The Russian Connection: Where Did $4 Million Go?

Tuesday evening, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti dropped a bombshell revealing that Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen received $500,000 from Russia oligarch Viktor Vekselberg after the 2016 presidential election. The story was corroborated by The New York Times and The Washington Post

Today it was reported that there were also payments from AT&T, who is trying to merge with Time Warner, and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis that brought the total number of payments to $4.4.

In all, according to the materials released by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, roughly $4.4 million flowed through Cohen’s LLC’s bank account over the course of about a year.

Why anyone, least of all corporate giants like AT&T and Novartis, would see value in putting money into Cohen’s little shell company – the vehicle for porn-star hush money – is a question that probably deserves an answer. Maybe it had something to do with trying to influence Cohen’s client in the Oval Office.

Finally, there’s the question of the timeline. The Washington Post reported overnight that when Cohen withdrew $1 million from his shell company for reasons unknown, Essential Consultants LLC “hadn’t yet received the $750,000 paid by AT&T, Novartis and Korea Aerospace.”

In her opening segment Tuesday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reported on a set of payments to Cohen that were exposed in an online posting by Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti, from corporations like AT&T, Russian oligarch-connected firms, and some as yet unexplained sources.

Besides paying off Trump’s extra-marital partners, Cohen was also promising access to Trump.

A new report from Stat News reveals that longtime Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen promised pharmaceutical giant Novartis direct access to President Donald Trump in exchange for cash.

According to a source within the company, Cohen approached them last year and let them know he could set up meetings between the company and Trump administration officials, including the president himself.

“He reached out to us,” the source claimed. “With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players. We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

Of course, Cohen is not a registered lobbyist, which could put the company’s payment to him in murky legal territory.

Of course Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was already questioning the Novartis payments.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team sought information last November from Novartis, a major pharmaceutical company that paid a company created by President Trump’s lawyer, the drug company said Wednesday.

The interest by Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, indicates that the special counsel is scrutinizing clients that paid Michael Cohen while he served as Trump’s personal attorney.

The leak of Cohen’s banking records is also being investigated by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General.

Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said that in response to media reports the office is “inquiring into allegations” that Suspicious Activity Reports on Cohen’s banking transactions were “improperly disseminated.” [..]

Experts say the information Avenatti published could have come from a SAR filed by Cohen’s bank to Treasury.

“This has the appearance of a leak,” said Daniel P. Stipano, former deputy chief counsel in the Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. “It shouldn’t happen, but things leak.”

It is not uncommon for journalists, lawyers and others in the public eye to receive unauthorized leaks of sensitive information, and there is nothing improper in receiving such information. Stipano said hundreds, if not thousands, of officials in law enforcement and government have access to a database of SARs.

According to reports from The Daily Beast via the Wall Street Journal, it was First Republic Bank who reported the suspicious activity on the account.

The bank used by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 flagged the transaction as suspicious and alerted the Treasury Department, a source told the Wall Street Journal. Daniels received the wire transfer from First Republic Bank in October 2016, 12 days before the presidential election. It is not clear when First Republic Bank flagged the transaction and reported it to the Treasury Department. Cohen reportedly missed two deadlines to pay Daniels because he couldn’t get in touch with Trump in the lead up to the election. Cohen paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket as part of an agreement that bars Daniels from talking about her alleged 2006 affair with then-candidate Trump. He reportedly complained to friends when he was not immediately reimbursed after the election.

When reached for comment, Cohen, naturally called in “fake news.” Yeah, right. Indictments are coming.