The 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have written a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Last summer, Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information “that would incriminate Hillary.” Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York. We write with some concern that the two events may be connected—and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.
This is where the Trump-Russia thing starts to get sort of Watergate-y. The Watergate scandal started off with a burglary of DNC headquarters in Washington DC, but by the time it was over it was all about ITT, Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, interference with the CIA, 18-minute gaps, using the IRS to intimidate enemies, etc.
Donald Trump has only been in office for six months, so there’s no way he could have built up a Nixonian level bill of particulars like this yet. Still, we might discover more than just campaign collusion as leakers get busier and reporters start to take the whole thing more seriously.
In this case, Don Jr. initially said that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she wanted to discuss Russian adoptions. But the law banning Americans from adopting Russian babies is a nothingburger, a minor bit of Putin score-settling enacted in retaliation for Congress passing the Magnitsky Act. When you hear “Russian adoptions,” Magnitsky is the real topic of conversation.
The Magnitsky Act is a set of sanctions designed to punish Russia for arresting and killing Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who had uncovered a state-sanctioned scheme of tax cheating that implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia. Over $200 million was involved, much of it laundered through overseas companies, including several who used the money to buy up high-end Manhattan real esate. One of these companies was Prevezon.
Natalia Veselnitskaya was one of Prevezon’s lawyers. Preet Bharara was the US Attorney prosecuting the case, which was not going well for Prevezon. However, Donald Trump fired Bharara in March, and two months later the Justice Department surprised everyone by abruptly settling the case for $6 million. The settlement was so meager that one of Prevezon’s US attorneys said it was “almost an admission that they shouldn’t have brought the case.” Veselnitskaya herself crowed that it was “almost an apology from the government.”
So: was there a deal made last year? Did Trump campaign aides—or Trump himself—agree to scuttle the case against Prevezon in return for dirt on Hillary Clinton?
This might be a big stretch, nothing more than a bit of connecting-the-dots conspiracy theorizing. Alternatively, it might be the real deal. If it is, it’s the first step toward the Watergate-ization of the Trump-Russia scandal.