Wenn’s um unsere Zukunft geht

A follow-up on my previous post on the Russian lawyer (“V”) who met with Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner last year. It bears repeating that, while it was a run of the mill meeting of the sort every politician takes a thousand times a year, the lady’s radioactivity should have set off the Americans’ inner Geiger.

Her client was fighting a civil forfeiture lawsuit filed by the US under the Magnitsky Act, US v. Prevezon. (She might have been an “equity partner” in her client’s “business,” so her money might have been at stake as well, but I’m not taking it as proven in this post.) The government’s case against Prevezon hinged on the information supplied to the prosecutors by William “Bill” Browder. Predictably, V split her time between lobbying to have the Magnitsky Act repealed or weakened (a rather long shot) and efforts to impeach Bill Browder’s credibility.

Any fund manager who invested in Russia’s stock market in the 1990s and/or the early 2000s is vulnerable to allegations of lawbreaking and/or collusion with corrupt officials. Hermitage, the fund Browder managed, was a big name in the Russian equity market in 1990s, on a par with George Soros’s Quantum and Kenneth Dart’s funds. Naturally, the Russian authorities have had little difficulty manufacturing a criminal case against Browder and some of the investors whose money he managed (the Ziff brothers) alleging tax evasion and illegal acquisition of Gazprom shares (breaking the ring-fence rule in force until 2006).

Here’s Browder’s take on the 2016 meeting. Here’s Bloomberg’s take on the meeting and the WSJ interviewing V (paywalled). Browder is saying V’s only purpose was to kill the Magnitsky Act:

And obviously when Donald Trump was starting to rise and when he started to rise post-Republican nomination… they said, we need to get to this guy to repeal the Magnitsky Act because this is their single most important foreign policy priority. And so they probably had embarked using all of their paid advisers to figure out how to get to Trump. And they finally found this odd in through this music promoter. And they went there with the sole objective of getting the Magnitsky Act repealed.

On the other hand, Bloomberg’s source claims this:

She was focusing on hedge fund manager William Browder, the subject of her scorn and of a film she was promoting, and on Ziff Brothers Investments LLC, which had invested with Browder…

Russian prosecutors said they were opening new lines of inquiry against these investors. What Veselnitskaya saw in these steps were alleged tax improprieties that would be a black mark on the Democratic Party, because Browder and at least one member of the wealthy Ziff family had contributed to the Clinton Global Initiative, the person said.

V’s contacts with Russia’s prosecutor-general are not surprising since her (ex-)husband was a relatively senior prosecutor at the regional level. They are all in the same boat in this: not so much an army of Putin’s tin soldiers as a coalition of actors each with a personal stake in the outcome. Moreover, the meeting was not only about the Act itself but also about Browder, who is underplaying his weak spots as a witness for the government.

The Trump camp should now look into other meetings V arranged or tried to arrange. According to Browder,

…she has hired huge numbers of lobbyists and spent millions of dollars on lawyers, on public relations professionals, on smear campaigners with the objective of repealing the Magnitsky Act…

She funded a major film to Washington which was an anti-Magnitsky film. She hired various PR advisers. But most importantly she set up an NGO in Delaware whose sole purpose was to repeal the Magnitsky Act.

Which, if true, practically guarantees that she also sought meetings with other politicians, including various Democrats and the anti-/never-Trump faction of the Republicans. If she managed to get them, it’s time to drag these facts out into the sunlight and show that such meetings are standard political practice: così fan tutti e tutte. (I am convinced they are; we are dealing here with the media’s abuse of optics well known from the log and speck parable.)

The other side might want to turn the public’s attention to the settlement in US v. Prevezon reached in May and reportedly initiated by the prosecutors. At a superficial level at least, it’s an eyebrow-raiser as it followed Preet Bharara’s firing and indicated the government’s willingness to settle for $6 million. Bharara tweeted: “Congrats to Joon & team in Russian money laundering case,” but it only means that his former colleagues did their best under the circumstances. Browder welcomed the settlement:

…the government’s conduct was absolutely correct and successful… Any Russian with illicit money will now be terrified to bring it to America.

However, Browder’s approval probably reflected the risk of the US losing the case more than the merits of his findings. It’s one thing to be heard by a panel of people familiar with Russia’s workings and quite another to appeal to a jury of randomly selected Americans. Especially after one Russian witness fell out of a fourth-floor window and might no longer be available to testify.

The settlement may have been an unavoidable compromise but there’s still something vaguely unsavory about it that needs to be either dispelled or condensed into evidence of impropriety.

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