Michael Cohen met with a Russian oligarch in Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration

Michael Cohen.

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Michael Cohen.
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  • The Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg met with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, 11 days before Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times reported.
  • During the meeting at Trump Tower, Vekselberg and Cohen reportedly discussed how to improve US-Russia relations under Trump.
  • Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s cousin who heads the investment firm Columbus Nova, told The Times that Cohen and Vekselberg met three times, including at the inauguration.
  • Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now under the scrutiny of federal investigators, The Times reported.

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Eleven days before he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a prominent Russian oligarch met with Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer to discuss improving US-Russia relations under Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg met with Michael Cohen at Cohen’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the American businessman Andrew Intrater told The Times.

Intrater, a relative of Vekselberg who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, is the head of the US investment firm Columbus Nova. The company paid Cohen approximately $500,000 in consulting fees between January and August 2017 and is a subsidiary of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate founded by Vekselberg.

Columbus Nova has sought to distance itself from Vekselberg and Renova Group since records of the payments to Cohen emerged earlier this month. According to The Guardian, Columbus Nova has secured Vekselberg $450 million in loans from the Russian state-owned bank VTB Bank.

Intrater told The Times that Vekselberg and Cohen met three times. The second time was during Trump’s inauguration, which was attended by at least six Putin-allied Russians, including Vekselberg.

Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now under the scrutiny of federal investigators, the Times report said.

Intrater said Vekselberg had not originally intended to meet with Cohen at Trump Tower, adding that if he had known Cohen would later be the focus of several federal criminal inquiries, he would not have hired Cohen or introduced him to Vekselberg.

Cohen’s dealings are the subject of an investigation by the Manhattan US attorney’s office into whether the president’s lawyer committed bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations in connection to payments made to women who say they had affairs with Trump.

Cohen earlier this year acknowledged that he paid $130,000 to one of those women, the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, days before the election in exchange for her silence about an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump’s third wife, Melania, gave birth to their son.

Cohen initially said he borrowed against his home equity to pay Daniels and that the president was not aware of the agreement. But it soon emerged that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has implied that if Daniels’ account of an affair had surfaced before the election, it would have been politically damaging to Trump, though Giuliani later issued a statement saying the payment was an attempt to prevent Trump’s family from embarrassment.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia investigation, is also said to be interested in whether Cohen and other Trump associates facilitated Russian influence over the 2016 US election and US policy after Trump won.

Mueller interviewed Vekselberg earlier this year after the businessman landed at a New York area airport. The special counsel’s focus on Russian oligarchs comes as investigators are looking into whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled money, either directly or indirectly, into Trump’s campaign or inauguration. Prosecutors are also said to be interested in whether wealthy Russians used American donors or US companies with political action committees to infuse money into the election.