Questions swirl around Trump lawyer after payments revealed

Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg attends the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow Russia. Outside the rarified sphere of the super-rich tycoon Viktor Vekselberg is mostly

Several of those companies, including AT&T, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, among others have confirmed their payments to Essential Consultants.

Aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries paid Essential Consultants $150,000 in November 2017.

"Novartis was contacted in November 2017 by lawyers from the special counsel's office regarding the company's agreement with Essential Consultants", Mirza-Reid said. "Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement". Mr. Cohen was in Trump Tower in Manhattan on the day in January 2017 that AT&T's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, went there to visit the president-elect, but the person, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the meetings were private, said that AT&T and Mr. Cohen did not meet then.

"The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova's engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue", the company said.

Avenatti called the complaint from Cohen's lawyers "baseless, improper and sanctionable".

Eight payments totaling $500,000 were received between January and August 2017 from Columbus Nova, the USA arm of the Renova Group controlled by Vekselberg, the oligarch who has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and attended Trump's January 2017 inauguration.

"Companies often hire consultants for these purposes, especially at the beginning of a new presidential administration, and we have done so in previous administrations, as well", the company said on Wednesday in the communication to employees.

The report, dubbed "Project Sunlight", was published by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who Cohen paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a 2006 affair she said she had with Trump. She has sued both Trump and Cohen.

Cohen's company, Essential Consultants LLC, received the money from a USA offshoot of the business empire of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, lawyer Michael Avenatti claimed in a report he released Tuesday.

Cohen's filing was the first comment from his side since Avenatti published his own research Tuesday.

Columbus Nova, a private equity firm, is a USA affiliate of the Renova Group, Vekselberg's Russian conglomerate of energy, telecommunications and other companies.

Vekselberg, who has ties to the Kremlin, and his Renova Group conglomerate were sanctioned by the United States in April, freezing assets of up to $2 billion. Companies including AT&T wanted to know what to make of Trump and his advisers and evidently were paying Cohen to find out. Their contract ended this past December, the company said. A onetime personal-injury lawyer and investor in the New York City taxi business, Cohen has no background in the health-care or telecommunications industries.

"In hindsight, this must be seen as a mistake", Novartis spokesman Michael Willi told Reuters, making sure to note that the arrangement was struck under former CEO Jimenez and in no way connected to new CEO Vas Narasimhan.

Essential Consultants, according to the report, received large sums of money from companies with an interest in Trump administration business.

Among the other payments to Cohen were $200,000 from AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is now before the courts after the Justice Department sued to block the sale.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the top Democrats on antitrust subcommittees, wrote to the Department of Justice on Wednesday urging investigation of the payments, including whether there were efforts to influence the department.

The White House referred questions to Trump's outside lawyers.

By choosing not to communicate directly with elected officials on behalf of corporate clients, consultants are not required to register with the government and report lobbying.

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