President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, is alleged to have received $500,000 from Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg in the months following the 2016 presidential election.
The explosive claims were made on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels. Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in hush money out of his own pocket to stop her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 — which the White House has continued to deny.
In a tweet, Avenatti suggested that the oligarch’s cash infusion “may have reimbursed the $130k payment.”
After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump’s atty Mr. Cohen received approximately $500,000 in the mos. after the election from a company controlled by a Russian Oligarc with close ties to Mr. Putin. These monies may have reimbursed the $130k payment.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 8, 2018
According to the dossier released by Avenatti, and later confirmed by the Daily Beast, Vekselberg routed eight payments to Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC. The payments began in January 2017 and continued until at least August 2017.
In addition, Avenatti’s dossier said Cohen’s LLC, Essential Consulting, received $400,000 from Novartis and $200,000 from AT&T. The telecom giant confirmed the payment later Tuesday.
BREAKING: @ATT confirms payments to Cohen LLC >>
Full Stmt: “Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017”
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) May 8, 2018
“Mr. Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the President and holding himself out at times as employed by the Trump administration,” Avenatti’s report read. “This was occurring at the same time significant questions were being raised relating to a) the involvement of Russia and Vladimir Putin in the 2016 Presidential Election and b) the extent of the relationship between Putin and Mr. Trump.”
Vekselberg is a oil and metal magnate who has close ties to the Kremlin. Last month, he was placed on a list of sanctioned Russians by the Trump administration. The full extent of his involvement with the Russian collusion probe is not known, but earlier this year he was questioned by federal agents working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller when he was at a New York-area airport. CNN reported Tuesday that Vekselberg was questioned about the $500,000 payment made to Cohen.
In 2015, Vekselberg was also pictured at a dinner with Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last December, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This latest revelation follows a stunning week of developments in the Cohen case. In an interview last Thursday with Sean Hannity (also a Cohen client), Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani said that Trump repaid Cohen $130,000 for the Stormy Daniels payoff — directly contradicting the White House line that Trump knew nothing about Cohen’s payments to Daniels.
The next day Giuliani doubled down on his statement in an interview with Fox & Friends, saying that the payments were personal, not political — before completely contradicting himself.
“Imagine if that came out of October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
In a statement by Columbus Nova’s attorney, the company categorically denied any wrong doing.
“After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” the company said. “The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Coehn is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”
This post has been updated with Columbus Nova’s statement.