Russian lawyer who attended Trump Tower meeting charged in separate probe

A Russian lawyer who attended a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Trump campaign officials has been charged with attempting to stop a federal investigation into money laundering.

In the 19-page filing unsealed Tuesday, federal prosecutors accuse Natalia Veselnitskaya of obstructing justice by intentionally trying to stop a Justice Department civil fraud probe that involved a Russian businessman and his investment firm who she was representing.

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While the case does not appear to have direct ties to the Trump Tower meeting, the allegations laid out in the indictment nevertheless paint a portrait of an individual with close ties to the Russian government.

Prosecutors said the U.S. government had asked the Russian government to assist with the investigation, but it refused, sending back a response letter that purported to exonerate the Russian officials and the investment company's personnel.

U.S. prosecutors say Veselnitskaya not only lied about having access to versions of the Russian government's response in submissions to the court, but that she helped draft and edit the response.

“In truth and in fact, and as VESELNITSKAYA well knew but concealed from the Court, VESELNITSKAYA, a member of the defense team in the Prevezon Action, had participated in drafting those supposed independent investigative findings in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor,” the indictment says.

“In so doing, VESELNITSKAYA obstructed the civil proceeding in the Prevezon Action then pending in this District.”

Prosecutors argued that the response was used to stop the U.S. government from outright winning its case against the businessmen and investment firm in federal district court, noting that the defendants’ U.S. counsel referred to it several times in the litigation.

The fraud investigation abruptly came to an end in 2017 when federal prosecutors in New York revealed they had settled with Prevezon Holdings Ltd. — a company accused of using laundered money to purchase $230 million in luxury New York City real estate — for $5.9 million. The development came shortly before the case was supposed to go to trial, raising questions as to why it had been quickly settled.

The alleged fraud scheme was first exposed by Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 and whose name has been lent to a U.S. law meant to punish those who engage in human rights abuses. Veselnitskaya has been tied to efforts to lobby U.S. lawmakers in an effort to overturn the law, known as the Magnitsky Act.

Veselnitskaya is believed to be in Russia. She is likely to remain out of reach of U.S. officials, as Washington does not have an extradition agreement with Moscow.

Magistrate Judge Katharine Parker, who sits on the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the indictment that was filed on Dec. 20 to be unsealed on Tuesday. Prosecutors gave no sign that they expect Veselnitskaya to face charges in the U.S.

Veselnitskaya was thrust into the public spotlight in 2017 when it was revealed that she met with Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTrump Jr. slams 2020 Dems as 'more concerned' about rights of murderers than legal gun owners It is wrong to say 'no collusion' Nadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump claims Mueller didn't speak to those 'closest' to him It is wrong to say 'no collusion' The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? MORE and Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPoll: Nearly half of Republicans say no one on Trump campaign committed a crime It is wrong to say 'no collusion' The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? MORE at Trump Tower in June 2016, shortly before the Republican National Convention where President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE was declared the GOP presidential nominee.

Emails revealed that Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, agreed to the meeting after being offered damaging information on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump rips Krugman, NYT after columnist writes GOP no longer believes in American values Klobuchar jokes to Cuomo: 'I feel you creeping over my shoulder' but 'not in a Trumpian manner' Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment MORE, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, by a British publicist who helped broker the meeting. Those involved say that the meeting did not bear fruit and that it largely centered on American adoptions of Russian children.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE is expected to be scrutinizing the meeting as part of his investigation into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Lydia Wheeler contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:20 p.m.