They’re apologetic but without specifying why. Surely they don’t mean to suggest that buying influence is wrong *per se*. They do it every day, as does every other corporation in the world.

What they’re saying, essentially, is that they’re sorry they got caught trying to buy influence from a character as Trumpy and shady as Cohen. Liberals will tolerate AT&T greasing palms as SOP in Washington just as long as they’re not enriching anyone whom Democrats know and loathe as a member of POTUS’s inner circle.

This is, in another words, an attempt to short-circuit a boycott before one gets off the ground.

The fact sheet attached to that letter stresses that Cohen approached AT&T, not vice versa, which jibes with the reporting elsewhere about Cohen’s “entrepreneurial” activity. Note the mention in passing that the senior VP in charge of “legislative affairs” is now suddenly retiring. That’s the first head to roll over Cohen’s definitely-not-lobbying business, I believe.

Novartis, another corporation that paid Cohen lavishly last year for “advice,” also apologized yesterday. And like AT&T, they forgot to explain why:

Yesterday was not a good day for Novartis. Many of you will have seen media reports regarding Novartis’ relationship with Essential Consultants in the United States and many of you will feel disappointed and frustrated. You can read our full statement here. We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us.

Personally and for my family, it was also a difficult day, as unfounded stories spread through the US news. While I was not involved with any aspect of this situation, the facts did not matter. I went to sleep frustrated and tired.

There’s no evidence yet that anything illegal was done. (By Novartis, I mean. Cohen may be a different story.) You’re allowed to bribe private-sector associates of high government officials to try to influence the latter and to call it “consulting.” So what’s Novartis apologizing for? If corporate America is arriving verrrrry belatedly at the conclusion that it’s morally wrong to pay to play, Washington is about to change a lot.

But they haven’t arrived at that conclusion, of course. The conclusion here seems to be no more or less than “bad headlines are bad” coupled with the realization in hindsight that doing business with a character like Cohen was all but guaranteed to generate bad headlines.

As for the bigger picture, Catherine Rampell writes:

The GOP is no longer the Party of Reagan. It’s the Party of Michael Cohen.

Saint Ronald and his acolytes preached that the way to get ahead in the United States was to work hard and never rely on government to help you out.

By contrast, consider the Cohen blueprint for achieving the American Dream: Work minimally, if you can, and leverage government connections whenever possible.

Emphasis on “work minimally.” Despite Novartis, AT&T, and Korea Aerospace Industries shoveling cash at Cohen last year, there’s no sign yet that he did *anything* for any of them. Novartis met with him once and never called again (but kept the cash coming). The money seems to have been paid as what we might charitably call a retainer or uncharitably as a straight-up bribe. It looks like they paid him in the hope/expectation that he’d be able to do something useful for them, whether providing “insight” into how TrumpWorld works or maybe brokering meetings with the president himself, and then when they realized he wasn’t useful they were too afraid to cut him off. Better to have a useless ally than a tapped-in enemy with a grudge.

Here’s Trump last night doing the old “drain the swamp” shtick despite the Cohen news lately. If he wants to put lipstick on this pig of a news cycle and try to turn the Cohen thing to his advantage, he could renew his call for ethics reforms like the ones he talked about during the campaign. He signed an executive order about that last year but an ethics push in Congress would be a splashy way to do damage control and to build some goodwill before the midterms. Minor problem: Neither members of Congress nor his own cronies would warmly greet the idea of turning off the money spigot. And if Trump challenged Ryan and McConnell to act and they didn’t, their inaction could be seized on as a weapon by Democrats this fall. Makes for a nice applause line, though.