Michael Cohen: I’ll put my family before Trump  

President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, who in the past has steadfastly maintained that he would take a bullet for him, has just “told ABC News he will ‘put family and country,’ ahead of any loyalty to the president.”

From Politico:

Cohen also broke with the president on his criticism of Mueller’s investigation — which Trump has labeled a “witch hunt” — and on his overall criticism of the FBI and Justice Department. The president’s longtime attorney and fixer told Stephanopoulos that “I don’t like the term witch hunt” and that “I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI.”

He also condemned Russia for its efforts aimed at interfering in the 2016 presidential election, steps that the U.S. intelligence community has said the Kremlin took with the intention of aiding Trump’s campaign and hindering that of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Cohen’s comments were a sharp departure from Trump, who has been hesitant to criticize Russia for its efforts and has spoken warmly of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied to Trump that his nation was involved in the 2016 election at all.

“As an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same,” Cohen said. “Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putin is unsustainable.”

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Trump’s land of delusion: Disregard the sycophants; the wheels are coming off, if they were ever on

From Daily News:

Bluffers bluff, and President Trump just tried to bluff his way through one of the worst weeks of his administration.

It’s not working. Donald Trump is a terrible poker player. His tells are so clumsily obvious and that we mistakenly give him credit for guile where none exists, and for some cinematic, supervillain cunning where there is only a howling, feral mass of insecurity and need.

The delta between reality and spin with Trump is always broad, and last week it was unspinnably vast. It’s also been a stunning illustration of just how powerful the division between reality and fantasy has become in the two hermetic media silos that now exist in America.

For some Americans — a minority, I pray — Trump is a pied piper luring the credulous and the uninformed into accepting lies over truth, comfort over reality and conspiracy over fact. In Trump’s world and that of his angry minions, the winning doesn’t stop, the vast left-wing conspiracy’s witch-hunt against him is both broad and insidious, and the truth is what he wants it to be on any given day.

Maintaining the Trump illusion requires an endless suspension of disbelief; denying facts, logic, reason, the law and the utterly evident cluster-you-know-what that this administration represents. The pinnacle of that illusion-at-all-costs philosophy came after the revelation that an FBI informant followed up on leads that Trump campaign foreign policy aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had been playing footsie with the Russians.

On Fox News, talk radio and in the Trump-right online media armies, the innocent Trump campaign was the victim of FBI spying against them, ordered by notorious Kenyan Muslim sleeper agent Barack Obama, evil sorceress Hillary Clinton and their army of Deep State apparatchiks.

The President wants you to call the FBI’s Russian counterintelligence program Spygate, but rational people have declined to indulge him. Stupidgate is instead just a ludicrous new chapter in the long chronicle of Trump dumbassery.

It’s only one of the many examples of Trump’s behavior of which historians in the far future will look upon with the same stunned disbelief and discomfort as we now consider tulip manias, Beanie Baby investment schemes, Milli Vanilli and acid-washed jeans. There might have been a moment where those ideas were intriguing, but in the hard light of history, they’re grim reminders that fads and passions are fleeting.

For the FBI actions Trump calls Spygate to be a real concern, it would require malice. Instead, we’ve seen justification after justification for a robust counterintelligence response to Russian malfeasance. Drawn to the Trump campaign like flies to the biggest manure pile in the universe, the FBI wasn’t after him, but rather — quite properly — the Russians who sought to (and may have succeeded) in subverting American democracy and corrupting our elections.

There’s a line in the 1990s film “Grosse Point Blank” where John Cusack’s assassin character defends his line of work. He says, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.” […]

No matter how much he spins it, no matter how many cute brand names and catchphrases he tries to jam into the media flow, at his core, Donald Trump is a man in a rising sea of legal peril, political risk and catastrophic failures. This explains his increasingly erratic behavior and dangerous efforts to corrupt the special counsel process, the Justice Department, and American institutions more broadly.

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Michael Cohen met with a Russian oligarch in Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration

From Business Insider:

Eleven days before he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a prominent Russian oligarch met with Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer to discuss improving US-Russia relations under Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg met with Michael Cohen at Cohen’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the American businessman Andrew Intrater told The Times.

Intrater, a relative of Vekselberg who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, is the head of the US investment firm Columbus Nova. The company paid Cohen approximately $500,000 in consulting fees between January and August 2017 and is a subsidiary of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate founded by Vekselberg. […]

Intrater told The Times that Vekselberg and Cohen met three times. The second time was during Trump’s inauguration, which was attended by at least six Putin-allied Russians, including Vekselberg.

Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now under the scrutiny of federal investigators, the Times report said. […]

Mueller interviewed Vekselberg earlier this year after the businessman landed at a New York area airport. The special counsel’s focus on Russian oligarchs comes as investigators are looking into whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled money, either directly or indirectly, into Trump’s campaign or inauguration. Prosecutors are also said to be interested in whether wealthy Russians used American donors or US companies with political action committees to infuse money into the election.

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Why Trump should fear Michael Avenatti more than Bob Mueller

“Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti are unlikely heroes. But their odd partnership might turn out to create the clearest path to accountability at the highest levels of government. We should be grateful for their efforts.”

From Politico Magazine:

Quick: What’s the basis of the civil lawsuit that high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti is pursuing on behalf of adult film actress Stormy Daniels?

It might take you more than a few seconds to recall that the suit is based on an agreement that Daniels signed shortly before the 2016 election, promising not to disclose her (alleged) sexual relationship with Donald Trump. She’s asking a California trial judge to declare that the agreement isn’t enforceable against her because Trump (or his pseudonym, David Dennison) never signed the document, and because it’s void for public policy reasons, too. Avenatti has been racing from one microphone and news camera to another, blaring damning information about Trump’s sometime attorney, Michael Cohen (and, by implication, the president himself). The suit, and Avenatti’s aggressive TV lawyering, has rattled Trump’s legal team, provoking Rudy Giuliani into a series of damaging admissions — including the revelation that Trump did indeed reimburse Cohen for his $130,000 payoff to Daniels.

Avenatti has boasted openly about his strategy, goading the 73-year-old former New York mayor at every opportunity as “out to pasture,” “tired” and “dazed and confused” and challenging him to a one-on-one debate on the case. “Not all cases are the same nor is the winning strategy,” he recently tweeted. “Here, the constant media/PR pressure has forced Trump, Cohen, et al. to make a series of huge errors and to make damaging admissions helpful to our case. This was not by accident.”

It’s undeniable that Avenatti has had an impact, but it’s also fair to say that some of the matters he’s been discussing — about clandestine meetings between Trump campaign operatives and Russian oligarchs, and about corporate contributions to the Cohen-created LLC, Essential Consultants — seem only dimly related to the underlying suit, and to the client on whose behalf Avenatti is supposed to be working.

Daniels says she’s OK with how her attorney is proceeding, but it’s worth asking: What’s going on here? How does any of this help her? The stakes would be high were that focus lost: If Daniels is found to have breached her contract, the agreement provides that she’ll be on the hook for a million dollars (in addition to the $130,000 settlement she’d then have to pay back).

But perhaps Avenatti is onto something, thanks to a fundamental fact about private civil litigation against high-profile defendants: Although these suits are primarily about this plaintiff against this defendant, they often have powerful secondary effects that take them into realms usually associated with policy, politics, and even public health and safety. Institutional actors as diverse as the tobacco companies and the Catholic Church might have continued their sheltering and denying ways but for the dogged persistence of private litigants. In the Daniels case (or, more accurately, cases, since there is now also a defamation claim against Trump for accusing Daniels of lying about a threat against her in connection with the alleged affair), the public has so far gotten more information, and more quickly, than anything a sclerotic and polarized Congress has managed to unearth about the supposed Trump-Russia campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation might also run into political shoals, but there’s plenty on the table already, thanks to the Daniels suit. Why?

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Whistleblower leaked damning Cohen financial documents because they were disappearing from government financial crimes database

“Cohen’s potential financial crimes were in the process of being scrubbed from the system, whitewashed from the record.”

From Slate:

A recent string of disclosures about payments made to bank accounts linked to Michael Cohen and his shell company, Essential Consultants, used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels, raised a host of new legal questions for the longtime personal lawyer to Donald Trump. Namely, did payments made to Cohen by companies with something to gain from the federal government, like Novartis and AT&T, amount to thinly veiled bribes? Then there was the question: how did this information become public? Was it federal investigators? The Mueller team? Someone related to the Stormy Daniels case?

Turns out it was none of the above, according to a New Yorker report published Wednesday, which reports instead the source of the financial records was someone perhaps indicative of something larger and more worrisome — a whistleblower. The law enforcement source leaked financial reports, called “suspicious-activity reports (SARS),” stored in a government database chronicling Cohen’s financial activity because they were beginning to disappear. The official could no longer find two SARS filed on Cohen; much of what has been reported over the last week is derived from a SARS filed by First Republic Bank, where’s Cohen’s Essential Consultants had an account. The report referenced two previous SARS filed by the bank, which, according to the New Yorker’s source, were now missing from the financial database of suspicious transactions maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN. […]

The financial warning signs were there and the suspicious-activity reports appeared to have done their job in flagging potentially illicit activity. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of white collar crime and intricate financial investigations; its proximity to the president, however, is unique. That proximity, it appears, prompted the whistleblower to act and disclose the remaining financial documents for fear that Cohen’s potential financial crimes were in the process of being scrubbed from the system, whitewashed from the record. The disclosure carries with it the possibility of up to five years in prison and a significant fine, but the official, knowing the potential consequences, decided it was a risk worth taking.

“To say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement,” the official said of the potential legal consequences. “We’ve accepted this as normal, and this is not normal,” the official said of the disappearing documents. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me… This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.”

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Trump lawyer sold ‘insight’ into his high-powered client

“Some of the dealings have caught the attention of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”

From Yahoo News:

Already under investigation for a payment to a porn star, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney is facing intensifying legal and ethical scrutiny for selling his Trump World experience and views at a hefty price to companies that sought “insight” into the new president.

One company, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, acknowledged Wednesday it paid Michael Cohen $1.2 million for services, though they ended after a single meeting. Others, including some with major regulatory matters before the new administration, acknowledged payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least several months.

The corporate ties could suggest Cohen was peddling his influence and profiting from his relationship with the president. They also raise questions about whether Trump knew about the arrangement.

Cohen’s corporate ties were first revealed in a detailed report released by an attorney for pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. The report alleged that Cohen used a company he established weeks before the 2016 election to receive the payments from a variety of businesses — including $500,000 from one associated with a Russian billionaire. Financial documents reviewed by the Associated Press appear to back up much of attorney Michael Avenatti’s report.

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Donald Trump isn’t a normal president, but Michael Cohen is a normal Washington sleaze

“Democrats expressing shock over Michael Cohen’s profiteering were silent when Bill and Hillary Clinton played the influence game much the same way.”

From USA Today:

The payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from AT&T and other companies to Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is only the latest example of companies “reaching out to touch someone” in Washington. He was not alone.

As Trump pledged to drain the swamp that is Washington, his closest aides were offering virtual swamp tours for companies seeking access. Cohen’s sleazy practices have now ensnared law firms, companies, and the administration itself. It is hardly unique.

The Clinton and Obama administrations yielded millions for insiders cashing in on influence. What is different in this case is that Cohen, who has no appreciable legal skills or particular business acumen, seemed to be selling only access. He is not a lobbyist and barely acknowledged as a lawyer. Like so much of Cohen’s record, it was raw, crude, and unabashedly corrupt. Absent some new evidence, it was also perfectly legal.

Washington’s currency has always been access. Access means influence and influence means profits. The term “lobbyist” comes from favor-seekers who would hang around in the lobby of the Willard Hotel where President Ulysses S. Grant would often conduct meetings. Location, location, location is not just a mantra in real estate.

In politics, where you stand in relation to a president dictates what you are worth. Proximity is power and those with access have long sold their services to the highest bidder. During Clinton’s terms there was even an acronym that meant millions for those who could use it: FOB or Friends of Bill.

Trump ran on ending this corrupt practice in rightfully denouncing the Clintons for tens of millions in speaking fees for themselves and contributions to their foundation in exchange for access. Even The Washington Post concluded “There can be little doubt that Russians who donated to the Clinton Foundation were trying to curry favor with the secretary of State.” Trump promised change in denouncing how “Access and favors were sold for cash. It’s called Pay-For-Play.”

Trump however had not even taken his oath before his closest associates bellied up to the bar to sell their influence. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Cohen, and others have reportedly raked in millions by immediately cashing in on their relationship to Trump.

As always, Cohen was the bluntest tool. His pitch, described by a Republican strategist, was as subtle as a shakedown: “I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the President. I’m his personal lawyer.”

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Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen called Novartis’ CEO promising access to the president — then they made a $1.2 million deal

“President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year reached out to Joe Jimenez, then the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Novartis, promising help gaining access to Trump, according to an employee inside Novartis familiar with the matter.”

From Business Insider:

The curious relationship between one of the world’s biggest drugmakers and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer began early last year when Michael Cohen, a longtime fixer for the president, reached out to Novartis’ then-CEO Joe Jimenez, promising help gaining access to Trump and influential officials in the new administration, according to an employee inside Novartis familiar with the matter.

Jimenez took the call and then instructed his team to reach a deal with Cohen. A one-year contract worth $1.2 million was signed with Cohen in February 2017. The company’s hope was that Cohen could help it navigate a bevy of uncertain issues facing the drugmaker — from potential changes to the Affordable Care Act and tax reform to navigating reimbursement challenges for medicines.

“He reached out to us,” the Novartis employee said, providing STAT with the company’s version of events as it scrambles to contain the fallout from being entangled in the investigations surrounding Trump and his inner circle, including Cohen.

“With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared, and they were all new players,” this person said. “We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

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How Michael Cohen’s apparent Russia payment might help prove collusion

“Talk of a smoking gun here would be premature. But the new evidence provides a preview of what a smoking gun might look like and a road map for how to find it in the developing case against President Donald Trump.”

From Slate:

On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti produced a bombshell allegation: A corporate fund that seemed to be controlled by Russian oligarch and close Putin ally Viktor Vekselberg had paid $500,000 to Michael Cohen’s bank account in the initial months of Trump’s presidency. The New York Times and NBC quickly verified the core of Avenatti’s claim. The firm, meanwhile, denied that Vekselberg was involved in the payment, claiming Cohen was hired as a consultant on real estate and other investment opportunities.

Talk of a smoking gun here would be premature. But the new evidence provides a preview of what a smoking gun might look like and a road map for how to find it in the developing case against President Donald Trump. These allegations are not just about a hush payment and campaign finance felonies. This is a significant step toward establishing quid pro quo bribery and conspiracy against the United States.

First, Vekselberg recently increased his share to 26.5 percent in the aluminum firm Rusal. That firm was owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire whose ties to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort are under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Two of Vekselberg’s American partners, meanwhile, donated more than $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and Vekselberg also had business ties to Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross.

Now, Congress has been legislating tougher sanctions against Putin and Russia over the past year by sweeping, close-to-unanimous bipartisan majorities. But the Trump administration has been softening or delaying those sanctions at every turn. Last month, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control finally implemented congressional sanctions against Deripaska and Rusal, in addition to other Russians. The Treasury Department cited allegations that Deripaska ordered the murder of a businessman and had links to a Russian organized crime group. But on April 23, the Trump administration announced major delays on implementation, “slow-rolling” the sanctions seemingly to give Rusal time to minimize the damage and to appeal the sanctions. Treasury gave Rusal an extension to next October, and Reuters reported the department would “consider lifting [the sanctions] if United Company Rusal PLC’s major shareholder, Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, ceded control of the company,” which he soon did. “Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are … extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Given the outrageous conduct of Putin and Deripaska, and given the almost unanimous votes in Congress to impose tough sanctions, these accommodations should have been considered stunning. As of Tuesday night, they stink to high heaven.

And the question must be raised: Was there a quid pro quo understanding between Vekselberg and Trump associates in January 2017? It is crucial to remember here what was happening in December 2016 and January 2017 in regard to Russia sanctions. Here’s what I summarized in an earlier Slate piece on Kushner, Qatar, and Russian money: The Steele dossier alleged that Russians had made a deal with Trump associates for the Russians to sell Rosneft, the massive state energy company, and use the commissions to give Trump associates payments under the radar, in return for lifting or softening sanctions. The Rosneft sale went through in December 2016, a month after the election, coinciding with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page’s various alleged communications with Russians. Just eight days before this oil megadeal, Flynn and Kushner met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and Kushner reportedly proposed a secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. Then, a few days after the Rosneft deal, Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, chairman of Russia’s government-owned VE Bank, or VEB, and Putin’s close confidant.

Analysts have described VEB as Putin’s “private slush fund,” a source of money independent from official Russia budgeting. VEB is under strict U.S. sanctions. Gorkov reportedly flew to Japan to meet with Putin practically immediately. On Dec. 29, President Barack Obama ordered new Russian sanctions for election hacking and interference — and Flynn reportedly had five calls with Kislyak. We later learned that they discussed Russian sanctions after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about this fact to federal investigators. Trump tweeted about Putin the next day, calling him “very smart” for not responding to Obama’s sanctions before Trump has had a chance to transition into office.

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Trump attorney Michael Cohen allegedly got about $500,000 from a Russian oligarch, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer claims

Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, paid Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen about $500,000 after the 2016 presidential election. The oligarch “was stopped at a New York-area airport in recent months by investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller.”

From CNBC:

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, within three months after the 2016 presidential election, received about $500,000 from a Russian oligarch who since has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Avenatti also suggested in a Twitter post that “these monies may have reimbursed the” $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Daniels right before that election.

The money, Avenatti claimed, came from billionaire Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who has ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have a lot of explaining to do,” Daniels’ lawyer said in a tweet.

Avenatti cited the results of his own investigation but did not offer any sources for his claims. […]

The bombshell claim by Avenatti is just the latest in a series of explosive charges he has made against Cohen and Trump since taking Daniels’ case earlier this year. She is suing both Cohen and Trump seeking to be released from a non-disclosure agreement.

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