Trump Campaign Meeting With Russian Lawyer Links Collusion And Money Laundering

The revelation from the NY Times today about a meeting between a Russia-linked lawyer and senior members of the Trump campaign and members of the Trump family finally ties together the two strands of Trump’s involvement with the Russians, providing money-laundering opportunities to sustain the Trump real estate effort and collusion with the Russians during the campaign.

The report details a meeting just two weeks after Trump’s nomination between Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskay, a lawyer linked to Russian intelligence who has led the fight against the Magnitsky Act, a US law that targets Russian human rights abusers. The law is named after a Russian lawyer who exposed a $230 million money laundering scheme in which oligarchs backed by Putin stole tax credits from a hedge fund run by an American in Russia and laundered that money through New York real estate transactions and banks. Magnitsky later died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison, which is a euphemistic way of saying that Putin had him killed.

Don, Jr. claims that the meeting covered the issue of adoption of Russian babies which had been blocked by Putin in response to Magnitsky Act and that he was not aware of who he was meeting and what the agenda would be when the meeting was set up. He, did, however ask Kushner and Manafort to sit in on the meeting with him. That seems like an interesting choice considering he was so in the dark about the meetings details and his claims that no campaign issues were discussed. The explanation clearly does not pass the laugh test. Later today, Trump Jr. “updated” his explanation, saying that Ms. Veselnitskay originally offered to provide damaging information on Clinton and the Democrats in order to entice him to the meeting. When it became clear she had no real information about that, the conversation then turned to the Russian adoption issue. This actually makes the meeting even worse.

The lawyers for Don, Jr. put forward an even more pathetic excuse, implying that the meeting was a setup by opposition researchers because Ms. Veselnitskay employs an investigator associated with a firm who also employed Christopher Steele, the man who put together the “Russian dossier” that contained numerous allegations of contacts between Trump and the Russians. Of course, that dossier was requested and paid for by a wealthy Republican donor/donors who would not have been able to stop Trump after his nomination, making this excuse for the meeting even less plausible than Don Jr.’s.

It is also worth mentioning that, even after Trump’s bump in the polls after his convention, it was largely expected that Clinton would still win the election. That raises the question of why Ms. Veselnitskay would waste her time meeting with Trump, Jr. about adoptions and why Kushner and Manafort would be in such a meeting as well. On the other hand, it would make sense if the meeting was about issues more wide ranging than adoptions…

Interestingly, Ms. Veselnitskay also represented the head of the Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus based real estate firm owned by a Russian oligarch. Prevezon was under indictment in New York for its part in laundering around $2 million of the $230 million in stolen money that the Russian lawyer Magnitsky exposed. That case was all set to go to trial in New York when Preet Bharara was fired in March. But just as the case was to go forward in late May, the government suddenly settled the case with Prevezon with a $6 million fine and no admission of wrongdoing. While some believe that was a fair settlement, even a spokesman for Prevezon’s own attorney described the deal as “too good to refuse.”

By admissions from the Trump family themselves, we know the Trump Organization has used Russian money to finance its real estate business for years, probably ever since the early 2000s when every reputable bank, except Deutsche Bank, stopped providing financing after Trump’s multiple bankruptcies. So Trump and his team were clearly comfortable working with the Russians well before his nomination. There would be no reason to think that they would stop working with them after that, especially when their interests were also so firmly aligned when it came to the election.

This meeting, especially with the presence of Kushner and Manafort, finally connects those two elements of Trump’s connections with the Russians, using money-laundered Russian money to support the business and working with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. It is interesting that Trump Jr.’s explanation has come out right after Trump’s over two hour meeting with Putin, although it’s possible he gave his comment to the Times before that event. A cynical mind like mine might think that Trump and Putin were getting their stories straight by meeting without note takers or the NSA. It does seem clear, however, that the Prevezon case is at least part the “pro quo”, although quite probably just a small part. The evidence keeps growing that colluding with the Russians in hacking our election was the “quid”.

Originally published at on July 9, 2017.