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Porn star’s lawyer says Russian paid Trump attorney Cohen

Michael Avenatti
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stormy Daniels’ lawyer said Tuesday he has information showing that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, received $500,000 from a company associated with a Russian billionaire within months of paying hush money to Daniels, a porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti also said hundreds of thousands of dollars streamed into Cohen’s account from companies including Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace. AT&T confirmed its connection Tuesday evening.

Avenatti did not provide documents to support the claims and did not reveal the source of his information.

But in a seven-page memo he detailed what he said were wire transfers going into and out of the account Cohen used to pay Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to stay silent about her alleged affair with the soon-to-be president. Trump denies having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The memo, containing highly specific dates and amounts, stated that Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire, and his cousin “routed” eight payments totaling approximately $500,000 to Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, between January and August 2017. The reason for the payment was not known.

Speculating without offering proof, the Avenatti memo said, “It appears these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford.”

Avenatti’s memo said the deposits into the account controlled by Cohen were made by Columbus Nova, an American investment company affiliated with the Renova Group, which is controlled by Russian billionaire Victor Vekselberg.

Columbus Nova’s attorney Richard Owens said in a statement that, after Trump’s inauguration, the firm hired Cohen as a business consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” but that it had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

Owens said any suggestion that Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Cohen are false.

“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,” he said.

Cohen and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At the time of the payments, there was an active FBI counterintelligence investigation — which special counsel Robert Mueller took over last May — into Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates.

Vekselberg was targeted for U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration last month. He built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in the aluminum and oil industries. More recently, he has expanded his assets to include industrial equipment and high technology.

Offering confirmation for at least one of the payments, AT&T said in a statement that Essential Consultants was one of several firms it “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,” the company said.

Such a confidential relationship would not violate federal lobbying laws if Cohen did not seek to influence Trump on the companies’ behalf. But hiring the president’s personal attorney for advice on how to woo Trump would be highly unusual, especially given that Cohen was never formally involved in the campaign or Trump’s administration.

Making the arrangement even stranger, the blue-chip companies’ payments to Cohen were routed to Essential Consultants LLC — the same company Cohen used to buy Stormy Daniels’ silence about her alleged affair with the President.

Novartis and Korea Aerospace did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day and Catherine Lucey in Washington, Jacob Pearson in New York and Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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