National Security

Russian lawyer’s email points to sanctions as focus of Trump Tower meeting, not Clinton

A newly disclosed email sent by the Russian lawyer who attended a now-infamous meeting with senior Trump campaign officials appears to suggest that she believed it had little to do with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The email could bolster the lawyer’s claim that she attended the meeting at Trump Tower to discuss a 2012 sanctions law passed in response to human rights violations and loathed by the Kremlin. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has claimed repeatedly in interviews that the Magnitsky Act was the focus of the meeting.

The note, written the morning of the 2016 meeting, was sent to the music promoter who arranged the session attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and others.

In it, she asks the intermediary if she can bring a “lobbyist and trusted associate.”

The lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, “is working to advance these issues with several congressmen,” she wrote. “He has invaluable knowledge about the positions held by the members of the Foreign Relations Committee that will be important to our discussion.”

Both Akhmetshin and her translator, Anatoli Samochornov, had signed nondisclosure agreements, Veselnitskaya said.

Scott Balber, an attorney for a Russian billionaire who helped arrange the meeting for Veselnitskaya, provided the email to The Hill and others. The billionaire, Aras Agalarov, hosted President Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. 

The newly disclosed document contradicts the version of events shown in email exchanges between music promoter Rob Goldstone, who represents Agalarov’s son, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Trump Jr.

In those emails, released by Trump Jr. this summer, Goldstone says that he is bringing a Russian government lawyer to the meeting who could provide political dirt on Clinton.

Veselnitskaya had information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote.

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he wrote.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.

The new email does not provide any conclusive evidence about why Trump Jr. accepted the meeting. But it does offer some clues about how some of the participants plan to argue that the meeting was not an act of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

Balber, the lawyer who provided the email, suggested to CNN that Goldstone “probably exaggerated and maybe willfully contorted the facts for the purpose of making the meeting interesting to the Trump people.”

“The documents and what she told me are consistent with my client’s understanding of the purpose of the meeting which was from the beginning and at all times thereafter about her efforts to launch a legislative review of the Magnitsky Act,” Balber said.

Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, has said that the meeting centered on adoptions and was a waste of his time. The campaign never followed up with Veselnitskaya after the meeting, the White House said. Those at the top of the campaign say they never heard about the meeting because it was inconsequential.

Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that there is nothing to show that the meeting was not about U.S. adoptions of Russian children, banned by Moscow in retaliation for the human rights sanctions Akhmetshin lobbied against.

But the meeting has become a meteoric flashpoint in the roiling controversy over the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Democrats say that Trump Jr.’s willingness to accept opposition research portrayed as part of Russia’s support for the president shows a clear intent to collude with the Russian government. The president has fiercely defended his son, insisting that the meeting was mere “politics.”

Veselnitskaya was known to be actively working for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act at the time, along with Akhmetshin. Akhmetshin has been accused of having links to Russian intelligence. He denies any ties to the Russian government.

Veselnitskaya was invited to testify at a June 2016 hearing on the matter by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who often defends Russia. But her testimony was ultimately sunk due to opposition from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), according to The Washington Post.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Hillary Clinton Jared Kushner Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections

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