Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and oligarch discussed Russian relations at Trump Tower

Viktor Vekselberg (right) attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year (2017), a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Cohen's office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia's relations with the United States under Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, a US businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Vekselberg.

The men also arranged to see one another during the inauguration festivities, the second of their three meetings, Intrater said.

Days after the inauguration, Intrater's private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Cohen a US$1 million (S$1.3 million) consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

Intrater said in an interview that Vekselberg, his cousin and biggest client, had no role in Columbus Nova's decision to hire Cohen as a consultant.

When asked about the meeting at Trump Tower during the presidential transition, Intrater described it as a brief and impromptu discussion and said Vekselberg had not originally planned to attend.

"Obviously, if I'd known in January 2017 that I was about to hire this high-profile guy who'd wind up in this big mess, I wouldn't have introduced him to my biggest client and wouldn't have hired him at all," Intrater said.

He agreed to be interviewed about his dealings with Cohen, he said, because he had done nothing wrong.

The disclosure sheds additional light on the intersection between Trump's inner circle and Russians with ties to the Kremlin.

The meeting came months after Trump's son Donald Trump Jr met at Trump Tower during the campaign with a Kremlin-linked lawyer claiming to have damaging information on the candidate's opponent, Hillary Clinton, and a former campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, met with Russian intermediaries in Europe.

During the campaign, Cohen himself was pursuing a deal to build a Trump high-rise in Moscow, which did not come to fruition.

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