Stormy lawyer: Transactions suggest Cohen was 'selling access' to Trump

Stormy Daniels' attorney said Wednesday that financial transactions he uncovered suggest that Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen was "selling access to the president of the United States."

Michael Avenatti, who represents the adult film star in lawsuits against Cohen and Trump, on Wednesday released a summary of what he says details payments from companies to a company Cohen created just before the 2016 election and then used to pay Daniels $130,000 in hush money.

According to Avenatti, at least $4.4 million flowed through the company, Essential Consultants, after October 2016, including:

  • Columbus Nova, a U.S.-based firm with ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg made about $500,000 in payments between January and August 2017. In a statement, Columbus said it hired Cohen as a consultant "regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures."
  • Drug giant Novartis made four payments of just under $100,000 each in late 2017 and early 2018. In a statement, Novartis said it had an agreement with Essential Consultants, "focused on U.S. healthcare policy matters."
  • AT&T made four payments of $50,000 each to Essential in late 2017 and early 2018. In a statement, AT&T said it engaged the firm in early 2017 to "provide insights into understanding the new administration."
  • Korea Aerospace Industries made a $150,000 payment to Essential in November 2017. KAI said in a statement to Reuters that it had a contract with Essential for "legal consulting concerning accounting standards on production costs."

Avenatti did not disclose how he got the information or any other evidence that Cohen might be selling access to Trump.

Getting into a cab in Manhattan on Wednesday morning, Cohen told reporters that Avenatti's dossier "is inaccurate," but provided no specifics. NBC News reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti's accounting of the transactions involving the four companies.

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Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
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Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to the media outside the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California after a hearing regarding Clifford's case against Donald J. Trump in Los Angeles, California, April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
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THE VIEW - On Tuesday, April 17, Stormy Daniels sits down with the co-hosts of The View (11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. EDT) for her first live television interview. Daniels will be joined in studio by her attorney Michael Avenatti. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) JOY BEHAR, STORMY DANIELS, MICHAEL AVANETTI
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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Adult film actress Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti arrives at Federal Court for the hearing at the United States District Court Southern District of New York related to Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal attorney and confidante, April 16, 2018 in New York City. Cohen and lawyers representing President Trump are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to his Cohen's relationship with President Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences last week. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti (R), arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, speaks to reporters following a court proceeding regarding the search warrants served on President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, at the United States District Court Southern District of New York, April 13, 2018 in New York City. Cohen and his lawyers are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to his relationship with President Donald Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences earlier in the week. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Novartis said it received an inquiry from investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, about its dealings with Essential Consultants in November 2017.

"In February 2017, shortly after the election of President Trump, Novartis entered into a one-year agreement with Essential Consultants. With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain U.S. healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act," the company said in a statement.

"The agreement was for a term of one year, and paid Essential Consultants 100,000 USD per month. In March 2017, Novartis had its first meeting with Michael Cohen under this agreement. Following this initial meeting, Novartis determined that Michael Cohen and Essential Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to U.S. healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.

"As the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018."

Columbus Nova, in its statement, took issue with Avenatti's claim that it was controlled by Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, with a multibillion-dollar oil and aluminum fortune.

Vekselberg is one of the oligarchs recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. Separately, according to the New York Times, citing people familiar with the matter, he was searched and questioned by agents working for Mueller when he got off a plane in the U.S. earlier this year.

An attorney for Columbus Nova, where Vekselberg's cousin Andrew Intrater, said claims 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."

No one has been charged with a crime in connection with the Essential Consultants transactions, but Avenatti said the large payments, their timing and the disparity of the companies' interests are red flags of a pay-to-play scheme by a man often described as Trump's "fixer."

"We now have multiple different things supposedly that Michael Cohen was doing for all these companies. Now we hear from Novartis that he was hired on health care matters — evidently he's a doctor," Avenatti said facetiously on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"One of the companies mentioned they hired him for real estate matters — he's a real estate agent? Another company stated that they hired him for accounting advice, evidently he's an accountant. So he's a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, and a real estate agent.

"I'm just a lawyer. I'm not that bright I guess," Avenatti added.

"Where did the money go?" he asked. "Did all of it go to Michael Cohen? Did some of it go back to the Trump organization? Did some of it ultimately find its way back to the president?"

NBC News asked Cohen and the four companies for comment on Avenatti's accusation about the purpose of the payments but none had an immediate response.

Cohen is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, and the FBI raided his law office and hotel room last month, seeking information about the $130,000 payment he made to porn actress Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. The FBI has also monitored his phone calls with a pen register, meaning that the incoming and outgoing phone numbers were recorded but not the content of the calls.

Clifford claims she had a sexual affair with Trump a decade ago; the White House has said Trump denies it. In the fall of 2016, as the election approached, Cohen brokered a non-disclosure agreement with Clifford and wired her $130,000 from Essential Consultants' account at First Republic Bank.

Cohen has long maintained that he put up the money and that he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or by the Trump Organization. But one of Trump's lawyers, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, revealed last week that Trump had paid the $130,000 back to Cohen, providing dueling accounts of when Trump learned about the transaction.

Clifford has sued Trump and Cohen, claiming the non-disclosure agreement is invalid because he never actually signed it, and she has also sued the president for defamation for casting doubt on her account of being threatened by an unknown man several years ago to keep quiet about Trump.

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Avenatti's summary also listed a series of smaller transactions involving international companies and individuals. Among them, the document alleges $3,698 came to Cohen from a corporate consulting firm in Singapore, $10,980 from a Hungary business, and $4,250 from a Malaysia consulting firm. NBC News has reached out to those companies but has not received a response.

The smallest amount listed as going to Cohen is $980 from two individuals in Kenya, Netanel Cohen and Stav Hayun. But when contacted by NBC News, the recipient of those funds, says Avenatti has the wrong Cohen.

"I am a Avionic technician in EL-AL airlines. So, no, not a lawyer," said Michael Cohen, 26, from Ashdod, Israel. "No, I never talk with or meet Trump."

He said that his brother Netanel wired him the money when he was living in Kenya. "He owed me some money," he said.

The 26-year-old Michael Cohen said he had no idea how the mix-up could have occurred, but said he's been getting lots of attention. "My whole family was surprised. Friends called me, It was a crazy day."

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