- Michael Cohen, the president’s disgraced former lawyer, took $200,000 to attempt to close a deal with a Qatari official to invest in an Alabama nuclear facility, according to the man who hired him.
- The Qatar money never materialized after Cohen’s legal troubles.
- Qatar is linked to Iran, whose nuclear program the United States has worked to curtail.
Michael Cohen, the disgraced former lawyer to President Donald Trump, took hundreds of thousands of dollars to push a deal that would have resulted in a U.S. nuclear facility being owned partly by Qatar.
And U.S. taxpayers would have wound up footing the bill for the facility, while the investors stood to profit. Qatar is a Middle Eastern nation with ties to Iran, a hostile power whose nuclear activities the United States has tried to keep in check.
At issue is the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Alabama, near Memphis. The federal Tennessee Valley Authority spent $5 billion on the facility over 40 years, but it never opened — partly because there wasn’t much demand for the power.
Franklin Haney, a wealthy Tennessee businessman who has made his fortune in part through government contracts, hired Cohen to cement a potential investment from Qatar. Haney wanted to use interest in the project as leverage to try to secure a $5 billion loan from the federal Department of Energy to get the nuclear plant online.
Haney paid Cohen $200,000. But until his contract was terminated because of his legal issues, he stood to earn $5 million, according to a Feb. 19 article by the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis in which Haney spoke candidly and at length about the arrangement for the first time.
Other Gulf states have severed ties with Qatar, saying it supports terrorism and has close ties with Iran. Qatar has investments in Iran and has been increasingly trading with the country. British and Israeli intelligence met over concerns that Iran is trying to breach a 2015 deal limiting its nuclear activity and possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons, Israeli media reported Feb. 22.
Conservatives criticized former President Barack Obama for giving Iran billions of dollars in relief in exchange for promises to curb its nuclear program.
In April 2018, a Qatari delegation was hosting a conference in Florida promoting international investment, and Qatari officials also visited the White House that month to discuss relations between the countries, the Daily Memphian reported.
Also that month in Florida, Haney said, Trump happened to bump into him with a Qatari official and introduced them, saying “I know you’re working on this nuclear plant. [The Qataris] are going to invest $45 billion [in the U.S.] and they’ll loan money for nuclear plants.”
Haney said Trump had no further involvement and did not link him up with Cohen. Rather, Cohen sensed a business opportunity and inserted himself, Haney said. He showed up on a pier in Miami Beach when Haney docked his yacht there and climbed aboard, according to the article, which was published in the Daily Memphian.
Haney saw that Cohen “was treated like royalty with the Qataris because he was the president’s lawyer. They treated him like we had went to dinner with a prince and all that sort of stuff.”
Hoping to raise $2 billion, he was willing to pay Cohen up to $5 million for his assistance. “That is a cheap-ass fee for $2 billion,” Haney said.
But then Cohen emerged as the subject of a criminal investigation into the special counsel’s probe into the Trump campaign and later pleaded guilty, and the Qatari investment money never materialized, Haney said.
Federal law bars a nuclear plant from being “owned, controlled or dominated” by a foreign government, but Haney said he wasn’t sure what percentage of ownership triggered that provision.
Haney said Cohen’s role was to secure the Qatar money and that he would not have used any influence to secure the hoped-for $5 billion loan from the Department of Energy.
But Sen. Tammy Baldwin, an Illinois Democrat, was alarmed at the situation. She pressed Energy Secretary Rick Perry about a possible “pay-to-play arrangement.”
Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, declined to comment to The Daily Caller news Foundation, as did a lawyer for Haney.
Haney’s company still wants to do the deal even without the Qatari money. It is now engaged in a lawsuit with the Tennessee Valley Authority after it declined to move forward with the deal, citing a permitting issue. TVA’s chairman called the Bellefonte deal “the riskiest you can imagine.”
Haney’s past ventures have relied on a familiar model, according to the Daily Memphian: getting the federal government to loan him money to build facilities that he then leased back to the government at a profit.
“If you’re not rich when you’re born, you’ve got to either steal it, marry it or get a government lease,” he said.
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