A Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner during the 2016 election, and promised to reveal “damaging information” about Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reports.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was in the United States as part of a case involving a Russian businessman accused of fraud in a civil suit brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, met with with the Trump campaign team figures at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, the Times reports.
According to the Times, “the accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.”
The meeting came two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. The Times reports that the Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss adoptions and the Magnitsky Act, an American law passed in 2012 that blacklisted suspected Russian human rights abusers. Putin retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children, according to the Times.
“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” Trump Jr. said in a statement to the Times. “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Donald Jr. Says Veselnitskaya Claimed to Have Info About Russians Funding the DNC & Supporting Hillary, Was ‘Vague, Ambiguous & Made No Sense’
President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before he agreed to the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the New York Times reports. Trump Jr. said he met with Veselnitskaya on behalf of an acquaintance, but did not know her name prior to the meeting.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” Trump Jr. told the Times on Sunday. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Trump Jr. said the conversation then shifted to the Magnitsky Act.
“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” he told the newspaper.
You can read the full statement released to the media by Trump Jr. below:
I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.
Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office.
The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.
According to the Post, Goldstone has been active with the Miss Universe pageant and is the manager for Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father is a wealthy Moscow developer who sponsored the beauty pageant in Russia in 2013.
Goldstone told the Post that his client told him Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about ways Trump could be heloful about the Russian government’s adoption issue if elected as president. He attended the meeting and did not mention the conversation about Clinton when interviewed by the Post.
The meeting was recently disclosed to authorities by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the Times reports.
In a statement, a spokesman for President Trump’s outside counsel said Veselnitskaya misrepresented herself and alluded to ties to Democrats.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement. “Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier.”
The statement is referring to the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The BBC reported that the anti-Trump research was first funded by a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s campaign, which hired Fusion GPS. The Washington, D.C.-based firm then contracted with Steele to compile the dossier. But by the time it was completed, Trump had secured the Republican nomination, the BBC reports. So the research was purchased by Democratic operatives, before eventually being passed on to the FBI and the media, according to the BBC.
Corallo said President Trump was not at the meeting and did not know about it.
According to the Times, Veselnitskaya’s clients and activities previously drew the attention of the FBI.
She said Saturday in a statement to the newspaper “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed at the meeting and said she has “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
2. She Has Crusaded Against the Magnitsky Act, One of the Topics She Discussed With the Trump Team
Veselnitskaya has led a crusade against the Magnitsky Act in Russia and the United States, assisting the Russian government in striking back against the Obama-era law. The topic was discussed during the meeting with Trump campaign associates, the New York Times reports.
The Magnitsky Act was named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered fraud involving a real estate company, Prevezon Holdings, owned by the son of a Russian government official. Magnitsky later suspiciously died in Russian custody. He uncovered the case on behalf of Hermitage Capital, an American company who was victimized by the fraud, according to the U.S. government. Hermitage’s founder, William Browder, fought for the law, which was passed in 2012 and allows the president to deny visas to and freeze assets of Russians believed to be complicit in Magnitsky’s death, according to Business Insider.
Putin responded by halting adoptions of Russian children by Americans and creating his own anti-Magnitsky blacklist of U.S. citizens, including former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Times reports.
Veselnitskaya has led the lobbying effort to kill the Magnitsky Act, according to The Daily Beast. She is the head of a Delaware-based non-governmental organization, Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, which is “working on analyzing legal and legislative options to help overturn this adoption ban,” according to its website.
Veselnitskaya and her firm, Kamerton Consulting, represented a prominent Russian businessman, Denis Katsyv, the owner of the Cyprus-based Prevezon Holdings, in a civil case accusing the company of fraud. The case was filed in 2013 in Manhattan by then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Katsyv’s father, Pyotr, is a senior government official in Russia.
“In 2007, a Russian criminal organization engaged in an elaborate tax refund fraud scheme resulting in a fraudulently-obtained tax refund of approximately $230 million from the Russian treasury. As part of the fraud scheme, members of the organization stole the corporate identities of portfolio companies of the Hermitage Fund, a foreign investment fund operating in Russia. The organization’s members then used these stolen identities to make fraudulent claims for tax refunds,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a press release.
The case was settled in May 2017, with Prevezon agreeing to pay nearly $6 million to resolve the claims, without admitting wrongdoing. You can read more about the case and settlement here.
Veselnitskaya told Izvestia, the settlement “is almost an apology from the government.”
“She’s not just some private lawyer,” Browder told the Times. “She is a tool of the Russian government.”
Browder told Business Insider that it was Veselnitskaya’s “main project” in 2016 to fight the Magnitsky Act, and “there was no obvious reason” for her to be lobbying against the act as part of its defense of Prevezon, a company accused of fraud in the United States.
“It wouldn’t have helped the company address the money laundering allegations mounted by the US Department of Justice,” Browder told Business Insider. “The only reason for them to do this would have been at the behest of the Russian government.”
Veselnitskaya also helped produce a Russian TV documentary that accused Browder of being the real culprit behind the fraud uncovered by Magnitsky, the Times reports.
Browder filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) complaint in connection to the Magnitsky case, and Veselnitskaya was named in the report as a key player in the Russian opposition to the law. You can read that report below:
Senator Chuck Grassley sent a letter to the Justice Department in May asking for an update on the case.
According to the Washington Post, Veselnitskaya was in Washington, D.C. in the days after the Trump Tower meeting to attend a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Russian sanctions and U.S.-Russia relations. She then attended a screening of the film about the Magnitsky case at the Newseum and was featured in a June 15 story on Sputnik News about her criticism of the sanctions and Browder.
“The representatives of one of US House subcommittees attended the screening last night, and told me that if I have something to say, I could file a report as a Russian lawyer,” Veselnitskaya she told Sputnik. “I filed a written report today. I am qualified to talk about it as a lawyer, and I am stating that I know the facts that can help the Congress to figure out this complicated story.”
That written report was not immediately available. She claimed in the Sputnik interview that Browder deceived the U.S. government.
“The Congress then almost unanimously adopted this law and named it after the person who was in custody for tax fraud. The law was lobbied by the man who earlier gave up his US citizenship for tax reasons,” she told Sputnik.
3. Veselnitskaya Claimed She Was Harassed by American Officials, Including Being Strip-Searched & Humiliated While Traveling to the US
Veselnitskaya filed an affidavit during the case about her difficulty in obtaining the ability to travel to the United States to assist in her clients defense. She was issued humanitarian parole in 2015 to come to New York for the case, but it was set to expire in 2016.
It appears the parole was extended, as Veselnitskaya returned to the U.S. on at least two more occasions, including in June 2016, when she met with the Trump associates, and in January 2017, when she accompanied her clients to court.
You can read the document below or here:
In the documents, Veselnitskaya claims she has been “harassed by the (U.S.) government” since November 2015 in connection to the case. She wrote about one incident at Heathrow Airport that occurred while she was trying to return to the U.S. after a trip from New York to London.
“I was detained for two hours by Heathrow Airport officials who specifically targeted me because of the parole number that the United States Government had assigned me,” she wrote. “During my detention I was unjustifiably subjected to a strip search, for no apparent reason. I should not be subjected to such humiliation when I have been promised entry to the United States to defend against the scandalous accusations in this lawsuit on behalf of my clients.”
4. She Graduated From Moscow State Law Academy in 1998 & Founded Her Firm, Kamerton Consulting, in 2003
Veselnitskaya attended Moscow State Law Academy, graduating in 1998, according to a court filing from the Prevezon Holdings case.
After graduation, she worked for the state prosecutor’s office for three years, she wrote in the filing.
“I worked there for three years, overseeing the legality of statutes that were adopted by legislators of Moscow Oblast,” she wrote. “After that I moved into private business. In 2003, I formed a private legal firm, Kamerton Consulting, which later grew to 30 employees, including five attorneys.”
Veselnitskaya said her firm’s clients include “large-state owned and private corporations, as well as clients from the real estate and banking sectors.”
She said she “represents victims in many criminal cases involving economic crimes.”
Veselnitskaya says in the document that she does not speak or write in English. She was accompanied by a translator at the meeting with Trump campaign associates, according to the statement from Trump’s outside counsel.
According to the court document, Veselnitskaya, whose ex-husband was formerly a deputy transportation minister for the Moscow region, has children, and she tried to obtain visas for them so that she could be with them during the Christmas holiday while working in the U.S. But American officials declined that request.
5. She Has Shown an Interest in American Politics, Posting on Facebook About the Obama Administration, Sally Yates & the Women’s March
Veselnitskaya has shown an interest in American politics, including making several posts on her Facebook page about news related to the Trump and Obama administrations. Her anti-Obama stance appears to have stemmed from the fight against the Magnitsky Act, while she expressed hope in one post that the new administration could help stabilize the relationship between the United States and her home country, ideally in a way to help her clients.
“The beginning of our trial, new lawyers, new judges, the new President, balls and blow-ups in one day, and on 5 avenue – under the conductor of Schumer, a stream of dirt in the media, complete infantilism in understanding what is happening among the masses, the most serious in humorous shows, Then the prohibition of entry into the country and again hundreds of pickets and again on weekends, the resignation of the entire top of the State Department,” she wrote in Russian, referring to the protests against the first Muslim travel ban and the resignation of Sally Yates, which happened during her second visit to New York for the Prevezon Holdings case.
She also wrote about Yates in another post, “The current US Attorney General (Sally Yates) stated that all lawyers working for the government have no right to protect the government and Trump’s orders! She says it’s illegal and inexcusable! You can argue as much as you like about banning citizens from certain countries to the country, but something I can not recall any norm that allows the Prosecutor General to do so. In such cases, the general must resign. And it’s like the game and the last days of Obama.”
Veselnitskaya posted about the Women’s March, which she opposed, and shared a story claiming one of its lead organizers, Linda Sarsour, has connections to Hamas.
She shared photos of her view from a New York hotel of the march there, writing, “What do you think about it? ‘My body is my choice’ – it’s all about abortions, homosexuality, illegal migration and two presidents. The order of anyone, but who did not understand – it is now called ‘human rights.'”
One of her Facebook friends said the photos show “freedom,” and Veselnitskaya responded, in Russian, referring to the “pussy hats” being worn by protesters:
If such is real freedom-to put on the head the image of the female genitalia, take your own children to this show and hang such tags on them, while it’s childish to look at the serious things that are going on before your very eyes, but require something of a gray matter’s tension-I’m against it! Calls and demonstrations to blow up, kill, rape – this is also freedom? This is not freedom. And the conclusion in the world of those who introduced all this abomination into the head of these people. By the way, being at this time in New York, I was faced with the fact that a few days later people, as awakened from hypnosis, were shocked to learn that they were so glad at first to welcome it. Some simply said that they were ashamed to say that they were on the march, going there more because of curiosity and herd instinct.
She also shared a post on January 25 saying, “The State Department stopped Obama and Kerry’s payment to the Palestinian government, which they tried to spend in the last hours in power.”
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