Update: While representatives for Cohen declined to comment, a spokesperson for Vekselberg spoke with CNN.
A lawyer for Columbus Nova, the company that cut Cohen a $500,000 check that Avenatti says could've been used as a reimbursement for the money used to reimburse Stormy Daniels, providing a purportedly "definitive" link between Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of Trump's closest associates.
But in the statement, the lawyer said the money was 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.
Before being questioned by Mueller, Vekselberg attended Trump’s inauguration after Columbus Nova made a $250,000 donation to the president's inauguration committee. Mueller’s team reportedly asked Vekselberg about that contribution.
* * *
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer (and former Michael Rahm opposition researcher) handling adult film star Stormy Daniels' multiple lawsuits, is doing his best to steal the spotlight from Trump's cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal, because on an otherwise quiet Tuesday evening, Avenatti has published a report alleging that Trump long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen - who testified under oath that the funds for a $130,000 "hush money" payment to Daniels came from a loan he took against his home - may have in reality been reimbursed for the payment by none other than Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Avenatti learned that Vekselberg sent a $500,000 payment to Essential Consultants LLC just 75 days after Cohen used the same company to pay Daniels her $130,000.
After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump’s atty Mr. Cohen received approximately $500,000 in the mos. after the election from a company controlled by a Russian Oligarc with close ties to Mr. Putin. These monies may have reimbursed the $130k payment.— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 8, 2018
If Vekselberg's name sounds familiar, that's probably because the New York Times reported last week that the Russian billionaire, and head of the Russian Renova conglomerate, was stopped at a New York-area airport, searched and questioned by the FBI while entering the US earlier this year. The interrogation, the Times said, was linked to the Mueller probe.
While the sum that Vekselberg paid Cohen is far larger than what he paid Daniels, Avenatti claims that some of the money may have been intended as a "hush money" reimbursement.
If this is true, it would contradict President Trump's admission that Cohen received money through his retainer agreement with the president that offset his payments to Daniels, which Trump was ignorant of at the time.
Avenatti lays out these claims in a 7-page executive summary he released today titled "Project Sunlight", and which list this and other allegations of potential impropriety by Cohen.
On October 27, 2016 Mr. Cohen caused a wire of $130,000 from Essential Consultants’ account at First Re public Bank to be sent to an Attorney -Client Trust Account of Keith M. Davidson & Associates at City National Bank located in California. The wire originated from First Republic Bank’s operations located in California.
Note: this fact may provide the State of California with jurisdiction over possible state criminal charges associated with this payment.
Mr. Cohen has previously claimed that the source of funds from the $130,000 payment was a home equity line of credit advance conducted on October 26, 2016. This has yet to be confirmed.
However, as detailed below, 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. It appears that these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford.
Oddly enough, this isn't the only big (if true) bombshell included in Avenatti's report.
In a list of other "possible fraudulent and illegal financial transactions," Avenatti highlighted the fact that AT&T paid Cohen $200,000 in four separate $50,000 installments between late 2017 and early 2018, which is odd considering Trump had said during the campaign that he would block the announced AT&T-Time Warner deal, and, after a year-long review, his Justice Department sued to block the deal in November.
In addition, Essential received $200,000 in four separate payments of $50,000 in late 2017 and early 2018 from AT&T.
Monies Received from AT&T:
October 3, 2017 –$50,000
November 7, 2017 –$50,000
December 5, 2017 –$50,000
January 3, 2018 –$50,000
This could become a problem for Cohen if investigators determine that the money was intended to influence a DOJ anti-trust probe seeking to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner.
In a statement released just minutes after the report was released, AT&T confirmed the payments to Essential Consulting, claiming Essential was retained "to provide insights into understanding the new administration."
"Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged 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."
So AT&T paid Cohen for his "insight" into the mind of Trump...not for any actual work.
Avenatti also published details from the application Cohen filed with First Republic Bank when he was opening an account for Essential Consulting back in October 2016. In the application, Cohen identified Essential as a real-estate consulting company that "collects fees for investment consulting work." He also said he didn't expect any "outgoing wire transfers and debits related to ACH".
In order to establish the account, Mr. Cohen subsequently submitted information claiming, among other things, the following:
(a) Essential is a real estate consulting company that collects fees for investment consulting work;
(b)The company’s typical clients are U.S.-based high net worth individuals;
(c)The company’s primary source of funds will be derived from within the U.S. or a U.S.-based company;
(d)The company expected one(1)totwenty (20) incoming domestic only wires totaling $1,000 to $10,000 each month for consulting fees, and one(1)to twenty (20) ACH credits and electronic transfers totaling $1,000 to $10,000 each month;
(e)No outgoing wire transfers and debits related toACH or electronic transfers were expected; and(f)Receipts of the business would be internally transferred to Mr. Cohen’s personal account at First Republic Bank.
The timing of the release was deliberate: Now, President Trump's decision to scrap the Iran deal - which represents one of his biggest foreign policy achievements to date - will be forced to share the news cycle with more Russia-linked allegations related to his attorney.
And now, it's only a matter of time before we see these allegations spark another round of "will Cohen flip?" stories from the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN and their peers in the mainstream press.
We also can't help but wonder: Is this what was on that mystery disc Avenatti kept waving around during all those cable news interviews? Or is there another shoe left to drop?
For what it's worth, Avenatti says there's more to come.
We are just getting started...— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 8, 2018
Read Avenatti's full report below: