Viktor Vekselberg, a Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire who has reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, wired the cash into a First Republic account registered to Cohen’s Essential Consulting company, according to a document released by Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti.
The money was routed to Cohen between January and August 2017 in eight separate payments from Columbus Nova, a Manhattan-based investment company owned by Vekselberg’s American cousin, Andrew Intrater, Avenatti said. Vekselberg’s first payment was issued “approximately 75 days” after Cohen’s $130,000 hush payment to Daniels, according to Avenatti.
Daniels, 39, says she accepted the pre-election payoff in exchange for promising to never speak publicly about having sex with Trump in 2006.
Avenatti raised the suggestion that Vekselberg’s money “may have reimbursed” Cohen’s payment to Daniels.
“Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have a lot of explaining to do,” Avenatti tweeted.
Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, did not return repeated requests for comment.
Richard Owens, an attorney for Columbus Nova, pushed back against Avenatti’s suggestion that Vekselberg was involved, saying the wire transfers were issued after the company hired Cohen as a “business consultant” for potential real estate ventures.
“The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue,” Owens told The New York Daily News. “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.”
Avenatti’s seven-page document, dubbed “Project Sunlight,” nonetheless puts a new twist on the Daniels scandal and raises questions about whether the Russian government played a part in it.
Vekselberg, who has an estimated worth of $13 billion, is close with President Vladimir Putin and was among a number of oligarchs sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department last month as part of its campaign to punish the Kremlin for interfering in the 2016 election.
Vekselberg, 61, was stopped by Mueller’s investigators after he stepped off a private plane at a New York-area airport earlier this year, CNN reported. The investigators questioned Vekselberg about the Columbus Nova payments to Cohen and screened his electronic devices, sources familiar with the matter said.
Prosecutors are likely very interested in the wire transfers, whether or not they relate directly to the Daniels payment, Avenatti said.
In addition to Columbus Nova, Avenatti’s document says AT&T paid Cohen $200,000 while it had an antitrust case pending before the Justice Department, prompting concerns about pay-to-play politics.
The telecom giant quickly pushed back against such concerns, saying the payments related to consulting work.
“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” the company said in a statement. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us.”
AT&T isn’t the only company with business before the Trump administration that contracted Cohen, according to Avenatti’s investigation.
Between President Trump’s election and this January, Avenatti says at least $4.4 million flowed into Essential Consulting’s coffers from a number of entities lobbying the federal government for various reasons, including pharmaceutical giant Novartis and aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries.
Avenatti also raised a red flag about Columbus Nova’s blatant connection to the Russian government in having Vekselberg as it biggest client.
“Mr. Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the president,” Avenatti said, noting that the investment business issued the payments at the same time as “significant questions” were being raised about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign.
Mueller, who is probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, is looking into whether Russian operatives tried to influence the election by making illegal campaign contributions via American straw donors.
Mueller also made a referral to prosecutors in New York last month that resulted in FBI raids at Cohen’s Manhattan hotel room, office and apartment. Prosecutors are investigating Cohen over possible wire and bank fraud, in addition to potential campaign finance violations over the Daniels payment, according to court records.
Trump has vehemently denied having sex with Daniels, but admitted for the first time last week that he reimbursed Cohen for the hush payment.
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