CYBERSPACE—Michael Cohen may have been reimbursed for the payment he made to Stormy Daniels via funds from a Russian-linked billionaire oligarch with close links to that country’s president, Vladimir Putin, according to a jaw-dropping allegation issued Tuesday afternoon by Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti.
Daniels was paid $130,000 by Cohen to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006. She is now suing to be released from that “hush agreement.”
The cash funneled to Cohen came during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Avenatti. During that campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed that he had no business or financial ties to Russia.
The oligarch named by Avenatti—oil and metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, who is one of the richest men in Russia—is under United States economic sanctions and was grilled by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators as he stepped off a private plane at a New York-area airport in March.
“After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump’s attorney Mr. Cohen received approximately $500,000 in the months after the election from a company controlled by a Russian Oligarch with close ties to Mr. Putin. These monies may have reimbursed the $130k payment,” Avenatti posted on his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.
UPDATE: About 90 minutes after Avenatti posted the allegation to his Twitter feed, CNN reported that Mueller’s investigators had, in fact, questioned Vekselberg about the payments to Cohen. But CNN did not confirm that the Russian oligarch’s money was used to reimburse Cohen for the Daniels payoff, reporting only that “the nature of the business relationship between Vekselberg and Cohen is unclear.”
However, also on Tuesday afternoon, The Daily Beast online magazine said that its reporters had confirmed Avenatti’s allegations that Vekselberg funneled cash to Cohen in 2016, citing “a source familiar with the matter.”
“How the fuck did Avenatti find out?” the source reportedly exclaimed to The Daily Beast reporters.
The New York Times also confirmed the payments from the Veksleberg-linked company Columbus Nova to Cohen.
“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,” the Times reported early Tuesday evening.
A spokesperson for Columbus Nova told The Times that the payments were not connected to Vekselberg.
But in an “executive summary” of his findings posted online at this link, Avenatti went into more detail about his allegation.
“Mr. Cohen has previously claimed that the source of funds from the $130,000 payment was a home equity line of credit advance conducted on October 26, 2016. This has yet to be confirmed,” Avenatti wrote.
“However, 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. It appears that these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. (Daniels).”
The “executive summary” goes on to detail thousands of dollars in cash received by Cohen through various bank accounts. But the large cash transfer from Veklesberg was deposited into the same account used by Cohen to issue the $130,000 “hush money” payoff to Daniels, Avenatti alleges in the document.
Trump, Cohen and Trump’s newest lawyer—former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani—have offered shifting and often contradictory stories about the payoff to Daniels over the past several months of 2018. On April 5, Trump flatly denied even being aware of the payoff. But last week, Guiliani said repeatedly in televised interviews that Trump personally reimbursed Cohen for the six-figure hush money sum.
Avenatti is scheduled to appear in an MSNBC interview airing on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell at 10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 7 p.m. Pacific, where it is expected he will offer further details to support his startling allegation.
If true, the financial tie between the Russian oligarch and Cohen would not only be the most significant development in the Daniels case—by far—but could also be the biggest news yet in the Russia collusion investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign, according to investigative reporter David Corn, co-author of the recent book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.
“The fact that Viktor Vekselberg might have given half a million dollars to Michael Cohen is a pretty stunning fact,” Corn said in an MSNBC interview Tuesday afternoon.