CNN: Mueller Team Questioned Russian Oligarch Over Payments For Cohen, Politics

Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned one of the wealthiest men in Russia about post-election payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars made to President Donald Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, CNN reported Tuesday, citing one unnamed source familiar with the matter.

The Russian oligarch in question, Viktor Vekselberg, was reportedly questioned at a New York area airport this year, and he was in attendance at Trump’s inauguration. He was also on a list of Russians who faced additional sanctions from the Trump administration last month.

The payments, according to CNN, were made by Vekselberg’s company’s U.S. affiliate. Mueller’s team is also probing payments the head of that affiliate made to Trump’s inaugural and campaign funds, according to CNN.

Cohen’s home, office and hotel were raided recently as part of a months-long criminal probe.

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who is suing Cohen separately from the criminal probe, posted a document Tuesday that appeared similar to CNN’s reporting.

In it, Avenatti alleged that an account controlled by Cohen had received $500,000 in payments from Vekselberg (via Vekselberg himself, Vekselberg’s American cousin, Andrew Intrater, and the firm Columbus Nova LLC) in eight payments between January and “at least August” 2017. Avenatti identified Columbus Nova as the U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg-controlled company Renova Group firm and Intrater as Columbus Nova’s CEO. 

The Daily Beast subsequently reported that it had confirmed Avenatti’s allegation — at least, the portion of Avenatti’s document dealing with the Vekselberg-related payments — with an unnamed source familiar with the matter.

And AT&T confirmed another part of Avenatti’s document: that Essential Consulting, the company used by Cohen to make a hush money payment to Daniels, “was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”

CNN said that it had “reviewed documents that appear to show these payments,” but that it had not independently authenticated them.

Later in the report, CNN cited unnamed sources who said Mueller’s investigators questioned Vekselberg about $300,000 in political donations made by Intrater. And Intrater himself was questioned, according to two unnamed sources cited by CNN.

Richard Owens, Columbus Nova’s attorney, said in a statement shared sent to TPM that the company is “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,” the statement continued.
“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 Coehn [sic] 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.”

Read CNN’s full report here.

This post has been updated.

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