Forget P.T. Barnum.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star, Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) is the one running the greatest show on earth, right now.
On Tuesday, it appeared the swaggering legal eagle may have blown major holes in the side of Good Ship Trump, by detailing a troubling series of payments to a shell company created by Trump’s fixer-slash-personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
So is the Stormy Daniels affair the “nothingburger” Trump’s devotees have so persistently claimed?
If anything Avenatti is claiming now pans out, it would seem not only was Daniels NOT a nothingburger, but in fact, she was the doorway to a lot more.
In a post to Twitter, Mr. Avenatti described the payments to the company Cohen started in 2016. He begins with the $130,000 payment to Daniels, then follows a trail of deposits into the company from outside sources, including $500,000 from a company connected to a Russian oligarch.
NBC News has reported that documents they obtained apparently support Avenatti’s claims.
Avenatti said his investigation uncovered eight transactions between January and August 2017, totaling half a million dollars, from U.S.-based Columbus Nova, which he said is controlled by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and his cousin Andrew Intrater.
The money was deposited into a First Republic account for Essential Consultants, Avenatti said. That’s the same company Cohen created in 2016 and then used to wire $130,000 to Daniels to stop her from going public with her account of an alleged sexual affair with Trump a decade ago.
You know, my question from the start of this is why Daniels rated a payoff, but none of the other women with stories to tell about Trump before the election were offered a deal.
It’s not that I don’t believe them (though, surely, some of them may have “enhanced” their recollections for the media). It’s just that it seems Daniels’ story must have been credible enough to worry Team Trump.
She did take [and pass] a polygraph, back in 2011.
But back to Cohen’s company and the alleged shenanigans…
The attorney for Columbus Nova pushed back, insisting that Americans ran the company, not Vekselberg.
“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 said.
“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 Cohen 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.”
Columbus Nova was listed on the website for the Renova Group, a Russian-owned asset-management company, at least up until around November 2017. Since then, the site appears to be down for maintenance.
Imagine that. If it’s still down, their tech guys suck.
But wait… It gets better!
A review of public election filings shows that the CEO of Columbus Nova, Andrew Intrater, made several political donations over the past two years. According to public record filings he donated $29,600 to the Republican National Committee in June 2017, $35,000 to the Trump Victory PAC the same month, and then $250,000 to the Trump Inauguration Fund. Columbus Nova has also registered many alt-right internet domains, though the domains return an error message.
Again with the tech problems.
Remember the indictments handed down against 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian companies by special counsel Robert Mueller, earlier this year?
Viktor Vekselberg was one of the Russians who was intercepted and questioned as he arrived in New York.
He was in attendance at the Moscow dinner in 2015, where Trump’s soon-to-be [but not for long] national security adviser Michael Flynn sat with Vladimir Putin.
Besides that money dropped into Cohen’s Essential Consultants account, there were a few other “curious” payments.
Novartis made four separate deposits, between late 2017 and early 2018, totaling just under $100,000. Trump met with the CEO of Novartis in January 2018, coincidentally.
AT&T also made four payments of $50,000 between late 2017 and early 2018, but said in a statement it was payment to Essential to “provide insights” into understanding the new administration, better.
No. Nothing about that makes sense to me, either.
In November 2017 Korea Aerospace Industries dropped $150,000 into the Essential Consultants account, but it’s not immediately clear for what purpose.
Maybe they just like Michael Cohen that much?
For now, I’d say it’s wise to keep a measure of healthy skepticism, in regards to all of this. It could be something, or it could be absolutely nothing.
What I will say is: Bravo, Mr. Avenatti. You do know how to keep things interesting.