When Trump Jr. took his now-infamous meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya he was promised "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." That said, Trump Jr. has since described Veselnitskaya's 'damaging information' as nothing more than "inane nonsense."
So what "information" was Veselnitskaya peddling that could be used as a political weapon in the 2016 presidential election?
According to a note from Bloomberg this morning, the answer to that question is a very sordid tale that involves Hermitage Capital, Ziff Brothers Investments, The Clinton Global Initiative, a decade-old story on an international tax evasion scandal and a new film Veselnitskaya had been eagerly promoting called “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes”...all of which probably helps explain why a British publicist was involved in setting up the original meeting, why Trump Jr. was confused by Veselnitskaya's "inane nonsense" and why Jared Kushner decided to leave the meeting after 5-10 minutes.
Where do we start? Veselnitskaya's story focuses on William Browder, a fund manager at Hermitage Capital, and his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
On a side note, if that Magnitsky name sounds familiar it's because he's the person behind the "Magnitsky Act" which resulted in a U.S. law that branded 18 Russians as human-rights abusers. Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison after uncovering what he said was a tax fraud that diverted $230 million from Russian taxpayers into the pockets of a handful of civil servants. The 2012 law angered the Kremlin, which then prohibited most adoptions from Russia to the U.S., chilling relations between Washington and Moscow.
So how did Veselnitskaya come to focus on Hermitage and Ziff? Bloomberg explains:
Veselnitskaya’s apparent interest in Browder and Hermitage picked up a decade-old thread. Browder, who was pressing for greater transparency in Russia’s financial sector, was kicked out of the country in 2005. Russian officials accused him and his lawyer, Magnitsky, of tax evasion and put them on trial -- Browder in absentia, and Magnitsky after his death. Browder was convicted of tax fraud in 2013.
Just weeks before the Trump Tower meeting, Russia’s general prosecutor had returned to the matter. On May 19, 2016, the office issued a statement that its investigation into purchases of shares in gas giant Gazprom by Browder’s Hermitage Fund and his investors, including Ziff Brothers, had found they evaded more than 1 billion rubles ($16 million) in Russian taxes, transferring the profits to Ziff-controlled companies overseas. Russian prosecutors said they suspected the transactions also may have violated U.S. law and that they planned to send an international-assistance request to the U.S. seeking a probe.
Veselnitskaya repeated those allegations in comments to the Russian press about the Magnitsky case at the time.
On June 4, 2017, Yuri Chaika, Russia’s general prosecutor, said on national television that his agency “has presented serious evidence of violations of the law by Browder and the Ziff brothers” to U.S. officials. There’s no indication of any U.S. response to that claim.
And the connection to the Clinton Global Initiative? Apparently Browder’s firm, Hermitage Capital, is listed as a contributor of $10,000 to $25,000 because he paid to attend a CGI conference about a decade ago and Ziff Brothers’ Daniel Ziff is recorded as contributing $50,000 to $100,000 to CGI.
So why did Veselnitskaya care? Apparently it all relates back to her efforts to roll-back the Magnitsky Act.
She’s also traveled to the U.S. in a matter related to the Magnitsky affair -- her only case outside of Russia, she has said. She represented Denis Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon Holdings Ltd., an investment company based in Cyprus accused by the U.S. of laundering gains from the alleged tax fraud against the Hermitage Fund into New York real estate. Prevezon settled the case for $5.9 million in May, while admitting no wrongdoing.
Days after the Trump Tower meeting, she appeared in Washington, D.C., for the screening of the film, “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes,” at the Newseum. The movie’s premise is that Browder himself was behind the fraud, and it attempts to cast doubts on whether Magnitsky was tortured to death.
Afterward, Veselnitskaya told Sputnik News that she had filed a report with Congress, claiming that Browder had duped Congress into adopting the Magnitsky Act, which placed financial and travel sanctions on individuals associated with the alleged tax fraud.
Confused yet? Perhaps the only thing we 'understand' about this story with any level of real clarity is Jared Kushner's seemingly logical decision to leave the meeting with Veselnitskaya after only 5-10 minutes.