Firm with ties to Russian oligarch allegedly made payments to Trump's attorney

The payments come from both obscure companies and well-known brands.

May 8, 2018, 9:02 PM

The publicity savvy attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels on Tuesday released a document that alleges a company associated with a Russian billionaire sent $500,000 in payments to a fund maintained by President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen – the same fund Cohen used to pay a hush agreement with the actress, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.

“As detailed below, 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,” the document states.

The seven-page document, prepared by the law firm of Clifford's attorney, Michael Avenatti, outlines what it says are $4.4 million in payments to the corporate entity set up by Cohen shortly before the 2016 elections. The payments come from both obscure companies and well-known brands, foreign and domestic, including AT&T and Columbus Nova, several of which have extensive business before the U.S. government. The alleged payments continued until earlier this year.

Last month, federal agents searched Cohen’s home and office for a range of documents and computer files, including those related to his transactions with Clifford. Cohen has not been charged with any crime, and both he and his attorney have maintained that he has done nothing improper.

PHOTO: Stormy Daniels arrives for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, on Feb. 11, 2007.
Stormy Daniels arrives for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, on Feb. 11, 2007.
Matt Sayles/AP FILE

Mr. Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, has not responded to calls from ABC News.

Avenatti released the so-called “executive summary” of what he says are financial transactions by Essential Consultants LLC, the entity that paid Clifford $130,000 for her silence late in the 2016 campaign. He does not indicate how he obtained or verified the information.

“Mr. Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the President and holding himself out at times as employed by the Trump Organization,” the document says. “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 relationship between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump.”

PHOTO: Michael Avenatti appears on "This Week."
Michael Avenatti appears on "This Week."
ABC News

When asked by ABC News, Avenatti declined to say how he obtained the records. But he said it came through “an exhaustive process over a significant period of time.”

“We are highly confident this is 100 percent accurate,” Avenatti said.

AT&T told ABC News in a statement, “Essential Consultants 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.”

The payments tied to Vekselberg came from an American firm called Columbus Nova, which has financial ties to Renova, a global conglomerate run by Vekselberg. Columbus Nova said in a statement late Tuesday that the firm’s work with Cohen was not improper.

"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,” Columbus Nova's attorney Richard Owens said in the statement. “Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova's engagement of Michael Cohen 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."

Vekselberg, considered one of the richest men in Russia, is reported to hold frequent meetings with President Vladimir Putin as part of a business group known as the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Emails to Vekselberg’s Moscow-based company Renova were not returned.

Vekselberg had crossed paths with officials in Trump’s inner circle prior to the real estate mogul’s run for president. The New York Times reported that he attended the same dinner that brought one-time Trump adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, together with Vladimir Putin in 2015.

After Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took a controlling interest in the Bank of Cyprus, for instance, a company controlled by Vekselberg became the biggest single Bank of Cyprus shareholder. During Ross’ confirmation hearings, a group of six Democratic senators raised questions about the nominee’s ties to Vekselberg. They noted that Vekselberg had served on the board of the Russian oil company Rosneft, which was placed under sanctions in 2014 after Russia’s armed incursion into Crimea.

Vekselberg also oversaw fundraising for the Moscow Jewish Museum, including hosting a 2014 gala in Russia attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

The White House declined to comment.

Emails to Vekselberg’s company in Russia seeking comment were not returned.

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