Donald Trump's lawyer tried to keep a document linking the president to a $130,000 "hush" payment to the porn actress Stephanie Clifford hidden from any new lawyers she might hire, her attorney Michael Avenatti said.
Novartis allegedly realized in the spring of 2017 that Cohen could not provide the information the company requested, but did not attempt to cancel the contract for fear of "ticking off the president", according to a second article in STAT. While there is nothing improper about the practice, the issue is more complicated in this case because Mr. Cohen was operating as both a strategic adviser and personal lawyer to Mr. Trump.
The same bank account that disbursed the hush money received injections of cash from Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment firm whose officials said they paid Cohen $500,000 between January and August 2017 for real estate help.
Henry Su, a former attorney for the Federal Trade Commission and now a partner at Constantine Cannon in Washington, said it was unusual for a company to approach someone closely linked to an incoming administration so quickly and directly.
Avenatti declined to comment on the probe, and Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But, Noble cautioned, if these companies simply used Cohen for information about Trump, that may not be a violation, although it certainly doesn't look good from an ethics standpoint.
"Whenever you think the Trump soap opera couldn't get any more weird, it does", said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
Columbus Nova, which is described in a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as Renova's U.S. affiliate, "hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant" after the inauguration, Richard Owens, an attorney for the company, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Also through Essential Consultants, a Korean defense company competing for a US contract paid Cohen $150,000 to advise it on accounting practices.
Rosenstein said that if Cohen had Trump's permission to reveal confidential information about him, then the implications may be significant.
Cohen's work does not appear to meet the definition, Noble asserted, adding that this is an ethical concern, since Cohen "appears to be selling access to a current client, who is president".
But the company has confirmed it also paid Cohen's company Essential Consultants for "insights into understanding the new administration" beginning in early 2017, when Trump was inaugurated.
Rich Delmar, a spokesman for the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General, told ABC News on Wednesday that investigators are "inquiring into allegations that SAR information" - short for a Suspicious Activity Report - "has been improperly disseminated", referring to reporting related to Cohen's startup, Essential Consulting, LLC.
Trump expressed opposition to the merger during the campaign and his administration ultimately chose to fight it, with the Justice Department filing suit in November to block the agreement.
Vekselberg was targeted for USA sanctions by the Trump administration last month. Those transactions amounted to less than $1,000 each, Avenatti said.
Dr. Narasimhan, who joined the company in 2005 and became chief executive in February, said he "was not involved in any aspect of this situation".