New details emerged this week concerning the finances of embattled attorney Michael Cohen, who until recently represented President Donald Trump regarding personal matters.
Cohen became embroiled in controversy after revealing that he paid $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress known professionally as Stormy Daniels, to keep her from going public just before the 2016 election with her claim that she had an affair with Trump years earlier.
The details of the arrangement have changed in the ensuing months, particularly regarding whether Trump knew about the payment when it occurred and when — or whether — the president repaid Cohen.
At the heart of the most recent allegations are a number of other payments linked to Essential Consultants, the corporation formed shortly before the Clifford payment and from which the $130,000 was withdrawn.
Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, publicized a report this week that he claimed shows that the consulting firm raked in millions of dollars from several companies shortly after its formation in October 2016.
One Cohen associate said that Trump’s longtime lawyer and confidante had bragged as recently as last summer about his ability to acquire funds from clients seeking insight into the new administration.
“I’m crushing it,” Cohen reportedly said of his efforts at the time.
According to the documents compiled by Avenatti, of which only a tiny fraction has been disputed, Cohen was able to secure six- or seven-figure contracts with at least four major clients.
A $500,000 payment by Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm, was particularly controversial because of its ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, according to Forbes. The firm has since issued a statement distancing itself from the foreign billionaire.
“Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” said attorney Richard Owens. “Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false.”
In that case, the firm claimed its payments to Essential Consultants were in exchange for real estate investment consultations.
The apparent shell corporation brought in another $1.2 million from Novartis, a leading pharmaceutical company. In a statement, company spokesperson Sofina Mirza-Reid said it was soon clear that Cohen could not provide “services … related to U.S. healthcare policy matters” that the company initially sought.
According to the terms of the contract, she said Novartis was obligated to continue making payments until the one-year term had expired.
Essential Consultants also reportedly took in $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries, which released a statement indicating that it paid for advice regarding “reorganization of our internal accounting system.”
Finally, AT&T confirmed it paid Cohen’s firm in exchange for “insights into understanding the new administration.”
According to Avenatti’s records, those payments totaled at least $200,000.
So far, the White House has remained silent on the developing story.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly referred reporters to Trump’s outside legal counsel during a media briefing on Wednesday.
When she was asked whether Cohen would have been in a position to provide insight about the president, Sanders was similarly evasive.
“I’m not going to get into somebody else’s qualifications,” she said. “That’s something an independent company that hires that individual would have to make that determination, not me.”
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