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Robert Mueller investigating payments to Michael Cohen, Swiss drug giant says

Novartis confirms it paid Trump’s lawyer’s company $1.2m – significantly more than was initially disclosed

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Robert Mueller investigating payments to Michael Cohen, Swiss drug giant says” was written by Jon Swaine in New York, for theguardian.com on Thursday 10th May 2018 01.10 UTC

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.

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Four U.S Troops Killed In Kabul Airport Attack

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4 U.S. soldiers have been killed and three others wounded in attacks on Kabul airport.

A U.S. official says several Marines were killed and a number of other American military were wounded Thursday in an attack on Kabul’s airport.

U.S. officials have said that information is still coming in and they are trying to determine exact numbers of casualties.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations.

The Pentagon would not say what troops were involved but acknowledged that “a number of U.S. service members were killed.”

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Amazon’s palm print recognition raises concern among U.S. senators

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Three U.S. senators, including Democrat Amy Klobuchar who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, wrote a letter to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) to express concern about its palm print recognition system, Klobuchar’s office said Friday.

Amazon began rolling out biometric technology at its Whole Foods stores around Seattle in April, letting shoppers pay for items with a scan of their palm. The system, called Amazon One, lets customers link a credit card to their palm print.  read more 

Klobuchar, who was joined by Senators Bill Cassidy, a Republican, and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, expressed concern in the letter dated Thursday about both privacy and competition related to Amazon One.

“Our concerns about user privacy are heightened by evidence that Amazon shared voice data with third-party contractors and allegations that Amazon has violated biometric privacy laws,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

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WHO seeks to take political heat out of virus origins debate

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The World Health Organization said on Friday it was setting up a new group to trace the origins of the coronavirus, seeking to end what it called “political point scoring” that had hampered investigations.

The inability of the WHO to say where and how the virus began spreading has fuelled tensions among its members, particularly between China, where COVID-19 cases were first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, and the United States.

The WHO called for all governments to cooperate to accelerate studies into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and “to depoliticise the situation”.

It specified that a new advisory group called the International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens would support “the rapid undertaking” of further studies.

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