One aspect of Michael Cohen’s blockbuster plea deal hasn’t received as much attention as it deserves. It is the possibility that the Trump Organization and others, perhaps even including the president himself, might have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). These new facts and reports are yet more evidence that Donald Trump's business activities represent a clear-and-present threat to his presidency.
The revelations last week in connection with Cohen’s plea included the news that during his presidential campaign, Trump pursued a significant project in Russia and a report that Cohen, representing the Trump Organization, discussed with an assistant to Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman the idea that the developers would be interested in giving Putin the $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow. That is, of course, assuming they were allowed to build it.
If this report is true, this type of offer is not, as the president tweeted of the project as a whole, “very legal & very cool.” It is, instead, a possible FCPA violation.
US law says foreign officials can't be bribed
Trump has brazenly argued that this long-standing law is not fair because it prevents American business people from paying bribes in jurisdictions where others might. But the FCPA has been on the books for more than 40 years, and it has been aggressively enforced through Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
That is because, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a speech last year on FCPA enforcement, “paying bribes may still be common in some places — but that does not make it right.”
The FCPA makes it a crime to corruptly offer anything of value to a government official for the purpose of “obtaining or retaining business.” The courts have defined “obtaining or retaining” broadly to include nearly any action that would serve a business purpose. The facts, if true, leave little room to question whether the Trump Organization was seeking to retain or obtain business given its efforts to receive government assistance to go forward with the project, and Cohen’s communications with a Putin aide to discuss that very issue.
In fact, special counsel Robert Mueller indicated as much in Cohen’s plea agreement. Cohen, speaking with the woman in Putin's press office, “requested assistance in moving the project forward” both in financing the project and in “securing land.” She reportedly asked detailed questions and explained that she would follow up “with others in Russia.”