Avenatti Knows All
Michael Avenatti’s bombshell release detailing nearly $4.5 million dollars that flowed into Cohen’s Essential Consulting account at First Republic Bank during 2017 has finally linked Trump’s personal affairs to the Russia inquiry. According to Avenatti’s documents, $500,000 dollars came from Columbus Nova, a company that was, until recently, listed as a subsidiary of the Renova Group which itself is controlled by a powerful Russian oligarch. Columbus Nova’s president is the cousin of that same Russian oligarch. Another $400,000 came from the pharmaceutical company Novartis. An additional $200,000 came from AT&T as well as $150,000 from a Korean aerospace company. Lastly, there is a $62,500 payment from Elliott Broidy as part of his settlement agreement with another woman.
As Avenatti described it, this has all the features of a pay-to-play scheme or, considering Cohen actually reached out to Novartis, an extortion scheme. But it was amazing to see how these companies tripped all over themselves trying to explain why they were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cohen. Even there, however, Avenatti had laid a trap, purposely not disclosing the true total dollar amounts he knew these companies had paid Cohen and waiting to see whether they would come clean on their own.
Originally, AT&T claimed the $200,00 was paid for “insight” into the new administration. Subsequently, they had to admit that the total amount paid was $600,000 over the course of 12 months. Novartis originally provided no explanation for their payment, only saying that the contract was made under a former CEO and had subsequently expired. After a second aborted explanation, Novartis’ third attempt finally came clean, admitting it had paid $1.2 million to Cohen over the course of his 12 month contract even though it was clear from their one meeting with Cohen that he could provide no useful service. Worse, Novartis admitted that it continued to pay Cohen for essentially no reason and no services for fear of angering Trump. Columbus Nova insisted that their payments had nothing to do with the Russian oligarch and were for advice on capital formation and real estate investments. Lastly, the Korean aerospace company said that the money was for Cohen’s expertise on accounting policies.
AT&T, Novartis, and the Korean aerospace company all had important business in front of the Trump administration. AT&T was trying to merge with Time Warner over the DOJ’s objections. Novartis was one of the few pharmaceutical companies who refused to pledge to reduce drug prices and was obviously interested in the outcome of healthcare repeal and preserving its drug monopolies. But the Korean aerospace company, despite being accused of massive accounting and billing fraud in South Korea, seemed to be the one that got the most bang for its buck, apparently now poised to win a multi-billion dollar contract to build a training jet in partnership with Lockheed. Lockheed, you might recall, was continually criticized by Trump before and after his inauguration over the cost of its F-35 fighter planes.
It’s bad enough that the corporations’ payments to Cohen indicate that pay-to-play was the immediate option in order to deal with the Trump administration. The money funneled from the Russian oligarch, however, raises even more serious question about it’s intent and purposes. That payment is the first real monetary trail that we have seen that potentially implicates the Trump team in colluding with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.
As Avenatti has joked over the last two days, Michael Cohen seems to have become a renaissance man, a true Leonardo da Vinci, specializing in the pharmaceutical, telecomm, capital markets, and accounting fields. Remarkably, these extraordinary gifts only became apparent starting in January, 2017, the very same month that Trump was inaugurated.
It appears that the only outflows from this Essential Consulting account was the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels and $1 million transferred to another Cohen account at Morgan Stanley. But the timing of those transactions indicates that there was more money coming into and out of that account than Avenatti shows in these documents. In the documents Avenatti released, we do not see the additional monies that AT&T and Novartis finally admitted to paying Cohen, nor do we see Trump’s $35,000 monthly “retainer”. Cohen obviously has multiple bank accounts and controls numerous LLCs. It is unclear whether Avenatti has only obtained some suspicious activity reports (SAR) related to the Essential consulting account or actually has access to bank statements for that account and potentially other Cohen accounts. And Avenatti is clearly interested in keeping that uncertainty hanging out there.
The real question, the one that Avenatti keeps raising and clearly knows the answer to, is where the rest of the money from that First Republic account actually end up. He keeps wondering whether a portion of these monies flowed to the Trump Organization or to Trump himself. And, in this entire Stormy Daniels affair, when Avenatti wonders about things, he usually knows the answer.
The ironic part of all this is that all these payments to the President’s personal attorney, which at best are clearly payments for access, are probably legal. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in 2016, the chances of actually convicting a politician of bribery are virtually nil and “pay-to-play” is now effectively legal. That was made clear in the case against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. Yes, Cohen could have legal issues about not registering as a lobbyist but those penalties pale in comparison to actual public corruption.
Unfortunately, the President’s current legal strategy for dealing with the Mueller investigation is to focus on reducing the chances or options for impeachment, a largely political process. That means that being able to fall back on the legality of these payments may have less of an impact with the general public, even with portions of Trump’s base, who innately understand that these payments essentially amount to bribery and exemplify the “swamp” of corruption they (gullibly) voted to have Trump clean up.