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Michael Cohen met with Russian oligarch at Trump Tower days before inauguration, report says

Cohen investigation

President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen met with a Russian oligarch at Trump Tower days before Mr. Trump's inauguration in 2017, and again soon after, according to the New York Times. A company tied to the oligarch subsequently signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, the Times reported Friday, citing Andrew Intrater, an American businessman.

The private equity firm Columbus Nova, owned by Intrater, awarded the contract to Cohen. Viktor Vekselberg, the oligarch who met with Cohen in early 2017, is Intrater's cousin and Columbus Nova's biggest client.

Who are the Russian oligarchs targeted by U.S. sanctions?

Intrater told the Times that he and Vekselberg spent about 15 minutes in Cohen's office on Jan. 9, 2017, talking "about how much we hoped U.S.-Russian relations would get better through business projects and cultural exchange." Intrater also said that the meeting took place as Cohen was packing up and leaving his job at the Trump Organization. A $250,000 donation Intrater made to Mr. Trump's inaugural committee secured him tickets to an inaugural dinner, and Vekselberg attended the dinner with him. Soon afterward, the Times recounted, Cohen signed on as a consultant to Columbus Nova.

Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, is close to the Kremlin. But Intrater told the Times that Vekselberg had nothing to do with the awarding of the contract. The special counsel's office has spoken with Vekselberg, the Times reported earlier this month, and also said that Intrater has been interviewed twice by Robert Mueller's investigators, in part because of his interactions with Cohen. The Times also pointed out that there's no sign that either Vekselberg or Intrater is suspected of wrongdoing. Vekselberg was, however, targeted by U.S. sanctions announced in April, along with other Russian oligarchs and companies believed by the U.S. to have helped meddle in the 2016 presidential election. 

Intrater also told the Times that it had been a brief, impromptu meeting and Vekselberg was originally not going to attend. Vekselberg and his firm, Renova Group, have denied having a contractual relationship with Cohen. 

Pharmaceutical company Novartis and AT&T also entered contracts with Cohen after Mr. Trump won the presidency. Those contracts were worth six or seven figures.

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