NYT: Russian lawyer at Trump meeting closely tied to Kremlin

In an interview with CNN's Jim Acosta, Rep. Eric Swalwell said that "of course" the Russian lawyer who was at the Trump Tower meeting is a Russian spy. Trump Jr. has said the meeting was unproductive and that instead of providing dirt on Clinton, Veselnitskaya tried to lobby the Trump campaign on repealing 2012 sanctions. President Trump has denied any collusion with the Russians.

Posted: Apr 28, 2018 9:38 PM
Updated: Apr 28, 2018 9:38 PM

Newly surfaced emails indicate that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign associates in 2016, once worked with Russia's chief legal office in an effort to thwart the Justice Department, The New York Times reported on Friday.

The newspaper notes that the disclosure suggests that the lawyer had closer ties to the Kremlin than she had previously suggested.

The Times reported that, according to an NBC News interview with Richard Engel to be broadcast Friday night, Veselnitskaya disclosed that she was a "source of information" for Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that there are ties between Veselnitskaya and the Russian government, and last year, Veselnitskaya denied having worked for the Russian government in an interview with NBC News.

But the newspaper now reports that in the interview with NBC News set to air on Friday, she says, "I am a lawyer, and I am an informant," and that since 2013, she has been "actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general."

The Times said Chaika's office did not respond to requests for comment and that Veselnitskaya said she would respond in two weeks.

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower is an area of inquiry in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether anyone from the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to meddle in the election. Donald Trump Jr., then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, among others, were in attendance. Emails have revealed that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting on the premise that he would be offered incriminating information on Hillary Clinton by way of the Russian government.

Trump Jr. has said the meeting was unproductive and that instead of providing dirt on Clinton, Veselnitskaya tried to lobby the Trump campaign on repealing 2012 sanctions.

Past denials

In a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Veselnitskaya said that she "operate(s) independently of any governmental bodies." In response to a question from the committee about her relationship with Chaika, she stated, "I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives, and institutions, other than those related to my professional functions of a lawyer."

But the Times report states that email correspondence involving Veselnitskaya suggests that she is more closely linked to the Russian Prosecutor General's office than she has previously disclosed. The newspaper reports that an organization set up by an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin obtained the emails.

The Times reports that when Engel showed her copies of the email correspondence, Veselnitskaya said that "many things" included in the emails were from her "personal documents." But the Times also reports that Veselnitskaya told a Russian news agency on Wednesday that her email had been hacked sometime this year in an effort to discredit her.

According to the Times, emails indicate that Veselnitskaya assisted a senior prosecutor on Chaika's staff in drafting a response from the Russian government to a request by the Justice Department in connection with a fraud case against Russian businessman Denis P. Katsyv.

The Times notes that in a court declaration, Veselnitskaya identified herself as a private attorney who was representing Katsyv and his company.

Veselnitskaya has previously told The Wall Street Journal that she exchanged information with Chaika during her lobbying efforts against the Magnitsky Act, a law that sanctions Russians accused of violating human rights. The New York Times also reported last year that Veselnitskaya coordinated some of her anti-Magnitsky messaging with Chaika's office before the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where she presented some of the same talking points that Chaika was pushing.

The working relationship between Veselnitskaya and Chaika tracks with the June 2016 email to Trump Jr. that claimed the "crown prosecutor of Russia" wanted to get information about Clinton to Trump's team. Russia has no "crown prosecutor," which is a British term, but Chaika has a similar role as the top prosecutor in Russia's judicial system.

Putin nominated Chaika to serve as prosecutor general in 2006, and he has served in that position ever since. Putin re-nominated Chaika in 2016 to serve another five-year term.

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