President Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya just weeks after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Veselnitskaya is known for waging a harsh campaign against the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which blacklisted Russians suspected of human rights abuses, and has strong ties to the Kremlin. She is married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients have included Russian state-owned businesses.
She is also the family lawyer for Denis Katsyv, the son of senior Russian government official Pyotr Katsyv and owner of the Cyprus-incorporated real-estate company Prevezon. Prevezon was under investigation by the Department of Justice at the time the meeting occurred over whether it launderedmillions of dollars into New York City real estate.
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich — a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump’s circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump’s national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions — a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions — communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with “Guccifer 2.0” — an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator — a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington “hypocritical” for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia’s dealings in the country.
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The case, which was settled for approximately $6 million in May, garnered high-profile attention given its ties to the $230 million Russian tax-fraud scheme uncovered by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death aroused international media attention in November 2009.
Magnitsky uncovered the scheme, which became one of the biggest corruption scandals of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presidency, in 2008 on behalf of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital. Magnitsky was later thrown in jail and died in custody, and an independent human-rights commission found he had been illegally arrested and beaten. The Kremlin maintains that Magnitsky died of a heart attack.
The founder of Hermitage, William Browder, sought justice for Magnitsky in the US and Europe after Magnitsky died. In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the president to deny visas to, and freeze the assets of,Russians believed to have been complicit in Magnitsky’s death.
The meeting between Veselnitskaya and the Trump campaign is the first confirmed meeting between a Russian citizen and the campaign. Veselnitskaya’s meeting was arranged by Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and was attended by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (C) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump’s walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, smiles as he talks with other Trump campaign staff after Trump spoke to supporters following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s senior campaign adviser Paul Manafort (L) walks into a reception with former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 21: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort listens to Ivanka Trump speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – JULY 20: A man with a security credential takes a selfie at the podium as Donald Trump, flanked by campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES – JULY 19: Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS — Pictured: (l-r) Paul Manafort., Convention Manager, Trump Campaign, appears on ‘Meet the Press’ in Washington, D.C., Sunday April 10, 2016. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NA.R.DoleMicCk1.081596.RG.Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole looks up from podium at balloons and television cameras as convention center manager Paul Manafort, at right, points out preparations for tonight’s acceptance speech in San Diego, 08/15/96. (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, young Republicans political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo by Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Both Kushner and Manafort are subjects in ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign played a role in it.
The Trump campaign’s meeting with Veselnitskaya was only recently disclosed to government officials, when Kushner filed a revised security clearance form after The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials before joining the Trump administration.
Trump Jr.told the Times that the meeting had been to discuss an adoption program. He was likely referring to Putin’s retaliatory measure against the Magnitsky Act, during which he blocked Americans from adopting Russian children.
“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by,” Trump Jr. said in a statement to The Times. “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.”
Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon whom Veselnitskaya represents, registered a nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation in February 2016 whose stated aim is to overturn the adoption ban.
Veselnitskaya helps “represent” the HRAGIF along with a colleague, according to an email that colleague sent last April seen by Business Insider and first reported by The Daily Beast. And she had been lobbying to repeal the Magnitsky Act at the time the HRAGIF was set up, roughly four months before she met with Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort. She also helped organize the Brussels screening of an anti-Magnitsky film that cast doubt on both Bill Browder’s claims and Magnitsky’s findings.
Browder, the founder of Hermitage, said in an interview on Saturday that fighting against the Magnitsky Act was Veselnitskaya’s “main project last year. And “there was no obvious reason,” Browder said, for Veselnitskaya and her team to engage in this lobbying “as part of their defense for Prevezon.”
“It wouldn’t have helped the company address the money laundering allegations mounted by the US Department of Justice,” Browder said.
“The only reason for them to do this would have been at the behest of the Russian government.”
Putin called the Magnitsky Act “outrageous” upon its passage by President Barack Obama in 2012, and created his own anti-Magnitsky blacklist of US citizens that included US Attorney Preet Bharara. Bharara, known as the Sheriff of Wall Street for his dogged pursuit of organized crime and money laundering in Manhattan, was fired by Trump earlier this year.
Trump Jr., for his part, said he was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person he would be meeting with beforehand. In March, Trump Jr. denied ever having discussed government policy with Russian citizens: “A hundred percent no,” he said.