Michael Avenatti claims Michael Cohen received payments from firm controlled by Russian oligarch

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, claims to have evidence of a series of payments made to a bank account in Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s name – including from a company linked to a Russian oligarch and two major corporations, AT&T and Novartis. CBS News has not been able to verify the allegations by Avenatti. Michael Cohen did not respond to CBS News’ requests for comment.  The New York Times said in a report Tuesday night that its own review of unspecified financial records “confirmed much of what was in Mr. Avenatti’s report.”  The Associated Press said financial documents it reviewed “appeared to back up Avenatti’s report.”Avenatti, who has been aggressively pursuing Cohen and President Trump, laid out the claims in a 7-page memo Tuesday evening.  Cohen established a corporation called Essential Consultants LLC in October 2016, just weeks before the presidential election, according to Avenatti. Essential Consultants then opened a bank account at First Republic Bank. It was from this account that a $130,000 payment to a representative of Stormy Daniels was made, according to Avenatti. The question Avenatti claims to answer is where that and other money ultimately came from. He points to a series of alleged payments, including  $500,000 from an American investment firm linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was made a target of U.S. sanctions last month.  According to a statement given to The Washington Post, the investment firm, Columbus Nova, said it retained Cohen as a consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.” But it said Vekselberg was not involved with hiring or paying Cohen. Columbus Nova is affiliated with the Renova Group, which is controlled by Vekselberg. Vekselberg and the Renova Group issued a statement to CBS News early Wednesday saying, “Neither Victor Vekselberg nor Renova Group has ever had any contractual relationship with Mr. Cohen or Essential Consultants. As to relationship between Columbus Nova and Mr. Cohen, you have to ask Mr. Andy Intrater, because Columbus Nova is a company owned and managed by him.” Intrater is Vekselberg’s cousin, according to the Reuters news agency. Avenatti also listed other payments: $399,920 from Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company; $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries; and $187,500 from Elliott Broidy, a former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. According to Avenatti, AT&T paid Cohen’s company a total of $200,000 over a series of four payments of $50,000, dating from 2017 to early this year, though AT&T did not confirm the figure.  In a statement Tuesday, AT&T said it had paid Cohen’s company, Essential Consulting, “to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”   In the statement, AT&T said: “Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.” AT&T announced a bid to acquire Time Warner in October 2016, a deal that Mr. Trump was quick to speak out against. The Department of Justice filed suit to block the merger in November 2017 – a ruling is due this June.  It’s unclear where Avenatti got these documents. Noah Shachtman, executive editor of The Daily Beast, said he had confirmed the payments. Shachtman told CBSN his source wondered aloud to him, “How the f did Michael Avenatti find out about this?” Schachtman said he believed this would be a “big question.”