Cohen’s business practices come under increased scrutiny after Avenatti findings

UPDATE — 5/10, 4:30 p.m. EDT: According to a Bloomberg source, AT&T paid Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, $600,000 for insider knowledge of how the Trump administration was handling government approval of the company’s merger with Time Warner. 

According to attorney Michael Avenatti, the communications giant only paid Cohen a total of $200,000 in 2017 and 2018.

 

Questions are swirling around Michael Cohen’s business practices after news broke on Tuesday that he received payments from a company with ties to a Russian oligarch, as well as other corporations with business before the Trump administration.

In a move seen by many as a way to increase pressure on Mr. Cohen, Michael Avenatti, attorney to Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, broke the news via Twitter:

In an Executive Summary detailing his investigation, Avenatti alleges that Cohen received the following payments into the shell company called Essential Consultants that was set up just weeks prior to making the now infamous $130,000 payment to his client, Ms. Clifford:

Incremental payments totaling $500,000 between January and August 2017 from U.S.-based Columbus Nova.

The company is run by CEO Andrew Intrater, cousin of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

Vekselberg, who has direct ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe and also subjected to sanctions by the U.S. Mr. Intrater donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration and made additional contributions to a Trump campaign committee and to the Republican National Committee. The cousins attended President Trump’s inauguration together.

The company has denied any connections to Russia, saying in a statement: “As the General Counsel of Columbus Nova, I can confirm that the company is 100% owned and controlled by Americans. Any suggestion that at any point in time Viktor Vekselberg or any of his companies owned or exercised any control over Columbus Nova is patently untrue.”

Incremental payments totaling $399,920 from pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, although the company admits to paying him $1.2 million.

Avennati points out that, following the payments, President Trump attended a dinner that included the incoming CEO of the company. Novartis states that they entered into a one-year agreement with Mr. Cohen to glean information on “how the Trump administration might approach U.S. health-care policy matters.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the agreement was allowed to expire after it was found that Mr. Cohen could not provide the information they were seeking.

Four payments of $50,000 each from AT&T in late 2017 and early 2018.

At the time, AT&T was seeking government approval for its acquisition of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

In a statement, AT&T said it engaged the firm 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.”

Korea Aerospace Industries made a $150,000 payment to Essential in November 2017.

Korea Aerospace stated that they engaged Mr. Cohen to provide guidance on American accounting standards, however, it is also seeking a $16.3 billion contract with the U.S. Air Force.

In a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Avenatti responded to the various company explanations:

According to the Washington Post, the DOJ Special Counsel’s office is also seeking to determine whether foreign money helped fund President Trump’s inauguration.

While the impact of the release of this information is yet to be seen, NPR has gone so far as to say it “could be the most important public evidence in the Russia imbroglio since Donald Trump Jr. released his emails last year.”

Indeed, the White House has apparently been taken aback by Avenatti’s findings, as the Treasury Department’s inspector general is now investigating if Cohen’s banking records were “improperly disseminated.”

 

[NBC News] [ABC News] [CNNMoney] [NPR] [Washington Post]

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