Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller’s inquiry into the Trump team is continuing to inch its way closer to the president himself, whether he likes it or not. One of the most recent indications to that effect was a guilty plea from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and now there’s something else for the president and those in his inner circle to worry about.
It’s well known by now that Donald Trump Jr. and other top members of the Trump team held a secretive meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in 2016. Trump Jr. initially claimed that the purpose of the meeting was just to discuss Russian policy on American adoptions of Russian children, but it quickly came out that Trump Jr. had actually gone into the meeting seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Now, a report from Bloomberg indicates (yet again) that those who Trump Jr. met with at that meeting weren’t the irrelevant interests that he’s implied them to be.
Former Soviet intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin was one of those at that meeting. Akhmetshin heads a foundation known as the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative, or HRAGI, which bills itself as an organization looking to “restart American adoption of Russian children.” The problem is that such is not the full extent of the activities of Akhmetshin’s organization. Rather, it has served as a front for Russian lobbying efforts against U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions in question were imposed after an individual accusing Russian officials of fraud died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison. That individual, Sergei Magnitsky, worked for American businessman Bill Browder, who has led advocacy efforts against Russian officials engaging in corruption since Magnitsky’s death. He got the United States to pass the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russian officials behind the corruption some sought to cover up with Magnitsky’s death. As Bloomberg reports, Browder also got other countries to pass variations of the same measure.
It’s in retaliation for those sanctions, Russia imposed a ban on American adoptions of Russian children, which is the “adoptions” issue that Trump Jr. initially claimed his infamous meeting was about.
The U.S. nonprofit led by Akhmetshin is not an adoption related organization; rather, it’s a cover for Russian government efforts to get the Magnitsky Act overturned.
Registering as a non-profit assisted those behind the foundation in concealing their sources of funding, which, Bloomberg reports, “may have required registering as a foreign agent” on the part of the foundation. Most of the half a million dollars in donations to the foundation came from Russians who were friends with deputy director of Russian Railways Petr Katsyv, who was described by Bloomberg as “a longtime acquaintance of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.”
The Russians responsible for those donations claim to have been in the dark when it came to the actual activities of the organisation which they were contributing money to. They cast their contributions as just an effort to help Denis Katsyv fight charges of money laundering issued by the U.S. Justice Department.
As Bloomberg reports, the foundation “didn’t disclose those donations as a source of funding in lobbying disclosure forms.”
Now, Special Counsel Mueller is asking questions about the foundation, having recently had his team interview Robert Arakelian, a lobbyist and employee of the organization.
Trump Jr. went into his meeting with Akhmetshin with the understanding that the lawyer he would be meeting with — Natalia Veselnitskaya — would be bringing him dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton.
The exact nature of Trump Jr.’s meeting remains to be seen, as does what consequence, if any, he will face for going forward with the meeting instead of alerting authorities to the covert actions of Russian government interests.
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