The creation and funding of a foundation ostensibly seeking to lax Russia’s ban on U.S. adoption is being examined by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Bloomberg reported Thursday.
Rinat Akhmetshin — a Russian-American lobbyist with ties to Russian intelligence who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting — is a registered lobbyist for the foundation, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative. Another employee at the foundation, Robert Arakelian, has testified in front of Mueller’s team, Bloomberg reported.
The foundation was reportedly part of a larger crusade to roll back a U.S. sanctions program known as the Magnitsky Act. Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who also attended the Trump Tower meeting, was part of that endeavor on behalf of one of her clients, Denys Katsyv, who is listed on the lobbying registration documents for the foundation.
While the lobbying forms say the foundation’s goal was to “restart US adoptions of Russian children,” previous reporting as well as Bloomberg’s latest story suggest that Russia’s adoption policy was a fig leaf to obscure its larger agenda to alter the Magnitsky Act, which was initially enacted in 2012. A broader version, known as Global Magnitsky Act, became law in 2016. The legislation levies targeted sanctions and visa bans on foreign individuals responsible for human rights violations.
Russia banned U.S. adoptions in its country to retaliate against the law, particularly because it was named after an accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009. The law’s supporters say Magnitsky’s was beaten to death by Russian authorities after Magnitsky exposed an alleged money-laundering scheme implicating Kremlin allies, including Katsyv.
Katsyv had retained Veselnitskaya to represent him a money laundering case brought by U.S. government brought against his company Prevezon Holdings LTD. The case was settled without an admission of guilty, but litigation has continued surrounding the enforcement of the settlement. Veselnitskaya, according to CNN, established the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative.
According to the Bloomberg report, Veselnitskaya in January met with Sarah Peterson, who had reached out to the foundation seeking to work on the adoption issue.
“I don’t think adoptions were their primary agenda,” Peterson said of a meeting she held with Akhmetshin in August 2016 about the foundation.
A meeting that Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin and other figures held with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower in June 2016 has become the focal point of the multiple investigations into Russian meddling.
Trump Jr.’s initial statement explaining the meeting — which was reportedly dictated to him by President Trump from Air Force One — claimed that the primary subject discussion was adoptions. Revelations after that initial statement, including emails sent to Trump Jr. setting up the meeting promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, proved the explanation to be misleading. A memo Veselnitskaya reportedly took to the meeting focused on criticizing the Magnitsky Act and rebuking the claims by the law’s champion, Bill Browder, who had hired Magnitsky to investigate his Russian business dealings.
Browder would go on to be a key witness in the Prevezon case.
“They were trying to get in touch with anybody who had any power,” Browder told TPM in July, about Veselnitskaya’s outreach to the Trump campaign. “I’m sure they’d have tried to contact the Clinton campaign if they thought they would help.”