Cohen’s cash cab
Michael Cohen used an obscure shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, to funnel the $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star and alleged Donald Trump paramour Stormy Daniels.
Turns out the company was a multipurpose vehicle for the Trump fixer and taxi mogul.
Cohen used it for millions of dollars in transactions, including about $500,000 from what was called a consulting fee from an investment firm whose biggest client is a company controlled by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, The New York Times reported.
Vekselberg is close to Vladimir Putin, is on the U.S. government list of Russians sanctioned for activities including election interference and has been questioned by investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller, according to CNN.
Other transactions range from hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments by big companies with business before the Trump administration, such as drugmaker Novartis and AT&T, to small amounts related to unexplained activities in foreign countries.
Word of the Vekselberg money first came Tuesday from Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who asserted without offering specific evidence that the Russian money could have been used to reimburse Cohen for the payment to his client.
Iran deal off, time bomb ticks
A high-stakes game of nuclear poker is about to begin, but Donald Trump won’t be taking a seat at the table after announcing he will pull the United States out of the Iran deal.
Iran said it is willing to negotiate a way to salvage the 2015 agreement with Britain, France and Germany — the U.S. allies that appealed in vain to Trump not to walk away.
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned there was only a short time to reach a new accord. Otherwise, he said, Iran could restart enriching uranium without the restrictions it had accepted in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
That, in turn, could raise Western fears of Iran resuming nuclear weapons development and spark a crisis with a risk of military confrontation.
Trump said the deal was “defective at its core” and didn’t do enough to keep Iran — “the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror” — from acquiring nukes. His bet is that a new sanctions squeeze will force Iran to beg for mercy.
The president’s decision was denounced in a statement by his predecessor, Barack Obama, as “misguided.”
The deal was working, Obama said, and “the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.” See the story for Newsday by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. For video of Trump’s speech, click here.
Several Trump claims about the deal have been false or distorted.
The yin and the Pyongyang
Just because Trump doesn’t like deals Obama makes with dangerous, oppressive regimes doesn’t mean the 45th president can’t try to make them.
Trump revealed during his speech that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on another mission to North Korea to advance preparations for a nuclear summit with Kim Jong Un.
Pompeo was struggling to get the order of Korean names straight, according to The New York Times. Two people imprisoned early in the Trump administration, as well as a third, were released Wednesday as part of a goodwill gesture preceding the summit.
Janison: Trump’s still got NY blues
The schadenfreude in Trump’s camp over the departure in disgrace of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a persistent legal nemesis, is to be expected. Does it mean happier days are here again for them? Nah.
Trump’s activities in the deep blue state might have been inviting targets for any Democrat recently in the job as it was for Schneiderman, who is eminently replaceable. The state AG’s role in the Mueller probe would likely continue under Schneiderman’s successor. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Rudy: Trump stands by me
Why stop now? Rudy Giuliani’s mystifying and contradictory defenses in media appearances since becoming the in-your-face public face of Trump’s legal team don’t seem to be helping. But he told NBC News: “The president is encouraging me to do more of them, I try to keep them under control.”
That’s after The Associated Press reported Trump is wearying of Giuliani’s blitz.
In a new interview with HuffPost, Giuliani defended accusing the feds of “storm trooper” tactics when they raided Paul Manafort and Cohen. But didn’t Giuliani oversee similar early-morning raids as Manhattan’s U.S. attorney in the 1980s?
Yes, in organized crime, terrorism and murder cases, but “I didn’t do that with respectable people.”
Giuliani also said he will get along with Trump better than his previous lawyers because “they didn’t know him for 30 years like I do. They didn’t help him get elected.”
Waterboarding under the bridge
Gina Haspel, the nominee for CIA director, faces tough questioning when Senate intelligence committee confirmation hearings begin Wednesday, looking at her role in the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” practices after 9/11. White House legislative director Marc Short told NPR it shouldn’t be an issue.
“She followed the orders she was given,” knows the law has changed, and will testify that “she does not believe the CIA should be in the interrogation business,” Short said.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 terrorist mastermind captured in 2003, has asked a military judge at Guantánamo to let him submit six paragraphs of information about Haspel to the committee, The New York Times reported.
What else is happening
- With growing financial woes while under federal criminal investigation, Cohen has put up his family’s $9 million Manhattan apartment as collateral for millions of dollars in loans to his troubled taxi business, Bloomberg News reports.
- Though Trump himself has tweeted that Cohen could come under pressure to “flip,” Giuliani told HuffPo he had no worries. “He possesses no incriminating information about the president,” Giuliani said. It would be unfortunate for Cohen if he is charged, but “of no consequence to the president.”
- “Late Night” host Seth Myers said Cohen approached him in 2015 with an offer he refused. He wanted Myers to apologize for torching Trump as the comic at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In return, Trump would come on Myers’ show.
- A spokeswoman for Melania Trump scolded “opposition media” for pointing out that Trump reused and stuck her name on an online safety booklet from the Obama-era Federal Trade Commission in unveiling her “Be Best” campaign on childhood wellness.
- U.S. companies that started doing business with Iran will take a hit as sanctions resume. The biggest loser is probably Boeing Co., which made agreements to sell 110 planes worth roughly $20 billion to Iranian airlines.