Earlier this week, lawyer Michael Avenatti — who represents adult film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Donald Trump and his “fixer” Michael Cohen — released documents showing that Cohen collected $500,000 in mysterious payments last year from a financial firm linked to a top Russian oligarch last year. Now, new research reveals that another one of Trump’s lawyers also worked for that same Russia-linked firm, Columbus Nova.
Marc Kasowitz, the 65-year-old New York attorney (pictured above) who was Trump’s lead defense lawyer in the ongoing Russia collusion investigation, also represented Columbus Nova as recently as early 2017, around the same time that the United States-based company linked to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg began channeling payments to Cohen through his shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, according to an investigation by Pro Publica.
The Trump lawyer’s work for Columbus Nova goes as far back as 2010, Pro Publica found.
Columbus Nova has confirmed that it made the payments to Cohen, saying that the company hired the Trump “fixer” as a “business consultant” who could help the company with “potential sources of capital.” But the company denies that Vekselberg was involved in the payments to Cohen. The specific services Cohen actually performed for Columbus Nova, if any, remain unclear.
Vekselberg is founder and chief of the Russian conglomerate known as Renova Group, of which Columbus Nova is an affiliate — or at least, the company listed itself as a “U.S. investment vehicle for the Renova Group” on its own website as recently as April 22, according to research by the news site Think Progress. But sometime between that date and the present, the company appears to have “scrubbed” its site to delete mentions of Renova.
The company also deleted a biography of Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, who is Vekselberg’s cousin and was described as a “current Member of the Executive Board of Renova Group,” in the now-deleted bio.
Kasowitz has reportedly stepped down from Trump’s legal team in the Russia collusion probe, but continues to represent Trump in the Summer Zervos lawsuit. Zervos was a contestant on Trump’s NBC TV reality show The Apprentice, and has alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her. She is suing Trump for defamation over his public statements calling her a “liar.”
According to former Trump “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, Kasowitz has also acted as a “fixer” for Trump. Bannon told author Michael Wolff that the lawyer “took care” of nearly 100 women making claims against Trump during the presidential campaign alone. Bannon said that Kasowitz “has gotten (Trump) out of all kinds of jams.”
A spokesperson for Columbus Nova told Pro Publica that it was merely a “coincidence” that the financial firm had hired and paid two lawyers, Cohen and Kasowitz, who have also served as Trump “fixers.”
Columbus Nova’s registration as an “investment adviser” with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission expired in 2012, according to research by Forbes Magazine. Registration is required for investment firms that handle more than $100 million in outside funds. But in the company’s original registration filed in 2000, it described itself as “the U.S.-based affiliate of the Renova Group.”
A lawyer for Columbus Nova told Forbes that Vekselberg never “owned” the U.S.-based company, but acknowledged that the Russian oligarch was the single biggest investor in Columbus Nova.
How Cohen used the $500,000 paid into his Essential Consultants LLC by Columbus Nova remains a mystery. Avenatti said that some of the cash may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 “hush money” payment he sent in October of 2016 to Daniels, to keep her quiet about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
But according to an article Wednesday in The New Yorker, the fact that neither Columbus Nova nor any of the other companies that sent money to Cohen in 2017 — including telecom giant AT&T and big drugmaker Novartis — have been able to explain what the money was for, Essential Consultants LLC may have functioned as a “slush fund” not for Cohen, but for Trump himself.
“Cohen, in this scenario, was just doing the paperwork and providing a vehicle for payments,” the New Yorker article states. “If there is anything else the companies that paid him were getting, they need to offer better explanations. To put the matter most bluntly, if Cohen was Trump’s bagman, was Essential Consultants anything more than the bag?”