Michael Cohen's legal woes appeared to deepen Tuesday night with a bombshell release from Stormy Daniels' attorney. According to financial records reviewed by the New York Times and NBC News, a company linked to a Russian oligarch targeted by US sanctions deposited around $500,000 into an account controlled by Essential Consultants, the shell company Cohen used to pay hush money to Daniels before the 2016 election. Michael Avenatti alleges that funds from oligarch Viktor Vekselberg may have "replenished the account" in a series of payments in 2017 after the Daniels settlement, though Columbus Nova, a US affiliate of a Vekselberg company, denies that he was involved in its payments to Trump's personal lawyer, the Washington Post reports. The purpose of the company's payments is unclear.
Sources tell CNN that Robert Mueller's investigators have already quizzed Vekselberg about the payments to Cohen's company. Records reviewed by the Times show that around $4.4 million flowed through the Essential Consultants account between its creation weeks before the 2016 election and January this year, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical firm Novartis, AT&T, and Korea Aerospace. AT&T confirmed the payments late Tuesday, saying Cohen's firm was among those it "engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration," the AP reports. Cohen isn't a registered lobbyist, and while the unusual payments may not have broken any laws, Trump and his attorney "have a lot of explaining to do," Avenatti said in a tweet Tuesday.