For some time, it has been apparent that there was a rank odor surrounding a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between several Donald Trump campaign officials and a gaggle of Russians. Among the Russians on hand was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who had promised Donald Trump Jr. that she could give the Trump campaign highly incriminating evidence against Hillary Clinton. But new questions about that meeting surfaced on Friday, when evidence surfaced that suggests Veselnitskaya has a long history of working hand in glove with the Kremlin.
Veselnitskaya claims she was acting in a private capacity when she met with Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and other Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower and told them that two Democratic donors with ties to a Russian dissident engaged in tax and financial fraud. But in October, The New York Times discovered that Veselnitskaya’s claims were a near-carbon copy of those raised in a confidential memo by Russian prosecutor general Yury Chaika–the equivalent of the American Attorney General.
On Thursday, when Dossier, an organization headed by Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released a raft of emails related to the Justice Department’s suit against Russian real estate firm Prevezon Holdings and its owner, Denis Katsyv. In 2014, the Justice Department asked its Kremlin counterparts for Prevezon and Katsyv’s bank, tax and court records.
It turns out that Veselnitskaya, one of the lead members of Katsyv’s defense team, worked closely with Sergei Bochkaryov, a senior prosecutor on the Russian prosecutor general’s staff, to draft the official Kremlin response. In one of the last emails, Veselnitskaya sent to Bochkaryov, she told him that she was sending him “edits in the draft response, as per instructions.” The language in the exchange closely matches the formal response from Chaika’s office, in which the Kremlin railed that Katsyv was innocent.
Richard Engel of NBC News confronted Veselnitskaya with those emails on Friday. Watch here.
An indignant Veselnitskaya demanded to know if Engel was “accusing me of dishonesty.” Um, Natalia Vladmirovna? You told the Senate Judiciary Committee in November that you “operate independently of any governmental bodies.” A month earlier, you told Engel, “I wasn’t an agent for anyone.” Why should we believe you now?
If that wasn’t enough, Vesenitskaya admitted that she had been an “informant” for Chaika’s office since 2013. In other words, Veselnitskaya came to Trump Tower as Chaika’s agent. When Jaimie Nawaday, who helped prosecute the Prevezon case, saw this report, she called for Veselnitskaya to be investigated for “obstruction of justice and false statements.” Nawaday believes Veselnitskaya lied about whom she really represented.
Several panelists on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” saw this as proof the Trump Tower meeting was a criminal act. Watch here.
Georgetown law professor Paul Butler said that we already knew that the Trump Tower meeting was “unethical and un-American.” But he believes Veselnitskaya’s admission that she was “a snitch and an agent of the Russian government” takes this to another level. He believes that Robert Mueller can now argue that there was collusion.
Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks agreed. She found it hard to believe that Donald Jr. “didn’t tell his father immediately” that Russia had a thumb on the scale in his favor. She believes this revelation eliminates any doubt that Russia was trying to help Hillary win.
If it can be proven that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia, Trump and Mike Pence would have to resign even if Trump himself wasn’t directly involved. Thanks to Veselnitskaya’s loose lips, we may be one step closer to that point.
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