Trump Lawyer Cohen's Camp Rips 'Inaccurate' Allegations, Concedes Some Payments
Updated at 5:08 p.m. ET
The document released this week that described millions of dollars' worth of payments to Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen is rife with inaccuracies and may have depended upon leaked or stolen information, attorneys for Cohen charge.
Cohen's lawyers wrote to a federal judge in New York City late Wednesday that at least two financial transactions listed in the document involved other men named Michael Cohen, not the Cohen who has long served as Trump's attorney.
Some of the information in the file is accurate, Cohen's attorneys said — which means the lawyer suing Cohen who released the memo, Michael Avenatti, somehow got his hands on nonpublic Treasury Department or other documents.
"We have no reason to believe that Mr. Avenatti is in lawful possession of these bank records," the lawyers wrote.
Some substantive aspects of the Avenatti document are true. Cohen's attorneys conceded he did have business relationships with telecom giant AT&T, the Swiss pharma corporation Novartis and others. Cohen appears to have been selling himself to those kinds of clients with the promise of access to Trump.
Novartis confirmed to NPR this week that it has given information to the office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller about its dealings with Cohen and AT&T later did the same on Wednesday evening.
The companies have sought to distance themselves from Cohen, the dust-up over his finances and the Russia imbroglio.
"We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us," Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan told employees in a memo on Thursday. A copy of the message was obtained by NPR.
AT&T stressed that its relationship with Cohen is now over.
"When we were contacted by the special counsel's office regarding Michael Cohen, we cooperated fully, providing all information requested in November and December of 2017," AT&T said. "A few weeks later, our consulting contract with Cohen expired at the end of the year. Since then, we have received no additional questions from the special counsel's office and consider the matter closed."
Law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which had announced it had a partnership with Cohen, said it was not aware of the payments he has been receiving. Another company named in the Avenatti document, Korea Aerospace Industries, has acknowledged payments to Cohen, but the company told newswire Reuters that it has not given information to Mueller's office.
South Korea's KAI has paired with the American aerospace titan Lockheed Martin to build a new jet trainer, the T-50, which the two companies want to sell to the U.S. Air Force. The service has solicited bids for the new trainer program that could involve hundreds of new aircraft at a cost of $11 billion or more.
The confirmation of KAI's payment to Cohen could complicate the Air Force's ability to award that contract if there is evidence the South Korean vendor sought to get access to Trump with the objective of influencing the Defense Department.
KAI said it sought "legal consulting concerning accounting standards on production costs." It paid Cohen $150,000.
Trump, both as president-elect and then following his inauguration, criticized Lockheed over the cost of its $400 billion F-35 Lightning II fighter, although he has lately praised the aircraft and hosted Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson at the White House.
Avenatti has declined to say how he obtained the financial records that formed the basis of his document. The Treasury Department's inspector general said on Wednesday that it is investigating whether anyone inside the department may have been involved with releasing them.
Avenatti is suing Cohen and Trump on behalf of porn actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006. Just before Election Day in 2016, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 not to talk about those allegations. Trump said he reimbursed Cohen for that. But Avenatti claimed this week that actually the money might have originated with a Russian billionaire, Viktor Vekselberg.
The U.S. company owned by the company Vekselberg controls acknowledged this week that it had paid Cohen, but it denied serving as a pass-through for Vekselberg or anyone else overseas.
Investigators working for the special counsel's office reportedly stopped Vekselberg on his way into the United States earlier this year to question him and search his devices. Mueller's office is investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign may have conspired with Russia's attack on the 2016 election.
Trump and his associates, including Cohen, deny colluding with Russia. They call the continued investigations by the Senate intelligence committee and the Justice Department a "witch hunt."
Vice President Pence told NBC on Thursday that the Trump administration has been accommodating Mueller's office all along and that the time is ripe for for the Justice Department to shut him down.
"Our administration has been fully cooperating with the special counsel, and we'll continue to," he said.
"What I think is that it's been about a year since this investigation began. Our administration has provided more than a million documents; we've fully cooperated in it, and in the interest of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up. And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.