Lawyers for President Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen late Wednesday blasted Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti in a Manhattan federal court filing for disclosing financial records on Cohen’s dealings with Novartis, AT&T and a Russian-linked investment company.
The court filing came amid a news frenzy over records showing that after Trump’s election, Cohen raked in over $1 million for access and consulting, through the same shell company he used to pay $130,000 to porn star Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.
Avenatti is seeking to participate in a court case over materials seized during the federal raid last month of Cohen’s office and home. But Cohen’s lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood to question him about how he got access to Cohen’s “actual bank records” that he “has no lawful basis to possess.”
“If Mr. Avenatti wishes to be admitted . . . he should be required to explain to this Court how he came to possess and release this information,” wrote Cohen attorney Stephen Ryan.
Cohen’s lawyer said some of the records publicized by Avenatti were incorrect and involved other individuals named Michael Cohen, but admitted that some of them — including payments by Novartis, AT&T and Columbus Nova, the American company Avenatti said was associated with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg — were genuine.
None of the records implicated Trump.
But public interest groups said the idea that big companies were funneling payments to the president’s personal lawyer — who is not a registered lobbyist — through his shell company, Essential Consultants, raised questions about buying access and influence.
“It stretches the imagination that the work was just for advice,” Public Citizen president Robert Weissman told The Associated Press. “There is no reason that he would have any blinding insights. Sending money to a shell company, instead of his business, that sets off some alarm bell. Nothing of this seems right.”
Avenatti alleged that Vekselberg, a so-called oligarch with interests in aluminum and oil, and his cousin “routed” eight payments totaling $500,000 to Cohen through Columbus Nova.
A Vekselberg spokesman denied a “contractual relationship” with Cohen.
Columbus Nova lawyer Richard Owens said the company hired Cohen as a consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments,” but the deal didn’t involve Vekselberg, who was put on a sanctions list by the Trump administration in April and has been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Novartis, the pharmaceutical giant, said it had hired Cohen on a 12-month contract at $100,000 a month in February 2017, to provide insights and advice on how the newly elected Trump administration might handle matters such as the Affordable Care Act.
The company said it decided after one meeting that Cohen “would be unable to provide” the expected services, but was obligated to pay out the entire 12-month contract. Novartis said it met with Mueller’s staff to answer questions last year.
AT&T, which unsuccessfully tried to get the Trump administration to drop its opposition to a proposed merger with Time Warner, made four payments of $50,000 to Cohen, according to Avenatti.
The company, in a statement, said Cohen’s firm was one of several it hired in early 2017 to “provide insights into understanding the new administration,” but he did not provide legal or lobbying work, and the contract ended in December. The merger plan is currently before a judge.
Avenatti has indicated in interviews that he believes some payments to Cohen were flagged in Treasury Department “suspicious activity reports” filed by banks.
Treasury officials said they are investigating how Cohen’s bank records got out.
The April raid on Cohen, according to Manhattan federal prosecutors, is focused on fraud-related offenses in his personal business dealings. Wood is handling attorney-client privilege claims relating to the seized materials. Cohen’s lawyers, in their letter to the judge, noted that as a result of the raid, prosecutors now have the bank records.