Attorney Michael Avenatti alleged Tuesday that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was paid around $500,000 in the months after Trump was elected, by a Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch who's among several Russians recently sanctioned by the U.S. government.
The money, Avenatti alleged in a statement on Twitter, may have served as a reimbursement for the $130,000 in hush money Cohen paid Avenatti’s client, the porn star Stormy Daniels, a few weeks before the election, to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006.
Avenatti released his findings by tweeting a Dropbox link to a document titled “Executive Summary.” He claims Cohen received eight payments from Viktor Vekselberg, who has an estimated worth of $13 billion, and his cousin Andrew Intrater, through a company called Columbus Nova LLC, starting in January 2017 and continuing through at least August 2017.
“...within approximately 75 days of the payment to Ms. Clifford, Mr. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian Oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, caused substantial funds to be deposited into the bank account from which Mr. Cohen made the payment,” the summary reads. “It appears that these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford.”
The New York Times reported last week that Vekselberg had been stopped at an airport in the New York area last week and questioned by investigators working for the special counsel. It is not clear if Vekselberg or his cousin, who was also questioned, are formally suspected of any wrongdoing.
Vekselberg was sanctioned along with six other Russian oligarchs by the Trump administration in April.
Avenatti’s claims do line up with those made earlier this year by Cohen, who said he had used his own money to pay Daniels and had not been paid back by the Trump campaign or the Trump organization.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,”Cohen said in a statement to the Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
Several other major companies, including AT&T, the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, and Korea Aerospace LTD, were also named in Avenatti’s “Executive Summary.” Avenatti claims that Novartis paid Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, $399,920 through four different transfers in late 2017 and early 2018. He also alleges Korea Aerospace Industries paid Essential $150,000 in Nov. 2017, and that AT&T made payments totaling $200,000 in “late 2017 and early 2018.”
AT&T confirmed the payment in a statement.
“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal work or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T wrote in a statement obtained by Jesse Rodriguez from MSNBC.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen leaves court in New York on April 26, 2018. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images.