Lawyer for porn star suggests Russian paid Trump attorney Cohen


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer said Tuesday he has information showing that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, received $500,000 from a company associated with a Russian billionaire within months of paying hush money to Daniels, a porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti also said hundreds of thousands of dollars streamed into Cohen’s account from companies, including pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace, with U.S. government business interests. AT&T confirmed its connection Tuesday evening.

Avenatti did not provide documents to support the claims and did not reveal the source of his information.

But in a seven-page memo, Avenatti detailed what he said were wire transfers going into and out of the account Cohen used to pay Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to stay silent about her alleged affair with the soon-to-be president. Trump denies having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The memo, containing highly specific dates and amounts, stated that Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire, and his cousin “routed” eight payments totaling approximately $500,000 to Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, between January and August 2017. The reason for the payment was not known.

Speculating without offering proof, the Avenatti memo said, “It appears these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford.”

Avenatti’s memo said the deposits into the account controlled by Cohen were made by Columbus Nova, an American investment company affiliated with the Renova Group, which is controlled by Vekselberg.

Columbus Nova’s attorney Richard Owens stressed in a statement that the company is “solely owned and controlled by Americans” and said that, after Trump’s inauguration, the firm hired Cohen as a business consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” but that it had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

Owens said any suggestion that Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Cohen was false. “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,” he said.

Cohen and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Cohen is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York, but hasn’t been charged.

At the time of the payments, there was an active FBI counterintelligence investigation – which special counsel Robert Mueller took over last May – into Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates.

Vekselberg was targeted for U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration last month. He built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in the aluminum and oil industries. More recently, he has expanded his assets to include industrial equipment and high technology.

Offering confirmation for more of the payments, AT&T said in a statement that Essential Consultants was one of several firms it “engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”

Avenatti alleged that the company made four $50,000 payments to Cohen totaling $200,000 in late 2017 and early 2018.

AT&T said Cohen’s company “did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.” Cohen is not a registered lobbyist, according to public records.

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