A Russian oligarch paid $500,000 to Michael Cohen, the personal attorney for President Donald Trump, in the months after the 2016 election, Stormy Daniels’s attorney claimed Tuesday.
The payments “may have replenished” Cohen’s bank account following a $130,000 payment he made in October 2016 to Daniels, an adult film star who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006, the lawyer, Michael Avenatti, suggests.
Avenatti laid out the allegations in a preliminary report for an investigation he is conducting of Cohen and Trump.
Investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed the Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, over the payments to Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, CNN reported shortly after Avenatti released his report.
Investigators questioned Vekselberg after he arrived on a private plane in New York a couple of months ago.
Vekselberg, an ally of Vladimir Putin’s, directed eight payments to Cohen totaling nearly $500,000 between January 2017 and August 2017, according to Avenatti.
The payments were routed through Columbus Nova LLC., a company controlled by Vekselberg’s company, Renova Group, and directed by his cousin, Andrew Intrater.
It is not clear why Vekselberg made the payments, but they could complicate matters for Cohen, who is under FBI investigation for bank fraud and money laundering.
Cohen has admitted he paid Daniels, whose real name Stephanie Clifford, but the longtime Trump attorney has claimed he took out a home equity line of credit to make the payment. Trump was not aware Cohen was paying Daniels at the time the payments were made, the president has claimed.
“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,” wrote Avenatti, who has become a darling of legacy media as he has mounted his case against Cohen and Trump on cable TV.
“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 Organization (with few other clients),” added Avenatti, a former opposition researcher for Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama White House chief of staff.
“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 Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump,” Avenatti noted.
A lawyer for Cohen did not respond to a request for comment. But a lawyer for Columbus Nova said in a statement the payments to the Trump lawyer were for business consulting work “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.”
“Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Coehn is patently untrue,” said Columbus Nova’s attorney, Richard Owens of the firm Latham & Watkins.
“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.”
Vekselberg has been linked to Trumpworld in the past. He attended Trump’s inauguration after Columbus Nova made a $250,000 donation to Trump’s inauguration committee. Mueller’s team also asked Vekselberg about that contribution, according to CNN.
Vekselberg was also recently added to the Treasury Department’s sanctions list.
In his report, Avenatti lists several other Cohen transactions he alleges are “suspicious.”
Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, made four payments to Cohen in late 2017 and early 2018 totaling $399,920, the report states.
“Following these payments, reports surfaced that Mr. Trump took a dinner meeting with the incoming CEO of Novartis before Mr. Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in late January 2018,” Avenatti claims.
This article has been updated with a statement from Columbus Nova’s attorney.