Russian oligarch met with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower during transition

A Russian oligarch who was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller and recently sanctioned by the US visited President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen in Trump Tower during the presidential transition in January 2017, according to video reviewed by CNN and a person familiar with the matter.

The January 9, 2017, Trump Tower appearance by Viktor Vekselberg, which was also reported Friday by The New York Times, adds to the questions swirling over the payments to Cohen, which Mueller’s team questioned Vekselberg about after the FBI stopped his private jet at a New York-area airport earlier this year.

Vekselberg, chairman of Russian asset manager Renova Group, was accompanied at Trump Tower by Andrew Intrater, who is Vekselberg’s cousin and head of Columbus Nova. Vekselberg is Columbus Nova’s biggest client.

A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen and discussed improving US-Russia relations. The meeting was brief, the person said, and Vekselberg was not originally expected to attend.

An attorney for Cohen did not respond immediately to a request for comment. A representative for Vekselberg also did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Intrater’s firm, Columbus Nova, paid $580,000 to Cohen for a consulting contract starting in January 2017.

Since the payments have become public, Columbus Nova has attempted to distance itself from Vekselberg, denying Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova recently removed references to Renova Group from the biography of its partners. It has stated it’s a “management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” and that it hired Cohen after Trump’s inauguration.

But the newly discovered video indicates that Vekselberg and Intrater were meeting with Cohen before that, and they were just steps away from the President-elect during the transition.

Vekselberg was questioned by FBI agents working with Mueller earlier this year about the Columbus Nova payments to Cohen, as well as more than $300,000 in donations made by Intrater to Trump’s inauguration and the Republican National Committee, sources said.

Intrater was also questioned, the sources said. Intrater’s lawyer, Richard Owens, said, “Columbus Nova has cooperated with all requests for documents and information from federal authorities.”

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.

Cohen’s home and office were raided last month as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. In court documents, the prosecutors said at least part of their inquiry stemmed from a referral from Mueller’s office.

The US Treasury Department placed Renova Group and Vekselberg on the list of sanctioned individuals and entities last month, for activities including election interference. The sanctions prohibit Vekselberg from traveling to the US.

[CNN]

Reality

Many members of the Trump administration had worked for Vekselberg.

Makan Delrahim and David Bernhardt were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, which has direct ties to Vekselberg.

And Wilbur Ross, who served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, where Vekselberg and many other friends of Putin “invested” (laundered) their money.

Trump Rails Against ‘Failing and Crooked’ NY Times For ‘Boring’ Report on Gulf Prince Offering Campaign Assistance

President Donald Trump went on a Twitter tirade Sunday against a New York Times exposé revealing his son and other campaign officials met with a Gulf emissary who offered a hand in winning the 2016 election.

Trump blasted the report, calling the publication “Failing and Crooked,” while adding in a jab at Hillary Clinton. He contended that the report was merely “a long & boring story” showing Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation “has found nothing on Russia & me.”

But it didn’t stop there. Launching into one of his trademark tweetstorms, Trump railed against Mueller’s probe as being the work of a bunch of angry democrats, and suggested that they re-focus the investigation onto the Clinton emails.

The Times reported that during the meeting arranged by Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, Donald Trump Jr. was assured by emissary George Nader that leaders in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were hopeful Trump would secure the election, and they wanted to help. Nader has been cooperating with the the special counsel’s investigation in recent months, CNN reported.

While Trump was quick to dismiss the report and again bash the Mueller probe, the investigation has already resulted in more than a dozen indictments along with five guilty pleas.

The president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, believes there is a chance Trump could be subpoenaed in the probe, and has begun preparing him in the event that he’s interviewed, Politico reported.

[Mediaite]

Trump Jr. Met With Foreign Group Offering to Help Trump Win Election

Donald Trump Jr. met with an Israeli social media expert who pitched a multimillion dollar campaign to help his father win the 2016 presidential election just months before the vote, The New York Times reports. Blackwater founder Erik Prince reportedly arranged the August 2016 meeting, which was also attended by George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russia probe. Nader is said to have informed Trump Jr. that the crown princes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to offer as much support as they could to help the older Trump win.

The social media expert, Joel Zamel, reportedly attended the meeting at Trump Tower on behalf of a company that specializes in online manipulation and had already drawn up a massive campaign to elect Trump that involved using thousands of fake social media accounts. The company, Psy-Group, whose motto is “Shape Reality,” reportedly went so far as to consult an American law firm about the legality of its proposal. The meeting has come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, with investigators now trying to determine whether these offers were connected to Russia in any way.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump Jr. business partner has had access to government officials

A Texas hedge fund manager with business ties to Donald Trump Jr. was able to meet with top national security officials in the last year to pitch a plan that would help U.S. companies in Venezuela, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The news outlet obtained court records and documents that show Trump Jr. has been in business with Gentry Beach dating back to the mid-2000s, and that the two recently formed a company.

Beach and an Iraqi-American businessman met last year with National Security Council officials and pitched a proposal to curb sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies there, the AP reported.

An official told the news outlet that officials didn’t act on the pitch, but were told to take the meeting because of Beach’s ties to Trump Jr.

The Trump Organization said in a statement that Trump Jr. hasn’t played a role arranging meetings with “anyone at the White House or any other government agency.”

Beach told the AP in a statement that he never used his relationship with Trump Jr. to try and influence the government.

A Trump Organization attorney acknowledged that Trump Jr. had business relations with Beach in the past, but pointed the AP to a previously released statement that said their relationship was “strictly personal.”

The Trump administration has drawn scrutiny from watchdog groups since President Trump took office over concerns that the president has not adequately separated himself from his family’s business affairs.

Trump turned over the Trump Organization to his two adult sons, Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, when he took office. Multiple watchdog groups have filed complaints that the business is using the presidency to enrich itself.

[The Hill]

Trump Touts Mark Levin Segment to Slam ‘Mainstream Media’: ‘They’ve Gone CRAZY!’

President Donald Trump threw a jab at his favorite punching bag from Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, taking to Twitter to declare the “Mainstream Media” is “being mocked all over the world.”

Trump’s tweet was in response to one from his adult son, Donald Jr., who was touting a clip from conservative commentator Mark Levin declaring that media attacks on the president are “unparalleled in American history.”

“They’ve gone CRAZY!” Trump wrote of the American media:

Levin, whose Sunday Fox News show debuted last week, argued on his radio show that Trump is facing a degree of criticism from the press that was not seen by his predecessors, Presidents Obama and Clinton.

The president is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After a visit to the golf course, Trump is expected to speak at a Trump Victory reception, a joint fundraiser for his reelection campaign and the RNC.

Tickets to the event are reportedly set at $2,700, while a reception and a pair of seats at a dinner with Trump will run you $25,000.

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump Jr’s Indian visit raises ethical eyebrows across the globe

Donald Trump Junior will be arriving in India this week to sell condominiums for the Trump Organisation, with a sideline event of a foreign policy speech on behalf of his father, the US President.

India is the country with the most Trump business entities registered outside the United States, and one of its developments in the country is being constructed by a company belonging to a member of the ruling party.

Richard Painter, a former White House ethicist under George W Bush, says the ethics of the situation are so problematic the the US Congress should intervene.

[Australia Broadcasting Company]

Media

http://www.abc.net.au/radio/sydney/programs/pm/trump-jrs-indian-visit-raises-ethical-eyebrows-across-the-globe/9467982

Don Jr. Applauds Poor Indians For Smiling Unlike People in ‘Other Parts of the Emerging World’

Don Jr., President Donald Trump’s eldest adult son and most industrious online defender, is in India this week to peddle luxury apartments bearing the family name.

And Jr., who has oft been referred to as the “smart Trump son,” had some cringeworthy comments about poor Indians that he expressed in an interview with CNBC TV18 in New Dehli.

“I think there is something about the spirit of the Indian people that is unique here to other parts of the emerging world,” Don Jr. started.

“You go through a town — and I don’t mean to be glib about it, but you can see the poorest of the poor and there is still a smile on a face,” he said. “It is a different spirit that you don’t see in other parts of the world and I think there is something unique about that.”

Don Jr. concluded with a comment that sounds like it was inspired by a fortune cookie: “I know some of the most successful people in the world, and some of them are the most miserable people in the world.”

The Trump son’s career in punditry was launched by a rousing speech he gave at his father’s nomination at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, which led many to speculate the scion harbored political ambitions. Since, Don Jr.’s political career has been mostly confined to his very active Twitter profile, which he recently used to tout fringe conspiracy websites suggesting the victims of the Florida school shooting are FBI plants.

[Mediaite]

Media

Donald Trump Jr. Liked Tweets Promoting A Conspiracy Theory About A Florida Shooting Survivor

Donald Trump Jr. liked two tweets on Tuesday that peddled a conspiracy theory about a 17-year-old survivor of the Parkland school shooting, suggesting that he was “coached” to propagate an anti-Trump narrative by his father who is a retired FBI agent.

Both tweets attacked David Hogg, one of the students who documented the horror felt by his peers during the Parkland school shooting, and who has since been outspoken in his call for lawmakers and politicians to take action against guns.

Hogg had referred to President Trump’s tweet blaming the FBI for the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as “disgusting” and told CNN that his father was a retired FBI agent.

“The FBI are some of the hardest-working individuals I’ve ever seen in my life,” Hogg said.

In an interview with NBC, Hogg also urged Trump to take gun reform action, saying, “You’re the president. You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you? Children are dying, and their blood is on your hands because of that. Please take action. Stop going on vacation in Mar-a-Lago. Take action. Work with Congress. Your party controls both the House and Senate. Take action, get some bills passed, and for God’s sake, let’s save some lives.”

Trump Jr. liked a tweet from conservative TV show host Graham Ledger that linked to a story by far-right, pro-Trump website, Gateway Pundit, suggesting that Hogg’s father had “coached” his son in propagating “anti-Trump rhetoric and anti-gun legislation.”

Trump Jr. also liked a tweet linking to a story by True Pundit — a far-right website that has published several false stories — which referred to Hogg as “the kid who has been running his mouth about how Donald Trump and the GOP are teaming to help murder high school kids by upholding the Second Amendment.”

The piece blamed “the Deep State media” for giving Hogg a platform and appeared to express doubt that he was a survivor of the shooting.

Hogg told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that Trump Jr.’s peddling of conspiracy theories was “immature, rude, and inhuman.”

“I just think it’s a testament to the sick immaturity and broken state of our government when these people feel the need to pedal conspiracy theories about people that were in a school shooting where 17 people died and it just makes me sick,” Hogg told BuzzFeed News via text. “It’s immature, rude, and inhuman for these people to destroy the people trying to prevent the death of the future of America because they won’t,” he said.

One of his classmates also pointed out on Twitter that the idea of Hogg being a professional actor was, well, laughable.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Trump Jr. and the White House for comment.

[Buzzfeed]

Donald Trump Jr. asked Russian lawyer for info on Clinton Foundation

Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the committee that she didn’t have any such evidence, and that she believes Trump misunderstood the nature of the meeting after receiving emails from a music promoter promising incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent.

Once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest, Veselnitskaya said, and the meeting petered out.

“Today, I understand why it took place to begin with and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted,” Veselnitskaya wrote. “The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. Goldstone.”

She was referring to Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who worked for the Agalarov family. They are Russian oligarchs with Kremlin connections who had business and social ties to the Trump family. Goldstone’s emails to Trump Jr. arranging the meeting on behalf of the Agalarovs called Veselnitskaya a “Russian government lawyer” who had dirt on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump. Goldstone has since said he exaggerated.

In her 51-page statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Veselnitskaya said she did not work for the Russian government and was not carrying any messages from government officials. She said her motive was to get the Trump team to examine what she argues is a fraud that led the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia known as the Magnitsky Act.

Her ultimate goal was a congressional investigation into that matter, she said. She has long argued that U.S.-born hedge fund investor Bill Browder lied about the circumstances of the death of his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail, and that the U.S. government imposed Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russia, which are named after the accountant, based on a fraud. Browder and American officials dismiss that allegation, calling it part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Veselnitskaya said there was no discussion at the Trump Tower meeting of hacked or leaked emails, social media campaigns or any of the other main aspects of Russian interference in the U.S. election. Previously, she told NBC News she had raised the issue of potential questionable contributions to Clinton’s campaign by Americans accused in Russia of tax evasion.

Though some may see her answers as self-serving, Veselnitskaya’s written answers reinforced what has long been understood about the Trump Tower meeting: that Donald Trump Jr. accepted it on the promise of incriminating information about Clinton that he had been told was coming from the Russian government. And he asked Veselnitskaya directly whether she had it, according to her written answers. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were also in attendance, as were a Russian lobbyist, a Russian businessman and a translator.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate investigating committees continue to look into the Trump Tower meeting, according to multiple officials familiar with the probes.

Veselnitskaya insists they will find nothing that isn’t already known. She says she wishes the meeting had never happened.

“Now that I know the kind of apocalyptic Hollywood scenario that a private conversation between a lawyer and a businessman can be turned into, I very much regret that the desire to bring the truth to the [Congress] has thrown the U.S. president’s family, as well as Mrs. Clinton, into the whirlwind of mutual political accusations and fueled the fire of the morbid, completely groundless hatred for Russia,” Veselnitskaya wrote.

In another noteworthy aspect of her answers, Veselnitskaya acknowledged that she worked with Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, in an investigation of Browder, whose campaign led Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act.

At the time he was working on that case, Simpson and his firm, Fusion GPS, were also working with former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele on the infamous Trump dossier.

But Veselnitskaya says she had no idea about that, confirming testimony Simpson has provided to House and Senate investigators.

Some Republicans have suggested that Simpson’s work on behalf of a Russian client investigating the premise of the Magnitsky Act means the dossier could be tainted by Russian disinformation, but no evidence has surfaced to buttress that allegation.

Veselnitskaya called those allegations “unsubstantiated and outrageous insinuations.”

A lawyer for Trump Jr. declined to comment, but referred NBC News to the statement his client released in September, which said Trump Jr. wanted to “hear (the Russians) out” if they had information concerning Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications.”

[NBC News]

Trump Dictated Son’s Misleading Statement on Meeting with Russian Lawyer

President Trump reportedly dictated a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer that was ultimately issued to the New York Times by Donald Trump Jr., The Washington Post reported Monday evening.

Trump dictated the statement on July 8, while he was en route back to the United States from the G-20 summit in Germany, to director of strategic communications Hope Hicks, the Post said.

The statement about a meeting Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign emphasized that it was “not a campaign issue at the time.” Instead, it said the topic had been primarily Russian adoption policy.

But a few days later, news broke that Trump Jr. arranged the meeting believing he would obtain harmful information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The New York Times first disclosed details of the meeting that took place in July 2016, and also included Jared Kushner, and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

According to the report, Ivanka Trump and Kushner, her husband, worked with advisors during breaks at the G-20 summit to craft a response to questions from the Times. Hicks and another aide pushed transparency, The Post said.

But the president reportedly overruled the consensus his advisors had reached on how to respond to inquires about the meeting.

Trump Jr. did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment Monday, while his attorney said he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the details surrounding the meeting.

His lawyer also said he has “no evidence to support” the “theory” that Trump was involved in writing the statement.

The president’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, refused to speak about details regarding Trump’s involvement with the statement.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow said in his statement to The Post.

[The Hill]

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