Judicial Watch is suing the U.S. Department of Energy to obtain records of any communications about how President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen may have lobbied on behalf of developer Franklin L. Haney, who is seeking up to $5 billion in federal loan guarantees to finish the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant which the Tennessee Valley Authority is selling in Alabama.
The Washington D.C.-based conservative foundation, which says it works to promote transparency, accountability and integrity in government, said the Energy Department improperly failed to respond to its Freedom of Information Act request for any correspondence or records about Cohen's lobbying efforts.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Cohen was offered a $10 million "success fee" and paid a monthly retainer if he was successful in obtaining the DOE loan guarantee for the Bellefonte project from Haney's Nuclear Development LLC.
Haney, a former Chattanooga developer who is seeking to revive work on the unfinished twin-reactor in Hollywood, Alabama, is seeking the federal loan guarantees to back his financing for the completion of the Bellefonte reactors, which TVA quit building three decades ago.
Haney submitted the winning $111 million bid to buy the abandoned nuclear plant site and equipment two years ago and has until next Wednesday to close the sale, unless TVA grants him an extension. TVA says it doesn't need the power that Bellefonte would generate, although Haney says it could replace other power TVA purchases from other sources.
In June, Haney signed an agreement to hire the Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to finish construction of Bellefonte. Haney has estimated both reactors could be finished for around $13 billion, which is only about half the cost of what Georgia Power is spending for new nuclear units at its Plant Vogtle in Georgia.
In August, the Washington Examiner reported that Cohen was "given a retainer payment for each month of lobbying on top of the $10 million 'success fee' for gaining final approval of a $5 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department."
The Wall Street Journal said Haney hosted Cohen on his yacht in Florida in April before the two attended a reception with members of the Qatari delegation. Haney reportedly pitched the nuclear plant project to get investment capital, but the Qatari sovereign fund never made the investment, officials said.
Haney's attorney, Larry Blust, denied Haney contracted for Cohen's help with the Bellefonte project.
"Neither Mr. Haney nor Nuclear Development LLC ever entered into a contract with Michael Cohen or his affiliate for lobbying services related to the Bellefonte project," Blust said in a statement.
The agreement between Haney and Cohen later was reportedly withdrawn. Cohen never registered as a federal lobbyist.
"Mr. Cohen may have broken basic lobbying disclosure and other laws in setting up a deal to advocate for a loan guarantee from the Energy Department," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in announcing the federal lawsuit. "It is disappointing the Energy Department is giving us the run around on this request, forcing Judicial Watch to go to federal court."
Cohen has plead guilty to eight criminal counts, including bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance law violations.