Seems … important, at least potentially. At long last, the streams of Russiagate and Stormygate cross.
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
What Avenatti’s alleging is actually smaller and yet much bigger than the headline above suggests. Read his “dossier” on Cohen and you’ll see that he has basically zero evidence that the $500,000 received by Cohen from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg after the election had anything to do with the payment to Stormy Daniels. He’s linking them purely in terms of timing: Daniels was paid off in October 2016, Vekselberg started sending cash to Cohen in January 2017. Therefore, maybe, possibly, if you squint real hard, Vekselberg was reimbursing him for Daniels. Meh.
Avenatti’s no dummy, though. I don’t think he believes Vekselberg’s money had anything to do with Stormy; that’s just the sexy angle he came up with knowing that it would grab the media’s attention. What he’s alleging in his “executive summary” is way more significant than that, evidence that Michael Cohen was receiving *a lot* of money from various entities after Trump won the presidency in a bank account that he’d set up to supposedly handle small consulting fees related to real estate work. To put it bluntly, he’s accusing Cohen of maintaining a slush fund — a lucrative one, which Avenatti strongly implies may have been used to sell access to the president. Misleading the bank about the nature of the account he’d set up might also amount to bank fraud, which may at last reveal why the U.S. Attorney has taken such an interest in Cohen. If Avenatti’s darkest insinuations are borne out, Cohen’s under suspicion for seven-figure influence peddling in relation to (or at the behest of?) the president of the United States.
He lists various transactions he claims to have knowledge of, including $400,000 in payments from Novartis made shortly before Trump had dinner with the CEO in January. Why was $4 million flowing into Cohen’s bank account — the same one, it seems, that he used to make the payment to Daniels? And if this really was an international slush fund for his or Trump’s benefit, why the hell would this idiot have used it to pay off a mistress given the potential campaign-finance implications that might trigger federal scrutiny?
If the payment from Vekselberg was related to the Daniels payoff then Cohen has another potential problem:
9/ According to Avenatti, the payments to Essential from the Oligarch were routed through a U.S. company called Columbus Nova. This suggests that the oligarch wanted to hide the payment, and might give Cohen the defense that he didn’t know that the payment was from the Russian.
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) May 8, 2018
One obvious question here is how Avenatti knows all of this. He hasn’t done discovery yet in his suit against Cohen, as far as I’m aware. Another question is why Bob Mueller isn’t interested in alleged payments by a Kremlin crony like Vekselberg to Trump’s lawyer. This would seem to be right up his alley, no?
Actually, we already have an answer to the second question. Per CNN, Mueller is interested:
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch 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.
Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of asset manager Renova Group, is an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, and last month the Trump administration placed him on a list of sanctioned Russians for activities including election interference. The purpose of the payments, which predate the sanctions, and the nature of the business relationship between Vekselberg and Cohen is unclear…
FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source.
The Daily Beast is confirming tonight that Cohen did receive $500,000 from Vekselberg, just as Avenatti said. The purpose of the payment is unclear but it’s apparently true that a Russian who was sanctioned for election interference by the Trump administration gave Trump’s lawyer half a million dollars in 2017. Let that sink in.
I’ll point you back to a post from March 5, “Is Mueller’s Office Now Investigating … Stormygate?”, as an early warning alert that Mueller was interested in what Cohen was doing with the account he used to pay Daniels off. The bank that housed Cohen’s account flagged the $130,000 payment as suspicious, presumably because Cohen had told them (as Avenatti’s document suggests) that money would be going into and out of the account in smaller amounts and mainly for real estate work. The bank’s curiosity in that payment may have been the origin of the bank fraud investigation of Cohen. Presumably that also explains why, despite his interest in the payments to Cohen from the Russian Vekselberg, Mueller ended up referring the material he had on Cohen to the U.S. Attorney. If Avenatti’s right about various payments coming into the account from non-Russian entities like Novartis, Elliott Broidy, AT&T, and a few others, those wouldn’t fall under the authority granted to Mueller to investigate Russian interference. It may be that he and the U.S. Attorney are running parallel investigations into what Cohen was doing with his bank account, with Mueller focused on the Russian business and the USAT on everything else.
By the way, AT&T has confirmed another part of Avenatti’s allegations:
BREAKING: @ATT confirms payments to Cohen LLC >>
Full Stmt: “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”
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) May 8, 2018
“Insights,” huh? You sure it wasn’t pay-for-play? “Here’s $150,000, Michael. If you’re able to arrange it so that we can get some insights face to face from the president as well, we’d be grateful.”
One more link for you, since we’re on the subject of Cohen’s mysterious payoffs. I didn’t write a post on this Paul Campos piece at New York magazine because it’s pure speculation, but it’s also the most interesting thing I read online today, well argued, and highly persuasive. Campos’s thesis is straightforward: He believes that the hush-money agreement that Cohen supposedly arranged between Elliott Broidy and Playboy playmate Shera Bechard was actually a hush-money agreement between Bechard and Trump. Broidy had to step down from an RNC committee after that came out because of the most shocking detail of his alleged arrangement with Bechard, namely, that he convinced her to have an abortion after he got her pregnant. Campos argues that none of that makes sense — there’s no reason to think Broidy would be dating playmates or using Cohen to handle sensitive business, but there *is* reason to think Broidy might take the fall for Trump to spare him from the firestorm of an abortion scandal. Just speculation, but a lot of media types are paying attention to Campos’s post today and will be sniffing around Broidy and Bechard now to see if they can corroborate a relationship between the two. If they can’t, hoo boy.