Multiple news outlets are confirming that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, took $500,000 from a company controlled by (or linked to) Viktor Vekselberg, a Putin pet oligarch. The money was paid into the same shell company–Essential Consulting LLC–that Cohen used to pay off porn actress Stormy Daniels, to keep her from talking about her extra-marital fling with Donald Trump. The New York Times:
A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.
Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions adding up to at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.
Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch. A lawyer for Columbus Nova, in a statement on Tuesday, described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Mr. Vekselberg.
Other transactions described in the financial records include hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Cohen received from Fortune 500 firms with business before the Trump administration, as well as smaller amounts he paid for luxury expenses like a Mercedes-Benz and private club dues.
The payments occurred in 2017, after the election but before Trump placed sanctions on Mr. Vekselberg (lotta good that half-mil did). Ms. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, actually broke the story when he released of a seven-page PDF (sorry, I can’t access it). CNN reports that the Special Counsel interviewed Mr. Vekselberg as part of the Putin probe, so it seems fair to say that Mueller knew about the payments to Cohen. This isn’t the first time that this Putin oligarch, one cousin removed, gave money to entities in Trump’s orbit.
Andrew Intrater, according to Mother Jones, is Vekselberg’s cousin. He is also chief executive of Columbus Nova, Renova’s U.S. investment arm located in New York. (FEC records list his employer as Renova US Management LLC.)
Intrater had no significant history of political contributions prior to the 2016 elections. But in January 2017 he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. His six-figure gift bought him special access to a dinner billed as “an intimate policy discussion with select cabinet appointees,” according to a brochure obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
The same entity also gave $35,000 to the Trump Victory Fund and $26,000 to the RNC in 2017. Also, Mr. Vekselberg was business partners with the current US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross:
This Russian oligarch was a partner of Wilbur Ross in rescuing and reviving a collapsed Cypriot bank that had been full of shady Russian money. Not surprisingly, Ross downplayed his curious connection to Vekselberg during his 2017 confirmation hearings for the commerce secretary position he now holds.
It pains me to use Mother Jones as a source. Mr. Vekselberg was at the same dinner with Michael Flynn, the one that honored Russia Today, Putin’s propaganda network.
The payments to Cohen raises all kinds of questions. Was it pay to play? If so, how Clintonian. Like with Stormy Daniels, was Cohen simply a conduit, and did the monies he received go someplace else? Or did Cohen just take the money in exchange for access? Exactly what consulting services did Mr. Cohen provide? Was there contract between Cohen and the Putineer’s cousin? AT&T explained why they gave Cohen $200,000–for “insights”, whatever that means–not that it helped the communications behemoth with their proposed blockbuster merger with Time Warner.
The payments to Cohen should be good reason for a forensic audit not just of Essential Consulting LLC but also of Columbus Nova and their biggest client, the Renova Group. It seems to me that whatever swamp was drained by Trump (if at all) has been replaced with just more muck.
P.S. I use “Putineer” to describe Putin’s pet oligarchs (they don’t get to be oligarchs without bending the knee to the Russian dictator) and his operatives. Also, I don’t use RT describe Putin’s propaganda network, preferring to use the full name, Russia Today.