President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer helped a major donor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration pitch a nuclear-power investment to the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund at a meeting in April, according to people familiar with the matter.
The donor, Franklin L. Haney, is seeking to complete a pair of unfinished nuclear reactors in Alabama known as the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant. His company is lobbying the Trump administration for an extension of tax credits, federal disclosures show.
Mr. Haney, 77, recently hired Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, as a consultant, one of the people familiar with the matter said. It isn’t clear how much Mr. Haney paid Mr. Cohen. On April 5, Messrs. Cohen and Haney met with the vice chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Thani, to seek an investment in the plant, the people familiar with the matter said.
The meeting took place at the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club near Miami Beach, where a Qatari delegation, which was in town for a roadshow aimed at pairing U.S. investors with Qatari business executives, spent several days. There is no indication whether the Qataris have decided to invest with Mr. Haney. Mr. Cohen also pitched Sheikh al-Thani on a separate infrastructure project that didn’t involve Mr. Haney, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Details of that project and how large of an investment Messrs. Haney and Cohen were said to be soliciting are unclear.
The Atomic Energy Act prohibits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from issuing licenses to nuclear operators that are “owned, controlled or dominated” by a foreign corporation or government.
Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Haney couldn’t be reached for comment and requests for comment made to his company and family members weren’t returned.
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President Donald Trump said his lawyer Michael Cohen was reimbursed for a payment Mr. Cohen made to former adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. Here are some of the responses by Mr. Trump and the White House to the allegations over the past few months. Photo: Getty
Qatar’s spokesman in Washington said Mr. Cohen requested and was granted a meeting with Mr. Al-Thani on April 5, but didn’t elaborate further. A spokesman for the Qatar sovereign-wealth fund declined to comment.
Mr. Cohen is under federal criminal investigation in New York for possible campaign-finance violations and bank fraud, according to court filings and people familiar with the matter. Investigators are examining, among other things, a $130,000 payment he made to former adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels, before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump a decade earlier. Mr. Cohen has denied wrongdoing. Mr. Trump has denied the affair but one of his attorneys confirmed the president repaid Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Cohen attended a reception with some members of the Qatari delegation on April 5 and spent that night on Mr. Haney’s yacht before leaving the area the following morning, one of the people familiar with the matter said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his apartment, hotel room and office a few days later, on April 9.
The April meetings weren’t Mr. Cohen’s first time seeking money from the Qatari government. More than a year earlier, in December 2016, Mr. Cohen solicited $1 million from Ahmed al-Rumaihi, who at that time was head of the Qatar Investment Authority’s investment division, Mr. al-Rumaihi said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Cohen solicited the funds in a meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in New York days before a Qatari delegation met with Trump transition officials at Trump Tower, Mr. al-Rumaihi said. He said Mr. Cohen asked him for $1 million for his consulting services as the two were discussing a possible investment by Qatar in a U.S. infrastructure project.
Mr. al-Rumaihi left the Qatar Investment Authority in March 2017. The spokesman for Qatar said the state “has never been a client of Mr. Cohen.”
Mr. Haney in December 2016 donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural fund through an LLC called HFNWA, Federal Election Commission records show. He had previously backed Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, giving $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee in 2015 and $1 million to the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC in 2014, according to the FEC records.
In the 18 months since Mr. Trump was elected president, Mr. Cohen sought to pitch his consulting services and his insight into the new administration to a wide swath of corporations. Some, including AT&T Inc. and Novartis AG , hired him for sizable fees early last year; others, including Uber Technologies Inc. and Ford Motor Co. , said they turned down his pitches.
Last year, Mr. Cohen grew eager for more lucrative contracts and sought to enter the foreign consulting world. He discussed with associates how to pitch foreign governments, including Qatar and Singapore, on multiple occasions last year, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Mr. Haney, who worked his way through the University of Tennessee as a Bible salesman and ran for governor of Tennessee as a Democrat in his 20s, built a successful real-estate development business, often through the use of tax-exempt financing.
An entity created by Mr. Haney, Nuclear Development LLC, entered into a contract in November 2016 to purchase the partially completed Bellefonte Nuclear Plant from the Tennessee Valley Authority for $111 million. Mr. Haney said at the time that his entity would invest up to $13 billion to finish constructing the plant. Mr. Haney’s company won the right to buy the two unfinished nuclear sites at an auction. He has until November of this year to finalize the sale of the property, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority said.
Mr. Haney’s company, Franklin L. Haney Co., has spent more than $500,000 since the beginning of 2017 lobbying the administration and Congress to extend nuclear production tax credits past their scheduled expiration in 2021, according to federal lobbying records.
Foreign Agent Registration Act filings disclosed last week another link between Mr. Cohen and Qatar: Steve Ryan, an attorney who has been representing Mr. Cohen since mid-June of 2017.
In a June 30 letter to the Qatari ambassador, Mr. Ryan and a colleague at his law firm, McDermott Will & Emery, wrote that they would be “principally responsible” for lobbying on behalf of the Gulf state, including “establishing and conducting liaison with executive branch officials and members of Congress.” Qatar agreed to pay the firm $40,000 a month starting on July 1.
About two months later, on Aug. 31, Mr. Ryan terminated his registration on behalf of Qatar, according to a FARA filing. When asked for comment for this article, Mr. Ryan referred to the termination of his FARA registration as evidence that he had ended the engagement. A law-firm representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Cohen wasn’t the only Trump associate to meet with the Qataris on their Florida visit. At a second reception held on April 7 in honor of the Qatari emir, Rudy Giuliani —a lawyer whose consulting firm has worked for Qatar—mingled with other business executives and investors in attendance, according to people familiar with the event.
Mr. Giuliani joined the president’s legal team less than two weeks later.
—Jim Oberman and Rebecca Smith contributed to this article.
Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Michael Rothfeld at email@example.com and Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com
Appeared in the May 22, 2018, print edition as ‘Cohen Consulted on Pitch to Qatar.’