Lynch distances herself from Russian lawyer after Trump attack

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday distanced herself from the Russian lawyer that gained entry into the U.S. before landing a meeting with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump visits Virginia golf club Dem rep: Kushner ‘lied’, should be investigated Meet Trump's new communications director MORE Jr. during the 2016 presidential race.

At a press conference in France earlier Thursday, President Trump blamed the Obama administration and Lynch’s Justice Department for allowing Natalia Veselnitskaya into the country.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lynch said the former attorney general “does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel.”

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In his remarks in France, Trump appeared to cite a report in The Hill that the Justice Department issued Veselnitskaya a special immigration waiver so that she could defend her client, a Russian firm, in an asset forfeiture case in New York. 

The U.S. attorney’s office in New York told The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016 after her initial request for a visa had been denied.

Court records show that when Veselnitskaya sought permission to extend her stay, the U.S. attorney at the hearing told the judge that the special visa the Russian lawyer received was part of a “discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances.”

The U.S. attorney described the grant of parole immigration as extremely rare.

“In October the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said to the judge during a hearing on Jan. 6, 2016.

“That's a discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances,” Monteleoni said. “In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify. And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist.”

Lynch’s spokesperson did not address the specifics of that case, but said: “The State Department issues visas, and the Department of Homeland Security oversees entry to the United States at airports.”

Veselnitskaya was granted the special immigration parole for the limited purpose of defending a company owned by a Russian businessman in a Justice Department asset forfeiture case, but later participated in a wide-ranging pro-Russia lobbying campaign.

Over the summer of 2016, Veselnitskaya met with current and former lawmakers from both parties and was spotted in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia.

In June of 2016, Trump Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort took a meeting with Veselnitskaya. A music promoter told Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya had dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSchumer: Dems, not Russia, are to blame for loss to Trump Dem rep: Kushner ‘lied’, should be investigated Scaramucci deleting old tweets to avoid 'distraction' MORE. But Trump Jr. said the Russian lawyer instead pushed for changes to the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russians for human rights violations.

Democrats have seized on the meeting, claiming it as evidence that Trump officials sought to collude with the Russians in the campaign.

“She was here because of Lynch,” Trump said at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Nothing happened from the meeting,” Trump added. “Zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a big deal over something that many people would do.”