Michael Cohen, President Trump’s then personal lawyer, met with Russian Oligarch and chairman of Renova Group, Viktor Vekselberg, in Trump Tower during the presidential transition to discuss US-Russia relations.
Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s cousin and CEO of Columbus Nova, an American investment firm, also attended the January 9, 2017 meeting and describes the meeting as “brief and impromptu”.
Vekselberg is chairman of Renova Group, a Russian asset-management company, and has close ties to Putin. Video footage confirms the oligarch’s presence in Trump Tower on the day of the meeting, The New York Times reported on Friday. Vekselberg is Columbus Nova’s biggest client and was sanctioned in April, along with 6 other oligarchs and 17 senior Russian officials, by the Treasury Department and labeled an “SDN”, which stands for Specially Designated Nationals.
Vekselberg was stopped earlier this year by the FBI at a New York airport for questioning. He was reportedly questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team about payments to Michael Cohen and a donation of more than $300,000 made by Intrater to Trump’s inauguration committee and to the Republican National Committee. Vekselberg’s presence at this meeting at Trump Tower raises further questions about his role in those payments. Intrater denies funneling money from the Russian oligarch to the Trump campaign.
Columbus Nova hired Michael Cohen shortly after the January meeting as a consultant, paying him $580,000 to connect Columbus Nova with Republican donors. The contract with Cohen began in January 2017 and ended after seven months.
Intrater denies Vekselberg had anything to do with Cohen’s hiring and told The Times he regrets introducing his cousin to Cohen.
“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,” Mr. Intrater said, adding that he had agreed to be interviewed about his dealings with Mr. Cohen because he had not done anything wrong.
After the payments to Cohen were made public, Columbus Nova has publicly distanced themselves from Vekselberg, CNN reports.
Since the payments have become public, Columbus Nova has attempted to distance itself from Vekselberg, denying Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova recently removed references to Renova Group from the biography of its partners.It has stated it’s a “management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” and that it hired Cohen after Trump’s inauguration,But the newly discovered video shows that Vekselberg and Intrater were meeting with Cohen before that, and they were just steps away from the President-elect during the transition.
Andrew Intrater has also been questioned by Mueller’s team and his lawyer tells CNN that “Columbus Nova has cooperated with all requests for documents and information from federal authorities.”
Cohen’s business relationships, while serving as President Trump’s personal lawyer and employee of Trump Org, are being investigated as a part of the larger investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election in 2016.
Why It Matters
This meeting is the second meeting in Trump Tower involving persons within the Trump campaign or presidential transition team who had contact with Russians connected with Putin. The first meeting, that we know of, was the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr and the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who recently admitted that she is a Russian informant.
Michael Cohen, as the President’s personal lawyer, met in his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, with a Russian Oligarch with direct ties to the Kremlin. He came away with a lucrative consulting contract and the RNC, which he would soon be Deputy Finance Chair for, and Trump’s inauguration both received donations.
The idea that people on the transition team for the President Elect were meeting with Russians for the purpose of lining their own pockets is bad enough. But that influence peddling, with money flowing to his inauguration and to the Republican National Committee, and its broader implications of Russian meddling in a presidential campaign should make every American pause, Republicans most of all.