Political News

Firm Tied to Russian Oligarch Made Payments to Michael Cohen

Posted May 8, 2018 8:09 p.m. EDT

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 Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions totaling at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.

Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year totaling 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 Tuesday, described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

Other transactions described in the financial records range from hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments by Fortune 500 firms with business before the Trump administration, to small amounts related to unexplained activities in foreign countries.

References to the transactions first appeared in a document posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star who was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. The lawyer’s six-page document, titled “Preliminary Report of Findings,” does not explain the source of his information but describes in detail dates, dollar amounts and parties involved in various dealings by Cohen and his company.

The Times’ review of financial records confirmed much of what was in Avenatti’s report. In addition, a review of emails and interviews shed additional light on Cohen’s dealings with the company connected to Vekselberg, who was stopped and questioned at an airport earlier this year by investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Taken together, the Times’ reporting and Avenatti’s document offer the most detailed picture to date on Cohen’s business dealings and financial entanglements in the runup to and aftermath of the election. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud and election-law violations, among other matters, according to people briefed on the investigation. Stephen Ryan, a lawyer representing Cohen, declined to comment.

Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, is suing Cohen and Trump to break her nondisclosure agreement related to the $130,000, and Avenatti has asserted that Cohen’s use of Essential Consultants to make the payment potentially violated banking laws. Cohen also used the same company to collect $250,000 after arranging payments in 2017 and 2018 by a major Republican donor, Elliott Broidy, to a former Playboy model he allegedly impregnated, according to news reports last month.

Among the other payments to Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October 2017 and January 2018 by Novartis Investments SARL, a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland. Novartis — whose chief executive was among 15 business leaders invited to dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in January — spent more than $10 million on lobbying in Washington last year and frequently seeks approvals from federal drug regulators. Novartis did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition, Korea Aerospace Industries paid Cohen’s company $150,000 last November, according to the records. The company, an aircraft manufacturer, is partners with Lockheed Martin, the American defense contractor, in competition for a multibillion dollar contract to provide trainer jets for the U.S. Air Force that is expected to be awarded this year. A representative for Korea Aerospace declined to comment.

AT&T made four payments totaling $200,000 between October 2017 and January 2018, according to the documents. AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is pending before the Justice Department, issued a statement on Tuesday evening confirming that it made payments to Cohen’s firm.

“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” the statement said. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”