Trump lawyer’s Korean translator says he was questioned by FBI

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for US President Donald Trump, walks with his children as he exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City. — AFP pic
Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for US President Donald Trump, walks with his children as he exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, May 18 — A businessman hired by Essential Consultants LLC — the same shell company that President Donald Trump’s lawyer used to pay hush money to the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford — says he has been questioned by the FBI.

Mark Ko, 44, told Bloomberg News that he worked as a translator during meetings between Essential Consultants LLC, run by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd.

The aircraft manufacturer is among several companies including AT&T Inc and Novartis AG that have acknowledged hiring Essential Consultants largely to gain Cohen’s insights into Trump.

Ko’s work with Essential Consultants lasted a few months and ended in November 2017, said Ko, earning him a “fraction” of the US$150,000 (RM596,573) that Korea Aerospace says it paid Essential Consultants for advice on local accounting standards. Neither Essential Consultants nor Cohen have made additional payments to Ko or his companies, he said.

A lawyer for Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment. A Korea Aerospace spokesman said the company has no record of any contact with Ko.

Korea native

Ko, a native of Korea who now lives in Los Angeles, has several companies registered in his name including an event production company that lists celebrity clients. He said he first met Cohen about a decade ago as Asian real estate developers sought to work with Trump. “He knew that I spoke Korean, and that’s why he needed my help,” Ko said. None of the projects panned out because of the 2008 real estate crash, he said.

The FBI interview about three weeks ago was easygoing, Ko said.

“It was a very pleasant meeting, and they asked me a lot of questions,” he said. “I just told them pretty much everything I’m telling you right now. They seemed to have all the information already, so it was a pretty easy conversation.”

Ko said he didn’t know whether the investigators were from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which is investigating suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The FBI in New York, acting on a referral by Mueller, raided Cohen’s home, hotel room and office on April 9.

Korea Aerospace is a partner of Lockheed Martin Corp. to pursue a contract worth as much as US$16 billion to sell its planes to the US Air Force. The US$150,000 payment it made to Essential Consultants was among US$4.43 million in transactions identified as suspicious last week by attorney Michael Avenatti.

Hush payment

Avenatti is representing Clifford, the porn actress known as Stormy Daniels who claims to have had a tryst with Trump. Clifford was paid US$130,000 by Cohen through Essential Consultants just before the election to stay quiet about her claim.

The money flows outlined by Avenatti, including to a firm tied to a Russian oligarch with links to President Vladimir Putin, ran largely through an account that Cohen opened at First Republic Bank in October 2016, just ahead of the US presidential election.

CNN identified Ko last week as the man behind Demeter Direct, which Avenatti had named as having been paid by Essential Consultants. The FBI interview of Ko was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

Filings with California’s secretary of state show that Ko incorporated Demeter Direct as a purveyor of Korean food in 2009. In his interview with Bloomberg, Ko said he later turned it into a provider of “strategic marketing and business development.”

Demeter Direct’s website is no longer active, but an archived version from last year lists clients including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Verizon Communications Inc., both of which said they never hired the company. In the interview, Ko said the list was inaccurate and that he, not Demeter Direct, did some advertising work for those companies more than a decade ago.

Event production

In addition to Demeter Direct, which Ko says is defunct, Ko is affiliated with several other companies, California records show. Among them is PK2 Entertainment LLC, whose website describes it as a “creative entertainment company producing, directing and promoting a wide range of entertainment contents.”

Ko said PK2 is the operating name of another of his companies, called Sirens Entertainment LLC, which state filings show he founded in June 2014 as an “event production and consulting” business. PK2’s website lists as clients the late Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Estee Lauder, Ralph Lauren, Yahoo, “Dancing With the Stars” and dozens more household names.— Bloomberg