WASHINGTON — Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, made a blockbuster allegation Tuesday. In a report that he posted on Twitter, Avenatti claimed that President Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, received $500,000 from Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
It is unclear how Avenatti obtained the information outlined in the report, and he did not respond to a request for comment. For months, Avenatti has been pushing to obtain records related to a bank account Cohen used to make a $130,000 payment to Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, on Oct. 27, 2016. The report Avenatti posted online alleged that the money from Vekselberg was sent to this same account.
“Within approximately 75 days of the payment to Ms. Clifford, Mr. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, caused substantial funds to be deposited into the bank account from which Mr. Cohen made the payment. It appears that these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford,” the report said.
Vekselberg and his Renova Group conglomerate were among the Russian individuals and entities sanctioned by the U.S. last month in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Daniels is suing Trump and Cohen to void a nondisclosure agreement preventing her from publicly discussing an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. She has said the $130,000 payment was provided as part of that deal. Daniels is also suing Cohen for defamation, because she said he falsely depicted her as a liar by denying the affair. Cohen has claimed he made the payment to Daniels without Trump’s knowledge even though the affair never took place because he wanted to protect Trump from embarrassment. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The payment to Daniels and its reimbursement has been the subject of growing interest because of the possibility that the transaction constituted an illegal campaign contribution since it was made shortly before the election and was designed to spare Trump from negative headlines. Trump initially said he was unaware of any arrangement between Cohen and Daniels, but last week he admitted that Cohen was reimbursed for the payment. According to Trump, Cohen received a monthly retainer to be his personal attorney and that the use of those funds wasn’t related to his presidential campaign.
Cohen is currently the subject of ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing his involvement in Trump’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Mueller also referred a case involving the payments to Daniels and another woman as well as Cohen’s personal real estate and taxi business to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That investigation resulted in an FBI raid on Cohen’s home and office last month.
Avenatti’s report alleged that the $500,000 from Vekselberg was sent to Cohen in eight separate payments made between January and August of last year.
“This was occurring at the same time significant questions were being raised relating to (a) the involvement of Russia and Vladimir Putin in the 2016 presidential election and (b) the extent of the relationship between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump,” the report said.
According to Avenatti’s report, the payments were “routed” by Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, through a company called Columbus Nova. The company is the American investment arm of Vekselberg’s conglomerate. Intrater did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News, but Columbus Nova’s attorney, Richard Owens, emailed a statement describing Avenatti’s report as “erroneous.” Owens said Cohen was hired by the company as a consultant and Vekselberg was not involved in the payments.
“Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false,” Owens said, adding, “The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Coehn [sic] is patently untrue. 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.”
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