The case of the Moscow attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Donald Trump Jr. on June 9, 2016, has grown from odd to bizarre. What began as a New York Times story pushing the narrative of Trump-Russia ties has instead revealed a web of Democrat connections with the Russian lawyer at the center of the controversy.
The New York Times published a story on July 10 claiming that Donald Trump Jr. communicated with a “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” by email who offered opposition research on Hillary Clinton.
The lawyer was Veselnitskaya, who denies any connection to the Kremlin, and the Russian government also denies the claim.
A fuller picture came out not long after, when Trump Jr. tweeted the email exchanges himself, and detailed the meeting on June 9, 2016. He said in a statement “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet … The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official.”
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
It also soon turned out that Trump Jr. was misled on the content of the intended meeting. Rather than provide opposition research, as the email exchanges claimed, Veselnitskaya only discussed adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act, and as Trump Jr. noted “To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue.”
The adoption policy was related to the Russian ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans, which was done in retaliation for the U.S. enactment of the Magnitsky Act that blacklisted Russians engaged in human rights violations.
Rod Goldstone, a publicist for a Russian pop singer whose emails to Trump Jr. had set up the meeting, was present at the 20-minute-long meeting with Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. quoted Goldstone’s description of it as “the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it.”
Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor Emeritus, told Fox News that even if Veselnitskaya had provided Trump Jr. with opposition research, it would not constitute a crime. “It becomes a crime only if Donald Trump Jr. had said to the Russians, look, we want opposition research, why don’t you hack the Democratic National Committee and get it? Obviously he didn’t do that.”
“The Trump campaign had a right to use negative research, just as the Clinton campaign had a right to use negative research,” he stated.
President Donald Trump responded to the issue during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on July 13. He said that Trump Jr. “took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period, and nothing came of the meeting … Honestly I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”
Trump noted, however, that the story behind Veselnitskaya may show something deeper. At the time of her visit, Veselnitskaya’s visa was expired, and she was granted a special immigration parole to enter the United States by the Obama administration’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“I was surprised to hear that, so she was here because of Lynch,” Trump said.
The Hill reported that the special immigration parole that Lynch granted to Veselnitskaya is something rarely given. She had been turned down for a U.S. visa, but was given the special parole “for the limited purpose of helping a company owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, her client, defend itself against a Justice Department asset forfeiture case in federal court in New York City.”
This bypassed the “normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni explained to the judge during a hearing on Jan. 6, 2016, according to The Hill; and “That’s a discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances.”
It notes she appeared to be in the United States to lobby to repeal the Magnitsky Act, but also cited unnamed sources close to the efforts to rename the Magnitsky Act who described Veselnitskaya as a “mysterious and shadowy figure,” and stated “they were confused as to whether she had an official role in the lobbying campaign, although she was present for several meetings.”
“Natalia didn’t speak a word of English,” said one source, according to The Hill. “Don’t let anyone tell you this was a sophisticated lobbying effort. It was the least professional campaign I’ve ever seen. If she’s the cream of the Moscow intelligence community then we have nothing to worry about.”
Senate judiciary committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on June 12, questioning how the Russian attorney was allowed to enter the United States.
“According to her sworn declaration, former Russian prosecutor Natalia Veselnitskaya was denied a U.S. visa to travel to the United States from Russia to participate in litigation. Although she was subsequently granted immigration parole to make the trip, her parole was set to expire on January 7, 2016,” he stated in a press release.
Given that her meeting with Trump Jr. was in June—several months after even her parole was set to expire—Grassley is now seeking information on how Veselnitskaya “may have been able to stay in the United States until June,” and is requesting information on “any visa applications, visas held, or visa application denials relating to Veselnitskaya and any documentation relating to the conditions of her parole into the United States.”
The plot has only thickened. The Gateway Pundit published an exclusive story on July 13 noting that Veselnitskaya’s chaperone in Washington was a top Hillary supporter, and a Democrat, Ronald Dellums, the former mayor of Oakland, California, and a thirteen term member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It notes also that “Dellums is only one of a notable team of partisan Democrats Veselnitskaya hired in Washington DC to defeat the Magnitsky Act.” Veselnitskaya was also sitting right behind Obama’s Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing just five days after her meeting with Trump Jr.
Veselnitskaya herself appears to have been opposed to Donald Trump. She has images of herself on social media attending anti-Trump protests, and just four days before her meeting with Trump Jr. she posted an anti-Trump article on her Facebook page—raising doubts again over whether her intentions were really to provide the Trump team with evidence against Clinton.
Veselnitskaya also has ties to Fusion GPS, the opposition research company hired by the DNC to assemble the heavily-debunked dossier on Trump, which was subsequently spread throughout the media, Washington political circles, and the U.S. intelligence community—and that may have played a key role in giving former President Barack Obama an excuse to launch the investigations into Trump.
Grassley noted this odd circle of connections in a March 31 press release. It states, “according to a complaint filed with the Justice Department, Fusion GPS, which was also involved in the creation of the unsubstantiated dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, was involved in the pro-Russia campaign to kill the Global Magnitsky Act around the same time.”
In other words, while Fusion GPS was building its Trump-Russia dossier, it also had ties to Russia, itself. In addition, Christophe Steele, who compiled the dossier, claimed to have sources for it in Russian intelligence.
Veselnitskaya, meanwhile, worked for Prevezon Holdings. Grassley noted that in 2013 the Justice Department opened a case to seize Russian-owned Prevezon Holdings’s U.S. assests, which it used to purchase real estate in New York. In response, “Prevezon Holdings and the Kremlin launched a campaign to undermine the Magnitsky Act and discredit Magnitsky’s claims of corruption.”
While Veselnitskaya was lobbying to undermine and repeal the Magnitsky Act, Grassley notes that Fusion GPS and others “were involved in the pro-Russia campaign in 2016, which involved lobbying congressional staffers to attempt to undermine the Justice Department’s account of Magnitsky’s death and the crime he uncovered, repeal the Magnitsky Act itself, and delay efforts to expand it to countries beyond Russia.”
Grassley notes that despite their work, lobbying for Russian interests, “neither Fusion GPS nor Akhmetshin are registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).”