It’s getting harder and harder every day to follow the threads that lead from Vladimir Putin to Donald J. Trump. Obviously, there is more going on than hacking into our election data.
There are Russian officials, shady lawyers and a major international money laundering case. It’s like we’re living in a bad B movie.
So in an effort to keep things as clear as possible, based on verifiable facts, we present your easy user’s guide to the Trump-Putin scandal.
1. Sergei Magnitsky
This man is key to the plot.
Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer. According to an American hedge fund manager named Bill Browder, who was Magnitsky’s client, the lawyer uncovered a huge tax fraud and money laundering scheme in 2008. Many of the participants were high up in the Russian government.
Magnitsky was arrested by the Russians and spent nearly a year in jail before dying of what the Kremlin called “a heart attack.” Browder believes that he was beaten to death.
Browder pushed the U.S. to pass “The Magnitsky Act,” which denied visas and tied up the financial assets of Russians involved in the fraud and in Magnitsky’s death.
Putin was furious, and has made the repeal of the act his “top foreign policy objective.” To retaliate, Putin put a stop to all American adoptions of Russian children. When Russian officials refer to the issue of “adoption,” they are talking about the Magnitsky Act.
2. Natalia Veselnitskaya
Although she has flown under the radar of many American journalists, Ms. V. has worked for years to try to roll back the Magnitsky Act. She is not employed directly by the Kremlin, but according to Atlantic journalist Julia Ioffe, she is connected to top Russian business people.
She also represents a powerful Kremlin official whose business was implicated in the tax fraud scandal in 2008. She has spent the past several hears hiring lobbyists in Washington to work on repealing the Act. So no matter what she claims, Ms. V. is most certainly working for the interests of the Kremlin.
3. The Agalarovs and Goldstone
These guys are not part of the big story. They are the bit players, the go betweens, used by the Kremlin via Ms. V to get to the Trump campaign. The Russians use the “friend of a friend” technique a lot to compromise people.
4. The Meeting
Both Ioffe and Browder have speculated that the famous meeting last summer between Don, Jr. and Ms. V was another attempt by Russia to gain leverage for lifting the Magnitsky Act.
If that is true, then Ms. V. dangled the bait by offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Donnie, Kushner and Manafort (the top three advisors to candidate Trump at the time) took the bait.
If Ms. V failed to give them any information on Clinton, which we still don’t know to be true, we wonder what else the Russians offered? Did they offer to interfere with the election in return for a promise to lift the sanctions?
Or were they content with compromising the Trump campaign and gaining the leverage to get the sanctions lifted later?
5. Post Scripts
Last March, a Russian lawyer fell from a fourth story window in a very freakish accident which allegedly involved lifting a bath tub up to his apartment in Moscow. He suffered severe head injuries.
The lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, was due to appear in court the following day in the case of the Magnitsky family vs. the Russian government. He was unable to appear, because he was fighting for his life.
And there there is this.
Last week the U.S. Department of Justice suddenly decided to settle a case against a Russian real-estate company called Prevezon. The company was accused of laundering millions of dollars through New York City real estate dealings. The case was due to go to court two days after Jeff Sessions dropped it.
Guess who represents the owner of the company?
Featured image via YouTube Screengrab