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Controversy surrounding Cohen's shell company comes into sharper focus

It looks like Trump's personal lawyer collected checks through a shell company because he was, in effect, selling influence with his client in the Oval Office.
US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen(C) leaves the US Courthouse in New York on April 26, 2018....

Michael Cohen's shell company started off as one kind of thing. Shortly before Election Day 2016, Donald Trump's personal lawyer created Essential Consultants LLC to pay hush money to a porn star who allegedly had an affair with the future president. It wasn't a business in the traditional sense -- there was no office or staff -- but Essential Consultants LLC was a vehicle for a payoff.

We learned this week, however, that Cohen's shell company turned out to be much more. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, released materials showing a series of payments Essential Consultants LLC received from all sorts of entities, and yesterday, those corporations started confirming the payments -- along with some curious explanations as to why.

Korea Aerospace Industries, for example, was already facing corruption allegations when it started paying Cohen's shell company to assist with its "internal accounting system." That, of course, doesn't make any sense, largely because Essential Consultants LLC was really just one guy who had no background in accounting.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, Korea Aerospace Industries' story evolved  -- which became something of a theme over yesterday afternoon. AT&T initially claimed it paid Cohen's one-person shell company for help with regulatory reform and tax reform, before it too changed its story. Novartis Pharmaceuticals also had a series of explanations, one of which was that Cohen was paid to provide health care consulting services.

While all of this had an entertaining farcical quality, it was hard not to wonder how some of these giant multi-national corporations even heard of a one-person LLC in Delaware. That came into focus yesterday, too.

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, contacted the drug giant Novartis after the 2016 election "promising access" to the new administration, and special counsel Robert Mueller later requested information from the company about the offer, a senior official inside Novartis told NBC News on Wednesday.Cohen "contacted us after the new administration was in place," the official said. "He was promising access to the new administration." Novartis then signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with Cohen.

Oh. So it sounds as if Trump's personal lawyer collected big checks through his shell company because he was, in effect, selling influence with his client in the Oval Office.

At this point, what we know for sure about this story appears problematic, but there are still plenty of questions that need answers. Where did all of the money to Cohen's shell company go? Did he have other LLCs? What did Essential Consultants LLC's corporate clients get in exchange for their "investments"?

Did the president have any involvement with any aspect of Cohen's "business"?

And how many of Cohen's clients have had chats with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team? At a minimum we know AT&T and Novartis said yesterday they've cooperated with the federal investigation. There's also Columbus Nova, a U.S.-based firm with ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, and as NBC News reported, Vekselberg was searched and questioned by agents working for Mueller when he got off a plane in the U.S. earlier this year.