I’ll say this again, so nobody gets confused:
It looks very much like we are beset by Russian entanglements on every side. The latest revelations about the Obama administration and the Clinton Foundation’s Russian shenanigans does not vindicate the Trump team. And yes, it is very possible that the Kremlin sought to play both sides to their advantage. Why wouldn’t they?
A report with the New York Times today is saying that there was more to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., several members of the Trump campaign team, and a Kremlin-connected attorney, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, was more calculated than originally reported.
Donald Trump Jr. was first approached about the meeting and set it up, on the promise that he’d be getting information from the Russian government that would sink Hillary Clinton.
There may have been more to it.
But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.
The coordination between the Trump Tower visitor and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts Ms. Veselnitskaya’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman. It also suggests that emails from an intermediary to the younger Mr. Trump promising that Ms. Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were rooted at least partly in fact — not mere “puffery,” as the president’s son later said.
The information in the memo did have to do with Democrat donors, basically accusing them of tax evasion and financial fraud. It has been a topic that the Russian government has been eager to exploit, even to the point of President Vladimir Putin repeating the charges at a conference a week ago.
Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, suggests that the message delivered by Veselnitskaya, and the message coming from the Kremlin is so similar that it points to a message coordinated from the top.
The memo that Ms. Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting alleged that Ziff Brothers Investments, an American firm, had illegally purchased shares in a Russian company and evaded tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes. The company was the financial vehicle of three billionaire brothers, two of them major donors to Democratic candidates including Mrs. Clinton. By implication, Ms. Veselnitskaya, said, those political contributions were tainted by “stolen” money.
Kremlin officials viewed the charges as extremely significant. The Ziff brothers had invested in funds managed by William F. Browder, an American-born financier and fierce Kremlin foe. Mr. Browder was the driving force behind a 2012 law passed by Congress imposing sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.
The law, known as the Magnitsky Act, froze Western bank accounts of officials on the sanctions list – including Mr. Chaika’s deputy — and banned them from entering the United States. It was named after Sergei L.Magnitsky, a tax lawyer who had worked for Mr. Browder and who died in a Moscow jail after exposing a massive fraud scheme involving Russian officials.
Putin has accused the American government of ignoring Browder and the Ziff Brothers, mainly because they were major donors to Democrats.
As a former prosecutor for the Moscow regional government, Veselnitskaya has traveled to the U.S. quite a bit, in order to lobby against the Magnitsky Act.
While investigating Mr. Browder and his investors, Ms. Veselnitskaya unearthed what she considered evidence of a financial and tax fraud scheme. In October 2015, she took her findings about Mr. Browder and the Ziff brothers directly to Mr. Chaika, Russia’s top prosecutor and a man whom she has said she knows personally.
Mr. Chaika was highly pleased with her report, according to a former colleague of Ms. Veselnitskaya who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.
In April 2016, Ms. Veselnitskaya teamed with Mr. Chaika’s office to pass the accusations to an American congressional delegation visiting Moscow. An official with the Russian prosecutor general’s office gave a memo detailing the charges — stamped “confidential”— to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is considered to be one of the most pro-Russia lawmakers in Congress and who heads a subcommittee that helps oversee U.S. policy toward Russia.
Rohrabacher. Of course.
Ms. Veselnitskaya handed a nearly identical memo to Representative French Hill, Republican of Arkansas. She has said she also met with Mr. Rohrabacher then, although he said that he does not recall the encounter.
The next month, Mr. Chaika’s office described the alleged scheme on prosecutor general’s website.
It was Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch, with connections to the Trump family that helped set up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, along with publicist, Rob Goldstone.
In emails to Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Goldstone wrote that a Russian prosecutor — an apparent reference to Mr. Chaika — had met with Mr. Agalarov and wanted to offer the Trump campaign official documents that would incriminate Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Goldstone described the proposed meeting as part of the Russian government’s effort to help Mr. Trump’s candidacy, and said a “government lawyer” would fly to New York to deliver the documents.
The documents brought by Veselnitskaya resembled the same documents given to Rohrabacher, with some of the wording exact.
She has tried to blow off her involvement as being just a “whistle blower,” but others aren’t so sure.
Russian elites have been known to mount independent initiatives to curry favor with the Kremlin. But a number of well-known Russian analysts called it inconceivable that Ms. Veselnitskaya would have bypassed her own government to deliver what are now unmistakably official allegations to an American presidential campaign.
Said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, the president of the Fund for Effective Politics, a Moscow research institute: “She had guidance.”
She did, but why?