Shortly before his father was formally nominated for president last summer, Donald Trump Jr. was approached by a Russian lawyer who set up a meeting to discuss a Russian policy, according to interviews with Trump family lawyers.
President Trump’s eldest son briefly gathered others for the meeting, including his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, aswell as then-presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort for the meeting at Trump Tower in New York City with the lawyer, identified by Trump family lawyers as Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Veselnitskaya used the meeting in June 2016 to have a conversation about a U.S. law called the Magnitsky Act that Russia leader Vladimir Putin reviles and has retaliated against by blocking U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
The encounter was short and the Trump team had no further contact with the woman or the policy issue, lawyers said.
The meeting was recently disclosed to congressional investigators by one of the attendees, according to sources directly familiar with the disclosure.
President Trump was not aware of the meeting and did not attend it, according to the lawyers. A translator and an American businessman working for a pro-Russian business lobby also attended the meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes, according to the interviews.
The president’s legal team said Saturday they believe the entire meeting may have been part of a larger election-year opposition effort aimed at creating the appearance of improper connections between Trump family members and Russia that also included a now-discredited intelligence dossier produced by a former British intelligence agent named Christopher Steele who worked for a U.S. political firm known as Fusion GPS.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team. “Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the President and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier. "
"These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” Corallo said.
Veselnitskaya is identified in court documents as a former Russian prosecutor and private lawyer in Moscow who had been representing the Russian businessman Denis Katsyv and his Prevezon Holdings, against a U.S. Department of Justice a civil asset forfeiture case. In one document, she described having trouble getting a visa from the U.S.
The Justice Department alleges Prevezon received money from a money-laundering scheme in Russia that was uncovered by a Russian attorney and auditor named Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky became a cause celeb in the United States after he claimed in 2008 to uncover a major international money laundering scheme centered in Russia. He was imprisoned by Putin, reportedly tortured and died in in 2009 in a Moscow prison, then tried and convicted posthumously by the Russian government in 2011.
But in 2012 the U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a law in his honor, the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russian officials alleged to be responsible for the lawyer’s death by keeping them from entering the United States or using the American banking banking system.
It is that law that has been reviled by Putin and his allies in Russia and which came up in the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr., according to the lawyers..
The Prevezon case that Veselnitskaya worked on was filed by the Justice Department in 2013 and dragged on for four years before it was settled this May. Prevezon paid about $6 million but did not admit wrongdoing.
The connection drawn by the president’s lawyers between Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS comes from a letter this spring by the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley, who disclosed that Fusion GPS also provided litigation support in the Prevezon case.
Prevezon also apparently lobbied against the Magnitsky Act, according to Grassley's letter.
"Prevezon’s lobbying efforts were reportedly commissioned by Mr. Katsyv, who organized them through a Delaware non-profit he formed and through the law firm then representing Prevezon in the asset forfeiture case, Baker Hostetler. Among others, the efforts involved lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Fusion GPS, a political research firm led by Glenn Simpson," the letter said.
Grassley has asked the Justice Department to look at all the connections and is seeking information from Fusion GPS on whether opponents of Trump funded the creation of a salacious intelligence dossier to hurt his presidential bid. The FBI has said it has been unable to corroborate many of the allegations in the dossier that involved Trump.