This Week in Conflicts: Payments to Cohen, Qatar buys an apartment in Trump Tower, and more political spending at Mar-a-Lago


This week, new information surfaces about payments made to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, Qatar purchases a $6.5 million apartment in New York’s Trump Tower, and a look at how much money is being spent by political insiders at President Trump’s private club in South Florida.

Michael Cohen gives a speech in support of then-candidate Donald Trump in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in January 2017. Credit: Michael Cohen YouTube channel.

All about Essential Consultants, LLC

In October 2016 Cohen set up a company called Essential Consultants, LLC. As the New York Times, CNN and Washington Post have reported, money from that company was used to pay off Stormy Daniels.

But money wasn’t just going out of the company’s account. As NBC and other news organizations reported there was also money coming in. According to those sources, the following companies made payments to Essential Consultants:

  • Columbus Nova (New York investment firm linked to a Russian Oligarch) paid $500,000
  • Korea Aerospace Industries paid $150,000
  • AT&T paid $600,000
  • Novartis (Swiss drug manufacturer) paid $1.2 million

At least $4.4 million flowed into Essential Consultants prior to President Trump being elected and through the beginning of this year, according to the New York Times. The payments, for the most part, were for consulting services and to gain “access” to and “insight” into President Trump.

Lots of questions remain about the money coming in and going out of Essential Consultants. Most importantly, if President Trump knew about the payments coming in.

Writing for The Atlantic, David Graham shares his thoughts about how Cohen handled himself, saying “he seems to have pursued the purest version of the Trumpian scheme: Make big promises, pull in big money, underdeliver big-league.”

Slate asks: Is it normal for the president’s lawyer to run a political consulting firm? Definitely not. “Campaign finance regulation has been eroded a lot over the last 20 years,” said Sunlight’s director John Wonderlich, “and it’s like Cohen skipped ahead another 20. It is not by any stretch of the imagination normal.”

Qatar Buys Apartment in NYC Trump Tower

Trump Tower located at 725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Credit: Jorge Láscar via Flickr.

The Guardian is reporting the government of Qatar spent $6.5 million to purchase another apartment in New York City’s Trump Tower.

The news organization reviewed New York City public records showing Qatar’s mission to the United Nations signed the deal in January. This brings the total number of units in Trump Tower owned by Qatar to four. In total, the government has paid $16.5 million for the units, according to The Guardian.

“This plays to the central concern with the president’s refusal to divest from his holdings – that he would be susceptible to influence from foreign countries invested in his businesses,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told The Guardian.

According to that piece, Qatar’s mission to the United Nations said the properties were used to house diplomatic staff and “were all purchased due to their location, nothing more.”

In December, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit alleging President Trump was violating the emoluments clause by collecting money from Qatar for the three apartments it already owned in the building. The clause bans public officials from receiving gifts and payments from foreign governments without the approval of Congress.

Another lawsuit alleging that President Trump violated the emoluments clause is moving forward. That lawsuit, brought forward by the attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, claims President Trump’s financial ties to the Trump International Hotel in D.C. violates the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The GOP and Mar-a-Lago

Mar-a-lago. Photo via Wikimedia.

The Palm Beach Post reports that of the $1.4 million politicos have spent at Mar-a-Lago since 2003, $1 million has come after President Trump announced he was running for president.

The south Florida newspaper reviewed federal, state, and local election records to come up with the figure but the records do not detail exactly what the money pays for at the private club.

One recent event highlighted in the story took place in March when, according to the Palm Beach Post, the Republican National Committee paid $224,857 to host a fundraiser for President Trump’s prospective 2020 re-election bid at Mar-a-Lago.

The private club in Palm Beach Florida is owned by President Trump and has been coined as the “winter White House,” due to how much time the President spends at the property.

According to the Palm Beach Post, “before Trump became president, Mar-a-Lago was only occasionally used for political events.”

“I think the conflict of interest and possibility of personal enrichment, coming at the expense of party independence and propriety, is of great concern,” Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Palm Beach Post,

More conflicts of interest in the news

About this Project

Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” project presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our full coverage of news related to the project. If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking, email us to tell us what to look for. If you are a freelancer interested in contributing to this project, contact us here.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project.