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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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Abortion

US Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Clinic Protest Zone Limits In Chicago, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.

The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.

The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.

Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.

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Federal Judge Reverses Trump Asylum Policy Due To Government Failing To Abide By Administrative Procedure Act

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(Law & Crime) — A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening overturned the Trump Administration’s second and most restrictive asylum policy, all because the government failed to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the judge reasoned.

In a 52-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of Washington, D.C. held that in enacting the rule, which required immigrants to seek asylum in any country they passed through before they could claim asylum in the U.S., the Trump administration “unlawfully dispensed” with mandatory procedural requirements allowing the public to weigh in on proposed rule changes.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2017, rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that the asylum rule fell within exceptions to the APA permitting the government to disregard the notice-and-comment requirement if there’s “good cause” such commentary is unnecessary or if the rule involves a military or foreign affairs function.

“[The court] also holds that Defendants unlawfully promulgated the rule without complying with the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, because neither the ‘good cause’ nor the ‘foreign affairs function’ exceptions are satisfied on the record here,” Kelly wrote. “Despite their potentially broad sweep, the D.C. Circuit has instructed that these exceptions must be ‘narrowly construed’ and ‘reluctantly countenanced.’ The Circuit has also emphasized that the broader a rule’s reach, ‘the greater the necessity for public comment.’ With these baseline principles in mind, the Court considers whether either the good cause or foreign affairs function exception applies here. Neither does.”

According to Kelly, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally allows any person physically in the U.S. seeking refuge to apply for asylum — with some exceptions for immigrants who have committed certain crimes or who had previously been “firmly resettled” prior to arriving in the U.S.

“The Court reiterates that there are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive. But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them,” Kelly wrote. “As noted above, if engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing the rule would have harmed ongoing international negotiations, Defendants could have argued that these effects gave them good cause to forgo these procedures. And they could have provided an adequate factual record to support those predictive judgments to which the Court could defer. But they did not do so.”

Claudia Cubas, the Litigation Director at CAIR Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, praised the decision as removing an “unjust barrier to protection” for those in need.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles. The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims,” Cubas said.

Read the full opinion below:

Asylum Ban Decision by Law&Crime on Scribd

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US Supreme Court Rules Public Funds Allowed For Religious Schools In State Tax Credit Program

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USA Today writes:

The Supreme Court delivered a major victory Tuesday to parents seeking state aid for their children’s religious school education. The court’s conservative majority ruled that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs.

The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has joined the liberal justices in three other major rulings this month. It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers’ unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools.

Read the US Supreme Court ruling here or below.

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