Last night's Trump regime/Russia bombshell (so many these days) comes from Jenna McLaughlin at Foreign Policy magazine, reporting the same Russian lawyer that Donald Trump Jr. met with in June 2016, Natalie Veselnitskaya, was the central figure in a huge Russian money laundering case that Attorney General Jeff Sessions suddenly settled after Trump fired the lead US Attorney prosecuting the case: one Mr. Preet Bharara.
Democratic congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee want to know why Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly settled a money laundering case in May involving the same Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the presidential election to offer “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.
The forfeiture case was heralded at the time as “a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said. “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”
But Instead of proceeding with the trial as scheduled, the Trump Justice Department settled the case two days before it was due to begin. By then, Bharara had already been axed by the president. Bharara’s assistant did not immediately respond to request for comment.
“We write with some concern that two events may be connected—and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts,” wrote 17 Democratic Congressmen on the House judiciary panel in a letter to Sessions on Wednesday.
The Russian attorney who uncovered the tax fraud scheme, Sergei Magnitsky, mysteriously died in prison. As a result, U.S. lawmakers passed the Magnitsky Act, which levied sanctions on Russian officials—sanctions that Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney, worked to reverse.
This is so ridiculously quid pro quo that it's approaching cartoonish, but there you are.
A credible theory at this point is this: Preet Bharara was bringing a massive federal money laundering case against US companies working with Russian firms. The probability that the Trump regime was directly involved in that case through its corporate entities is approaching like 99.999%, and the trial would have almost certainly publicly revealed not only the relationship between Trump's businesses and Russian money laundering but also the relationship between Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. Ergo, Trump fired Bharara and Jeff Sessions settled the case to make it go away.
I really hope the Dems on the committee can crack this wide open, but it's painfully obvious when you look at the rest of the evidence what happened here. Trump knew it, Sessions knew it, so Bharara had to go.
The money laundering side of the Russia/Trump story was always going to be the most criminal and most damaging, and it's where Trump and Sessions have taken the most action to cover themselves. The Trumpies can deploy smokescreens on the collusion angle and make arguments all day about "being unpatriotic isn't treason" but there's not a whole lot they could do to polish the turd of "Trump helped Russians spend Moscow mobster money to buy Manhattan real estate and got a cut."
Ahh, dear reader, but there's more from this morning after the jump...
And that, all that, brings us to this morning's Trump/Russia bombshell. Speaking of that Donald Jr. meeting...
The Russian lawyer who met with the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.
NBC News is not naming the lobbyist, who denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
The Russian-born American lobbyist served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship.
Veselnitskaya acknowledged to NBC News that she was accompanied by at least one other man, though she declined to identify him.
I'll name him. The person NBC News is describing has to be Rinat Akmetshin, who is also a "lobbyist" working with Natalie Veselnitskaya.
Veselnitskaya had been accused of lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of the foundation before. The foundation had just two registered lobbyists, one of whom, Rinat Akhmetshin, had worked for Russian counterintelligence. And the foundation wasn’t asking for the reinstatement of an adoption program; it was, at least by implication, offering it. The group sought the alteration of a U.S. sanctions program that was about to become law, the Global Magnitsky Act, which was named after a dead Russian whistleblower. The original Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2012, had annoyed Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that he banned American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation; the expanded version had him enraged.
“What’s happening around the time of her meeting with Don, Jr. is the most serious-resourced and aggressive counterattack ever that the Kremlin has mounted on the Magnitsky Act,” one congressional aide told TPM. “They have learned over the years in their attempts to fight and derail this and they have gotten better at it. They’ve involved less ham-handed folks, and less people who might be out of central casting.”
In his 2007 book “The Oil and the Glory,” journalist Steve LeVine describes the charming “English-speaking former Soviet Army counterintelligence officer” Akhmetshin as he appeared in 1999, when he went to work lobbying Washington on behalf of crusading Kazakh politician Akezhan Kazhegeldin. “The stylish Akhmetshin looked harmless enough, with his designer spectacles and fresh, youthful face,” LeVine wrote.
Akhmetshin, who has said repeatedly that he no longer works for Russian intelligence, did not return multiple calls to a number listed under his name in Washington, D.C. But even as a beltway freelancer, Akhmetshin has been involved in Russian and Eastern Bloc politics for two decades, so the now-notorious Magnitsky affair is firmly in his wheelhouse.
Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblowing accountant who died in prison in 2009, apparently after being severely beaten, had become a cause célèbre after Chicago-born millionaire William Browder, who had retained Magnitsky’s firm to investigate irregularities in his Russian businesses, publicized the conditions of his death. Magnitsky had been imprisoned after he exposed the alleged money-laundering scheme in which Katsyv was implicated while working for Browder. Browder, an investment banker with significant Russian holdings, had become a key witness for then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s prosecution of Katsyv and Prevezon, which the government settled at the end of May, less than a week before jury selection was to begin.
And so it goes. The odds of this all being just a massive coincidence and not a Kremlin operation is about the same as me winning the next Powerball drawing without buying a ticket. And both these Russians are into this operation up to their eyeballs.
Vesilnitskaya represents HRAGI, which has reported lobbying Congress on issues pertaining to a ban on the adoption of Russian children by American families. In a very broad sense that is accurate—the ban was imposed by President Vladimir Putin as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act—but Browder says the group’s primary goals are to rescind sanctions and discredit those, like Browder, pressing for their preservation.
Among HRAGI’s lobbyists is Rinat Akhmetshin, who has described himself as a former Russian counterintelligence officer, but said he is no longer in the government’s employ. HRAGI removed Akhmetshin from its roster of lobbyists on May 8, five days before the Justice Department settled a long-running corruption case against a Russian company called Prevezon Holdings. Prevezon’s owner is an HRAGI lobbying client. Veselnitskaya is his lawyer.
HRAGI’s other clients include Vladimir Lelyukh, a top executive at Sberbank Capital, a subsidiary of the state-owned Russian bank involved in the real estate, energy, transportation, and automotive sectors. Sberbank Capital’s CEO, Ashot Khachaturyants, is a former senior official in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and its Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
State-owned Russian financial institutions are common conduits for surreptitious intelligence work in the country. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has faced scrutiny over a January meeting a top executive at another bank with ties to Russian intelligence, Moscow-based Vnesheconombank.
All of this goes back to the Russian money laundering as cover for Russian espionage. Veselnitskaya and Akmetshin are Russian spies, they met with Trump's son, and the missions was to provide Russian intel to damage the Clinton campaign.
And now, Donald Junior has been caught in yet another lie as Akmetshin was also present at the meeting. At every point when the Trump regime says something, they're lying by omission on some aspect of it.
It just keeps getting more blatant.