By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/10/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
On Tuesday, after Trump had what Rudy Giuliani described as his greatest day in office cancelling the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, Trump readies for an early bedtime of cheeseburger and cable news, anxious to watch the accolades and consider whether he might be awarded two Nobel Peace Prizes. He props his pillows, settles in, balances his plate on his belly and turns on the television. And who appears but Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti. He changes to another news provider, Michael Avenatti – again and Michael Avenatti. He decides maybe he’d better listen….
He hears something about an Avenatti tweet:
After significant investigation, we have discovered that Mr. Trump’s atty Mr. Cohen received approximately $500,000 in the mos. after the election from a company controlled by a Russian Oligarc with close ties to Mr. Putin. These monies may have reimbursed the $130k payment.
Trump dumps his cheeseburger and turns up the volume. Apparently Avenatti has released a 7-page document stating that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s company set up to make the Stormy $130,000 hush payment, Essential Consultants, LLC, has been taking in millions of dollars.
Mother Jones was one of the first to break the news: Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer Claims Russian Oligarch Paid $500,000 To Michael Cohen.
The story’s sub-head intriguingly reads: “Michael Avenatti releases a bombshell report. He must now provide the proof.”
While there was a whiff of initial caution, the news spilled out:
“On Tuesday afternoon, Michael Avenatti, the on-media-everywhere lawyer for Stormy Daniels, released a report with a bombshell claim: An American company controlled by the Viktor Vekselberg, a Putin-friendly Russian oligarch, paid $500,000 last year to Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s embattled lawyer and fixer. The allegation carries tremendous implications and raises the question of secret financial ties between Russia and Trump world. The report also states that Cohen received payments from a Swiss pharmaceutical companies and other foreign sources. Though the report includes no evidence, the New York Times Tuesday reviewed documents that largely confirmed the claims.”
A sanctioned Russian oligarch who we just reported last edition had been stopped and questioned by the FBI after landing in the U.S. in a private airplane gave Michael Cohen $500,000. And a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis, $3999,920, AT&T $200,000, payments from Israel, Malaysia, Singapore, Hungary, Taiwan…
“Avenatti also alleges that Cohen used a bank account to engage in suspicious bank transactions totaling $4.4 million between October 2016 and January 2018. Avenatti has not said how he obtained the information contained in his report.”
$4.4 million is a lot of money given the account opening statement issued by Avenatti said the expected transactions would be 1-20 domestic wire transfers between $1,000 and $10,000 and a similar number of ACH transfers monthy.
The Daily Beast was quick to confirm: Michael Cohen Took Cash From Oligarch-Connected Firm After Election.
““How the fuck did Avenatti find out?” the source asked The Daily Beast.”
The named companies rushed to make clarifying statements: Firm Tied to Russian Oligarch Made Payments to Michael Cohen.
Focusing on Vekselberg, one of the first company statements was from his U.S. entity, Columbus Nova:
“Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved in or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue,” Mr. Owens said. “Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else outside of Columbus Nova was involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”
That sounds definitive, how could anyone link the $500,000 Columbus Nova paid to Cohen through Essential Consultants, LLC to Russian oligarch Vekselberg?
“Renova has had a financial relationship with VTB, one of the largest state-owned banks in Russia, according to documents that were part of the “Panama Papers” leak of files from an offshore law firm. The documents show that Mr. Vekselberg’s companies received at least $350 million in loans or investments from VTB and a subsidiary, VTB Capital. The current state of the debt is unclear, though one document suggests it was discharged in 2010.
“Mr. Cohen created Essential Consultants in Delaware less than two weeks before he completed his deal with Ms. Clifford, who is now contesting her contract with Mr. Cohen as invalid. Mr. Cohen initially said he paid her out of his own pocket by way of a home equity line of credit.”
Before we move on, it is wise to remember that Vekselberg was also the largest shareholder of the Bank of Cyprus where Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross served as chair from 2014-2017.
Suckers & big cash
Corporate America gets its turn in the Trump barrel!
The Washington Post did an excellent job of making sense of how the cash sluiced in an out of the web of bank accounts: How Money Flowed Through Michael Cohen’s Multi-Purpose Shell Company.
As Avenatti alleged, “…more than $4 million passed through the account in 2017 and early this year…” This follows the initial payment Cohen made to the company for $130,000 which resulted in a next day payment to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson. WaPo used a helpful graphic to present the flow of money and ended with this useful qualifier:
“It’s clear from the reported transactions that there was more money flowing into the Essential Consultants account than has been revealed. (At the time Cohen withdrew the $1 million, the account hadn’t yet received the $750,000 paid by AT&T, Novartis and Korea Aerospace.) Meaning that if Avenatti’s representation is accurate, the graphic above is still incomplete.”
This was prophetic given by Wednesday morning CNBC was reporting juicy new news: Novartis Paid Trump’s Lawyer Michael Cohen More Than $1 Million For Advice On President’s Approach To Obamacare – Work He Was Unable To Do.
There is MUCH in this article. The first statement on Tuesday night focused on the fact that it was the former CEO for Novartis that entered into the agreement and the latest statement offers added clarity to both this and an observation that the new CEO had in fact managed to arrange a meeting with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos:
“The engagement of Essential Consultants predated Vas Narasimhan becoming Novartis CEO and he was in no way involved with this agreement. Contrary to recent media reports, this agreement was also in no way related to the group dinner Dr. Narasimhan had at the World Economic Forum in Davos with President Trump and 15 Europe based industry leaders. Suggestions to the contrary clearly misrepresent the facts and can only be intended to further personal or political agendas as to which Novartis should not be a part.”
Novartis wants to make it clear that the roughly $400,000 paid to Cohen was NOT pay-to-play but was for advice based on his expertise. Um, yeah, except Cohen was apparently paid $1.2 million, not $400,000:
“As the contract, unfortunately, could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018,” Novartis said.
“That means that Cohen was paid up to $1.2 million for his work. Novartis did not immediately disclose the total amount paid.”
And apparently after one meeting they realized Cohen was incapable of fulfilling his end of the agreement:
“Novartis said it believed Cohen “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain U.S. health-care policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act.”
“But just a month after signing the deal, Novartis executives had their first meeting with Cohen, and afterward “determined that Michael Cohen and Essentials Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated.””
Before we invest too many brain cells in trying to sort this all out, here’s the last part of the official Novartis statement:
“In terms of the Special Counsel’s office, Novartis was contacted in November 2017 regarding the company’s agreement with Essential Consultants. Novartis cooperated fully with the Special Counsel’s office and provided all the information requested. Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement.”
Special Counsel Mueller has already been on the scene.
Even more puzzling, or damning, are these comments: Trump’s Lawyer Pitched Himself As A Fixer To Novartis And Got Paid $1.2 Million.
A multi-$billion global Swiss pharma company, does this make sense to anyone? According to Novartis, Cohen reached out to the company and…
“Jimenez took the call and then instructed his team to reach a deal with Cohen. A one-year contract worth $1.2 million was signed with Cohen in February 2017. The company’s hope was that Cohen could help it navigate a bevy of uncertain issues facing the drug maker — from potential changes to the Affordable Care Act and tax reform to navigating reimbursement challenges for medicines.”
Cohen had no background in healthcare, so what was he selling?
“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.”
Cohen quickly fueled concerns, but they decided to “not run the risk of ticking off the president.
““At first, it all sounded impressive, but toward the end of the meeting, everyone realized this was a probably a slippery slope to engage him. So they decided not to really engage Cohen for any activities after that,” the employee continued. Rather than attempt to cancel the contract, the company allowed it to lapse early in 2018 and not run the risk of ticking off the president. “It might have caused anger,” this person said.”
Novartis wasn’t alone, AT&T had to offer some new news: AT&T Payments To Trump Lawyer More Than Reported.
AT&T paid Essential Consultants, LLC $600,000, not $200,000. AT&T offered:
“AT&T confirmed those payments as described by Avenatti, saying they were aimed at gaining “insights” into the new administration.”
Maybe that is valuable considering AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner while working with the Department of Justice to resolve questions to gain approval: AT&T Was Paying Trump’s Lawyer As The Administration Turned Into Foe.
“In the early days of President Trump’s administration, he had a friend in AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson.
“The telecom executive described himself as one of Trump’s “biggest defenders on public policy.” He met with the president-elect at Trump Tower and talked about all the jobs that the largest U.S. phone company would create. Stephenson also praised Trump to investors, saying the president would usher in a new era of corporate tax relief and fewer regulations.
“And as it turned out, AT&T’s relationship with the fledgling administration went deeper. The carrier acknowledged Tuesday that it hired a firm founded by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, seeking “insights” on how the unorthodox president would govern. It also wanted guidance on how Trump would respond to its plan to acquire Time Warner Inc., according to a person briefed on the matter.”
So what does it all mean?
National Public Radio did a good job of giving some much-needed context: What You Need To Know About Alleged Russian Payments To Trump Lawyer Cohen.
NPR poses these thoughts:
“First … it would be a big deal if Trump knew he hadn’t reimbursed Cohen or knew that Vekselberg had underwritten the nondisclosure agreement. It would confirm his awareness of a financial relationship between Trump’s camp and a Russian oligarch whom the United States included in the list of people in retaliation for the election interference.
“Second, the story appears to depict a previously unknown influence business that Cohen was running early in the Trump administration, apparently selling his access to corporate clients. Companies including AT&T wanted to know what to make of Trump and his advisers and evidently were paying Cohen to find out. …
“Third, and more broadly, Avenatti’s document changes the nature of the Russia imbroglio from a story about potential personal relationships and long-term conspiracy to one about money and payments.”
A few other items worthy of consideration…
From The Hill we have: Senate Intel: Russia Waged ‘unprecedented’ Cyber Campaign On U.S. Voting Systems.
The Senate Intelligence Committee released an unclassified version of its investigation of Russian hacking of the U.S. election. At least six states experienced successful breaches from Russian hacking.
“In a small number of states, Russian-affiliated cyber actors were able to gain access to restricted elements of election infrastructure,” the report states. “In a small number of states, these cyber actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data; however, they did not appear to be in a position to manipulate individual votes or aggregate vote totals.”
Dispatches from an alternate reality
During the Wednesday Senate hearings for the new CIA chief Esquire’s Charles Pierce reports this: This Exchange in Gina Haspel’s Hearing Can’t Go Unnoticed.
The Senate Intelligence Committee held a public hearing for Gina Haspel and her nomination to head the CIA. Given her history of her personal involvement in CIA black sites and torture, she was asked:
“Sen. Susan Collins: If the President gave you a direct order to waterboard a terrorism suspect, what would you do?
“Gina Haspel: “I do not believe the President would ask me to do that””
While other comments and written statements offered better assurances, this is troubling.
How’s The Swamp?
Apparently the Swamp is just fine, but the entry fee has increased significantly, very much like membership fees at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago. Sure the news is about Cohen and Trump, but isn’t this similar to what we’ve learned about Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, or Secretary EPA Scott ‘Pay-to-Play’ Pruitt. How about Blackwater founder and ‘Trump-Seychelles-back-door’ man, Eric Prince?
- Essential Consultants, LLC. Given the dollars paid, Cohen must be essential to many companies and individuals. Essential for what?
- Novartis gets a meeting with Trump at Davos. AT&T is desirous of Department of Justice approval for a proposed merger with Time Warner.
- Trump’s lawyer Cohen was quickly understood to be unqualified to perform the envisioned work and yet payments continued. Out of fear of ticking off the president according to Novartis.
- Is there any history that would suggest Trump would lash out and try to punish people or companies that get on his bad side? Can someone reach out to Jeff Bezos and Amazon for comment?
Let’s not miss the significance of seeing Trump’s Stormy Daniels payment and money from a Russian oligarch in one place at the same time.
Did anyone ever believe this would not come down to money and payments?
Ready to face down the super fungi?
Over at Esquire Charles Piercewill wrap things up: Trump And His Administration Are A Parasite On American Government.
The story’s subhead sums up things nicely: The blight of corruption is festering beneath the surface.
Pierce may be proven right:
“I’m beginning to think that the corruption of this administration* is the political equivalent of one of these super-fungi. It is so vast, and so much of it is hidden from view, that we may never see it entirely until it’s too late, and a whole lot of important things about this country go dead and topple down.”
In closing, you can view his final comment as a challenge … or a wave of a white flag:
“Whether we’d all have the guts to look at what this spreading parasitic growth is doing to our country, however, is a whole different matter. If we saw it whole, we might have to do something about it, and then where would we be?”
Are we better than this or not?
Are we ready to do something?