stated yesterday, the judges and juries will ultimately have to decide the legal consequences for these bribes. I’m not a lawyer – but I know how a dictionary works, and it’s not difficult to look up the word “bribe” and see that this does in fact meet the definition. Some bribes are illegal, some bribes are merely unethical, and some bribes are neither. The courts can decide the legal exposure here. But in terms of political scandals, AT&T bribed Michael Cohen, making it an unethical scandal for them both. The only thing that still needs to be demonstrated is that Trump knew AT&T was bribing Cohen. Then it’ll officially be a Trump bribery scandal.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report