Former US Attorney Preet Bharara tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper that it’s odd for Trump attorney Michael Cohen to accept almost half a million dollars from a company linked to a Russian oligarch. Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, made the allegations that Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of Renova Group, routed the money to Essential Consultants, LLC, the company that paid hush money to Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Investigators for Robert Mueller have questioned Vekselberg about the payment. Vekselberg is on a list of Russians being sanctioned by the US for activities including election interference.
After news stories about another hush money payment to a former doorman who claimed President Trump had fathered a love child, a pattern is emerging that there may have been an operation orchestrated by his attorney Michael Cohen to keep such charges quiet before the 2016 election. According to Vox:
That possibility is this: investigators suspect there was a major, potentially illegal, off-the-books spending operation aimed at making problems for Donald Trump’s campaign go away — and they’re wondering what Trump himself knew about it, or even whether he orchestrated it.
Hear more about what the FBI may have been looking for in the Cohen raid in this podcast from Vox.
Just when you thought you’d heard all there was to tell about the payment of $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels that President Trump’s personal lawyer “facilitated,” Michael Cohen, the aforementioned attorney, piped up with another statement regarding the alleged affair that all parties deny happened. At The Washington Post, columnist Paul Waldman says Cohen’s latest statement is interesting as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Here’s what Waldman says is the key part from Cohen’s latest statement:
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.
Waldman notes that Cohen doesn’t say he used his own money to make the payment; he “used his own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford,” which is Ms. Daniels’ real name. While Cohen takes pains to emphasize “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign” was involved, ethics experts say Cohen may have made an “in-kind” donation to the Trump campaign — implicating himself.
Another interesting thing is that there’s no denial that Trump himself may paid the hush money or reimbursed Cohen for the payment. Still another is this observation by Waldman, “Remember: The president may have had an affair with a porn star who was paid $130,000 in hush money to keep it quiet, and we treat it like it’s the third- or fourth-most scandalous thing that happened this week.”