Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

“How the fuck did Avenatti find out?” the source asked The Daily Beast.

According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, “Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.”

The funds, Avenatti suggested, may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment made to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Intrater was also a donor to the Republican National Committee, where Cohen served as a deputy finance chairman. In June 2017, Intrater donated $35,000 to a joint fundraising committee for the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign. He also gave a quarter-million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. (Previously, Intrater gave only to Democrats like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Ted Kennedy.)

Intrater and Vekselberg have also been active investors in the U.S. technology and media sectors. Columbus Nova Technology Partners was the first and only outside investor in Gawker Media, before the company was felled by a lawsuit funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. Columbus Nova also backed the record label of former Def Jam boss Lyor Cohen, invested in the streaming music pioneer Rhapsody, and put moneybehind a gig-economy site, a “genetic risk” firm, and a company called Tomfoolery Incorporated.

Vekselberg himself has holdings all over the world—including a 26.2 percent stake in Rusal, the aluminum producing giant owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch now infamous for bankrolling former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort. Both Deripaska and Vekselberg were sanctioned by the U.S. government in early April. But later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department, in effect, slow-rolled the sanctions, giving companies and individuals until late October to get out of business with Rusal, which is appealing Washington’s ruling. “Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are… extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

And according to The New York Times, Vekselberg was recently questioned by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that those queries involved the oligarch’s payments to Cohen.

While Cohen’s lawyers refused to comment on the payments, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed the news as Avenatti having foresaw the president’s Tuesday withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—part of “one of the best days of the Trump presidency”—and simply trying to “stink it up as much as possible.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Columbus Nova’s attorney, Richard Owens of Latham & Watkins, said: “Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. 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.”

Cohen and Trump’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But this development could put further pressure on President Donald Trump’s inner circle. If Avenatti’s analysis is correct and the payments violated federal banking law, then the Cohen could be in serious legal jeopardy. There are reportedly concerns in the president’s inner circle that Cohen could begin cooperating with investigators. The greater the legal jeopardy he faces, the greater pressure he will face to cooperate. And he wouldn’t be the only one; former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign official Rick Gates are already cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.

Meanwhile, Avenatti is making a sport of riding Cohen in the press.

[The Daily Beast]

AT&T confirms it paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for ‘insights’ on administration

Telecommunications giant AT&T said Tuesday night that it had paid President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Michael Cohen for “insights” about the Trump administration.

AT&T’s admission came after a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels claimed the company, drug giant Novartis and a company controlled by a Russian oligarch had all made payments to Cohen’s shell company.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said AT&T had made four separate payments of $50,000 apiece to Cohen’s company, for a total of $200,000 in late 2017 and into early 2018.

That company, Essential Consultants, was created by Cohen in October 2016 and soon after was used to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels.

In a prepared statement to CNBC, AT&T said Cohen’s company “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,” AT&T said.

The company did not say how much it had paid Cohen, who was the president’s personal lawyer at the time.

AT&T is in the midst of pursuing an $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block that deal.

In a report on Cohen’s company, Avenatti’s law firm said that Novartis in late 2017 and early 2018 made four separate payments to Essential Consultants totaling nearly $400,000.

“Following these payments, reports surfaced that Mr. Trump took a dinner with the incoming CEO of Novartis before Mr. Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in late January 2018,” Avenatti’s report said.

That CEO, Vas Narasimhan, was joined with a group of other companies’ executives at that dinner.

A Novartis spokesperson said in a statement that “any agreements with Essential Consultants were entered before our current CEO taking office in February of this year and have expired.”

The White House declined to comment on whether Trump knew about payments to Cohen from AT&T, Novartis or Columbus Nova, the company linked to the Russian oligarch, and instead referred questions to the president’s outside legal team.

Avenatti’s report says another company, Korea Aerospace Industries LTD, paid Essential Consultants $150,000 in November 2017.

Avenatti’s client Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels says the money was in exchange for her signing a deal that required her to remain silent about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006, shortly after the birth of his youngest son.

The White House has denied that Trump had sex with the adult film actress.

Cohen did not have an immediate comment on Avenatti’s new allegations about payments to Cohen’s company.

[CNBC]

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump Benefited From ‘Extraordinary’ Influx Of ‘Dark Money’ In Final Days Of 2016 Campaign

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the First Niagara Center, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Hillary Clinton’s electoral collapse in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign has often been attributed to former FBI Director James Comey’s 11th-hour decision to reopen an investigation into the Democratic nominee, or anti-Clinton ads on social media originating from Russian sources. But a new paper argues that a crucial and overlooked factor in Clinton’s lackluster finish was a huge influx of so-called dark money in support of President Donald Trump in the campaign’s final days.

“Dark money” is a term used to describe political spending by anonymous donors through nonprofits, which don’t have to disclose the names of the people giving them contributions. Thanks to a series of Supreme Court decisions around the end of the last decade, these organizations are now often used to fund political ads at key moments of campaigns. According to a working paper by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen published by the Institute for New Economic Thinking this week, dark money was mobilized on behalf of Trump in the final weeks of the campaign at an unprecedented scale.

“What happened in the final weeks of the campaign was extraordinary,” the authors wrote.

“Firstly, a giant wave of dark money poured into Trump’s own campaign — one that towered over anything in 2016 or even Mitt Romney’s munificently financed 2012 effort … The gushing torrent, along with all the other funds from identifiable donors that flowed in in the campaign’s final stages should refocus debates about that period.”

At the beginning of November, nearly $13 million worth of dark money was spent supporting Trump, compared to roughly $6 million worth of such funding for Romney at the same time in 2012, according to the authors’ review of FEC and IRS data. That increase does not correspond with a rising amount of dark money between the two election cycles: total dark money spending actually fell to $181 million in 2016 from a high of $308 million in 2012.

The paper doesn’t identify how much dark money benefited Clinton during the course of the 2016 election, but her total fundraising nearly doubled Trump’s, $1.2 billion to $647 million. Trump also generated a record amount of small dollar donations for a Republican candidate.

[International Business Times]

Trump has spent $133K on White House furnishing

President Trump spent about $133,000 in taxpayer money on furnishings for the White House between January and May, Mic reported Wednesday.

Former President Barack Obama spent just about $51,000 during the same period, according to White House records – though the same records show Obama spent more money later that year, narrowing the gap between how much each president spent on furnishings.

Obama spent about $70,000 during June of 2008, compared to just $17,000 for Trump this month. That still puts Trump at roughly $24,000 ahead of Obama’s furniture spending at this point during Obama’s presidency.

According to the Mic report, one of Trump’s top dollar orders was a custom conference table from the Kittinger Company, Inc. that cost $13,000. According to Mic, former President Richard Nixon also had a Kittinger conference table, but paid for it himself.

The spending on White House furnishings comes amid scrutiny over Trump’s frequent weekend trips to Trump-brand golf clubs and luxury resorts, which have cost taxpayers millions.

[The Hill]

After Pledging to Donate Salary, Trump Declines to Release Proof

President Donald Trump pledged to forgo a presidential salary, but as his second payday approaches, the White House is declining to say if the president has donated any of his earnings yet.

During the campaign, Trump promised he would take “no salary” if elected — a pledge he reiterated after he won.

“I’m not going to the take the salary,” he said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in November.

The Constitution, however, requires that the president receive a salary, and that it not be reduced during his term. Federal law mandates the president receive a $400,000 annual salary, paid out once a month.

Trump aides have previously said Trump would donate his salary to the Treasury Department or a charity.

MSNBC requested details and documentation about any salary donations from the White House, the Treasury Department and the Office of Personnel Management, which all declined to say whether Trump has donated any of his salary to date. (OPM referred questions to the White House.)

Last month, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the website Politifact that Trump “will be giving” his salary “back to Treasury or donating.” The site noted the White House “declined to answer several inquiries into whether Trump has gotten a paycheck already.”

Under the law, Trump would receive his first monthly paycheck for $33,333 in February, and another $33,333 on March 20.

Salary donations are not the only area where Trump’s pledges to donate revenue are lacking transparency.

During the transition, Trump also unveiled a plan to “donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of his hotels and similar businesses” to the Treasury Department. The plan was released by Trump’s private law firm, Morgan Lewis, but no system or accounting has been released for how or when such donations will be processed or disclosed.

(h/t NBC News)

Media

Donald Trump Jacked Up His Campaign’s Trump Tower Rent Once Somebody Else Was Paying It

Donald Trump’s campaign is defending its reasoning for more than quadrupling what it pays to rent office space in the Republican presidential nominee’s namesake tower, saying the higher rent comes from occupying more space.

Federal Election Commission filings show that the Republican nominee’s campaign paid $169,758 in rent last month for space at the Manhattan skyscraper — a dramatic jump of 5 times the amount from March, when the campaign paid Trump Tower LLC only $35,458 in rent.

The spike in rent, which was first reported by The Huffington Post, is a result of the campaign adding two more levels to its existing space, the campaign said Tuesday.

“We calculated the rent based on the average rent per square foot in the area,” the campaign said in a statement provided to CNN.

“Overall, we still pay over $40,000 less in rent than the Clinton campaign,” the statement added. “Also, Mr. Trump makes a personal contribution of $2 million per month to the campaign, obviously a much higher amount than rent.”

Clinton’s campaign is paying about $212,000 a month, according to the Huffington Post, in rent for its 80,000 square feet of office space in Brooklyn.

Steven Cheung, Trump’s director of rapid response, also told the Associated Press the “expansion is in anticipation of more staff.”

However the Trump campaign has not expanded, in March the campaign had 197 paid employees and consultants, while in July it paid 172 employees and consultants.

“If I was a donor, I’d want answers,” said a prominent Republican National Committee member who supports Trump, asking for anonymity to speak freely. “If they don’t have any more staff, and they’re paying five times more? That’s the kind of stuff I’d read and try to make an (attack) ad out of it.”

Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s campaign pounced on the reports of larger rent payments. Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said Tuesday that Trump “has highly unusual expenditures, even in this campaign.”

The 172 employees paid by the Trump campaign last month is dwarfed by the more than 700 paid staff on Clinton’s campaign.

“So, as an example, Donald Trump is renting space in one of his buildings to his campaign and the campaign is paying Donald Trump personally for the space,” Kaine said during a roundtable in Lakewood, Colorado. “Once he started to fundraise dramatically, he was self-funding for a while, but once he started to fundraise dramatically, he immediately tripled the rent payment that his campaign donors were paying him personally.”

It isn’t the first time that Trump’s campaign has appeared to be working in concert with his business interests. Federal records have shown that Trump had directed almost a fifth of his campaign cash to companies to which he is linked.

(h/t CNN, Huffington Post)

Reality

While we must stress that there is no direct evidence that Donald Trump is purposefully lining his pockets with the money from donors, but the timing of raising his rent 5 times (that he pays to himself) as soon as he begins accepting external donations while having no good explanation does raise major questions.

However it is important to remember Trump has suggested in 2000 when he mulled making an independent run: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.

Historically, candidates would separate themselves from their business interests when running for office. Trump has done the opposite by promoting his businesses while running for office.

Trump Hides Fundraising By Mega-Donors

Donald Trump has always insisted his campaign is self funded (it’s not) so he can’t be bought, but he has been accepting large donations from mega-donors while refusing to disclose who they are.

Over the weekend Trump attended two “high-dollar soirees” in Nantucket and Cape Cod, including one at the home of a Koch brother, William, where the co-hosts received six tickets to a VIP reception and photograph with the Republican nominee as thanks for raising at least $100,000. Because there is a $2,700 limit on contributions to political campaigns, fundraisers, referred to as “bundlers,” who can tap networks of friends and business associates for money are very valuable—individual contributions must be disclosed, but the only bundlers who must be identified are those who are also registered as federal lobbyists.

Outside of this being a major flip-flop on a key selling point to his supporters of self-funding, is the issue of a complete lack of transparency compared to his Democratic rival when it comes to fundraising bundlers.

Trump had not disclosed any such bundlers through June—or, actually, any at all. Clinton, meanwhile, has named 499 bundlers (including lobbyists) who have raised at least $100,000 for her campaign.

From Politico:

So far, Clinton’s political operation has outraised Trump, announcing a $90 million haul in July between her campaign and the Democratic Party. But Trump said last week that he had raised about $80 million between his campaign and various GOP committees, boasting, in particular, about the $64 million in smaller digital and direct-mail donations.

But despite Trump’s rhetorical focus on small-dollar contributors, he is still dependent on bundlers and six-figure political donors.

In his Trump Victory joint fundraising account, which raised $25 million from late May through the end of June, roughly half the funds came from only 25 families.

Throughout primary season, Trump boasted that he was “self-funding” his campaign, a claim that was only ever partially true, and to the extent that was true was only so because he couldn’t get the big establishment backers—at least at first—to support him.

Last year, when he was still working to denigrate Florida senator Marco Rubio, Trump tweeted, “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!” But in May, Trump ate dinner with the conservative financier and his wife in Manhattan, and last month at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland he made sure to stop by their private suite at the Quicken Loans Arena.

“She’s totally controlled by the special interests,” Trump said of Clinton last week. Maybe so! But if she is, then so is he.

(h/t Gawker, Politico)

 

20% of Donald Trump’s Campaign Spending Goes to Himself

Donald Trump’s campaign is almost broke, and is paying an unusual amount of money to Trump-owned businesses. That’s according to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s FEC filing, details of which were released Monday night.

The report provided a number of rather shocking facts, including that his campaign raised just $3.1 million in May compared to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s $27 million.

In comparison, Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $86.5 million in May during the 2012 presidential race. And on Monday night alone, Clinton raised about $1.6 million at a celebrity-studded fundraiser in New York City.

Another eyebrow-raising tidbit: Of the $6.7 million the Trump campaign spent in May, nearly 20% went to Trump-owned businesses or family members.

Furthermore, the filing suggests that Trump himself is drawing a salary from the campaign, which would be highly unusual.

The campaign also spent $208,000 on hats.

If Trump’s fund-raisers want to feel even worse, their haul was far less than a 2013 Kickstarter campaign to fund a “Veronica Mars” movie, as well as a recent Kickstarter campaign to fund “Reading Rainbow.”

And in a way, Buzzfeed’s widely publicized refusal earlier this month to accept Trump ads may have benefited the candidate: The original ad buy was for $1.3 million, exactly the amount the Trump campaign has left in the bank, according to the FEC report.

(h/t Market Watch)

Reality

According to The New York Times the spending raised eyebrows among campaign finance experts and some of Mr. Trump’s critics who have questioned whether the presumptive Republican nominee, who points to his business acumen as a case for his candidacy, is trying to do what he has suggested he would in 2000 when he mulled making an independent run: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

“He could end up turning a profit if he repaid himself for the campaign loans,” said Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert with the Campaign Legal Center. “He could get all his money back plus the profit margin for what his campaign has paid himself for goods and services.”

“We don’t have clear answers,” Mr. Ryan said. “Historically, candidates would separate themselves from their business interests when running for office. Trump has done the opposite by promoting his businesses while running for office.”

 

 

Trump Campaign: We’re Facing an Emergency Goal of $100,000

The Donald Trump campaign on Saturday released its first “emergency” fund-raising email, in response to an ad blitz from the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“Right now we’re facing an emergency goal of $100,000 to help get our ads on the air. We need your contribution by 11:59 P.M. Tonight,” the email from Team Trump said.

“Crooked Hillary is about to invade your TV with ads attacking Mr. Trump. But we’re preparing to fight back,” it reads.

The email promises to release ads attacking Clinton on her role in Benghazi, the integrity of her donors and reported FBI probing of her private email server while secretary of state.

The urgent fundraising email is routine for most presidential campaigns. But it’s particularly notable since Trump insisted repeatedly during the GOP primary season that he was self-funding his campaign, only to start asking for donations later on.
Republican officials and activists are increasingly concerned that Trump is underestimating the fundraising challenge ahead as he faces off against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

As the general election heats up, the Clinton campaign on Thursday aired its first general election television ad, targeting Trump for comments about violence at his events and what critics have said was mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter.

Despite the Trump campaign’s urgent appeal for campaign donations on Saturday afternoon he raised the prospect of paying for his general election bid himself. At a Las Vegas rally, he argued that if GOP establishment types didn’t fully support his campaign he could self-fund, rather than relying on the party apparatus to help bring in donations.

“Life is like two way street, right?” Trump said. “Otherwise I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ll just keep funding my own campaign. I’m ok with that. That’s the easy way. I mean for me, that’s the easy way. But, hopefully I can continue to go the way we’re going, and this weekend we raised a lot of money. We’ve raised a lot of money for the Republican Party. We’ll keep doing it, because we do have tremendous support within the party that I can tell you.”

(h/t CNN)

Reality

Trump went back on his promise to self-fund his campaign in May 2016.

With the many other flip-flops since becoming the Republican party’s nominee, he’s rejected almost every stance that his supporters loved which separated him from the other candidates.

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