On Monday I wrote Trump’s Inner Circle Met With No Ordinary Russian Lawyer which can still be used as a primer on this case. More details have come out since, and as I suspected the Russian lawyer was accompanied by at least one Russian intelligence officer. I had assumed it would have been the translator, but I made that determination when I thought there were only two guests invited into the Trump Tower boardroom. It’s now clear that a “former” GRU officer named Rinat Akhmetshin was in attendance, and there may have been others.
It’s going to take me some time to distill all of this into a succinct blog-length post and maybe that will have to wait for the weekend. In the meantime, I have a link to some essential reading. It’s a letter that Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote in April to John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, asking for information about Mr. Akhmetshin. Grassley identifies him as an admitted former “Soviet counterintelligence officer” who has been accused of lobbying on behalf of the Kremlin without registering as an agent of a foreign power.
If you continue on down the pages in that link, you’ll come to a letter written to Heather H. Hunt, who was/is the chief of the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit at the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of DOJ’s National Security Division. The author of this letter is a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, the Russian-focused hedge fund that had its subsidiaries stolen by Russian mobsters as part of the biggest tax heist in Russian history. That heist was the focus of my piece on Monday (cited above).
Since I don’t have time to distill all of this for you right now, I strongly suggest you read it for yourself.
What I’ll do here is just give you a brief outline.
1. Hermitage Capital Management’s Russian offices were raided by Russian law enforcement and their official seals and incorporating documents were stolen.
2. These seals and documents were subsequently used by mobsters in collusion with tax and interior ministry officials to take control of subsidiary corporations in Russian courts.
3. These subsidiaries were then sued for breaches of contract and found guilty, with Russian mobsters and government officials serving as both plaintiffs and defendants.
4. The resulting penalties were used to create a gigantic $230 million tax rebate.
5. The $230 million was then laundered through an astonishing number of transactions and shell companies.
6. A lawyer and auditor for Hermitage Capital Management named Sergei Magnitsky discovered this and took it to the Russian authorities who responded by accusing him of tax fraud, arresting him, denying him medical treatment, and ultimately bludgeoning him to death.
7. Congress responded by passing the Magnitsky Act which placed sanctions on 44 Russians deemed to have some responsibility for either the tax fraud or Magnitsky’s death.
8. Putin responded by placing sanctions on some Americans and by suspending adoptions of Russian orphans by American citizens.
9. Putin then set up an American lobbying effort, ostensibly on behalf of Americans who wanted to adopt Russian children, to repeal the Magnitsky Act.
10. The folks put in charge of this effort failed to register as lobbyists of a foreign power and several of them were the ones who ultimately met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort under the pretext that they would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
It’s important to know that part of this case involved the purchase of New York real estate with some of the stolen Russian tax money. This put Preet Bharara, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on the case. He brought a civil case against the company that made those real estate purchases.
Preet Bharara was fired by Donald Trump while the case was in court and it was ultimately settled for a measly $6 million and no formal acknowledgment of guilt.
It would seem that the president followed through on his end of the deal here. The question is what he received in return. Was it assistance with his campaign or just an agreement not to disclose that his staff had met with Russian intelligence officers offering dirt on his opponent?