It’s a separate case from the special-counsel probe, but that doesn’t mean it will have no impact on it. The Department of Justice announced an indictment for obstruction against Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr in the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 2016. The indictment alleges that Veselnitskaya hid her involvement in a report issued by the Russian government in an attempt to fend off an unrelated fraud investigation:
Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who in 2016 met with Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower, was charged on Tuesday in a separate case that showed her close ties to the Kremlin.
Ms. Veselnitskaya was charged by federal prosecutors in New York with seeking to thwart a Justice Department civil fraud investigation into money laundering that involved an influential Russian businessman and his investment firm.
The case was not directly related to the Trump Tower meeting. But a federal indictment returned in Manhattan seemed to confirm that Ms. Veselnitskaya had deep ties to senior Russian government officials.
This emerges from the Prevezon probe, which involved a complicated fraud and money-laundering effort by Russian entities and Russian government officials. The US requested assistance from Moscow on identifying the principals in the scheme, but a report from Russia put the blame on two of Vladimir Putin’s political opponents. The indictment names one of them, Sergei Magnitsky, who died after eleven months in police custody, and an unnamed figure that may be William Browder, Magnitsky’s partner who made his death a cause celebre.
Veselnitskaya represented one or more of the entities involved, and wound up producing the Russian investigative report after telling the court she had to go through a number of hoops to get it. According to the DoJ, however, Veselnitskaya not only lied about how she got the report, she was part of the team that drafted it — in essence cooking up evidence to get her clients off the hook (transcription by Scribd, lightly edited):
19. The VESELNITSKAYA Declaration, which was signed by NATALYA VLADIMIROWA VESELNITSKAYA, the defendant, under penalty of perjury and dated November 17, 2015, attached a copy of the Russian-MLAT Response. As set forth and quoted in paragraphs 27 and 2G, below, the VESELNITSKAYA Declaration emphasized that VESELNITSKAYA had gone to great lengths to obtain a copy of the Russian MLAT Response through the Russian legal system, by filing a Russian court proceeding to obtain it after allegedly being rebuffed by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, and that the substance of the Russian MLAT Response was a persuasive reason to find the Prevezon Action without merit.
20. The VESELNITSKAYA Declaration did not disclose that NATALYA VLADIMIROVNA VESELNITSKAYA, the defendant, in fact had access to drafts of the Russian MLAT Response provided by a representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office, that VESELNITSKAYA in fact participated in drafting and editing the Russian MLAT Response, or that VESELNITSKAYA received assistance from the Prosecutor General?s Office concerning the filing of a legal complaint against that very Office to obtain the Russian MLAT Response, which had the effect of making it
appear outwardly that VESELNITSKAYA had been required to go through formal Russian channels to have any access to the Russian MLAT Response.
Apparently, the DoJ got its hands on Veselnitskaya’s e-mails at the time. They include portions of the MLAT response that she directed the Russian officials to include, amounting to dozens of paragraphs that specifically focus on Magnitsky and “CEO-1”:
23. The tracked changes in the two drafts of the Russian MLAT Response sent by NATALYA VLADIMIROVNA VESELNITSKAYA, the defendant, to the Russian Prosecutor on July 31 and August 1, 2014, included, among other things, insertions
of approximately 29 paragraphs describing the supposed actions of CEO-1, Magnitsky, and other persons associated with Investment Company-1 supposedly carrying out the Russian Treasury Fraud, and insertions of approximately two paragraphs describing the flow of funds through certain shell companies the U.S. Government had alleged sent fraud proceeds to Real Estate Company-1. A comparison of theSe insertions to the final Russian MLAT Response in fact sent by the Russian Government to the U.S. Government reveals that many of the inserted claims sent by VESELNITSKAYA to the Russian Prosecutor were adopted, either essentially verbatim, in rephrased form, or with light edits.
24. Certain of the claims that were inserted in the drafts sent by VESELNITSKAYA and that appeared in some form in the final Russian MLAT Response were subsequently repeated in the Prevezon Action Defendants’ papers opposing the Government Motion. .These claims were offered in supposed support of the Prevezon Action Defendants’ argument that persons associated with Investment Company-1, not corrupt Russian government officials, committed the Russian Treasury Fraud.
Sounds like Veselnitskaya faces some serious trouble, assuming the US ever gets its hands on her. Russia won’t extradite her, and with this hanging over her head, Veselnitskaya will plan any international travel veeeerrrryyyy carefully. US Attorney Geoffrey Berman says this indictment is intended to send a message:
In statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, “Fabricating evidence — submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge — in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our Government to ensure that justice is done. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of the judicial proceedings in this District, and we will not stand idly by while outside influences seek to corrupt and pervert that process.”
The investigation might be unrelated, but Veselnitskaya’s connections to Russian government officials might not be. How did a private-sector attorney like Veselnitskaya have enough juice to dictate an investigative report to Russian investigators? It might just be that her interests and the Putin regime’s interests overlapped, but then one would have to assume that Veselnitskaya’s presence on this case and in the outreach to top Trump campaign officials was just a series of coincidences. Somehow, it seems doubtful that Robert Mueller will have that much of a belief in coincidences.
That doesn’t necessarily create a new risk for Trump and the Trump Tower meeting participants. If they brushed off Veselnitskaya as they claim and didn’t pursue contacts with her — which is still not yet entirely established — then perhaps its a no-harm, no-foul situation. It reinforces, however, how unbelievably stupid it was to take the meeting and to involve two Trump family members and the campaign manager in it. At best, it’s a reminder of how badly amateurs can blunder in high-profile politics.
Update: Speaking of coincidences …
NEW: Paul Manafort’s attorneys failed to properly redact their filing. They reveal that Mueller alleges Manafort “lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign”. Konstantin Kilimnik has alleged ties to Russian intelligence.
— Jon Swaine (@jonswaine) January 8, 2019
Hmmmm. If Mueller can connect dots between Veselnitskaya and Kilimnik, this might get very interesting. Assuming this checks out, of course.
Update: It’s hardly the first time Kilimnik’s name has come up in this investigation. He’s been close to Manafort for ages, as the Atlantic reported in June of last year:
After so much time spent in close quarters, the relationship between the two became trusting and deep. By 2011, Kilimnik had taken over Manafort’s office in Kiev. This made Kilimnik the primary interface for Manafort’s lone client, a corrupt clique of former gangsters that ruled Ukraine under the banner of their political organization, the Party of Regions. When they weren’t in each other’s presence, the mentor and protégé exchanged “millions of emails”—at least in Kilimnik’s estimate. “We discussed a lot of issues, from Putin to women,” he once texted a reporter.
For more than two decades, Konstantin Kilimnik, known familiarly as Kostya and K.K., has worked for Americans, the bulk of his time with Manafort. During that entire period, he has been dogged by suspicions. There were always hints that he might be serving another master, providing a set of surveilling eyes for Russian intelligence. One of his former colleagues, Michael Getto, told me, “From my standpoint, I kept my distance from Kostya, because I knew there was a better-than-even chance that he was connected to people I didn’t want to be.” These insinuations were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence. They were never enough to deter State Department officials from grabbing the occasional gossipy drink with him—although one diplomat, casting a backwards glance over the course of his dealings with Kilimnik, told me, “He has excellent tradecraft.”
It was easy enough to dismiss those old hunches as conspiracy theories. The immediate post-Soviet period was a time rife with unfounded accusations. But Robert Mueller has begun to state them as fact. Or rather, in two separate fillings, he has referred to an unnamed colleague of Manafort’s, identified only as “Person A,” with “ties to Russian intelligence.” In a brief Mueller submitted to a U.S. District Court in the course of pressing his case against Manafort, he went one step further. Citing FBI special agents, the special prosecutor described Person A’s ties to Russian intelligence as “active” through the 2016 presidential election.
What everyone close to Paul Manafort already knew, and what The New York Times and other outlets later confirmed, is that Mueller was pseudonymously describing none other than Konstantin Kilimnik. Or to put it even more bluntly than Mueller: Donald Trump’s campaign chairman had a pawn of Russian intelligence as his indispensable alter ego.
And apparently Mueller doesn’t think Manafort has been forthcoming enough on that relationship — especially when it came down to what information got shared with Manafort’s partner.