- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2017

The Russian lawyer who met with President Trump’s eldest son during the presidential campaign last year has drawn the attention of U.S. investigators before — after she lobbied against a U.S. law despised by Vladimir Putin and made a questionable reimbursement request to federal prosecutors.

Donald Trump Jr. has admitted to meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on a campaign-related matter. During the meeting, she offered to provide compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

It’s the latest controversy for a White House facing ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election and the possibility that campaign figures colluded with Moscow.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the meeting was not inappropriate and objected to ongoing suspicions of campaign operatives colluding with Russians.

“There was absolutely no collusion,” she said. “They had a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up.”

The younger Mr. Trump was covering his bases Monday, hiring a private lawyer — Alan Futerfas of New York — to represent him in matters related to the Russia probe, according to the attorney and the younger Mr. Trump’s office.

The president’s son has said in a statement that he didn’t know beforehand whom he would be meeting on June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower.

However, The New York Times reported Monday night that Mr. Trump had been informed in an email from Rob Goldstone, who helped broker the meeting, that the material on Mrs. Clinton grew out of official efforts by the Russian government to aid the Trump campaign.

The Times cited “three people with knowledge of the email,” though the message was only described to the reporters and not quoted directly in the article.

Regardless of whether the candidate’s son knew, Ms. Veselnitskaya was certainly known to U.S. officials.

As a Moscow-based lawyer, she has represented state-owned Russian businesses and the son of a senior Russian rail official, whose company was among those accused by the Justice Department of laundering $230 million in fraudulently obtained tax refunds from the Russian government.

She also has played a significant role in a Russian public relations offensive against the Magnitsky Act, named for Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was arrested and died in a Russian prison after he discovered massive fraud by corrupt Russian officials.

The 2012 law lets U.S. officials withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russians suspected of human rights abuses.

The younger Mr. Trump said Ms. Veselnitskaya pursued the meeting claiming to have information that “individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee” and supporting Mrs. Clinton. But she offered no details.

“She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act,” the younger Mr. Trump has said in a statement. “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.”

Just four days after the meeting at Trump Tower, the Newseum in Washington hosted a screening of the film “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes.”

Postings on Ms. Veselnitskaya’s Facebook page indicate she attended the screening. Previous news reports have described her as a tireless supporter of the film who provided testimony and records for use in the project.

The film makes claims about Magnitsky and the U.S.-born British investor who employed him, William Browder, that have been disputed.

The Magnitsky Act has been a point of contention for Mr. Putin for years. To protest the law, Moscow banned the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

Ms. Veselnitskaya’s opposition to the Magnitsky Act had put her on investigators’ radar.

She represented Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of a Cyprus-based investment company called Prevezon Holdings and the son of a senior official with the state-owned Russian Railways. The Justice Department opened a case in 2013 to seize the U.S. assets of Prevezon Holdings, alleging that the company helped launder the money tied to a $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Magnitsky.

In 2015, as the case progressed, Ms. Veselnitskaya was among a group of Russians who submitted reimbursement requests for more than $50,000 in hotel bills and meal expenses as part of the investigation.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a letter with a federal judge calling the charges into question.

“These claimed expenses also include multiple expensive meals, such as a $793.29 dinner for five individuals (although, again, only three witnesses were deposed), which included eighteen dishes, eight grappas, and two expensive bottles of wine,” Mr. Bharara wrote.

He noted that expenses also included a two-night stay for Ms. Veselnitskaya at the Plaza Hotel, which cost $995 per night, even though she “was not deposed and did not even attend the depositions in person.”

Mr. Bharara added that Ms. Veselnitskaya had been staying at a less-expensive hotel but moved to the Plaza after the depositions concluded and it was stated in court that the government would reimburse expenses that the defendants incurred during their four-day stay in New York.

In January 2016, Ms. Veselnitskaya filed a letter with the court claiming she had been denied a visa but obtained a “parole letter” that allowed her to travel to the U.S. to help defend her client. The parole letter was not extended in January and was set to expire when she wrote to the court explaining how it would be problematic for her client’s defense.

She also mentioned that she was harassed by the government and detained and strip-searched at Heathrow Airport in London while traveling to the U.S. in 2015.

It was unclear what Ms. Veselnitskaya’s visa status was when she traveled again to the U.S. in June 2016 and met with the younger Mr. Trump.

A month after the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya was named in a letter sent to the Justice Department asking whether some of those involved in opposing the Magnitsky Act should have registered as lobbyists or under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

The complaint was filed by Mr. Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management — the firm Magnitsky worked for.

Mr. Browder wrote that Ms. Veselnitskaya had been involved in lobbying efforts undertaken by Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, which supports overturning the Russian adoption ban put into place in reaction to the Magnitsky Act, and has “played a key role in organizing screenings of the film intended to rewrite the history of Sergei Magnitsky” yet has not registered under Foreign Agent Registration Act.

In March, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked the Justice Department to provide an update on any actions taken to enforce the act’s requirements in regard to Mr. Browder’s complaint. The department responded in May, saying if there was an inquiry, it would be secret.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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