The Russian billionaire at the center of a possible pay-to-play scandal with Michael Cohen met with President Donald Trump’s personal attorney in Trump Tower shortly before the oligarch’s subsidiary investment arm signed a million-dollar contract with Cohen, it emerged on Friday.
The subsidiary investment arm in question has previously denied that the Putin-connected Viktor Vekselberg had anything to do with the $1 million consulting contract and reported $580,000 in payments to Cohen.
On Friday, the New York Times and CNN reported that Vekselberg had attended meetings with Cohen shortly before the inauguration. The Times reported that the meeting took place on Jan. 9, 2017. The payments to Cohen from Columbus Nova, a company that had been previously listed on Vekselberg’s firm’s official website as a subsidiary of his own, began that same month.
In a statement earlier this month after the emergence of those payments, Columbus Nova said they were made completely independently of Vekselberg and his Renova Group.
“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,” Columbus Nova said at the time.
On Friday, Columbus Nova’s CEO Andrew Intrater described his and the oligarch’s meeting with Cohen days before the contract was initiated, but continued to deny that Vekselberg, Intrater’s cousin, was involved in the payments.
“Obviously, if I’d known in January 2017 that I was about to hire this high-profile guy who’d wind up in this big mess, I wouldn’t have introduced him to my biggest client, and wouldn’t have hired him at all,” Intrater told the Times.
The Times further reported:
In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another at the inauguration, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said.
The Times reported earlier this month that Vekselberg had been interviewed at an airport and had his electronic devices searched by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Vekselberg was one of seven Russian oligarchs hit with sanctions last month for Moscow’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. Despite bipartisan support in Congress and the backing of his own advisers, Trump has reportedly attempted to block sanctions against Russia, some of which were watered down last month. Mueller is reportedly investigating Cohen’s role in promoting a peace plan between Russia and Ukraine that would have involved the lifting of Russian sanctions by the United States. Earlier this week, the BBC reported that Cohen had accepted somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000 to set up a White House meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Trump.
The money paid by Vekselberg’s subsidiary investment vehicle went to the same shell company that paid adult film performer Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for a now-contested hush money agreement to keep silent about an alleged Shark Week sex affair with Trump.
Trump is under investigation by Mueller’s investigation, which is seeking to determine whether or not anyone in his campaign collaborated with the Russian cyber-attacks on America’s democratic election. Three of his former aides or advisers—including his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn—have pled guilty to felonies and agreed to cooperate with federal officials in connection with the case. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is meanwhile facing a pair of trials for a laundry list of federal crimes connected to his alleged unregistered lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Putin political party in Ukraine.