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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Friday, December 15, 2017

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Trump Tower meeting: Anti-Russia hysteria or a clever plan?

The law froze Western bank accounts

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WASHINGTON, U.S. - Even though an investigation is ongoing into the controversial Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. last year - new details have now emerged.

The Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya has so far claimed that during her meeting with Trump Jr., she was acting as a purely independent actor and that any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia “hysteria.”

She held the meeting with Trump’s son at the Trump Tower in June 2016, after his father won the Republican nomination for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo.

The expose earlier this year came as the first possible piece of evidence of an alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

However, ever since then, Veselnitskaya has repeatedly claimed that the memo she prepared for the meeting was done through her own research as a private lawyer and contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and Trump’s presidential rival Hillary Clinton.  

However, now, interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika.

Further, it has also emerged that the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.

The coordination between Veselnitskaya and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts the lawyer’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she met Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman. 

The new details also suggest that emails from an intermediary to Trump Jr. promising that Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were not mere “puffery,” as Trump’s son has stated.

Last week, Veselnitskaya’s allegations that major Democratic donors were guilty of financial fraud and tax evasion were embraced at the highest levels of the Russian government. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated her charges during at an annual conference of Western academics. 

The fact that the messages were so synchronized have led some Russian experts like Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the nonprofit American Foreign Policy Council in Washington to say that they indicate that Veselnitskaya’s actions “were coordinated from the very top.”

According to reports, this memo that 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 Clinton. 

Veselnitskaya said that by implication, those political contributions were tainted by “stolen” money.

Kremlin officials viewed the charges as extremely significant. 

Reports also revealed that the Ziff brothers had invested in funds managed by William F. Browder, an American-born financier and fierce Kremlin foe. 

In 2012, Browder was the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act - the law that was then passed by Congress imposing sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.

The law froze Western bank accounts of officials on the sanctions list – including Chaika’s deputy.

It banned them from entering the United States. 

Putin told Western academics at a Black Sea resort that American authorities had ignored the allegations against Browder and his investors because the Ziff brothers were major political donors. 

He said, “They protect themselves in this way.”

Browder has stated that the charges were concocted to discredit him and to undermine the Magnitsky Act sanctions.

Veselnitskaya, a former prosecutor for the Moscow regional government, lives and works in Moscow but has traveled frequently to the United States in recent years.

She has lobbied against the Magnitsky Act and unearthed what she considered evidence of a financial and tax fraud scheme while investigating Browder and his investors as part of a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the Justice Department against a Russian firm in New York for which she was the lead defense laywer.

She took her findings about Browder and the Ziff brothers directly to Chaika in October 2015.

The following year, in April 2016, Veselnitskaya reportedly teamed with Chaika’s office to pass the accusations to an American congressional delegation visiting Moscow. 

Reports noted that 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.

Rohrabacher heads a subcommittee that helps oversee U.S. policy toward Russia.

Veselnitskaya handed an almost identical memo to Representative French Hill, Republican of Arkansas. 

In May 2016, Chaika’s office described the alleged scheme on the prosecutor general’s website.

 

It is not known yet how Veselnitskaya ended up at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting to present her findings but she is said to have arrived at the Trump Tower with a memo that closely resembled the document that prosecutors had given to Rohrabacher in Moscow two months earlier. 

Trump Jr. later said, “Some D.N.C. donors may have done something in Russia and they didn’t pay taxes. I was, like, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’”

Last weekend, Veselnitskaya described herself as a whistle-blower who was trying to expose American political corruption.

Speaking to Rossiya 24, the state television network, she said last week, “Of course they don’t like it when somebody says, even in a friendly tone, ‘Guys, what is happening with you at home? Who is in charge of your politics? Who is paying these politicians, and for what?’”

Chaika meanwhile said earlier this week, that Browder and the Ziffs had illegally used “Russian money” to lobby for the sanctions law.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russian efforts to help Trump’s campaign in the elections has delved more deeply into the facts of the Trump Tower meeting.

So far, reports claim that at least one participant at the meeting has already testified before a federal grand jury.

Veselnitskaya has however, declined to be interviewed and released a statement claiming that the The New York Times, which made the expose public, published “lies and false claims.”

 

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