Stormy Daniels’ lawyer questions dealings as companies defend Trump attorney payments

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels said on Wednesday he has more evidence of ties between a Russian oligarch sanctioned by the United States and a payment to U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and questioned other companies’ dealings with Cohen’s firm.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In two television interviews, Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, also called on Trump and Cohen to release bank statements tied to hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made by AT&T, Novartis AG, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd and Columbus Nova LLC, a New York-based investment firm linked to businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who has ties to the Kremlin.

Avenatti’s comments came a day after he disclosed the payments to a firm controlled by Cohen in 2017 and 2018, after Trump won the November 2016 presidential election. The companies later confirmed the payments.

The revelation of the payments raised new questions about Cohen’s role and work for Trump, and could further pressure Cohen after the FBI raided his home and office last month as part of a criminal investigation of his business dealings and a payment to Daniels.

The revelation also drew attention to another potential line of inquiry in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election and potential collusion by Trump’s campaign.

Cohen on Wednesday told reporters Avenatti’s report was inaccurate.

It was not immediately clear how Avenatti knew about the payments to Cohen. He declined to tell ABC News and MSNBC in his interviews where he got the bank records and other information.

His client Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said Cohen paid her $130,000 in October 2016, a month before the election, to stay quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter she had with Trump and has filed two related lawsuits against Trump and Cohen.

Avenatti has not responded to requests by Reuters for comment.

Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels and said there was no collusion with Russia. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ accusations of meddling in the election.

AT&T on Tuesday said it sought insights into the new administration from Cohen’s Essential Consultants LLC, but did not engage in lobbying. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday that AT&T paid more than $200,000 to Cohen’s company.

On Wednesday, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) said it paid for accounting-related services, while Novartis cited healthcare consulting.

Novartis called its nearly $1.2 million payment to Cohen’s firm a mistake and said it had been contacted by the U.S. Special Counsel’s Office and was cooperating. KAI said it had not been contacted by Mueller’s team and AT&T did not respond to a request for comment on whether it had been contacted.

Avenatti told ABC it remained “unclear” what services the companies were seeking and whether Cohen had the necessary expertise.

“Michael Cohen appears to be selling access to the president of the United States,” Avenatti told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

A lawyer for Columbus Nova has said Vekselberg had nothing to do with the transaction, which Avenatti said amounted to $500,000.

“We have significant evidence to the contrary,” Avenatti told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, without giving any details. “We haven’t released all the evidence that we have.”

Vekselberg, who according to the New York Times has been questioned by Mueller’s team, could not be reached by Reuters for comment. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment.

The White House referred questions to Trump’s outside lawyers. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the outside legal team has no comment on Avenatti’s allegations.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, David Shepardson, Roberta Rampton and Sarah Lynch in Washington; Karen Freifeld, Nathan Layne and Catherine Koppel in New York; Ju-Min Park and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Dan Grebler

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