A new indictment unsealed on Tuesday revealed that Natalya Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the heart of the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, worked far closer with Russian higher-ups than previously known.
The indictment was filed in the U.S. Southern District of New York and charges Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice. It detailed how Veselnitskaya worked with the Russian prosecutor’s office to draft language pertaining to a case related to American sanctions on Russia — and how Veselnitskaya then proceeded to lie to American investigators about the collaboration.
The indictment undercut one of the arguments popular among Trump supporters and skeptics of the Russian investigation. Ever since the news broke about Veselnitskaya’s meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort in Trump Tower in 2016, critics have pointed to the fact that Veselnitskaya wasn’t an official member of the Kremlin’s inner circle, and therefore wasn’t necessarily important.
But as the filing shows, Veselnitskaya collaborated directly with the Russian prosecutor’s office in another court case at the heart of that infamous meeting in Trump Tower in 2016.
At that meeting — which Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner attended because they all believed they were going to receive “dirt” from Russia on Hillary Clinton — Veselnitskaya discussed the U.S.’s Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned numerous Russian higher-ups for the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky. Following the U.S. issuing Magnitsky-related sanctions, Russia proceeded to ban American adoptions of Russian children.
Magnitsky had been investigating a $230 million embezzling scheme in Russia, which involved a company called Prevezon Holdings. Veselnitskaya would later represent Prevezon.
In the Trump Tower meeting — in which Trump Jr. harangued Veselnitskaya for information on the Clinton Foundation, according to the Russian lawyer — Veselnitskaya focused primarily on trying to get the Trump campaign to pledge to lift the Magnitsky-related sanctions. The meeting was largely unsuccessful, at least as it pertains to lifting the sanctions.
However, as the new indictment reveals, Veselnitskaya wasn’t some no-name Russian lawyer. Rather, amidst the U.S.’s attempts at tracking down how the $230 million Magnitsky found may have been laundered, Veselnitskaya worked closely with the Russian prosecutor’s office to draft language to try to stymie the investigation.
Veselnitskaya’s collaboration with the Russian prosecutor’s office resulted in the Kremlin throwing up roadblocks against American investigators.
In 2014, per the filing, Washington requested assistance in its investigation into the massive money-laundering operations uncovered by Magnitsky. The request came pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which permits cooperation between Russian and American authorities on certain legal matters.
Moscow, however, denied the request for assistance. Instead, in a narrative the Kremlin has spun elsewhere, Russia claimed that Magnitsky himself was at the heart of the embezzlement — and that Bill Browder, an American for whom Magnitsky worked, also participated in the scheme. (Browder pushed to pass the initial Magnitsky sanctions in 2012, which have since expanded beyond Russia.)
“The main thing that I see here is that she came to the U.S. to try to disrupt the political process by lying about me and lying about Sergei Magnitsky — and she got caught lying in court,” Browder told ThinkProgress. Browder also confirmed that he is the unnamed CEO mentioned in the indictment.
Veselnitskaya denied to American authorities that she had anything to do with crafting Russia’s refusal to help, even claiming in a legal filing that the Russian prosecutor’s office had denied her access to Russia’s MLAT response.
In reality, Veselnitskaya apparently had full access to the entire process of Russia refusing to assist, and even helped edit the refusal directly.
As the indictment reads, Veselnitskaya “in fact had access to drafts of the Russian MLAT Response provided by a representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office.”
Moreover, she “participated in drafting and editing the Russian MLAT Response” — and even communicated directly with the Russian prosecutor via his personal email.
As the indictment notes, in 2015 the Russian prosecutor sent Veselnitskaya a Microsoft Word document “from a personal email account.” The document “appeared to be a draft legal filing made in” Veselnitskaya’s name and addressed to the prosecutor, which means the Russian prosecutor was effectively writing documents on Veselnitskaya’s behalf.
Throughout this, Veselnitskaya was denying in U.S. court that she had any access to or involvement with Russia’s MLAT response.
There are plenty of questions that remain surrounding the new indictment, but the filing has completely deflated one of the few remaining arguments (which Trump himself favors) that the 2016 meeting isn’t worth looking into — or that Veselnitskaya was just an anonymous Russian lawyer, without any Kremlin ties.
“The other big implication of this is that there are no secrets,” Browder said. “Everything is going to come out.”