Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, has declared that the meeting of Donald Trump Jr., with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information on Hillary Clinton during the campaign, “borders on treason.” Others have said that the disclosure could be the long sought after “smoking gun” on collusion and evidence of criminal conduct. I am afraid that I have to continue my record as something of a “buzz kill” on these stories. There is not a clear criminal act in such a meeting based on the information that we have. Moreover, it is not necessarily unprecedented.
Painter declared on MSNBC that
“This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States. We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason. . . . If this story is true, we’d have one of them if not both of them in custody by now, and we’d be asking them a lot of questions. This is unacceptable. This borders on treason, if it is not itself treason.”
I have to respectfully disagree with Painter. I tend to view these things through the lens of a criminal defense attorney and I do not see how either Trump Jr. or Natalia Veselnitskaya could be put into “custody” for such a meeting. There is no crime in listening to people who say that they have incriminating information on a political opponent, even a foreigner. Article III defines treason as “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” To say that this type of meeting even borders on treason is quite a departure from the language and cases governing that crime.
Moreover, it is hardly shocking to see a willingness to gather dirt during that election. Hillary Clinton was repeatedly criticized for her close association with figures like David Brock who was denounced even by John Podesta as sleazy and disreputable. There was also Sidney Blumenthal who was regularly denounced for spreading rumors and dirt against anyone threatening Clinton.
There also is the allegations surrounding who funded a former British spy to come up with the dossier against Trump, which is now viewed as discredited.
Once again, experts are pulling out the Logan Act to suggest a possible crime. Norm Eisen, a former chief White House ethics attorney, referenced the law even though it has only been enforce once and it widely viewed as unconstitutional, as we have previously discussed. Vermont Law Professor Jennifer Taub suggests that it could be charged as a conspiracy to defraud the United States. So listening to someone who claims to have evidence that a federal crime by your competitors is now an effort to defraud under 18 U.S.C. 371? I am highly skeptical of the chances of such a claim and I have never seen the like of it. Others have suggested that he might be charged with “violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national.” Well, business people accept things of value for foreign officials all the time. It is called transnational business. Presumably, this is meant to suggest a criminal contribution to a campaign from a foreign national — ironically the very allegation raised by the Russian lawyer against Clinton as the purpose of the meeting. That allegation is rather hard to square with the fact that campaign officials and candidates speak to foreign leaders and sources all the time on issues. If notice of a possible crime or information is now deemed as thing of tangible value under federal campaign laws, the wide array of exchanges on behalf of campaign would be implicated. Indeed, major free speech and association issues would be raised. Once again, this is a matter that is worthy of investigation. However, these possible criminal charges are radically over-extended on the facts that we currently have.
None of this excuses the slime machine that runs 24/7 in Washington. People in the Beltway regularly traffic in dirt — it is the currency of our time. It has been for some time. Indeed, the Federalists and Jeffersonians actively and openly sought scandalous material to use against each other.
Trump Jr. said in a statement to the paper on Sunday that he had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya at the request of an acquaintance and denied that he received any information on Clinton.
“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,” he said. “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.”
“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,” Trump Jr. said.
Donald Trump Jr. said that the Russian lawyer contacted the office shorting after his father clinched the Republican presidential nomination to share information damaging to Clinton:
“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.”
Foreign funding of an election would be federal crime.
Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya soon changed the subject and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and moved the conversation towards the Magnitsky Act — a 2012 bill that blocks certain Russian officials’ entrance to the U.S. and their use of the U.S. banking system:
“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.”
Quite frankly, most people in the Beltway look at that account and snicker that Trump Jr. was a fool to personally attend such a meeting. Other campaigns would have used surrogates like Brock but they would have gotten the information.
The one area of legal concern raised by this account is again the failure of various Trump family members and associates from listing foreign contacts on federal forms, including the SF-86. I have had to fill out that form regularly since the Reagan Administration and listed even brief meetings with foreign academics at conferences. It is hard to see how such meetings would not be listed.
Unless there is more (and this is worthy of investigation), I see nothing close to treason or a crime in this account. That obviously does not fit with the breathless accounts given the story but the criminal code is not a code of political etiquette.
305 thoughts on “Was The Meeting Between Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Lawyer Really “Treason” or The “Smoking Gun” of Collusion?”
It is not necessary to reach the question of whether attending a specific meeting was a crime or an act of treason.
At least one of Trump’s sons occupies a Federal position that requires a security clearance. I believe the son has submitted a Form 86 security application, and a sworn supplement to it, which required him to disclose meetings and that his applications failed to disclose the meeting.
I find it interesting that the MSM continues to sponsor the Fairy-Tale of Russian involvement, the democrat distractions from normal USGov functions, and the racist lawlessness of the foreign alien, alias, Barrack H. Obama. The continued activities of the MSM constitute subversion of the government of the USA. Who are the owners of the MSM?
This link provides some answers_ http://www.eutimes.net/2017/03/it-is-our-right-to-influence-and-control-america-with-the-media-dershowitz/
Mark Esposito: Thank you for your comments. I’m well aware that Greathouse was a civil war case, and I had already reviewed the Yale Law Review article by Charles Warren that you cited as persuasive authority.
For reference, here’s the Art. III, section 3 definition of treason:
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in  levying war against them, or in  adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
In Greathouse, J. Field provided no legal authority other than own his opinion regarding the term “enemies” in the second clause of Art. III, section 3. Again, here’s the offending language:
“[T]he “term ‘enemies,’ as used in the second clause, according to its settled meaning, at the time the constitution was adopted, applies only to the subjects of a foreign power in a state of open hostility with us. It does not embrace rebels in insurrection against their own government. An enemy is always the subject of a foreign power who owes no allegiance to our government or country. We may, therefore, omit all consideration of this second clause in the constitutional definition of treason in the second clause.”
His first sentence above was not the whole of the truth, and therefore he completely dismissed the second clause as irrelevant based on his opinion that it was settled law “enemies” applied only to subjects of a foreign power in a state of open hostility. The US was engaged in civil war, acknowledged as a civil war by Congress, and as a result the federal courts were under legal precedent that the term “enemies” is not restricted to foreign powers, at the time of the Greathouse decision.
The Civil War made the combatants “enemies,” not just “rebels in insurrection” for purposes of the second clause, and this has been the case since the adoption of the Constitution, according to the Law of Nations and implied in the Prize Cases (1863) 67 US 635 , which Young v. United States (1877) followed. Hence, depending on the factual findings, either the first or the second clause, or both, could have been used to prosecute Ridgeley Greathouse and his crew, J. Field’s and your opinion notwithstanding.
The Yale Law Review article by Charles Warren states at page 333:
“[T]reason by levying war is more generally committed in internal insurrections directed against the government by persons in the United States; whereas giving aid and comfort is generally committed in connection with a war waged against the United States by a foreign power. When those who commit treason by levying war become an organized body politic, however, they may become ‘enemies’ within the purview of the law, and giving aid and comfort to such enemies will constitute treason.” Its footnote cites the Prize Cases.
In similar but separate resolutions dated July 22, 1861, and July 25, 1861, the House and Senate stated the US was in a civil war. Note, too, this is nearly two years earlier than the acts from which the Greathouse decision arose.
In March, 1863, when the acts in Greathouse took place, through October, 1863, when Greathouse was decided, the Confederate States of America held themselves out as a sovereign; they had their own written Constitution; a tripartite government against which Congress acknowledged a state of civil war on July, 1861; it had standing armies; and, a capital in Richmond, from which to conclude it was an “organized body politic.” They had also levied war against the United States, so the CSA were certainly enemies of the US according to the Prize Cases, mentioned above.
It follows that when individuals such as Greathouse and his crew of conspirators attempt to give aid and comfort to the CSA (through a business in which Greathouse was the major shareholder) with the intention of hauling arms, munitions and clothing, regardless of whether or not they levied war as part of the CSA, they were giving aid and comfort to the enemy subject to prosecution under the second clause.
In the Prize Cases, the second of two questions answered was this: “Was the property of persons domiciled or residing within those [Confederate] States a proper subject of capture on the sea as “enemies’ property?”
The Prize Cases arose from President Lincoln’s blockade prior to the congressional resolutions of July, 1861, mentioned above. They were decided March 13, 1863, three days after J. Field was confirmed to the Supreme Court, seven days after he had been allotted to the newly-formed Tenth Circuit constituting California and Oregon, and fully seven months before the Greathouse opinion issued on October 17, 1863. J. Field sat on the Tenth Circuit until 1866 when it was abolished and took no part in the Prize Cases. J.J. Grier, Miller, Wayne, Swayne, and Davis comprised the majority; C.J. Taney and J.J. Nelson, Clifford, and Catron dissented, but only as to the first question, believing the President had no emergency powers to order a blockade prior to congressional authorization. In other words, it was a 9-0 opinion with regard to the second question.)
J. Robert C. Grier’s majority opinion in the Prize Cases concluded that the rebellious states were “enemies” of the United States because a state of civil war existed, and therefore several but not all of the defendants’ property was subject to seizure for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. (See the case syllubus: “5. A state of actual war may exist without any formal declaration of it by either party, and this is true of both a civil and a foreign war. 6. A civil war exists, and may be prosecuted on the same footing as if those opposing the Government were foreign invaders, whenever the regular course of justice is interrupted by revolt, rebellion, or insurrection, so that the Courts cannot be kept open. 7. The present civil war between the United States and the so-called Confederate States has such character and magnitude as to give the United States the same rights and powers which they might exercise in the case of a national or foreign war, and they have, therefore, the right jure bello to institute a blockade of any ports in possession of the rebellious States. . . .”)
J. Grier’s reasoning distinguished unorganized insurrections (less than enemies) from organized rebellions (genuine enemies):
“[The congressional resolutions of July, 1861] “we think, recognized a state of civil war between the Government and the Confederate States, and made it territorial. The Act of Parliament of 1776, which converted the rebellion of the Colonies into a civil territorial war, resembles, in its leading features, the act to which we have referred. Government, in recognizing or declaring the existence of a civil war between itself and a portion of the people in insurrection, usually modifies its effects with a view as far as practicable to favor the innocent and loyal citizens or subjects involved in the war. It is only the urgent necessities of the Government, arising from the magnitude of the resistance, that can excuse the conversion of the personal into a territorial war, and thus confound all distinction between guilt and innocence; hence the modification in the Act of Parliament declaring the territorial war. . . . (Pp. 695-696.)
“Let us enquire whether, at the time this blockade was instituted, a state of war existed which would justify a resort to these means of subduing the hostile force. . . . Insurrection against a government may or may not culminate in an organized rebellion, but a civil war always begins by insurrection against the lawful authority of the Government. A civil war is never solemnly declared; it becomes such by its accidents — the number, power, and organization of the persons who originate and carry it on. When the party in rebellion occupy and hold in a hostile manner a certain portion of territory, have declared their independence, have cast off their allegiance, have organized armies, have commenced hostilities against their former sovereign, the world acknowledges them as belligerents, and the contest a war. They claim to be in arms to establish their liberty and independence, in order to become a sovereign State, while the sovereign party treats them as insurgents and rebels who owe allegiance, and who should be punished with death for their treason. . . .” [Emphasis.] (P. 666.)
In another portion of the opinion starting at the bottom of page 671 through page 674, he writes:
“Is the property of all persons residing within the territory of the States now in rebellion, captured on the high seas, to be treated as “enemies’ property,” whether the owner be in arms against the Government or not?
“The right of one belligerent not only to coerce the other by direct force, but also to cripple his resources by the seizure or destruction of his property, is a necessary result of a state of war. Money and wealth, the products of agriculture and commerce, are said to be the sinews of war, and as necessary in its conduct as numbers and physical force. Hence it is that the laws of war recognize the right of a belligerent to cut these sinews of the power of the enemy by capturing his property on the high seas. . . .
“Under the very peculiar Constitution of this Government, although the citizens owe supreme allegiance to the Federal Government, they owe also a qualified allegiance to the State in which they are domiciled. Their persons and property are subject to its laws.
“Hence, in organizing this rebellion, they have acted as States claiming to be sovereign over all persons and property within their respective limits, and asserting a right to absolve their citizens from their allegiance to the Federal Government. Several of these States have combined to form a new confederacy, claiming to be acknowledged by the world as a sovereign State. Their right to do so is now being decided by wager of battle. The ports and territory of each of these States are held in hostility to the General Government. It is no loose, unorganized insurrection, having no defined boundary or possession. It has a boundary marked by lines of bayonets, and which can be crossed only by force — south of this line is enemies’ territory, because it is claimed and held in possession by an organized, hostile and belligerent power.
“All persons residing within this territory whose property may be used to increase the revenues of the hostile power are, in this contest, liable to be treated as enemies, though not foreigners. They have cast off their allegiance and made war on their Government, and are nonetheless enemies because they are traitors.” [Emphasis.]
This last quote in bold – deeming those whose property may be used to increase revenue of the hostile power as enemies – would apply as much to giving aid and comfort to the enemy under the second clause in Greathouse as in the Prize Cases. Yet, J. Field dismissed it even though we were in a civil war and it could be argued neither set of defendants could be said to have levied war any more than they did give aid and comfort to the CSA.
Regarding Young v. United States (1877) 97 U. S. 39, you’re mistaken to have distinguished this civil war property case as irrelevant. At page 60, the opinion states:
“All property within enemy territory is in law enemy property, just as all persons in the same territory are enemies. A neutral owning property within the enemy’s lines holds it as enemy property, subject to the laws of war, and, if it is hostile property, subject to capture. It has never been doubted that arms and munitions of war, however owned, may be seized by the conquering belligerent upon conquered territory. The reason is that if left, they may, upon a reverse of the fortunes of war, help to strengthen the adversary. To cripple him, therefore, they may be captured, if necessary, and whether necessary or not must be determined by the commanding general unless restrained by the orders of his government, which alone is his superior. The same rule applies to all hostile property.” To decide Young, there had to be a finding that the property was in “enemy” territory. One cannot make that finding without first defining “enemy.”
As an aside, the same law review article you provided quotes the Field’s offending language [“the term ‘enemies’ as used in the second clause, according to its settled meaning, at the time the constitution was adopted, applies only to the subjects of a foreign power in a state of open hostility with us. It does not embrace rebels in insurrection against their own government. . . .”] and then supports it at p. 334, fn 10, with the following: “Charge to the Grand Jury in United States v. Greathouse (1863, C. C.) 4 Sawyer, 457, 466, 472. These words were quoted with approval by the Supreme Court in Young v. United States . . .” Field’s offending language was not quoted at p. 65 of the Young opinion, and the footnote is misleading.
Here’s the actual, language at p. 65 in Young:
“Mr. Justice Field, in United States v. Greathouse (4 Sawyer, 472), states the same doctrine in this language: ‘Wherever overt acts are committed, which in their natural consequence, if successful, would encourage and advance the interests of the rebellion, in judgment of law aid and comfort are given. . .'”
Young, at page 47-48, clearly followed the Prize Cases’ distinction between an unorganized insurrectionists from an organized rebellion and cited the Law of Nations, Book III, section 292, for the proposition that combatants in civil war are indeed enemies:
“1. The legal character of the late rebellion as a geographical or territorial civil war, as distinguished from an insurrection or unorganized war, is a political and judicial fact, established by the doctrines of public law, recognized, formally or otherwise, by all the Great Powers of the world, and adjudged by every department of the government of the United States. Vattel, bk. iii. sect. 292; Bello, Principios de Decrecho Internacional, c. 10, p. 267; Hautefeuille, Droits et Devoirs de Nations Neutres, vol. i. p. 378; Bluntschli, Revue de Droit International, 1870, p. 455; Opinion Impartiale sur la Question de l’Alabama; Twiss, Law of Nations, War, 72; Letters [97 U.S. 39, 47] of Historicus, 132; Woolsey, Int. Law, 459; The Prize Cases, 2 Black, 670, 695; Mauran v. Insurance Company, 6 Wall. 1; Thorington v. Smith, 8 id. 1; Hanger v. Abbott, 6 id. 532; Matthews v. McStea, 91 U.S. 7 ; New York Life Insurance Co. v. Statham et al., 93 id. 24; United States v. McRae, L. R. 8 Eq. 69; United States v. Prioleau, 2 Hem. & M. 559; Treaty of Washington; The Three Rules. . . .”
Section 292 of Book III of the Law of Nations (published in 1758 and in English by 1760), having been around since well before the adoption of the federal Constitution), states:
“Civil war. When a party is formed in a state, who no longer obey the sovereign, and are possessed of sufficient strength to oppose him, — or when, in a republic, the nation is divided into two opposite factions, and both sides take up arms, — this is called a civil war. Some writers confine this term to a just insurrection of the subjects against their sovereign, to distinguish that lawful resistance from rebellion, which is an open and unjust resistance. But what appellation will they give to a war which arises in a republic torn by two factions, — or in a monarchy, between two competitors for the crown? Custom appropriates the term of “civil war” to every war between the members of one and the same political society. If it be between part of the citizens on the one side, and the sovereign, with those who continue in obedience to him, on the other, — provided the malcontents have any reason for taking up arms, nothing further is required to entitle such disturbance to the name of civil war, and not that of rebellion. [T]his latter term is applied only to such an insurrection against lawful authority as is void of all appearance of justice. [T]he sovereign, indeed, never fails to bestow the appellation of rebels on all such of his subjects as openly resist him: but, when the latter have acquired sufficient strength to give him effectual opposition, and to oblige him to carry on the war against them according to the established rules, he must necessarily submit to the use of the term ‘civil war.'”
Section 292 makes clear that it doesn’t matter what appellation the government gives to those in rebellion during a civil war. It’s still a civil war.
Section 293 clarifies by stating in part:
“A civil war produces two independent parties. A civil war breaks the bands of society and government, or at least suspends their force and effect: it produces in the nation two independent parties, who consider each other as enemies, and acknowledge no common judge. Those two parties, therefore, must necessarily be considered as thenceforward constituting, at least for a time, two separate bodies, two distinct societies. . . .”
J. Field was wrong to dispatch the second clause on the basis that “enemies,” according to its settled meaning at the time the constitution was adopted, could not apply to the defendants in Greathouse. Foregoing the analysis, there’s more than enough evidence to have convicted them under the second clause had J. Field acknowledged that the second clause was not limited to foreign powers. He could have just as easily bit the bullet and followed precedent, by finding the US was engaged in civil war since July, 1861 when Congress resolved as much, and that the CSA was an enemy under the Prize Cases and the Law of Nations for purposes of the second clause in Art. III, section 3’s definition of treason. He could have found Ridgeley Greathouse and the crew were individuals on the privateer, who adhered to the CSA by giving them aid and comfort, whether or not they were levying war against the US.
Finally, J. Field was the sole dissenter in Young v. United States (1877). I’m interested as to why, but I do not know that it was a written dissenting opinion. Even if it were, I do not know where to find it. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to provide a copy if you have access?
Steve Groen – they don’t call it the War of Northern Aggression or The Late Unpleasantness for nothing.
There is a lot of intrigue in this latest accusation against the Trump family. More and more it looks like the Obama team was involved. I can make a much better case for the indictment of Obama officials with regard to the Trump Jr claim than the left can make against Trump Jr. The former has significant involvement. The latter has almost none. The case evolves, but the newsmedia will continue to try and create the climate for a coup.
“This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa.”
Exclusive: DOJ let Russian lawyer into US before she met with Trump team
The Russian lawyer who penetrated Donald Trump’s inner circle was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstances” before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials, according to court and Justice Department documents and interviews.
This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa.
Later, a series of events between an intermediary for the attorney and the Trump campaign ultimately led to the controversy surrounding Donald Trump Jr.
Just five days after meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower with Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Moscow attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya showed up in Washington in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia policy, video footage of the hearing shows.
She also engaged in a pro-Russia lobbying campaign and attended an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where Russian supporters showed a movie that challenged the underpinnings of the U.S. human rights law known as the Magnitsky Act, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has reviled and tried to reverse.
The Magnitsky Act imposed financial and other sanctions on Russia for alleged human rights violations connected to the death of a Russian lawyer who claimed to uncover fraud during Putin’s reign. Russia retaliated after the law was passed in 2012 by suspending Americans’ ability to adopt Russian children.
At least five congressional staffers and State Department officials attended that movie showing, according to a Foreign Agent Registration Act complaint filed with the Justice Department about Veselnitskaya’s efforts.
And Veselnitskaya also attended a dinner with the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing Russia policy, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and roughly 20 other guests at a dinner club frequented by Republicans.
In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Rohrabacher said, “There was a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club here with about 20 people. I think I was the only congressman there. They were talking about the Magnitsky case. But that wasn’t just the topic. There was a lot of other things going on. So I think she was there, but I don’t remember any type of conversation with her between us. But I understand she was at the table.”
Rohrabacher said he believed Veselnitskaya and her U.S. colleagues, which included former Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), were lobbying other lawmakers to reverse the Magnitsky Act and restore the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children that Moscow had suspended.
“I don’t think this was very heavily lobbied at all compared with the other issues we deal with,” he said.
As for his former congressional colleague Dellums, Rohrabacher said he recalled having a conversation about the Magnitsky Act and the adoption issue: “Ron and I like each other … I have to believe he was a hired lobbyist but I don’t know.”
Veselnitskaya did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday at her Moscow office. Dellums also did not return a call to his office seeking comment.
But in an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Veselnitskaya acknowledged her contacts with Trump Jr. and in Washington were part of a lobbying campaign to get members of Congress and American political figures to see “the real circumstances behind the Magnitsky Act.”
That work was a far cry from the narrow reason the U.S. government initially gave for allowing Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in late 2015, according to federal court records.
The Moscow lawyer had been turned down for a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully but then was granted special immigration parole by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch 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.
During a court hearing in early January 2016, as Veselnitskaya’s permission to stay in the country was about to expire, federal prosecutors described how rare the grant of parole immigration was as Veselnitskaya pleaded for more time to remain in the United States.
“In October the government 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.
“That’s a discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances. In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify. And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist,” he added.
The prosecutor said the Justice Department was willing to allow the Russian lawyer to enter the United States again as the trial in the case approached so she could help prepare and attend the proceedings.
The court record indicates the presiding judge asked the Justice Department to extend Veselnitskaya’s immigration parole another week until he decided motions in the case. There are no other records in the court file indicating what happened with that request or how Veselnitskaya appeared in the country later that spring.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in New York confirmed Wednesday to The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016.
Justice Department and State Department officials could not immediately explain how the Russian lawyer was still in the country in June for the meeting with Trump Jr. and the events in Washington.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has demanded the U.S. government provide him all records on how Veselnitskaya entered and traveled in the U.S., a request that could shed additional light on her activities.
Interviews with a half dozen Americans who came in contact with Veselnitskaya or monitored her U.S. activities in 2016 make clear that one of her primary goals was to see if the Congress and/or other political leaders would be interested in repealing the 2012 Magnitsky Act punishing Russia or at least ensure the Magnitsky name would not be used on a new law working its way through Congress in 2016 to punish human rights violators across the globe.
“There’s zero doubt that she and her U.S. colleagues were lobbying to repeal Magnitsky or at least ensure his name was removed from the global law Congress was considering,” said U.S. businessman William Browder, who was the main proponent for the Magnitsky Act and who filed a FARA complaint against Veselnitskaya, Dellums and other U.S. officials, claiming they should have registered as foreign agent lobbyists because of the work.
The 2012 law punished Russia for the prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer and accountant who U.S. authorities allege uncovered a massive $230 million money laundering scheme involving Russian government officials that hurt U.S. companies.
Magnitsky became a cause celeb in the United States after his mysterious death in a Russian prison, but Russian officials have disputed his version of events and in 2011 posthumously convicted him of fraud in Russia.
It is that alternate theory of the Magnitsky fraud cause that Veselnitskaya and her U.S. allies tried to get into the hands of American officials, including Rohrabacher, the Trump team and other leaders.
Browder’s complaint, which alleges that Washington lobbyists working with Veselnitskaya failed to register as foreign agents, is still pending at the Justice Department. It identified several events in Washington that Veselnitskaya and her allies attended or staged in June 2016.
All of them occurred in the days immediately after the Russian lawyer used a music promoter friend to get an audience June 9 with Trump Jr. promising dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton but instead using the meeting to talk about Magnitsky and the adoption issue, according to Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya.
On June 13, 2016, Veselnitskaya attended the screening of an anti-Magnitsky movie at the Newseum, which drew a handful of congressional staffers and State Department officials, according to Browder’s complaint.
The next day, she appeared in the front row of a hearing chaired by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), sitting right behind a former U.S. ambassador who testified on the future of U.S-Russia policy.
Rohrabacher said he recalled around the same time a conversation with Dellums about Magnitsky and the adoption issue and then attending a dinner that included Veselnitskaya at the Capitol Hill Club with about 20 people.
Sources close to the lobbying effort to rename the Magnitsky Act, conducted over the summer of 2016, said it fizzled after only a month or two. They described Veselnitskaya, who does not speak English, as a mysterious and shadowy figure. They said they were confused as to whether she had an official role in the lobbying campaign, although she was present for several meetings.
The sources also described their interactions with Veselnitskaya in the same way that Trump Jr. did. They claimed not to know who she worked for or what her motives were.
“Natalia didn’t speak a word of English,” said one source. “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.”
The sources added they met with Veselnitskaya only once or twice over the course of the lobbying campaign, which culminated with airing of a Russian documentary that challenged the notion that Magnitsky was beaten to death in a Russian prison
About 80 people, including congressional staffers and State Department employees, attended the viewing at the Newseum.
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