A person close to Mr. Intrater said that the executive had no idea Essential Consultants was used for the separate payment to Ms. Clifford, and that he hired a number of other consultants at the time for similar prices.
“Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” said Richard Owens, a lawyer for Mr. Intrater and Columbus Nova. “After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova’s owners were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provide funding for his engagement.”
A lawyer for Mr. Vekselberg did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition to questioning Mr. Vekselberg, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have also interviewed Mr. Intrater, though there is no indication that either man is suspected of wrongdoing, The Times reported last week.
The person close to Mr. Intrater said that he was encouraged to attend the inauguration by an American friend, unrelated to Mr. Cohen, and that he had wanted to use the trip as an opportunity to meet with business associates in Washington.
Mr. Vekselberg has invested in Columbus Nova’s private equity funds through his sprawling Russian-based conglomerate, the Renova Group, which operates in the energy sector and elsewhere. Mr. Vekselberg was one of seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs hit with sanctions in April by the Trump administration, which also imposed the penalties on the Renova Group.
Renova has had a financial relationship with VTB, one of the largest state-owned banks in Russia, according to documents that were part of the “Panama Papers” leak of files from an offshore law firm. The documents show that Mr. Vekselberg’s companies received at least $350 million in loans or investments from VTB and a subsidiary, VTB Capital. The current state of the debt is unclear, though one document suggests it was discharged in 2010.
Mr. Cohen created Essential Consultants in Delaware less than two weeks before he completed his deal with Ms. Clifford, who is now contesting her contract with Mr. Cohen as invalid. Mr. Cohen initially said he paid her out of his own pocket by way of a home equity line of credit.
But last week, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York said that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Mr. Cohen through several $35,000 monthly transactions that amounted to more than $400,000 — covering the payment to Ms. Clifford and, he said, other “incidental expenses.”