Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Trump lawyer met Russian oligarch shortly before inauguration

Businessman Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of Russian asset manager Renova Group, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia's relations with the United States according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Vekselberg, The New York Times reported.

Intrater said Vekselberg had not originally meant to meet with Cohen at Trump Tower, adding that if he had known Cohen would later be the focus of several federal criminal inquiries, he would not have hired Cohen or introduced him to Vekselberg.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller have questioned Vekselberg about the Columbus Nova payments to Cohen, as well as more than $300,000 in donations from Intrater to Trump's inauguration and the Republican National Committee, sources told the network. A source told CNN the pair met with Cohen to discuss "improving US-Russia relations".

Days after the January inauguration, Intrater's private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Cohen a one-year $1 million consulting contract.

Vekselberg was targeted in April with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions, which cited his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The meetings and Columbus Nova's payments to Mr. Cohen have attracted scrutiny from Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election, as well as federal prosecutors in Manhattan examining Mr. Cohen's business activities and finances, the people said.

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Intrater was also questioned, the sources said.

Cohen's finances are now under investigation by federal investigators in NY, following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating contacts between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian intermediaries.

The questions asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller's team has been examining some of Cohen's business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. That's a lot of meetings to have, in relatively proximity, with a third party who had nothing to do with the arrangement between Columbus Nova and Cohen.

Video footage from C-SPAN, which kept a camera feed in the lobby during the transition process, showed Vekselberg and Intrater arriving at Trump Tower on January 9, 2017.

Intrater, a US citizen, donated $285,000 to Trump's Inauguration. It has denied serving as a channel for Vekselberg to make payments to Cohen.

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