Back in January of 2018, several news outlets reported that Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, used a shell company called Essential Consultants to pay Stormy Daniels. Now, a new report from the New York Times revealed that Essential Consultants allegedly received over $1 million from an American company with ties to a Russian oligarch and from several other companies. Bustle reached out to Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan, for comment on the Times' findings, but has not yet received a response.
The Wall Street Journal initially reported in January 2018 that Cohen had created a private company based in Delaware, called Essential Consultants LLC, on October 17, 2016 — shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen subsequently used the company to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels, otherwise known as Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair she had with Trump.
Trump has repeatedly and vehemently denied having an affair with Daniels. On May 3, Trump tweeted about the alleged affair, calling Daniels' allegations "false and extortionist." Moreover, when referring to a 60 Minutes interview featuring Daniels, White House spokesman Raj Shah said on March 26 that, "The president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Ms Daniels made last night in her interview were accurate."
While the media has reported for some time that Cohen paid Daniels through Essential Consultants, the New York Times' latest report revealed that the shell company also allegedly received a substantial amount of money from several companies. Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, first reported alleged receipt of these payments in an executive summary entitled "Preliminary Report of Findings" that he released on Twitter on Tuesday. The New York Times and NBC both subsequently reviewed financial records and independently confirmed Avenatti's alleged findings.
The New York Times reported that Essential Consultants allegedly received $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm whose largest client is a company headed by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. However, the paper reported that a lawyer from Columbus Nova said that the funds were for a consulting fee and not related to Vekselberg.
For his part, Avenatti alleges that the alleged $500,000 payment Essential Consultants received from Columbus Nova could have been used to repay Daniels, writing on Twitter:
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.
However, as Vanity Fair reported, this information provided by Avenatti could not be independently confirmed. Moreover, the magazine also reported that Cohen's aforementioned lawyer, Ryan, told The Atlantic's reporter, Natasha Bertrand, that he would not discuss the alleged $500,000 payment. As Bertrand wrote on Twitter,
Michael Cohen’s attorney, Steve Ryan, won’t discuss the $500,000 Michael Avenatti says Cohen received from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg in 2017. 'I understand the shorthand you’re using, but it wasn’t a payment,' Ryan says before hanging up.
President Trump has indicated that he reimbursed Cohen for the payment made to Daniels. On Twitter on May 3, the president wrote,
Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA ...The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her [Daniels] about an affair,......
In addition to the alleged payment that Essential Consultants received from Columbus Nova, Vanity Fair also reported that the company allegedly received payments from AT&T, Novartis, and Korea Aerospace Industries LTD — all of which have business before the Trump administration. According to CNN Money, AT&T confirmed the payment, saying it had hired Essential Consultants to "provide insights into understanding the new administration." Erik Larson and Andrew Martin of Bloomberg reported that a Novartis spokesperson was "looking into the issue" regarding the alleged payment and Vanity Fair noted that Korea Aerospace could not be reached for comment.
Overall, the information about the alleged payments received by Essential Consultants is still unfolding. However, as Vox reported, these payment allegations have certainly sparked significant interest, with many likely wondering what the companies who allegedly paid Essential Consultants sought to receive in return for their payments. Moreover, lawyer Avenatti's allegation that the money allegedly received from Columbus Nova could have possibly been used to reimburse Daniels raises even further questions in regards to the Trump-Daniels saga.