■ By Bob Franken / Columnist
A couple of generations ago, there was a story about a well-connected Washington figure who encountered a corporate type who was having trouble with government regulatory officials.
“Oh,” said the insider. “I can help you with that.” Quickly, the bad situation went away. The delighted executive insisted that he be charged for the favor, and very soon thereafter, received a bill for $10,000 (remember, this was way back when).
The businessman was taken aback: “That’s outrageous,” he complained. “I need you to itemize the fees.” It wasn’t long before he received another voucher: “Phone call: 10 cents. Knowing who to call: $9,999.90.”
Other than inflation, the swamp never changes. Those who lucked out by attaching themselves to Donald Trump have proven, now that he’s in power, that they’re just the latest gang that couldn’t drain straight. How else to explain the millions of dollars that major companies, already employing tons of lobbyists, tossed at the likes of Corey Lewandowski and particularly at Michael Cohen? Neither of them has any policy chops whatsoever.
Lewandowski latched on to the Trump whale early on. Never mind that he had been tossed aside in one of The Donald’s nonstop purges. He knew the players like few did, and now it was time to be paid. So he set up shop, and the money came rolling in.
Michael Cohen’s entire claim to fame was that he was The Donald’s “fixer,” the one who cleaned up the mess after the Trumpster indulged one of his appetites. Suddenly he, too, was taking on new clients and raking in the bucks as a “consultant,” feeding on the same marsh scum that Trump had promised to eliminate.
“Those who lucked out by attaching themselves to Donald Trump have proven, now that he’s in power, that they’re just the latest gang that couldn’t drain straight.”
Then Stormy Daniels, porn star, suddenly spotted her own opportunity to make a quick buck, angling to tell the story about the one-nighter she’d once had with Trump. The problem was that Cohen — acting, as it turns out, on Trump’s behalf — had paid her $130,000 not to in 2016. That escapade, and others, led to federal agents raiding various Cohen properties and seizing tons of documents.
Suddenly, Cohen had become a pariah, a huge embarrassment to those who had thrown money his way. The heads of AT&T and Novartis both hastily put out statements admitting that their companies had made a “big mistake” by retaining him.
Need I tell you that the “big mistake” was getting caught? Or that there already is a massive, lucrative business known as “lobbying,” populated largely by those who have held public jobs or somehow accumulated a network of contacts among those who operate the government? That’s not just the case in Washington, but at the state and local level, too. Wherever there’s a jurisdiction, there will be lobbyists. One can argue that the entire United States is a swamp.
Every once in a while, something or someone particularly smarmy gets outed. Those who are splattered quickly get as far away as possible and clean off. Then it blows over, and everyone goes back to the same old unprincipled way of doing business. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” may be a cliche, but it always has been and always will be true.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.