The Russian lawyer who penetrated Donald Trump’s inner circle was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstance” before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials, according to court and Justice Department documents and interviews, The Hill reports.
This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa. Later, a series of events between an intermediary for the attorney and the Trump campaign ultimately led to the controversy surrounding the president’s eldest son.
Just five days after meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Moscow attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya showed up in Washington in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia policy, video footage of the hearing shows.
She also engaged in a pro-Russia lobbying campaign and attended an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. where Russian supporters showed a movie that challenged the underpinnings of the U.S. human rights law known as the Magnitysky Act, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin has reviled and tried to reverse.
The Magnitsky Act imposed financial and other sanctions on Russia for alleged human rights violations connected to the death of a Russian lawyer who claimed to uncover fraud during Putin’s reign. Russia retaliated after the law was passed in 2012 by suspending Americans’ ability to adopt Russian children.
At least five congressional staffers and State Department officials attended that movie showing, according to a Foreign Agent Registration Act complaint filed with the Justice Department about Veselnitskaya’s efforts. The Russian lawyer also attended a dinner with the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing Russia policy, Representative Dana Rohrabacher and roughly 20 other guests at a dinner club frequented by Republicans.
“There was a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club here with about 20 people. I think I was the only congressman there. They were talking about the Magnitysky case. But that wasn’t just the topic. There was a lot of other things going on. So I think she was there but I don’t remember any type of conversation with her between us. But I understand she was at the table,” Rohrabacher said
in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday.
Rohrabacher said he believed Veselnitskaya and her U.S. colleagues, which included former Democratic Congressman Ronald Dellums, were lobbying other lawmakers to reverse the Magnitysky Act and restore the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children that Moscow had suspended. “I don’t think this was very heavily lobbied at all compared with the other issues we deal with,” he said.
In an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Veselnitskaya acknowledged her contacts with Donald Trump Jr. and in Washington were part of a lobbying campaign to get members of Congress and American political figures to see “the real circumstances behind the Magnitsky Act.”
That work was a far cry from the narrow reason the U.S. government initially gave for allowing Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in late 2015, according to federal court records. The Moscow lawyer had been turned down for a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully but then was granted special immigration parole by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for the limited purpose of helping a company owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, her client, defend itself against a Justice Department asset forfeiture case in federal court in New York City.
During a court hearing in early January 2016 as Veselnitskaya’s permission to stay in the country was about to expire, federal prosecutors described how rare the grant of parole immigration was as Veselnitskaya pleaded for more time to remain in the United States.
“In October the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole. That’s a discretionary act that the statute allows the Attorney General to do in extraordinary circumstances. 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,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni explained to the judge during a hearing Jan. 6, 2016.
The court record indicates the presiding judge asked the Justice Department to extend Veselnitskaya’s immigration parole another week until he decided motions in the case. There are no other records in the court file indicating what happened with that request or how Veselnitskaya appeared in the country later that spring.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in New York confirmed Wednesday to The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016. Justice Department and State Department officials could not immediately explain how the Russian lawyer was still in the country in June for the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the events in Washington D.C.