The news was explosive: A Russian oligarch had funneled half a million bucks to Michael Cohen, the fixer and lawyer for Donald Trump. On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, released a report claiming that Viktor Vekselberg -- a Putin-friendly Russian tycoon -- and an American citizen named Andrew Intrater had "routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC" starting in January 2017. Intrater, who is Vekselberg's cousin, is the CEO of Columbus Nova, a US-based firm.
The implications of this were immense. Around the time the payments began, the US intelligence community had declared that the Kremlin had attacked the 2016 election in order to help Trump become president. Also around that time, Cohen had joined with a Ukrainian lawmaker and Felix Sater -- a former felon who had worked with Trump on Russian-related deals and other projects -- to secretly push within the new Trump administration a pro-Moscow peace plan for Ukraine. And, in January 2017, Intrater, who had never been a major political donor, made a whopping $250,000 contribution to Trump's inauguration committee. (Months later, he would give $35,000 to the Trump presidential campaign and the Republican Party.)
So what was Cohen doing hooking up with Vekselberg and Intrater at this point? And why would he even be messing with a Russian oligarch when Trump was being battered by reports of Russian interference in the election and possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia? Avenatti's revelation -- which was confirmed by the New York Times and NBC News--opened a new front in the Trump-Russia scandal, as it expanded into a swampy pay-to-play controversy and merged with Trump's Stormy Daniels scandal.Go to Mother Jones to read the rest of this article.