The lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who says she was paid $130,000 by Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, to stay quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump, on Tuesday claimed that Cohen received $500,000 from a Russian billionaire in the months after the 2016 U.S. election.
In a tweet and report released on Tuesday, Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti said a company controlled by an oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Viktor Vekselberg, sent the payment to Cohen.
Avenatti's tweets came after CNN reported that special counsel Robert Meuller's team had questioned Vekselberg about payments to Cohen, though the news channel did not cite a specific number.
Lawyer Michael Avenatti released a seven-page memo detailing what he said were wire transfers going into and out of the account Cohen used to pay Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to stay silent about her alleged affair. Trump denies having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
The memo, containing highly specific dates and amounts, stated that Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire, and his cousin "routed" eight payments to Cohen's company, Essential Consultants, between January and August 2017. The reason for the payment was not known.
Speculating without offering proof, the Avenatti memo said, "It appears these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford."
Cohen's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"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 Avenatti memo said.
At the time of the payments, there was an active FBI counterintelligence investigation — which special counsel Robert Mueller took over last May — into Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates.
Vekselberg was targeted for U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration last month. He built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in the aluminum and oil industries. More recently, he has expanded his assets to include industrial equipment and high technology.
The Avenatti memo also states that hundreds of thousands of dollars streamed into Cohen's account from companies including Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace.
Offering confirmation for at least one of the payments, AT&T said 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."
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.
© 2021 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.