Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti dropped a bombshell Tuesday evening on Twitter, namely a report saying that Donald Trump‘s attorney Michael Cohen received $500,000 dollars from a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the 2016 election. Avenatti also speculated that this sum of money “may have” been the source of the $130,000 paid to his client. Where did Avenatti get this information? We don’t know, and he hasn’t answered our question about the source.
“There is no question this is accurate,” Avenatti said during an interview on CNN.
After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump’s atty Mr. Cohen received approximately $500,000 in the mos. after the election from a company controlled by a Russian Oligarc with close ties to Mr. Putin. These monies may have reimbursed the $130k payment.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 8, 2018
The Executive Summary from our first Preliminary Report on Findings may be accessed via the link below. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have a lot of explaining to do.https://t.co/179WvIkRlD
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 8, 2018
Needless to say, the response to this has been fast and furious. Law&Crime’s Aaron Keller already has the facts covered, but here’s what everyone is wondering about in terms of issues.
1) How did Avenatti get a hold of this?
Enter MSNBC host Chris Hayes. He asks: Wait a minute, you haven’t even gone through the discovery phase of the trial, where did these bank records come from?
Hey, @MichaelAvenatti: since you haven't gone through discovery yet, how would you have access to all of these bank records?
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 8, 2018
A source speaking to The Daily Beast who “confirmed” that Michael Cohen “received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg” asked a similar question, but in different words: “How the fuck did Avenatti find out?”
Attorney Robert Barnes, who pens columns here at Law&Crime, was adamant that Avenatti just admitted to being complicit in a crime, saying Avenatti is either lying, got the bank records illegally or got them from someone who got them illegally.
FYI: no way to get bank info & "suspicious transaction" report intel LEGALLY. Either Avenatti is lying, got the information from someone who got it illegally, or himself obtained information ILLEGALLY. It's not everyday you see a lawyer admit to complicity in a crime on Twitter. https://t.co/Tmu4TuE3M0
— Robert Barnes (@Barnes_Law) May 8, 2018
2) Who is Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch named in the report?
Vekselberg is a Russian billionaire who just days ago, the New York Times learned, was questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s agents.
From the Times:
Federal agents working with Mr. Mueller stopped Mr. Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman, at a New York-area airport this year, searched his electronic devices and questioned him, according to people familiar with the matter. They confronted him after he stepped off a private plane about two months ago, according to one of the people.
CNN said after the Avenatti news dropped that people on Mueller’s team asked the oligarch about “payments his company’s US affiliate” made to Cohen after the election.
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) May 8, 2018
The New York Times is also confirming information about payments totaling $1 million from a U.S. company linked to the oligarch.
Shell Co Cohen used for Stormy Daniels deal also received payments totaling $1 million from U.S. co. linked to Russian oligarch, interviews, records reviewed by NYT, confirms much of @MichaelAvenatti report https://t.co/bWJbDRIV0p
— jimrutenberg (@jimrutenberg) May 8, 2018
And in case you’re interested about Russian oligarchs in general:
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) May 8, 2018
3) What does Michael Cohen have to say about all of this and will he survive this?
Michael Cohen did not respond directly, but his lawyer Steve Ryan reportedly told the Atlantic‘s Natasha Bertrand that the $500,000 Avenatti says came from Vekselberg “wasn’t a payment.”
Michael Cohen’s attorney, Steve Ryan, won’t discuss the $500,000 Michael Avenatti says Cohen received from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg in 2017. “I understand the shorthand you’re using, but it wasn’t a payment,” Ryan says before hanging up.
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) May 8, 2018
Cohen’s lawyer apparently also said “Don’t contact me again. Ever.”
— Adrienne LaFrance (@AdrienneLaF) May 8, 2018
But Cohen was swarmed by reporters on Wednesday morning and he responded to the Avenatti document. He said, “His document is inaccurate.”
National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, for one, seems to think Michael Cohen is toast.
Folks, I don’t think Michael Cohen is going to be able to wiggle out of this one.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) May 8, 2018
4) What the heck, AT&T?
Avenatti alleged that Essential Consultants, LLC, the shell company is “exclusively owned and controlled by Mr. Cohen” and was used to make the payment to his client Stormy Daniels.
The Avenatti report named multiple companies that made payments to Essential Consultants, LLC. AT&T was one of them and AT&T confirmed that it happened.
AT&T confirms they paid Michael Cohen for consulting. pic.twitter.com/ZoeUKAXQ0K
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) May 8, 2018
5) Is Rudy Giuliani to blame?
Norm Eisen seems to think it’s precisely things like Rudy Giuliani‘s bizarre TV tour and his answers about Trump reimbursing Cohen for the Daniels payment that have only spurred on efforts of others to dig deeper.
Part of the damage that Rudy did was to offer such an implausible & bizarre explanation of the reimbursement that he opened the door to other explanations of what really happened. We will find out eventually after Cohen flips. https://t.co/JK2dGbTFwE
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) May 8, 2018
This article was updated with a statement from Avenatti on CNN and a comment made by Michael Cohen.
[Image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]