Trump-Russia collusion investigations

Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen ‘met with Russian oligarch at Trump Tower just before inauguration’

Trump’s personal lawyer discussed foreign policy with Viktor Vekselberg, Vekselberg’s cousin has alleged

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 5:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 10:59pm

US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met with a Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire in Manhattan 11 days before the presidential inauguration to discuss their mutual interest in improving US-Russia relations, according to a report.

Cohen held the January 9, 2017, meeting in his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower to talk foreign policy with Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch whose closeness to the Kremlin landed him on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list earlier this year, Vekselberg’s cousin told The New York Times.

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And around two weeks later, Cohen was awarded a US$1 million consulting contract by Columbus Nova, a private investment firm run by that same cousin, Andrew Intrater.

Intrater said he attended the Trump Tower meeting and described it as brief and casual. He also said that Cohen and Vekselberg made plans to meet again at Trump’s inauguration.

Columbus Nova awarded Cohen the contract soon after Trump’s inauguration; the deal is now under scrutiny from federal investigators examining Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Vekselberg is Intrater’s biggest client and invests in business ventures on his behalf.

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Intrater told the Times that Vekselberg played no role in hiring Cohen as a consultant. In hindsight, Intrater said, he wishes he had never contracted Cohen because of the legal trouble the Trump lawyer has found himself in.

“Obviously, if I’d known in January 2017 that I was about to hire this high-profile guy who’d wind up in this big mess, I wouldn’t have introduced him to my biggest client, and wouldn’t have hired him at all,” he told the Times.

Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Cohen for bank and wire fraud.

He is also facing scrutiny over potential campaign finance violations as it relates to a US$130,000 payment he issued to adult-film star Stormy Daniels after she threatened to go public with claims she had sex with Trump in 2006.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin, has also shown interest in Cohen’s business dealings.

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It is unclear if Trump was aware of Cohen’s meeting with Vekselberg. A White House spokesman did not return a request for comment. Cohen’s lawyer did not respond to emailed questions.

The Cohen-Vekselberg meeting adds yet another tangent to Trump’s various connections to Russia.

The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jnr, hosted a meeting at Trump Tower during the campaign attended by a Kremlin-tied Russian lawyer who had promised political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

That meeting has drawn sharp scrutiny from Mueller and congressional committees investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election.