Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been interrogated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team about an amount of as much as $500,000 made to President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, which may have provided the funds to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money, according to CNN.
Vekselberg, chairman of asset manager Renova Group, was placed last month on a list of Russians sanctioned for activities including interference in the 2016 election.
However, he was stopped by Mueller’s team before that when his private jet landed at a New York City airport before he was sanctioned.
Mueller confirmed that he had interviewed Vekselberg after other revelations today.
— CNN (@CNN) May 8, 2018
Mueller’s investigators also asked Vekselberg about huge donations the head of his U.S. affiliate made to Trump’s campaign and inaugural fund.
This all exploded today after Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Daniels, tweeted out information that appears to confirm CNN’s reporting that the Russian and his allies paid Cohen half a million dollars n the month after the presidential election.
“Avenatti alleged the $500,000 went into the bank account for Essential Consultants, a shell company that Cohen set up before the election that was used to pay Daniels>” reports CNN. “Avenatti added that the payments occurred from January to August 2017.”
The payments to Trump were funneled through Columbus Nova, Vekselberg’s American affiliate, which is run by his cousin Andrew Intrater (who is an American citizen).
“Michael Cohen should not be selling access to the President of United States”
Stormy Daniels' lawyer on report that Mueller's team has questioned a Russian oligarch about payments his company's US affiliate made to President Trump's personal attorney https://t.co/6KV869plgS pic.twitter.com/V00pqOagsi
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 9, 2018
Columbus Nova, which had no history of large political payments in the past, gave about $300,000 in donations.
He gave $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund, $35,000 to the Trump Victory Fund (a super Pac), and $29,600 to the Republican National Committee in June 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, reports CNN.
The payments came at a time Cohen had left The Trump Organization and was setting up his own legal and consulting business.
Columbus Nova attorney Richard Owens told The Hill that the company hired Cohen after Trump was elected as a “business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.”
The questions that Mueller and his team asked Vekselberg suggest they are looking into Cohen’s business dealings including the payment to Daniels and possibly others for Trump.
Vekselberg was one of those who took advantage of the privatization of Russian businesses after the fall of the Soviet Union, which led to the rise of Putin. He made his fortune in oil and gas.
The Russian oligarch who allegedly gave Michael Cohen $500,000 was at Trump's inauguration AND Mike Flynn's 2015 dinner in Moscow. https://t.co/iVFTquupYD
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) May 8, 2018
Vekselbeg was a guest at a December 2015 dinner in Moscow for RT, the state-owned TV channel, where Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security advisor, was also a guest.
Flynn has already pleaded guilty to lying about a call he had with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign and is said to now be cooperating with Mueller.
Vekselberg also attended Trump’s inauguration ceremony using a ticket he was given by his cousin, according to his spokesman.
Despite Trump’s frequent denials, all of this adds up to a growing amount of evidence that Mueller is gathering that suggests connections between Trump, the Russians, Cohen and the payment to Daniels, and could lead to even more developments.
No matter what Trump’s confused lawyer Rudy Giuliani says, the Russia investigation into Trump, his campaign, and the aftermath appears to be far from over.