Franklin L. Haney, a major donor to President Donald Trump, agreed to pay $10 million to the president’s then-personal attorney and fixer if he pledged to help obtain funding for a nuclear-power project, including a $5 billion loan from the U.S. government, according to several sources who spoke to Wall Street Journal reporters. The contract, they said, is no longer in effect.
Haney gave the contract to ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen in early April of this year as part of an initiative to complete the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant, a pair of unfinished nuclear reactors in Alabama.
Under the contract, Haney agreed to pay Cohen a monthly retainer, in addition to the $10 million success fee, if he could successfully obtain the funding required for the project, as well as approval of the full amount of the project’s application under a loan program overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy. The contract, an individual familiar with the matter said, indicated that Cohen’s fee “would be reduced proportionally if he helped obtain less funding than the contract stipulated.”
The Energy Department said Cohen has not communicated with Energy Secretary Rick Perry about Haney’s project, though another individual familiar with the matter said Cohen made several calls to Energy Department officials in the spring to inquire about the loan guarantee process, including what could be done to expedite the process altogether.
Cohen was not paid the success fee, but if he had, it could have been among the more lucrative of his multiple consulting agreements, which he secured after Trump’s election by “emphasizing his personal relationship with the president.” The Wall Street Journal noted that its reporters “couldn’t determine how much Mr. Haney may have paid Mr. Cohen, if anything, in monthly retainer fees.”
Larry Blust, an attorney for Haney, declined to comment about the extent of Cohen’s involvement. He insisted, however, that Haney had not brokered a contract with Cohen.
“Neither Mr. Haney nor Nuclear Development LLC ever entered into a contract with Michael Cohen or his affiliate for lobbying services related to the Bellefonte project,” Blust said.
According to James Thurber, a professor of government at American University, success fees are “outside the ethical norms” among Washington lobbyists. He pointed to court rulings which deemed fees “contingent on lobbyists obtaining public funds or killing legislation unenforceable and counter to public policy.” Despite this, there is no blanket federal ban on the inclusion of success fees in contracts for Washington lobbyists. Lobbying experts contacted by the Journal said “modern courts may be more disposed to such fees now that lobbying is deeply entrenched in law and policy-making and subject to stricter regulation.”
The work Cohen did for Haney stipulated that he participate in an April 5 meeting with the vice chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Thani, whom he helped Haney pitch on a possible investment in the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant. Sources confirmed that the meeting took place near Miami Beach, at the same time that a Qatari delegation arrived to promote business ties with the U.S., and that Cohen stayed on Haney’s yacht. A Qatari spokesman in Washington confirmed that the meeting took place. There is no indication, however, that the Qataris decided to invest in the nuclear plant.
Public records show that Cohen has never registered as a federal lobbyist. The agreement was made shortly before federal agents raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room on April 9.
Cohen has found himself at the center of an investigation regarding a payment Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress better known as Stormy Daniels, received from him as part of a non-disclosure agreement to keep her from discussing a sexual encounter with Trump back in 2006. Cohen, Clifford says, initiated a “bogus arbitration” hearing against her without notifying her beforehand; a copy of the restraining order against Clifford confirms that the judge made a “one-party” ruling that did not require her to be notified.
Although Cohen has claimed he paid Clifford out of his own pocket, and that the president never reimbursed him for the $130,000 settlement. Documents presented by Clifford’s attorney, however, show that the payment was sent to Cohen at Trump Tower, signalling that he made the payment on behalf of Trump himself.