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A Russian oligarch closely tied to Vladimir Putin met with President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen at Trump Tower less than two weeks before the inauguration, The New York Times reported Friday.
Cohen and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, both expressed a desire to strengthen Russia's relationship with the U.S., and made arrangements to meet at the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration, the Times reported.
Shortly after the inauguration, Cohen's company Essential Consultants was awarded a $1 million, one-year consulting contract by private equity firm Columbus Nova, according to the newspaper.
The Times' account was based on an interview with Vekselberg's cousin Andrew Intrater, the head of Columbus Nova and an attendee of the meeting in New York City. The Times also cited video footage from Trump Tower and people briefed on the meeting.
The Times had previously reported that Columbus Nova decided to end the agreement with Cohen's company after just seven months and paying $580,000. Cohen had reportedly failed to deliver on Intrater's expectation to gain access to a slew of Republican donors for new deals and investors for Columbus Nova.
Vekselberg was banned from doing business in America earlier this year because of sanctions punishing Moscow for suspected interference in the U.S. presidential election.
The Russian billionaire is Columbus Nova's biggest client and maintains significant U.S. investments and assets, many of them frozen by the Treasury Department.
He has also been active in American charity causes that promote links between the U.S. and Russia, such as the nonprofit Renova Fort Ross Foundation, which Vekselberg created to preserve a California state park that was the site of a 19th-century Russian settlement.
Essential Consultants was set up by Cohen in October 2016 and used that month to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump years earlier. Daniels is now suing Trump and Cohen to be released from the nondisclosure agreement she signed.
Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said the Times' story "is consistent with our understanding of the facts that we have uncovered."
Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan, and the White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.