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FEATURE NEWS

Another shoe drops in the
Russia ‘Witch Hunt’:
Donald Trump’s lawyer in the spotlight again, this time over payments tied to Russian oligarch

May 09, 2018




Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney. Photo: Youtube (2015)

Chronicle staff

(NATIONAL) – President Trump keeps telling the American people that the Special Counsel investigation, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and any possible Russian or other foreign intelligence interference into the American presidential election is nothing but a “witch hunt.” There’s no “there” there, according to Trump.

Well, it must be one heck of a productive witch hunt because to date 13 Russian citizens and 3 Russian entities have been indicted and Mueller has so far secured guilty pleas from five people including former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos - who pleaded guilty in October 2017 to making false statements to FBI agents about contacts he had with agents of the Russian government while working for the Trump campaign in 2016 - and Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who, in December pleaded guilty to "willfully and knowingly" making "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements" to the FBI.

Flynn later announced he was cooperating with Mueller's investigation and was "working to set things right". Mueller is also investigating the activities of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort who, on October 30, 2017 surrendered, along with his business partner Rick Gates to the FBI on charges brought by Mueller.

If it’s all a witch hunt, it would appear there’s a lot of “witches” in the stew already and, according to the latest reporting, possibly more witches ready to move to the front of the pack as the Mueller probe moves forward.

Cohen’s shell company under scrutiny

Item: the New York Times reported yesterday that a shell company that Trump’s long time personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a porn movie star (Stormy Daniels) also “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,” examined and conducted by the newspaper.

The Times story says the financial records it looked at show that Cohen, often referred to in media reports as President Trump’s “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.”

Items from that report:

~ The Times investigation found there were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, a New York investment company whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg --a Russian oligarch. The report says a lawyer for Columbus Nova issued a statement describing the money as a “consulting fee” that had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

~ Other transactions described in financial records the Times reviewed include “hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Cohen received from Fortune 500 companies with business before the Trump administration.”

~ The Times report also notes that references to some of those transactions “first appeared in a document posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti,” the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels (who was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants to keep quiet about an alleged sexual tryst with Mr. Trump). Avenatti’s Twitter post (a seven-page document) does not, says the Times, explain the source of his information but does describe “in detail dates, dollar amounts and parties involved in various dealings by Mr. Cohen and his company. Most of the transactions involved two banks: First Republic Bank and City National Bank.”

All of which begs the question, how is Avenatti getting his hands on this material? In an appearance last night on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s program, Avenatti did not reveal his sources but did say since he’s been involved in the case for Daniels (who’s employed Avenatti to get her non-disclosure agreement over the alleged Trump tryst nullified) people are coming forward with information to give to him, ostensibly for him to make public.

The Vekselberg connection

CNN reported that Mueller's investigators have questioned Viktor Vekselberg, an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin who is also chairman of asset manager Renova Group “about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments his company's US affiliate made to President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, after the election, according to a source familiar with the matter.”

Last month the Trump administration placed Vekselberg on a list of sanctioned Russians for activities including alleged election interference. The CNN story says “The purpose of the payments, which predate the sanctions, and the nature of the business relationship between Vekselberg and Cohen is unclear.”

The CNN report does say the “scrutiny of the payments could add to the legal troubles for Cohen, whose home and office were raided last month as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.”

The story also says the questions that Mueller’s investigators asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller’s people have been looking into some of Cohen's business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Vekselberg is one of two Russian oligarchs the FBI stopped earlier this year after their private jets landed in New York-area airports as part of Mueller's investigation, noted the CNN report.

The Times story says federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Cohen for “possible bank fraud and election-law violations, among other matters.” Stephen Ryan, a lawyer representing Mr. Cohen, declined to comment.

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