Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, was in constant contact with — and received thousands of dollars from — a Russia-linked firm starting on Election Day in 2016, newly unsealed court documents show.
The transactions soon caught the attention of investigators, as the FBI zeroed in on what it considered to be suspicious emails and bank transfers from Cohen’s accounts — including his Trump Organization email account. With special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in full swing, authorities filed a series of search warrants between July and November 2017 to investigate whether the exchanges violated foreign agent laws and constituted wire fraud and money laundering.
Emails obtained by the FBI and described in the search warrant for the first time, however, show that Vekselberg met with Cohen and Intrater 11 days before Trump’s inauguration. At that gathering, the three discussed a lobbying group based in Moscow that promotes Russian business interests, called the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
And according to the court documents, Cohen also remained in touch with Vekselberg and scheduled a meeting with him in March 2017 at Renova headquarters — while Columbus Nova was still paying Cohen.
The meeting was of interest to lawmakers because Cohen had met in late January of that year with his longtime acquaintance Felix Sater and the Ukrainian lawmaker Andrei Artemenko to discuss a Russia-Ukraine “peace plan” that would involve lifting sanctions on Russia. The FBI wanted to know whether Vekselberg was paying Cohen to promote the sanctions-lifting plan, which would have benefited the Russian oligarch. Vekselberg has been doing business in the United States since at least 1990, when he co-founded the conglomerate Renova Group as a joint U.S.-Russian venture.
No evidence has emerged of such a quid-pro-quo, and Columbus Nova has denied participating in anything related to a Ukranian peace plan. But the FBI did reveal some new details about the episode in the search warrants unsealed on Wednesday.
According to phone records investigators reviewed, “a call was exchanged” between Cohen and soon-to-be White House national security adviser Michael Flynn on Jan. 11, 2017, just days before Trump’s inauguration. A New York Times report said Cohen had delivered the sanctions-lifting plan to Flynn, but Cohen later told lawmakers that he threw the plan in the trash and never delivered it to the White House.
The FBI also found that Cohen continued speaking to Sater, a Russian-born businessman who helped Cohen negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the election, well after the peace plan meeting. Records they obtained showed approximately 20 calls exchanged between them from Jan. 5, 2017 to Feb. 20, 2017.
Sater on Wednesday told POLITICO he couldn’t remember the exact substance of the calls but said they likely had to do with the New York Times’ story about the “peace plan” meeting, which was published on Feb. 19.