The lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels says he has additional evidence linking a Russian businessman to US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as international and US companies acknowledged large payments to Cohen's consulting firm.
Swiss drugmaker Novartis and US telecommunications giant AT&T on Wednesday said they made payments to Cohen's firm, Essential Consultants, in efforts to gain intelligence into the Trump administration's thinking on issues affecting them.
South Korea's Korea Aerospace Industries also said it hired the consultancy for services on accounting matters.
Novartis and AT&T said they were contacted by the office of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the situation in late 2017, and provided all the information requested. Both companies say they now consider the matter closed.
A Novartis official told NBC News that Cohen reached out shortly after Trump's November 2016 election win "promising access" to the new administration. Another report said then Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez instructed his team to strike a deal with Cohen.
Payments to the companies "may well have been used to influence the president of the United States, using Michael Cohen and his shell company as a conduit," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, at a regular press briefing, referred questions about the reported payments to Trump's outside counsel.
The payments were first mentioned by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels, who says she had a one-time sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and was paid $US130,000 by Cohen in October 2016 shortly before the elections in November to stay quiet about it.
Trump denies having sex with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She has sued both Trump and Cohen.
In television interviews, Avenatti declined to say how he obtained information about the payments. Cohen said a report published by Avenatti's law firm detailing the payments was inaccurate.
Bank records of the company payments to Cohen's firm and payments from Columbus Nova LLC, a New York-based investment firm linked to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg should be released, Avenatti said.
Vekselberg, who has ties to the Kremlin, and his Renova Group conglomerate were sanctioned by the US in April, freezing assets of up to $US2 billion.
A lawyer for Columbus Nova has said Vekselberg had nothing to do with the transaction Avenatti said amounted to $500,000.
Novartis admitted it made a costly mistake in making payments totalling nearly $US1.2 million to Cohen's firm.
Trump took office in January 2017 and Novartis signed a one-year contract a month later. After meeting with Cohen in March 2017, Novartis determined the firm was not going to be able to provide the type of US healthcare policy information it was seeking.
AT&T confirmed payments of $US200,000 to Essential Consultants, saying it hoped to gain "insights" into the new administration at a time when it sought approval from antitrust regulators for an $US85 billion purchase of Time Warner.
South Korea's KAI said it paid $US150,000 to Cohen's firm.