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 remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Lieu trolls Trump with 'warning' to foreign powers on office door MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFinancial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Financial disclosure form shows Ivanka Trump earned M from DC Trump hotel Kim Kardashian West joins Trump at White House event for ex-prisoners MORE and Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortNew York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement New York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement House panel subpoenas Flynn, Gates MORE at Trump Tower in June 2016, shortly before the Republican National Convention where President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment 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 ClintonDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally 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 MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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.