Russian Lawyer At Trump Tower Meeting Charged For Obstruction Of Justice

YURY MARTYANOV/AFP

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who attended the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump’s inner circle, was charged last month with obstruction of justice, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Veselnitskaya allegedly filed a fraudulent statement in a closely watched case that’s technically separate from the ongoing probe into Russia’s 2016 election meddling, but which involves some of the same players.

Prosecutors accuse Veselnitskaya of lying about her cooperation with a “senior Russian prosecutor” in drafting “supposed investigative findings” for an asset forfeiture case in New York federal court.

That case — U.S. v. Prevezon Holdings — was the first case brought under the 2012 Magnitsky Act.

Veselnitskaya first came to public attention as the Russian national present at June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, where the attendees had been promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. This indictment appears unrelated to that and was handed down by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York.

The indictment accuses Veselnitskaya of secretly collaborating on the drafting of a legal assistance response U.S. prosecutors sought from the Russian government as part of the Prevezon case. That case saw Manhattan federal prosecutors accuse Prevezon Holding — a Cypriot company with Russian ownership — of laundering money generated from a Russian tax fraud scheme. The case was settled in 2017, with Prevezon paying a $5.9 million fine without admitting any wrongdoing.

While Veselnitskaya’s alleged role in drafting the response itself is not charged as a violation of law, prosecutors say she lied in a November 2015 declaration that she filed in the case by citing the Russian legal assistance reply without disclosing her own involvement in its creation.

The response the U.S. received from Russia claimed to be the findings “from a Russian government investigation,” according to the indictment, and it “purported to exonerate all Russian government personnel” of the fraud from which the alleged Prevezon money laundering stemmed. The response “purported to accuse” deceased Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky of involvement in the fraud. Magnitsky — the namesake for the U.S. law — died in Russian prison after reportedly investigating tax fraud that affected a company belonging to financier William Browder.

Prosecutors say that Veselnitskaya sent tracked changes of the legal assistance reply to Russian prosecutors as Moscow was preparing to respond to the U.S. request. Veselnitskaya’s alleged additions purportedly include “approximately 29 paragraphs describing the supposed actions of [Browder], Magnitsky,” and others.

TPM called a number listed for Veselnitskaya at a Russian law firm. A man who picked up the phone declined to be identified, and said that she had a day off today and declined to comment further.

The Russian response appears to have accused Browder himself of perpetrating the fraud. Yet, the U.S. government pushed back on that characterization.

Without naming Browder, the indictment states that “CEO-1 had participated in publicizing the Russian Treasury Fraud and in lobbying the U.S. Government to pass a law imposing sanctions on persons involved in the prosecution and custodial treatment of Magnitsky.”

Browder went on to push for the passage of two laws: the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which penalized the Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s case; and the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities for human rights abuses.

The indictment goes on to allege that Prevezon repeated Veselnitskaya’s claims in their own court filings in the case.

Veselnitskaya was also working with another entity involved in the Trump-Russia saga on the Prevezon case — Fusion GPS, a D.C.-based private intelligence firm that gained notoriety for commissioning the Steele dossier. That report — prepared by a former British intelligence officer — purported to detail collusion between Russian officials and senior members of the Trump campaign in the run up to the 2016 presidential election.

Both Fusion and Veselnitskaya were working for Prevezon in the New York case.

While the Prevezon case has been closely watched, Veselnitskaya became a nationally known figure after the revelation in July 2017 the Trump’s family and campaign chairman attended the meeting with her and other Russian figures as the general election was heating. In a written questionnaire submitted to a Senate committee in 2017, she claimed that Trump Jr. asked her for evidence of illegal conduct by the Clinton Foundation, but Veselnitskaya said in the questionnaire that she had no such evidence.

She said in the questionnaire that she attended the meeting to lobby for a re-examination of the Magnitsky Act.

Read the indictment below:

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