When I signed up to write about politics, I never dreamed that familiarity with the internal workings of organized crime would be necessary. But even in my ignorance, I suspect that it is not uncommon for a mob boss’s bagman to have a slush fund out of which to “take care of things.”
What we’ve now learned is that Michael Cohen, Trump’s bagman, had just such a slush fund—the same one he used to pay off Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her affair with the president. Perhaps now we know why Rudy Giuliani was so anxious to get out ahead of this story with the claim that Trump actually paid the hush money back to Cohen.
According to the New York Times, that slush fund was the recipient of payments from an interesting cast of characters who now claim that the money was either for investment purposes or to pay for “consulting services.”
Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions adding up to at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.
Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch…
Among the other payments to Mr. Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October and January by Novartis Investments S.A.R.L., a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland…
In addition, Korea Aerospace Industries paid Mr. Cohen’s company $150,000 last November, according to the records…
AT&T made four payments totaling $200,000 between October 2017 and January 2018, according to the documents.
In addition to the payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, it was Essential Consultants who paid off Playboy model Shera Bechard to the tune of $1.6 million. One can only wonder how Cohen used the remaining $2.6 million collected during Trump’s first year as president, other than probably pay himself a rather handsome sum.
In terms of what those investors got for their money, Tim O’Brien reminds us what was going on at about the time the payment was made from the investment firm controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia’s richest men.
Cohen and his high school chum Felix Sater actually crafted a peace proposal for Ukraine that they tried to shop to Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, during the same period when Cohen was being paid by Columbus Nova.
In an article from last summer, David Corn and Dan Friedman wrote that, beyond Cohen, Vekselberg is tied to another Trump associate.
In 2014, Vekselberg’s Renova Group became a partner with American billionaire investor Wilbur Ross in the takeover of the Bank of Cyprus, which had held billions in deposits from wealthy Russians—some of it presumably dirty money or funds deposited there to avoid Russian taxation. The bank had failed in 2013. Ross went on to become Trump’s secretary of commerce. During his confirmation hearings in February, Democratic senators sent Ross a list of questions regarding his relationship with Vekselberg. Ross has yet to answer them.
One of the people who is believed to have laundered money through the Bank of Cyprus is Paul Manafort. I point all of that out because this is a perfect example of what happens when you begin digging in to the web of connections between Trump, his associates and Russia. It all becomes a tangled weave of relationships organized around criminal activities.
Donald Trump is up to his eyeballs in that tangled weave and Cohen’s slush fund is the first hard evidence that has been made public that begins to unravel the money trail. We know about this one because, somehow, Michael Avenatti (Stormy Daniel’s attorney) got ahold of the evidence. But Mueller has it too, as is demonstrated by the fact that his investigators questioned Viktor Vekselberg, according to this report from last week:
Federal agents working with Mr. Mueller stopped Mr. Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman, at a New York-area airport this year, searched his electronic devices and questioned him, according to people familiar with the matter. They confronted him after he stepped off a private plane about two months ago, according to one of the people.
Watching all of this from the outside, we get bits and pieces on how this tangled weave fits together. As has often been the case, I suspect that Mueller and his team have a much clearer picture of all of that by now. That’s why one of Trump’s associates, Michael Caputo, suggested that at this point, they’re spearfishing. In other words, “they know what they’re aiming at and are deadly accurate.”