$4.4 million flowed through one of Michael Cohen’s shell companies after the election, as he solicited bribes from corporate America and collected payments from Russian oligarchs

In yesterday’s post, toward the end, I mentioned the fact that evidence had surfaced of a $500,000 payment to Michael Cohen from Viktor Vekselberg, an oligarch in Putin’s inner circle, in the early months of the Trump presidency. My intention was to write more about this payment today, as well as the evidence of what appear to be corporate bribes that had been paid to Cohen from the likes of Novartis and AT&T, but then I read Bess Levin’s piece in Vanity Fair, accepted the fact that she told the story better than I ever could, and decided to just share a link… So, please head over there right now… Here, though, for those of you who won’t follow the link, is how the story begins.

On Tuesday afternoon, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, claimed that a shell company set up by Donald Trump’s personal lawyer to funnel hush-money to Daniels had also received more than $2 million from several multi-nationals with business before the Trump administration, not to mention an investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch. Almost immediately, multiple media outlets including CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal confirmed the payments, leaving the companies little choice but to cop to having written very large checks to Cohen’s fortuitously-named Essential Consultants LLC. And their excuses for doing so are not particularly good!

Essential Consultants LLC is not really a company, just like Michael Cohen is not exactly a lawyer. The shell company, which Cohen set up in Delaware shortly before the election to silence Daniels, does not appear to have a Web site or any employees. (Financial records describe it as a “real-estate consulting company that collects fees for investment-consulting work.”) Cohen, meanwhile, has so few clients that federal prosecutors recently challenged him in court to prove that he really is a lawyer, and not merely the president’s fixer. (To do so, Cohen named Trump, Republican lobbyist Elliott Broidy, and Fox News host Sean Hannity as clients, the latter of whom effectively denied that Cohen had ever done any real work for him.) In fact, Cohen’s main business interests appear to be flipping real estate, setting up medical companies that are later indicted for insurance fraud, buying and selling taxi medallions on which he reportedly owes hundreds of thousands in unpaid taxes, and facilitating hush payments to women on behalf of Trump.

So what exactly were multi-national conglomerates with hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, and hundreds of thousands of employees, paying Cohen to do? In a statement, AT&T—which is currently fending off an anti-trust lawsuit by the Department of Justice—said that its $200,000 in payments were made in order to gain “insights into understanding the new administration” and that they involved “no legal or lobbying work for us.” The pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG said its $1.2 million payment with Cohen was “focused on U.S. health-care policy matters” and, in any event, the deal was struck by its former C.E.O., with its new C.E.O. having zero “involvement” in it. (“Wow—he’s a doctor as well!!” Avenatti wrote on Twitter. “Very talented guy this Mr. Cohen.”)

Yes, it appears that Cohen is indeed a multi-talented renaissance man with “insights” into all sorts of industries. South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd (K.A.I.), which is currently bidding for a multi-billion-dollar contract with the U.S. Air Force, says it paid Cohen $150,000 for “accounting advice.” And Columbus Nova, the company whose biggest investor is owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, has said it paid Cohen half a million dollars to act “as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.” Before anyone gets any crazy ideas about what was really going on, however, all of the companies would like it to be known that their payments were strictly of the legal variety. In fact, K.A.I. took pains to assure reporters that everything was aboveboard. “We received advice from Mr Cohen’s entity on local accounting standards and the payment to the entity was legal,” a spokesperson told the Financial Times. Case-closed! No further questions!…

So, thanks to Michael Avenatti, whoever sent him the banking records in question, and some really sloppy work on the part of Michael Cohen, we now know that the bank account which had been opened with the purpose of paying-off Stormy Daniels, was also used to accept cash transfers from Russia, and from corporations with business before the United States federal government.

We now know that Michael Cohen, while deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee, not only paid-off a porn actress, but received $500,000 from Russia, and did so after the investigation had begun into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin. This, as Joe Biden might say, is a big fucking deal. So big, in fact, that members of the Trump administration have gone uncharacteristically quiet. [I imagine they’re hiding in a bunker somewhere, drafting new talking points to replace “witch hunt” and “there’s no evidence of collusion with Russia.”]

And then there’s the matter of selling access, which is clearly what was happening… Korea’s KAI says they paid paid Cohen $150,000 for “accounting advice”, but I think we can all agree that’s bullshit, just like the stories from AT&T and Novartis. The truth is, Cohen, as we’re just starting to hear today, was reaching out to companies with business before the federal government, and requesting that they set up payment plans. According to NBC News, a senior official within Novartis has confirmed that, just after the election, Cohen reached out to them “promising access” to the Trump administration for a price.

The question, as I mentioned earlier, is to what extent Trump was aware and profiting from this scheme.

Personally, I think Trump had to have known, but I guess we’ll have to wait util Cohen flips until we find out for certain. I’m looking forward to the day, though, when Cohen tells us all how, on Inauguration Day, Trump turned toward him has they approached the White House, and said, “Let’s monetize the fuck out of this bitch.”

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  1. Iron Lung 2
    Posted May 9, 2018 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Remember the FISA memo?

    I can’t seem to remember what that was about anymore, given all the nonsense since.

  2. Jean Henry
    Posted May 9, 2018 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Ad yet Demetrius is still talking about the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One… and placing them in the same category with this crap.

  3. Jcp2
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    My level of concern would depend on if the initial motivation was “I can put in a good word for you” vs “That’s a nice business you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

  4. John Brown
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The far right is embracing a ruskie stooge and all the corruption and thuggery it entails. The NRA involvement with Russia is key to create the credible threat of violence should the Democratic process depose the ruskie stooge. Nutjobs, Nazis, Crusaders, and all flavors of unAmerican fools are being encouraged to abandon politics for tyranny. Liberals have no choice but to call the bluff and be ready to defend Democracy.

  5. Jean Henry
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Based on the results of the primaries that took place last Tuesday, I’d say Trumpism appear to be winning its hostile takeover of the GOP. I don’t relish this as much as I thought I might. It seems to portend not an inevitable string of victories for the left, but a relentless swinging back and forth from one extreme to another with no middle ground to occupy, just two sides poised in resistance to one another and feeling increasingly justified in their corruption and authoritarianism. As much as many here hate the establishment parties and what they had in common (serving the donor class, etc), they were able at one time to function in governance and foreign diplomacy. As they fail increasingly to do so, they open the door to authoritarian action. In fact, much of Obama’s retreat to undemocratic executive action was justified by obstructionism and dysfunction in the Congress. And I supported him and his objectives, but he was an unusually decent leader. His actions opened the door for Trumpism. I believe history will see it that way. I’m not sure he had a choice. But I think the slide to authoritarian rule didn’t start with Trump and I think we may someday bemoan the end of the old GOP, beginning with the rise of the Tea Party or the Republican Revolution or wherever, as the beginning of the end of US functional democracy. And won’t that be a hoot for those of us, myself included, who only wanted the GOP to die?

  6. Meta
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Something new to chew on.

    Washington Post: “Russia-linked company that hired Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites during election”

    A company at the center of widening questions involving President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.

    Columbus Nova, a company whose U.S. chief executive, Andrew Intrater, and Russian investment partner Viktor Vekselberg have both reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, is listed as the registrant behind a handful of domains for websites named after the alt-right that were created during the 2016 election.

    It is unclear if any of these websites were launched or ever hosted content.

    These sites include Alt-right.co, Alternate-right.com, Alternate-rt.com, Alt-rite.com, and other similar combinations, which were all registered in the two days following a speech given by then candidate Hillary Clinton in August 2016 in which she excoriated the far-right movement known for its extremist, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist viewpoints. The sites are not currently operational.

    Read more:

  7. John Brown
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Meta, clearly the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that trump is a ruskie stooge. That’s been obvious since well before the election. The question is how are we going to deal with the 10s of millions of folks willing to tolerate it? A huge segment of our population feels a greater cultural affinity to totalitarian ruskies than to their liberal neighbors. And they are operating under the assumption that they can use thuggery as a political tool because the social construct that liberals are pussies. Ironically the NRA army are now the tyranny they warned us about. The idea that liberals aren’t ready to shoot back in the Christo-Fascist purge fantasies must be squashed mightily.

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    John Brown– What is clear to you is not clear to those 10’s of millions. They simply think we are trying to take Trump down at any cost and are making shit up to do so. If they believed the claims then you could say they don’t care, but they don’t. They know this game because they did the same to Obama and it largely worked.

    We all see as obvious stories that align with our political viewpoint.
    Others will require proof.

    This is as it should be and soon enough, as with Nixon and Watergate, Mueller will provide adequate proof and indictments. Please remember that Nixon had 50% GOP support right up until his resignation.

    My greatest concern is the pivot of both parties to either extreme in the wake of this horror. And more divisiveness and more slip toward authoritarianism. In a country as politically diverse as ours, there is simply no possibility of leftist or right-wing populist revolution without a consequent rise in authoritarianism.

    My hope lies in non-partisan efforts to address that relentless and toxic divisiveness by ending gerrymandering, protecting voter rights and access as well as the right to protest, and providing fact-checking and internet security and democracy to all sides. Basically, we need to build walls of protection to the fourth estate as well as free and fair elections.

    So when you start your rebellion against oppression, I’ll be all about providing you adequate legal protection, but when you try to impose your political will upon the people by means of violence, I will be fighting you. That’s not contradictory. That’s how democratic change actually happens. It’s messy and slow but it holds. And it takes all kinds…

  9. Lynne
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    If the two parties get more extreme, maybe it will open up space for a centrist third party? Probably not but it is an interesting idea.

  10. John Brown
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    JH, the last thing I want is a violent revolution. Not sure where you get revolution out of my desire to deter the right wingers from using violence as a political threat. Just like the last thing we want is a nuclear war. Yet we have nuclear weapons so that the other side is deterred from using theirs. Same deal with the potential for political violence. It’s one card in the exceedingly complex struggle over the character of our political system.

    I agree 100% on fixing the gerrymandering problem and maximizing political participation. But, I also think that we non-fascists should be on a parallel track of pushing for the type of political reform that will give us a more representative government, while simultaneously being realistic about the threats the other side pose and how best to respond. Which, at some point may necessarily include violence. History shows that no amount of proof will be adequate for a large segment of the electorate. The anti-muslim evangelicals are knowingly and willingly embracing totalitarianism to undermine the diverse representative democracy that we support. And they must be stopped. Hopefully at the ballot box….

    Lets change the social construct from “liberals are pussies”, to “liberals are patriots willing to fight and die for democracy”. Don’t underestimate the role this perception plays in what happens over the near future.

  11. Jean Henry
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    It might have been your assumed name John Brown;-)
    Good to hear. Happy to stand corrected. And agreed on most points.

  12. wobblie
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    18 years of bi-partisan support for war based on lies and deceit, and you think we are just now slipping into authoritarianism? We are a culture that is sleep walking to our graves.

  13. Iron Lung 2
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Be best!

  14. From the internets
    Posted May 10, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    JUST IN: Novartis CEO in letter to employees:

    “We made a mistake in entering into this agreement” with Michael Cohen, but “what defines us now is as how we respond to this difficult situation.”

  15. John Brown
    Posted May 11, 2018 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Chauncey Vega nails it, except for glossing over the reality that may be involved with “political revolution”. This is why Dems need both a more aggressive political agenda AND a visible militant component to counter the right wing civilian army.

    “But if a future person or group does overthrow American democracy, I fear it will be because the coming cohort of Democrats could not overcome their traditional cringing timidity (or corruption) and match their program to the size of the problems besetting the nation.”


  16. Jean Henry
    Posted May 11, 2018 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    It makes total sense to want the system to work to correct this breach of our democracy. The lack of respect for our central institutions may be understandable but its also dangerous. And, honestly, based on what I’ve seen, I trust no on from any political perspective to run this joint on their own. I don’t seek domination by the left. I really don’t think we’d be better than any other group without the counterbalance of other viewpoints. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but many many liberals, progressives, and radicals are in fact idiots when it comes to basic economics. Most of the liberal base indulges economic magical thinking about solutions. While many on the right are too focused on economics and strategy (winning) to imagine solutions. They don’t even care about them really. The two sides, ideally, balance each other out. (And there are of course really more than two sides, even within the two main parties.) I’m quite content to place my hope in avoiding revolution because I believe strongly that’s the best path to lasting progressive change.

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  1. […] Farrow’s new article in the New Yorker, which is all about the circumstances surrounding the release of Michael Cohen’s banking records last week. It’s really incredible stuff… Not only does it look as though there were several other […]

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