Michael Cohen set up Essential Consulting LLC in October 2016, apparently as a way to covertly transfer $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, but since then at least $4.4 million has passed through the company, The New York Times reports, confirming a report from Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti. Those transactions include $200,000 from AT&T, nearly $400,000 from a U.S. subsidiary of Swiss drugmaker Novartis, $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries — all companies with business contingent on President Trump's administration — and most intriguingly, $500,000 from Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm with deep ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
Avenatti suggested Cohen's use of the LLC violated banking laws. It's unclear whether any of the transactions were "improper," the Times said, but "the financial records indicate that at least some of the money that passed through Essential Consultants was from sources and in amounts that were inconsistent with the company's stated purpose."
Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is under U.S. sanctions (as is his company, Renova Group), has reportedly been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, reportedly met with Cohen at Trump's inauguration, and attended the December 2015 dinner in Moscow where Putin was seated next to Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Columbus Nova, run by Andrew Intrater — Vekselberg's American cousin and "a former director and current member of the executive board of Renova Group," according to Columba Nova's website — said Cohen's payments were business consulting fees, the company was never owned or controlled by Vekselberg, Vekselberg had no role in hiring Cohen, and "reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false." Until last November, the Renova Group's website listed Columbus Nova as one of its "companies," NBC News reports.
NBC News also "reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti's account of the transactions," and a source told The Daily Beast that Avenatti's assertions about Columbus Nova were accurate, adding: "How the f--k did Avenatti find out?" Avenatti hinted at the answer on CNN Tuesday night, telling Anderson Cooper that "because we're so out front on this, people send us information."
Avenatti responds to the critics of his always-on-TV strategy: "Here's the bottom line, Anderson: It's working. It's working in spades... Because we're so out front on this, people send us information, people want to help our cause..." https://t.co/eKFkSdG7tt
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 9, 2018
You can read more details about Cohen's LLC at The New York Times, and The Washington Post has an incomplete chart of its money flow. Peter Weber