Wealthy Trump Pals Paid Rick Gates for Access to His Administration

Even as he became the target of a federal investigators, Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign No. 2 and longtime partner of Paul Manafort, was being paid last year by two Trump allies for insider access to the new administration, the New York Timesreports.

The paper identifies the men as Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Tom Barrack, the billionaire Trump buddy who took a key role in planning his inauguration.

Broidy paid Gates $125,000 to help him in “courting foreign government clients for a defense contractor he had purchased in 2015, and pushing for policies that favored clients and prospective clients,” the Timesreports. His missions while in Broidy’s employ included advising the venture capitalist on how to get Trump to play golf with former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, whom Broidy was trying to butter up on behalf of his defense firm. The paper learned these details after it was leaked a series of emails stolen from Broidy, who has been in the news in recent months for his supposed affair with a Playboyplaymate.

Meanwhile, Barracks’s company, Colony NorthStar, paid Gates $20,000 a month for his advice on issues related to the communications industry, he said last year. Gates’s contracts with both Broidy and Barrack eventually dried up as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closed in on him. He would eventually be charged with a raft of financial crimes and illegal foreign lobbying, pleading guilty in February. He is now cooperating with prosecutors.

The Times describes these deals as Gates marketing his “administration access,” but it’s hard to imagine why Broidy and Barrack, who were both close to Trump, would need to spend so much money for access to the administration.

[New York Magazine]

Trump Club Members Seemingly Invited Onto Air Force One For Private Tour

In another episode of the president mixing his business dealings with his White House role, several members of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and Trump International Golf Club were seemingly invited on a tour of Air Force One last year, per a report from BuzzFeed News.

According to records obtained by the online news outlet — including an invitation and government scheduling records received via the Freedom of Information Act — the Trump club members were scheduled to visit the White House’s private jet on February 18, 2017 at Atlantic Aviation FBO at Palm Beach International, which is near the president’s South Florida resort.

BuzzFeed News was able to discern the invite from other standard tours, since no official tour guide was named and the dates of those tours matched with the invitations. Between the two tours, 14 people were set to participate, though it is not clear how many actually did, as members of the Trump clubs did not respond to BuzzFeed News when asked for comment.

Eight of the 14 people invited are connected with the Arrigo Automotive Group in West Palm Beach, Florida, including the company chief Joe Arrigo and his wife, as well as his kids Jim Arrigo and John Arrigo and their spouses — all of which are members at Mar-a-Lago and Trump International Golf Club.

Stephanie Grisham, who was a spokesperson for the White House at the time of the tours but now assists First Lady Melania Trump, defended the move.

“This is something that has been done in past administrations going back years and is not out of the ordinary,” Grisham said. “Then they are also most likely longtime friends of the President. You have to keep in mind that Mar-a-Lago has been the President’s home for many years.”

Current White House officials did not comment on the matter.

[Mediaite]

Rich Alaskan donor gave $250K to Trump after EPA reversed decision on Pebble Mine

A wealthy activist who has funded efforts to block a proposed mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay donated $250,000 to President Donald Trump‘s re-election effort six weeks after the administration abruptly decided to prevent the mine from moving forward.

The move to block the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay from moving forward seems to diverge from a trend in policy under the leadership of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt — seen as one of President Donald Trump’s most productive cabinet members in moving to undo environmental regulations put in place under the Obama administration. During the Trump presidency, the EPA in 2017 had previously allowed the mine to move forward.

The EPA said the change in course was because the environmental risk was too great and announced on January 26 that the mine would not immediately move forward.

Robert Gillam made his second and largest donation to Trump Victory Fund just weeks later, donating $250,000 on March 9, according to FEC filings.

Gillam has previously spent as much as $2.5 million to block the Pebble Mine from moving forward in Alaska’s fertile fishing ground called the Bristol Bay. He has been advocating against the mine since 2005, according to an Alaska state report. He declined to comment for this story.

Gillam has previously donated to the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Republican campaigns in Alaska.

He went to Wharton with Trump and met with him at Mar-a-Lago the weekend before he made a $250,000 donation to the president’s Victory Fund, according to a report in E&E News. Gillam owns a fishing lodge in the area, according to public meeting records, and has said that the mine would hurt the local salmon population.

Last November he wrote in an editorial that the mine project was “doomed.”

[ABC News]

Trump bragged about classified Syria skirmish at fundraiser

The White House has tried to avoid discussing a February skirmish between U.S. troops and Russian mercenaries in Syria, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from bragging about the Pentagon’s performance at a recent closed-door fundraiser.

The details of the battle remain classified, but speaking to donors in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday, Trump said he was amazed by the performance of American F-18 pilots. He suggested that the strikes may have been as brief as “10 minutes” and taken out 100 to 300 Russians, according to a person briefed on the president’s remarks, which have not previously been reported.

Trump often makes unscripted comments at fundraisers, and he revels in the exploits of the U.S. military. At a Republican National Committee fundraiser last fall, he told the crowd that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “never lost a battle,” and he has bragged about the country’s nuclear superiority in confrontations with North Korea.

American officials have long feared that a clash with Russian forces in Syria would add tension to the already strained relationship between the two countries, and they intentionally avoided Russian targets last month when they bombed the country in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. According to The New York Times, which last week provided the first detailed description of the battle, the confrontation lasted four hours and left between 200 and 300 pro-Assad forces dead.

[Politico]

Trump lawyer ‘paid by Ukraine’ to arrange White House talks

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.

Mr Cohen denies the allegation.

The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.

Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.

This senior official’s account is as follows – Mr Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Mr Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.

He in turn used personal contacts who attended a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. (A spokeman for the Chabad has asked us to make clear that officials there were not involved.)

This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Mr Cohen was paid $400,000.

There is no suggestion that Mr Trump knew about the payment.

A second source in Kiev gave the same details, except that the total paid to Mr Cohen was $600,000.

There was also support for the account from a lawyer in the US who has uncovered details of Mr Cohen’s finances, Michael Avenatti. He represents a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, in legal action against President Trump.

Avenatti said that Suspicious Activity Reports filed by Mr Cohen’s bank to the US Treasury showed he had received money from “Ukrainian interests”.

As well as Mr Cohen, the two Ukrainians said to have opened the backchannel for their president also denied the story.

The senior intelligence official in Kiev said Mr Cohen had been helped by Felix Sater, a convicted former mobster who was once Trump’s business partner. Mr Sater’s lawyer, too, denied the allegations.

The Ukrainian president’s office initially refused to comment but, asked by a local journalist to respond, a statement was issued calling the story a “blatant lie, slander and fake”.

As was widely reported last June, Mr Poroshenko was still guessing at how much time he would have with Mr Trump even as he flew to Washington.

The White House schedule said only that Mr Poroshenko would “drop in” to the Oval Office while Mr Trump was having staff meetings.

That had been agreed through official channels. Mr Cohen’s fee was for getting Mr Poroshenko more than just an embarrassingly brief few minutes of small talk and a handshake, the senior official said. But negotiations continued until the early hours of the day of the visit.

The Ukrainian side were angry, the official went on, because Mr Cohen had taken “hundreds of thousands” of dollars from them for something it seemed he could not deliver.

Right up until the last moment, the Ukrainian leader was uncertain if he would avoid humiliation.

“Poroshenko’s inner circle were shocked by how dirty this whole arrangement [with Cohen] was.”

Mr Poroshenko was desperate to meet Mr Trump because of what had happened in the US presidential election campaign.

In August 2016, the New York Times published a document that appeared to show Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, getting millions of dollars from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

It was a page of the so-called “black ledger” belonging to the Party of the Regions, the pro-Russian party that employed Mr Manafort when he ran a political consultancy in Ukraine.

The page appeared to have come from Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau, which was investigating him. Mr Manafort had to resign.

Several sources in Ukraine said Mr Poroshenko authorised the leak, believing that Hillary Clinton was certain to win the presidency.

If so, this was a disastrous mistake – Ukraine had backed the losing candidate in the US election. Regardless of how the leak came about, it hurt Mr Trump, the eventual winner.

Ukraine was (and remains) at war with Russia and Russian-backed separatists and could not afford to make an enemy of the new US president.

So Mr Poroshenko appeared relieved as he beamed and paid tribute to Mr Trump in the Oval Office.

He boasted that he had seen the new president before Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. He called it a “substantial visit”. He held a triumphant news conference in front of the north portico of the White House.

A week after Mr Poroshenko returned home to Kiev, Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau announced that it was no longer investigating Mr Manafort.

At the time, an official there explained to me that Mr Manafort had not signed the “black ledger” acknowledging receipt of the money. And anyway, he went on, Mr Manafort was American and the law allowed the bureau only to investigate Ukrainians.

[BBC]

Cohen asked Qatari government for $1 million in exchange for access to Trump

President Trump‘s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, reportedly offered Qatari government officials access to the president in exchange for at least $1 million.

The Washington Post reported that Cohen sought the arrangement in December 2016, around the time Qatari officials visited Trump Tower to meet with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Cohen did not attend those meetings, but reportedly spoke about the arrangement with Qatari investor Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the Post reported. Qatar declined the offer, according to the Post.

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, first made Al-Rumaihi’s connection to Cohen public in a tweet last weekend.

“Why was Ahmed Al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December 2016 and why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials according to a sworn declaration filed in court?” Avenatti tweeted.

Al-Rumaihi confirmed through a spokesperson on Tuesday that he attended meetings at Trump Tower in 2016. Al-Rumaihi said he was not a part of the meetings with Flynn.

Cohen’s reported attempts to broker a deal with Qatar follow recent revelations that multiple companies paid him in exchange for insights and access to the Trump administration.

Swiss drug company Novartis and AT&T have both acknowledged they paid Cohen for advice on how to approach the Trump administration on particular issues. Officials from both companies have called the arrangement “a mistake.”

[The Hill]

Cohen promised Novartis access to Trump

President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen promised the pharmaceutical company Novartis that they could have access to President Trump and his inner circle if they signed a contract with him, a Novartis employee told Stat on Wednesday.

The employee told Stat that Cohen contacted then-chief executive officer Joe Jimenez last year, promising that he could get Novartis access to both Trump and top administration officials. Jimenez then reportedly ordered company officials to make a deal with Cohen.

“With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players,” the employee told the publication. “We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

Novartis on Wednesday in a statement said that it hired Cohen in February 2017 for consulting services, paying him a total of $1.2 million for a one-year contract.

The company also said that special counsel Robert Mueller had contacted it last year over the payments to Cohen.

“With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

However, Novartis said that it concluded that Cohen would “be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.”

The contract was not terminated and Cohen continued to be paid in monthly installments through the end of the agreement.

The payments to Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, from Novartis were first detailed in a report by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti on Tuesday. Daniels is currently suing Cohen for defamation.

Cohen arranged a payment to Daniels to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Daniels is also suing Trump to void the nondisclosure agreement about the alleged affair.

[The Hill]

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]

Trump plugs Mar-a-Lago during Japanese PM’s visit

President Trump plugged his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday at the start of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — saying that world leaders were clamoring for an invite to his fave Florida destination.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it. I like it, we’re comfortable, we have great relationships,” Trump said before offering a somewhat patchy history of the storied waterfront property.

“As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. It was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States so they fortunately for me gave it back and I bought it.”

Mar-a-Lago was built as a residence for Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post beginning in 1924.

When she died in 1973, she bequeathed it to the National Park Service in the hopes that it could be used as a “Winter White House.”

But because it was so expensive to maintain, the property was returned to the Post Foundation by Congress in April 1981, when President Reagan was in office. Trump bought it in 1985.

“It was a circuitous route but now indeed it is the Southern White House,” the president continued. “Again, many of the leaders want to be here, they request specifically.”

The president also said that he and Abe would hit the links on Wednesday before holding bilateral discussions on trade, the Koreas and other topics.

Korea is coming along. South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that,” he said.

“People do not realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now and they are discussing an end to the war,” Trump said.

The fighting stopped on the peninsula when the parties signed an armistice in 1953, but the war was never officially declared over.

Trump is spending the week at Mar-a-Lago, the 17th time he has visited the resort since taking office.

[New York Post]

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