Natalia Veselnitskaya: From The Kremlin To Trump Tower
When news of Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian officials to discuss potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton broke this summer, few had heard of the former Moscow region based prosecutor, Natalia Veselnitskaya. In a matter of days, her name was plastered in all the headlines, as it was clear a new player had just entered the game.
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election rapidly closes in on the White House with his first indictments being served, those involved in this meeting are coming under well-deserved scrutiny. Each time Mueller overturns another stone, more corruption and controversy is revealed. And Veselnitskaya is at the very center of some of the most convoluted elements of the Trump-Russia scandal.
Given her long history as a staunch opponent of the Magnitsky Act — a 2012 U.S. law barring Russian officials that are accused of human rights abuses from entering the country and freezing any U.S. financial assets they hold— and her clear ties to the Kremlin, any communication and connections the Trump campaign had with Veselnitskaya raise great concern.
But who exactly is this attorney, who had a seemingly provincial start prosecuting local crime in the Moscow region? How did she become one of the most important puzzle pieces in the greatest political investigation of our time?
The answer involves a heavy case of patriotism, a few oligarchs, and one ill-fated email exchange.
A History of Corruption and ?? Political Ties
Currently an employee of the private sector, Veselnitskaya got her start in the Moscow regional prosecutor’s office, focusing mainly on land dispute cases. The Moscow region is the constituent area of the Russian Federation surrounding the city of Moscow, but not including it.
During the infancy of her career, the Moscow region was run by former General Boris Gromov, a prominent figure during the Soviet Union’s time in Afghanistan. Under his tenure, the region was known for corruption that led to near financial destitution. While many fraudulent schemes existed in the area, conflicts surrounding the acquisition of land and property were where Veselnitskaya made her home.
It was around this time that she amassed a strange amount of wealth — the figure nearly inconceivable considering the usual salary of Russian government employees. According to reporting from CNN, between 1993 and 2003, her salary went from $1,559 a year to $53,645.
Additionally, in early 2003, before she had earned the majority of the wealth, Russian land registry shows that she acquired two plots of land in an elite neighborhood. The plots were assumed to be valued at near half a million dollars each. It is unclear how a provincial lawyer, even an extremely successful one, was able to afford such large real estate purchases.
Below is aerial footage of Veselnitskaya’s property, shown in a promotional video for an adjacent house, according to the same CNN report:
While working for the regional prosecutor’s office, she met and married deputy prosecutor Alexander Mitusov — who at the time was an extremely influential member of the region’s law enforcement. Mitusov would later become the area’s deputy transport minister, solidifying Veselnitskaya’s early governmental ties.
The transport minister that her husband served under at this time was none other than Pyotr Katsyv — a connection which would eventually bring her to the front door of the Trump Tower in NYC.
In 2002, Veselnitskaya defended Katsyv and his son Denis after they were accused of extorting land from a local business owner. She also represented the elder Katsyv in a libel suit against a regional activist. She won both cases.
Her connections with the Katsyvs took her to America in 2013 when Denis was accused of money laundering by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Yes, the same Bharara who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March of 2017, at the President’s request.
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.
Just two months after this firing, a $6 million out-of-court settlement was reached in the case — a move that was extremely unexpected and raised great concern for those following the issue. While the civil case was settled, a criminal inquiry opened by New York prosecutors is still active.
It bears repeating that when Veselnitskaya stepped into Trump Tower on that fateful summer day, she was currently representing a client under criminal investigation by the U.S. government regarding a tangled web of alleged Russian money laundering.
Originally, Katsyv was accused of stealing $14 million from William Browder — remember this name, we’ll talk more about him later on — through his company Prevezon Holdings. Browder claimed that after his company, an American-led investment fund called Hermitage Capital, was raided by Russian officials in 2007, criminals used its portfolios to receive and then launder fraudulent tax refunds from the Russian Treasury.
Money laundering is something we should all pay great attention to at the moment. On Monday morning, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his right-hand man Rick Gates were indicted on twelve counts and turned themselves over to Special Counsel Mueller.
The second charge? Conspiracy to launder money.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indicted on 12 counts 1-Conspiracy Against The U.S. 2-Conspiracy To Launder Money …?https://t.co/PXNX1VbdUG
Today, Veselnitskaya runs Kamerton Consulting, a law firm based in Moscow. Her clients typically included both state-owned and private corporations. One such client is Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB — the modern day successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Before becoming President, Vladimir Putin headed the FSB.
Last year, the FSB was sanctioned for its alleged role in hacking the U.S. election.
Veselnitskaya also maintains ties to Yury Chaika, formerly Russian justice minister and now the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation. It is believed that Chaika was the person referred to as the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” in the June 2016 email correspondence between Donald Trump Jr. and British publicist Rob Goldstone that led to the Trump Tower meeting.
It was recently revealed that months before this meeting, Veselnitskaya spoke to Chaika about a memo she intended to present to Trump campaign officials, which she believed contained damaging info on both Clinton and the Democrats. The memo she brought with her closely reflected talking points used by Chaika’s office two months prior, undercutting Veselnitskaya’s story that she acted independently from the Kremlin.
Additionally, after Veselnitskaya showed this memo to Chaika, the two collaborated to pass the information along to an American congressional delegation that was visiting Moscow. An official from Chaika’s office gave the confidential memo to none other than Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California. Five days after the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya attended a dinner with Rohrabacher and other guests in Washington D.C.
Vice President Mike Pence recently headlined a fundraiser for Rohrabacher and other California Republicans.
Regardless of the bluster used by both Russian officials and members of the Trump administration to minimize the importance of both Veselnitskaya and the events of this meeting, we know the following are true:
Veselnitskaya has a history of ingratiating herself with Russian government officials, clear connections with the Kremlin, represents clients accused of money laundering, and met with the son of the President with promises of damaging information regarding his father’s political opponent.
And that’s just what the public knows.
The Magnitsky Act
So what is the Magnitsky Act and why has it created a whirlwind of cinematic proportions? The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky and exists as a result of his investigations into Russian government corruption.
In 2008, Magnitsky uncovered “a dense web of tax fraud and graft involving 23 companies and a total of $230 million linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the government” according to reporting by the Washington Post.
Because the Russian government responds so well to criticism, Magnitsky was thrown in jail without any charges, where he later mysteriously died. The official story is he succumbed to pancreatitis after being denied medical help. However, reports by the Kremlin’s human rights council alleged that his death was the result of a horrific beating.
In December 2012, President Barack Obama signed the “Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” in response to the abuses suffered by Magnitsky. After being proposed by Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain, it had been passed by the House of Representatives 364 to 43 votes, followed by the Senate with 92 to 4 votes.
As discussed previously, the law at first blocked a handful of Russian officials from entering the U.S., slapped sanctions on them that froze their assets, and forbade them from using American banking systems but was later expanded to include 44 human rights abusers worldwide. The Russian government responded by banning the adoption of Russian children by American citizens.
Both Katsyv and Veselnitskaya have spent years lobbying against the passage of this act. In defense of Katsyv, Veselnitskaya once railed passionately against the law, stating America was using it as a cover-up “to politically influence our country’s leadership.”
Her personal Facebook posts present scathing attacks at those supporting the law, with specifically vicious statements directed at Bill Browder (remember him?). Browder had originally hired Magnitsky as one of his lawyers in the corruption investigation related to his company Hermitage Capital.
In sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Browder stated that Putin himself was a beneficiary of the stolen $230 million, according to information in the released Panama Papers. In the same testimony, Browder accused the Katsyv family and Veselnitskaya as “acting on behalf of the Russian state.”
He also spoke of Veselnitskaya’s work with an NGO called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF). She co-founded the Delaware-based organization, which is supposedly dedicated to overturning the adoption ban. According to Browder, it actually exists as a front for a lobbying group.
Most recently, his visa was revoked by the State Department after Vladimir Putin placed him on Interpol’s international watch list. The visa was later restored, much to his critic’s dismay.
Took US a few hours to fix my Putin visa problem. It’s been 8 days since Russia put a bogus notice on Interpol and not a peep from Interpol
BREAKING: Interpol just confirmed they’ve blocked Russia’s abusive arrest warrant. This is 5th time Russia has been rejected by Interpol
When news of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting first broke, it was originally stated that the reason for the meeting was to discuss policy relating to the U.S. adoption of Russian children — i.e. the Magnitsky Act. D.C. lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a known opponent of the act, was also present at the meeting. Akhmetshin, who had been hired by HRAGIF, has testified before Mueller’s grand jury.
However, when Trump Jr. released the email correspondence that predated the meeting, it was quickly revealed that the meeting was held in attempts to acquire damaging information on Hillary Clinton from Veselnitskaya. Further revelations destroyed the other attempted cover-ups of this meeting.
The Trump Tower Meeting
This brings us full circle to the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, which introduced Veselnitskaya to the son of then-candidate Trump. Here’s what we know about this meeting so far:
Eight different people attended the meeting — Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort (recently indicted on multiple counts), Jared Kushner, Rob Goldstone, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian interpreter and a representative for Aras Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze.
Trump Jr. agreed to attend the meeting after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton from Veselnitskaya. Additionally, in the surrounding email exchanges, he had been told of the Russian government’s effort to support his father’s candidacy. The meeting had been set up at the request of a Russian oligarch’s sons (the Agalarovs), with the understanding that Veselnitskaya had information the Trump campaign would want.
Perhaps most importantly, we know that Mueller is looking into whether or not President Donald Trump tried to hide the true nature of the meeting when he personally dictated Trump Jr.’s initial misleading characterization of the events that occurred.
This meeting is sure to play a pivotal role in the Russian collusion investigation. Exactly what information Veselnitskaya presented in the approximate half an hour she was there, as well as how much the senior Trump knew about it are questions sure to be explored by the probe.
Investigators have been reportedly reviewing the contents of the now indicted-Manafort’s notes of the meeting, as they “contained the words ‘donations,’ and ‘RNC’ in close proximity.” If Veselnitskaya proposed some sort of donation to the campaign, or one was solicited from her, it would be of great consequence, as it is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections.
With Mueller closing in on the White House, more revelations about this meeting are sure to come to light soon.
The tangled web of corruption and deception that Natalia Veselnitskaya has made her home in reads like something out of 1950s spy novel. A provincial lawyer rapidly rises to wealth and notoriety and ends up secretly meeting with the son of the President of the United States.
As reports over the last few months have proven, Veselnitskaya is in bed with much more sinister efforts than simply ending a ban on U.S. adoption of Russian children. She spoke with Kremlin officials about damaging information on the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, which she then attempted to present to Donald Trump Jr. — who was aware that this was the intent of her meeting.
Both parties lied about this fact.
The full extent of Veselnitskaya’s relationship and importance to the Trump campaign is unknown. As her precariously balanced web of lies begins to dismantle, it’s likely that her name will be in headlines once again.
The only question is what members of the administration she’ll bring with her.