Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has been investigating payments made by corporations to Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, two of Cohen’s clients said on Wednesday.
AT&T and the Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis both said they were contacted by Mueller’s office in November last year, as Novartis confirmed it had paid Cohen .2m – significantly more than was initially disclosed.
“Novartis cooperated fully with the special counsel’s office and provided all the information requested,” the company said in a statement. AT&T said in a statement: “We cooperated fully, providing all information requested.”
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, declined to comment.
Novartis said it hired Cohen on a 0,000-a-month contract in February last year because it believed he “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters” such as the Affordable Care Act, which Trump had pledged to scrap.
After only one meeting, however, executives concluded Cohen “would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated”, according to the company, and decided “not to engage further”. But the contract could not be terminated so Cohen was paid in full for the year, a spokesman said.
AT&T confirmed earlier on Wednesday that it also paid Cohen. A company spokesperson said it had contracted Trump’s attorney to “provide insights into understanding the new administration”.
Mueller is primarily investigating possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russians who interfered in the election.
Cohen is the subject of a separate criminal investigation by federal authorities in New York. His home and offices were searched in surprise raids by FBI agents last month. Prosecutors have said the inquiry relates to Cohen’s personal finances.
Novartis and AT&T were among companies revealed to have paid Cohen in a document published on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actor known as Stormy Daniels, who is engaged in a legal dispute with Cohen and Trump.
Avenatti’s document said a subsidiary of the Swiss company had made at least four payments to Cohen’s company totalling 0,000. Confirming the arrangement, the company said: “The terms were consistent with the market.”
The records also said AT&T paid Cohen ,000 per month for at least four months, meaning the company may have paid him as much as 0,000 for the year. Trump’s administration was at the time considering whether to allow an bn merger of AT&T and Time Warner, which it has since rejected.
Cohen was also paid by Columbus Nova, the US affiliate of a corporate empire belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch closely linked to Vladimir Putin. Avenatti’s document said the payments totalled about half a million dollars.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, hit back at Avenatti in a furious letter filed to Manhattan’s federal court late on Wednesday, in which he confirmed that AT&T, Novartis and Columbus Nova were all Cohen clients.
Ryan said Avenatti appeared to have obtained Cohen’s bank records, and “should be required to explain” how he got them before he is allowed to be officially involved in a dispute the court is considering over records the FBI seized from Cohen’s home and offices.
The inspector general of the US Treasury opened an investigation on Wednesday into whether Cohen’s bank records were improperly leaked. Richard Delmar, a counsel to the inspector general, told the Guardian the inquiry would focus on “compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and its protections of information”.
Some reports on Wednesday alleged that Cohen had offered his clients access to senior administration officials.
Avenatti sought to connect the payments from Novartis to the company’s incoming chief executive, Vas Narasimhan, being invited to a group dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January 2018.
But Novartis stressed on Wednesday that the company’s contract with Cohen predated Narasimhan, and said he had “no involvement whatsoever” in the arrangement.
Columbus Nova said Vekselberg had no involvement in its own arrangement with Cohen. Vekselberg, too, was reportedly interviewed by investigators for Mueller’s team. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Cohen used the same Delaware company to pay Daniels 0,000 in October 2016 in return for an agreement that she would not talk publicly about allegedly having had sex with Trump a decade earlier. The arrangement was later disclosed by reporters.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), one of the biggest defence companies in South Korea, also confirmed it had paid Cohen. Avenatti’s document said it had paid Essential Consultants 0,000 in November last year.
A spokesman for the company told Reuters that it had contracted Cohen for “legal consulting concerning accounting standards”. KAI is currently competing for a lucrative contract from the US defense department and hopes to produce about 350 trainer jets in partnership with the US contractor Lockheed Martin.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
U.S. Set To Announce New Sanctions On Six Individuals Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – The United States is set to announce fresh sanctions on Friday on six individuals connected to the mass arrests earlier this month of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Hong Kong police on Jan. 5 arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo last week warned of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. That warning came a day after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”
Pompeo also said last week the United States would also explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States.
Action on Friday would come just days before Trump is due to leave office and be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden next Wednesday and would be the latest in a series targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful November re-election campaign.
His administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for their actions involving the pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses, and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.
The Trump administration took another swipe at China and its biggest companies on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.
Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan, a move that greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
2nd GOP Senator Urges Trump To Resign Over Capitol Riot
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators now say President Donald Trump should resign as support for the drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum in his final days in office after the deadly riot at the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible.” Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”
Toomey said that even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege on Wednesday, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Toomey said that resignation was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rear view mirror for us.” He was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.
The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.
The House appears determined to act despite the short timeline.
Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week.”
“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.” Clyburn, D-S.C., said he was concerned that a Senate trial could distract from the process of confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees.
Clyburn said one option could be giving Biden the “100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that” to the Senate for a trial.
He said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could begin as early as Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment is gaining supporters. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles — or charges — accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.
Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.
The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.
Potentially complicating that decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”
A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.
Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.
Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. There are less than two weeks until Trump is out of office but Democrats have made clear they don’t want to wait that long.
Trump, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members — both women.
Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN.
Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.
Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.
“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”
Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.
“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.
The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.
Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.
He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.
Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.
“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”
Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”
Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”
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