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June 20, 2019

Russian lawyer at center of Trump Tower meeting charged with obstruction of justice

January 9, 2019
Lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya lied to the court, prosecutors say. (Evgeny Biyatov / Sputnik via AP)

A Russian lawyer involved in a Trump Tower meeting at the center of a federal probe into possible interference in the 2016 presidential election was charged Tuesday with obstruction of justice in an unrelated case.

Attorney Natalya Veselnitskaya lied to the court while representing a corporation charged with laundering Russian money through New York real estate, Manhattan federal prosecutors say.

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The indictment unsealed on Tuesday highlighted Veselnitskaya’s close ties to the Kremlin — and revealed that Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office had access to her emails with senior Russian officials in 2014.

The new charges did not mention the notorious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016 where Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr, former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, current-White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and others regarding an offer of “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya, 43, is presumed to be in Russia.

Prosecutors said that Veselnitskaya filed a declaration in Manhattan Federal Court in 2015 that she claimed were independent findings by the Russian government exonerating the Russian company Prevezon. In reality, she had drafted the findings herself in collaboration with a senior Russian prosecutor, according to the indictment.

“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,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

Prevezon was accused of laundering proceeds from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme through luxury Manhattan real estate. It settled the civil case in May 2017 for $6 million without admitting guilt.

The tax scheme was uncovered by by Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and whistle-blower who died in a Moscow jail after enduring horrific abuse. A set of U.S. sanctions targeting senior Russian officials is named for Magnitsky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was so infuriated by the Magnitsky Act when then-President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012 that he banned American adoptions of Russian children.

Trump Jr. has made misleading statements about the nature of the Trump Tower meeting. He initially said that the meeting was to discuss adoptions and the Magnistky Act. But he later released emails showing that an intermediary offered a meeting with a “Russian government attorney.”

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the intermediary, Rob Goldstone, wrote.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. wrote six days before the meeting.

President Trump has said nothing came of the meeting and that it was a waste of time.

“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!” Trump tweeted in Aug. 2018.

Veselnitskaya, for her part, has not hidden her connections with Russian government.

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said in an interview with NBC last year. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”

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