A Russian billionaire with links to the Kremlin met with U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen at the Trump Tower in New York City less than two weeks before Trump's inauguration, media are reporting.
During a discussion in Cohen's office, located on the skyscraper's 26th floor eleven days before the inauguration, Cohen and Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg talked about improving relations between Moscow and Washington and arranged to meet again at the inauguration, The New York Times, Reuters, and AP reported on May 25.
Vekselberg, who heads the Russian conglomerate Renova Group, attended Trump's inauguration ceremony in January 2017 as a guest.
Vekselberg was among seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs whom the Trump administration targeted with sanctions last month. He built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in Russia's aluminum and oil industries.
The Times report about Vekselberg's meeting with Trump's lawyer cited video footage and an interview with Andrew Intrater, a Russian-American who attended the meeting and manages investments for Vekselberg. Reuters and AP said their anonymous sources confirmed the Times' account.
The Times reported that days after Trump's inauguration, Intrater's private equity firm, Columbus Nova, gave Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, which is now under investigation by U.S. authorities.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting an extensive investigation into alleged contacts and dealings between Russia, Trump, and his associates before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, meanwhile, are conducting a separate investigation into financial and business dealings by Cohen.
Intrater told The New York Times that Vekselberg, his cousin and biggest client, did not instruct Columbus Nova to hire Cohen as a consultant.
Earlier this year, Vekselberg himself was questioned by FBI agents working on Mueller's inquiry, and was asked about Columbus Nova payments to Cohen as well as more than $300,000 in donations that Intrater made to the Republican National Committee and Trump's inauguration, CNN reported on May 25.
Cohen, Vekselberg, and a lawyer for Intrater could not immediately be reached for comment.